the following afternoon i find myself in one of the abandoned music rooms right at the back of school, cradling an old guitar and trying not to get distracted by reading the graffiti on the walls. this place is always quiet; these rooms were in such a hopeless state that no one bothered to rebuild them when the school got done up. each one is a box room, containing a decrepit piano and a few cracked guitars. i managed to find one with all six strings but the wood is splintered and so many plectrums have been dropped into the sound hole that the thing rattles when i pick it up. but it'll do, and at least back here no one can hear me play.
i sit with my back against one wall with the guitar on my lap and try not to imagine the amount of chewing gum that has been stuck to the plaster. my fingers slide over each string slowly and carefully, moving up, fret by fret, getting used to the instrument. it's out of tune, but thankfully not enough to be irreparably broken. i twist the pegs until i'm satisfied with the sound and then it's all mine: every fret and string and note and melody that i can play. i start softly at first, my fingers moulding into chords as i fit them together with simple strumming. and then, without knowing it, i've started something. the music's taken hold of me and it won't let me go. for that, i'm thankful.
my voice is quiet and afraid at first, and i keep trying to remember that no one can hear me back here. but it's not that. the words won't come out unless i put everything into it all at once. unless i let go and let the music engulf me, just like i do when i'm the one listening. i can still listen, but this time i'm a bigger part of it, like i've escaped so completely into my own head and all that's left of me is the lyrics and the notes and the melody. so i keep strumming, willing the words to come out but knowing that i cannot force them. i keep strumming chord after chord and somehow, suddenly, i've let go.
the music has taken over me. i am at war and this is my battle cry. this guitar is what i use to fight the demons inside of me; it is my weapon, my hope, a map that i will explore with my fingers until i work out where i'm going. and at this moment there are things that i don't know, things that can change at any second, and maybe i'm not even sure if i am complete because there are parts of me that are lost to the music. but i can hope, and i can wonder, and i can guess, and those are all the good things that make up the not-knowing. so for now i am happy with this, this little escape, and i'm hoping that reality will not reach out for me just yet.
but there are some things i just can't control. the bell rings, loud enough to drag me from my reverie, and suddenly it's over, and i find myself reaching for that feeling again, that blissful escape, but i know it won't come back. i can try to remember, but remembering is never as satisfying as doing, and a feeling like that doesn't come often. but i am grateful for it nonetheless, and it numbs the feeling of hopelessness filling my head just enough to get me through the day.
it is only at the beginning of fifth period that i notice the rain. the clouds are the colour of dust; the wind is blowing them slowly across the sky so that they collect in great masses, until the heavens are a canvas painted with glittering brushstrokes. i hadn't guessed there was a storm coming; i hardly even guessed it was raining. i like how you can't see the rain falling from the clouds, but you can feel it when it hits you. i sit watching it trickle down the windowpanes and daydreaming of forgotten song lyrics and long walks and Mo. she never really leaves my head. everything reminds me of her, and she reminds of me of everything. she has become my everything, and that's what i love most.
i manage to keep my head down for most of the class: if i do all the work, no one bothers me too much. my english teacher throws me a few suspicious glances and so i make sure to answer a few of her pointless questions, muttering something about shakespeare and language until i'm satisfied that she won't get too worried. it's hard for people to tell when i'm panicking - which, to me, seems like the most ridiculous thing in the world, and because of it they're always on edge. it gets frustrating after a while, but this afternoon i don't seem to mind as much. in my head i've disappeared to somewhere else.
i leave school that afternoon with a spring in my step; so much so that when i greet Mo my earphones fall out and she laughs, her eyes sparkling almost accidentally. her hair is matted and curled from the rain, and fraying strands of purple flutter wildly around her face. she's smiling, really smiling, a smile that's a little big for her face. it tugs at the corners of her mouth and lets the laughter escape, although it is immediately stolen by the wind. i love seeing her like this: all rumpled hair and innocence and honesty. it feels rare, somehow.
someone's happy, she says cheerfully, stepping in front of me and landing a quick kiss on my forehead. i mirror her, grinning against her lips as i tilt my head towards hers. don't you mind getting wet? i ask, pulling away and walking on with her hand in mine. no, she says. of course not, charlie brown. and how are you?
i shrug and toss her a smile. i'm good, but i don't say it out loud. i don't want to let a single word define my mood. it's more than that. better. Mo understands.
and you? i ask. how are you?
grand, she replies, raising her head to stare at the sky. look, charlie brown, she instructs. i stop walking and follow her gaze. i'm looking, i say. Mo is silent for a while. then:
can you see the sun, charlie brown?
no, i say simply.
but it's still there, right? underneath all the clouds?
good. she says, rather abruptly, and continues to walk. sometimes you need to remind yourself that without darkness, we wouldn't understand light.
another quote? or did she herself form those words? i can't tell. i don't question her, just walk on, falling into step with her and watching the raindrops explode as they hit the concrete, shattering into tiny, twinkling shards. suddenly i understand why Mo loves the rain.
we walk in silence until we reach her apartment, but neither of us mind. it's so nice to find someone who means so much to you that you can spend each other's company in perfect silence and still feel like that time hasn't been wasted. with Mo, time is never wasted.
the storm is well and truly upon us, colours fading until it is impossible to distinguish between the greying clouds and the greying sky. the wind sends leaves skittering across the ground and rain is coming down so heavily that i can barely see. i grab Mo's hand and together we run to the doors of the huge brick building in front of us.
but just as we reach the entrance she pulls me back. we're sheltered by the branches of one of the towering trees planted either side of the cracked path but the rain somehow finds its way between the leaves and we are slowly, surely drenched. Mo laughs louder than the wind roaring in my ears. i tug her heavy leather-bound philosophy book from her with numb fingers, holding it above our heads with one hand, and kiss her like i've never craved the taste of her lips more than in that moment. she kisses me back, gladly. her skin is blue from the cold and there are raindrops tumbling from the eyelashes of her closed eyes and all at once the perfection of the tiny, shivering human being in front of me is almost too much to comprehend. so i do the only thing i can. i reach my one free arm around her waist, pull her closer to me, and kiss her harder.
Mo never lets anyone see big parts of her; especially such intimate parts, like this. to everyone else she is tough, and strong, and stubborn, and i see those parts of her as well. but it's the little things i love most; the doors inside her that she keeps open only for me. she never leaves the house without a pair of Doc Martens on her feet yet she's greeted me at 7am with bed hair and a smile that looks like it's been there for hours. i've never seen her cry but i know for a fact that she'll be a wreck by the end of any sad movie. she's never raised her voice in front of me, but i've seen her scream at the tv screen if her favourite act loses on that crappy singing competition she makes me watch with her every week. she doesn't look like someone who enjoys such cliché moments as this, but here we are, kissing in the rain. and it's magnificent.
she pulls away slightly, and i hand her back the book. we're getting soaked again, but by this point, neither of us care. she turns as if to leave, and something tugs inside of me. but she's opening the old satchel slung over her shoulder and pulling something out. look, she whispers, as if this is so important that only i am allowed to hear. i found something. for you. she hands me an old Rubiks cube with shaking fingers. for you, she says again. i found it at the back of one of my classrooms. she presses it into my hands, glancing at me with those impossibly brilliant brown eyes. i thought, she says, maybe, when you're panicking, you could-
a clap of thunder bellows across the heavens before she has a chance to finish her sentence and suddenly she's gone, the heavy book hugged to her chest, globules of water flying off loose strands of her hair as she runs inside. my cheek tingles softly and i can't decide whether she has kissed me or if it's just the rain.
i head back down the street, clutching the Rubiks cube in my hand and lowering my head to the rain. i walk home, thinking of Mo, like always.
she doesn't look like the type of girl to be scared of thunderstorms. but then, she's never been a certain type of girl. she's just her. and that's more than enough for me.