If, p.19

If, page 19



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  “But he needs me.”

  “So is that what you’ll become? His crutch?”

  “Ugh. I’m sick of the lectures, Jordan,” I hissed.

  “Well, you can tell Alana if you decide to pull out. She put her faith into your passion and abilities, and so did I. But maybe your passion is more into being someone’s girlfriend.”

  I glared at Jordan. He was being boss Jordan, not barge in the shower Jordan. “I just need some time to think it through. It’s just all so much.”

  “Bird, in this world your understudy is always lurking. We need definite commitments. There was always the possibility this would go to tour. You knew that.”

  I nodded. I did know that. I just didn’t know that my boyfriend would have a psychotic break. I couldn’t fathom stepping away from Ash when his exact words were that he would only get better for me.

  “I have to get back.”

  “Bird. Love is a drug. It fucks with your thinking. Remember that,” he said, tapping the pen in his hand to his temple.

  I tried to take in his words, but I was high on love and when someone is high, it’s hard to care about anyone but the person who gives you the injection.


  “ASH, YOU HAVE a visitor,” Carlton, my favorite orderly, told me.

  I was curious, since I wasn’t expecting anyone. I hoped for a surprise visit from Bird, but the real surprise was when I saw Jordan sitting in the meeting room alone.

  “Hey man, how’s it going?” I asked, exchanging a handshake-hug combo.

  “Not much. You’re lookin’ good,” he said.

  “Oh, don’t bullshit.”

  “No seriously. We were worried about you there for bit.”

  “Yeah, well it’s what I do,” I said sarcastically.

  This wasn’t the first time I had seen Jordan since being admitted. He visited with Bird once, but I was surprised to see him alone. Especially, since I was certain I would be cleared any day, so it seemed redundant.

  I asked Jordan about the show, and Trevor, and we went through the usual catching up. But I sensed he was working up to something and I was right.

  “So, I came to speak to you about something.”

  “Yeah? Go ahead.” Jordan looked uncomfortable, which was rare for the guy who bear hugged me in our first meeting.

  “You asked about the show. And like I said it’s going really well. When was the last time you spoke to Bird?”

  “Yesterday on the phone. Why?”

  “Did she tell you about the tour?”

  “Well, she told me a while back that if the show went well, the plan was for a tour down the line.”

  “That’s what I thought.”

  “What’s going on?” I asked.

  “Listen, you know Birdie is like a sister to me. And I know you care about her. If I was in your position, I would want you to know. I hope you don’t take this as me trying to interfere.”


  “We are having a tour. They are planning it as we speak. We’re thinking seven to ten cities, but then the next move is international.”

  “That’s great! So what’s the issue?”

  “Bird said she’s not going to do it.”

  “What?” It didn’t make sense. This was everything she had wanted. She could travel the country and the world while doing the thing she loved most. Her dream was finally a reality.

  Jordan looked down at the table uncomfortably and before he said it, I knew in my gut what was about to come out of his mouth. “Ash, it’s because she’s scared to leave you behind. She wants to be here for you. And she knows, like I know, you’ll tell her to go and she either is scared you won’t be there when she returns, or . . .” he gestured to the room around us.

  Bird lied. Bird wanted honesty, but she didn’t think I could handle the truth. And she was right, I would probably have a hard time without her, but this wasn’t about me, this was about the kind of opportunity that comes once. Pass it up and it rarely ever comes back around. I knew all about missed opportunities.

  “I can’t make her go.”

  “You can’t. I just thought you should know. I don’t know what I’m expecting you to do, and I am sure eventually you would find out, but then it would be too late. There’s still time to change her mind. I haven’t told my bosses in hopes that Bird will come around. But I’ve been holding out and she’s not changing her mind. And I have to let them know soon.”

  I let out a huge sigh and ran my hands through my fresh buzz cut. It felt weird to have a pelt there instead of the usual full head of locks I had always kept.

  “Ash, she loves the shit out of you. Enough to throw away her dreams. She’s all about you, man. And I know that feeling, to be so into someone that everything else seems small. But I was lucky, that person left me and it forced me to go through some pain and realize I didn’t need anyone. And now I have Trevor, and I have the career I worked so hard for. I don’t know if you know that feeling . . . maybe you feel that way about her.”

  “Of course I do. That’s exactly how I feel about her.” I paused for a moment. Bird was really the only person who I had told how I felt about her. It wasn’t easy for me to share what we had, but I needed Jordan to understand. “I’ve had a lot of time to think in here. And I’m probably preaching to the choir, but I know how lucky I am. I don’t know what I did to get someone like her, but I decided that whatever I do when I get out of here is for her. It’s the only way I can keep from falling off the edge, because frankly, I don’t care enough about myself. But she deserves someone who loves her enough to keep his shit together.”

  “Come on man, you’re worth it too.”

  I chuckled softly. “You don’t know the shit I’ve done man.”

  “I know you. Whatever it was, you are worth it.”

  I wanted to believe him, but killing your sister and destroying your family can’t be undone.

  “What am I supposed to do?” I asked. I just wanted someone to tell me how I could get her to leave me. But her loyalty was unlike anything I had ever known. She would stay because I saved her life. She would stay because she doesn’t leave people when they’re down. She would stay because she loved me.

  “I can’t tell you that.”

  “You want me to leave her, don’t you?”

  “I don’t know. I just don’t want her to make the biggest mistake of her life.”


  “That’s not what I said.”

  “No, it’s okay. I get it. It comes down to me or the tour. And I understand that it’s nothing personal.”


  Privileges. I had taken them for granted, but being in this place reminded me of all the ones I had. The many I had squandered.

  Using the phone was a privilege I had to earn back. It made me whittle down who was important to me.

  Bird was always the first person I called when I could get to a phone.

  “Hey,” she said. I could hear her smile.


  “How’s it going?”

  “Good. I can’t wait to get out. I might go crazy again just from having to stare at these walls.” Ah, psych ward humor.

  “I don’t like when you joke about going crazy.”

  “Humor is the best remedy.”

  “I guess. So, any word on when you get to blow that popsicle stand?”

  “I see the psychiatrist tomorrow. I guess he’ll evaluate me. Then there’s me dealing with that whole busting the store window. Miller’s on it though. He thinks I won’t go to jail, just pay a fine, given my . . . condition.”

  “Hmmm . . . Well, you know what would make me happy?”

  “What’s that?”

  “You making it out in time for the show on Friday night. I have a ticket for you at the “will call” window. Kind of like Field of Dreams, if you put it in will call, they will come.”

  “So you mentioned last time the show was sold out. That’s good. Any idea if that means you have somethin
g permanent? That would be nice, not having to worry about the next job.”

  There was a pause. Something I probably wouldn’t have noticed had I not been given the insider info from Jordan.

  “Still waiting to hear. Everyone is just focused on nailing the LA run.”

  Bird was one of the most open people I had ever met, but she was lying to me because she feared I couldn’t handle the truth. Bird was brave and now she was scared.

  “I’m sure something else will come.”

  “Yeah,” her voice was tentative. Bird wasn’t used to lying.

  “Listen, I gotta go. I have a tantalizing lunch of lukewarm green beans and a dry chicken sandwich waiting for me.”

  “We’re gonna fatten you up. I wish I could come see you this week, but with the show coming—”

  “I wouldn’t want you to. Focus on the show. I’m not going anywhere.”

  “I love you.”

  “Love you too, Bird.”

  I hung up the phone and closed my eyes, letting out gust of pent up misery. The only thing more difficult than what I was about to do was bury Sarah.

  There was a heavy slap on my back that jarred me.

  “Hey bro, ready to get out of here?” Miller asked. I had gotten the notice that I was deemed mentally sound that morning.


  “I assume you want to grab some grub?” he asked. “And then explain to me why you wanted your discharge to be so damned secret.”

  “Yeah.” I know I had asked more of my brother than anyone should, but I was about to ask him for yet another favor.


  THIS WAS SUPPOSED to be the best night of my life. The night where I would go on stage, surrounded by color and light, and bare my soul to an audience buzzing with excitement. Instead, all I could see was the empty seat in the second row.

  Seat B5.

  The seat where the beautiful boy with the light green eyes and auburn hair was supposed to see me like no one else could, with sweeping whirls of color in my wake. He would see the kaleidoscope of complex shapes pulsate in sync with the music. He would feel my dancing on his fingertips. But tonight, even as one of the stars, even with the performance of a lifetime, I was ordinary. Today, it hurt to dance.

  Two days ago, I called the hospital to speak with Asher when I hadn’t received his daily phone call. I was told he was no longer a patient. That didn’t make sense. I asked them to check over and over again until I was pretty much dismissed. I called Miller, who asked to see me in person. I demanded an answer from him before I could agree, and all he told me was “he’s gone.” I didn’t believe him. Ash wouldn’t leave. Not again. We had plans. Plans that involved each other. The last words he said to me were that he wasn’t going anywhere.

  He wouldn’t lie to me like that. He wouldn’t abandon me.

  I met Miller outside of the theatre during a break. I barely heard his words behind a mist of disbelief. Though I couldn’t focus on their meaning, I heard fragments.

  Ash left California.

  I don’t know where.

  I have no control over where he goes once he’s been cleared.

  I tried to warn you.

  I’m sorry.

  Miller shoved something in my hand. I felt a hug, but I don’t think I hugged back. I don’t think I said much to Miller. Well, I did, but I don’t remember much. All I felt was pain, and it flooded my body, so that all I could feel was an interpretation of this hurt throughout. In a weird way, I felt what it might be like to be Asher. I felt emotional pain, but I was dizzy, my vision tunneled, my stomach clenched with nausea, my temperature rose, my throat grew dry, my fingertips numbed. All those physical reactions to one emotion. If this was what it was like to be Ash, I finally understood why he felt things, both good and bad, so deeply. But I didn’t understand why he left me.

  I hated Miller, I hated Ash. I hated the whole Thoreau clan at that moment. I didn’t believe Miller. He wouldn’t let Ash leave without knowing where he was going, I don’t care how old Ash was or what laws there were, but it didn’t matter. Miller always said he would put Ash first. I understood it, but I hated it.

  Ash once told me that he thought I should float. I think I did, drifting back to my dressing room away from the eyes of cast mates. Once there, I was finally able to relieve all the physical sensations with tears. It was much like a valve being released, and the bottled-up flood of despair flowed.

  Now alone, I opened the envelope with trembling hands as I pulled out the folded letter and pin. I scanned over the brief message and fiddled with the item he left me. His parting gift confounded me more.

  There was a knock on my dressing room door, and before I could respond the door had opened. I must have forgotten to lock it.

  Of all people, Alana walked through. I tried to wipe my tears, but I was in a state and it was pointless.

  “Bird? What is wrong?” she asked, closing the door behind her. Alana had become something of an eccentric mother figure to me over the past couple of months. Sort of like the callous, Belgian, dance version of Mary Poppins. “Nerves?”

  “No . . . no.” I said, wiping away the tears with my forearms, trying so hard to stifle the flood, but they wouldn’t stop.

  “Tell me dear. Did something happen?”

  The last thing I wanted to tell the Alana Roché DeMill was that I was crying over a boy. She wanted focus and excitement, and what she saw in front of her was a deflated girl who was crumbling under pressure.

  “I’m excited. So excited. Just got some bad personal news.”

  Her eyes glanced over at the vanity to the letter, stained with fresh tears. I clenched the pin he left me so hard, I thought it might pierce my palm.

  “Just cry, they won’t stop until you are done,” she said, grabbing some tissues and handing them to me. “Then we will get some ice and cucumbers because I cannot have my favorite dancer with puffy eyes on her night.”

  So I let myself cry, and she was right, the tears stopped when I let them do their job. Alana sat there quietly. One of my heroes sat there and just let me be a vulnerable human being. It was surreal.

  “This is about love?”

  “Mmmhmm,” I said, afraid that talking about him would give me more reasons to cry.

  “There is no better reason to cry than for love. He is the artist, no?”


  “He is not coming tonight?”

  I shook my head. She sat back on the small sofa in my room and we were silent for a while.

  “The DeMill from my name, I got that from love. I was young too. There is no love like that. You still believe that love can make magic.”

  I thought my love could fix Ash.

  “He was your husband?”

  “Yes, but not for long. I was so young. It was years before I created the Roché DeMill Dance Company. He was a dancer, too. Beautiful dancer. But he left me, too. Not in the way your boy left you. Jean decided that this world was not for him, and I found him in the bathtub. It was too late to bring him back.”

  “I’m so sorry.” I admired this woman in front of me who was strong in the face of such tragedy and it gave me strength. I could get through this. I loved Ash, but I could still have a life without him, a great one. Alana helped me know it in my mind, but it would take a long time before my heart truly believed it.

  “At first I was angry, then I was sad. But I realized what he did was not about me. It was about him. I thought I would die, too. But I didn’t die, and you won’t either.” She leaned forward. “That boy is not the only source of love. You may have to collect in pieces from everyone to make it equal to what he gave, but it’s already surrounding you. So it’s time to look away from him and hunt for the pieces.”

  “Okay,” I muttered. It would take maybe a lifetime to collect enough pieces of love to match that of Ash’s, but I would need to if I was going to survive this heartache and give it my all tonight.

  “I’m going to get some things for your puffy eyes.

  She headed for the door and stopped. “Oh, and sex. Lots of sex will help, too.” Mary Poppins ain’t got shit on Alana Roché DeMill.

  She slipped out of the dressing room and I decided to collect my first piece. I had been yearning for it since I found myself in the dressing room. It was instinctual. It was a deep need I had convinced myself I didn’t have. But Ash ripped my heart out and he exposed everything hiding in there that I had suppressed. And like he once told me, I don’t know if we ever stop feeling like kids.

  I cleared my throat and grabbed my cell phone, calling a number I hadn’t called since I got to LA.

  “Birdie?” the woman’s voice on the other line allowed me to be a child again. I just wanted to fall down and let someone else to the catching.

  I sobbed into the receiver. “Mom? It’s me. I—” the sobs stifled my words. “I just wanted to say hi.”

  I had collected the first piece.


  I WAS HUNGOVER. Not on alcohol, but envy.

  Last night, Trevor proposed to Jordan. I knew it was coming, and I was happy . . . really happy. But my wounds weren’t healed and, like any wound, it was prone to infection. The sickness of envy had taken hold. It had been almost a month since Ash disappeared. He was here, his voice, his touch, his smile . . . and then he was gone. And with him, he took all the color and magic he brought when he came. I had made Ash’s world brighter, but he had done the same for me. I don’t think he truly understood that.

  These should have been the happiest weeks of my life. Danse Nocturne had exploded and reviews were exceptional. With no commitment to Ash, I decided to go on the tour. I hoped the arduous schedule would be enough to push the agony of losing Ash to the background. But all dancing did now was bring my pain out like a bleeding wound.

  Alana was right about how I danced with my soul, and that included all the misery I felt from losing Ash.

  So I found myself on the roof. Alone. I never imagined I would be here without him. Nothing was the same without him.

  I hadn’t visited the roof since he was admitted to the hospital. It was his space and sometimes it was our space, but I never felt the need to go by myself. The last time I had been up there was one of the scariest experiences of my life as a spectator into Ash’s descent into madness. I had hoped to return up here with him once he had gotten better. But he never came back.

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