My eyes burst open in the darkness, and blood drips from my nose. Having bloody noses always makes me feel like I’m in kindergarten. I thought I would grow out of them, but I never did.
It’s the night of my eighteenth birthday, but I don’t feel eighteen. I still feel like the seven year old girl who would run to her parents’ room with tears streaming down her face if her nose started bleeding. I look over at you lying next to me fast asleep and cover my nose with my hand. Your arms take up almost the whole bed. I sit up slowly and tip-toe over the clothes on my floor to the bathroom.
The door creaks as I open it, and the glare of the lights make me squint. Sitting down on the cold tile floor, I press a handful of tissues against my nose, and move closer to the heater. Outside the window, the midnight black sky looks like a velvet curtain behind the trees. Its darkness almost makes me forget the aching that inside my heart — the one I had tried to fill. On the floor, I curl up into a ball, close my eyes, and wish I could just sink into the cold tiles.
A week ago at dinner, Mom and Dad told me they weren’t going to be here today. Dad made pasta, and we were all home at the same time together. He and I started eating pretty fast, but Mom hadn’t picked up her fork. She was staring at the plate of spaghetti, her eyes worried.
“We have something to tell you,” she said, “Promise you won’t be upset.”
Her voice was high pitched and shaky, like mine is sometimes.
“Okay. What is it?” I asked.
“I have to attend a conference in D.C. next Thursday . . with Dad,”
“Next Thursday? But that’s my birthday,” I said, my face hot.
Dad didn’t say a word, so Mom answered again.
“I know, but the conference is really important. Don’t worry, we’ll all celebrate together on Saturday.”
That’s what she always said, but this time her words swirled around me and left me feeling trapped. I got up from the table and stormed up to my room.
Thinking about that conversation creates a painful feeling in my stomach, so instead I fill my mind with memories of us. Two weeks ago was our two year anniversary, but this was the first night I let you sleep in my bed. I didn’t tell my parents I invited you and even though I’m eighteen, I still feel like I did something wrong.
Tonight I had watched you scribbling away in your notebook before we shut out the lights. Your eyes were fastened on the little page, and your pen wouldn’t stop moving. I’ve always wanted to know what you write about in that notebook, but I didn’t ask because I knew you wouldn’t tell me. One time I saw it lying right on my desk, as if you placed it there for me to read. Before I knew it, my hand grabbed it, and I flipped to a random page, glancing at the title of a poem called “used.” I stared at the word in dark blue ink. What could it mean? It stung me for some reason, and I wanted to read more, but that wouldn’t be right. I closed the book, careful not to mess up the fabric cover you made for it, and never looked at it again.
I hug my knees into my chest. A feeling of anger bubbles up deep inside of me. Why didn’t you tell me what you were writing about in that silly notebook? I was hoping you would be like a box I would one day be able to crack open, but I still haven’t gotten to see the inside.
I hate when you act so distant. Like when it was cold outside, and I borrowed your leather gloves that were in your car. I ended up leaving them somewhere and was forced to admit that I lost your “special gloves.” You didn’t talk to me until I bought you a new pair.
Or when you refused to swim in the ocean last summer when I invited you to the beach with my family. You usually swam everywhere, lakes with leeches, hotel pools that smelled weird. But on that clear warm day, you just sat in the sand letting the sun burn your pale skin.
A lump in my throat appears, and tears well up in my eyes. I throw the stained tissues in the garbage and reach for a new one. Mom always makes sure there’s light blue plastic covers over the tissue boxes. She cares so much about things like that. Stupidly, I slam my hand into the blue cover, and it crashes against the floor.
Then I hear your footsteps coming down the hallway. You quietly knock on the door, but I stay silent, so you open it. You smell like orange peels but in a good way, and your eyes widen when you see me crouched down next to the heater with dried blood and tears on my cheeks.
“It’ll be okay,” you say, looking first at me and then at the tissues surrounding me.
You turn on the cold water and splash it on my face. It slips down my cheeks and onto my old T-shirt. With your hands, you push my tangled hair behind my ears and look at me. In your brown eyes, I can see my reflection, a small silhouette. A forced smile spreads across my cheeks. You smile back, pick the tissue box up off the floor, and place it in the cabinet neatly. Hopefully you think I’m happy.
Together we escape the bathroom, quietly shuffle down the hallway, and walk into my room. We’re alone. You sit on the edge of the bed, and open your mouth to say something, but I place my finger against your lips. I lie down on my pillow and sink into my mattress, and then you lie down right next to me. I pretend to fall asleep, so you do too. As your breathing slows, I stare at the ceiling and listen to the whoosh of cars driving by like a little girl.