Sometimes I wonder if there are some memories the mind doesn’t want to deal with and that if it really wants to, it can block out the images, shut down, numb the pain connected to what we saw—what we didn’t want to see. If we allow it to, the numbness can drown out everything, even the spark of life inside us. And eventually the person we once were is nothing but a vanishing memory.
I didn’t always use to think this way. I used to have hope. I used to believe in things. Like when my father told me if I wanted something bad enough that I could make it happen.
“No one else in the world can make things happen for you, Nova,” he’d said while we were lying on our backs on the hill in our backyard, staring up at the stars. I was six and happy and a little naïve, eating his words up like handfuls of sugar. “But if you want something bad enough and are willing to work hard at it, then anything’s possible.”
“Anything?” I’d said, turning my head toward him. “Even if I want to be a princess?”
He smiled, looking genuinely happy. “Even a princess.”
I grinned, looking up at the sky, thinking how wonderful it would be to wear a diamond tiara on my head and a sparkly pink dress and matching heels. I would spin around in circles and laugh as my dress spun with me. Never once did I think about what it truly meant to be a princess and how impossible it was for me to actually become one.
“Earth to Nova.” My boyfriend, Landon Evans, waves his hand in front of my face.
I blink my gaze away from the stars and angle my head sideways along the bottom of the grassy hill in his backyard, looking him in the eyes. “What’s up?”
He laughs at me, but his smile looks unnatural, like it doesn’t belong there. But that’s normal for Landon. He’s an artist, and he tells me that in order to portray pain in his portraits he has to carry it within him all the time. “You were totally spacing off on me there.” The front porch light is on, and the fluorescent glow makes his honey-brown eyes look like the charcoal he uses for his sketchings.
I roll on my side and tuck my hands underneath my head, so I can really look at him. “Sorry, I was just thinking.”
“You have that look on your face, like you’re thinking deep.” He rotates on his hip and props his elbow up on the ground, resting his head against his palm. Wisps of his inky-black hair fall into his eyes. “Want to talk about it?”
I shake my head. “No, I don’t really feel like talking.”
He offers me a trivial but genuine smile, and the sadness in my mind fleetingly dissolves. It’s one of the things that I love about Landon. He’s the only person on this planet who can make me smile—except for my dad, but he’s no longer alive anymore, so smiles are rare in my book.
Landon and I were best friends up until about six months ago, and maybe that’s why he can make me happy. We got to bond on a deeper level and understand each other before all the kissing and hormones came along. I know we’re only eighteen and haven’t even graduated high school yet, but sometimes, when I’m alone in my room, I can picture him and me together years ahead, in love, maybe getting married. It’s surprising because for a long time after my dad died, I couldn’t picture my future—I didn’t want to. But things change. People evolve. Move on. Grow as new people enter their lives.
“I saw the picture you drew for the art project,” I say, brushing some of the hair out of his eyes. “It was hanging up on Mr. Felmon’s wall.”
He frowns, which he always does whenever we’re talking about his art. “Yeah, it didn’t turn out how I planned.”
“It seemed like you were sad when you were drawing it,” I tell him, lowering my hand to my hip. “But all your drawings do.”
Any happiness in his expression withers as he rolls onto his back and pinpoints his attention to the star-cut sky. He’s silent for a while and I turn onto my back, letting him be, knowing that he’s stuck in his own head. Landon is one of the saddest people I’ve met, and it’s part of what drew me to him.
I was thirteen, and he’d just moved in across the street from me. He was sitting against the tree in his front his yard, scribbling in a sketchbook, when I first saw him and decided to go over and introduce myself. It was right after my dad had died, and I’d pretty much kept my distance from people. But with Landon, I don’t know, there was just something about him.
I’d crossed the street, very curious about what he was drawing. When I stopped in front of him, he glanced up at me, and I was taken aback by how much anguish was in his honey-brown eyes—the torture and internal suffering. I’d never seen so much of it in anyone my age before, and even though I didn’t know what was causing it, I guessed we were going to be friends. He looked how I felt inside, like I’d been broken apart and the pieces hadn’t healed correctly. Just like I guessed, we did become best friends—more than best friends, actually. We’re almost inseparable, addicted to each other, and I absolutely hate being away from him because I feel lost and misplaced in the world whenever he’s gone.
“Do you ever get the feeling that we’re all just lost?” Landon utters, jerking me away from my thoughts again. “Just roaming around the earth, waiting around to die.”
I bite on my lip, considering what he said as I find Cassiopeia in the sky. “Is that what you really think?”
“I’m not sure,” he answers, and I turn my head, analyzing his perfect profile. “I sometimes wonder, though, what the point of life is.” He stops, and it feels like he’s waiting for me to say something.
“I’m not sure.” I rack my brain for something else to add. But I can’t think of a single coherent, reasonable response to his dark thoughts on the meaning of life, so I add, “I love you.”
“I love you too, Nova,” he promises without looking at me, then he reaches across the grass and grabs my hand, twining his fingers through mine. “And I mean that, Nova, no matter what. I love you.”
We get lost in the stillness of the night while we watch the stars glimmer and fade. It’s peaceful but unsettling at the same time, because I can’t turn my thoughts off. I worry about him when he gets depressed like this. It’s like he goes into his own little world that’s carved of gloomy thoughts and a blackened future, and I can’t reach him no matter how hard I try.
We lie quietly, watching the stars and holding on to each other. Eventually, I drift to sleep with my face pressed against the cool grass, the spring breeze chilly against my skin, and Landon’s fingers soothingly stroking the inside of my wrist. When I wake up again, all the stars have blended in with the grayness of morning, the moon is tucked away in the glow of daybreak, and the grass is damp with dew. The first thing I notice is that Landon’s hand is missing from mine, and it makes me feel empty, like one of my arms has been detached from my body.
I sit up, rubbing my eyes then stretching my arms above my head as I glance around the backyard, searching for Landon. The only thing I can think of is that he got up to go to the bathroom, because he would never leave me sleeping on the hill alone in his backyard.
I push to my feet and brush the grass off the back of my legs before hiking up the hill toward his two-story house at the top of the backyard. It seems like a really long walk, because I’m tired—it’s too early in the morning to be up. When I reach the back porch, I take my phone from my pocket to text Landon and see what he’s doing. But I notice the back door is cracked, and I find myself walking inside, which is a little out of character for me. It’s not like I’m used to walking into his house without being let in. I always knock, even when he texts me and tells me to come straight up to his room.
But this time, something begs my feet to step over the threshold. It’s cold inside the kitchen, and I wonder how long the back door has been open. Shivering, I wrap my arms around myself and cross the entryway to the kitchen. Landon’s parents are asleep upstairs, so I make sure to walk quietly, heading downstairs to Landon’s room, which is in the basement. The stairs creak underneath my shoes, and I hold my breath the entire way down, not sure what will happen if his parents wake up and catch me sneaking down to his room.
“Landon,” I whisper as I walk toward his bedroom. It’s dark, except for the spark of the sunlight through the windows. “Are you down here?”
Silence is the only answer, and I almost turn around and go back upstairs. But then I hear the lyrics of an unknown song playing softly from somewhere in the house. I head for his bedroom door, and the music gets louder.
“Landon,” I say as I approach his closed door, my nerves bubbling inside me. I don’t know why I feel nervous. Or maybe I do. Maybe I’ve known for a long time, but I never wanted to accept it.
My hand trembles as I turn the knob. When I push the door open, every single word Landon’s ever said to me suddenly makes sense to me. As the powerful lyrics playing from the stereo wrap around me, so does an undying chill. My hand falls lifeless to my side and I stand in the doorway, unblinking. I keep wishing for what I’m seeing to go away, to disappear from my mind, to erase the memories. I wish and wish—will it to happen—telling myself that if I want it badly enough, it’ll happen. I start to count backward, focusing on the pattern and rhythm of the numbers, and after a few minutes, numbness swallows my heart. Just like I wanted, my surroundings fade and I can’t feel anything.
I fall to the floor, hitting it hard, but I can’t feel the pain…
I’m driving way too fast. I know that and I know I should slow down, but everyone’s complaining for me to hurry up and get them home. They’re worried we’re going to miss our curfew. Sometimes I wonder how I get myself into these kinds of messes. It’s not like it’s a big deal, but I’d probably be having a lot more fun if I was wasted with the rest of them, because it’s spring break and I should be having fun. I’m not a fan of being the designated driver, but I usually end up offering to be one, and now I’m stuck driving around a bunch of drunken idiots.
“Stop smoking in here.” I roll down the window as smoke begins to fill up the car. “My mom will smell it from a mile away, and then she’s not going to let me drive her car anymore.”
“Oh come on, Quinton,” my girlfriend, Lexi, pouts as she takes a deep drag off her cigarette, then extends her arm out the open window. “We’ll air it out.”
Shaking my head, I reach over with my free hand and snatch the cigarette from her. “No more smoking.” I hold the cigarette out my cracked window until the cherry falls off, then release the rest out into the night. It’s late, the road we’re driving on is windy and curves around a lake, and we haven’t seen a car in ages. It’s good, though, since everyone else in the car is underage and drunk out of their minds.
Lexi sticks out her lip and crosses her arms over her chest, slumping back in her seat. “You’re so boring when you’re sober.”