i end up, as i always do, with Mo.
not with her, exactly, but as near to her as i can muster. i can't bare to face her; not after realising the truth about my parents.
instead i sit on the stained concrete staircase that borders her apartment, the bottle of wine now half empty at my feet. there are no windows in the dank stairwell so i have no way of knowing if it is too early to return to my flat, too late to stay here. the silence provides little escape from my raging thoughts but it makes a welcome change from the noise my parents threw at each other. i never thought i'd welcome the silence; i don't know which is worse: boredom and dust, or conflict and fire? either way, both will greet me at home. i am stuck, destined to co-exist between reality and this safe haven, Mo, which is just out of reach. how can i go back to my parents knowing their history, and what they think of me? but how can i face Mo after what i know now?
to shake away the incessant questions i use a tactic i learnt just after the demons ripped up my insides and made their nest inside of me. (i tried to put the pieces back together, but they don't seem to fit anymore, like they belong to a person i used to be and not to my present self.) after i realised that, i learnt to clear my head; to envision nothingness, to conjure peace. miss mirlott told me to think of white beaches and calm shores but i had a better way of looking at it: i? close my eyes and think of space, all the emptiness above my head, all of the stars and the planets and the galaxies winking to life, burning out, starting over, using the remnants of past matter to construct new masses of light. i imagine myself floating amongst the nothingness, sinking into it, my bones melting away into darkness. then i am at peace. but miss mirlott said that wasn't peace, it was punishment. she said i didn't understand the assignment; i said she didn't understand me. it's funny how she still doesn't, not even after i have filled my head with so much nothingness that only the demons can survive. i'm worse off than when i started.
slowly my thoughts start to drift: the past is revealing itself again. i switch to thoughts of Mo, but for the first time not even she can calm me down completely. i wonder what's happening in Mo's apartment right now; what her dad would do if he knew i was here. the stories i have heard about drunken nights and dead mornings and painful in-betweens are ones which, selfishly, i do not want to experience first hand, but i am sure that anyone who is cruel enough to hurt Mo would not hesitate in hurting me.
the silence in the stairwell cracks in two as the click of a latch echoes off the cinderblock walls. a door slams, footsteps ring out; i am frozen. in my mind a gigantic figure makes its way slowly down the stairs: Mo's dad, drenched in enough tequila that you could set him alight. the fire would be ten times worse than my parents' arguments, this one all cracked bottles and roaring flames and burning curses -
my breath catches, my eyes widen; is it him? it can't be him. it can't -
my name is wrapped up in a soft exhale of breath as Mo peeks over the banister. she reveals a watery smile. you found me.
my gaze drops to my feet. you found me, i say quietly.
she tiptoes down the steps to meet me, folding herself into my chest as if she wants to disappear. maybe she does. it takes a second me for to react once her arms loop around me and i scrunch my eyes shut: i can't believe this will all be gone someday. still Mo stands, her face buried in my hoodie, her hair wild, her skin warm. i place a soft kiss on the top of her head.
are you alright? i ask with a lump in my throat.
she shrugs. yes. no. kind of? a sigh weaves it's way from between her parted lips. it's complicated.
i settle back onto the rough concrete steps and she drops down next to me. we sit for a while, shoulder to shoulder, fingers loosely tangled together. between us is everything and nothing; silence and sound, chaos and calm. there is so much i want to say and so much i want to hide. my teeth ate tombstones and there were ghosts in my head; i should have known that everything would escape once i opened my mouth.
i don't want to lose you.
the words sounds hollow in the empty air and i fear that the meaning has fallen away until each letter is blurred with the next; until each word is useless as if i had said nothing at all. i want to paint them with sound, fill them with colour, mould them into a flashing, screaming, desperate statement: i need you. i am afraid. how can i stop loving you?
Mo blinks. she speaks and a kaleidoscope of loud painted words spin towards me: i don't want to lose myself first.
my eyebrows knit together. what do you -
she leans in to me again. my dad, she says breathlessly, he got mad again -
my eyes darken.
- he didn't hurt me. she confirms, and the anger in me subsides slightly. somehow i think the bruises he creates go far deeper than just brewing storms on her skin.
he's never there and he's always there, Mo continues. it's like... he's always near me; i'm always scared that he's going to -i don't know, explode, i guess - but at the same time it's never him. it's someone else, someone big and angry and dangerous. but i make myself believe it's not him. not really.
i just want my mother back, she says sadly. heartbreakingly sadly, with the voice of a forlorn child and a lost teenager, all at once. this time, when she hugs me, i hold her. tight. at times like this i myself am a myth, a skeleton pieced together with broken promises and concealed by false hope. these arms are weak but when Mo needs them to be, they are strong; they will shelter her from the darkness inside her own head. these eyes are crying but when Mo needs them to be, they are hard: they whisper determination and defence and control. i don't want to be constructed from lies, but the fact is this: if you close your eyes you can still hear. if you block your ears you can still feel. if you clench your fists you can still taste the bitterness of the world on your tongue. blocking out one thing does not always eliminate another, and in that way it is so hard to find a true escape from reality. that is why Mo is the best escape: she is a living, breathing hideout from the things i don't want to face, and, most importantly, i am the same for her. we are each a temporary paradise, until real life sets in and time speeds up again and we are hit with the crushing realisation that we can't use a good thing to get away from the bad things, no matter how good the good things are or how bad the bad things are. but we can make ourselves believe, if only for a little while, that the bad things aren't really as bad as we think they are if we can only convince ourselves that the good things are better than we imagine. so i hold her while she holds back tears and we hold the weight of grief and helplessness and sadness on our shoulders. because, yes, now i have learnt that this love may not last for as long as i thought it would; yes, that scares the hell out of me - but long ago i also learnt the second most important lesson of my life: all we have is now. and now, i need to be here for Mo, like she is here for me.
i trail my fingers across her shoulders, tracing patterns on her skin. the hint of a smile flashes across her face. carefully, tenderly, i turn my head so that my lips find her cheek. all we have is now. butterfly kisses flutter from her cheek to her jaw. all we have is now. my eyes are closed but i hear her sigh, feel her mouth stretch into a half-smile. all we have is now. i shift onto my side, wrapping my arms around her front, kissing the very corner of her mouth: a kiss shaped like a question mark. all we have is now? Mo nods.
this time it is her lips that find mine; lingering, pressing just a little bit harder; a colon shaped kiss, leading us into something more. i oblige. i tug at her bottom lip, my tongue exploring her mouth.
and then the screaming silence in my head explodes.
if we started with questions, this kiss is the exclamation of something passionate, something true: Mo kisses me hungrily, her fingertips pressed to my face, my hands journeying through her hair and down to her neck. our teeth collide, our breaths hot; i swear there are sparks bouncing off my skin, or is that just her touch? she has fireworks in her fingers; my sky is alight. all we have is now my lips travel to her collarbone all we have is now i am pressed into her all we have is now her hands are under my chin, pulling me towards her; we are kissing again, kissing, kissing, kissing -
my parents aren't in love anymore, i blurt out, like i am gasping for air after holding my breath. and i'm afraid that the same thing will happen to you and i. those words are reserved for a different now.
the air around us falls away. i have ruined everything.
Mo turns her head to look up at me. she lies with her back arched over the steps, breathing heavily, eyes wide, shocked at the abrupt ending to the story we were spinning. her expression is that of disappointment and anguish, echoed in eyes, bleak and downcast, and the creases in her forehead, like marks etched into a once priceless portrait. the beautiful brown of her irises has faded, her skin pale; i want to hurt the world for hurt her. i hurt her. why can't i keep my mouth shut?
they argued about me, too, i croak, because i am already six feet deep in this disaster, so why not carry on? they said i was broken, i finish.
Mo's small hands grip my shoulders. you're not. it's not your fault, alright? she tells me. none of it is your fault. i try to stop my face from caving in.
as if exhausted by her sudden burst of energy, Mo slumps down again, so her back is pressed to my chest. she laughs darkly. we're a mess tonight, charlie bucket, she says.
tonight and every night.
i bring my arm up and turn so that my back is against the wall, my limbs spilling over the steps, Mo's small frame tucked neatly between my legs. slowly she settles into me and i around her; two bodies, beaten, desperate. if we are strings, tonight we tie each other together.
a while back, while reading deeply into the subjects of cosmology and astronomy, i learnt about the binary star system. this is the process whereby two stars rotate in a continuous path of orbit around a fixed point. up until now i have considered this a metaphor for the relationship between Mo and i: she is the fixed point, someone i am based around, someone i will forever depend on for guidance and support.
but now i have a different idea. what if Mo is not the fixed point, but rather the second star? what if we rotate together, accompanying each other through hardship and struggle, as a team? two stars, flashing and burning, both in darkness, both journeying on. perhaps we are on par: after all, stars can't see how bright they shine, they know only the brightness of others.
upon this realisation, sprawled across the bottom step of Mo's apartment block, there is a flicker of something unfamiliar to me: positivity.
i will help my parents rediscover their love. i will show them how unbroken i am.