In the mirror, everything bends—light, words, the line of Rachel’s arm as she pulls her brush through her hair. There’s a crack in the middle of the glass. She’d thrown her hairbrush at it weeks ago. The glass had split open like a tear into another universe. She had placed a band-aid over it, just like the one that hooked over her elbow now. She watches it bend and twist in the crack before slamming the hairbrush onto the counter.
Everything bends, even her reflection.
She thinks it’s better that way, the way her mouth seems to turn into a smile on one side, the other pulled straight by the crack’s distortion. She thinks it’s more accurate.
When she slides her hand into Chloe’s as they chase the streetlamps in Chloe’s truck, it’s entirely different from how Frank’s thumbs drag down her cheekbones before a stubbled kiss. It’s entirely different from how Mark’s eyes trace all the right angles as he snaps her photograph, alight with greed and hunger. It’s entirely different from how Nathan pulls her body flush against his as the music swirls around them and her mind floats higher than all of the notes.
She’s a mirror herself, reflecting all of her best sides to her partners. It’s far better than the dim glow of her room upon her own mirror, where even the best of her makeup doesn’t hide the circles under her eyes, the split of her lip. She can see it through the layer of light. She can see it through the crack.
She sticks her head out the window of Chloe’s truck, closing her eyes against the rush of wind, yelling until her voice is hoarse. Chloe yanks her back in and swallows the rasp with a kiss. Rachel can feel her heartbeat in her mouth. It beats like a hummingbird against her tongue. At American Rust, they’re tucked in silence between the calls of curious owls and the occasional passing car. They wrap themselves in torn magazine pages. Rachel had ripped out all of the models with their too-thin bodes and 100-watt smiles. “Does this make me beautiful?” she asks Chloe, one mostly bare-backed body pressed against her stomach. She would never look like that in a bikini, even if she’d removed two of her ribs.
“What are you talking about?” Chloe responds, pressing a girl wearing a cowboy hat to her forehead. She grins from beneath the bottom of the page. “You know you’re hot.”
Rachel scoffs and lays her head against Chloe’s shoulder, crumpling the rest of the pages between them. The page on Chloe’s forehead flutters to the ground.
Chloe’s fingers rake through her hair and she’s nearly asleep before she feels the softness of Chloe’s lips against her ear. “I love you,” she whispers and everything in Rachel tenses before she closes her eyes and lets herself float away.
Pompidou’s head rests against her thigh while she pulls the RV onto the road, the gravel popping against the wheels like a small burst of firecrackers.
“Ease up there,” Frank instructs from beside her. He flicks at the tab of his beer can, a guitar twang in the silence of the vehicle.
“I just wish this thing could go fast,” Rachel complains. She misses the wind stealing her breath as she and Chloe speed through the night. But she doesn’t miss it nearly as much as Frank’s gifts, how she could earn anything with a kiss and the conversation with a lonely man. It makes her own loneliness dissipate like the dust she leaves behind them. And when she lays beside him, her fingers smoothing the crinkles at the corners of his eyes, she can see the boy he’d been long ago. It makes her feel thousands of years older, thousands younger.
“I love you,” he mumbles against her collarbone, his stubble like needles brushing against her skin.
She smooths her fingers against his cheeks, spreading his words out like a blanket beside him. Her own body feels cold.
Everything is a stream of light and colors at the Vortex Club party. That’s the way it usually is, with the bass of the music like thunder digging into the walls and floor. And Nathan makes sure everyone is too messed up to tell which direction is which.
Rachel leads the line of boys to a bare patch of floor, dancing with each of them until Nathan’s eyes flash down at her, his grin wide and bright under the lights. It’s the type of smile to let her know that she’s special, that he picked her to drape his arms around, that she should feel worshipped. And here in the pulse of trembling bass notes, her head in the clouds, and her body in his arms, she feels like a goddess.
She wiggles free and beckons him towards the VIP section, drowning her laughter with a drink as she spreads herself comfortably across the couch. His fingers dance across her legs as the group around her trades stories and laughter. Everything spins around her and she feels alive.
And later, it’s Rachel that finds him bent over the ground outside, heaving until his face is purple, and she lets him collapse into her lap. His fingers shake as they grasp onto her legs, trying to keep himself from sliding back onto the ground.
“You’re okay,” she tells him, because someone has to, and his breath shudders warmly onto her skin.
Sweat pearls onto his forehead before spilling loose. The tears trail after. “I love you,” he slurs into her leg, his chapped lips digging into her skin.
She pats his head, his sweat-streaked hair sticking to her fingers. He leans into her hand and she sighs as she leans into him as well.
The flash of the camera brings a flood of light into Rachel’s face. She angles it away from the line of her cheekbones, blinking away the spots burning into her eyes, blinking away Mark’s smile.
“You’re perfect,” he says when she leans against the table, the balls of her feet pushing her taller. “But it’s not what I’m looking for.”
She doesn’t know what it is he’s looking for. She gives him everything she’s given Evan’s camera, everything she’s given Daniel’s portraits. It’s not the same caliber, she knows this; everything about Mark screams of something she doesn’t understand. The way his fingers hook into the crook of her elbows, directing her into poses; the way his eyes seem to dig beneath the surface of her skin makes her want to, however.
She lets herself gaze up at him, trying to find whatever lies behind his stare, the same way he does with her. And when she presses her lips to his, she can feel the jackal smile beneath.
“We need to take this to the next level,” he says and she nods, picturing herself in every obscure magazine, art that she’ll never understand even as it’s standing desperately before her. And she wants it; she reaches for it with the tips of her fingers, her lips against his. It’s the one side of the mirror she’s yet to see.
“I love you,” she murmurs, but it’s not to him she speaks. She’s so close to the glass she can feel its coldness against her palms. She’s so close, she can’t even feel the sting of the needle against her neck.