Rose Water

Chapter 27

If it was cut and dry it wouldn't be life.

You thought you learned your lesson the first time. You thought it was all crystal clear. It wasn't and you honestly are starting not to care. You thought you had become enlightened. You bared your soul, but not quite. You went to the edge of hell and back again. No burns or smoke inhalation.

Cheat death once, let out a sigh. Cheat death twice, shame on life. Cheat death three times. You might just slip away.

It feels like old times, the long stretch of silence and way too much time. The box cutter is heavy in my hand, my thumb flicking the blade in… and out. Pulse. Pulse. Pulse. Sedation.

I choose destruction. Because I am weaker than I thought I was and because I am stronger than I never needed to be. Because it is not enough and because it is more than it ever had the right to be. Because it was mine to create.

Because it is mine to destroy. This is my trial and error. I owe explanations to no one. Pulse. Pulse. Pulse.

I drop to my knees and press my palms to the floor. My breathing is shallow and mute. I thought I would be sad. I'm not.

The painting is in pieces around me, the canvas mutilated and abused. I'd do anything to put it back together. But I can't, I can't put it back together. The air around me is stale and way too hot. The heater doesn't work, I can't turn it down.

I haven't seen Brian in fourteen days.

I walked out of Leslie's studio and never looked back. I didn't even think to wait for Brian to come, wait for the bus. Wait for my head to clear and my thoughts to reattach with my actions. I walked. I walked until my lungs burned and the painting was too heavy.

Then I stopped.

"Justin, what the fuck are you doing here?" Daphne asks. I've been here for hours, leaning against the door and resting my head against the wall. I stand up, my back pressing against the wall as I will away the pins and needles.

I don't know why I'm here. I wish I could tell you, I can't.

"You think I could stay here for a few days?" I ask, biting my bottom lip and waiting for her answer. She jiggles the keys in her hand and smiles as the metal touches the lock.

"Pizza for dinner sound good to you?" She asks as she pushes the door open and walks in. I pick up the canvas and follow her inside.

I have been here ever since. I haven't left. I don't need to. Daphne comes and goes. I sit back and take a deep breath, the apartment coming back into focus. Daphne wasn't kidding when she said it was small. It defies the laws of physical space.

I move back until my back is pressed against the wall and my feet are flat on the floor. The box cutter is pulsing in my hand and I feel the tears as they start to fall from my eyes. I choke back the tears as I reach for the cordless phone. I hold onto the phone, feeling the weight in my hand.

Brian's number replays over and over in my head.


I pick up the phone on the fourth ring, drops of water still dripping from my skin and pooling on the floor. "Yeah," I answer. I wait for the person on the other line to say something, anything. All I hear is silence.

You have five seconds.

I haven't seen Justin in fourteen days. I don't know where he is. He has dropped off the face of the earth and I can hardly breathe… on the inside. On the outside I have never looked calmer.

"Justin?" I sit down on the bed and wait. I hear the moving of clothes and the pure rush of air. I can hear the sharp intake of tear-filled breath and the deafening silence of the dial tone.

If you'd like to make a call, please hang up and try again.


"Justin?" I hear and I open my mouth. I open my mouth and nothing comes out, my tongue doesn't move. I need a drink of water. I want to tell him where I am but I don't. I press end and gently sit the phone down between my legs.

I sit up on my knees and pull my bottom lip between my teeth, clicking the blade out and into place as I frantically pull on the button of my jeans. I rip open the zipper and close my eyes as metal meets flesh. Suddenly the heat doesn't seem so bad.

I welcome the cold.

Cheat death four times, he might just call your bluff. No rest for the persistent.


I pull my shirt down and walk across the loft, my right hand holding tight to the cordless phone. He'll call back. This is his story, not mine.

I reach into the fridge and pull out a bottle of water. I close my eyes and will away the tension in my shoulders as a loud pounding on the door pulls me from my thoughts. Reluctantly I place the phone on the counter.

Wireless connection; local area network undetected.

I pull the door open and take a step back. "Hey, Brian," Daphne says nervously as she smiles and walks through the door. I smile at her softly and close the door behind her. She drops her purse onto the sofa and her body quickly follows. "I was hoping you were home," she says.

I walk into the kitchen and grab an extra bottle of water out of the fridge… and the phone. I hand the water to her and sit down on the other side of the sofa, the phone on the table in front of me. "Thanks," she says as she twists off the top and takes a long drink.

"You look good," I tell her and I mean it. She looks better than the last time I saw her, covered in bruises and humiliation. She smiles and puts the top back on the water before holding it tightly in her hands, the condensation leaving small drops of water to fall on her jeans.

"Thanks," she says as she looks out the window at the day passing us by, fading into night. We don't know what to say. We have come too far to dredge up the past and the future is too clouded. She knows what I want to say and I can feel her thoughts.

"I'm sorry," I tell her. For not coming to visit her, for not doing any of the things that I maybe should have done. I'm sorry.

"Me too," she says as she looks over at me, pushing loose strands of hair behind her ear and smiling. For not calling and telling me that she was okay. For not doing all of the things that she should have done. She's sorry.

I nod and so does she. Build a bridge over the water, its way too deep to get wet.

"Has he been there the whole time?" I ask without looking at her. She rolls the water bottle in her hands and nods her head.

"Yeah," she says. I run a hand over my face and clench my jaw. "I didn't know you didn't know. I should have called. But, I was afraid that he would know I was talking to you and leave. I figured he was better off with me than on his own."

I didn't know she lived alone.

"Did he say anything?" I ask as I take a drink of my water and glance at the phone. She shakes her head.

"He doesn't talk much. He spends most of the time looking at this painting of his. I bought him a few pairs of sweats and a pack of tee shirts. He would have been pissed if I came to get clothes from here."

"I'll pay you back," I tell her absently.

"You don't have to."

"I'll pay you back," I repeat. She nods. Why are you here now? Why now? She reaches forward and puts her bottle on the coffee table.

"I don't know how worried you've been about him," she starts. She has no idea. "But he doesn't eat. I don't know what to say to him… or do. I have a hard enough time pulling myself through the day."

She can't carry him too. I understand. "I just can't…." She stops talking. She pulls at a piece of her hair and sighs. She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a white sheet of paper. "I'd lock my car," she says as she pulls a key from her ring, "if I was you. It's not the best of neighborhoods."

I don't need to open the paper to know it's her address. I don't need to feel the key in my pocket to know its there. I don't need to know that I left her in my loft with two twenties and the number to the pizza place around the corner. I don't need to hear the sounds that bounce off the walls of Daphne's apartment building.

I don't need to know how much time passed between my presence in the lobby and my presence in front of the door. I knock twice.

This is your salvation; would you like to let it in?

"Open the door," I say calmly. My insides are shaking. Having him in front of me is fourteen days overdue. I haven't gotten decent sleep. Not because I can't sleep without him, but because I can't sleep while I am worrying about him.

I hear a muffled noise and a low, steady, voice. "Open the door Justin. I know you're in there," I say, my face pressed close to the door. I watch, out the corner of my eye, as one of Daphne's neighbors walks down the stairs behind me. I pull the key from my pocket and stick it in the lock.

I close the door behind me and slide the key back into my pocket. I take a step forward and look around the room. It doesn't take long to take it all in. There is a place to eat, a place to sleep, a bathroom and no sign of Justin. Pieces of the painting, the one I had watched him painstakingly paint, lay on the floor surrounding my feet.

I step over the pieces of canvas, torn strips, long and short. It wasn't meant to be. "Go away." His voice is too low, too tired, blocked and muffled by the bathroom door. Exhaustion.

"If only it was that easy," I say as I lean against the door, the fingers of my right hand tapping against the door frame. My left hand loosely twists at the knob. It's locked.

Don't shut me out.

I can hear him breathing. I can hear him thinking. I can't touch him. I can't hold him. I can't reassure him and take it all back. Take it all away. I let out a slow, heavy breath. I'm not sure I would if I could. I'm not sure if I could take another round.


I feel exhausted. I feel full. I feel too much regret. Regret is a dish best served icy hot. I run my hand along the door frame and close my eyes. I steady my lip as I slam my shoulder into the door. It doesn't take much; the appearance of wood and safety.

Justin looks up at me and his hands are shaking, covered in blood, a slight bluish tint. "The strangest thing," he says and his thoughts stop. He rolls his lips into his mouth and shifts in his spot on the floor. I drop to the ground.

The bill for the cleaners will be on pink paper with blue ink.

"You owe me for this," I say and he smiles shakily. He smiles and it makes me want to disappear. He won't look at me.

I press my back against the door frame, half on the wall and half suspended in the free space of the door. I can see the box cutter in his hand, slicked in blood.

"I thought it was everything but me," he says, his bottom lip trembling as he reaches up to wipe the tears away from his face. He uses the back of his wrist. The blade is too close to his face. I listen. I have never paid more attention. "Its not," he tells the tiles.

The blade flicks in and then out, moved down to his thigh and still too close to his skin. I move forward slowly and sit next to him. His jeans are pooled around his legs, one side higher than the other.

Call the blood bank. It's all going to waste.

The bag for his clothes will be medicinal waste.


I don't feel the warmed metal slip from my hand. I don't feel my body slice through the air as I lean against Brian. He pulls my jeans back up, the blood trickling and sticky, warm and cooling. I don't feel my feet slide across the floor or my jacket being tossed over my shoulders. I don't try to pull it on.

It's cold outside. I haven't been outside in fourteen days. "Try not to get blood on the seats," Brian says. I slide into the car and let him close the door. He gets in and drives. He drives too far and too fast.

Pittsburgh General Hospital, the parking spaces are too narrow. Drop me at the door.

"Just… stay. There." He leaves me at the door of the emergency room and drives away. I stare at the concrete and pretend not to notice the people. I pretend not to hear the sirens and the voices.


The sign on the door is manmade and full of authority. His pants are scrubs and he walks slowly. We have no words. He stands next to me as I hand the nurse my credit card.

The charge for the visit is over one thousand dollars. Master the possibilities.

"Thank you," he breathes. I look over at him and nod. I am angry, but not quite. I don't want to be. I take the card and the copy of the bill. He follows me out of the hospital and the time never moved so fast or so slow. "Thank you," he repeats as the tires move over the pavement.

I don't answer. I move the car. There is blood on the leather. Tomorrow the car gets detailed. Justin slumps against the door and watches the lights go by. You've waited two weeks you can last a little longer. I pull up to the curb and shut off the engine, getting out of the car.

I wait for him.

He moves slowly, his wounds stinging, the scrubs filtering small droplets of post traumatic stress release. The key to the front door of the building and a five digit security code.

Daphne isn't here.

Justin inches past me and comes to a stop in the middle of the room, halfway between the door and the bedroom. He is too scared to move on and too numb to turn around.

Face your fears, it makes you human.

The sun is gone and the skyline is whispering.  Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?

I watch him smooth out a forgotten towel, one of his, not mine, on the sofa and sit down, watching the edges to make sure he is on the towel and nothing else. I walk into the kitchen, jerking out of my jacket and dropping it onto the counter. The sleeve is on the stove.

Burn me twice, shame on me.


Brian is gone for what feels like forever. I stay where I am, an overwhelming heat pressing in the bottom of my stomach. "It was just too beautiful. I saw it, and I watched it and… too beautiful," I say and I'm rambling.

"She gave me a choice and all I could think was 'this is all too much'. I had this opportunity to walk away and I didn't. She offered it to me, on a… humph,mm… on a, a canvas I guess and I just couldn't." I shake my head.

Brian walks in front of me. I see his jeans close up as he comes to rest in front of me.

I watch him as he stretches forward. He sits a bottle of Beam on the coffee table. He sits a straight razor on the coffee table, blade open and taunting, gleaming and new. He sits a condom on the coffee table.

He sits back on the sofa and crosses his arms over his chest. My hands are clasped between my knees. I look over at him and he looks at me. He raises an eyebrow, no emotion on his face. I turn my attention back to the table.

Don't fuck with the devil. He plays for keeps.

Ante Up.

The house always wins.

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