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Fire. Both a powerful, destructive force and a beautiful anomaly. It doesn't discriminate between what it takes into its core and what it leaves untouched. Whatever is enveloped in its warmth is destroyed. But purity springs from the rubble. A fire can cleanse anything. I watched the little flame dance on the end of my Zippo, licking at the air above it. It reminded me of Emma in every way. The wiry red/orange color of her hair. Her deep, smoky gray eyes. Her fiery personality and unquenchable burning ambition. It reminded me of how she had been slowly destroying me, reducing me to mere ashes at her feet.
I heard the rumble of an engine outside. I pulled my gaze away from the glint of the flame, and stared out the dirty plexi-glass of my window. I saw a beat up Ford truck sitting on the street in front of my house. The passenger door flew open and I watched as Emma slid out of the truck and slammed the door, knocking some specks of rust and faded green paint onto the concrete. Even from the second story I could tell she was crying. I raised my window and was hit by a waft of the trucks noxious fumes, carried upwards by the autumn breezes. The driver of the environmental hazard on wheels, Emma ’s current paramour, opened his door and chased after her.
“Leave me alone, Russ!” I heard her shout, her voice sounding distorted. I watched him catch her wrist and pull her back towards him.
“Emma, are you seriously ticked over this?” I heard Russ ask. She didn’t’t answer. “Emma! C’mon on! This is stupid!” She jerked her arm away from him and turned away, another wave of tears bursting from her eyes.
“I said leave me alone.” She repeated. “It’s over, Russel.” She ran across the lush, green grass of her father’s perfectly manicured lawn and into the house, letting the screen door slam behind her. Russ stood there starring for a second or two, until, finally, the shock wore off and the rage set it. He balled his fists and shouted some obscenities that I’m sure Emma had heard before storming to his truck and speeding off, squealing his muddy tires.
“Emma…” I found myself whispering as I looked at the lighter in my hand. Suddenly, I felt my phone begin to vibrate in my pocket. I lifted the device out of my jeans and looked at the flashing screen. Of course it was her. I flipped it open and held it to my ear.
“You ok, Em?” I asked. I heard her whimper, desperately trying to hide the fact she was still crying.
“Yes,” She hesitated. She was lying. I smiled.
“Want me to come over?” I asked. I heard another whimper and was sure another round of tears was on its way.
“Yeah,” Her voice cracked, making her sound helpless and broken. Like a little girl that’s lost her teddy bear. Just like in kindergarten, Emma got hurt and I was the one picking her up and putting on the band-aids. I hung up the phone and shoved it into my pocket, along with my lighter, and left the house. Emma met me on her back porch, her cheeks striped with shimmering trails where her tears had fallen. She closed her eyes, trying to keep the sobs at bay. She bit down on her bottom lip the way she always had when she was upset.
“He cheated on me, Ollie…” Those words were all it took for her to break. I wrapped my arms around her and she sobbed into my chest. “I’m so done with guys.”
“It’ll be alright, Em.” I assured her. But reassurance and a hug doesn’t’t fix a broken heart and it certainly doesn’t’t numb the pain. So I just stood there with Emma in my arms, letting her cry over a guy that wasn’t me.
“Thanks again for today, Oliver.” Emma said as we walked into the front room of her house. “Seriously though, you shouldn't have bought me the ice cream.”
“That’s not what you were saying earlier,” I joked. She hit me gently on the arm then strutted through the house calling for her mom.
“I’m in the basement, Em, what’s the big emergency?” She cried from somewhere below the floorboards.
“I just wanted to tell you that Ollie's staying over tonight, kay?” She shrieked quickly before she sprinted up the stairs two at a time. She turned around with her hands on her hips and rolled her eyes. “Are you coming or not?” I shook my head and started up the steps, making sure I went just slow enough to annoy her. Before I had even gotten half way, she gave up and disappeared down the hall to her room. After she was out of sight, I climbed the rest of the stairs pretty quickly and walked blindly down the long hallway, the path to Emma's room permanently stained in my mind. When I pushed open her bedroom door, the lamp light spilled out into the hall, cutting through the shadows and making them flee.
"Took you long enough," I heard Emma mutter from her perch on the edge of her bed. "So, what do you want to do?"
"I don't know. Wanna watch a movie?" I asked her. She stood up and nodded, a radiant smile spread across her lips.
"That's perfect! I rented that new zombie movie today so we can watch it," Emma said. She danced across the carpet and pulled a DVD case off the top of her tv and tossed it to me. "You put it in. I'll go make some popcorn."
"Sure thing," She darted out of the room, letting the door slam behind her. I put the disc into the DVD tray and hit the play button. Mission accomplished. Now what was I going to do for 15 minutes while she carted enough food for a small army? I glanced over at her dresser and noticed one of the drawers was opened slightly. I walked over to the dresser with every intention of shutting the drawer, but something shimmery inside caught my eye. I pulled the drawer open a little more, just enough to see what the sparkling item was. It was a small hardbound notebook of some kind. The cover was silvery and caused a prism effect when the light hit its surface. Written in purple swirling calligraphy across the cover were the words Cher Journal. The phrase intrigued me. I knew what it meant only because of the French class I'd taken freshman year. It meant Dear Diary. Now I know curiosity killed the cat and all that but the eagerness building inside me was almost too much to bear. Seriously, one peak couldn’t hurt right?
I cracked open the cover and leafed through the thin pages until I found a latest entry. I read the words that were scripted in Emma's familiar handwriting, in her favorite purple ink. Each new sentence amazed me more than the last. Everything anyone could want to know about Emma was written on these pages. Every thought, every feeling. Even the dreams she’d had that night were scrawled into paper.
“Hey, Ollie!” I heard Emma call from the hallway. I quickly shut the diary’s cover and stuffed it back into it’s home. I grabbed the remote off the carpet and flung myself back onto the bed just as the door swung open and Emma came through with her feast of junk. “We didn’t have any popcorn so I just brought up everything else I could find. Mountain Dew is alright to drink, right?”
“Of course. You know it’s my favorite.” I told her. She dropped the food on her desk and hit the play button on the DVD player. I reached over and turned off the lamp on her bedside table as she flopped down the bedspread beside me.
“This is gonna be so awesome, Oliver!” She shrieked as the movie started. I just nodded, though I knew she hadn’t seen. All of her attention was focused on the gory scene that was flickering over the screen. For the first time in a very long time, getting Emma’s attention wasn’t what was plaguing my brain. I couldn’t stop thinking about her diary. The pages that held the insight into her heart. The only other thought that spiraled through my mind was why I wasn’t in it.
In the 3 weeks that passed, I'd become an addict. A junkie that got his high from those purple, curling words. I had become dependent on that book. I didn't feel adequate until I'd read the latest entry. I had become totally obsessed. I knew that I was invading Emma's privacy. I knew what I was doing was wrong. If she ever found out, I knew she'd never forgive. But I knew I wouldn't be able to stop myself anymore, so letting her catch me wasn't an option.
Because I'd read every page, I knew how Emma felt about things. What she thought about. What really goes on in her life instead of the sugar coated stories she feeds me on a day-today basis. All those little things that I'd been clueless about before. I liked being inside her head. Some people would call that a God complex. I call it being a concerned friend. This way, I knew I could help.
During those 3 weeks, I could tell something inside Emma was changing, by both her actions and her entries. She looked at me differently now. Not in the bad way either. I don't know what it was, but we just seemed more connected now. She mentioned me more in her diary now too. I went from being the invisible loser next door to her most frequent writing topic in less than a month. I smiled when I thought about it. Just that fact that I was in her head enough that she could write entire paragraphs about me sent waves of excitement through me. Like tiny vibrations coursing just under my skin. Oh wait. Never mind. That was just my phone. I pulled the tiny device out of my pocket and starred at the called id. It was her.
“Hey Em,” I said into the phone. “What's up?”
“Wanna come over?” She asked. I told her I was on my way. I shoved the phone back into my pocket as I sprinted down the hall and nearly killing myself on the stairs. I dashed across the yard. She was waiting on her front porch. Before I'd even got up the steps, she had hold of my wrist and was dragging me into the house.
“What's the big rush, Em?” I pleaded, praying she would stop trying to rip my arm out of it's socket. She jerked me up her staircase and into her room, letting the door slam shut behind us. When she finally let go, I fell back onto the floor near the foot of her bed and starred up into her eyes. “Seriously, what was the big emergency?”
“I realized something,” She said in a kind of whisper that was barely audible. She sat down on the floor beside me and put her hand on top of mine.
“And that would be …?” She didn't answer right away, her eyes diverted and fixated on the carpet. My immediate thought was that she knew what I'd been doing. She knew about my terrible obsession. What was I going to say? Well, I mean I was going to deny it of course, but other than that.
“I think I want you to be my boyfriend,” She muttered. My heart stopped. Did my ears deceive me? Did I really just hear those words escape her lips? This is a joke, right? A dream? Because there was no way that this was actually happening. “I mean, you just seem to get me, you know? Like, you always know when I need a hug or when I just need to be left alone. It’s like you can read my mind, Ollie.”
“Um, OK ... I think,” I was unsure of what to say and so I'd just made myself look like a moron.
“I mean, you can say no if you want,” She mumbled. I didn't want to hear what she was saying, so I shut her up the best way I knew how. “I mean I know I kind of sprung this on you and-” I kissed her. As soon as my lips touched her hers, I promised I'd never touch the diary again.
“So which one do you want to see, Em?” I asked as Emma and I drove my little car into the movie theater parking lot. She didn’t answer me. I looked over at her. She had her chin resting in her palm and her eyes were fixed on the scenery outside the car. “Emma!”
“What?” She jumped, startled by my voice. She hadn’t heard a word I’d said the whole car trip. That didn’t surprise me. It’d only been a few months and already we were starting to split apart. Emma was becoming more and more distant. She was pulling away from me and I couldn’t figure out why. As far as I could tell, I’d done nothing wrong.
“Which movie do you want to see?” I asked again. She shrugged and let her gaze drift back to the window.
“I don’t care, Oliver. You pick,” She said. I sighed as I pulled into a parking spot.
“I picked last time, Emma,” I pleaded. “And besides, you’re the one who said we should go to the movies.”
“If you don’t want to see a movie we can do something else,” She replied.
“I never said that! I want to see a movie,”
“Then pick one,” I wanted to scream and hit my head on the steering wheel. It was like she was deliberately pushing every button that I had. What was wrong with her lately? “Look, let’s just go back to my house and hang out, ok?”
“Fine,” I rolled my eyes and pulled the car back out of the parking space and onto the road. Emma was so confusing sometimes. She had no reason to be this cold. It made me sick to know that somehow I was making her miserable, but I just couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. She wouldn’t tell me anything. She never tells me anything. I thought about the diary. Emma always spills everything into those pages. I could just take a look and then-No! I couldn’t do that. Not again. I swore I wouldn’t spy on her again. But my resolution was because she was mine. I can plainly see that I’m losing her.
“Have I done something to make you mad, Em?” I asked. She shook her head.
“No, Ollie, why would you think that?” She didn’t even look at me when she spoke. Her eyes were still tethered to the blurred landscape. That was it. I had to do something before her emotionless demeanor drove me crazy. It had to be done, to save our relationship. I had to read it. If I didn’t, I’d lose her for good.
I pulled my car in my driveway. She had the door open and was half way to her house before I’d even put the thing in park. I sprinted after her and caught up to her on the porch.
“I’m gonna go out back and feed the dog. You can go on up to my room if you want, I’ll be up in a second.” Emma told me as she walked past and started towards her back gate. I didn’t reply. It’s not like she would have heard me anyway. I knew her parents weren’t home, so I dashed up to her room as fast as I could. I reached into the drawer where the diary was hidden and found the newest entry. As I skimmed the words, I could feel my heart shattering into millions of pieces. The purple words had finally betrayed me. Written on those pages that had helped me to win her love, now told me I’d lost it. I know it’s wrong. I know that it’s destructive and will only cause me pain. I can’t get him out of my head though. I love Ollie, I do. I just …I think I love Russ more.
No. I couldn’t lose her. I’m totally in love with this girl. My entire being is devoted to making her happy. She’s the center of my universe. How can she just reject me this way? I closed the cover and gripped the little book tightly in my hands, rage festering up from the rips in my heart. In a fit of anger, I shoved the diary into the waistband of my jeans and stormed across the room. Emma was coming up the stairs as I was sprinting down them.
“Hey, where are you going?” She called after me. I turned just long enough to look into her grey eyes, longing to see a reflection of what she was thinking. I gazed at her just long enough to know that the diary told the truth, I wasn’t the one she wanted.
“I have some stuff to do. I’ll see ya later, Emma,” I stormed out of her house and into my car. I threw the book in the passenger seat next to me and threw the car into drive, peeling out into the middle of the street. The screaming of my tires was the last thing I remember before my consciousness was blurred by animosity and the thumping of my stereo.
I watched the flame pass from my lighter’s end to the trail of gasoline on the grass. In an instant, it had ignited, flitted down the liquid path and engulfed the tower of wood that I had piled as high as I could get it. I watched the red and orange embodiment of heat eat at the sticks and logs, turning them black and white, feeding its need to destroy. The flame and I weren’t so different. It eats and grows like a human, and when it’s finished these things it rests. It came into being from nothingness. I was brought out of that same nothingness by Emma’s love. Like me, it also gets angry and destroys. Consumes. I looked at the book in my hands. The cause of all this anger.
If I had just stopped myself from peeking at it’s pages, none of this would have happened. Granted, I wouldn’t have her. I couldn’t have ever called her mine. I starred at the cover as it shimmered in the firelight. It looked so beautiful, but the beauty hid the destructive contents that hid inside. How could she not love me? Better question: how do I fix this?
“She doesn’t know I know,” I muttered to myself, trying to figure out how to bring this up without causing her to hate me. Then I got an idea. Maybe she doesn’t have to know. Emma may not love me, but for the moment she was still with me. I could pretend I knew nothing and I would keep her until she worked up the nerve to destroy me. I knew in my heart that day wouldn’t come soon. I was her best friend before I was her boyfriend. She could never hurt me.
I stepped closer to the flame and threw the diary in. I watched the silver cover char and the pages curl as they turned black and brown. Another way the fire and I were alike, when sated, we become calm. I smiled wider and starred at the column of smoke and fire. As long as she could pretend she loved me, I could pretend she did too. Nothing had to change. I’d found my place in her diary. I was the fire that had cleansed the pages of heart shattering words and left burn marks in their place.