Resting my bare forearms on the wood of the dresser, cold and exhausted from all the crying, I dropped my head between my hands and let the warm, salty tears fall over my nose and drip away. “I’m so sorry, Mum,” I whispered to nothing. “I’m so, so sorry.”

My crystals lashed against the window frame as the gloomy sky shoved its way into my morning, blowing papers around in the remains of the tsunami that hit my desk last night. I sat up on my elbows and looked down at the quilt covering my still fully dressed self then over at the shoes laid out neatly by my bedroom door, as if I was entering a dojo.

Great, I thought, flopping back, pulling the blankets over my head. So, I’ve finally gone insane enough to put things away neatly while sleepwalking myself into bed.

“Ara-Rose. Time to get up.” Vicki banged on my door, making me jump.

“I’m up,” I called, throwing my covers back. I wandered over and shut my window on the stormy day, drawing the curtains across, then slumped in my desk chair with a loud groan. All my homework was ruined—every little bit. I tried to separate the dry pages from the wet ones, but dropped them all with a huff of defeat. It was no use; I’d have to start all over again.

I propped my head against my hand, my elbow on the desk. Time had escaped me. I’d be late for school if I didn’t get my act together, but I just didn’t feel like being a part of the world. Everything in my life that was once worth living for was now gone, or thousands of miles on the other side of the world. After months of trying so hard to keep it together, to be normal and move on, I’d finally had enough. I couldn’t think of one good reason to get dressed.

From under my pile of class literature, I slid out my diary and opened it. Last night’s rain missed most of my books, thankfully, but the corner of my diary got a bit wet—well, soggy was a better word.

It cracked as I opened it and turned to a blank page. The fading smell of home lingered in its binding, slowly being washed away by ageing and the sticky, inky smell of a blue pen.

So many thoughts had been written down in here from times when everything was okay—and not so okay. I fanned the edges with my thumb, considering a flip back through memory lane, but thought better. Before I knew grief, my problems were so mediocre, so unimportant. I don’t think I could stand to hear myself drone on about my hopeless thoughts on boys or friends who wouldn’t talk to me after a fight. Back then, I was so narrow-minded, so naïve and ignorant to the world. I think it’d just make me wanna throw up—or slap myself.

I grabbed a pen from my drawer and leaned over the diary, expelling every twisted, deranged and ludicrous thought in my head. The one word that stood out, though, as I read back over it, was Dad. Somewhere inside me, I still wondered if David was some hired-help my dad called on to make me okay, and now that I was okay, David had to give some lame-ass excuse to leave. Bad thing was, I wouldn’t put it past my dad to do that. And even if that wasn’t the case, it didn’t matter. I felt awful last night; I had never cried so much and I never, ever wanted to again. David had his nature-documentary timeline, and that was fine. But I didn’t have to put up with it. If he really had to leave in the winter, then he could go, but I wouldn’t let him destroy my heart on the way out.

I snapped my diary shut and stood up. I had to end it now.

With a new sense of purpose, I jammed my iPod into the dock and blasted my Girl Power playlist. If I was going to take a new approach to life, then I’d need a montage—and a sexy outfit.

I sang along, making a huge mess as I pulled nearly everything out of the neat little crevices in my wardrobe, then tossed my jeans, red tank top, and the only heeled shoes I owned into the bathroom. Then, in true montage style, shut the bathroom door and emerged again as the new, sexy, I-don’t-take-no-crap me—complete with red lip-gloss.

I stopped by my dresser to dash on some mascara, and the soulless face of my past stared back at me. “Don’t pout,” I said to her. “We’re breaking up with him, and that’s that!”

The front door slammed a little as I stepped out onto the porch, and, okay, so that didn’t feel so good, but the new me wanted it to. And she walked fiercely toward the roadside, her head down, eyes away from what she knew was waiting there. Then, as the montage music ended with an abrupt and sudden silence inside my head, I looked up at him, and my resolve wavered; he sat on a tree stump, his head in his hands, bag on the ground by his feet, forcing an ache in my heart.

But the new me in the heeled shoes stood taller, gave a not-so-gentle reminder of why we were doing this, and screamed, No more David Knight.

He stood up as I crossed the street, his eyes practically bulging from his head. “Ara? My God, you look amazing.”

I shrugged away from his touch, nearly falling backward as the heels of my pretty black shoes, so out of place on the thick turf, sunk into the ground.

“Ara?” His eyes narrowed, studying my face. “Don’t. I know what you’re going to say. Please don’t.”

“I’m sorry, David, it’s better this way.” The words felt like shards of glass in my throat. “Look, yesterday was great and all, but we both know where this is going. I don’t see the point in dragging it out.”

“Dragging it out?” His shoulders came forward with his words. “We love each other, Ara—spending our last few months together is not, by any means, dragging things out.”

“It is to me. You’re the one leaving—you don’t have to care, you don’t have to suffer like I do.”

“Is that what you think?” He stepped into me; I stepped back, raising my hands. “Ara, you know nothing about what I will suffer for leaving you.”

“You’re right. I don’t. Because you never tell me anything.”

“I can’t tell you. Don’t you understand that?”

“Why should I? Why can’t you just be honest with me?”

“You don’t want to know—you told me you don’t want to hear about my dark world!”

I shuffled my feet, folding then unfolding my arms. “Maybe I’m ready now.”

He didn’t expect that. He doubled back a little, rubbing his head. “There are so many things, Ara. I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

“I—” The words hung just on the exit of his lips; I tensed. “I…I can’t.”

“Then you can forget me staying friends with you.” I turned away.

“I’m afraid of what you’ll think of me,” he said, and I stopped walking. “I’m afraid, because I know how sweet you are, how, despite what you think about yourself, how kind and loving and warm you are.”

“So, you think I can’t handle the truth?”

He smiled softly. “I know you can’t.”

“Look, we have a few months left. I just want you like this—my sweet, beautiful girl who loves me; who looks at me like I’m good. I couldn’t bear it if you hated me, Ara. I can’t bear this—” he motioned to the distance between us. “Please don’t break up with me.”

“I’ll fall more in love with you.” I forced back tears. “If I keep doing this, it’ll only make me break down when you’re gone—and I won’t get back up this time. I’ve got nothing left in me.”

“Oh, Ara. Please don’t say things like that.” I heard it in his voice, the way my words crushed him. “All I ever wanted was for you to be okay again.”

“Yeah, well—” I looked right into him, making sure my words hit the deepest part of his heart. “Now you’re the one breaking me.”

He folded over, propping his hands to his knees.

“Bye, David,” I turned away. “And please don’t talk to me if we pass each other in the hall.”

“Do you really mean that, Ara?” His voice travelled across the distance effortlessly, carrying the entire weight of his confusion.

My feet froze, no longer driven by the anger, and as I spun around to meet his emerald green gaze, my resolve slipped completely. “I don’t want to hurt you, David. I’m just trying to move on.”

“But, you should fight! If you really love me, you should fight for us—to be together until the end—until they drag me away.”

“Maybe I’m tired of fighting.” I looked down. “Maybe I just need to trust that the people I love will be with me. Forever.”

“Ara. Please, look at me?” he asked smoothly, his voice dropping on the end.

“Ara, you have to trust me; you have to believe that I will only ever do what’s best for you. Me leaving, keeping you free from my world, it’s what’s best. You can’t see that now, but if you were to know the truth, you’d see it then.”

I bit my teeth together in my mouth.

“Please just give me you—just give me this girl I love, just for a few more months. I’m begging you.”

“I’m just not strong enough to keep loving you, knowing I have to let you go. I’m sorry.”

“So? What? You have the strength to walk away, but not to stay and fight?” His hands went back into his pockets.

“Would it do any good? To fight? And for what? For a guy who loves me enough to leave me for my own good?”

“You have no idea how right you are.” He looked down, shaking his head.

I stood for a long time, watching him watching me. “Why is this so hard for you? You and my dad planned this—you never really felt any of—”

“You’re letting me down gently.” I searched his face for proof. “You promised him you’d make me okay again, and maybe you fell in love with me in the process, but then you realised, didn’t you, that I’m never going to change, that—”

“Do you really believe that? Do you really think I would do that?”

“You’re a nice guy, David. But this—” I held my hands out, presenting me, “—this is a lot for anyone to take.”

“Ara?” He reached for me again.

“No. What you just said—it’s not true. I never made any deal with your dad. I love you. I—”

“But it doesn’t matter, does it?” I said drily. “You’re leaving, whether you love me or not.”

“Ara. What can I do? Please.” He stepped closer, his hands out, wanting to grab me. “Please just…just tell me how to fix this.”

“No.” His hand shot out and he spun me into his chest by my arm. “I’m not going to let you go that easily.”

“Well, you don’t have a choice.” Using the tops of my forearms, I pushed his hands off me. “Just like I don’t.”

“Choice, huh? So, you want a choice?” he called; I kept walking. “I could tell you why I can’t stay—I could give you a choice, but you won’t like it.”

“But at least it would be on my own shoulders.”

“And what then?” He grabbed my arm again, stopping me. “What if you hate me after?”

“I hope I do. Because it’ll make losing you so much easier.”

His mouth hung open, his body thrusting forward slightly with each breath. “I will die inside—if you hate me.”

“Either way, someone gets hurt.”

He nodded once. “Then, I’ll tell you—because I would die a thousand deaths to save you from the pain of a paper cut, Ara. But I can’t tell you here. Not now.”

I scoffed, shaking my head. “Right. You can tell me, but not today, huh? Same old story.”

“Ara, will you stop acting like a child?”

“No! You know what?” I rolled my hip back, sinking my hand onto it. “Maybe you should just do us both a favour and leave now.”

“Why do you do that?” he called as I walked away. “Why do you light your own fuse?”

“It doesn’t have to be this way. Ara?” He came up behind me, inhumanly fast, and grabbed my arm, releasing it quickly when I glared at him.

“I said, leave me alone. I am not your little toy, David. And I’m so tired of being in pain.” He backed up as I walked slowly forward, poking his chest. “You know what your secrets are; you know me—know how I’ll react. Do you even need to tell me? Really?”

He stood taller, his hands falling to his side.

“Didn’t think so. Just go, okay. Just leave me to get over you.”

His mouth hung open, tongue between teeth and lip. “You said you were ready to hear. You said you were ready to know my dark world.”

“Well—” I looked over at the school. “Maybe that was the anger talking.”

I bit my lip for a second. “I don’t want to hate you, David. I don’t want to know if I’ll hate you forever.”

It was clear; there was only one thing he could do. I nodded, preparing myself. “Just leave.”

He rolled back on his heels, eyes focusing on some black pit of nothingness. “Leave?”