i don't know.

❝ my head is a radio, and every so often the dial is turned the wrong way, and all that comes out is white noise. ❞


3. three


tonight i'm sprawled on my bedroom floor with Mo cross-legged next to me, sitting upright against my bed as if she isn't exhausted enough already. my guitar rests on my lap and i pluck its strings absentmindedly as she talks, but she knows i'm still listening to her. it's as if the music just can't get away from me, or maybe i can't get away from the music. either way, my fingers can't help but slide across the strings of the instrument cradled in my arms even as the girl i love most in the world talks right beside me. she can create the lyrics without meaning to, and i can conjure up a melody without even knowing how.

we learnt something new today, she's saying. in philosophy. it's about metaphors.

i pause for a moment and glance at her with a shy smile. i know how much Mo loves metaphors. it's so clever, don't you think? she told me once. you say something which is different to what you actually mean, but you still manage to tie the two things together.

she smiles back, and for a minute we're lost in the almost-silence. but my fingers find a different tune to play; a softer one, deeper, somehow, all sliding notes and overlapping melodies. Mo's words come more steadily after that, as if we've started over, and she's writing a new song just for me, as her thoughts paint a path between her lips.

it's about fireflies, she says quietly, and light. it's like, we're all fireflies: glowing but forgetting that we glow, and only seeing how bright everyone else glows. and we've all got these people who we look up to, who we depend on to make ourselves better - brighter. we're all glowing but we all need others to help us glow, i guess. we help others and we need others to help us. so we're fireflies, but we're also the light. we're both of them, simultaneously, but sometimes we forget that. she stops. takes a breath. listens to the music. and then:

does that make sense?

brown eyes wide, and a smile playing on her lips, she looks at me like i am the sun and she is the earth. if only she knew it was the other way around.

yes, i say, and her words are fitting together in my head as i push her hair back from her face and meet her lips with mine for just a second. she is smiling when i pull away. so am i.

my fingers begin to trail across the guitar strings again, but Mo lays her hand across mine before i can continue. she reaches behind me, and pulls something out from under my bed.

charlie? she says. did this help?

it's the rubiks cube. i know what she's talking about. at least, i think i do.

yesterday, in assembly. i was sat right in the middle, with rows of people boxing me in, trapping me. people shouting and laughing and talking far too loudly. and then there was me. sat quietly, with clenched fists and gritted teeth and a strange feeling building up behind my ribcage, forcing my heart to beat faster, faster, and i was aware that i was lost among the noise but i was simultaneously painfully noticeable; a grey star amongst a bright and screaming galaxy. or maybe i was the galaxy, a tangle of thoughts and emotions emboldened in raging shades of blue and silver. whatever i was at that moment - it was inescapable, and i felt like i was about to explode. the worst part? everyone else around me could watch.

i force my eyes closed as memories flood in. i find myself clutching the rubiks cube, foolishly hoping that grabbing onto something will keep me grounded as i am pulled away by my own thoughts. i remember it as if i am there, and maybe that is what i hate about it all. this is not something i want to remember, but the pain means i can't forget.

i remember feeling like i was being swallowed up - by fear, or by the fear of being fearful in the first place -

- it's surrounding me and i have to make it stop i can't do this not here not now -

and i imagined myself screaming just because the force of the thoughts running round in my head was too heavy to handle -

- i need to get it out i have to let it go i can't take it i can't i can't i can't -

- and now i'm sitting in my room clutching that damn rubiks cube wondering how on earth it can all feel so real -

it just keeps pulling me under but if i'm drowning how can these thoughts keep screaming at me like my lungs are screaming for air screaming screaming screaming -

my hands are shaking and patterns are exploding beneath my the darkness of my eyelids and my skull is shattering from the force of containing the demons inside my head. but Mo is right beside me, gripping my shoulders and staring straight into my eyes and telling me it's okay, it's okay, it's okay. there's something about those hazel irises of hers that pulls me closer in a better way than the panic ever does. i never thought brown could sparkle but i guess was wrong; it may be just a colour but with her it's deeper somehow, because everything seems so much more wonderful when it's associated with the person you love. maybe that's why Mo calms me down in a way no one else can.

it's okay, i'm here, it's over. she whispers the words as her fingers trace lines on my wrists and her lips find mine. she doesn't pull away until my breathing has returned to normal and i know that it's over, it's really over, i'm not panicking anymore. she kneels in front of me and gazes at me, wide-eyed, reaching for my hands, gently placing them on my chest. you feel that? she says, and i nod, yes, i can feel my heartbeat under my fingertips. you're okay, she says softly. you survived. you're okay.

she rests her forehead against my own, our noses touching, lips so close but nowhere near close enough, and says something so quiet i barely catch the words before they melt into silence. but i understand. she says:

sometimes it hurts to remember.

i close my eyes for a moment, letting each syllable find its way into the part of my mind worth saving, all the things that are too beautiful not to forget. that part becomes pretty full up whenever Mo's around, but i figure the demons balance it out.

when i open my eyes she's staring at the floor, and for a second i don't know what to think, but then i kiss her anyway. she kisses me back. we stay like that, still, wrapped up in the silence that is wrapped up by our thoughts, until she pulls away and points at something. charlie, she says. look. you did that! she points again. at the rubiks cube sitting on the floor, where i dropped it after i panicked. the rubiks cube, with one side made up of those tiny little squares, almost all of which are exactly the same colour.

i don't know what to say. i have absolutely no idea how that happened. i have no recollection of doing it, but then again, the only thing i can ever recall during a panic attack is the fact that i am panicking. but i was gripping it so tightly that i could have done something...

i stare at it for a second longer. shake my head. grab Mo's hand and pull her out onto the balcony of this tiny little London apartment, overlooking a wasteland of concrete and skyscrapers and cars. there is a telescope standing against the railings, and maybe later we'll squint up at the sky, watching stars explode outward into the universe and clouds evaporate into the fathomless night. and maybe i'll explain why shooting stars are in fact just comets scraping the surface of our atmosphere or why planets are so much bigger than stars but they all look the same from down here, in our insignificant corner of the world. but for now i'll look up at the horizon with my head on her shoulder and her fingers tangled up with my own, and she'll whisper words and quotes and lyrics and i will feel as if i have never loved her more than in that moment. but of course that is a lie, because i cannot possibly count the times my love for her has been so strong that i can't find the feelings to explain it. she'll whisper to me:

i'm a firefly.

and i'll whisper back:

i'm the light.

and she'll ask me if i'm both, and i'll say:

i don't know.

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