Every year I do this.
I torture myself with my thoughts.
With “what ifs”.
But somehow content.
With memories that always turn against me, despite trying to bask in the good ones.
I endlessly walk this road with no destination.
Questioning everything I once was and what I have become. Searching for a trial to follow.
Feeling lost but found.
Broken yet complete.
Since that night, like clockwork, I somehow find myself here on this very spot. My feet cemented to the tarmac, surrounded by trees that reach out to the heavens. One branch from each side of the narrow road meet and intertwine into one, as though they’ve met halfway to kiss but yet crooked like they’re trying to avoid it.
Nothing but the moon and stars lighting up the long, deserted road that I always find myself at. The soft call of grasshoppers fills the cold, damp air while a chilling breeze goes through my hair like claws stroking my scalp. The rain cascades down gracefully with no direction from the draped black skies. It hits each individual leaf uniquely, creating a different beat each time. The pleasant sound of them patting my leather jacket as though its reassuring me. Each drop is lost but certain where to go, which is kinda fitting giving my current mindset; unclear.
I look up at the night sky through each blade of rain. Typical. The stars are shining away without a care in the world. No expectations. No promises. All they have to do is shimmer against that black canvas and the universe is content.
There’s something mesmerising about stars. I never used to get it but on this night they always blow me away as though it’s the first time I’ve ever laid eyes on them. This road may not have anything special about it, only woodland on either side but it’s the best place to view those twinkling bastards. I feel as though they’re listening to my thoughts or they’re just simply mocking me. Either way, I feel like I belong here.Maybe that’s why I always end up here?
Despite everything in me I always get pulled here as though the universe is counting on it. The predictability of it. The mood is always set when I arrive. Airy and vast yet suffocating and minute. Yet the outcome is always the same. I feel closer but further away all at once.
The rain helps. It makes me feel at ease. It brings me comfort as if the raindrops are blanketing me in its embrace. Makes me feel I’m not alone in this state. As if some greater power feels this too like it sympathises. What is this you ask? Great! Now I’m talking to myself. Or do I have company? I certainly don’t feel alone for the first time on this night. Maybe this is good? Maybe I’m finally getting out of this rut? Crossing this crossroad. Over this wall that’s been built. Or maybe, just maybe, I’ve finally lost the plot and I’m now going to become one with the trees...
Fuck... they’re calling me. I’ve finally cracked.
“Guy! Mate! You’re soaked! C’mon dude, get in the car!”
Shaking my head as though someone has just chucked a bucket of ice cold water over me, I spin round and reality hits me. I’m here again... Three years on and I’m here, again and nothing has changed. Who’s counting? Me, obviously. But why? What’s the point in keeping track? I said I wouldn’t do this again and here I am, breaking promises... Again.
I hear the hum of an engine beside me with an all too familiar face accompanying it. Loitering against the black bodywork is no other than Reece Adler, my best mate who I’ve been lumbered with for twelve years. His messy curly hair is starting to get in his dark eyes from the weight of the rain. It’s golden brown tones currently lost by the rain invading each strand. His pale complexion almost metallic against the inky backdrop.
“Every year you go awol and end up here! C’mon bro, I’ve got you.”
With that whisper Reece guides me into the front passenger seat of his car, wrapping his Barbour jacket around my shoulders. A blast of warmth hits my face from the car’s heating system. It comes as a shock after being out in the crisp night air. I hear that 1975 song on the stereo quietly in the background.
“And at first I thought it was a lie,”
“I took all my things that make a sound,”
“The rest I can do without.”
The lyrics don’t touch me in any way, shape or form. They just stick with me like glue to paper. I’ve been like this since that night three years ago.
But in pain.
“Dude, seriously you’re worrying us all. Look, I know you said you don’t wanna talk about it, and I respect that, but you can’t do this to yourself every time this night comes around.”
Reece... it’s always him who hunts me down and brings me back. For the last three years, it’s always his car I hear pull up. Without fail he finds me here like its routine.
He’s never once asked what happened that night and why he finds me here every year since. He just knows and is there. Just in case one year I want to confide in him.
A shoulder to cry on.
A bag to punch.
Every time he does I want to yell at him to leave me be.
Display some form of emotion but I can’t bring myself to do it. Part of me wants to stay here all night and the other part wants to leave. Maybe he’s doing me a favour turning up uninvited each year? I can’t tell myself what to do so I certainly can’t tell Reece to go do one either.
The last three years I’ve ended up in the same unemotional state. Sitting in his car, not offering any explanations as to how I’ve ended up like this and why out of all the places I visit here. This year I’m a soaking wet mess to add a twist to the outcome of the night. An all-time low or is this my highest point?
I hear the rain hitting the windows, again it’s soothing to me. Helps me find peace with reality. I swallow hard realising I’ve been sitting in a trance for far too long for it not to be awkward. I dig deep to find just an essence of what is left of myself.
“..Don’t turn into a wet blanket on me.” I mock.
It’s all I can muster. I put on my mask and carry that usual sarcastic smirk Reece has grown to associate me with, whilst putting my fingers through my black rain-soaked hair.
Reece looks at me with his big brown eyes, momentarily taking them off the road. They are full of concern but I can see the conflict, fighting it out of sight. Suppressing whatever the fuck he’s thinking. They ripple like ringlets on water while he struggles to hide his thoughts. In a few blinks of his eyes, their surface becomes solid and returns to their usual state; flickering like flames on an open fire.
He chuckles and forces a smile. Convincing to strangers but to me, I can read him like a book. Yeah, I know its fake ’cause he knows better than I do that this exchange is just to keep up appearances.
I turn my head and look out of the window. The rain smears the glass as we travel through it and the trees pass us blurry. The stars are slowly fading from sight as we near the neighbourhood. Again, I hear that shitty song playing on the stereo, whispering it’s meaningless words.
“Come on baby,”
“This ain’t the last time that I’ll see your face.”
But it was...
Here I go, talking to the song in my head as if its starting some unwanted conversation with me. It hits a nerve which is a first.
Stop it, Guy. Snap out of it. You’ll be there soon and you’ve gotta be ready to fake it.
“You know you can talk to me, right?” Reece squeaks, unsure that he actually wants to have this overdue conversation.
I dig my fingers into the leather seat and close my eyes. Taking a deep breath and exhale heavily. This is the only thing I know I can do, is breathe. I open my eyes and look at Reece.
He smoothly manoeuvres the car to the side of the road before bringing the vehicle to a halt. The ticking of the hazards fills my ears, like a metronome I concentrate on it. This was new, he never stops once he gets me in the car.
Reece ruffles his mousy brown hair uncomfortably as if this can prepare him for what I could say. A light spray escapes as he does which leaves its faint mark on his dark denim jeans.
The truth is I can’t talk to him about this. Whatever this is. I don’t even know. It’s just something that’s now part of being me, plus I won’t put him through it.
“..If I wanted to speak to a girl I’d go see your mum.” Again smirking as I say it and landing a playful jab on his arm. The Mum joke is always a safe bet to play with him. Reece rolls his deep brown eyes at me and crosses his arms.
“It’s been three years, Guy. It’s been long enough. You need to let go of whatev -”
“LET GO!” I roar, bringing myself inches away from Reece’s face.
Halle-fucking-lujah! Some emotion! Ok, flipping out on my best mate is not quite what I had in mind but this is progress.
“THIS IS EXACTLY WHY I CAN’T TALK TO YOU OR ANYONE ABOUT THIS NIGHT!”
Alright, Guy calm it. I think you’ve made your point, not that you know what your point is exactly. Nevertheless, it’s a point. Something to start with I guess.
Reece moves his face away from mine and leans the back of his head against the driver’s side window, letting my outburst go over his head like the rain rolling down the windows. He keeps his eyes locked on me despite the terror filling them.
I return the gesture, moving my face slowly away, growling in a low tone like a savage dog. I open the window just to feel some connection with the night air. I glare out through it. Making note that from here I can easily walk back home or to the spot.
Which brings me to another dilemma, making a choice. Just like that night.
I notice the warmth of the homes in the distance, the lights flickering like candles. Its inviting but so is the chill back up the street. Nothing but the night to keep me company. That bloody song pipes up and disrupts my thoughts.
“I start to believe in anything you’re saying,”
“I’m reminded that I should be getting over it.”
“GRRRR! FUCK OFF!” I bark, glaring at the stereo and slamming my foot into the glove box.
“All right, bro. It’s gone. It’s off.” Reece quickly reacts and turns off the stereo.
Silence follows. The only sound left is of the rain tapping on the glass as though it’s asking to be invited in.
“Fuck knows why I had that playing. Lauren leaving her crap in my car.” Reece’s attempt of lifting the mood, dragging his hand down his face as he says it.
I give him a sideways look and let my snarled expression drop from my face leaving it blank. I place my palms over my face and the realisation of what is happening finally comes to haunt me.
“..Sorry, Reece. I shouldn’t have lost it like that...” I sigh and break eye contact with him as I admit the words.
“It’s ok, geez...” He exhales. Pausing for a moment, his eyes darting between me and his feet.
“Actually, it’s not ok as I don’t have a Danny La Rue what’s going on in that noggin of yours. I just wanna understand so I can help you, guv. Bring you some peace. Help you digest whatever the fuck this is. I’m not pushing you to give me the answers now but promise me when you’re good and ready you will, Easton?”
Reece referring to me by surname.What the fuck is that about? Unlike the rest of our mates, Reece only refers to you by surname if he’s being pissy. It always reminds me of my mum calling me by my full name whenever she wanted to discipline me for some antic. And there’s that word;Promise. There’s something about that word that I can never fully apprehend.
Looking over at Reece like a lost child but hiding it with my brooding, as I hesitate to answer. His face is so uneasy which really doesn’t suit him. He’s always so definite and positive. Happy go lucky which is unbearable at times but a godsend. Again, I inhale deeply and exhale slowly.
You can’t keep doing this, Guy. I mean look at him for crying out loud. You’re dragging him down with you.My conscience was right. This isn’t fair.
Just tell him what he wants to hear and end this night like always, surrounded by your mates.The words echo in my head.
“..Of course... If you’re still around by then..” I reply with a dab of fear leaking from my voice, still wearing that smirk of mine.
I take a plunge. Words are empty, right? Meaningless? It’s not gonna hurt anymore. He’ll be able to get on with his night feeling like he’s done some good now as if he’s reached me finally.
“I’ll always be there, Easton.” Reece reassures, looking at me with those warm eyes, wearing a soft smile. Still holding the authoritative tone when stating my surname.
“..You can drop the pissy act, Adler.” I scoff, as this was the second time he is addressing me in this manner.
“Alright! Now c’mon let’s get back. But one last thing before we do.” Reece said with so much certainty in his voice, whilst turning the key in the ignition.
“..Anything.” Not even processing what I’m agreeing to.
“If you end up there next year, let me be there with you, bro.” The timidness in his voice is slipping through the cracks of each word.
“..We’ll see what next year brings.” Knowing full well the chances are I’ll be there again. Just like I’ve been there for the last three years. If I’m anything I’m consistent.
With that, the car is in motion again, moving towards the lights of the neighbourhood. I look out of the rearview mirror, catching my tired blue eyes watching the night and the road fade away into dust. I am relieved but it aches...