Jared and AnnaLynn were trying to fall asleep in their own beds in their own homes after a long day, long week, long year … long … everything.
He was on top of his sheets.
Hands clasped behind his head.
Eyes on the ceiling.
She was on her side.
Curled in a ball.
Eyes shut tight.
Neither could rest. Their minds busy with anxiety.
The noise from the nearby freeway seeped in through the walls.
She covered her head with a pillow to drown it out.
Loud voices coming from his living room reverberated down his back hall.
He just laid there stiff and tried to ignore it.
It was wasted energy. Neither of them would find peace tonight.
AnnaLynn kicked her blankets off of her like a tangled-up toddler and started bitching out loud as the covers settled back down all around her.
Her outburst went unacknowledged like a tree falling in the woods.
Loud and dramatic but not witnessed.
Her studio felt empty. She felt empty.
AnnaLynn rose from her bed (which was just a mattress on the ground) in a huff, shuffled barefoot through the studio to the outside, across her backyard, inside the main house, to her kitchen where the fridge hummed quietly. The fridge was empty too. Totally devoid of food. Not even old take out.
AnnaLynn filled a dirty glass with tap water from the kitchen sink, sat down on a couch in the attached family room and switched on the television. She sipped her lukewarm water and stared blankly at the t.v. screen.
“Fuck!” he mumbled to himself as he sat up in his bed. He listened to the buzz coming from his living room. Several insomniacs were apparently over staying their welcome out there. And being awfully loud about it. Jared needed a break from his brain and their mouths. If he could get out without being seen, he’d love to take a walk. Exercise always clears his mind of nonsense and noise.
Watching television did nothing for AnnaLynn’s mind. It was still going a-mile-a-minute. She shut off the t.v. and paced the length of her kitchen. Her thoughts began to spiral downward to a depth below depression. She can’t even fucking fall asleep when she wants to. Outside her kitchen window was dark. Late night in full bloom.
“I gotta get out of my head!” AnnaLynn announced to the Chia Pet sitting stately on a window sill. The Chia Pet didn’t have any words of encouragement for her even after she provided a much needed watering so she decided on her own that all she needed was to take a walk. It would tire her out and settle her mind. A nice walk? What a great idea.
Energized now, she went up to her bedroom and grabbed a pair of ratty black sweatpants and slipped them on over her pajamas, tucked herself deep inside a well-worn man-sized hoodie and didn’t bother with a bra. She looked completely unapproachable and probably a tad-bit homeless. Perfect! She thought.
Her sneakers were still by the backdoor where she left them a month ago. She put those on without socks, grabbed her mace and key from the hook by the backdoor and went out in to the world.
Los Angeles. Not exactly the right time for a little thing like AnnaLynn to take a stroll down Ventura Boulevard all alone. But there she went.
Luckily the fact that AnnaLynn had a death wish meant she’d live forever. Only the good die young. She tried to whistle. Rattled out a hum instead.
On the other side of The 101 Freeway Jared Leto snuck out of his own house wearing the clothes he was trying to sleep in. Giddy that he was alone, he jogged down the hill until he too was on Ventura Boulevard.
Tuesday. On the sidewalk near where Cahuenga becomes Ventura.
Peace of mind crept inside Jared and AnnaLynn for the first time in hours. Maybe it was the outdoors. A change of scenery or a change of pace. Either way, they were in motion and feeling better for it.
They strolled away from their homes. Walking down the black streets. The noise of the city dulled due to the late hour. They made their way up Ventura. Separately. Though on the same wave length.
He stretched his arms.
She realigned her back.
And in a moment, she was before him. And he saw her. Her hair up in a sloppy ponytail and face covered with free flowing tears.
Jared thought to himself Oh fuck.
And he froze in his tracks before she even noticed him.
– – – – – – –
Beneath the bustling roadway that separates their two neighborhoods, lie a darkened underpass that served quite well as an umbilical cord for years. It used to be cute that Jared lived on one side of the 101 Freeway and AnnaLynn the other. Cute and convenient. But that winsome description was not applicable this night. And hadn’t been for more than a year. She was too close for comfort most of the time. A hop, skip and a jump away. The cord more like a troublesome tether to their shared past than a comfort. A leash. A noose.
Jared ran his fingers through his hair and mumbled fuck a half-dozen more times. The mere sight of her was making him freak-the-fuck out. Morality was ordering him to her side of the street. It was the middle of the night in a not-so-safe city. Pretty blond girl. He’s a pretty traditional guy in this regard so he felt an immediate obligation. A responsibility for her safety. But he didn’t want it to start again. It can’t start again.
Meanwhile, on the other side of his brain, a few lackluster self-preservation cells were reminding him that she was no longer his problem. If she wanted to be stupid, she could go ahead and be stupid. Not.His.Problem. He almost stomped his feet in protest against the decency rising up within him. Should I stay or should I go? Should I go or should I stay?
AnnaLynn was chastising herself and crying as she power strolled down Ventura Boulevard completely oblivious to Jared’s presence. Hands flailing wildly and recklessly around as she rambled on and on. Dramatic. Frantic. Manic. Olivia de Havilland in The Snake Pit.
“If the L.A. Fucking River was an actual river like normal rivers in places where normal people live, I’d drown my goddamn self!” She put her hands around her neck in a mock choking gesture and cackled. “If I’m lucky one of you street crawling mother fuckers will jump out from the bushes and take me out of my misery. Anyone? Any…one?” She kept on walking and kept on talking. To no-one. To herself. And unknowingly to Jared. “That’s because I look like a fucking troll. Right? No one wants to touch a troll. I wouldn’t touch a troll….trolls are fucking…like…fucking…ugh….”
Jared rubbed the muscles in his neck as he absorbed the scene. There she is: AnnaLynn Sheldon. Forever the charmer. With a mouth like a trucker.
Freak…that he still couldn’t shake from his memory.
The forever-lost love of his life.
Sweet. Sick. Annie.
Goddamn-it! he said to himself as he jogged across Ventura. The decision made for him now. No cars were on the road at this hour but he looked both ways twice just in case. He knew he was about to get hit by something. But he thought it better to be bowled over by AnnaLynn then smeared by the LAPD.
“Oh. You have got to be fucking KIDDING ME!” she shouted when she caught a glimpse of him jogging over to her.
“Look …” he said when he arrived at her side slightly breathless “Save the drama. It’s really fucking late. And you shouldn’t be out here alone. Let me walk you home AnnaLynn.”
“Fuck you!” she screamed and she pointed a finger deep in to his chest. “Fuckkkkk youuuuu!”
“Are you drunk?”
“Come on Annie…lets go home.” he put his hand gently on her elbow to try and turn her around back towards the underpass at Valleyheart.
“You can take your mother fucking hands off of me…right now!” she wrenched her arm back quickly and stepped back a few feet “Go back up your little fucking hill and be gone. Buh Bye.” She stormed away. Plowing through the pavement like she was attempting to unearth something.
“AnnaLynn!” Jared called after her. “It’s two-o-fucking-clock in the fucking fuck fuck SLOW DOWN!” He sprinted towards her. Further away from their homes. Closer to the 24 hour Donut Hut.
“Your house is THAT way.” she announced when he caught up to her.
A breathless Jared responded “So is yours!”
“But I’m not going home. I’m going for a walk.” AnnaLynn stated and as an afterthought she added “To get coffee.”
“Then I’m coming with you. To get coffee.”
AnnaLynn looked him over then shrugged. “Fine ya fucking sadist.”
Neither of them were coffee drinkers or dunked donuts but after a mile of painfully brisk walking and even more of AnnaLynn’s rambling they found themselves across from one another at a wobbly table with an old newspaper spread out between them and a carafe of black coffee making a ring on top. No sugar. No cream.
“So. Should I ask?” Jared said as he peeled the edge of the newspaper apart.
“You don’t want to know.”
“A him or a her?”
“How about a life?”
Jared changed tactics. He didn’t want to hear her complain. He knew what she’d say anyway: She hated life. Hated LA. Couldn’t write. Couldn’t paint. Forgot to pay her light bill, sketching in the dark until they come out tomorrow to turn it back on. Same-old same-old he was sure.
“Still painting?” he asked instead.
“Still singing?” she responded.
Jared looked around the Donut Hut. Little cartoon donuts engaged in various activities or playing random sports stared back at him. A donut wearing a baseball hat. A donut with a sweat band and Reebox. Two little donuts on swings. In the middle of the donut mayhem were the day’s specials (which never changed). Fat-ass fritters. Chocolate this. Glazed that. The whole mural irked him. As if the Donut Hut was trying to assuage its own guilt by showing its patrons exactly what to do to counteract the effects of their 24 hour infestation of the Blvd. But he smiled when he saw the artist’s two-inch-tall tag on the bottom right of the wall beneath a donut carrying a tennis racket. ASheldon. Yeah, she was still painting.
“This is your doing?” he asked her as he pointed a thumb towards her tag.
“Yep. Paid a mortgage payment so don’t knock it.”
“No shit. These people sell a lot of fucking donuts Jare.”
Jare. That hit him like one of Ron Woodruff’s bulls to the chest. AnnaLynn is the only person on the planet who could get away with that one. He used to hate every one of her pet names for him and she had made up hundreds of them. Nonsensical shit that he missed hearing way more than he could have ever imagined.
Baby. That was a classic he wouldn’t mind hearing again. He loved it when she called him Baby. She let the letters linger for an extra beat on her tongue – BayBee. Jared missed being called baby.
He rubbed the muscles in his neck again and tried to shake away that type of thought. AnnaLynn was clearly no better today than she was a year ago. Jared didn’t have the desire to dance with that devil again even though he was sitting with the demon in the middle of the night in a donut shop.
AnnaLynn sneezed and memories of his time living with her sickness came rushing back to him against his wishes. A wave of heat crept up his back as he thought about all those late nights not too long ago. Covered in oil paints. Overturned canvases. Pure insanity. His guitar. Her voice. Her studio. Above her garage where they’d waste days inside her mania.
His most creative days. Days he wished would never end. Days that didn’t end. The sun rose. The sun set. But they ignored time passing and the outside world and instead painted and made love and wrote and wrote and wrote and sang and sang and sang until she missed a therapy session, then two, then she’d stop taking her pills and he’d end up calling 911 for help with removing a pistol from her teeth. And she wouldn’t speak to him for a week or a month (that one time) after the hospital let her out because they discovered she didn’t have health insurance, not because she was healthy. She’d go home alone and very ill. Unannounced and unescorted. And who knows what she did in those days.
But then eventually, she would miss him, and she would walk up his hill, let herself in the front gate, through the back door, down the hall where she’d crawl in to his bed and say she was sorry with her lips and her hips and an intensity that no one else could duplicate. (And Lord knows he tried to find it again.)
AnnaLynn snapped her fingers in front of Jared’s face and said “Earth to Jared!”
He shook off the images in his mind and shifted in his seat to hide his fresh boner.
“So … how about I walk you home AnnaLynn?”
AnnaLynn deadpanned “I haven’t finished my coffee.”
“You might want to start by actually pouring a cup.”
“But I don’t drink coffee.”
“AnnaLynn? Cut the shit. It’s four-thirty!”
“Listen man, if you can’t hang …” she pointed to the door.
“I can hang.” he leaned back in his chair, tilted his head back and covered his face with his hands.
– – – – – – – – –
Their Past. Shit. That was one hell of a roller coaster ride. Up hill climb for him, downward loop-de-loop for her. Tempestuous and turbulent. Scary too. Jared’s beloved bedfellow, AnnaLynn, is bipolar. Which, of course, means she is brilliant. Prolific. Prone to bouts of creative mania that are somewhat enviable until she hits rock bottom. And her rock bottom is rougher than most.
Jared has known plenty of people with bipolar. This is Hollyweird after all. AnnaLynn’s affliction isn’t unique. But unlike the other riders he knows, AnnaLynn’s roller coaster is more like a corkscrew, followed by a zero gravity drop right before a head-chopper element over and over and over again. Scary. Bloody. Sickening.
It’s like, when she hits the end of her track, it’s not just the end of the ride. Yay, lets get back on and do it again! Nope. Not that. No, after this ride her brain is permanently spun and the rest of the riders can’t stop puking. No one in their right mind wants to try that again.
The intensity of her mania sets her apart in ways that, in the past, made Jared come unglued himself. AnnaLynn doesn’t deserve that kind of pain. No one ever does. But she always just accepted it. Like her sanity was this sacrifice she had to make for her art. Her attitude about it was enviable too. To a degree. She didn’t let it stop her. She just kept on living and kept on creating. No matter what.
Their relationship was wrong for all of the right reasons. Jared and AnnaLynn shared years of nights like this. Years of late-night “coffee runs.” Years of “walking AnnaLynn home.” Years of it. Crazy shit. Lifetime movie shit. I Didn’t Know I Was In Love With A Lunatic -type shit. Exhausting shit. Depressing shit. Life-changing shit. His shit. Her shit. A relation-shit.
As he sat there with her rambling on and on across from him, he had to admit: he missed this. Which made him think he was a crazy shit. But he did. He missed her. Taking care of her. Being with her. Every day. Every hour. That very minute. She was in his marrow. Mange on his skin. She gave him bald spots. His muse. His teacher. His salvation. His lover. His downfall. His recompense. His everything. And she still needed him. Whether she’d admit that or not, it was clear she did. And he fucking loved that.
AnnaLynn started crying again across from him at their wobbly table inside the 24 hour Donut Hut. Sometimes just breathing can be too intense for her.
“Why are we here? Like right here … right fucking now. Me and you …” she was asking Jared as she wiped the snot from her pink face “I mean. It’s like I can’t sleep. You can’t sleep. And the mother fucking WORLD is like lets push these two fuckups back together for a minute and see which one pulls the trigger first!” she slammed her fists in to the table and the coffee carafe teetered a moment before settling back in place.
“We’re just having coffee.” Jared calmly advised.
“WE DON’T DRINK COFFEE!”
“Think I don’t know that?!”
“What the hell do I know about what you know Jared?” she threw her snotty tissue at him.
Jared flicked her tissue back across the table “Jesus.”
“Oh please. You had that coming Superman.”
“Take it down a notch, ok?”
AnnaLynn rolled her eyes at Jared “Like they don’t already know about me. I painted the fucking chair you’re sitting on for chrissake.”
Jared shifted in his seat “That dude can’t keep his eyes off of you.”
“He knows I aint here for the coffee! Probably trying to figure out which drug I’m on. Little does he know, they’re alllll prescription!”
“So you are taking your medication then?”
“When do I not take my medication Dr Leto?”
“When you paint. When you write. When you fucking breathe!”
“When they stifle me. When they suffocate me. When they tie my hands behind my goddamn back. Is that what you mean?”
“So you are painting again? I mean something other than donut murals?”
“If I didn’t loathe you, I’d invite you over to see my Canvas. En blanc et noir.”
“I’ll see it later. When it makes that crunching sound on the 101.”
“I only did that once.”
“You worked on that painting for four weeks! Four!”
“And then you dragged it down Valleyheart and heaved it over the blockade, skidded it down the embankment and tossed it in front of a Lotus!”
“The douche deserved it.” she giggled.
“You’re a menace!”
“To Studio City Baybee.”
They fell in to an old pattern then. Sarcasm spread thick over the tragedy that was their relationship. Unrest. He never slept then either. Nothing has changed really. Only the date.
He wanted her again. In his arms. Weeping words of wisdom. Making him feel alive. Alighting his creativity. Being his girl.
Taking care of her made him feel so important. Needed. Wanted. There were far more good days than bad, he told himself. Well, most years. Not that last one. They barely had one good day together last year.
An hour later. Jared tried again.
“Let’s go home AnnaLynn.”
“Fine.” a sleepy AnnaLynn acquiesced. “I’ll let you walk me home. Just this one time.”
Jared stood up, kicked his chair back from the snotty tissue laden table with a thrust of his ankle and sighed. “Ok.”
“All aboard the crazy train!” AnnaLynn called out as she pushed the glass front door of the Donut Hut open and they stepped out in to the night which was quickly becoming day.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
Jared and AnnaLynn walked slowly down Ventura Boulevard. Talking about the past year like their world never ended. She had a show he never caught wind of. Sold eighteen of her twenty-one paintings before the exhibition. The other three during her introduction. He had a tour she didn’t follow. Sold out in France, South America and the Ukraine. Their lives had gone on, quite successfully it would appear, without one another.
He didn’t ask anything more about her health.
She didn’t mention the Oscar.
They left the untouched coffee and AnnaLynn’s tears behind at the Donut Hut. Conversation was cordial now, filled with anecdotes and observations. She lauded the hum of the highway as the city woke up. Jared talked about the hike he took through Runyon Canyon yesterday. He walked three miles before realizing the stench following him was bird shit on his sweatshirt. She identified the acrylic equivalent to the vibrant colors of the morning glories they walked beside. Nothing too earth moving, just comfortable. Space filling. Safe.
The sun was rising when they reached her gate on Babcock Avenue. A Spanish style villa. Stark white. Black accents. Nothing had changed. She had a beautiful home. Jared wasn’t quite sure what he was expecting. She was always neat on the outside. It’s her insides that are a mess.
“I don’t bother with the main house anymore.” she said nonchalantly. “The studio space has always been big enough.”
“Why don’t you get rid of this place?” he asked as he latched the gate behind them.
“Memories.” she said over her shoulder.
They climbed the stairs that hung behind her garage to the large loft-style attic he knew as well as his own home. An admirable window framed the sunrise. Jared wandered around her space appreciating the canvases hung on high, the ones stacked down low. Looking for his old favorites. Feeling warm inside when he couldn’t find one. There’s a story there – a sale or insanity, who knows – but a story nonetheless. Jared loved AnnaLynn’s stories. He stepped over paint splatters and drop cloths to check out a few new cityscapes. Realism. Abstract. Fauvism. Impressionistic. She was mutli-talented. No style left unexplored.
This room was his home away from home. It still smelled the same. Like creativity and promise. A mattress lay on the floor in a far corner. That was new. The blankets were in a tangled heap, that wasn’t new. AnnaLynn was no domestic goddess. Take out containers, a dozen diet coke cans, water glasses, balled up napkins, pill bottles, newspapers, magazines, ashtrays, candles and on and on surrounded the mattress. It looked as terrifying as inviting.
Spot lights, extension cords, materials and canvases marked her work space. Candles marked where she’d collapse. Her studio could be a Hollywood set. Chaotic by design. A potters wheel, a kiln, a spin art machine, a loom … no artistic medium left unexplored.
“Jared?” she called to him as she watched him survey the landscape. He turned to her. A sketchbook in his hand. His blue eyes bright with the emotions of yesteryear. “You can’t stay.”
His tongue swelled in his throat causing his jaw to drop open. “I – I – ” he stuttered. He hadn’t thought that far ahead consciously, but his subconscious had already moved back in. “I’m not staying. I … was just walking you home.” he asserted.
“We both know what that means Jare. Don’t play dumb.”
“I wasn’t thinking about staying.”
“Then why are your eyes on fire?”
“I was admiring your work.”
“Were you now?” She tossed a few things around on her work bench until she unearthed a pack of cigarettes, she rummaged deeper and found a book of matches. “I know you hate this” she said as she lit up her cigarette, “but you’re not staying anyway.”
He looked at the floor and then out at the sunrise. “It’s like time stopped in here. It’s a little disconcerting.”
“Same four walls but everything else is different. I mean everything else. Every. Thing.” she exhaled a plume of smoke and crossed her arms over her chest. The cigarette hung from her rubbery hand.
“You never wonder?”
“No. Jared. I don’t.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“You – don’t have to!” AnnaLynn recapped a few jars of paint. Tossed a few brushes in to a pile. Ashed her cigarette. Sniffed a solo cup to identify the contents: hide glue. And ignored Jared.
Jared came to her side and helped upend a few glass jars that contained all sorts of random crap. Buttons. Popsicle sticks. String. And asked softly “What happened earlier tonight?”
“None of your business.” she declared and she tossed the cheesecloth she was holding on top of the workbench and walked away from him.
He followed her.
“Why can’t you tell me what happened tonight?”
“I told you. I needed a cup of coffee.”
His eyes wandered to the wooden Coca-Cola crate she used to store her acrylic paints. That box held a memory too. Felt like it was just yesterday that they fished that wood crate out of someone’s trash in Los Feliz. They picked up a Garfield coffee mug too. She had paint stirrers stored in that cup since neither of them drink coffee. Jared could feel the sensation of sanding the edges of the crate. Sharp then dusty edges. Light work to avoid splinters she would have inevitably picked up when she grabbed for a tube of Alizarin Crimson. He was always taking care of her in some way. They left the Coca-Cola logo in tact on the sides of the crate for the sake of nostalgia. He missed that crate.
“Don’t you dare groan at me Jared Leto!” AnnaLynn started talking with her hands again. Flicking ashes off of her cigarette in to the air. “You were traipsing along Ventura at the exact fucking moment I was so don’t go saddling up your high horse and riding all over me. Again. Alright? Because I’m not in the mood for old ghosts tonight. O’Kay? I’m not. Fuck you for coming back here.”
Jared trotted back from memory lane and reprimanded AnnaLynn for her curt tone. “I’m just asking about what happened because I care. I want to help…I mean if I can help…”
“You care? That’s fucking rich.”
“You have every right to be mad at me. I spent all of last year pretending that I don’t but three steps in to this room again and I’m right back where we left off AnnaLynn.” His tried to slip his hands around her waist so he could pull her in to him.
“You’re fucking crazy!” she said as she pushed him away from her. “Crazy!”
She pointed to the exit and said no more. Her chest was sinking in and she was going to collapse. But she kept her head high. A few moments later, he let himself out with a sigh and a good slam of the studio door.
Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!
Here we go again.
Stuck! Stuck! Stuck!
– – – – – – – – –
AnnaLynn sat at a picnic table outside of the Panda Kitchen, eating peppercorn shrimp with a plastic fork. Her fingers were covered in paint as usual and there was a blop of purple on her shoulder. The half-pint of Chinese she was picking at was deplorable but she was starving after a long session of painting. She picked at the veggies and hunted for more shrimp in vain.
“These seats taken?” two men dressed for construction work asked as they planted their dirty asses on the bench across from her. She didn’t hear them. She was lost in her thoughts. One of the construction workers shook his head at her and heaved more than a mouthful of lo mein in to his gullet. The other emptied a bottle of water down his throat. They shared a look between them that spoke volumes about AnnaLynn’s attractiveness. Even covered in paint.
Lunch might have been subpar but the canvas AnnaLynn had been working on back at the studio was enchanting. Colorful and whimsical pop art. She was pleased with herself and her vision. The painting reminded her of an idilic childhood. Pinwheels and playgrounds. AnnaLynn didn’t wonder why her art moved out of the black and white and back in to color. She knew why.
AnnaLynn was wearing a loose white tank top, burnt orange harem pants and gold sandals. Her dirty blond hair was pulled away from her face by a paint splattered colorful bandana. The sun gave AnnaLynn’s skin a healthy glow. She looked very pretty. Fresh faced and admirable. The construction workers kept eyeing her up. She was unaware they were even there.
A mariachi band could have sat beside her and played La Cucaracha and she’d be nonplussed. AnnaLynn’s green eyes were focused on the hillside across the road. The other patrons at her table and all around her were ghosts. She didn’t see anyone come or anyone go. Her attention was up the hill at the spot where Jared’s house stood before one curve and after another. She knew Jared’s neighborhood as well as he knew hers.
After finishing her shitty shrimp snack, AnnaLynn debated a stroll up hill; but she quickly shook that thought out of her head. AnnaLynn didn’t want to act crazy ever again, let alone think crazy. She took a sip of her water to wash away thoughts of wandering by her old lover’s home, knowing that that would be really crazy. Really really crazy!
Jared’s reappearance in AnnaLynn’s life, and more recently her art, made her more mawkish than she was comfortable with. It was true that she is over him. Well, the idea of him at least. Seeing him in the flesh shook up her resolve. Made her meander back down memory lane. It was a lovely stroll until the first pothole. After that, the road was impassable. But being over someone isn’t really the end of anything. It sounds like it, but it’s not. You can, as she is quickly realizing, be right back to where you started in the blink of an eye. Or in their case, over a cup of coffee.
Jared was a good man. Good to AnnaLynn. It was easy to admit that truth. But Jared was also a drama-hound. He fed off her like a vampire on baby flesh. Drank from her disease until he was drunk with inspiration. He was enamored with her and promised her a forever that was palatable but his version of love came with this need to fix. Correct. Make perfect. And AnnaLynn was so far from perfect it was almost comical. So forever came with a burden. A burden too heavy for her to kept afloat. So they sank. To the bottom – rock bottom. Every time they tried.
AnnaLynn had no aspirations for perfection. No need to be fixed. She was accepting of her lot just as she was, warts and all. But not Jared. He wanted her in therapy, taking pills … numb. They argued over her health constantly. Jared thinking he had the upper hand in the relationship somehow because he hadn’t been diagnosed with a mental illness. She thought that was just a matter of time.
AnnaLynn fantasized about bringing Jared in to her group session and having them dissect him to death like they’ve done her for years. But that didn’t happen. At least not the way she had hoped it would. He ended up in her group therapy alright, but that’s another story for another time. She played his game for a while. He got her a psychologist. She took pills. Soared in sanity. Plummeted in creativity.
The further away from her art wellness took her, the more absent Jared became. When they were in the throws of her mania he was by her side feeding off her ride but if she went inside the main house to sleep because the pills he counted out for her forced her eyes shut, he would creep back up his hill and sing in his own studio all night instead of crawling in to bed beside her. He wrote albums. Hit singles. And she couldn’t even create a child-like sketch. Her existence was a still-life painting hanging on the wall in her shrink’s office. Muted and easily over looked.
As AnnaLynn tossed the remains of her lunch in the trash she felt a hand palm her right butt cheek and smelled the flesh of a working man in the air around her.
“What makes you think you can grab me like that?” she asked as she turned around to face the faceless man.
“You’re awfully stuck up.” he declared.
“And you know that how exactly?”
“I asked you a question and you ignored me.”
“What? When?” AnnaLynn was embarrassed. She had no idea what he was referring to.
“You crazy or something?” he asked then.
“Fuck off.” she grumbled at the faceless ghost before turning to walk herself home across the parking lot and up the Boulevard.
“Fuck you too! Hippie!” she heard called after her.
She almost laughed in retort, as if a man with no boundaries calling her a Hippie were an insult. Hippie. Freedom. That’s what she thrived on. Purity. Nature. Independence. The offensive blue collar bastard reminded AnnaLynn of Jared. Control freak. Bossman. Attention whore. Bringing Jared back in to the fold would disrupt AnnaLynn’s new world order and yield demonstrative dispensation she wasn’t prepared to face. There was no room for more doctors or worse, more pills in her life. Even if she did miss Jared terribly, she didn’t miss the strings attached to him for a second. And he came with lots and lots of strings.
– – – – – – – – — – – –
Jared thought about her all night. The next day. The day after that. Last night. This morning. Five minutes ago. She was back. Inside his brain like an infection. There hadn’t been any fight left in him after they parted last year. But here he was pondering going back in to battle, trying to develop a plan. He had already lost her once. Reentry hadn’t gone smooth. He knew he had to be careful but he was ready to dive head first in to the shallow end if that is what it took. He needed his girl back. No matter what the cost.
After a long and near freezing shower, Jared sat down on his bed in his towel and thought about it all. The tears. The pain. The hospitals. He reminded himself of the nights where he was sure death was imminent. The nights when he wasn’t sure which one of them the grim reaper was chasing. He took himself back to the fear. When he had to let himself in her house with his key because she didn’t answer the phone, nor the door. And the moments before he found her in the studio, hands covered in clay, potter’s wheel between her legs. The moment after when she’d yell at him for the intrusion and he’d slam the door behind him when he stormed out. The names she’d call him. Worse, the way she spoke of herself. Self-deprecation to the nth degree. The nights when rocking her in his arms didn’t work. When cold baths together didn’t quell the demons. The Haldol. The shell that used to be her rocking back and forth in that chair he had by the pool. Not saying a word for days just rocking and rocking and rocking.
He felt it all again. And though his stomach was churning, his heart was aflutter. Because in the middle of the tears were the talks. After the cold baths there was the best sex he had ever had. The type of sex that made him believe that ‘love making’ was an actual thing. Between the injections and therapy sessions there was art. Glorious, experimental, transcendental art. And that made it all worth it. Who she was inside in spite of it all made it all worth it for him.
Jared slipped his legs inside his drop crotch pants and threw on a torn t-shirt that had the Impure Thoughts logo on the front. A friend’s company. He had five of the same battered-so-it-looks-aged-and-tattered tops. He turned towards his bathroom to grab his hairbrush and stopped in front of his desk.
In the right drawer, beside post-it notes and a collection of pens was a red-leather ring box from Cartier. He hadn’t looked at it since the day she left in on the stairs outside her studio without warning. Her key to his place inside the box along with a note that simply said Don’t come up. And he defied her and he climbed the stairs and he banged on the door and then he kicked it in and he found her there, in the bathtub three-shades past drunk and bleeding. Bleeding from every vein it seemed but later he learned just her wrists. And he called 911 and they came with the gurney and a white sheet that quickly became red and he swore by the time they arrived she was emptied of life drop by drop. But she survived. Stitched then well drugged for 9 days when the county dropped her back out on the street no head’s up. No phone calls. She just went home with a free sample and a prescription she probably never filled.
Jared placed his hand on the wood above the drawer. He could sense the ring beneath his hand. Like a beacon. He didn’t dare open the drawer to gaze at it. At this rate he was apt to hop in his truck, race over there and slip it back on her finger where it belonged.
– – – – – – – – – – – – –
Jared parked the Jeep he borrowed from Jamie at the curb beside AnnaLynn’s garage. A light was on in her studio and he could see her shadows cast across the walls as she moved around up there. He was pleased she was awake and, of course, not surprised at all. It was just past 4am. Tuesday. And he was here on this day, at this crazy hour, to start again.
On the passenger seat beside him sat his black backpack. He double checked the contents after shutting off the Jeep. Inside he had packed two new cameras; a Nikon D3200 for her; a Canon Rebel T4i for him. Novice-grade kit lenses for both. Backup batteries. Memory cards. A small tripod. Water bottles. A trail map. Two power bars. Red Grapes. A little cash. And the kitchen sink.
The only thing missing from this photographic peace offering was his confidence. He was hardcore lacking this morning. Thankfully he was a stubborn man. Confident or not, he was most definitely determined. He wanted his girl back and he had to start somewhere. Curbside was the first step. Next up was ringing the buzzer on the gate beside the garage.
As he climbed out of the Jeep and walked the few paces to her gate, he gave himself a pep talk. He slipped his pride in to his pocket along with the keys and sent a few prayers up to heaven.
Over the last few days, Jared had wracked his brain trying to figure out exactly where to begin again with AnnaLynn. There’s no starting over from where they left off. They left off at the bottom of a cliff. The brink. A harrowing and mournful place. He needed to be on the other side of that. He just didn’t know how to get there. So he asked for advice from the people in his circle. Flowers. Candy. Jewelry. A new proposal. A trip to the Great Lakes. Their very own island. Buying her gallery space. All seemed wrong to him. AnnaLynn is complicated. A grand gesture like the ones his friends were suggesting would most likely be seen as garish to her. But a grand gesture of some sort is exactly what is required as he stands at the edge of a precipice such as theirs. He had to be very careful. Anything over-the-top or even traditional would not have the desired effect. He had to meet back up with her somewhere in the middle.
The simple advice one of his best girlfriends gave him almost a full year ago, seemed to be the only advice worth taking today. ‘Start slow and don’t say too much’ she suggested. ‘Just show up. Let her take it from there. If she wants to.’ She also told him to be willing to walk away if she doesn’t pick up the rein.
After running in to AnnaLynn on Ventura a few weeks back, he was jonesing for a taste of what used to be. Their relationship didn’t subsist because of art alone, there was love too. Unique and untamed love. He needed that again. He thought she might too. Starting at love was an impossibility so perhaps art was the answer. It was their shared passion. Their bread and butter. They’d make art today and a future tomorrow.
Jared decided that if AnnaLynn agreed, they would spend a sunrise flirting with art and nature using the cameras and equipment he brought with him in his backpack. And deep down he hoped that maybe somewhere in blush of the morning sun, they’d find one another again.
– – – – – – – – – –
AnnaLynn sang “lost … in the city of angels” slowly, in a voice no louder than a whisper.
Her voice was shaky but still pitch perfect. The song she was singing was one of Jared’s latest hit singles (of course). Her mouth and her mind and her soul were aching for him tonight. So she sang while she thought of him. Sang while her heart yearned for him. And sang while she crashed down from the fantastical heights of her latest and wickedly creative tête–à–tête with bi-polar mania.
She set her head down on the edge of the claw-foot tub she usually used to catch the drippings off of wet prints and turned on the faucet. While the water filled the tub, Jared’s lyrics tumbled gently from her lips like bunnies hopping across clouds. Downy and dulcet notes. So delicate. So quiet. AnnaLynn stood up from the tub; went across the studio to her writing desk and grabbed several of her notebooks before returning to the now filled tub. She tore page after page from her notebooks and threw them in the tub. The pages floated down from her hands and landed on the water where the ink began to bleed. AnnaLynn stripped and climbed in after them to soak in the dirty water with her words.
Inside a tub full of poems and love letters; ink bleeding in to the water all around her; AnnaLynn sang another song.
Jared’s name was at the top of each page that floated beside her. Jared … Jared … Jared.
An hour passed with AnnaLynn softly singing. Her eyes were red now. Her skin was puckered and swollen. Raw. The water was ice cold. AnnaLynn slipped under the water. Hiding beneath the poems and love letters. Eyes wide open so she could see each page floating above her. Light from the studio trickling through the soaked pages. AnnaLynn closed her eyes, held her breath and prayed for perpetual darkness to wash over her like warm water once did.
Instinct forced her back to the surface; gasping for air and grabbing a hold of the side of the tub to steady herself. It didn’t work. The weight of her words not heavy enough to keep her at the bottom, though her heart felt like a boulder on her chest.
AnnaLynn had fantasized all evening about drowning in a sea of love letters. Maybe his lyrics. His voice was so keen in her mind. The high notes. The low. His vibrato and falsetto. She was on the surface of the sun again. And she was angry. Couldn’t even kill herself proper. AnnaLynn climbed out of the tub then.
Frustrated with her survival instinct, she slapped the water sending a wave of letters to the floor. The water dripping from her body pooled on the hardwood beneath her. The letters stuck to the rich mahogany.
Her nipples were pink and erect. The tuft between her legs neat. Her curves muscular but feminine. Wet ringlets cascading down her back.
She walked back to her writing desk and rummaged around the top drawer in the nude. She located a classic black Sharpie and uncapped it to inspect it for dryness. It appeared to be new. So she took it to her flesh instead of a knife.
The words she wrote in black:
End of All Days
AnnaLynn moved quickly to the other side of the studio and threw open a closet. One of Jared’s acoustic guitars was behind a few of the canvases he was looking for the other day. The canvases he assumed she sold. She took the guitar to the center of her space and sat cross legged on the ground. It was out of tune but she plucked at it anyway. Naked and cold she picked out the notes to Save Me and sang louder this time “Hang me down … by the riverbed … with the other dead … I will sing the whole way down…” Tears poured from her eyes. Her fingernails were shorn to the quick so she played his guitar with a blue triad stamped pick. She closed her eyes, threw her head back and sang out loud “Save me … oh lord save me … save me … again.”
A moment later the buzzer from her gate rang out through the studio sending panic racing through her veins. She looked at the clock on the wall, it was nearing 5am. Who in the world would be calling at this time of the morning? This couldn’t be anything but bad news. AnnaLynn threw on her bathrobe and descended the stairs to her garden. From a hidden spot behind her gate she peeked to see who was there. Expecting a madman or maybe the police but never this ghost. No, she wasn’t expecting this ghost this night.
“It’s me.” Jared said knowing where she’d be standing. “Can I come in?”
– – – – – – – – – – –
“I can hear you breathing.” Jared giggled nervously “I – I – I need to see you … are you ok?”
“Of course I’m ok. It’s just … I was in the middle of something.” AnnaLynn confessed as they both walked on opposite sides of her privacy wall to her locked gate. Jared stood on one side dressed for a hike. She was on the other sopping wet and barefoot. Hair dripping on to ink she hid beneath her terry-cloth bathrobe. Secrets on her skin, she wasn’t sure if she should let him in. But she did. Because it was Jared. Her sweet sweet Jared. In the middle of the night. And thats what she did when he came calling for her, she let him in. In to her home. In to her life. Inside the insanity. Inside of her.
AnnaLynn unlocked her gate and told Jared she needed to get dressed before they talked. She wasn’t worried about him catching a glimpse at her in the flesh, she was worried he’d see what she had written upon that flesh. His songs turned in to a poem. His name. AnnaLynn walked across the garden to the main house and pulled her robe tightly closed around her. Jared scratched his chin. She had mentioned she was living in the studio just the other day but they weren’t heading that way. As he followed her through the garden, he wondered why.
“My favorite pants are in the dryer.” she said innocently and Jared scolded himself for looking for clues to a mystery she hadn’t been writing. Old habits die hard.
“Ah.” he followed her through the large glass doors that overlooked her salt water pool. The house was dark. Vacant. Dusty. AnnaLynn flipped on a few lights as she wound her way to the laundry room.
“Give me a minute.” she suggested as he trailed behind her.
“Oh. Right. Sorry.” Jared replied and then “I’ll just, uh, wait right here.” he said as he sat down at one of the bar stools along the island in her kitchen. The house was so dead inside. Such a contrast to the energy alive in her studio.
AnnaLynn rummaged around in the laundry room looking for clean clothes. She hadn’t done laundry in weeks. Everything she sniffed was most definitely uninhabitable.
“I must have already put them away!” she advised as she ran up the stairs in to her master.
“I want to take you somewhere … this morning … AnnaLynn.” Jared called out as he climbed the stairs behind her. “Put on some clothes you can hike in. Ok?”
“What?” she shouted back to him.
Jared stood in her doorway and admired her from behind as she slid a white t-shirt over her head and pulled on a pair of non-descript cotton panties.
“What’d you say? I didn’t hear you.”
“You’re so beautiful.” he remarked carefully.
AnnaLynn turned around slowly and Jared saw the words on her legs. His eyes widened.
“Baby?” AnnaLynn squeaked “Why do you say such crazy things?”
And his heart exploded in to a thousand pieces. She called me Baby.
“Because I’m crazy about you.” he said with a smirk as he walked towards her.
“I could sure use a sample of that crazy.” she teased.
“I can see that.” he said and he examined the writing on her skin. He lifted her t-shirt slowly and saw her poem. His name. Temporary tattoos. Temporary insanity. “What is this?” he asked.
Jared ran his thumb over each word. Touching each letter and every inch of AnnaLynn. The writing on her skin made him uncomfortable but he was reminded of something similar he did in Hurricane so he shook it off. Jared kissed his girl slowly. Sensually. Bringing home every day apart with a tight embrace. Catching up on kisses he never should have stopped giving.
They parted for a breath “How does crazy taste?” he asked.
She twirled her pointer finger around the ends of his hair and recited lines from their old playbook. “Like sex and candy.”
Jared snickered “My least favorite one-hit-wonder …forgot all about that song.”
“Shhh.” AnnaLynn interrupted Jared mid-sentence and slipped her tongue back inside his mouth. He wrapped his hands around her tiny waist, pulled her in to him again and planted a palm firmly on each one of her butt cheeks. Their bodies so close to being one. Her chest pressed in to his. His erection between them. AnnaLynn tilted her head back so he could nibble on her neck and felt moisture stain her fresh panties. Her nipples ripened, his hands roamed.
“Annie.” he moaned as he tasted her skin, nibbled her earlobe and ran his hands across her breasts. The pink of her areolas showed through the thin fabric of her t-shirt. Jared slid his hands up her shirt and cupped her breasts. A perfectly proportioned perky little handful. He brought his mouth to her breast and she steadied herself with her hands on his shoulders while he flicked his tongue across her nipple.
Jared picked AnnaLynn up in his arms and carried her to the bed where he laid her down on her back quite gently. That was the last gentle movement for a while. He tore off her panties, buried his face between her legs and tasted her pussy. Long fingers circled inside her.
She shimmied off his running pants. He was already hard but she took him in her mouth anyway. Stroking and licking. They devoured one another. Deep throat and tantric tongue. Climbing all over one another, changing positions, getting tangled in one another’s limbs from one side of the bed to the other. Moaning and gasping for air. A symphony of sexy sounds.
AnnaLynn took her mouth off Jared’s throbbing cock for a moment and slid herself on top of him.
“Baby?” she asked as she looked directly in to his blue eyes and slid her pussy down the length of his enormous cock “Fuck me?”
Jared moaned and let her ride him for a moment. Their eyes were rolled backwards beneath closed eyelids. A familiar ecstasy returned to them. They fit well together. Like PB & J. Bartholemew and Cubbins. Los Angeles and The Lakers. Frick and frack. Jared Leto and AnnaLynn Sheldon.
Jared flipped AnnaLynn over so she was on her back again. Her wet hair fanned out around her head and over the pillows. He adjusted their bodies so he was between her legs. They smiled at one another. Shared a glazed eye gaze and a deep breath. A moment later Jared spread AnnaLynn’s legs wide to get a good look at her pretty pink pussy. It looked as good as it tasted. He nearly sighed.
“You want me to fuck you?” he teased AnnaLynn.
“I want you to fuck me until I bleed.” she demanded.
Coyly he responded “Until you bleed?”
“Break me …” she commanded as she guided him back inside her.
Jared slammed his rock hard cock deep inside of AnnaLynn. His thrusts were violent and hell bent. He pulled her hair hard so he could get at her exposed neck. She moaned loudly with abject pleasure. The harder he fucked her the harder she came. Not once but twice before he pulled out and covered her belly with hearty squirts of his seed.
Beneath his spill, he saw his name again and reality smacked him hard. All the pleasure erased and replaced by old pain. His girl was sick … again. Or maybe still. He didn’t know which but he vowed this time around would be different. He had money now that he didn’t have then. She would have better than the best of the best at her disposal, he would see to that. He would fix her. Determined and rejuvenated he gave AnnaLynn a small kiss before urging her to get up and get dressed for his hike. The sun would be up soon and he was hoping they could photograph it. No rest for the wicked. No time to dwell on what comes next. They would start with a sunrise and go from there.
– – – – – – – – – – – – –
Jared and AnnaLynn photographed the mountains behind the mountains and the grass between the rocks. Dry river beds and lizards. Sweet Assylum flowers and the tracks of mysterious animals. Nature was on display for the two of them in the purest of forms. Unblemished and untouched. Powerful, grandiose and magnificent in its simplicity. She snapped hundreds of pictures of their corner of California. He several dozen of her. Jared liked photographing AnnaLynn as she photographed the world.
Jared and AnnaLynn barely spoke all day. Just gestures, smiles and finger pointing. He set the kit lens for her. She changed the battery for him. It was exactly what they needed. Calm. Re-centering. Quiet. Peaceful.
It was early afternoon when they sat down on the tailgate of Jamie’s Jeep to eat Jared’s red grapes.
“Thank you for this.” AnnaLynn smiled as she retied back her hair.
“It was a good idea. Right? I think the Nikon did better in the low light.”
AnnaLynn nodded and popped a grape in her mouth.
“I could easily get addicted to photography.”
“Yeah. Me too. If I ever figure out what I’m doing.”
Jared leaned over her and placed his black backpack on the back seat. She looked Jared up and down. Assessed his intentions. From the look in his eyes all day today, she was sure they were pure. A first step perhaps? It would be easy to let him back in. She missed him so bad.
He was good for her even when he was haunting her art and the landscapes of her mind. He wanted her healthy and she knew deep down inside, she needed someone who cared about her more than she cared about herself. To make sure she takes two pills instead of all forty. And when that day returns when a cup of black coffee can’t fix what ails her, he’ll make sure the doctor’s remember there’s a person inside that madness. A good one.
Jared loves AnnaLynn. And after the day they spent together, she finally trusts it. Not because they made love before the sun rose. Not because the wind kept blowing his opulent hair in to their picture frames so often that they spent the better part of twenty minutes trying to find a vine of some sort to tie it back and probably picked up a spiteful case of Poison Oak. Not because he picked a day like today when the sky was bluer than the bluest blues to return. She loved him because he had been there and after all that had gone on he came back. With all that is yet to happen, he came back and he brought the sunrise with him so they could start again.
To her, coming back is so much more important than having stayed. Anyone could have stayed. Its so easy to find yourself stuck. Most of us are stuck somewhere or with someone. Stuck aint shit. What is something: being unstuck, set free, whatever you wanna call it and putting on fresh fatigues and marching right back in to the war zone. That’s something. That’s brave. That’s love.
AnnaLynn put her hand on Jared’s chest and he stopped what he was doing to look at her. She slid her hand up his shirt and circled her thumb around his nipple while gazing in his eyes. It was an amazing feeling to reclaim his body like this. To touch his skin where she wanted to touch. Unwritten permission. The informality of lovers. She smiled at the thought. He was hers to touch again.
“I love you.” she declared softly.
It took a moment but only because he responded misty eyed “I love you too.”
He leaned in to her and let her hand explore his chest while he took her face in his hands. They gazed at one another and a thousand yesterdays flickered in their eyes. Jared stood up over AnnaLynn. His legs straddling hers. They kissed softly as AnnaLynn ran her hand down his stomach and across his hips. She felt his bones beneath his flesh. His muscles. Her favorite veins. She dipped her hands in to his hiking pants and slid them down slightly to free Jared’s cock. She wanted it in her throat. She wanted to take every inch. Reward him in a way that girls do for the boys they love. A blow job for a job well done.
She dropped to her knees in the dirt parking lot behind Runyon Canyon. His skin was hot in her hand. Sweaty and sticky. His cock hardened when she took the head between her lips and her stomach tied in a knot. She closed her eyes as she stroked, licked and sucked him. He leaned his forehead against the roof of the Jeep and fell away with the moment. The movement of her mouth on his body so familiar; like a language he learned long ago. She knew just how to touch him. To bring him to the point where he needed her more than he’s ever needed another woman. To that place just before you enter heaven. Purgatory but without the pain.
He fumbled with her breasts and she could taste his pre-cum. He got real close but pulled back from her before it was too late.
“I want you.” he whispered in her ear.
“Here?” she replied “Now?”
“Right here.” he groaned “Right now.”
AnnaLynn obediently stood up from the tailgate and stepped out of her shorts and panties. Jared lifted her shirt above her head and grabbed her back tightly to bring her breast to his mouth. He lifted her back on the tailgate, spread her legs and entered her. They made love for a moment. Slow and as one. Her legs wrapped around him. He deep between.
Then he wiggled her off the tailgate so she could turn around and face the Jeep standing up. He bent her over the tailgate and finished her. She was crying joyful pain as he pounded her pussy. His middle finger on her clit and his cock deep inside her.
“Oh fuck…fuck…uhh …” Jared pulled out fast and shot his load all over AnnaLynn’s ass cheeks and she sighed. They just finished making love and she already wanted more. Maybe later after a soak in her salt-water pool they’ll have a go again. She liked the sensation his cum left on her skin. Hot then quickly cooled. Viscous and stringy. She could almost taste the salty sweetness of his juices. Like nothing else. Unique to him.
Feeling him behind her again as he cleaned his mess off of her was a private pleasure she was glad she didn’t have to share with the world. Not that the world ever mattered. She was most content when she forgot he was a rock star. Pretended he wasn’t an Oscar winner. And he was just Jared. The boy with the blue eyes who tried to paint but failed miserably. The vegan who snuck nibbles of her Little Debbie Snack Cakes when he thought she wasn’t looking. The man who rubbed her back and climbed in the cold baths with her. The boy who called 911. Jared Leto was hers again and that made AnnaLynn crazy happy.