Somehow, that made me angry, or maybe it was jealous. Or maybe it just made me feel more—alone.
“It’s not all bad.” Ryan sat beside me on the piano stool.
He elbowed me softly. “David? I know you were missing him just now.”
I looked down at my thumbnails, clicking them over each other. “Yeah. I kinda was.”
“Well, he’ll be back before you know it. So, chin up, m’kay?”
“Yeah, okay.” I smiled at him. “Thanks Ryan.” But he was wrong. We were just another town David was moving through, and I was just another ending to a tragic love story. None of us would ever see him again.
I scribbled on a piece of paper and rested it in the lip of my windowsill, then headed for the door. I couldn’t leave my room for the evening without making sure David knew my priorities, should he see fit to come back; one tap on Mike’s window and I’d magically materialise in my room.
“So, how was rehearsal?” Mike closed the DVD drive and grabbed the remote as I shut his bedroom door.
“I’m looking forward to seeing you play.”
I bounced onto his bed and propped my back against his pillows. “I wish you were doing a duet with me.”
“Well, maybe we’ll have to sneak over to the school during lunch and use the piano one day.” His face lit with a cheeky grin as he slumped down next to me—right on top of the popcorn bowl, scattering it across the sheets, like pebbles on tiles.
“Here, I’ll get that.” Mike knelt by the bed, took the bowl from me, and started scraping the salty snack off the edge with his broad, square palms.
He’d always had such big hands. So strong and protective. Like somehow, if he was holding me and the world was burning around me, I wouldn’t be afraid.
Forgetting his question, I grabbed his hand and turned it over, placing my palm against his, feeling the salt of popcorn all over the tips of his fingers. My hands were thinner, more petite than his, the top of my oval-shaped nail only just falling in line with the first fold of his fingertips. “I missed your hands.”
He laced his fingers through mine, then flipped our hands over and traced circles over my knuckles, seeming distant, almost sad.
He moved the popcorn bowl to the nightstand and shuffled up to sit beside me. “You have her hands, you know? Your mum’s.”
I tucked my arm under my rib and snuggled against his chest. “I know.”
I had a lot of my mother in me; her hair, her heart-shaped face. But I got my dad’s eyes. Harry had her eyes. Harry had her smile—my smile. But they were gone. The only thing left from that life now was Mike—and I was so glad I at least had him.
It made me wonder—about his hands—how they made me feel so safe, and his eyes, how every thought behind them placed me first, and that smile, the way it’d warm my heart, making me a part of his world every time he gave it to me, without fail—if I went with him to Perth, would it always be like this? Would we be happy, get married and have little dark-haired babies with caramel-coloured eyes and strong hands? I liked the idea—liked the idea of always feeling like this; loved.
Mike looked down at me, watching my eyes expectantly, like he was waiting for me to say what he knew was in my heart. But, after a quiet moment, he pulled me back to his chest and pressed play on the remote.
As the opening credits rolled across the base of the screen, I closed my eyes and listened to the hum of human normality. I loved it—loved Mike, and I wished I could tell him that. Wished he knew. We’d laid like this so many times as friends, but in his arms, tonight, I felt the difference—felt his love, felt how real it was. And it drove a strong urge within me to look up at him and say, “I’ll come with you. Let’s go home to Perth.”
But I knew that when the movie ended, and I crawled away from the warmth of his arms and went back to my cold, empty room, I’d look beyond the eastern hills, feeling the inexplicable gut wrench that made me want to scream to the world below—tell them to find David, beg him to come back and change me into a vampire.
My desires were at odds with my heart, and the war raged inside me, unresolvable still.
I could give my heart to Mike tonight, but if David so much as passed me on the street, ever again, I’d throw it away. I was sure of that. So, I said nothing. Just closed my eyes and played it out as a fantasy instead—imagining my life with him from this exact moment onward. And I smiled.
“Ara?” Mike swept his hands through the front of my hair, his low voice coming from above my brow.
“You still with me, baby?”
“Shh.” He kissed my head and the volume on the TV decreased. “Just sleep.”
The smell of morning and the crass sound of a crow somewhere outside brought my mind back from sleep. I rolled up on my elbows and looked around the room—my room.
Feeling as though I was holding my breath, I clarified everything in my mind; my room was dark, the curtains closed—obviously by Mike; unopened by David. The house sounded quieter than usual. Even the gentle hum of cars and the distant chatter of school kids outside was absent from the day; it almost sounded like a Saturday, but without the lawnmower.
Last night, while I fell asleep in my best friend’s arms, a few things became so clear to me that I was afraid clarity would be gone come morning. But the feeling I had as sleep arrested me remained the same.
I jumped out of bed, dashed my curtains across and looked to the eastern hills. Somewhere over that rise, somewhere further than I cared to imagine, my David went away. I could feel him; feel his soul aching beyond the rising sun. He never told me where he lived, or even which direction he ran to each night, but I could feel him over there—somewhere.
Down below, nestled into the long, yellow-tipped grass in the backyard, the oak tree sat gloriously, staring back up at me. As many times as we’d studied each other, I had also let my heart skip a beat, expecting to see David beneath its leafy bows. But, for some reason, as I watched the gentle motion of the rope swing, absently touching the brittle bark for a second before floating along the wistful breeze, I felt none of the surprise, the ache, that he wasn’t there. The only thing present in my heart was that warm feeling I had in Mike’s arms last night, which suddenly burned into a flaming heat.
With a tight fist, I rubbed my chest and grabbed the edge of my desk to remain upright. Was it possible that Mike managed to crawl his way a little bit deeper into my heart while I was sleeping? Could it be possible that my brain finally understood the fact that David was gone—that even tomorrow, when I looked for him on the stage where he should be performing our duet, I wouldn’t see him? Did I finally get the message?
I backed away from the window, clutching my locket, and turned to face my dresser mirror, studying the girl staring back at me. “He is gone, isn’t he?” she said. Well, I think she did, anyway.
“Yes.” And I knew he wouldn’t return for anything. Not for the concert, not for all the tears in the world, not if Skittles got stuck in the tree, and not even if I threw myself from the window and splattered all over the ground.
But I didn't feel anything. Nothing. I should’ve be crying or kicking things. The admission of fact should’ve changed something in me. Anything. But it didn’t.
The girl in the mirror looked out at me; I looked away. That reflection told a different story to the reality of the world behind me. My room was light and airy, with the softness of summer morning all around, while her world—the world beyond the glass—was a dark forest, backdrop to the face of this lonely girl, trapped, staring out from beyond her prison of secrets. Love was the key—my starry night, my David—but he left.
I remembered back to the day I first thought of him as the night, and how, in that same thought, I smiled for Mike because he was always my blue sky; my happiness.
In the mirror, the contours of the girl’s face became shadowed as the sun rose around her, light touching the darkest shadows of her illusory cage. The iron bars behind her dissolved into white tree trunks, and the leaves became visible as green star-shaped foliage for the first time.
Blue sky. The night was gone now, but there would always be the blue sky.
But was it enough?
I looked away from her again, seeing her hopeful smile dissolve before I turned my head. The roar of thunder all around me became the obvious call of the ogre; I clutched my hand across my belly and listened to his cries for nourishment. The last thing I wanted was to go downstairs and have breakfast with Mike. The feeling, the desire to hold onto him, to make sure I never lost him like I did David, burned in me; I was sure I’d tell him I love him and ruin everything when I changed my mind again as the night descended.
I needed to think. I needed to let it all sink in. I felt catatonic, empty, hollow. Afraid, because the feeling in me—of not feeling anything—felt like suddenly waking up deaf.
“Run,” the girl in the mirror said.
A sneaky tempo guided my steps as I passed the dining area where Vicki and Mike sat laughing and drinking coffee. Then, without first eating, bolted out the front door.
My shoes tapped the pavement softly at first, but as I reached the end of the drive, they picked up. I zipped my sweater around my neck—trapping my locket inside. It wasn’t cold, but for some reason I felt exposed and naked. Like I was being watched or followed. I think a part of me knew that if Mike caught a glimpse of me running from the house without him, he’d come after me. And I really didn’t want that. I really needed to be by myself for a while.
There was a part of me that kept trying to believe the reason David hadn’t come was because he’d been held up at work or hadn’t realised how much time had passed since we last spoke. But the part of me that knew David also knew he wasn’t that absentminded.
Fact was, he wasn’t here because he had no intention of coming back.
Feeling unbelievably weak and tired, I beelined for a park bench and graced the seat with my bottom. The leafy shade of the tree felt nice, almost protective. I looked around the park at the children playing in the distance—the moms and dads pushing their kids on the swings, and even the big sisters running to their little brother’s aide when they fell over or got sand in their mouths. It made me miss Harry—miss being a big sister.
I flopped back on the backrest with my chin tilted to the cool breeze and let my troubles consume me. The only moisture left in me now was the salty, sticky mask of sweat the wind was drying off my brow. I still loved the way a breeze felt on my face, though; it took a month for my wounds to heal enough that I’d let Dad take me in public—on a plane, over to his home. My days were spent in a motel, in the dark—away from civilisation. I never even let Mike see me. Dad tried to let him in once, but I screamed and freaked out like I was going to tear myself apart. I couldn’t let him see me like that. I felt so ashamed—felt like a monster, and worse—looked like one.
By the time Dad brought me here, there were only a few yellowing bruises left, and I could bear the wind on my face—never to take it for granted again. It brushed my hair over my cheek in a tickly touch, like a thousand butterflies dancing on my skin, and in the simplicity of the sunny day, surrounded by trees and grass, I could almost imagine I had no problems. Even the song of the birds seemed to have a tune to it, like I was in some twisted version of a Disney film. I half expected the woodland animals to gather at my feet as I broke into song.
For the first time in weeks, I lowered my head and took a good look at my fingers. They were my mum’s hands, but they were bony and looked weak now. Heartache had taken the spirit from them, and though I wanted nothing more than to find the nearest piano and expel the song I’d had stuck in my head all morning, I wondered if I could truly play—for the feel of it—from the heart, anymore.
I slumped back on the bench again. I didn’t even know what was in my heart now. I used to be sure it was Mike, then it knew nothing but David.
Now they seemed to share a little piece each.
When my stomach growled again, I checked the watch Sam gave me for my fifteenth birthday—the sport watch he told me was to help time my runs so I’d realise I wasn’t as fast as I thought—and smiled, unable to see the time through a sudden rush of tears. He was a good little brother—Sam. As much as I hated him sometimes, he was my brother. And in my heart, I’d never really let myself believe that. But I was still a big sister, and though no one would ever replace Harry, I knew that if anything ever happened to Sam, he’d be just as irreplaceable.
And that’s the thing about love, really, isn’t it? That there is no replacing the ones we love. I’d never replace David—not even with Mike.
Suddenly, the rise of emotion I should’ve had this morning when I finally admitted David wasn’t coming back, presented itself—screaming out from my heart in the form of a song.
A vibrant, tingling sensation warmed my fingertips; like static electricity before it charges out on something metal.
I jumped up, ignoring the dizziness and narrowed vision of low blood-pressure, and ran for the school.
The dark room echoed as the door closed behind me and the shadows swallowed me whole. No one looked up; no one turned their heads, because the only sentinel was the pitch black. Everyone was at lunch, the auditorium set for the concert tomorrow night.