Sean took one last look at the video in front of him, and nearly slammed his laptop shut.
He had been editing not too long ago, for hours since this morning. He usually wasn't the type to see the sun rise, but, he couldn't sleep last night, so, why not at least spend time being productive? At least that's what he thought to himself, as he sat upright in his bed at 5 AM, red eyed and staring at the floor, counting the stray dust motes that tumbled along in the ever-brightening light from outside.
When the words and applications spread out in front of him though started to blend and fuse together into one blurred mess of color and symbols, and when piecing together the last 15 minutes of what he was working on started to lose meaning, he knew it was time to put it aside, and let his eyes rest, even if it meant he would have to break up everything into smaller pieces than he wanted to. But, as much as he liked the idea of rest, he knew he couldn't really do that. There were emails to get to, tweets to respond to, tumblr posts to reblog and a flood of other things that hung around, just in the background, not always in sight, but always somewhere floating in his mind. He well and truly loved his fans deeply, but there were some days when he really wished he didn't have so many, spread out on such a plethora of platforms.
Today was one of those days. As he read the comments for the last video he posted, he couldn't help the slightly muddy feeling that hung off his face as the umpteenth troll talked about how much he had changed and how his channel has fallen into a cesspool of abrasive yells and unfunny jokes. He knew most of them were doing it to get a rise out of him, and he knew that by even letting the thought linger on his mind for more than a fraction of a second, he was giving them what they wanted...but still. When so many people started to say the same thing, in the same voice, were they really just trolls anymore?
He pushed himself away, and let his palms rest on his face, heels digging in just under his cheekbones. He wasn't going to deal with that. Not now. Not when the caffeinated knot in his stomach was already tempting sickness out of him, and not when he wasn't even sure if he could even form a proper argument, let alone a written sentence with how gritty and irritated his eyes and head felt. He took a deep breath, and held it for as long as he could, before falling back on his bed in a defeated crumple.
What if they were right, though? What if he had become something entirely different than who he thought he was? Was he starting to treat all this like a regular job now, and not as something he actually enjoyed? Was he going to turn into one of those people who blatantly did it just for the money? Or the recognition? Was "Jack" becoming an entity that was beyond himself, a parody of a person, without thought or care?
A small noise escaped his lips as he willed himself to sink further into the mattress below him. Of course he cared. Of course he was still the same person. But why couldn't people see that? Why was everything he did now under the scrutiny of every armchair critic out there? Didn't they understand that he was a human being too, one that put so much time and effort into what he did that it sometimes made him forget the basic functions of life, such as food, water and...love?
Ah, love. The word nearly felt foreign to him these days. It had been a long time since he had a relationship, and even longer since he had a significant other to lean on. He missed those days where, even if the two of them couldn't physically be together, and even if there was no real time for a call, he could always depend on the small, little snippets of text that would float in throughout the course of 24 hours, always supportive, and always strung together with affection. Some days it was all he had to keep him going, and in those days, he felt as if it was the only real thing he needed anyway.
But now? Now he was here. In another city, surrounded by strangers, feeling stretched too thin and alone. The thought of it almost felt bleak, even though he was the only one who had control over any of it. Oh, if only his high school guidance counselor could see him now...
Sean stared at the soft white bulb just above his bed, burning its brightness into his retinas as he tried to let everything bleed from his body. It was a lot, he knew, and he really wasn't helping things any by sitting on them for as long as he did. He felt he could almost choke with how heavy he was now, both from his erratic sleep patterns and from the intangible weight that seemed to haunt him, pressing on his shoulders, lining his lungs with lead. He needed to get away, needed to just drop everything just for a little while and let himself just...be, even if it was only for an hour or two. But going out in public felt like a bad idea, no matter how he looked at it, and it was too late in the day for a side trip to anywhere nice. Booking an actual vacation felt tempting enough, but he knew he wasn't prepared for something like that at the moment. There was videos to plan, passports to renew, and a mess of other things that made him wonder if it was more trouble than it was worth. Besides, he didn't really have a destination in mind, he just wanted to go. Like Enid at the end of Ghost World, only not permanently, and preferably without abandoning his life in general. Yeah, try telling that to a booking agent...
He snorted, the corner of his mouth perking upward. He almost had the urge to do it, just to see what would happen. It might lead to an adventure of some kind, who knows. More than likely though, he knew it would just end up with whomever was on the other line, hanging up in confusion. Ghost World was kind of an obscure reference anyway.
The longer he stared, the more he felt his eyes dry out and recede, his lids sliding over them slower and slower with each pass. He was tired, and his body was finally letting itself catch up to the idea, as he felt most of the swirling chaos in his head flatline and as his chest finally uncoil and let his heart beat at a normal pace. Part of him felt like he was melded perfectly with the bed beneath, yet still part of him wasn't going to give up the fight that easily. As he let his eyes surrender to the call of the afternoon sandman though, he knew there was still one place he could go. That one same place he had been to so many times that it felt like a second home to him now.
Sean slowly opened his eyes again, the light from above faded and colored, obscured by the giant fronds that hung low from the trees just out of reach. An easy flutter of air threaded through his hair as it slowly moved the leaves overhead, the rustle from them all sounding like distant rain. He sat up, and breathed deep, the distinct salt redolence from a place far removed from where he was from flavoring the air. The feeling warmed his chest, as if sunlight had drifted on the current and invaded his body, something almost like a memory from long past, part of his whole and pure.
Sean nearly smirked as the familiarity came to him in waves. Already he could feel himself start to unbend and settle, with each passing moment, with each passing breeze that curled around his cheeks. This was where he wanted to be, where he always wanted to be. And no ticket or drive could get him here otherwise.
He stood with care, letting the gritty debris fall from his jeans and tumble down the back of his shirt, each of the pinked grains falling just behind his bare feet and disappearing into the shade. His toes sunk into the coastal dust with each cautious step he took, the temperate heat from the day still locked into its surface, as he steadied himself on the thin, rough bark that surrounded him. The ocean, he could hear, was just beyond the sparse grove he was in.
As his head poked out from a few of the smaller green palms, he saw it, he saw the beach, with its waves gently sliding to and fro, sunset colored sapphires stealing light from the skies above as they endlessly rolled on the waters surface, fractal and radiant. Within the ever growing shades of carmine and thulian that painted the expanse of the empyrean lands beyond the lavender clouds, sat a figure down by the water, limbs curled up into itself but upright and still, just out of reach from the foamy kiss of Poseidon. The lingering warmth from the day that past still burned on his skin as Sean wandered down to the shoreline, and gracelessly placed himself just next to the only other living thing there, without saying a word.
The two sat there, in placid silence, watching the world beyond sink into the darkening crystal celadon that stretched out for what seemed like all edges of the earth, infinite and eternal, without even so much as a glance toward one another. It was enough for now, enough for Sean in that moment though. He just needed to know the other was there, and would always be, just so long as he was. It was a comfort beyond anything he had ever really experienced, and one that always left him with a whiskey-like glow in his chest, welcoming, and a little numbing.
Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he wondered if this is where he was going to wind up when he died. Mortality was never something he thought about extensively, but on days where he felt it, felt the vice like grip of things choke out all the good he had within him to give, those thoughts came to him, trickling in on the coattails of that near melancholic fire that this place had always brought out within him. He'd be lying if he said that he wouldn't mind it though, wouldn't mind if this was all that waited him at the end of life, his immortal reward after his bones had been laid to rest, and he ceased to really exist. An endless palate of color, in a place that was just as peaceful as it was secluded, surrounded by simplicity and idyllic wonderment. His heart ached at the idea.
"Do you ever wish...that it would all go away?" he asked, eyes never leaving the point in the horizon that he had been fixated on since he got there.
"What do you mean?" The figure asked, low voice wrapping around the question in such a way that almost made it seem like more of a statement.
"All of it...everything you know, everything you knew...just one giant reset on life..." He said, finally turning to face the other, "Do you ever feel like that?"
The figure turned, meeting his look with soft eyes that still held flecks of gold from the sun, tidal colored hair swaying in front of his face, just over the frames that sat high on his nose. He grinned broadly, letting the words stand for a moment before answering.
"Everyone feels that way. At least, at some point." he said, almost as if the answer were obvious.
"Yeah, but...do you?" Sean asked, feeling the question ring with more urgency in his head than he would of liked.
The man turned away for a moment, eyes going back out to the ocean laid out in front of them, smile fading slightly as he seemingly thought about what was asked. His head dipped for a few seconds, fingers picking at the worn denim on his legs before he spoke, that same warm timbre ever present in his words.
"I have." he nearly whispered, as if he were admitting some great secret, only known to the two of them, "More than once."
Sean felt the breath he was holding slowly ebb out from under him, the measured release making his body feel imperceptibly hollow with the next intake of air. He let his shoulders sink a bit as his spine curved under his slight weight, letting the last scrap of the tension and worry he had stored drift on to wherever it was where the intangible chords of life went to expire, away from him, and away from his mind, at least, for a little while.
He swallowed deeply, and let his gaze fall to the space between them, before dragging his eyes to an undetermined point in front of the shore, unfocused and distant. He wasn't about to fool himself into believing any of this was real. He knew it wasn't, not in any context whatsoever, and he had complete control over every single thing that happened there, from the way the trees moved, to how the clouds drew on, to even the minor detailing like what he showed up in and how thick each grain felt between his toes. It was all a placebo, he knew. An overly elaborate one that he let himself indulge in every so often just so he could let go of all the things that stacked up on him like a highway pileup.
Even his friend, his sometimes partner, wasn't real. Some nights he would come to this place, with more than just an emotional need, pinning the other on his back as sighs echoed into the sands, tanned fingers twisting into the fabric of his shirt. But more often than not though, they sat there just like this, side by side, not doing or saying much, but simply letting the world pass them by, taking solace in the presence of each other as time slid on, stilted but eventual. He sometimes wondered if it made him a bad person, puppeting one of his best friends like this, sometimes in ways that he was sure crossed a few lines.
But, by god, did it feel good. Better than some things he had done in waking life just to achieve the same effect. Nowhere else could he feel this in control, this connected to everything, and yet, nothing all at the same time. Even when he had extended stays, ones where he was there for hours just aimlessly walking or times when he simply went there to throw sticks into the water, it was all part of him, part of everything, yet part of nothing. And it was liberating beyond belief.
Sean looked up from where he was staring, and glanced at the man next to him, demure smile finally cracking his face.