Romeo and Juliet.
It seemed romantic at first, all that “us against them.” Marah quit college and moved into the run-down apartment Paxton shared with six other kids. It was a fifth-floor walk-up in a vermin-infested building in Pioneer Square, but somehow it didn’t matter that they rarely had electricity or hot water and that the toilet didn’t flush. What mattered was that Paxton loved her and they could spend the night together and come and go as they wanted. She didn’t mind that he had no money and no job. His poetry would make them rich someday. Besides, Marah had money. She’d saved all of her high school graduation-gift money in a savings account. During college, her dad had given her enough money that she’d never needed to crack into her own savings.
It wasn’t until the money in Marah’s account ran out that everything began to change. Paxton decided that marijuana was “lame” and that meth and even sometimes her**n were “where it’s at.” Money began to disappear from Marah’s wallet—small amounts; she was never one hundred percent sure, not enough to accuse him, but it seemed to go more quickly than she expected.
She’d worked from the start. Paxton couldn’t hold down a job because he needed nights to slam poetry in the clubs and days to work on his verses. She’d been happy to be his muse. Her first job had been as a night clerk at a seedy hotel, but it hadn’t lasted long. After that, she’d gone from one job to the next, never able to keep one for long.
A few months ago, in June, Paxton had come home from a club one night, late, high, and told her that Seattle was “over.” They packed up the next day and followed one of Paxton’s new friends to Portland, where they moved into a sagging, dirty apartment with three other kids. She’d gotten her job at Dark Magick within the week. The bookstore job was different from her other jobs, but it was also the same. Long hours on her feet, helping rude people, coming home with very little money. Months passed like that.
It wasn’t until ten days ago that Marah really understood the precariousness of their life together.
That night she came home to an eviction notice nailed onto the door of their apartment. She pushed open the broken door—the lock hadn’t worked when they moved in and the super never cared enough to fix it—and found her roommates sitting on the living room floor, passing a pipe back and forth.
“We’re being evicted,” she said.
They laughed at her. Paxton rolled sideways and stared up at her through glassy, unfocused eyes. “You’ve got a job…”
For days, Marah walked around in a fog; fear set in like an iceberg, deep and solid. She didn’t want to be homeless. She’d seen the street kids in Portland, panhandling, sleeping in dirty blankets on stoops, rifling through Dumpsters for food, using their money for drugs.
There was no one she could talk to about her fear, either. No mom. No best friend. The realization made her feel even more alone.
Until she remembered: My job is to love you.
Once she had the thought, she couldn’t shake it. How many times had Tully offered to help her? I don’t judge people. I know how hard it is to be human.
At that, she knew where she had to go.
The next day, without telling Paxton, she called in sick to work, took her last few precious dollars, and bought a bus ticket to Seattle.
She arrived at Tully’s apartment at just past seven o’clock at night. She stood outside the door for a long time, fifteen minutes at least, trying to work up the nerve to knock. When she finally did, she could hardly breathe.
There was no answer.
Marah reached in her pocket and pulled out the spare key. Unlocking the door, she went inside. The place was quiet and well lit, with music playing softly from Tully’s iPod in the living room. Marah could tell by the song—“Diamonds and Rust”—that it was the iPod Mom had made for Tully when she was sick. Their songs. TullyandKate’s. When had Tully played anything else?
Tully came out of the bedroom, looking like a street person, with messy hair and ill-fitting clothes and tired eyes. “Marah,” she said, coming to a dead stop. She seemed … weird. Shaky and pale. She kept blinking as if she couldn’t focus.
She’s high. Marah had seen it often enough in the past two years to know.
Marah knew instantly that Tully wouldn’t help her. Not this Tully, who couldn’t even stand up straight.
Still, Marah tried. She begged, she pleaded, she asked for money.
Tully said a lot of pretty things and her eyes filled with tears, but in the end, the answer was no.
Marah wanted to cry, she was so disappointed. “My mom said I could count on you. When she was dying, she said you’d help me and love me no matter what.”
“I’m trying to, Marah. I want to help you—”
“As long as I do what you want. Paxton was right.” Marah said the last words in a jangle of pain. Without even waiting for Tully’s response, she ran out of the condominium. It wasn’t until she was in the bus station in downtown Seattle, sitting on a cold bench, that she knew how to solve her problem. Beside her was one of those celebrity magazines. It was open to a story about Lindsay Lohan, who’d been pulled over driving a Maserati while she was on probation. The headline read STAR OUT OF CONTROL ONLY DAYS AFTER LEAVING REHAB.
Marah picked up the magazine, called the hotline number, and said, I’m Marah Ryan, Tully Hart’s goddaughter. How much would you pay for a story about her drug problem? Even as she asked the question, she felt sick. Some things, some choices, you just knew were wrong.
“Marah? Check this out.”
She heard her name as if from far away. She came to slowly, remembering where she was: kneeling in Tully’s closet.
Her godmother was in the hospital, in a coma. Marah had come here to find the iPod that held all of Tully’s favorite songs so that maybe—just maybe—the music could reach through the darkness and help Tully to wake up.
Marah turned slowly, saw Paxton holding a half-eaten hamburger in one hand while he pawed through Tully’s jewelry box with the other. She got slowly to her feet.
“No, really. Check it out.” He held up a single diamond stud earring nearly the size of a pencil eraser. It flashed colored light, even in the dark closet.
“Put it back, Paxton,” she said tiredly.
He gave her his best smile. “Oh, come on. Your godmother wouldn’t even notice if this went missing. Think of it, Marah. We could go to San Francisco, like we’ve been dreaming of. You know how stuck I’ve been in my poetry. It’s because of our money and how we don’t have any. How can I be creative when you’re gone all day, working?” He moved toward her. Reaching out, he pulled her close to him, pressed his h*ps into hers, moving suggestively. His hands slid down her back and settled on her butt, then tugged hard. “This could be our future, Mar.” The intensity in his black-rimmed eyes scared her just a little.
She pulled out of his arms and stepped back. For the first time, she noticed the selfishness in his gaze, the thin rebellion in his mouth, the pale hands that were softened by laziness, the vanity in his dress.
He took the silver and black skull earring out of his earlobe and put Tully’s diamond in its place. “Let’s go.”
He was so sure of her, so certain she would fold her will into his own. And why wouldn’t he be? That was what she’d done from the beginning. In Dr. Bloom’s office she’d seen a gorgeous, troubled, wrist-slashed poet who’d promised her a way through her pain. He’d let her cry in his arms and told her that song lyrics and poems could change her life. He’d told her it was okay to cut herself—more than okay, he said; it was beautiful. She’d dyed her hair and cut it with a razor blade and painted her face white in grief. Then she’d followed him into the underbelly of the world she’d known and let its darkness seduce and conceal her.
“Why do you love me, Pax?”
He looked at her.
It felt as if her heart were hanging from a thin, silver hook.
“You’re my muse. You know that.” He gave her a lazy smile and went back to pawing through the jewelry box.
“But you hardly write anymore.”
He turned to her. She saw the anger flash in his eyes. “What do you know about it?”
And there went her heart, tearing free, falling. She couldn’t help thinking about the love she’d grown up around. The way her parents loved each other and their kids. She took a step forward, feeling strangely as if she were both breaking free and growing up at the same time. She imagined the view from the living room, of Bainbridge Island, and suddenly she ached for the life she once had, for the girl she’d once been. It was all still there for her, just across the bay.
She let out a deep breath and said his name.
He looked over at her, impatience etched in his jaw, darkening his eyes. She knew how much he hated it when she questioned his art. Come to think of it, he hated to be questioned about anything. He loved her most when she was quiet and broken and cutting herself. What kind of love was that? “Yeah?”
“Kiss me, Pax,” she said, moving close enough for him to take her in his arms.
He kissed her quickly; she held on to him, pulled him close, waited for his kiss to consume her as it always had.
She learned then that some relationships ended without fireworks or tears or regret. They ended in silence. It scared her, this unexpected choice, showed her the depth of her loneliness. No wonder she’d been running from it for years.
She knew how wounded he had been by his sister’s death and his parents’ abandonment. She knew that he sometimes cried in his sleep and that certain songs could turn his mood as black as ink. She knew that just saying his sister’s name—Emma—could unsteady his hand. There was more to him than the poet or the goth or even the thief. Or, someday, there could be more. But he wasn’t enough for her now.
“I loved you,” she said.
“And I love you.” He took her hand and led her out of the condo.
Marah wondered if love—or the end of it—would always hurt like this.
“I forgot something,” she said at the front door, tugging free, coming to a stop. “Meet me at the elevator.”
“Sure.” He walked over to the elevator, pushed the button.
Marah backed into the condo, closing the door behind her. She hesitated a second, no more than that, and then she locked the door.
He came running back for her, banging on the door, screaming and shouting. Tears stung her eyes and she let them fall until he yelled, “Screw you, then, you fake bitch,” and stomped away. Even after that, she sat there, slumped on the floor, her back pressed against the door. As the sound of his footsteps faded away, she pushed up her sleeve and counted the tiny white scars on the inside of her arms, wondering what in the hell she was going to do now.
* * *
Marah found the iPod and packed it in a shopping bag with its portable docking station. Afterward, she moved through the condominium slowly, allowing herself to remember a thousand small moments with Tully. She found her mom’s journal, too, and packed that in the bag. For someday.