I loved this feeling. All shiny and new, hot off the press, fresh from the 21st street market. I was born again, brought into the world a new baby chick whose wings were already stretched open in flight. Nothing could keep me down; even the clouds that poured down rain were a blessing, baptizing the earth with radiance, with hope, with newfound fertility. Who needed the golden sun when you could dance on silver?
The harsh wind blew my skirt up and earned me a few deserved catcalls, but unlike the afternoons when I would stare straight ahead and ignore such profanity, today I raised my head laughed it off with the sky, who rumbled happily along with me. The grey umbrella, previously twirled above my head, came down below my knees as I opened myself up to the rain. Crucify me, I cried, spreading my arms out and spinning recklessly down the sidewalk. I will feel no pain.
Since when have you been on the swim team? Linsday asks, handing me a towel in the safety of her crimson room. She flopped down on the warm comforter of the four-poster bed, flipping through a magazine as I dried my hair and wrung out my blouse.
Very funny, I replied, and threw the damp cloth at her. She squealed as it landed on her head, invading the carefully maintained territory of her hair.
Bitch! she exclaimed. If my hair frizzes I will bust your ass! Slipping and sliding over the hardwood in her socks, she chased me gleefully through the room, snapping the towel whenever she got close. She wrapped the towel around my waist as I reached to unlock the door and pulled me back, dragging me around in dizzy circles until we collapsed onto the bed, exhausted and still gasping with laughter.
Someone's in a good mood, I said.
I could say the same. She grinned at me, braceless teeth straight and beautiful in contrast to mine, which were still wired to my face. Everything about her was perfect, but today I couldn't resent it.
The door clicked open without warning, and Michael stuck his head in. You girls ready? We're leaving in an hour.
Get lost, loser! Lindsay threw a pillow at him, and he retreated behind the white paneling of the doorframe.
All right, all right. He laughed, his voice muffled by the wood. But be nice. Don't forget who got you free tickets, huh?
Yeah big deal, she called back. Not like anyone cares about your stupid band anyway!
Tell that to the record dealers, he retorted, and his footsteps echoed quietly away down the hallway.
That's not true, I said to Lindsay. She rolled her eyes, getting up to walk over to the mahogany dresser.
I know, I know. I just like to tease him.
Have you ever heard them before?
No shit Sherlock, they practice in the living room! She threw a shirt at me. Wear this, it'll make you look hot.
I pulled it over my head as she analyzed every aspect of my soon-to-be outfit, throwing destroyed jeans and black combat boots in my direction. Fortunately for you I've done my hair already, she continued. So we'll be able to focus on yours. Shouldn't take more than fifteen minutes.
The shirt was a bit large for me, the V-neck revealing my collarbones and a bit of non-existent cleavage, but when I complained Lindsay dragged me in front of her full-length mirror.
My boobs aren't as large as yours, I protested, but, she merely yanked my head toward the glassy surface, forcing me to take in my appearance in all of its rockstar glory. The grey shirt was thin and slightly transparent, revealing just a hint of the lacy black bra underneath, making it look like there was more of something there than there really was. Around my waist and hips, the folds were baggy and loose, clingy to curves that didn't exist and flattening what was left of my childish stomach. The jeans were tight, rips revealing white patches of flesh and accentuating the form of my legs, while the boots hardened the entire appearance, taught laces and metal tips giving it the edge I needed. My own parents would mistake me for someone three years older than I really was.
You work miracles, I breathed, and Lindsay grinned.
Just a little bit of eyeliner and lipgloss and you're through, she replied, pinning the back part of my hair up and letting the rest fall down in its natural, loose curls. I turned my head, letting it catch the light and turn from brown to golden as it swished around my round face, remembering the days when people had likened me to Shirley Temple, that paragon of childish innocence. Those days were gone.
I stood behind Lindsay as she put the finishing touches on her mascara, resting my chin on her shoulder. You are something else, Lindz, I told her, and her mouth twisted up to smile at me once more.
Michael drove us to the park in his beat up Monte Carlo, the sky darkening with every block we turned. By the time he pulled up to the curb and parked by the fire hydrant, the orange orb had turned the sky from pink to purple and finally, to navy. We sat together for a long moment, watching as it disappeared below the edge of the stormy ocean.
Weather's coming back, Michael said, opening the car door and stepping out. Gonna rain again soon.
Hot, Lindsay said as he moved to the back to unload his guitar. Nothing like some water to get some action going. She winked at me, and something inside my chest stirred uneasily.
It's getting pretty crowded already, Michael noted, walking toward the back of the makeshift stage. The guard standing at the back let us pass through without comment.
Hey! a dark figure hailed Michael from behind the speakers, and he raised a hand in response. All right, he said, turning back to us. You all got money? We nodded. Phones?
Who are you, Aunt Catharine? Lindsay shoved his shoulder. He held his hands up defensively.
So sue me, I'm trying to be a responsible brother! She rolled her eyes. Fine, be that way. Come find me at the end of it all, okay?
We muttered our response, and he disappeared off to the back of the stage. Freedom! Lindsay cried. She grabbed my hand, and we ran into the crowd, screaming.
The roar was deafening when the lead singer walked up to the microphone, vivacious red hair gelled into spikes. His eyes sweeped the crowd boldly, and he grinned, allowing the roar to undulate and grow to ear-shattering heights. Hello San Francisco! he yelled, and San Francisco yelled back in response. Kyle was dreamy, all right, there was no doubt about that, and every girl in the dewy lawn screamed out her passion for him. I love you! Lindsay cried. That's news to me! I called to her sarcastically, and we fell on top of each other, laughing.
We are the Tempestuous Fortunes, and we are here to rock the yard. Kyle paused for dramatic effect. Are you ready?
The roar of the sea could not compare to the flood of noise that erupted all around us. I closed my eyes, and it seemed, for a moment, that I was standing on the precipice of a cliff, letting the waves crash below me - and then the sound began. The sound rose up above the rocks, a tidal wave that dragged me under and pulled me down to the calm depths of the ocean. I breathed in deeply, allowing the sound to fill me and resonate through every hidden corner of my being, flowing in, flowing out, flowing everywhere.
And if you told me, girl
That dreams were unchaseable
I had seen Kyle before, when he came over to hang out with Michael, and Lindsay had always squealed and hidden us in her room, then made excuses for us to go back out to the living room, the kitchen, anything to make us pass by where he and her brother sat chugging soda after soda after soda. I had seen Kyle before, but I had never known how beautiful his voice really was. Lindsay's obsession made more sense now.
It'd be all right
'Cause you'd be chasing them with me
My eyes fluttered open again, feeling the electric energy around me pulsate as the bodies, already sticky with sweat, danced their cares away. I stared at the stage, transfixed, held by the music in an inexplicable and indescribable way.
Come on! Lindsay yelled into my ear. Why aren't you dancing? I turned, prepared to reply to her, to tell her about the sound, but as I did she was swept into the arms of a tall, dark stranger. She grinned up at him, allowing him to wrap his arms around her and bring her closer and closer until they were one, their bodies intertwined as they pulsated in time with everyone else.
Lindz, I called, but my voice was lost in the roar of the sea, and I could only watch as the crowd shifted around me and let her dissolve into its midst.
The thing in my chest stirred again, this time coming into consciousness fully. Where did she go? it roared, and the sky opened up to growl along with it. Wet locks were flung in my face and the salty taste of sweat or rain filled my mouth, but my friend was nowhere in sight. Where did she go? the beast roared.
And if you told me girl
That dreams were unchaseable
It'd be all right
'Cause you'd be chasing them with me
For a long moment I stood, staring up at the stage, helpless and lost. And there was Michael, his black hair swept across his forehead and made messy by the rain, strumming his guitar like there was nothing else in the world. For a long moment I stood, staring up at him, and it seemed that for that long moment he looked up, staring right back at me.
But the moment passed and the creature in my chest brought me back to reality. That is not important right now, it growled. Find Lindsay.
I tore through the crowd, swimming through the currents of people for hours, diving, searching, and resurfacing. But there was nothing. The depths of everything, they revealed nothing. No Lindsay, no tall, handsome stranger. Just the abyss that filled me, that filled the insatiable monster that roared in agony as it ate up every nothing that it found.
I stumbled to the back gate of the concert yard, away from the crowd, away from the music, gasping for breath. Was this what it felt like to drown? There was no Lindsay, I could not find her. I had failed.
A light tap on the shoulder caused me to whirl around, startling the person behind me who was not Lindsay. Again. Not Lindsay. I smiled weakly and apologized, wiping my hand across my forehead in a futile attempt to dry off the rain.
Not a problem, the man said, and smiled. What's your name?
Ash, I mumbled.
How old are you, Ash? Sixteen? Seventeen?
Sixteen, I replied, the lie rolling off of my tongue before I had time to think. This man was another tall, dark stranger, just like the one who had taken Lindsay from me. I wanted nothing to do with him. I have to go, I said, and rushed out through the gate, not caring if anyone saw me go.
My face burned and I turned it up to the sky, letting it swallow me again. I ran, collapsing beneath the nearest tree, letting myself give in to the gasps and sobs that resonated from the beast within me. They were all around me, the cries that were rooted deep in my chest and grew, releasing themselves out of my mouth without asking for my consent. My hands scraped at the ground, clawing at the wet grass, my nails clogging themselves with dirt and mud. The cries would not stop.
But I quieted, soon, and realized that not all of the cries and gasps I’d heard had been my own. Peering around the thick trunk, I saw. Tall and dark, small and bright. They were twined in their own fantasy, and there was nothing I could do. Nothing I did would make any difference.
I could feel my face heat up again, and the dragon in my chest released every torment it could, breathing fiery breaths of rage. It roared, it told me to stop them, to break them apart, to throw her to the ground and ask why. How. How could she do this.
But I defied the beast. I ran. I ran again through the rain, slipping and sliding through the mud, listening only to the pounding of my heart as the rain cooled off my burning cheeks, as I absorbed every drop that I could take in.
Why? And how?
I found Michael at the back, packing up the equipment with the others. He turned toward me, his face registering something I could not comprehend.
What's wrong? he asked.
I stood before him, unable to find words. The green monster of envy had run its course. It had fully consumed me, and now, exhausted and spent, I felt it disappear as the rain traced rivers in my skin. The uneasy feeling in my chest traveled down, down into my stomach, a new type of rumbling taking a hold of my core.
Something in Michael's eyes changed, and he walked forward slowly, his hand reaching up to brush a wet lock of hair out of my face. He drew closer and closer, and I gave in to the delicious rumbling, allowing the inevitable to consume me.
And this is the point of no return.