It's morning, the pre-breakfast time where shadows blur and the world is quiet and people never speak above a whisper. You've left early, you have a meeting at seven and it's a long drive to the office. Audrey's still asleep in her room; I can hear her breathing from here.
I couldn't sleep, so I started thinking about us and that fight we had. And finally, I decided to do this. I wanted you to understand, and what better for understanding than a dictionary? So there's stories in here, about me and you and Audrey and us. Mostly us. Things I don't say out loud but think about sometimes.
This is going to take me a while, I think, and it's going to take you a while to read. I hope that's okay. This is probably unexpected. I'm not sure what else to write in an introduction, and when or if I'm going to give this to you. Just please don't be angry anymore.
Well, here I go.
I lied. I'm not starting quite yet. I've got to sort out my thoughts first.
Everything I want to say to you is mixed up, confused. Jumbled. I can't really make sense of it.
How do I begin this story? Does it even matter?
Of course it matters. This is for you.
Hero's birthday. The lights are too bright, shadows harsh over faces turned unfamiliar. Claudio's face, Hero's face, your face: ugly words in bold under the spotlight for all to see. You leave with him (with him!) as the world falls and crumbles into ruins.
I fall with it, and I don't know how to land.
These are the days where I take a different route to my classes to avoid you. I sit with Bea and Hero and Meg and Ursula and Ben (who's decided to leave his former table as well) instead of with you. We make small talk, shoulders hunched forward uncomfortably, and try to ignore the stares. These are the days where your name sounds like a curse word, where the mere thought of you makes me feel sick.
I always get stares in the hallways when I'm with Jack, or David, or Tony, or Julian, or anyone else, for that matter. Even with you.
I get used to it, after a while. I have to get used to a lot of things.
The speed you talk at. Not-quite fast, not-quite slow, but just enough. It's in-between, almost perfect.
You leave Hero's house with Claudio and I consider running after you. I wonder what would happen if I do.
Would you be ashamed, say sorry, realize you're wrong?
Or would you just expect me to agree with you, like I always do (did)?
But I don't. I don't run after you. I stay and I comfort Hero and I play my ukulele and I make her smile for a quick second before everything goes dark again.
I think I made the right choice.
Almost is my least favorite word.
Did you think I would be okay with what you did?
Because I wasn't. I wasn't fucking okay. Okay, Pedro? Okay?
"I-I fucked up, I realize that now- I'm so sorry, please please forgive me, Balth- I was a total dick."
"Yeah. You were," I reply coldly, but try as I might to keep your words from affecting me, my eyes softens for a second. So I continue, with my back turned, and make sure you can't see my face. "But it's not me you should be apologizing to."
You leave after a few seconds of silence.
I want to run after you, but I don't think you deserve it yet.
It's no wonder people thought he was mad, all the music spiraling through his head and no way to let people understand.
You try to understand, and for that I'm thankful.
You have a spot of skin that's darker than the others on your left hip.
It's the party again. Everyone's faces are distorted and wrong, even yours. Especially yours.
I look down, try to focus on something.
My hands, the wall, the floor, the place where the wall meets the floor.
Everything is wrong, wrong, wrong, and I can't breathe, I can't breathe…
I catch a brief glimpse of your face before you run out. Your eyes are made of glass, and I can't see the stars through them anymore.
The first time I meet you (year 9, English class, back row, second seat from the left) I can't breathe either.
But that's different. Then I could still see the stars.
"Pedro's gone off to sulk upstairs or something with half the cake, why don't you go find him?"
You've just left my house, and I can't stop smiling. You've just left my house, and I can barely speak. I feel like a red balloon or sunflowers or strawberry ice cream or a brand new ukulele. I feel like a birthday pinata with everything ready to explode out of me.
You've just left my house, and I feel infinite.
A cadence is how a composer ends a piece, makes it sound complete, ties up the song in a neat little bundle so the listener can move on. Two chords- over- begin again.
I don't want our time to end. I'm not sure if I can start over.
What I've been saying so far doesn't make much sense, does it?
Everything's out of order? Time is passing backwards and forwards and upside-down?
Of course it's out of order. This is a dictionary: the kind of book where four comes before two and zero is on the third-to-last page.
I just want to tell a story. The story of the two of us. Do stories need to have an order?
Don't answer that; I already know. Just keep reading.
My first paid gig is at a coffee shop. You're there, in the audience; you've ordered two flat whites, and you're trying to keep my drink warm for me. It's not working, the steam is disappearing from beneath your fingertips. I'm nervous, so I focus on your face. It keeps me grounded, gives me something to hold on to.
You cheer the loudest out of everyone at the end of the song, even Ben, which is impressive. I'm pretty sure I blush.
We're on your couch. You've got your head in my lap; I'm lightly running my fingers through your hair.
"Have you ever thought about our future together?" you ask, and then, when you see my bemused expression, add hastily, "Not that we know for certain if we're still going to be together in the future, I dunno, anything could-"
I press my finger to your mouth. Shh.
"Not really, though I'd still like to go to Brighton, start a band, maybe," I tell you.
Your face lights up, and then you're weaving our future with excited words and hand gestures, telling me how my band will become world-famous and you'll tag along on tours and see the world with me.
We have our first big fight a week later, and it's this conversation I think about the most the day after.
I don't even remember what the fight was about (something stupid, probably), except that it's your fault, and I spend the days after writing angry songs, pencils tearing holes in the sheet music, banging on tear-stained piano keys, and whispering you ruined us, Pedro, you fucking ruined us, how could you?
I pick up the pieces, but not alone, because Bea and Ben and Hero and Ursula and Meg and John are all here too (for both of us, as I learn from you later), and I'm okay, I'm recovering, I'm learning to forgive you again.
You show up on my doorstep a few weeks later with a bouquet of flowers, like we're the leads in some cheesy romance movie, and I invite you inside without a second thought.
Waiters and waitresses smile at us knowingly now when we walk in, your fingers tangled in mine, a perfect fit.
You're a cute couple, they tell us, and we blush and thank them in return.
Both of us. Not broken yet, though.
You get down on one knee, ring in hand. You're so nervous that you're stuttering.
B-Balthazar, will you marry me?
I say, yes, yes, you idiot, I will (of course I do), and the smile that dawns across your features is absolutely stunning.
Forever is a fantasy, but we can try, can't we?
"Balthazar... do you wanna- go outside with me?"
Me to you, you to me. Both of us to Audrey.
I'm at the park to film the message for Hero. I've brought my guitar because it makes me feel safer, gives me something to do with my hands besides clenching them into fists. You show up with Claudio. It feels like a betrayal of sorts.
We let the petals drift into the lake, like we're making wishes, and I wonder how destruction can look so very beautiful.
I deliver my message and try to ignore your gaze that's burning its way into the back of my neck. You deliver yours.
Hero comes back (I know the plan, Team B both told me separately when I helped them write their songs), and words and hugs and exclamations and more apologies are exchanged.
I leave by myself. You leave with Claudio.
A book that tries to say everything. Key word: tries.
Just so you know, Pedro, I'm not putting the bad stories of us in here to make you feel bad about yourself, or anything like that, really. I wouldn't try to guilt you into forgiving me. It's just... I want to be honest, tell all of us, not just the times when we're flying and not the least scared of hitting the ground. Sorry if that makes you uncomfortable.
Just remember that, okay?
I hardly learn anything in the first weeks of English class year nine, because you're sitting next to me.
The weeks after we get back together again are a little awkward, sandpaper hearts scraping against the other, trying to smooth things back the way they were.
We learn, eventually, that things can't be back the way they were, but also that repeats aren't necessarily synonymous with "happy".
Do you remember that day, the first day I told you I loved you?
(Of course you do, you won't stop reminding me.)
Whatever, I'll tell you anyway:
It's raining gently outside, a little unusual for this part of the year. I'm wearing your sweater even though I'm not cold, because you say I look adorable in it and it's comfortable and much too big and smells like you. We're cuddled up on the couch, hot chocolate forgotten on a nearby table.
You lean over and press your mouth to the top of my head.
"I love you," I murmur, and you say it back.
In Auckland, there's no pictures of my father in the house.
We adopt Audrey as a baby a year into our marriage, and I honestly never thought I could love someone as much as I love you.
You offer to help me film "Sigh Not So". I don't know if you know that it's about you, and not in a good way either. I choose not to tell you.
I choose not to tell you that I meant it as an elegy, a lament for the dead (by dead, I mean you), a goodbye and a good riddance at the same time.
I was angry when I wrote it, but I'm done being angry now, and I can still remember the feeling of your hand in mine, so we film it together with Ursula and I choose to make it mean something else, and it's genuine (as always).
I know that I'm going to die someday, and so are you and Audrey. And cliche as it may sound, I'd really like to die first, because I want the two of you to be the last thing I see. (I don't know if that counts as selfish too.)
I don't think there was a specific moment of oh! where I realized exactly how I felt about you. I think the thought was always there, in the corner of my eye, waiting for me to let it in (sounds like a stray cat, doesn't it?). Even when I finally accepted it, it never really bothered me too much, just lurked around the stairwells and hallways of my mind without paying me too much attention.
I should probably be thankful for that.
Alone in my room with a guitar and paper, I am no longer the Balthazar Jones the world knows. I am safe from prying eyes and people who want to tear me apart. I am Balthazar Jones, the musician, and nothing else.
I'm at your house the day before Hero's birthday. I'm there, and you don't tell me what you're planning, you don't even act differently. It's like it doesn't even matter to you, that you're about to destroy someone's life. Was she just collateral damage to you?
You call it "the smirk (copyright Balthazar Jones)". I call it "how to hide your feelings for a certain Pedro Donaldson".
The knight can be killed as easily as the dragon in a world without rules.
Falling in love. It's a strange term, isn't it? Falling?
Like something sudden, something you can't control, something devastating? A little cartoon animal who's accidentally stepped off a cliff, with wide eyes and a giant oops! written over the head?
Who coined the term? Were they in love too? Did they understand?
Audrey asks the question one night over dinner. She's just finished her first day of preschool, and she's full to bursting with stories. She's telling us about the boy who sits next to her, and then her face suddenly puckers up and she goes silent.
"He said…" She stops and her face screws up again.
Another pause, and then, "Are you my real parents?"
You look at me across the table, a slightly uncertain expression on your face. We've discussed what to say when this day comes, but that doesn't mean we're fully prepared.
Audrey's voice quivers for a second, and she turns her head towards you, words coming out in a rush. "I know I'm adopted, but you're still my parents, right? Because Calvin said that you couldn't be, and that you need a mummy and a daddy to be a real family. He kept saying it was wrong. Are we wrong, Dad? I don't think we're wrong, but he said we were. Why don't I have a mummy?"
You seem to be still scrambling for words, and I decide to take over.
"Calvin is wrong when he says we aren't a real family," I reply, in the most reassuring tone of voice I can muster. "Of course we're your parents. It's just that some people don't like it when two men or two women get married because they think marriage should be between a man and a woman only. That's probably what Calvin thinks."
Audrey's expression quickly turns to a frown. She crosses her arms. "That's stupid," she declares, and I hear your quickly-stifled laughter next to me. "Calvin is a dummy. I don't want to sit next to him any more."
"Audrey…" you chastise, but you're still trying not to laugh.
The conversation topic soon moves to the teacher, who is apparently very nice.
The next day, I get a call from the office. We are greeted by a very churlish Audrey and a slightly bloodied Calvin. Nobody leaves the school very happy that day.
When you arrive at my place so we can film "A Merry Note", there's mistletoe everywhere. I pretend I have no idea where it came from. Besides, there's no reason to complain, is there?
Life as a performing musician is always changing; places and people whirl by too quickly to count, but through all that, you stay constant.
You trace my name over the warm skin over my heart, and then yours underneath, and smile.
The party. The lights, the voices, the faces, you.
How can I?
I think I have. For more than just Hero.
The first person in year six that I meet is Aaron-who's-just-moved. He lives across the street from me and I think he's brilliant. Never mind that he copies my homework or won't talk to me in front of his other friends or constantly says everything is my fault. I'm fine with it, because he's so brilliant. And besides, he says I'm being oversensitive about his "little jokes" and I'm no fun that way, and I don't want to be no fun. So I apologize, but it's difficult and Aaron keeps saying that I'm not working hard enough to be a better friend. Sometimes it feels like I can't do anything right. I tell him all my secrets so he knows I trust him, and he's nice about giving second chances, so I'm very glad about that.
When he moves away a few months later, I cry and give him my favorite ukulele and I tell him that he's brilliant and I love him.
The next day, a typed list of everything I've told Aaron is taped neatly on the walls of the boys' locker room, and the word "faggot" is in permanent marker on my desk.
Even today, I still can't hear the word "brilliant" without wincing.
Sometimes, it feels like you're the sun, and I'm just a planet that's gotten swept into your orbit. But then you take my hand, and I know that's not true.
We don't have to follow the laws of physics.
We are twin suns, holding on to each other as the world spins madly on.
No romantic relationships in the new flat. Which is why I have to sneak out of your room at five a.m. before everyone else is awake.
We're both too trusting sometimes.
Singular. Just me, no you or Audrey.
Audrey on a sugar high.
I'm at your costume party, watching you watch Bea. She doesn't notice the look in your eyes, but I do.
"The song's hilarious Balthy! You always know how to make me laugh."
I get a lot of stares the Monday after "one foot in sea one on shore one in the boiling hot lava", but you get more.
We come out to your parents one night when I'm there for dinner. It's mostly stumbling words and "um"s. John smirks through the whole thing (it doesn't help). Your parents seem surprised for a second, but they recover quickly.
"Well, opposites attract, I suppose," your mum says with a wry smile, and we both breathe a sigh of relief.
Your eyes, when I look closely enough. The stars are there again, their constellations brighter than ever.
I truly believe that our mistakes make us better people. Each crack is another possibility to change, to build back stronger. Maybe that's stupid, but it's what I believe.
"I'm a terrible person. And friend. And I've been wrong. A lot. And you… You're perfect. And kind and caring and brave and the best friend anyone could have." You take a deep breath. "And there's no way I deserve you. But I- I like you. A lot. And I'm not sure how you feel about me, if you still feel the same, but if you do…" Another breath. "If you do I… Do you think we could...?"
You stop talking and look at me, eyes uncertain. The shock must show on my face.
A few seconds pass, and you lean forward slowly. I don't pull away.
And then we're kissing, simple as that.
Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes.
"... and then you roll the dough up in a ball, like this…" Audrey watches her aunt solemnly, dark eyes peeking out through wisps of black hair. Her clumsy hands try to follow Hero's actions.
Hero nods at Audrey ("Exactly!") and Audrey beams back in response. You smile too.
It's a small wedding. Hero and John have helped with the planning; after all, they're the art majors here. Ben's your best man; Ursula's my maid of honor. All our Messina friends are here, plus my band, our former flatmates, and mutual friends from uni. We've written our own vows, and we've picked out the music together.
After the ceremony, everyone goes to our house (our house!) and changes out of their formal wear. Bea pulls her heels off and throws them into the wall, which, fortunately, doesn't crack.
We eat pizza and burn our tongues. Ben's brought what is possibly the world's largest collection of loose-leaf tea, Hero contributes cupcakes, and Meg has alcohol (which we save for after dinner). Ursula takes pictures and video.
It's almost like old times again, but then it's over, and everyone leaves for their lives, and leave us to our shared one.
Still reading, then? Can you hear what I'm saying?
I haven't done this very well, have I? Probably not; after all, I write music, not dictionaries. Hang on, there's still a few pages left.
I miss you, which is stupid; I saw you this morning. See you later.
Really? You want me to define this feeling?
Fine. I'll try:
You smile at me from across the room, and the world rights itself.
The first thing I notice about you is how there's a sort of glow around you, how your eyes shine and your smile is the brightest thing I've ever seen. Later, I find that no one else seems to think this about you.
Sometimes I'm afraid that our life together is too good to be true.
Sometimes I'm afraid the you I know isn't the real you.
Sometimes I'm afraid the you's I know are only a few of the real you's.
Most of the time, though, I'm not afraid.
night owl, n.
"Balth, it's three in the morning," you whisper, setting a cup of coffee down next to me.
"I'm composing," I say, and scribble another note down.
"And I'm trying to sleep!" you cry indignantly (but you aren't really angry, I can tell).
"Then go to sleep!" I reply, and we both laugh.
It's one of those nights, the ones where you look at me in awe, like I'm somehow responsible for all the good things in the universe.
"What have I ever done to deserve you?" you whisper.
"Everything," I reply simply.
You don't mention this in the morning, and neither do I. There are some things only understood in the darkness.
I can tell you feel a bit ignored sometimes when I'm on tour. You usually go with me (your job is extremely flexible, which is good), but still, everything's action and running and last-minute adjustments, and there isn't much time with just the two of us.
I'm sorry for that, by the way.
okay, adv. or adj.
I'm okay, you're okay, Audrey's okay, we're okay. Okay?
own, adj. or v.
You've dated people before and I've dated people before. It's no big deal, we were never really the "I've never felt this way about anyone" type (though the amount of romance tropes you regularly employ never fails to astound me). I don't need to be your world, and I don't need you to be mine. We're in love, but we are still our own people.
The number of instruments we have in our room is remarkable.
Things that make up my heart: Audrey, music, glass, words, thoughtfulness, you
Things that make up your heart: Audrey, football, light, masks, charm, me
Impossible. But we're still trying.
I can't sum you up in one word, or one sentence, or one paragraph or one page or ten pages or even a thousand pages. There's too much to say, and there's too much I can't put into words.
Somebody once told me that emotions are gifts from the gods, and that they gave us words and music and art to try to explain them. I don't remember who it was, but I like the sound of that, the sound of knowing that whatever is going on between the two of us is something sacred.
Everything about you is so beautiful. I can find poetry in the curve of your smile, the lines of your laugh, the planes of your chest, the slope of your fingers when they curl around mine.
I touch my lips to each one and wonder if this is how it feels to pray.
Every night, you tell Audrey "absolutely, one hundred percent true" bedtime stories about dragons and princesses who slay them, and princes that make mistakes and court musicians that fix them. I laugh through all of them, because, really, who else could think up such an obvious metaphor?
"Love, it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free." -Marcus Mumford
Have you set me free? I think you might have.
I'm sorry for the time I forgot your birthday because I was busy with the band. I'm sorry for the time I spilled coffee on your favorite shirt and you spent an hour trying to wash out the stains before giving up, even though I didn't really like the shirt myself. I'm sorry for the time I let go of your hand in a restaurant because an old woman was giving us dirty looks. I'm sorry for the time I told Audrey that none of your stories were true because of the look on her face after that. I'm sorry for the things I said during the fights I can't remember and the ones I can remember, especially the fight yesterday. I'm sorry for a lot of things, most of which I can't remember. I'm sorry for not remembering.
I don't know how much of a mark we've made on history. Probably not much.
I mean, my band's pretty well-known (we've got a Wiki page at least), but then, there are so many people out there and so little time to be remembered. I don't really care, though.
We're making an impact on the people in our lives, people who we know and care about, and does it really matter if there's going to be no one to remember us in the future? (You'd probably disagree.)
I'm running late to the concert and our rented car won't start again, so we're running through the streets hand-in-hand, breath short, liquid laughter spilling from our lips, feet landing on the pavement together, heartbeats coordinated, because isn't this absolutely ridiculous?
ripple effect, n.
My dad walks out on my mum right before I'm born - The family moves to Auckland, where my uncle gets my mum a job - I go to school there - You're in my year nine English class - We both like Fife and the Drums and football - We become friends - I fall in love with you - You fall in love with me.
So thank you, Dad.
I don't remember why we had our second big fight either.
Audrey's stuffed animals are gifts from Team B, and I'm pretty sure Bea and Ben have placed bets on whether she'll like the giraffe or flamingo better (if so, Bea wins). She still believes that they're secretly alive, so we have to put a straw in the washing machine so they can breathe. This time, I don't tell her that she's wrong, because, really, what's the point of knowing if the stars behind your eyes no longer shine so brightly?
The first time I play you some of my music, you give me a standing ovation. I blush.
You've always been so obsessed with fitting in, with conforming, with being accepted. I guess you've kind of given that up now.
Well, at least we've got Audrey to stick her tongue out at anyone who stares at us for too long.
It's year nine again, and I'm no longer eating with just Ursula under the tree near the lunch area. I have a table now, and a new friend.
I feel a little uneasy, because Pedro Donaldson doesn't talk to people like Balthazar Jones, let alone become friends with them. It's a strange feeling, like I've just managed to slip under the radar, and could be caught any second; flashing lights, hands up in the air, backing away slowly.
It's about five o'clock, and we're feeding Audrey her dinner. She's fussing quite a bit, and you drop the spoon.
"Shit!" she cries loudly.
We look at each other for a split second before we both burst into laughter, and soon Audrey's giggles join ours.
We spend the next few days trying to blame the other for our daughter's first word.
There's some days where I don't talk, and there's some days where you don't talk either.
I've spent about sixteen thousand hours asleep by your side by now.
The seven stages of drunk Pedro Donaldson:
Talking too slowly (I know my name is long, but does it really take ten seconds to finish?)
Laughing hysterically at everything (this includes Fred Weasley's death)
Hugging strangers, most of which seem quite alarmed
Adding "fuck" or word forms of "fuck" to every sentence
Staring and pointing at empty space while whispering "pretty..." ("Look at the pretty jellyfish Balth... Look... Jellyfish... Behind the lamp... So pretty...")
Throwing up all over whoever is closest (usually me)
I've seen all of them, but most of the time, I drag you out by stage three.
In year nine, you're just Pedro: football player and all-around great guy, nice, smart, a good smile, great hair. Of course I've got a crush on you. But I don't know the other things, like what keeps you up at night, or what you eat for breakfast, or the songs you listen to on bad days.
I know all these things now, and more.
Your presence is everywhere. There's your shampoo and toothbrush next to mine in the bathroom, your laptop on the kitchen counter next to my tea mug, two t-shirts (one is yours, the other is mine) strewn over the carpet of our bedroom, your bi flag (Ben bought it for you as a joke a few years back) hanging proudly on the wall of the living room, "Donaldson-Jones" in loopy letters on our doormat.
Your life and my life, interweaved, interlocked, intertwined.
Audrey's one of the few people who can make John laugh.
We're still getting stares, but now more of them have to do with the band than the morality or legality of our relationship. I think that's a good sign.
This dictionary isn't enough, isn't it? Just like a thousand pages isn't enough, won't ever be enough. The words we have and the music we listen to and the art we look at won't ever be enough.
It's a bit tragic, thinking that nothing will ever come close to explaining this. You. Me. Us.
Oh well. At least you'll understand better now.
There's a photograph we have from Audrey's first birthday, and it should be awful.
In it, you're trying to operate the lighter, but it's not working, and you're glaring at it like you think the intensity of your anger is going to magically cause it to work. I'm holding back a laugh (to be fair, most of the guests are), and Audrey has got her finger in the frosting already.
The lighting is awful and it's a little grainy. It doesn't follow the rule of thirds. No one is looking at the camera, let alone saying "cheese". Ursula would wince at it.
It should be awful, but it's not. It's perfect.
I forgot who took it, or how we managed to light the candles later, or why we decided to keep the picture, but I can still remember that moment.
The smell of your hair after a shower.
You always cheer the loudest at my concerts, even if you've already heard the song a million times before.
I've fallen out of love with plenty of people before, but never with you.
"Have you ever wondered how things would have turned out if we hadn't met?" you ask one night after I've laughed at your bedtime story and sung Audrey to sleep in her crib.
"I'd rather not," I reply, and we leave it at that.
How I feel when I'm with you and Audrey.
We're still not completely satisfied, but I'm satisfied with that.
So here we are then. The highest point. Is this the most we can achieve? Have we reached the end? Are we going to fall again?
I hope not. I'm tired of falling and not being able to breathe. We're still climbing, I hope, walking on starlight and words made of silver.
What's it like, at the top of the mountain, I wonder, where the air is cold and you can see for miles? Is it worth it, worth all the climbing?
I hope it's beautiful there, that there's enough understanding and smiles to go around, and that no one gets tired of being fantastic.
I want to end this with something meaningful, something that makes you wait a moment and think before you put this book down and return to your life, but I don't know how.
Please don't be angry anymore. I can hear your car on the gravel outside, and the garage door is going to open in a few seconds. Audrey is already running for the door.
I'll see you soon.