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  1. infinite sky excerpts part 3

    *here’s some more of this trash that no one really asked for but I’m gonna finish what I started!! um more aimless rambling of plot happens and more angst and crap but also some random snippets of Alya/Jade conversation just cause I think they’re cute. Anyway it’s messy and unorganized and stuff but here ya are* Jade stumbles into me on tired legs. “You good?” I say, half amused. Rubbing their eyes, Jade glances at me with a look that says I am about to fall asleep on my feet. “Weekend morning me is not good,” they reply dryly. “Weekend morning me would sell my soul for an extra ten minutes of sleep.” … … ... So they’re what’s keeping me right? Them, and hot caffeinated coffee, and and as much sleep as I can get with this ton of homework I suddenly have. Whatever. So on Monday, after school, I just want to find Jade at the bus stop and talk to them and forget everything for a bit, all the stress and pressure of school. I want to find that dreamlike surreality again that I found on Saturday. That peace and sense of belonging to something, I guess. Then I want to go home and maybe sleep and eat something, because God am I starving. Those hopes...kind of go down the drain when I’m walking towards my bus at the end of the day, searching the crowd of jostling students for the only person I really feel like seeing right now, and who walks up to me but Kyra. With Caroline by her side, as always. “Hi, Alya,” she says. “Car and I wanna ask you something.” She pulls me out of the crowd, away from my bus, away from where Jade will be. I bite my lip. “Hey,” I say, sounding indifferent and a bit uninterested, which is what I was going for. “We’re going out tonight,” Caroline says, absentmindedly twirling a piece of flashing hair around one finger. “We wanna know if you’ll come with us.” “There might be a few other people coming too. We’re gonna go see a movie.” Kyra crosses her arms and I fidget. “So what do you think?” Quite honestly, I don’t know what to say. It’s not like I have other plans. It’s not like I can just say...no. I can’t use homework as an excuse, that’s too predictable, I can’t say I’m sick, God, what do I do? What do I do? “Sure,” I say nervously, attempting a smile. “I...that sounds fun. Should I, like, meet you somewhere?” Caroline and Kyra share a look. I don’t know what it means. “The theater,” Kyra replies simply. “Outside in front, at eight? See ya, then.” “See ya,” Caroline echoes. “See ya,” I mumble. I don’t know if they heard me or not but it doesn’t matter because they’re already walking away, silent. There’s only one movie theater close to here, so I know what they’re talking about. But that’s the least of my worries -- shit, what have I gotten myself into? I don’t want to hang out with them. Ever. I want to go home tonight and take a long, hot shower and soak in silence. I want to make myself dinner and eat it up in my room and watch some shitty ‘80s comedy or something. I’m just not in the mood for Kyra and Caroline, my best friends turned disgusting underachievers, to suddenly be acting interested in me after all this time. The three years of jr. high school, we were okay. But it was starting. I was inadvertently distancing myself from them because I’m just shit in social situations, while they were both reforming themselves completely. Slowly. And not for the better, definitely not. Of course, that was followed by three more years of high school in which I have been basically totally isolated. It has been, essentially, seven years. Why now? Why did they choose now to basically re-introduce themselves to me, and maybe even try to rebuild our old friendship? Why the hell did they wait all this time? I don’t even want what they’re giving me. I don’t want to start over, I just wish it was all over and done with. Well, Jade’s on the bus when I get there of course. They’re bright as always, and it lifts my mood. It’s only tonight, I tell myself. It’s only tonight and then I can just act uninterested and never have to go out somewhere with my ex best friends again. And plus -- it’s a movie. So I won’t have to make conversation that much. That single thought allows me to relax about a hundred and ten percent. So I get home. I do take a long shower. I do eat, and finish my homework. And by five of eight, I’m dressed again and getting in my car with my wallet, my phone, and a butterfly the size of a wooly mammoth fluttering around in my stomach. Why am I anxious about this? It’s stupid, so stupid, I really hate myself sometimes. I step on the gas, I make my way to the theater. I get there a little after eight. And when I get out of my car, there must be about ten people waiting together. Two guys are sprawled out on a bench smoking. There’s another one, standing, with his arm protectively wrapped around Caroline’s shoulders. Kyra’s talking with some other girls, and they keep cackling at some story she’s telling. I recognize one of them from orchestra at school. She’s got a cigarette too -- keeps tilting her head back and blowing the smoke up and into the darkening purple sky. I quietly say hi to Caroline as I walk towards the group. Her boyfriend gives me a weird, condescending look, so I pull out my phone and pretend to check a nonexistent text or something and just hide my face. After another girl appears and hugs just about everyone, we go inside. Everyone’s talking and laughing and going crazy and it’s driving me insane and I can’t help but think, if I were to turn around right now and get in my car and leave, would any of these people notice? “Hey Alya.” Kyra has noticed me, apparently. “Hey,” I say awkwardly. Always awkwardly. Can’t I just do something normal for once? “Um.” She seems to be searching for a conversation topic, too. “Are you going to the dance on Saturday?” she finally asks me, and at first I don’t know what she’s talking about. “The dance?” I say idiotically. Kyra nods slowly. “Yeah. The dance. It’s supposed to be an all school thing. Huge. Like, celebrating the start of the year or something.” “Though who knows why we’d want to do that,” I say, rubbing the back of my neck with one hand, and Kyra laughs. So do I, halfheartedly. “Yeah, I remember seeing a poster for it...a while ago. I guess I’ll go,” I continue, and she smiles a little at me. It’s kind of pained and awkward. Like she wants to talk to me but doesn’t know how -- I know the feeling. Really, I do. In front of us, Caroline and a bunch of the others are laughing obnoxiously over some obscene joke. Kyra looks over her shoulder at them and then back to me, as if she feels bad for wanting to rejoin her...actual friends. I can’t blame her. “I’ll see you there then I guess. Well, I’d better go get the tickets. I promised Car I’d buy hers for her...uh, do you want me to buy yours too? ‘Cause I can --” “No, no, that’s fine,” I say, fumbling for my wallet. “Thanks though.” Kyra looks relieved. She turns away and melds with the others in front of me, relaxing. Someone tells a joke. She shoots something back, witty and flirtatious. Everyone laughs. One of the guys slides his hand onto her waist and she pushes him away, feigning disgust, but her eyes betray a mischievous and lusty glimmer. She’s back in her element -- people. Swarming groups, hordes of people, gossiping, talking, joking, laughing, shouting, cursing, smoking, drinking, touching, moving, overwhelming people. Everything I hate. I’m left wondering again why I’m here. And why Kyra and Caroline even invited me. But before I know it, I’ve bought the movie ticket and I’m following the mass of rowdy seventeen and eighteen year olds whose smell of smoke is mixing strangely with that of the buttered popcorn they sell here. It’s all just..too much, and I want to leave, but I paid for my ticket and now I’m gonna enjoy this movie, whatever it’s about. Then I’ll go. And this will be done with and I’ll make sure never to go out anywhere with these people again, because frankly, I hate this. The movie ends up being some superhero shit where the handsome and unrealistically ripped protagonist has to save the world from some super villain genius guy with a predictable weakness and a fondness for overused one liners. Of course there’s a love interest, too -- the helpless girl who’s practically busting out of her shirt on top of having a waist the width of my hand. It’s honestly trash, but the group seems to enjoy it. The guys whoop every time the blonde girl gets a flattering angle. One of the girls actually gasped when the hero was in a precarious spot and the tension was high. And during the makeout scene between superhero and personality-less blonde, Caroline’s boyfriend leans towards her and sticks his tongue in her mouth. So they’re kissing next sloppily to me, and there’s the noises and visual of the movie, and all this just makes we want to get up and walk out of the theater. I feel like an absolute freaking idiot, just sitting there with my popcorn and scowling into the darkness. I want to sink into the goddamn patterned movie theater floor and never be seen again. When it’s finally over, I’m so ready to get the hell out of there. I don’t want to see Kyra, not when she looks at me in that sort of condescending way she has, and I don’t want to see Caroline, not when all she cares about is her nameless boyfriend’s hand on her ass and they can’t keep their mouths apart for two seconds. They invited me here and obviously regretted it. I bet they realized that all the things we used to have in common are long gone. I swear, they are both enigmas. For so many years we skirted around each other, trying not to dredge up the past or make things awkward. And now suddenly they want to start over? No. Maybe if they were still the same girls I knew in fifth grade. But now, to be brutally honest, I don’t like them. I don’t want to spend time with them only to make nervous conversation and say things out of obligation and watch them make out with boys from our English class in darkened movie theaters. I don’t want to. I want the old them, and that’s not going to happen, so I want nothing. Nothing’s fine. It worked for me for three years, actually. Nothing at all, from anyone. But now -- senior year, now is different, because I have Jade. I’m not all alone. I’m not. So, thinking about Jade who is also an enigma but really the better kind, I trash my half full popcorn container and don’t bother to tell Kyra and Caroline that I’m leaving. They see me go, but they don’t care. And I don’t care either. I think at this point, we know it’s all over. And we’re all quite glad and relieved that it is. … … … On Tuesday, Jade and I talked about going to the dance together. They said they were planning on inviting me, along with some other friends -- there were, I think, three guys and a girl. I forget their names. Jade said that they had hung out before and that they were becoming close with a couple of them. I’m still their best friend -- probably always will be, they said. That made me blush fiercely as I returned the sentiment. I racked my brain for Shakespeare quotes, because that’s our thing and plus he always said things better than I could, and one surfaced. One sweet, heartfelt quote surfaced, from The Tempest, and I said it without really thinking beforehand. I said, “‘I would not wish any companion in the world but you.’” Jade stopped in running a hand through their hair, just froze, and then pulled me into a tight hug that left us both giggling and breathless. “Ditto,” they said after we both calmed down, and that only spurred another bout of laughter. … … … “Hey,” I say eventually, because I don’t want this to be an awkward thing. “So, tonight, I’m gonna see my mom again. I guess we’re doing this dinner thing every Thursday.” Jade glances to me. “Oh, I hope it goes well.” “Thanks. I...I don’t really know what we’ll talk about,” I confess, looking down at my lap. “I mean, what do I even have to say to her?” Jade looks a little lost. It seems like his thoughts are still somewhere else. But, he smiles at me and says, “I’m sure it’ll be fine. No matter what happens. She obviously wants to see you, it’s just a matter of whether or not you want to see her. And you do, right?” I fidget awkwardly in my seat. “I don’t know.” I really don’t. “I get that,” Jade says softly. ‘“Good luck.” I frown a little, wondering if i’m being annoying. “Thanks. I -- I’m sorry about all this, I mean I don’t know why I’m telling you --” “Hey!” Jade turns to me. “It’s fine. Really. I mean, tell me anything.” He grins lopsidedly and pushes an errant strand of hair out of his face. “Thanks,” I say. “For that.” He smiles at me, and I think it’s possibly the most beautiful thing on this earth. The rest of the bus ride passes in silence between us. … … … My mom nods, a vacant smile and an actually somewhere else expression plastered on her face. “That’s good. Wonderful.” I wonder what’s so interesting inside her head. “Yeah,” I reply. Because that’s the easiest thing to say. That’s the detached affirmation that comes so effortlessly to my lips, the filler that usually comes accompanied by a weak laugh, something like that. The only word I really know how to say and how to deal with. God, am I pathetic. “Do you have photos of her?” My mom puts her fork down on her plate with a too loud clank and finally looks at me. Really looks at me -- and I wonder if I preferred it when she was mentally somewhere else. I break her gaze, internally fighting a war. Do I correct her use of pronouns or let her live in ignorance -- ignorance it is because yes, I’m shy around my own mom. Yes, these dinners make me anxious as shit (and it’s only the second one) but I keep coming, coming to sit and eat and try to talk about neutral things. It’s like our terrible summer dinners used to be -- except now, my dad’s not here to alleviate some of the one on one conversation induced tension. “I have pictures on my phone, but it’s in my car,” I say, and she frowns a little. “Oh. Alright, you can get it when we’re finished our meal.” And we do just that in complete silence. I hurry outside after she takes my empty plate, quickly unlock my car and grab my phone. Why am I even doing this? I pull up a photo anyway. It’s my favorite of the two of us -- a selfie of Jade and me from near the end of summer -- we’re sitting in the grass in their front yard, wearing old t-shirts and trashy shorts, with paint splattered all over our clothes and legs and arms and even a smear of blue on Jade’s cheek. I have some yellow in my hair, too. I remember when that happened. Between us proudly stands Jade’s bike. It’s painted to look like Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Both of us are grinning, ear to ear. I smile, reenter the house, and show the picture to my mom. “That’s Jade,” I say redundantly. “That was during the summer, when we painted their bike.” “I didn’t know you were artistic.” “Jade is.” I look down at my feet and laugh a little. “I mostly mixed the paint colors, picked music to play, and...we both sang along badly. It was fun. And whenever someone compliments the bike, Jade always says that I helped, even though I was kind of just...moral support.” My mom smiles a little. It feels good. “I was always the artsy one, out of my friends,” she says to me really quietly. My head jerks up. She’s staring off into space again. “I always loved our school art classes...always got A’s...none of my friends understood it, really. Why I loved it so much. They were all either athletic or musical types.” My mom shrugs and shakes her head. “Anyway I painted most of the walls in this house when I moved it. Tore out all the ugly wallpaper and got to work.” I nod my head and try to look interested, because I am, I really am, but this is just so damn awkward. “Even when it’s just a solid color,” she continues, “I love the feeling of painting. It’s very relaxing. Calming.” I nod again and say, “Yeah.” Because what else is there? I’m really at a loss here. I can’t think of a single freaking thing to say. “So,” my mom says, “What are you doing this week? Do you have any plans with your friends, anything with Jade?” “Uh, on Saturday, there’s a dance at school. For the beginning of the year.” “Oh, that sounds exciting. I hope you have fun.” My mom pauses, coughs, and then continues. “Anything else?” I fidget a little where I'm standing. “Um, well. You know Point Imperial at the canyon? I'm going to take Jade there tomorrow night. They've never seen it. And that's my favorite spot, so, y’know. It's beautiful.” My mom’s face brightens. “Point Imperial, that's where we used to go, me and you and your dad. Every summer, am I right?” I remember -- of course I remember. How could I forget? So I smile and reply, “Yeah. And he got a camera the first year and was learning how to use it, so every time we went, the pictures would always come out better.” “Right,” my mom, says, laughing, her eyes crinkling around the edges. “I remember that.” She looks back at me, eyes glittering. “I have one of the photos,” she says. “One of the ones of us. Over here.” She leads me to the other side of the kitchen and I follow her. There’s something on the counter there that I didn’t see the first time I came here -- a picture, framed. The frame is simple, delicate silvery material, so the photo really stands out. It’s me and my mom, in all our contrasting features, but somehow looking the same. My hair is wild as always, and dark, while hers is light and thin. My face is rounder, hers is more slim. But when I put all of that aside, I realize we both have the same expression on our faces. We’ve got the same sparkle in our eyes. We just look...content. The canyon is behind us, wide and sweeping and gorgeously lit by golden rays of sun slanting through picturesque cotton candy clouds. My dad took the photo, I’m starting to remember now, how he posed us, took his sweet time getting the perfect angle, and then finally snapped the photo. But then -- we had to redo it because my hair blew right into my face and we started laughing so hard. He kept that one too, anyway. It’s kind of surprising that my mom has this photo framed and here, in plain view. That she wants to remember me -- us together -- in this moment, this bright moment when time stopped and our fleeting happiness was captured by my dad’s camera. Anyone who walks into this house and takes the time to look around will see this photo, I know it now. Did she do this on purpose? Does she really cherish this fragment, this shard of golden past so much that she would frame it in silver and put it on display? Apparently, and I don’t know how to feel about that. I suddenly want to ask her. I want to ask her everything. About everyone who has walked in here and asked about it, seen it. Or even wondered who I am. I want to know about my mom’s friends, the ones she still has from when I still knew her and the ones she’s made since then and the ones who came and went during all those years that I never knew and never will. I want to know what she thinks of that photo, and how she describes it to all those friends I’ve never met. Does she point out the sunlight in the background, filtering through sugar spun clouds and creating intangible dancing patterns on the canyon behind us? Does she tell them how it wavered and moved and how I tried to trace it with my finger, stretching over the guardrail with hand outstretched as she held onto my waist and laughed? Why does she keep it? I want to know more than anything. But I don't ask. Of course I don't, I'm too shy and awkward and stupid so I stay silent. Why does it always go like this? I used to be able to tell my mom anything -- no, scratch that -- I could tell the old her anything. It's different now. I know we can never go back, but that doesn’t stop me from wishing. There are so many unspoken questions on my tongue, but I don’t say them. I choose not to. Because why should I try to get to know my mom now, when she didn’t reciprocate for all those years after the divorce? We had been close, really close, it’s striking what happened. The thing about the divorce was that it was very sudden. My dad sat me down one day and told me that he and my mom didn’t love each other anymore, so they were going to end the marriage, and it was all that simple. He acted as if it should be so easy for me to understand. I asked him if that meant they didn’t love me anymore, and he backtracked quickly, saying, “No, no, of course we still love you. We always will, Alya.” I didn’t believe him. I was stupid and moody and torn up over the suddenness of it, the lack of warning. Not to mention the fact that jr. high school had just begun. Not to mention, I don’t know, the painful fact that my two closest friends had just become completely different people and wanted nothing more to do with me. So I was becoming a third wheel in my own friend group, I was learning how to navigate an entirely new school full of confusing new teachers and classes and subjects, I was stuck in the middle of a fractured family, and I was trying not to implode from this thing called anxiety which suddenly wanted to invade my brain and take over my life. There were no more sleepovers and late-night whispering and Hairspray sing alongs. There were no more family Grand Canyon trips. And on top of all this, I would come home every night with double the amount of homework I used to have and double the amount of stress too. So I took it out on my parents, basically -- because who else was there to get mad at? I stopped talking to my dad. He grew accustomed to that. I stopped calling my mom. She was too caught up in moving out that she didn’t care. And by the time all the messy divorce shit was over and done with, I had changed, I was a completely different person, and my parents couldn’t reform their relationships with me if they tried because I just wouldn’t let them. But then again, they didn’t try. So my dad locked himself away in his office every day. My mom eventually bought a new house. And the only time I actually had the chance to have a civilized conversation with either of them was over awkward dinners that happened once a year, in the summer. Once a year? Really? I mean, we might as well just stop, just cut all ties. But no. For some reason my parents insisted, and still insist, on getting together like that. I hate it. It only ever reminds me of how everything went to shit so quickly and without any warning. It never does any good. At those dinners, my mom never really tried. She never tried to get to know me beyond my classes in school and my grades and seeing if her pathetic daughter had made any friends yet. So why should I try now? Why? What would that accomplish? So you’re finally interested in my life. Well maybe you’re too late. Maybe it took you a little too long to actually care -- and guess what, I don’t. Not anymore, at least. I can’t let myself care. And honestly, if feels really, really good to be bitter, so I’ll just stay silent. I won’t answer your stupid questions. I won’t engage in your stupid conversation. I’ll just say what I have to, tell you I’d better be getting home, there’s homework I need to do -- even though I finished it long before I came here. I’m angry. I’m also an idiot. Maybe I’ll come back in a week but only because I have to. … … … The canyon which I've seen so many times, in pictures, on maps, and in person, is drenched in thick, rich aubergine and indigo. Inky black shadows drown some of the ridges while others are outlined in ethereal silver moonlight. I'm speechless, frozen to the spot, and even though this sight should be familiar, I'm just as dumbstruck now as I was the first time I saw it in person. Jade is in awe by the massive sight before us too, so surreal. It looks like an oil painting, with bold, vivid brushstrokes combining into something overwhelming. I feel like I should say something to break the silence but my mind has gone blank. She takes a photo on her Polaroid, then another. The pictures slide out and she puts them in her back pocket. It felt normal every other time I came here to look down at the canyon. But now I'm slowly unraveling. I couldn't for the life of me say why, but it's like all my senses are heightened and suddenly the air is sharp and clean and the view is in technicolor and wind is trying to push me to the ground, and it hurts. I'm just so aware of myself, and Jade beside me, and the short distance between us -- I feel so small. So, so small in this vast universe. ... ... … “I love the language. My favorite word,” she muses, “is toujours. I think it's melodic.” It seems like she’s already thought this out. “It's beautiful. What does it mean?” Jade looks up at the shining crescent moon and exhales. “It means ‘always,’ forever. Eternal...like this. The canyon, the river. The infinite sky. The faraway stars. You and me. Something that'll last forever, even when no one’s there to measure time anymore.” Jade glances at me. “Things like love, you know? Things that don't ever die, things as old as the universe and maybe even older.” My heart’s pounding a mile a minute and I feel exhilarated, like I just ran a marathon. Jade always does this to me, and I just nod mutely, awestruck. Until I met them, I thought people only said poetic, intelligent things in novels and movies. I think Jade’s the only exception. They speak like they’re reading flawlessly from a script, knowing just what to say in practically every situation and making it effortlessly magnificent. I've never been good with words -- writing or speaking. Never mind learning a foreign language when English is already hard enough. Jade said her favorite of all the ones she'd tried is French. I haven't done much in that area, but I know I prefer Jade’s enchanting, lyrical English to anything else. I turn my head up to the stars. They're so clear here. “What do you think of Point Imperial?” I say lamely, because I can't think of any way to match Jade. It feels stupid as soon as it leaves my mouth, and I blush fiercely. At least it's dark, so maybe she won't see. She finally looks away from the canyon and focuses her blue eyed gaze on me. “The most peerless piece of earth, I think, that e’er the sun shone bright on,’” she says smoothly, eyes bright. “Thank you, Alya.” Recognizing the quote, I quietly say, “The Winter’s Tale,” and she smiles. Her gaze fixes on my eyes, and for a moment the air doesn't feel so cold anymore, the wind isn't so biting. For a moment I'm wrapped in the warm melody of her voice and it feels like nothing can ever make me cold again. I snap back to reality as soon as I notice that her cheeks are red and she's shaking slightly. Wordlessly, I shrug off my sweatshirt and give it to her -- I'll manage in a long sleeve tee. She smiles, seeming to know that if she tries to protest, I'll insist. “Thanks.” I smile a bit shyly. I think she knows I've always been better with actions than words. We look out at the canyon for a long time. I start getting that feeling again that I'm small, insignificant, just a speck in the universe -- but it's okay. Because I am. It's only when I blow on my quivering hands and wrap my arms around my waist that Jade looks back, a sort of warm affection in her eyes. Her hands are pink and trembling too. She laughs quietly and pulls me into a sudden embrace, and we're both kind of shaking and our skin is freezing where we touch but it's alright. Because now we're hugging in front of the Grand Canyon in the middle of the night, when it's dark and colorful and mysterious and chilly. When it feels like we’re the only two people in the world and we might as well be, for all I care. There are so many things I wish I could say right now. Like so many times before, I'm thinking too much, and now my lips won't work and I start to get that tight, anxious feeling in my chest -- but Jade reads everything from my eyes and smiles. I'm feeling a bit warmer. I think we both are -- so she drapes my sweatshirt around my shoulders again and we start to walk back to my car in silence. My thoughts are swirling in the quiet. They all revolve around Jade. She's glowing next to me, beautiful and alive, all shining elegance. I can’t get my mind off the way she talks, moves, walks, sparkles under the light of millions of stars, and -- Shit, I think I'm in love.
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