Finally, she turned her head to look at me. Her wild eyes discerning, her lips parted slightly, she seemed to search my soul for a glimmer of something that gaped and swooned and soared as much as she.
"Don't blink," she said at last, and, shifting too soon, she pressed the marker she'd stowed in her boot into my hand. "Write this, would you? My shoulder."
I obliged wordlessly, gently pushing her hair from her shoulder, moving aside the strap of her tank top. Carefully, I wrote in small, neat handwriting we are the stars, and the words shone against her moonlight skin. Leaning forward, I kissed her shoulder, right where I'd written. My touch was just barely there. But I was there all the same, and so was she, if only for one more moment.
And then she turned and I kissed her lips—there was something significant about the fact that I'd been the one to initiate it, hadn't waited for permission or for thought or for any idea of hers. That was, I thought, what made it real this time. Her mouth and her breath and her patchwork vagabond spirit tasted like chap-stick, like a leaky faucet rain, like champagne shared with strangers, like smoke rising in an empty room. It was the kind of kiss that slit worlds open and then sewed them shut again. The kind that makes somebody like me reach for more.
So I kissed her again.
It was like the bridge and the bedroom and the still front seat of an idling car all over again, and all at once, and then all again. Moving to the backseat, I kissed her in an emerging column of threadbare light, her body curved beneath mine like the facetious crescent moon.
"You gonna walk me home and kiss me goodnight?" Her voice was laughter, liquid gold, a question over coffee and paper napkins.
My nose was touching the tip of her nose. "It's not goodnight yet."
She kissed me that time, and she knew what she was doing. Slyly, she slid off her boots and then, breaking composure, wiggled her toes. Her socks had reindeer on them.
"Told you," she smirked, giggling into my shoulder.
"I believed you," I said, brushing a lock of her hair away from the blurred line of Fitzgerald behind her ear. She caught my hand, touched it to her mouth.
"Want to read the rest?"
One phrase I found on her calf, a vertical slant of black ink, Shakespeare again: "Thou talkst of nothing/True, I talk of dreams."
One I found on the small of her back, tiny and cramped into a perfect square, and these were Bible verses: "I have dealt with great things that I do not understand, things too wonderful for me which I cannot know. I have heard of you by mouth, but now my eye has seen you". It surprised me. I'd assumed she wasn't religious, but I saw now that I could be wrong. After all, she'd saved me.
One quote I found on her hip, once the bone was visible: "I'm youth, I'm joy,' Peter answered at a venture, 'I'm a little bird that had broken out of the egg.'"
"You know who said that?" she asked me in the world of roads and swingsets and promised stars that we had made together.
Of course I knew the asnwer. "Barrie. J.M. Barrie."
The rest of the words, I found on her hands.
At last the sky drew ashen, bloated with morning, and the dawn became inevitable. There were still a few precious seconds before color flooded in to eradicate the gray, though, but I did not fight or stand on top of the car and crow to the sunlight of an unraveling today. Instead I just let Magdalena X rest against my shoulder, the black and white stars of a silent film, for as long as I was allowed.
Sighing, she picked the marker up from the floor and drew two careless, diagonal lines intersecting across my heart. "X marks the spot," she said.
Significance—was there any way that the nights like that could mean anything at all beyond where we were? For we could beg the night to linger for ages, and it wouldn't change the fact that, somewhere else, morning had already come. I asked her about this and she considered the question, wondered if it meant we had failed in our quest.
"Well, you have to admit," she said at last, looking tired, "even if the two of us lose tonight, the sunshine's still one hell of a consolation prize."
She said this again as we began to see the sun, just a sliver of red on the farthest edge of the sky. Then, something happened. It was late and early and there were so few times when she'd been this close with anybody; suddenly she was telling me things, nothing tangible, nothing of matter, but they mattered so fiercely that I sat, transfixed and rapt.
It had been New Year's Eve less than a year ago, and she'd been sitting in Agrippina's loft. Of course, Agrippina had been Theodora back then, and had long disappeared with some mystery guy that was always around those days and these too. So alone and far too young to be, and slowly coming to the realization that nobody knew her anymore—not a single soul in the entire beautiful, broken city—Magdalena drew in a few slow breaths, figuring. They didn't know her real name, her family, where she was from. They didn't know a thing, because she hadn't let them. The people in the loft, barely dressed and barely sober, didn't even speak or smile for her after that, didn't even see her, for she'd cried off all her makeup.
And the new year had come to her hunched up in the colorful jungle of Theodora's closet, crying herself to quiet while outside the door dozens of strangers said to one another, "This is the best night of my life, this is the best night of my life."
As she told the story, Magdalena had the blanket wrapped around her, her hair tumultuous and framing her face in jasmine waves. Her lips, too, framed the words as she spun the spell, while her eyes were lit with something as they were spoken. It was not that same magnificent madness but something undoubtedly softer; her bare shoulders were dusted with the pink light that came like rainclouds across the world, ran across the horizon of her like wings. I had no idea if the story was true or not—truthfully, I doubted that it was a true story, but that still didn't mean it wasn't an honest story—but still I told her how great of a story it was, and it was.
"Where will you go next?" I asked her. We lie on our sides, facing each other. I played a few feather-light piano keys across her ribs.
"I don't know. I never know."
"But you have some ideas."
"I have one," she said. "Always the same. Always the same."
She was too young, I thought again. Too young to be so unattached. Usually she spoke of her hopes of adventure in a loud, dauntless voice. Now, though, in the shadows being broken up by the dawn, she simply seemed young.
"So stay," I said to her, even though I knew she'd never.
"I can't. I couldn't. It's not that I want this life, leaving people behind all the time. It's just who I am. I have to keep moving, keep thinking. I have to see everything, experience everything. It's the only chance I have at being happy—I just… have to find it."
I gripped her hand, squeezed. "You're never going to be happy like that," I told her. "You're always going to be wanting something out of reach. Grass is greener and all that. It's just…it won't work, Magdalena."
Her voice caught a little. "I have to try."
"It's like you said, though. We get to choose who we want to be, right?"
"I've already chosen."
And I thought of bridges, of stolen cars, of after parties, of the longest of nights. I thought of this girl's lips on his, soft as a psalm, the way they formed the word "awake".
"So have I," I whispered.
Her eyes, so dark and shiny, softened at my words. Slowly, she sat up and reached for the dark jeans that sat in a crumpled heap behind her, fumbling in one of the pockets. For a second, I thought she was searching for another cigarette.
"I'd forgotten," she said at last, instead pulling out the lottery ticket she'd purchased at the gas station. "Let's scratch it off."
Magdalena pulled off one of her rings—the one that had turned her finger green—and turned the fake jewels toward the ticket, rubbing at it gently.
"If I win," she informed me, "you win, too."
Her eyes met mine. "I'll tell you my name."
I leaned over the ticket, watching her work at it, our heads touching. Silently and evenly, she scratched off the top two numbers, and then the rest. None of them matched the top two. Not one. We didn't even get a match for a free ticket.
Neither I nor this girl forever more called Magdalena X said anything. We hadn't expected to win big, obviously, but there was something very final about the losing ticket that we now held between us.
"Well," Magdalena managed at last. "That's that, then."
Softly, I repeated, "That's that, then."
It crossed my mind to fall into one of Agrippina's parties one night on the chance that I'd stumble across her there. I'd reach out and kiss her hand, smile a little—maybe that was even all I'd go for, just that stolen second between hello and goodbye. The idea, however, quickly died. Even if I did find her, she'd be covered in a different scribbled skin, and the two of us would not be the same marvelous unaccident that I knew world was now. If I found her there, there would be no pretending that we were two swirling souls standing inches apart in the rain, drowning on a bridge with the city lit and unfocused behind us, no thinking that we'd be the same as we were then that first time with the beginnings of the sun dusting the fields that spiraled out for miles from where we were layered in the back of a mud-spattered car, a focal point in our pocket of life.
But I was getting ahead of myself. It was still only today, and as long as there was today…there was no such thing as tomorrow.
Tomorrow, we'd be perfect, and whole, and forever. Tomorrow, for sure.
"I'll see you tomorrow," she told me, and from there were hardly any words left.
I felt Magdalena's eyes on me as I gathered my clothes up in my arms and began tugging everything on. Even after I was only sitting there, toying idly with a loose thread on my sweatshirt, she kept staring.
Finally, she leaned forward and pulled out the thread, fraying and blue. Still wordless, she tied it loosely around the finger from which she'd removed her ring and then admired it.
"I like it," I told her. "But what about that one?" I nodded to the ring sitting on her knee beside the scratched ticket.
Picking it up, she pressed it into my hand, closing my fingers around it. She kissed my fingers, once, twice, three times, before she sat back and reached for her clothes. Skipping straight from hooking her bra closed to shrugging on her still slightly damp jacket, Magdalena left her tank top in a crumpled green ball on the floor of the car. She un-bunched her reindeer socks and worked them up her legs, tired over the knot of her shoelaces so she could slip back into her boots.
"Battle armor," she told me, sticking out a leg in hopes that I would tie the shoelace again. Sighing, I balanced the boot on my knee and went to work.
"Is there a war on, Rumpelstiltskin?"
"Only every day," she said, grinning wide again. "Now. What's the capital of Eritrea?"
"Asmara," I said immediately, and there was no more avoiding the daylight.
I supposed with a bittersweet finality that whatever exhausted god awaited us on the other side of the sky would perhaps condemn us for how fleeting our crossing had been. It no longer mattered, though, for that long night made us both believe that we could save and be saved both, could be significant after all.
"I am not loved," she'd warned me, years ago. It didn't matter if she'd meant that she'd be too much trouble, or that she'd be gone...I wanted to tell her anyway that regardless of what she thought, she was in fact capable of being loved, of being happy. It was not that I wanted to say, "I love you", but maybe something near it: "I can".
Light slanted in through the windows, dusty early columns of it. The both of us turned to admire it, profiles shining.
"Whatsoever you do," she said finally, "remember this: we once reached out and touched the sun."
"And all the moon and stars," I replied.
She nodded. "The moon and more."
It was the first and only time I'd ever see her in daylight, the sun a crown around her edges. She was sharp, this girl that outlasted the universe, and I was afraid that I'd cut myself on her when we finally broke apart. It was slow, though, our farewell, slow and syrupy and fresh like the sunup.
"So. Did we make it? The everlasting night, I mean?" I thought I knew the answer, but I wanted to know what she thought. I always had to know what she thought, how she made sense of the world, how she shook sense into me.
"Take a look. The sun's up, but we lived a whole life last night, Ryan Barrie. So you tell me."
"Earlier, when you and Agrippina and Mr. E. quoted all that poetry… I remembered one. That Robert Frost poem. You know it. 'Nothing gold can stay…'"
"Is that what you think?"
"I don't know. I don't know if he's right, or if I ever will know. In truth, I don't think I should. Because then, if I knew for certain that it's not forever, I'd stop trying to prove it all wrong. So this is what I think now. Tomorrow is impossible. Yesterday's gone, and today is the only thing, until it isn't. Tonights are everlasting too, then, until they aren't. Some moments, though…"
"They go on and on and on."
One last time, she leaned forward and touched her lips to mine—just a second, no more. As she pulled away, I saw a girl with her hair in her face, makeup smudged. Her time spent lying on the leather seat had left a long crease on her cheek.
It was the best damn kiss I'd ever had.
"Do you think," I asked her, "that I could make up my name too? Since I'm deciding everything else about my life?"
"Sure," she said, "what's your middle name, anyway?"
She raised an eyebrow at me. "Oh, really? What's it stand for?"
"It stands for 'why not'."
She laughed. "Why not. That's a good one, Ryan Barrie. Ryan Barrie. Ryan Barrie—see, I do really like your name, though. It's original. Ryan Barrie." She bumped her elbow into me. "They'll never see you coming, kid."
"It's not original," I told her, but I was blushing slightly. "It was my grandfather's name, actually. I think my parents were a little disappointed when they didn't have a son."
"How could they be? You're one hell of a girl."
She reached out and turned my face so I saw myself in the rearview mirror, heart-shaped face and fringed blonde bangs, eyes bright and blue and big. And for the first time I saw myself not as a little sister or an introvert or a loser but the way Magdalena had seen me from the beginning—worth it, wonderful, and awake to the world. The two of us sat side by side in the backseat, two girls that had conquered the world, and there was nothing that could convince me anymore that I was wrong to be here. I wouldn't have thought it possible, but next to her, in a way I had never been next to Audrey or Agrippina or anyone else in my life, I was beautiful.
"Ryan Barrie," she said to our reflections, "that's you."
What she said next, clambering back into the front seat as day washed the world in gold, was "good morning", but what she meant was "goodbye".
The car rumbled to life. The radio, which had not been turned down since we'd stopped and turned off the car, begin blaring out one last new song, a swan song. And although even Magdalena didn't know it, she swore it was her favorite, swore it and swore it, and then, as we began our drive down the day dirt road, it was true.
I hadn't the slightest notion of who'd she'd been before the sun had set, or who'd she be when it was high again, and I would never know. It wasn't important, not really, because we had this moment, one that would follow me to every today as it expanded on and on. She was there with me then, and she was beautiful, and for as long as I could remember that, there was nothing in the open, odd universe that could detract from that one moment of she and me and our temporary perfection—nothing that could challenge it or change it except the whitewashed, robin-egg dawn as it bled the light across her face, her moonlight skin. It became her, the day, would have made her nearly no more than myth to me if I hadn't known better.
It was the most gorgeous tragedy, this growing daylight thrown across the hills and roads and rooftops. Everything was altered and filtered by it, made golden, as if the fingertips of Midas had skated across all surfaces in the woken, crowded world. And we drove on in her old speeding car towards it all, out of the tonight and into the today that the morning made shine. The day became us, lost and immortal souls that were somehow her ideal breath of beautiful.
Yes, the day becomes us all.