Megan Manzano graduated college with a Bachelor’s degree in English. She has been in several magazines: Maudlin House, Firefly Magazine, Fantastia Divinity Magazine, and Twisted Sister Lit. Her favorite activities include reading, blogging, finding ways to travel, editing, and expressing her imagination through writing. A fun fact about Megan is she has a unique ethnicity being half Puerto Rican and half Polish.
He fell in love with art the same way someone falls for their first love – wholly and without realizing it. His parents knew early on what his hands could do as they created picture after to picture to hang on the fridge, the page and himself equally covered in paint.
His hands now could not stop moving, throwing streak after streak onto canvas, expelling the wounds from his heart. He had little idea what he was creating. All he knew was that if he stopped for a second, his seams would come undone.
Jared dipped his brush into a jar of blue paint and splattered the color onto a small inch of space left unoccupied. It became one with the other colors, orange and yellow, as if the daytime sky was fighting with the one seen at sunset. The battle took place above a young, black woman who sipped her coffee outside of a cafe. Jared’s brow creased as he stared at the painting, wondering where the hell he was going to go from here.
“I think that may be my favorite of yours to date,” Simon noted from the door. Jared had turned the man’s guest room into a full-time art studio, paints and easels and rolled up pieces of paper tossed about without concern.
His body jumped, Jared turning to face the other, shaking his head. “I told you not to do that.”
“Couldn’t help it,” Simon shrugged. “I know good art when I see it. The emotion is practically oozing off of it.”
“I guess that’s what happens when you feel like absolute shit,” Jared sighed, running his hands through his hair, not caring if paint got lost in his dirty blonde strands. He took a step back from the painting, scrutinizing the aggravated sky. “I wouldn’t exactly call this my best.”
“Of course you wouldn’t. You’re far too stubborn.”
“Or you’re just far too nice.”
Simon chuckled. “That’s a good one, mate. You’re probably the second person I’d let stay at my flat after their boyfriend breaks up with them. The first being my mum.”
Jared shifted his attention to Simon, attempting a smile. It came out slightly crooked and slightly empty. “I owe you one for this, seriously. I just couldn’t stay there anymore, you know? I couldn’t even stay in the same country.”
“Nah, I know what you’re going through. When Jenna dumped me, all I wanted to do was sob into my pillow and eat ice cream. I did both.”
“I remember that. I bought you a tub of a pistachio and we ate it together.” The memory jabbed at his insides, mainly because he never thought he would be in the same situation as Simon. Him and Ash had fallen in love. They had moved in together. Their parents were friends. They talked about marriage. Jared could have sworn with every fiber of his being, Ash was the one. And now all of it was gone, gone, gone. He wanted to send a fist through his painting suddenly, but he knew it wouldn’t help.
“Good times,” Simon said sarcastically, strumming his fingers against the frame of the door. “Never thought you’d be in the same boat.”
“You and me both. The worst part of the whole thing is that he’s genuinely a good guy and he’s my best friend and I can’t even fucking look at him.”
“No offense mate, but boning another dude doesn’t paint the picture of a best mate in my eyes.”
Jared swallowed hard as the image of Ash sobbing his confession jerked to the forefront of his mind. A heaving chest. Hiccups. Apologies endlessly falling from his lips. His guard should have stood at full height when Ash mentioned his high school sweetheart was back in town. He should have admitted he wasn’t comfortable with Ash meeting up with him, but that would have made him seem like a bad boyfriend. Besides, he thought he knew Ash better than that. He thought at the end of the day, he would be enough.
“He left me a letter, a few weeks after we broke up. It was after I told him I needed space, that I couldn’t pretend everything was fine. I haven’t opened it. I can’t.” His teeth sunk into his lower lip, toying with the flesh so he wouldn’t cry. He was tired of crying, of weighted lids, burning eyes, and a lump in his throat. “That’s when I called you and booked a flight to London.” For the world was pressing down on Jared, threatening to crack every bone that led to his heart. He hurriedly thrown what he could fit into a suitcase and was out of the door within an hour.
“Still a shite move at the end of the day. Ash was committed to you and he threw that away.” Simon closed the distance between them, placing his firmer, steadier hands on Jared’s shoulders. “You know what you need to do, Jared. Make all the fucking art you want and go back fucking happier than you’ve ever been.”
Jared forced himself to nod, the conviction long out of his reach. He backed out of Simon’s hold, his chin gesturing to the painting. “I’m going to finish this up.”
Simon took the hint and ducked into the hallway. The door clicked lightly shut.
Jared swiveled around on a stool, scrutinizing the canvas before him. This wasn’t a masterpiece like Simon’s praise suggested, just colors correctly placed. He sighed, fingers grazing the orange chunk of the painting. A current of heat rolled against his skin, intoxicating, increasing in intensity as each second passed.
He tugged his hand away, a crease forming between his brow. The lack of sleep was getting to him, enough to make him put his hand back, this time against the yellow. It too radiated heat, gentler, kinder, a whisper of consolation. Jared lingered, stealing some of the heat for himself, wanting to still his thoughts, coax the pain away. He could have sworn it worked, able to sit up a few inches straighter, able to breathe without his lungs wanting to crumble in on themselves.
When he let go, the sensations came rushing back, a choked cry of surprise leaving Jared’s lips.
There was only one color left, the last he had decided to add to the painting. It caught the light from the side window, appearing the hue of the ocean, calling out to Jared. He didn’t know what it had to offer if yellow had nearly kicked him with a boot repeatedly to the ribs. What did it matter if he was already lost?
Not completely settled in his resolve, but settled enough, Jared’s index and middle finger traced the blue streak. At first, he felt indifferent. He considered that he had imagined the experience from moments earlier, a product of his heartbreak. But then it came, goosebumps creeping up his arms, his hair standing up on the back of his neck, the ability to stay awake fleeting. Darkness swarmed Jared’s vision, black dots growing until they formed a curtain that swallowed him whole.
He dropped to the floor with a loud thud.
The world around him was a blur of flashing lights and confetti. Music blared in his ears. Bodies belonging to strangers occasionally rubbed up against him or pushed past to make it to the bar. He couldn’t remember how he wound up in a club, but his mind was strangely light and a laugh bubbled to the surface of his lips at the absurdity of it all.
He thought back to the painting and the desire to laugh was eradicated.
“Do you want to dance?” A woman in a tight red blouse and black jeans asked him. She was rather pretty with brown skin, straight hair, and brown eyes – not the kind that were dark and lackluster, the kind that sparkled. There was something oddly familiar about her.
“I…would love to, I just, have no idea where I am.”
She didn’t seem at all troubled by his answer, a smile teasing its way onto her lips. “You are where you need to be or maybe, where you want to be.”
He stared at her incredulously, deciding to nod because there was no way she would believe he came through a painting. The thought didn’t even make sense to him, hazed and drifting further away from explanation.
Jared took her extended hand, deciding to fulfill her request. He gave her a spin and her face glowed with satisfaction. He was mesmerized by her, like his body was caught in a riptide.
They moved in rhythm to the beat, fast paced and never ending as popular songs were sped up and added onto. Jared allowed the tension to seep out of his pores, be stomped out by moving feet.
“Where did you learn to dance?”
“Alone in my bedroom.”
“That’s the best place,” she mused. “I should introduce myself. I’m Maureen.”
“Jared,” he shouted over the music. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“You too. Do you want to go somewhere quiet, to talk?”
He stared absentmindedly at Maureen, half trying to understand what she said, the other half trying to figure out if she was implying what immediately sprung to mind. “I’m gay. Unless you really want to talk because talking doesn’t usually mean talking at these places.”
Her laugh was alive and high pitched. “I actually meant talk, you devil.”
“I’m sorry. I’m a bit – lost.” His shoulders lifted into a sheepish shrug.
“Oh, I know. You’re not the first nor will you be the last.” Maureen replied in a matter of fact sort of way which only sprung more questions to the front of Jared’s mind.
“I’m sorry, what exactly does that mean?”
“Not everything needs to mean something, Jared. You wanted an escape and here it is. I can feel the energy in your body. You like things like this. There is happiness trapped inside of you.” Maureen’s fingers splayed against his chest. Jared’s gaze shot to them, realizing he was still in the same color stained clothes from Simon’s apartment.
“Am I… am I dead?”
“Let’s go outside and talk. I don’t want to be shouting for the entirety of the evening.” Maureen slipped her arm in Jared’s own and tugged him towards the double doors at the front of the club.
He allowed Maureen to lead him away from the crowd and outside into the brisk night time air. He shivered at its immediate contact, checking to make sure the buttons of his flannel were done to the top. “It wasn’t this cold in London. Are you sure I’m not dead?”
“I’m a hundred percent certain you’re not dead.” Maureen leaned against the wall, tipping her head back, her eyes watching as he examined the world before him.
The streets as far as he could see were barren. The buildings appeared like shadows more than actual structures. Even the music, that was hammering in his ears only moments ago, had disappeared behind the doors of the club. It was just him and Maureen, the only two living figures in whatever existence this was. He should be afraid, but his limbs did not shake nor did his heartbeat escalate. He wanted one thing: an answer. “Right… you’re going to need to do a better job at convincing me.”
“This is what you feel inside, Jared. Back there, through those doors, were what you used to feel like.”
“I already know what happened. What I don’t know is where you’re going to go from here.”
“What do you mean?”
Maureen pushed off the wall with the base of her foot, closing some of the distance between them. Her guise was gentle, but not pitying. He had gotten too many of those looks since the breakup. “You can choose to keep dwelling or you can get back on your feet. This isn’t a place you belong.”
“How do you know that?” He crossed his arms over his chest as if that would help barricade himself against any pain that might emerge.
“Intuition, or you know, your paintings.”
Maureen sighed rather loudly, as if Jared should already know what was going on. “You have a lot more to give, Jared. This pain, it will pass, or rather, you’ll figure out a way to use it and I can’t wait to see what you create once that happens.”
“Simon definitely slipped me something in my coffee this morning.” He exhaled a breath, the cold transforming it into white, wispy tendrils.
Maureen’s response was a click of her tongue, but the frustration from moments ago had subsided, leaving her face a tranquil mask. “I should let you get back. Think about what I said. You deserve a chance at being free.”
Before Jared could say anything more, the scene before him dissolved. Flashes of yellow, orange, and blue burst through his vision.
Then, there was nothing.
He woke up on the floor. Light still streamed in from the window. The door was still shut. All of his tools were how he had left them. His unexplained trip had left him with two things: a throbbing head and an itch under his skin telling him to let go.
Jared ignored the latter for most of the day, busying himself with a shower, Chinese takeout paid for by Simon, and cartoons. It was at night when the itch grew into something palpable, a hum beneath his bones.
He retrieved the envelope from the drawer of his nightstand. He should have thrown it out. He should have shred it into hundreds of pieces like he assured Simon he would. He should have set it on fire. Yet, he tore it open in the privacy of his bedroom and saw the neat handwriting that belonged to the person who still had his heart.
“Don’t do it, idiot. Don’t do it.” Though he knew that even as he reprimanded himself, he was going to read it.
It took me a total of fifteen tries to begin this letter. I’m going to dive right in before I get too rambly or out of sorts. This is hard for me too. I know that may be a stupid thing to say, but I miss you, as my best friend, as more than a friend. I’m not even sure what to categorize you as.
I never wanted to hurt you. You need to believe me. Things got out of hand. It doesn’t make up for my actions, but I’m trying as someone who cares a lot about you. It all happened so fast and I wish I could do something to make up for it, to take the pain from you. River was unexpected. I thought all of the feelings for him were gone, but I was wrong.
Streaks lined Jared’s cheeks. Some of his tears fell onto the letter he was holding. Both rage and longing battled for control in his gut. He withdrew his phone from his pocket, something he left off and discarded since the break-up, and dialed Ash’s number. He didn’t care about the time difference.
The phone rang four times.
“H…Hello?” The voice was groggy on the other end.
“You can’t do this.”
“Jared?!” Recognition broke through the aura of sleepiness hanging over Ash. Jared heard the shuffling of footsteps.
“You can’t do this. You can’t just write me letters saying you fucking care about me and that I’m special to you. You can’t!” He didn’t bother hiding how he was shaking, how much his words rose and fell in pitch.
“It’s the truth, Jared. I don’t want to be completely cut off from your life.”
“You made that choice when you slept with River.” Silence on the opposite end of the line urged Jared forward. “You pulled my heart out of my chest, ran it over with a truck, and figured we would be fine all because you apologized and said I was a great guy. If I was that great, you wouldn’t have cheated on me. You… you would have needed me more.” His tears had grown into full-fledged sobs, the kind that shook one’s body, the kind that left one cold and aching.
“Jared… I… I always needed you.”
“N… No you didn’t. I was second. I was your second choice. I met you after you broke up with River to go to university. I listened. I comforted you. I made you laugh. And a few weeks later, you were kissing me. It… it was always about, River. Don’t you see that, Ash?”
Mirrored sobs came through on the other line and a part of Jared was glad. He wanted Ash to feel even a fraction of his suffering. “I…fell in love with you. Don’t… you dare try and warp that.”
“Then why wasn’t I enough? Answer me that. Why?” He slammed a hand against the bedside table, welcoming the physical pain.
“I already told you, Jared. I laid out my heart for you. I was as honest as I could possibly be. Please… you have to understand. Hurting you was the most horrible thing I have ever done. You deserve someone better.”
“I wanted you,” Jared moaned, sliding to the floor, his back pressed up against the wall. “I only ever wanted you. Where the fuck am I supposed to go from here?” The question came out as a murmur, barely able to be heard despite the quiet of night.
“I don’t know. I don’t know. God, I don’t know.” Ash’s voice too had dropped.
“At least we agree on something.” He sucked in a breath that burned the inside of his throat. “Nothing gets rid of you. I want to tell you about the things I’ve been doing and then remember I’m only doing them because of you. Sometimes… sometimes I wake up and expect to find you beside me. Sometimes… I hear your voice, picture your laugh, see a person who looks like you and I miss you all over again. And then I think how stupid I am because you’re living your life without me. You – “
“You’re not stupid.”
“I am. I let you become everything.” Jared dragged a hand down his face. He hadn’t moved from his position against the wall. He wasn’t sure if he would or if he wanted to.
“Tell me. Tell me how to fix this,” Ash pleaded. Jared could picture his face, contorted into a frown, worry and desperation seeped into every crevice.
“I can’t.” He was surprised by how fast he admitted the truth. He was surprised by his desire to let go. “You broke me. I’m not sure you can fix me too.”
He picked up on crying, on an exchange somewhere off in the distance, and finally a resigned, “I’m so sorry.”
“I know. I love you, Ash.”
Without waiting for a reply, Jared hung up. Without asking, Simon made his presence known, by crouching down beside him on the floor. Without thinking, Jared tucked his head into Simon’s chest and cried – ugly, raw – for the farewell he had never wanted.
Without truly understanding how he knew, he would be okay.