Ivory shifts in her partial sleep, her legs tangled around a threadbare sheet.
Her phone was still clutched in her right hand, a death grip aching the bone beneath the flesh. Her senses were coming to, but not before a ringtone sounded from the desk beside her bed, towards her left, plunging her back into reality.
She shifts once more, groaning from the fetal position she was laying in. Her left hand reaches out, feeling for the phone, pinching it, before hovering the screen in front of her face. The call sign she didn’t recognize, so she declined. The lock screen appeared, the wallpaper of a selfie her boyfriend took while she was half-asleep, and sparsely dressed, with her tank top showing a bit too much skin. His hand had crept up her stomach, and she could only give off a small smile in her daze. It was a vulnerable picture, but she trusted him. She trusted Asin. Clicking it off, she puts his phone down, only to feel it vibrate, this time with a text from the same caller. She unlocks the phone with her birthday and opens the message. It read…
Hey killa, the boss sent you a gift basket for all your hard work, to your old place in 2005. You’ll get paid soon enough. She’s all wrapped up, toting the latest fruits of the black market. She’s just a doll, ready to be played with~
Ivory sits up. Her pulse rebounds in the hollow of her chest. She takes a closer look at the sender. There was no name, only alternating symbols of skulls and snakes. She’s seen those symbols intertwined with one another, in the graffiti tainting the walls near her school campus, black and white, with neon green accents. Some good handiwork, but territorial nonetheless. Her heart sinks, her expression crumpling as the pieces fall into place.
He’s been gone every day of the week, she reasons, and he’s always coming home with fresh cuts and bruises to tend to, and after that he wants kisses and- other requests, to feel better, and I gave it to him. Ivory blinks in the stillness of five in the morning, the traffic outside had quieted for her thoughts to fill the silence. The blue light of his phone fades to the darkness of her apartment.
Her right hand lets go of her phone, then it instinctively goes to her neck, brushing against the bruises there, still tender. She flinches. He came home with lipstick smeared on his cheek one day, but he played it off as a drunk friend mistaking him for a boyfriend. He got angry I pointed it out in the first place, as if I was embarrassing him.
Ivory unlocks his phone once more, scrolling up through the recent chat. She knows of his fights in the Ring, underground brawls, so he can earn the both of them money as she goes to school, and he says he’s only there for the money, not the violence, girls, infamy. But the longer he was out, the less he called.
He was doing the heavy-lifting, finding income, while she’s finishing school. She was only 17, he was 21. His family kicked him out because they accused him of stealing their savings, threatening violence at the hands of his new friends, but he played it off as “taking back his inheritance.” His friends were fierce looking, always sporting newer threads, notches down their arms, sanded horns, this cruel smile.
Her mind is spiraling now. She remembers something else, something painful.
She submerses herself in the memory of last night, one of the only nights he’s been home with her in weeks. She recalls the fight they had, the words fired.
She’s standing in the bathroom doorway again, arms crossed, talking cross to his hunched back as he grips the sink. The fluorescent light made his skin a sickly green, but the scratches she’s marked him with, from empty times, were still visible. His bulbous horns, compared to her own tall ones, were dull in their shine. His hair was twisted into locks of kinky curls, hanging on his forehead, behind his ears.
Ivory’s long dark hair had slithered around her shoulders as she shook her head. Her fangs clicked as she opened her mouth.
“Asin. I’m serious. You’re getting hurt too much. At least let the cuts heal before you brandish yourself again! I don’t want your lights knocked out, never to flicker on again…”
He scoffs. “Then tell me, huh? How are we supposed to make money? You don’t have any family to leech off of, and don’t forget, I was disowned for something petty.” He heaves, staring at himself in the bathroom mirror. His energy was terrifying.
“Y’know, my stepmom called last night, saying she could bail me out. But she didn’t want you coming home with me. She wants me with some prissy high-class girl she picked, but I told her no.” He laughs harshly. “Now, because you refuse to leave, they won’t even throw me a bone.” His left fist flew up, shattering the mirror, sending shards flying everywhere.
Ivory blinks, a cry escaping her as she took a step towards him, but he stops her with a cuss. She’s hurt too, she realizes, and she unleashes it.
“Don’t you want to be with me?! We’re outcasts! I have no one else, and you always come home to me.”
“We only have each other, right?!”
Her voice cracked, her hands curled into claws as she looked down. “I’m trying my best too. I’m staying in school so I can graduate and get a job,” Another breath, and her claws closed into fists. “But the truth is… I can’t function without you here. I need you to be home, with me. I miss having you around to cheer me on. I miss it when you talk softly when the lights are out. I miss how steady your arms feel when they’re around me…”
She lowers her fists to her sides. “You used to listen to me, hang on my every word like they were my last. You liked being around me, like a moth to flame.”
Her spirits descended below the tiled floor, but her words failed to animate him.
“I can’t love you if you’re comatose, Asin.”
The air was tense with silence.
Ivory’s throat began to close up, so she released something desperate.
“Do you love me anymore?!”
Asin’s grip tightened around the knobs of the faucet, the blood beading on his split knuckles. His body remained still.
His voice was cold. “I’m going to fight, whether you like it or not. So you better wish me luck, girl.”
He turns to face her, his face unreadable, but he leans in as if to kiss her. His face nears, but he turns away at the last second, his right hand lunging at her throat, clenching her life within his grip. He had whispered, “You’re beneath me. I can shatter your pretty porcelain teeth if I wanted to. Be glad I’m here in the first place, because God knows I don’t need you anymore.”
He tosses her, sending her flying backwards into the bed. He towers above her, mocking her with a cruel smile.
“You’re my vice, Ivory. You keep me close with those watered down eyes of yours, the ocean in your hips.” Her body was trembling, shifting the coils in the mattress. Her tears ran freely.
“But you wanna know one thing that’s different between you and me?” His right hand goes up to shield his eyes. “You can’t live without seeing me, you say. You can’t live without my second, weaker side. On the other hand… ” He drops his right, bringing up his left, parting his sliced fingers to sneer at her. “Once I’m outta sight, you’re outta my mind.”
He raves about, flaring his arms to the ceiling. “I’m not tied to your wrist like some dog! You can’t put a leash on me just because you’re desperate for company. That’s a ‘you’ problem, Ivory. I’m just here for the bed.” He turns away, pulling up his sleeves. The front door is open. “Now go sleep in it, your life is separate from mine.”
Then he left.
Ivory lingers in that room for a few more moments, feeling the tears dry up, but they’re permanently there now, carved into her memory.
She had lunged towards the bathroom, one hand gripping the lip of the sink, the other carefully pinching a shard of the mirror between her fingertips. She suspended herself there, watching as his blood mixed into the fresh cut on her finger; the urge resided. Dropping the shard with a hollow sound, she retreated from the mess, flicking off the light in the bathroom, and had crawled into bed, huddled around the burning despair in her chest. Her phone was in her hand, to remain there, unmuted, in case he called, or texted. But it was silent through the whole night. She now knows why.
She surfaces back into the present, with a sharp clarity of the boy she loved. That was all he was; a boy with a need for someone to release his anger, his desire onto, while still remaining detached, distant, cold, severed. He must’ve feigned that softness, that weakness, that appeal, in order to keep her stitched to his side like a vestigial limb.
She drops her phone, slipping away the sheets with new adrenaline, a new plan. She steps out of bed, walking around it until she’s facing the sliding doors leading out onto the balcony. She unlocks it and slides it open, the rush of cold air washing over her, fluttering her hair, widening her eyes. Her pupils had dilated as she cemented her plan, to topple his pedestal. She steps out onto the balcony. She delicately places her feet on the intricate but rusted metal decor making up the railing, balancing herself on the edge, his phone in her left hand. She pauses, her body trembling, maintaining her balance, sanity. She then lets go of him, allowing him to fall into the courtyard below, six stories off the ground. The screen shatters, another mirror; it crumbles, his pedestal fracturing too, crevices running deep with liquid lies, molten emotions, or the lack of it. He never spared her any oxygen, so why should she waste hers on him?
Now, all she could do was remain there, waiting for her heart to stop beating for him.
And it did.
She falls further than she’s ever fallen before, but she’s on the ground now, knowing that she let him go.