Conversely, Aiden was Brightness in jeans and white v-necks, with dark eyes and thick brown hair. I felt helpless as I watched stars fall from his mouth and the way that he shined on the sunflower Robyn, who seemed blind to the way Aiden stoked her beauty to grow and open wide. And so I decided to try to catch the grey fox and make him shine for me.
But when I saw the way that Aiden sat next to Robyn on the couch in the dorm lounge, his eyes filled with a royal light after she told him “Yes,” I quietly left to storm alone in the ceramics studio. The Chariot roared out of cheap speakers to give voice to my raging silence, while I pounded at lumps of clay, throwing them on the furiously spinning wheel. My scars ached, remembering the last time I had seen that brilliance was in Tobias’ gaze. The faint idea that Jasper might be just gasoline began to screw into the back of my head, but I only tried harder to build up the flame. I called it bravery, and in this way I found Robyn and I were similar. Our only difference was the way I clutched Aiden beneath my ribs—but I never told her this.
After three months’ time, we were all licking our singed wounds.
* * * *
“Do your friends smoke?” my mother asked without warning as we shopped. I think she already knew the answer to that question.
I had always hated cigarette smoke until I became friends with Von, when I first began to understand why people smoked. His struggles between suicide and life showed me that sometimes medicine, loving friends, and a gracious God aren’t enough to scare away all the monsters; blowing smoke seemed to offer a little extra help, though. He smelled like dirt and tobacco whenever I hugged him, and because I knew his hugs might someday not keep coming back, I began to enjoy the smell. I came to know the difference between those that enjoyed the occasional calming indulgence and those that developed an addicting habit. All I knew was that I had the choice to be a friend; not to control someone’s health.
At that time, one of my roommates smoked enough to call it pollution. But I understood she had grown up in a household of smoke, and she understood that I hadn’t; there existed a sort of mutual respect between us. I didn’t know how to create that sort of understanding with my mother.
“I mean, if I was a person interested in you, I don’t think I would gravitate toward that sort of smell,” she continued. “You should probably wash your hair more.” She started talking about why I shouldn’t share clothes with my friends that smoked. I began to leave the conversation to look for marked-down jeans since most of mine now had rips in the knees. She left to look for some Estee Lauder perfume.
So when I arrived at church late the next morning, I knew I must have smelled from spending the past 14 hours with Aiden and other friends up in Bass Lake hiking, dancing, hanging out at the local bar, sleeping outside under the full moon, and waking up with barely enough time to drive down the mountain. I felt like art, sitting down thinking Good, these people should know what it smells like to be alive. I wasn’t surprised when my mother asked me to take a shower before my grandparents came over for lunch.