Rose Water

Chapter 25

When everything you thought you had falls apart, you have no choice but to move on.

If you don't, you'll get trampled by the next wave of bullshit. You go on. You fall to the ground, pick yourself up and bite your lip against the tears that threaten to fall as you step into tomorrow, the sun shining on your face and blinding your way, stealing your eyesight.

I have turned my back on the sun. I welcome the darkness. My own private declaration. I blink as I feel the door press into my back. I turn around and come face to face with Gerri.

"Justin, are you ready? Its time to go," she says as if I am going to fight and protest.

"I know," I say as I lock eyes with Freddy.

Pick up where you left off. I can't, I lost my page. I'm breathing…

I'm breathing. I'm drowning. I'm…. "Shit Brian, you scared the fucking shit out of me," I say as I open my eyes and sit up in the tub, wiping the extra water from my face. The walls of the hotel bathroom are yellow, stained, forgotten.

Brian didn't want to stop here; a small, cheap hotel that changes its customers too much and its sheets too little. He wanted to drive the few hours back to Pittsburgh. He wanted to get back into step, line up our lives and dive in. Synchronized swimmers.

I need to change my routine.

"Hungry?" He asks as he looks at me. I can see the questions swirling inside of him, but he bites his tongue. I wipe the water from my face again, my hand grazing the hairs that have grown on my face.

Cutters… Number one rule… No sharp objects.

"Yeah," I say as I let my hand float just above the surface of the water. He looks at himself in the mirror, checking himself out, trying not to look at me. I smile inside of myself as he tries to ignore the elephant in the room. My left hand is resting on the side of the tub. I shake it a little, just slightly. Peanuts.

Don't feed the animals.

"What do you want?" He asks as he turns to me, the top button of his jeans undone as they ride low on his hips. "That is, <i>if</i> there is even a decent place around here to order from."

"Pizza," I say. He walks out of the bathroom and I know that he is going to get Thai. I notice he left the door open, but I don't say anything as I slide back under the water.

Hold your breath.


I don't trust you enough to let you trust yourself.

I leave the bathroom door open. I need to see him. I have to know that he's okay. I have to. I know that I can't watch him every minute of everyday, hour, month, week, second, year… years and it scares the shit out of me. "Yeah, that's the right address," I say into the phone.

I hang up as I watch the faint bubbles of air float to the surface of the water in the tub.

I pick up my cell phone, tapping it roughly against my leg before pressing number four on the speed dial list. "Hell-O," Cynthia sings as she answers the phone. I toss Justin's jacket onto the chair in the room and lean against the headboard.

"Cynthia," I say as I clear my throat.

"Brian?" she says. I can hear her rustling papers and I smile. She must still be at work. Cynthia does more than she has to. I make a mental note to raise her pay… or, buy her something.

"Well, who did you think it was? Look, I need you to clear my schedule," I tell her as I pinch the bridge of my nose. I can hear her breath hitch as more papers rustle in the distance.

"Brian, you have meetings lined up with…."

"I know who I have meetings with," I say as Justin's head emerges from under the water. "Cancel them all. Until further notice, I'm not available." I hang up the phone, without giving her a chance to answer. There is a knock at the door and I get up to answer it, tossing my phone on the bed.

"Kinney?" The deliveryman asks. I nod my head and hand him the money for the food along with a tip before closing the door. Justin comes out of the bathroom, water dripping from his body as he fastens his towel around his waist.

"I fucking knew you were going to get Thai," he says as he walks over and sits on the bed. I sit across from him and lean on the headboard, my right leg resting on the floor. We talk as if we have known each other for a lifetime. We talk as if we are the closest that two people can ever be.

Public identity is a smokescreen.

"You know me so well," I say as he takes out one of the containers, opens it and starts to eat. He is on his third bite, the chopsticks tapping cautiously against his lips when he decides to say what he is really thinking.

Clear the air.

"Well enough to know that you don't trust me," he says as he looks at me, his blue eyes burning into mine. I look at him, the noodles seeming to multiply in my mouth. I swallow and the stalemate begins. Who can last longer? Who has so much more that they don't want to say?

I stick my chopsticks in my noodles and sit the container on the nightstand. He wins. I cave.

"Should I trust you?" I ask.

He puts his hand down, his chopsticks tapping against his toweled thigh. He wasn't expecting me to ask him that. I look into his eyes and I see them shift. I see his entire body shift. He's uncomfortable. His eyes rest back on mine, but I can see the chopstick as the rhythm changes from a constant tapping to an unconscious digging.

I reach out and take the chopsticks from his hand.

"Should I?" I repeat. A single tear falls from his eye and over his cheek, soaking into the white towel that covers him. I take the container out of his hand and sit it next to mine on the nightstand. I wrap my fingers around his wrist and pull him closer to me.

"I don't know," he whispers in my ear as he wraps his arms around me. "I don't think I really trust myself." I feel his mouth on my neck. I hold onto his arms, pulling him back so I can see his face.


Fuck me into nothingness. I want to swim in a sea of smoke. I want to choke on air. No questions. No thoughts. Nothing but… distorted reality.

I hold onto Brian's back, my fingers digging into him, pulling him closer. Heated indentations on sweat drenched skin. I wrap my legs around his waist as my back arches off the sheets. I feel him enter me completely and I bite down on the skin of his shoulder. There will be marks there in the morning.

My marks… on his skin.

"Justin," he breathes as I release my hold on him, my tongue soothing the burn. I bring my lips to his as he thrusts inside of me, our movements slow and timeless.

"Ugh," I grunt as I feel his hand grasp my cock. I suck in a deep breath as he pumps his fist up and down. He pumps as he thrusts and I feel my back slide across the sheets. My head falls over the edge of the bed and the rush of blood coupled with the other feelings is almost too much.

I hold onto Brian's hair as I start to come, hard. He follows me, filling the condom and collapsing on top of me, our breathing shallow, hard, wanting, waiting, searching. I don't move my legs. I keep them locked around his waist, holding him close to me.

It's been forever. It's nice to meet you again.

He slides out after what feels like hours and moves to the side of me, an empty space between heaven and hell, propping his head up on his hand as he lights a cigarette and lets the smoke fill the room. "That was great," he says as he licks his lips and takes another pull from the cigarette.

Sugar-coated angel. I see the devil's tail.

"Yeah," I finally say. It's the only word I can get my lips to form. I can still feel him pulsing inside of me. I close my eyes and let the sensations run through me.

Rubber on black pavement in the harsh quiet of morning. Two hearts beating toward uncertainty. One mile… two… three… four… five…

No detour.


Back at the loft. A false sense of home. A modern day castle… spacious and cold… containing secrets known by all and hidden from the seeing.

With your feet in the air and your head on the ground

Try this trick and spin it, yeah

Your head will collapse if there's nothing in it

I watch him as I step around the bed, a manila folder held loosely between my fingers.

The blinking of his eyes and the movement of his finger as he presses the repeat button on the stereo is the only movement he has made in the past few hours. "Are you just going to lie there all day?" I ask as I stop at the top of the stairs.

His right hand flexes around the stereo remote as he stares up at the ceiling, his limbs stretched in each direction. Bondage re-enactment.

His diploma is next to his head, teasing and taunting him. He didn't go to his graduation. He was too depressed, too locked away. Too absent from caring. He wasn't sorry he missed it. He wished he was there. "I'm thinking," he says as he flexes his fingers around the remote.

"Are you going to lay there thinking all day?" He lifts his head and looks over at me before dropping his head back onto the pillows.

Where is my mind?

Where is my mind?

Where is my mind?

Way out in the water, see it swimming

"It wouldn't bother you so much if you were at work. You didn't have to stay here and watch me," he says as he listens to the song play. "Don't bother denying it. I know you stayed just to make sure I wouldn't slit my wrists while you were gone." He presses the play button, starting the song over, again.

"That's not funny."

"I'm not laughing."


One week, five hours, thirty minutes, seven seconds. I hear a ticking time-bomb.

"You don't get to be cured. You are what you are. It lives in here," Freddy says to me as he taps my chest.

I blink away the memory. Decaying flowers on a forgotten grave.

"I'll have my cell on," he tells me. I nod my head. He has told me that five times already. I reach up and kiss him. His hands grip my arms, steadying me? Steadying himself? "Later," he says as he leaves out of the door, closing it behind him. The vibrations shake the foundations of my body.

"Later," I breathe.

I am waiting to see if I'll collapse, fall apart and crumble now that I am out from under his watchful eye. Brian watched every movement I made, careful to not let me see him doing it. I turn around and walk away from the door.

First step, take a shower.

I pull my jacket on and sling my backpack over my head, the strap resting across my torso. "Take a deep breath. You'll be fine," I tell myself as I slide the loft door open and step into uncertainty.

Second step, leave the loft. Try to exist outside the realm of the self-proclaimed sacrosanct.

I walk out of the front of the building and look up and down the street. There are people everywhere. I thought that most people would be at work all ready, deserting the sidewalks and leaving then open to me.

I step down from the stoop and head toward the bus stop, my left hand clutching tightly to the strap of my bag. I sit at the bus stop, my right foot gently tapping the ground. I watch the people as they walk up and down the street oblivious to all that is going on around them.

Someone sits next to me on the bench, a little too close for comfort. I want to move, but I don't want to be that asshole that moves because they didn't want to sit next to you in the first place. No one likes that person. Everyone knows when they are being that person. If this was the movie theatre this would be next to unacceptable.

Courtesy seat BITCH!

"Do you go to school around here?" I shift my eyes and look at the woman sitting next to me. Dark blue jeans, black tank top, hair pulled back lazily into a bun, she smiles at me.

"Huh?" She laughs and tugs on the strap of my backpack.

"You look like a student," she says. "I teach art and sculpture over at PIFA, so I see enough of them." I give her a fake smile as I move a fraction of an inch. She gives me a smirk and smiles, showing all of her teeth. "Its okay, you can move over if you want. Most people say I tend to make them feel a little… claustrophobic.

Now I can't move. Fuck her open invitation.

"No," I tell her. She watches me, her head nodding as she looks me up and down. "I applied to PIFA," I tell her as my eyes keep a steady lock on the windows of the building across the street.

"Cool, did you get in?" She asks as she gazes at me, her eyes never moving from mine. I refuse to look over at her. I refuse to meet her stare head on. I kick my legs out in front of me; pitch black Converse covered by worn denim.

"I don't know. I never opened the letter," I say as the clouds move and let the sun shine through. I inch my feet back, not wanting the light to touch me.

"Why not?"

I shrug. "I don't know. I think I always meant to, but I just got a little… distracted." I adjust my jacket and pull on the strap of my bag. She is making me pleasantly nervous. Almost like she is a part of me; some part that I lost long ago.

"Well," she asks as she digs in her pocket, "what's stopping you now?" She pulls out a handful of gummy bears and puts one in her mouth, offering me one. I shake my head when I see her hand holding the sticky bears in my peripheral vision.

"No thank you," I say. She looks up at the sky, shrugs her shoulders and pops another one into her mouth. "I think I am afraid of what I'll do if I wasn't accepted."

"I see," she says as she turns on the bench. "Well, I say… fuck fear." Her knee is pressing into my bag, making it press into me. I move over a little and rub the itch on my nose away. Now I lock eyes with her. Now I let her see me. I move my bag over to the other side of my body and turn toward her.

Her eyes are slate grey, piercing. Her hair is jet black, haunting. She can't be more than twenty-eight. I see the large art portfolio behind her, resting against the bench. I see the art box on the ground, sitting at her feet and waiting. Charcoal stains are peppering her hands and fingers. She is gorgeous.

"What if you say fuck you to fear, step off of the curb and get hit by an eighteen wheeler?" I ask. She eats another gummy bear as she stares at me.

Finally, after countless ticks of the second hand she opens her mouth. "What if you make it to the other side? The point is…"

"Justin," I tell her.

"The point, Justin, is that you have to step off the curb to find out what's going to happen. No matter the outcome, at least you'll know that you had the balls to go for something that you wanted so bad that you were willing to put it all on the line."

I look at her as she reaches into her pocket and pulls out a card. She scribbles on the back and hands it to me. Charcoal stains smudging the writing. "Leslie Nurella," I read.

"Yeah, that's me," she says as the bus pulls to a stop in front of us. I didn't even hear it coming. She gets up and grabs her things. "Call me when you open the letter, or even if you don't. I like to get together with other artists and just hang out."

"How did you…." She leans over and taps on my fingers. I look down and see the paint, charcoal and granite marks from my own work glaring back at me. She gives me another huge smile and hops onto the bus, waving as she sits down and they pull away.

Newly enlightened. Smothered in diesel exhaust.

I pull my backpack in front of me and flip the flap open, searching for the papers I abandoned so long ago. I reach the bottom of the bag and my fingers graze against the envelopes. I pull them out one by one, no longer concerned with a backup plan or my father's choice.

I toss the others aside and stare at the PIFA envelope, heavy and hot in my hand. Stationary bullet.

I rip into the envelope, my teeth clamping down on my bottom lip. My eyes scan over the date, the name of the school, the address, blah… blah… blah. I stop on the first line. I don't need to go any further than that. I don't need to see anything more than…

We are pleased to inform you….

I just stepped off the curb.

The lyrics are to the song Where is my mind? by The Pixies

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