“Why do you keep that guitar in the corner like that?”
I look up from my book, marking my place with a finger, and following Ari’s eyes to the acoustic guitar under the world map and a few other miscellaneous wall fixtures.
“I used to play,” I tell him.
“And not anymore?”
“No, not anymore.”
“I just don’t.”
“Do you ever hear yourself talk, Little Prince?” I spit out; I attempt to make my tone light-hearted in an effort to switch the direction of this conversation, but my words come out sharp and accusatory instead. I can tell by the way his face drops, how his eyebrows crinkle together and emphasize the three lines above his squishy nose, that I’ve hurt him a bit.
“What does that mean?”
I breathe in the air around me and shut my book for good for I have opened the lid to yet another topic from the treasure chest of my past. “I didn’t mean it to come out like that,” I say. His face fixes itself a little, but there’s still that glazed film over the surface of his sea green irises. “You just ask a lot of questions. That’s all.”
Ari leans back. When he thinks, he likes to make it very obvious to the world around him that he is indeed thinking. He tilts his head back, begins to scratch his chin with his pointer finger and thumb, and uses his free hand to push his wire glasses farther up on his slender nose. That’s how I know that I shouldn’t open my book again.
“I wouldn’t ask so many questions if you would just answer them once in awhile, you know,” he says. Leaning forward on his knees, his face does that sexy-sort-of thing with his mouth where the corners turn up; it’s kind of like a smirk but not quite for it isn’t devilish but rather innocent.
“I did answer you, Ari,” I argue. “What the hell else do you want to know?”
He looks at the guitar, then to me, and slowly back to the guitar once again. “Why don’t you play anymore, Indy?”
I know he isn’t going to drop the subject and I also know that he usually gets what he wants out of me in the end, and so I give. “Because of my mom.”
He doesn’t ask anything else, but he doesn’t need to because the words begin spilling out like vomit. “When I went to visit her for the last time, it had been years and I just was so angry with her. I told myself I was going to walk in there and finally confront her about everything she had put Dixon and me through, and that’s what I did. And she cried.
“I don’t know what response I wanted from her, I just know that it wasn’t the one she gave me. Seeing her cry made me feel guilty, like I was the criminal in reality and she was the victim; but I knew I wasn’t. I hated her even more for making me feel like I was, though.
“I got up to leave and I had my guitar with me. I had just finished playing a gig down the street or something; I can’t really remember. Anyways, I started to storm out and then she had the nerve to ask me, through her sobs, to play a song for her.”
I pause and realize what I just said. They were words I hadn’t even thought of on my own in years, at least since Mom’s death, and definitely had never said out loud to anyone but my own reflection. I want to deeply regret them, and I think that I most definitely will.
But I don’t. I look up from my shaking, sweating hands and I find his eyes. Those eyes.
His forehead lines are gone and his glasses are sitting on the table now. I look at him and that feeling of unease begins to float away as quickly as it arrived. His mouth, hanging open a bit since I had ceased speaking, forms soft, gentle words. “What did you tell her?”
“I told her no,” I declare. But that isn’t true and he knows it. He waits for me to fix my truth because he knows I will.
“I told her that I wouldn’t play another note for her, not even if it were her dying wish.”
The words feel like cutting myself with a blade – a rusty blade dug up from years of neglect and forcefully forgotten memory. “She died a few weeks after that, so I guess it actually was her death wish. I never saw her after that night, though.”
My chest attempts to breathe before I do. It is lighter; I have taken the heavy load off of it and instead burden my mouth with the weight of the words I have just spilled out all over Ari and his deep, understanding, all-knowing green eyes.
“That’s why you don’t play anymore?”
I nod. It is more like a dip of the head. I am drained, fatigued.
Nothing but quiet fills the room for a few long moments. He could leave the room and hours may pass and I will likely not notice. My mind is far away and far behind. I cannot shake the image of my mother’s face, replaying, over and over again.
I am pulled out of my thoughts by Ari presently standing in front of me and the guitar in his strong arms. Without touching the thing in so long, I had forgotten what it even felt like. But there he is, embracing it, giving it the love it has been neglected of.
“What are you doing?” I choke out. My voice is cracked and dry and I don’t recognize it.
He kneels before me and places the guitar across my lap and I shiver at its cold touch. I sit there for a few moments, my hands gripping the edges of the chair. I feel as if I am being forcefully reacquainted with an old friend, but one whom I have wronged. I don’t deserve the beautifully decorated instrument on my lap any more than I deserve the warm, kind boy kneeling before me.
“For her,” he tells me. He isn’t demanding, but his words are soft and sweet like honey or a childhood blanket. He doesn’t have to demand anything of me and he knows that.
I move my hands to the stem of the guitar, lifting it up and pressing its sturdy back against my stomach, tracing the tips of my fingers over the tiny red flowers painted onto its wooden surface. I roll up my sleeves, tie my hair behind my neck, and strum lightly across the loose strings. The sound is not in tune, the chords are covered in layers of dust, and I’m not sure if I even remember a song to play. But I just start playing.
I know the chords before I pick up on the song. It’s one of Mom’s favorites but I never knew the title. It all just sort of flows out of me, energy from my heart pouring out of my fingers and into the strings. Every note, chord, and strum. I forget that Ari is right in front of me; I no longer feel his heavy eyes on my face. I let time slip away from me altogether.
I am with her once again. We are sitting on the beach outside of our first house. Dixon is there and he’s little. He watches me so aspiringly, and he can’t help but giggle when I tap my sandy toes to to beat of the music. Mom is sitting on a log and she is feeding the fire with the metal poker. She’s singing along with that angelic voice, the same one that began to turn croaky when we moved out of our home and into a different sort of life with Harold.
My fingers drop, suddenly weighted, and the guitar begins to slip off of my lap. It almost hits the ground, but Ari catches it and places it on the table instead in one swift motion.
I reach for my face and I feel wetness. That’s when I realize that I am crying, and that the heaving noise in the air is really my chest, weighted once again, because I can’t seem to catch a breath.
“Indy? Are you okay?” Ari asks, reaching for my frozen hands. His touch is warm and comforting and all I want is to be completely enveloped in it, and so I fall forward into his chest.
His hands let go of mine and wrap instead around my body, pulling me tightly against his. I don’t know how to stop crying or breathing, or how to find a balance between the two or even why it is such a difficult task to achieve. All I know is that the last thing in the entire world I would want is for Ari to let go of me.
“I miss her,” I mumble into his shoulder between heavy sobs. “S-so m-m-much.”
“She forgives you,” he says calmly, randomly. His fingers are tracing a circle on my back, his other hand smoothing my hair and caressing my shaking head against his steady shoulder. “You just need to forgive yourself now.”
He is right. “But every time I try to, I feel like this.”
His arms pull me even tighter against him. “Then every time you feel like this, I’ll be here.”
We stay like that for a long time. How long, I’m not sure. Long enough for my breathing to regain control of itself and for my eyes to dry out.
And then he holds me and I wait until I can see the sun creeping in between the blinds. Even then, I don’t move. I couldn’t if I wanted to.
And I didn’t want to.
But even when the sun’s rays shine into my eyes and I press my head against Ari’s chest and feel the safest I ever have, I am still entirely terrified. I am more than aware that I have attached an integral part of myself to this person beside me, and he is now my safety. He is my haven.
But how odd, how unfortunately ironic and heartbreakingly sad, that a person can become a place. For places are meant to stay in one place, yet people are always leaving.
I hold onto my haven with dear life. I am inflicted with the pain of knowing that this feeling is only temporary, that it can only be that way for as long as a part of my being is attached to a thing with a beating heart and two working legs.