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The late bus home is near empty once again. I sit near the back clutching my bag. I sigh and stare out at the darkness and occasional headlights flashing by.
I take a deep breath, and reach into my pocket for my phone, turning it off airplane mode. I’m bombarded with a flood of urgent and furious texts from my parents. Heartbeat rapidly growing, I respond with a few more excuses and swipe to turn airplane mode back on again but before I can do so seven texts from Marcus flash on the screen.
My breath catches slightly. Not being able to help myself, I click them and there are several apologies and several more texts saying – call me.
And then – god damn it Isaac I can see you’re online.
The phone immediately rings and I nearly drop it, answering it by reflex to stop it from ringing loudly in the quiet of the bus.
“I’m really sorry.” Marcus immediately says. “What I did – what I didn’t do, it was really shitty. I’m sorry.”
“Why’d you just watch?” I ask, my voice hollow and far away from my body. There’s no anger, only quiet fatigue.
There’s a long pause. “I don’t know.”
“Yes you do.”
Marcus sighs loudly. “I was fucking scared, okay? They were my friends. And my friends, everyone, I don’t know – they finally respect me again. I made sure of that once I went back to school after my – after my year off. Isaac, I didn’t want them to hate me. I was scared. There. That’s the fucking truth.”
“If you want respect what you did wasn’t a way to earn it.”
“I know. Okay? You don’t think I know? What I did. Or didn’t do. It was wrong. I was scared, but that’s no excuse.” There’s a second’s pause. “Isaac, I thought you were fucking dead.“
I exhale gently. “Okay, okay. I…I get it. I’m sorry too. I’m sorry. It’s just been a long day.”
There’s another moment of silence. “Where are you?”
“Where are you?”
“On a bus.” Pause. “I went back to my hometown.”
The unspoken questions spin in the silence.
“I’m coming to get you.” Marcus finally says.
“Yeah.” Marcus responds firmly. “It’s late and you’re on your own. I’m coming to pick you up.”
I roll my eyes. “I already forgave you. You don’t have to suck up to me.”
“It’s not about that and you know it,” Marcus snaps quickly.
“Fine. The bus’ll be there in twenty.”
He hangs up and my head is spinning as I lean against the bus window.
I stumble off the bus and onto the cold pavement of the bus terminal twenty minutes later, dragging my bag behind me.
“Isaac.” A voice calls and I look up.
Marcus stands there silhouetted under a flickering streetlight a dozen steps away, a jacket hanging from his arm and a concerned expression on his face.
Marcus throws the jacket over my shoulders as I walk closer, and we walk away from the bus stop in silence for several moments.
“What were you thinking, going back there?” Marcus asks, though there is not a hint of accusation in his voice.
“I just need closure, somehow,” I reply softly. Now that I start talking the words begin to fall into place and Marcus stares back attentively. “When I left, it was like running away. Didn’t look back. Thought I’d never, ever go back. But it’s been eating at me. Everything that happened.”
“Do you feel better?” he asks.
“Yes. No. I don’t know. I’m beginning to think it has to come from myself and from time and that nothing else in the world can speed that up. And I hate that.”
We continue walking in silence for several moments.
“I’m sorry for being a jerk,” Marcus says finally. “Things are complicated, for both of us. I know that. And although neither of us can solve each other’s problems, we can at least try to support each other in it, you know?”
“That’s okay. Marcus, really. I know you’re trying. And it’s not your job to make me feel better.”
Marcus takes out his phone and shuffles his music. He places one earbud in, holding one out to me. I take it and the piano music swells and fills my brain. I wish it would fill it to the brim so there’s nothing left for anything else but minds are just like that, endless chasms. There’s no being filled. There’s no drowning out the thoughts when they’re very determined to make a home there.
Still, in that moment, I let myself take it all in. I let Marcus’ music carry the unspoken words between us. I let Marcus take my hand and try to stop my thoughts from hurtling forward into an inevitable oh god this can only end terribly. I take a deep breath and focus on his fingers between mine, the cold air in my face, the solid pavement underneath my feet.
I hope for a time I can let myself enjoy a situation or moment again without being overwhelmed by the fear of losing it.
The piano music arcs into a crescendo and I push away the nausea in me that only comes from not being able to understand what I’m feeling. Or maybe I do understand, but I’m just scared of what it means. Or where it will lead me to.
“I think I’ll continue going to therapy,” I finally say, breaking the wordlessness between us.
Marcus looks up at me and smiles briefly. “That’s good.”
We walk hand in hand underneath the dim street lights, all the way down the silent road and into the night, the piano music dancing and entwining between us.
The piano practice room becomes our own. Our private, undisturbed universe, a sanctuary from the outside.
Marcus plays and practices, and I lean over my laptop, editing and organising dozens upon dozens of photos of the town. The buildings, the parks, trees, even the sky, is all becoming familiar now, comforting sights swirling and making home in my brain. Here, with Marcus, this is home now.
“How was therapy earlier?” Marcus pauses at the end of a particularly fast paced song and leans over, watching me finish touching up a photo of the town skyline at sunset.
“I’m making progress,” I respond quietly.
“Hey,” Marcus says gently. “If you ever need anything, or can’t sleep, just call me, okay? We can talk it out. You know that, right?”
I look up and smile gratefully. “I know.”
He turns back to the piano a few moments later and I lie back down with a thump on the carpet, staring up at the beige ceiling.
The roaring water fills my ears again. I count the cracks on the walls, I rub the carpet beneath my palms, I inhale the musky tang of the indoor air, I think quietly I am here, I am here, I am safe, and I concentrate everything on each and every piano note, letting them fill my body with each inhale and exit out peacefully with every exhale.
I am here, and I am safe.