How can i take care of others, when I can’t even take care of myself?
These were the kind of questions Kay asked herself as she gazed out at the sleeping city beneath her. It was precisely 3:34AM. The clamour of the rooftop bar continued behind her. A distant echo that served as a backing track to the wind in her hair and the cacophony of thoughts in her head.
She swirled her drink absently in her left hand as she leant against rooftop ledge. It was a sour thing. Something that had been handed to her by a stranger and accepted without thanks. The ice had half melted, chilling her fingertips. She would have dropped it to the floor if the sound of shattered glass didn’t draw all eyes in the room.
Noise had always been her enemy. Whether it was accidental noise that compromised her talent of going unnoticed, the noise of the world around her crushing the space between her ears, or the noise inside her head that pulsed and ponded to get out- noise was her constant adversary. In the night it was easier to confront, but it still stalked her at every turn, pushing her to the fringes of existence. Denying her admittance to the real world.
She pulled her gaze away from the city lights and back to the nightlife behind her. In the middle of all the swaying and swigging party-goers, Jack was easy to spot. He was the sun to the planets that were the other guests as they orbited around him.
Kay felt a lot like Pluto. Floating on the edge of their solar system. Barely classified as a planet.
He was the only reason she was even in this galaxy- these parties even. He dragged her along, promising to shield her from the noise of the universe until the burden of carrying her became tiresome, and a Venus or a Mars required his attention.
Kay watched him interact with the other revellers. The easy way he commandeered the conversation to his liking. The way he routinely raised his drink to his soft lips between bursts of laughter. Jack had been born to navigate the tumultuous waters of life. Kay was used to drowning in them.
She sighed as she watched him, envious of his built-in compass to being alive. She raised her glass just as he caught her gaze. He raised his own glass in her direction before winking at her. Kay downed the rest of her drink. The sourness coated her tongue as she turned back to the skyline. The lights of the city blurred as her eyes watered at the taste.
“Another party deemed unappealing by Ice Queen Kay then?”
Jacks voice cut though the noise, hitting her right between the eyes as he took her empty glass and replaced it with a full one of something different.
“It’s not this party I find unappealing,” she answered, “It’s more like parties in general.”
Jack sighed, pushing his dark hair from his face. His fingers almost seemed to drag through the fine strands in slow motion as Kay took a sip of her drink. This one was sweet. Smoother on her tongue.
“You can’t keep doing this,” he scolded her. His accent slightly thicker with booze, “People are always asking me: ‘Jack, who’s that shadow you’re always bringing with you to parties?’ I’m running out of things to tell them.”
“Just tell them I’m your friend. Y’know. Because I am.”
“You mean a friend that’s never there when I try to introduce her?” There was an edge to his voice. They had this conversation almost every night now.
“How about a friend that only introduces you as an afterthought?” She countered.
Jack rolled his eyes. He turned away to spit over the rooftops edge, almost as if the words were too bitter on his tongue.
He stood next to her in silence for a few minutes- a rare period of time when no one else demanded his attention. Kay didn’t dare look at him. She knew that if she did, just a glance at his furrowed features would be enough for an apology to find its way out of her mouth. She’d been doing that a lot recently.
Jack and Kay had a long and tangled history. They’d started as childhood playmates, then drifted off into friendly neighbours once the dramas of the school hierarchy came into effect. They’d gone the majority of their early teens with only the pleasantries exchanged at their parents garden parties, and the quick guilty glances during class between them.
Then Jack has gotten his driving license, and one ride home from college in the rain became a regular carpool. Whenever the door of his beat-up little run around shut behind her, Kay had a 20 minute dose of a noise free world. Sure, Jack spoke to her, but that had never been just noise.
The carpool then developed into numerous invitations to social events that Kay only finally accepted due to the mounting pressure from her mother in the months before she moved out. Jack promised it would make her mother worry less, knowing she wasn’t shut up alone in her room all the time, and it did. Even though the places Jack took her were filled with things her mother definitely would not approve of.
Then Kay moved away from home, and so did Jack, and in some strange twist of fate they found themselves miles away from the street they both grew up on, yet still living next door to one another. Jack continued to invite her to parties, and Kay continued to accept, even knowing she wouldn’t enjoy them.
“What are you going to do when I’m not around anymore?” He blurted, “Sit at home alone with your head stuck in a book all the time, only ever talking when you answer the phone to your mum?”
“Why wouldn’t you be around anymore?”
She had two constants in her life. One always at war with the other.
Jack, and the noise.
He waved the question away, tossing it to the streets below.
“I have other things to be doing than dragging you to parties.”
“Then do those things,” Kay snapped, “No one asked you to bring me. No one even wants me here. Not even you.”
Jack let loose a frustrated growl. Kay chanced a look at him from the corner of her eyes, just in time to catch him with his head tipped back, finishing the last of his drink.
He pointed to her, empty glass in hand.
“Don’t start with your self-pitying bullshit! Not tonight.”
“No Kay, I’ve had enough. When are you going to realise that-”
“Jack!” She cut him off, anxiety and alcohol curdling in her stomach, “People are staring.”
Bystanders on the edge of the crowd looked in their direction, some hiding their amusement behind their hands. Kay tried to retreat further inside herself, but it was no use. Jack turned his scowl towards the onlookers. Most of them went back to pretending they weren’t listening.
“Afraid someone might see you?” Jack turned back to her, irritated, “Or afraid someone might see you for what you really are?”
Kay rose with her anger. She took a sip of her drink, feigning calm. All the sweetness had gone from the liquid.
“And what’s that?”
Their eyes met. Jack raised his glass to his lips, forgetting there was nothing in it. Kay narrowed her eyes at the error. The look seemed to irritate him further. He dropped the glass to the floor, even though he knew she hated the sound. She tried not to flinch as it shattered.
“A coward.” He stepped closer to her.
Kay scowled in confusion. Jack sighed in response, running his hand through his hair again.
“You’re always just-just…” he continued, hands gesturing strangely as he tried to find the words, “You’re a shell of what you could be. Trapped inside your own head no matter how many times I’ve tried to break you out.”
He looked sad as he said it. She hated seeing him this way. Hated that she was the cause.
He stepped back, turning away from her. She watched his curious eyes search for something he couldn’t quite seem to find in the city below.
“I look at you sometimes and it’s like… like you’re standing on the edge of something,” he stepped up onto the ledge of the roof, unafraid to look down, “But you’re too afraid to jump.”
Kay moved towards the ledge. Towards him. Her anxiety rising so high she could feel it in the back of her throat. She lifted her hand towards his as he stood unmoving on the ledge, but hesitated.
“Jack..?” She couldn’t hide the worry in her voice.
He pulled his gaze away from the streets below, as if waking from a trance. He noticed her outstretched hand and rolled his eyes.
“Relax. I’m just taking a leak.”
Kay’s stomach twisted as she swallowed the nervous bile that had covered her tongue. She turned her back to him as he fumbled with the zipper of his jeans. He whistled a casual tune behind her. Something he’d played in the car on the way here. Kay realised suddenly that she was shaking. With anger, nerves, or fear, she didn’t know.
She downed the remainder of her drink before throwing her glass over the ledge.
Jack stopped whistling.
“You want me to jump?” She could hear the fury in her voice.
Kay turned back to Jack as he jumped down from the ledge.
“Fine,” she spat, “then I’ll jump.”
Jack reached for her but she pulled away.
She ignored his pleas, and all the other noise as she turned, and threw herself into the crowd.