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Marcus is sitting in one of the diner’s many greasy seats. He gestures to a giant tray of fries and chicken nuggets he already ordered, and nudges me a second plastic cup of soda.
I sit down across from him and take a long sip of it.
“So,” Marcus begins.
“So,” I say, but we’re both smiling and can’t stop.
“Lucas would be so happy for you.” Marcus takes a deep breath. “And I’m really happy for you. I know this means a lot.”
I stare down at the fries and I play with one of them for a second before dipping it in copious ketchup and eating it.
“It does. It’s for him. It’s just the least I can do.”
“So what now?” Marcus says. “There’s an exhibition, right?”
“Yeah. The winner gets to organise a show to showcase their work at this big night and exhibition.” I trail off for a second, my heart falling for a moment. “So I’ll be doing that.”
Marcus reaches out and takes my hand in his for a moment.
“We’ll be doing that.”
I meet his gaze and nod once, gratefully. He spends a few moments finishing his soda before burping and clasping my hands again.
“I can perform,” Marcus finally says.
“I can compose a piano piece. And I can perform it, at the showcase.”
“Marcus, you don’t have to – ”
“No, I want to.” He takes another deep breath. “You know, maybe it’s time for me to stop hiding, about a lot of things. Like, who was I trying to impress? Who was I scared of? It doesn’t even fucking matter at the end of the day. I want to do this. For you, for Lucas.”
I rub his hand with my thumb and give him a reassuring squeeze.
“That’ll be amazing.”
“I think I have an idea of somehow honouring Lucas more,” I say after a few moments. “Though I don’t know if they’ll allow it.”
“Oh?” Marcus asks curiously.
It’s 2 am and I’m scrolling through the terms and conditions of the competition’s website for the fifth time.
I finally take a deep breath and begin drafting the email. Marcus texts several times but I turn over the phone, typing and deleting and re-typing and deleting sentences a dozen times.
Pulling the weighted blanket closer to myself, I finally press send and lie back down.
I don’t fall asleep for the rest of the night.
I’m almost sprinting up to Marcus’ place a few days later, holding my camera precariously in front of me, my heavy backpack dragging me down. I unlock his front door using the hidden key behind his potted plant and run upstairs.
Marcus is reading in bed and he looks up as I arrive.
“What’s happening?” he immediately sits up, throwing his book to the side.
I flop down next to him and show him the email on my phone.
“They said yes,” I grin.
“Yes?” Marcus echoes.
“To displaying some of Lucas’ old photos on the side of the exhibition that night. There’ll be a little less space for my own, but I don’t care. It’s…it’s like we’ll have an exhibition together. Like we’ve always wanted.”
I’m crying now and I can barely stop. Marcus puts his arms around me and I breathe heavily for several moments. I’m smiling and smiling but my chest hurts and there’s something painful and heavy in my stomach that has settled there since the trial that is finally beginning to dissipate, just ever so slightly.
I’m sitting sprawled in the piano room with a large sketchbook in front of me, drawing arrows around a floorplan to decide where of my photos will be displayed where. Marcus is hunched over the piano, a pile of papers before him, several more crumpled ones by his feet.
I look up as once in a while he mutters something under his breath and taps out a few notes or chords on the piano.
I make a few notes next to the floor plan as Marcus exhales loudly and shuffles a few papers.
“I think you’ll like it,” he announces. “But the song will be a surprise for the night.”
“Come on,” I complain, but he shakes his head, a playful glint appearing in his eyes.
“Just wait until that night.”
“I know it’ll be amazing,” I say truthfully, closing the sketchbook and placing it in my lap.
“I hope so,” he sighs, rubbing his hands on his knees. “A lot of people are going to be there.”
“You’ll do just fine. You won your competition, remember?”
“Yeah but that was different. That was for…strangers, and you. This, now everyone around will see me. Hell, Chip might be there. It’s a big local competition.”
“If he is, fuck him,” I say sharply, and Marcus looks up, surprised. “Sorry. I mean, if he’s going to be an asshole, you owe nothing to him.”
Marcus shrugs. “I suppose not.”
“This night will be about remembering Lucas,” I say quickly. “And honestly, this’ll be a kind of closure, a little bit. For me, for…Lucas’ parents.”
“Did you invite them?”
“I texted his mom. She says she’ll come.”
“She wasn’t angry?”
I shake my head. “She wants her son’s work to be seen. It’s his legacy.”
“His legacy is more than just his photography. Him having existed at all affected everything around him.” Marcus leans so he’s balancing his chin on one hand. “No matter how the night goes, Lucas’ life would’ve been meaningful. And he’ll be remembered.”
I nod, my throat closing up again. I look away from Marcus as he slides down from the piano seat and sits next to me, taking my hand.
“I’m sorry,” he begins, but I shake my head.
“I needed to hear that.” I take a deep breath. “I was thinking of doing something myself, too. Something after this.”
“A lot of what I’ve been realising is that I need to find security again, agency over my life and…and I guess myself. ‘Cus I lost a lot of that when Lucas died. Like I lost control of everything and I’ve been trying to take it back all the wrong ways. Not control over reality just…agency of myself and my life. And I think I can find that through just keeping taking photos, like Lucas did.” I ramble and lean against Marcus slightly and study the wall, mind wandering. “Maybe start up a website or something.”
“Hey, if you do that, it’ll be amazing. I know that. Please do.”
“Mm,” I acknowledge tiredly, putting my head on his shoulder and closing my eyes.