What Follows

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3.3: A Bottle and A Brush


I never thought I’d wish to return to the Darkoom, but I guess our circumstances define our necessities.

Because here I am, standing in- oh well, Joshua’s (my ex-boyfriend’s) room. And, yes, it’s still midnight. And nope, he isn’t fucking some lady or jerking off. Surprisingly, he’s just seated on his desk and sketching something.

Did I mention that he’s a very talented artist which was a major turn-on for me back in the days? Joshua and I first talked in freshman year when he slid in my locker a sketch of my face on a napkin. Classy and romantic, I know, but that’s what makes him a snake. His tongue is like a fucking bee. Drops sweet, sweet words like honey, but its sting would make you numb as fuck.

Nope, more of a snake.

His head, covered by a black beanie, is lowered and the sound of a pencil against paper is all I can hear. I walk toward his desk confidently and sit on its edge like I’ve done many nights when we’d argue. I look down at what he’s drawing in stupid curiosity.

A rose or something.

He lifts his head with a heavy sigh and drops the pencil, stretching his long, slender fingers in front of him. His hands are covered in paint, pencil smudges and correction pen- something that would’ve given me an aneurysm if I was alive.

I know I should feel somewhat morose when I look at him because as much as I hate to admit it, I loved him and he ditched me and was a reason behind my self-loathing. Seeing his soft auburn curls that I’ve memorized their texture escape from beneath his beanie, definitely brings back lots of intimate memories that he’s decided as worthless.

He’s roughly handsome with dark-brown eyes and a strong jaw. He loves keeping his stubble despite how much trouble he gets for it in school. There’s a smudge of pink paint beneath his left eye that does remind me of how I angrily (more like desperately) knocked down all his paint bottles the day we broke up in his painting room.

Well, he might look like a soft boy with an athletic figure, but I promise you he’s the worst type you’d wanna associate yourself with.

So as I stare at him while he stares at the ceiling, I wonder if he’s thinking about me. If this rose he’s drawing reminds him of me. His good ol’ Rose. I wonder if he’d shed a tear when he gets to know. If he’d honour our so-called ‘love’.

If he’d truly make me regret ever being with him in my life, instead of noticing other people like William.

I take a deep breath, waiting for that stupid notification that tells how dead I am to people, but it doesn’t seem to come even though it’s a quarter after midnight now.

Maybe his phone’s on silent mode. Or maybe my brothers thought him unworthy of knowing.

Suddenly his room’s door gets yanked open and his head snaps down. He and I look sideways at the door before he sighs wearily, and I raise my eyebrows. Selena. His older only sibling is standing by the door in a brown, damp apron, a messy bun and a possibly permanent scowl.

“I seriously gave up on asking you to fucking knock-” He rasps, and I can’t say I don’t miss his voice.

“If only you didn’t keep up that fucking attitude of yours-” She snaps, chewing loudly on her gum.

“Okay-” Joshua rolls his eyes. “What now?”

“Get your ass down and help me with Papa-” She says, leaning against the door with a hand on her hips.

"Papa, huh?” He looks away and absently picks up a pencil, his shoulders dropping. “He doesn’t-”

“I know-" Selena says wistfully, and I frown because I don’t. “You know I’m helpless with him-”

Joshua inhales deeply, then exhales loudly, rubbing his face with his dirty hands. He then gets up, all tall and mighty, in his white, paint-splotched shirt and baggy, grey sweatpants before he gestures for Selena to leave first.

He then takes off his beanie, fully exposing his mess of auburn curls, throws it on his messy bed, and leaves the room. I stand alone and clueless, thinking about how Joshua’s face fell upon the mentioning of his father.

Joshua never talked to me about his family, but he’d only occasionally mention a thing or two about Selena. I always knew it was a sensitive topic for him and I never pushed it.

Following him seems to be the only reasonable thing to do despite how wrong it also feels. Like an invasion of privacy. However, I really don’t think I have a choice. Somehow, supposedly, everything that happens from the moment I appear in this ‘dimension’ until the moment I leave is relevant to my death.

It’s like I’m in a video game, programmed for one certain path, and I’m just not allowed to make my own decisions. So in order for the ‘game’ to continue, according to my understanding, I have to follow him.

I take a deep breath and slip through the door crack to find myself in front of the same huge staircase he’d carry me over after a hard party when no-one was home.

I sigh, descend the stairs impossibly silently (I probably float around really), and then stop in my tracks when I hear a loud crash. I rush down, and with a gasp, I find Joshua standing in front of Selena, arms open, seemingly protecting her from something.

Or someone.

I round a corner and my eyes fall on David- Joshua’s father- as he stands amongst shards of green glass. He stands thin and tall, even taller than Joshua with the mouth of a broken beer bottle in his bleeding right hand.

He’s wearing a black shirt with a hole that exposes his navel and a heavy, greying moustache on his sweaty, dirt-smudged face. His beady eyes are narrowed at Joshua’s parted lips and Selena’s angry scowl.

If I don’t know better, I’d say Joshua’s frightened.

David drags his left hand across his nose with a sniff and assumes a threatening stance. “Give me yer money-” He then slurs out while lifting a brow at Selena.

“I ain’t gon’ give it to you, Papa-” Selena says defiantly. “I ain’t gonna harm you-” She then looks away from her father, slightly nudging Joshua’s elbow.

“Papa, it’s her money-” Joshua says collectedly.

“Shut up you waste of breaths and words-” David snaps, and I frown at how harsh he is. “Go back to yer-” He waves his arm around before burping. “Go back to yer room and do yer stupid ‘art’-”

Joshua clenches his jaws, his eyes set solidly on his father’s figure. And I know I should feel a bit joyous for the despondency on his face, but I simply don’t feel anything of that sort. I feel bad for him, in fact, and it’s pathetic.

I step closer to Joshua and Selena as David staggers toward him with a scowl.

“You’re so useless-” David hisses close to Joshua’s face. “-you can’t even protect yer sister from me-” He then raises the broken bottle in his son’s face. “You’re even more useless than that bottle-” He then laughs to himself as Joshua clenches his fists.

I grimace.

“Papa that’s enough!” Selena snaps, and David looks sincerely taken aback, but instead of attacking her, he looks back at Joshua with a smirk.

“You’re taking her away too, eh?” He says, locking eyes with him, and I frown in confusion. What does he mean?

Joshua’s lips remain sealed, and for a second, I believe that this Joshua would’ve never verbally abused me. Would’ve never let me down.

His eyes are stern, glistening with stubborn tears, and his throat bobs up and down occasionally as a thousand possible thoughts probably wrap themselves around his head. He seems unmoving. Even his chest won’t rattle with his breaths.

So I wonder if Joshua’s suffocating himself. If his problems are suffocating him as they did me.

Fun fact: I’ve tried killing myself by simply commanding myself not to breathe. I did manage to hold my breath for a good while, but I figured breathing is involuntary. And really, it does take more than yourself to stop breathing.

But I don’t think Joshua’s suffocating himself. He isn’t me. He doesn’t have a deprived social status. He doesn’t compete with his sister. He doesn’t deal with the loneliness I’d taken as a soulmate.

And really I don’t know what that means. What him still breathing means despite all of his problems? Does it really mean that he is just a spoiled brat with a mean father? Or does it mean that he isn’t as superficial as I think he is, and he has simply learnt how to float with his demons?

I sigh, and David steps even closer to him.

“I never forgave you-” His father whispers loudly, baring his teeth. “Never did. Never will-”

Joshua looks up and blinks at the ceiling. He then looks down again and very slowly he says, “I no longer care. It’s time you slept, Papa, and woke up to the reality where you know that I’ve changed and really don’t care-” David’s smirk falls, and I lift my eyebrows at how grown up Joshua sounds. “And Selena won’t give you shit. Her money. You have no say-”

"I have no say?” David says incredulously. “After all those years I’ve spent bringing you up. All that money I’ve spent on you-” He shakes his head. ”You, son-” David pokes his index finger in Joshua’s chest. “-disgust me-” He then drops what remains of the bottle before taking Joshua’s collar in his hands and pulling him closer.

Joshua stumbles forward but stops himself from collapsing in his father’s chest. His chest is heaving up and down erratically, and his neck is taut and red. It completely contradicts his calm facial expression.

“I don’t care if you don’t care-” David yelps, his spit flying everywhere. “You destroyed my life! You deserve every terrible thing that happens to you, boy. And you deserve the pain you feel when you hear those very same words every day-” He then pushes him away, and Selena backs off so that Joshua won’t bump into her.

Joshua stills, shoulders tensed, and eyes widened. He then looks over his shoulder and says, “Leave, Selena. Get back to your room and lock yourself-”

Selena seems to be relieved to have orders to follow.

“She ain’t going-” David starts reaching for her, but Joshua lifts his fists and uses them to pin his father in his place. His calm demeanour disappears and is replaced by a hostile one.

Selena quickly leaves the scene and a door bang indicates that she’s safe from that monster.

Joshua lets him go, and David laughs, adjusting his shirt. “You know I ain’t leavin’ her alone, eh?”

Joshua runs a hand all over his face, looking very exasperated. “Okay, stop!” He breathes out. ”Stop, okay?” He then reaches deep in his sweatpants pockets and takes out a few bills before throwing them at his father’s feet. “Fucking hell just...just leave her alone-” He whispers defeatedly, his shoulders dropping.

David bends down to collect the bills, and Joshua is so completely revolted. I am so completely revolted.

“Aye, aye-” David mocks as he counts the bills. “I’ll let her be-” He then locks eyes with his son. “But only for t’day. Or-” He grins, showing his blackening teeth. “Or only ’till I’m back-”

Joshua scowls, and I watch, confused, as David uses his feet to scatter the glass shards before leaving the house.

Joshua looks beaten yet relieved. He sighs heavily, pushing back his hair with a shaky hand before holding his hips. He looks upward and shuts his eyes. I step closer to him so that I am just a few inches away from his chest and sigh, wondering how is all that supposed to make me feel bad about killing myself.

Joshua lowers his head and stares at me- oh sorry, no, I mean at the glass I’m currently floating on- but I’ll give myself the pleasure of this little attention I’m getting. His face’s rough, and it’s almost heartbreaking that I still remember how it feels under my fingers.

Joshua then backs away before rounding a corner and getting a broomstick. I watch him gather the glass and discard it. I watch him lean back on a wall and slide down, pulling his knees to his chest. He sniffs loudly before resting his head on the wall. He looks deeply disturbed and exhausted.

Joshua and I broke up five months ago on a thunderous night, in his painting room. He looked really messed up, in ripped pants and an injured forearm, wrapped in a bandage. He gave me no solid reason, but I just figured that I bored him. He started insulting me, using all the insecurities I had shared with him against me.

I didn’t understand. He broke my heart left and right and expected me to just leave his house like a deject (I did feel like a deject of course, but I had to make a scene). So I wasted all his paint on him and blindly threw the empty bottles at his face, hoping it’ll leave a mark that would remind him not to forget that day. I was so so sad, I felt blind. My brain felt blind and I had to do what I did.

I wonder, however, about what could’ve happened in those five months that would give him those deep creases between his eyebrows and those deeply bitten lips? I mean, should I worry? Last I remember, Joshua’s social status in school didn’t change. In fact, it only keeps rising.

I stare at Joshua and shake my head. I obviously don’t understand what he and his father were discussing with such intensity and hatred, but I can tell that it has a great effect on him. I can also tell that the ‘perfection’ tuxedo he wears at school is nothing more than a cover from people’s prying eyes. A cover to his fragile, fucked-up self.

I lift my chin and smirk. I shouldn’t feel as bad as people believe I should for being ‘ditched’ by Joshua David Philips. It turns out that Joshua is pretty much of a loser too.

“Josh!” Someone- Selena- screams from on top of the staircase, startling Joshua and breaking the train of my thoughts.

Joshua jumps to his feet with parted lips and wide, anticipating eyes. “Selene, wha-?”

Selena almost trips over the last stairs before standing before us and panting. Her eyes are wide and bloodshot and her lips are frowning. She stares at her freaked out, previously-crying brother, and shakes her head.

“What, Selena-?” Joshua asks cautiously. “Papa-?”

"You haven’t- You haven’t heard?” She breathes out.

Joshua subtly shakes his head and narrows his eyes.

“It’s all over Facebook!” She cries out and I back away in dread. I know what’s coming for him. Joshua is already having a terrible day. Oh no.

“It’s-it’s Rose-” She whispers, and I bite my lips, feeling terrible that this worn-out Joshua has to be the recipient of this message instead of the cocky, asshole one.

“Roseline?” Joshua seems taken aback that my name has come up. “What about her?”

Selena sniffs, and Joshua studies her intensely. He then tilts his head a bit before he starts shaking it.

“No, no, no-” He starts, gulping, his back hitting the wall.

“She slit her wrists, Josh. Her parents found her last night in a tub of her blood-”

I flinch and close my eyes. What have I done?

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