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Blue skies of 2nd chances
The smell of carnival food wafted heavily in the ocean breeze. Screams of joy coming from children on roller coasters. Colorful lights of the game booths danced on and off the new boardwalk. Bits and pieces of strangers’ conversations floated by me. Each time a person would pass, my heart would pound just a little bit faster, and I would stare for a moment too long just to make sure it wasn’t him. It wasn’t like I was hoping to run into him here, but the thought of seeing his brilliant smile, and hearing his dark, soothing voice seemed amazing to me.
It was obvious that I was distracted when my best friend barreled into my arms without warning, practically forcing me to take a few steps back. I don’t know if it was the fact that I had just had the wind knocked out of me, or the screaming of my best friend. Either way I was shaken out of my reverie, and my feet were back down on the ground.
“Hey Harper, what’s up?!” Jessica loudly screamed, hands tightly griping my shoulders.
“Same old same old. How about you?” I said, knowing that this would get her to talk nonstop. Giving me the perfect opportunity to try and get her polished fingernails out of my shoulder. Just as I had called it, she started talking. I tried to listen to majority of it, however found it impossible. Luckily for me I was a pro at pretending to listen. Throwing in a “really?!” and “wow!!” now and then.
After awhile I was able to pry her fingernails off of my shoulders. The indentation of her finger nails burning still. By this point Jessica was turning blue in the face. I swear she hadn’t taken a single breath while she talked. At some point I was going to have to put her out of her misery. Trying to drop a hint for her, I started walking down the boardwalk. And as usual she follows beside me, still talking. I couldn’t stand it anymore; I casually reached behind her and pulled the strap of her bra. I smiled in satisfaction of the elastic snapping against her back.
“What the hell was that for!” she asked in an irritated voice
“Well it got you to shut up for a second didn’t it?” I asked laughing for the first time
“Okay, but it still hurt. You know there are nice ways to tell people to shut up right?” she asked giving me a little nudge towards the side of the boardwalk.
“Not with you! You are what we like to call a special exception.” I shoot back
It’s grows quiet between me and Jessica. Maybe it’s because the shock of seeing each other after graduation hasn’t completely worn off just yet. Jessica hasn’t changed one bit. Her ivory teeth still shine when she smiles, making any movie star envious. Electric blue eyes full of life that makes people look twice at her. Blonde hair cascading down the sides of her face. And her petite frame dumps a deadly concoction of hormones into boys’ bloodstreams.
Jessica is the type of girl who boys want to date, and every girl wants to be. I can’t blame them, she is; captain of the cheerleading squad, president of the student council, and homecoming queen. Not only is she all of that, but Jessica is un-doubtfully the biggest party girl in West Falcon High school, and everyone knows it. Jessica is no stranger of getting drunk every other night. Even though she is only 18 years old, nothing stops her from getting a few drinks in. The worst part of it is like everyone else, when she gets drunk, she makes stupid choices. Luckily she has friends like me, who will wake up at insane hours of the night to come get her sorry ass. I would rather get up to a call from her, than her parents saying she’s been killed in an accident.
Jessica seems deep in thought too, as she is abstinently minded bumping into people. Her eyes in some far of distance place. Our friends like to call this Jessica’s “special” little world. She slowly seems to be coming back to planet earth. I cherish the silencee because it’s golden, but as with everything with Jessica it doesn’t last long.
“So….how are things between you and Ben?’ she speaks up.
I hesitate, being careful of the words I choose. “You know, how it is with us. One moment we are making up, and the next breaking up. Ever since we were in kindergarten it’s been like that.”
She rolls her eyes in irritation. “No, I don’t get what’s going on between the two of you. Ever since we were little you and Ben were the inseparable ones. If one was playing with Play dough than so was the other. If one was laying on the carpet for nap time than the other was right there with them. But once we grew older, I don’t know something changed between you. No one knows what “it” is though.”
“Time changed, Jessica. Time changes all of us, eventually. When we were little things were just simpler. But then when we entered Jr. High things got more complicated, more difficult. And suddenly this cute little friendship between me and Ben turned into a teenage relationship. It was all just too fast; I don’t think either of us were really ready. And then there was the whole booze and drug problem in High school. And ever since then we have never been the same.” I said walking over to the railing of the boardwalk. Bending over the side in anguish, I never wanted to bring these feelings up again. But there they are floating on top of the wind for everyone to hear.
Again Jessica was right there by my side, I knew this only because of the strong scent of Bath and Body Works’ Sweet Pea lotion. “Look Harper, I know that I can never understand the things you went through when Ben started shooting up with cocaine. I just hope you remember that in some ways I do. I saw what it did to you. But like you said before, time tends to change people. Even people like Ben.” She says throwing a small plastic cup into the ocean. “How long has it been since you actually talked to him?” she asks.
I watch the cup being pulled out from the shoreline, further, and further it drifts away. “I think the last time was when we were arguing about his rehab. That was more than three weeks ago. There is no possible way he can be better now than he was then. Trust me I know this from personal experience.”
I say looking up at the sky, hoping that an answer would just fall like a shooting star. “Jessica, I wish things between me and Ben could work out. Sometimes there are answers to all the problems in the world, than other times none. And this just so happens to be one of those times. If Ben hadn’t turned into a drunk and hooked on drugs, maybe it would be easier to forgive him. But Jessica that’s something I can’t do right now.” Whispering. I pause a moment to let everything sink in. I laugh at myself in frustration. “You know when we first started dating Ben told me I would have all of his love forever. But he was wrong, he found something that even kicks me to curb when it comes to his love.” I mumble under my breath. I move away from her, ashamed of my pathetic situation. I start to cry, tears rushing down my cheeks, falling into the ocean. I’m quick to wipe a few away and turn back to her. Pretending everything is okay.
“Come here.” She says arms wide open a tiny smile on her face. I smile and walk towards her. Wrap my arms around her tightly. Even though she can be a little obnoxious and gets drunk all the time. It’s nice to have a friend like her for these moments. After a few more tears and hanging onto her I let go, and step back.
“I know you are upset with Ben right now. But he is really making an effort to change. The night you guys go into a fight about his rehab he called me. He asked me to come with him to the rehab center. So I took him. When I met him at Get’N Go he looked like a dog that had been kicked too many times. He knew what he was going into. And I think even after that feeling had worn of, he was surprised that you weren’t in the car with me. For awhile he just stood there frozen, in some ways I think it hurt him not to see you one last time before he left. It took a lot of coaxing from me to get him into the car. Then the whole way there Ben never said a word. And then when we got to the rehab center, his hand stayed frozen on the door handle. Ben told me to tell you that he’s sorry for everything, Again.” Jessica added
“So are you going to call him? Because two weeks ago he got kicked out of the program.” She said giving me a little nudge, a cheesy smile on her face
“I don’t know, maybe.” I said still looking out at the ocean.
“Damn it Ben what’s the matter with you! Cut through the route, avoid the tackle and catch the ball. Get you head in the game, don’t think about the other guy down the field. Just worry about beating him to the ball!” Coach Farr yelled across the field.
“I hate that man, I hate football period.” I mumbled to myself as I jogged back to the line of scrimmage
“Red 49, red 49, set, hut!” The quarter back yells.
I’m off the line of scrimmage before anyone else. I have a good lead on the ball. I count my steps; and turn sharply waiting for Cooper to throw the ball. Only to be frozen like a deer in headlights and tackled. #56 knocks the wind out of me before thrusting me into the frozen ground. Something pops and it isn’t the collision of the pads either. When the whistle blows # 56 jumps off of me unhurt and runs back to the huddle. I’m not surprised he’s three times the size of me. I lay there a couple of seconds writhing in pain. Knowing I have to get up before coach comes over and chews me out again. I slowly stand up something’s wrong with my shoulder.
“Dislocated.” I groan to myself in pain. I take a deep breath and pop it back in, biting through my mouth guard. This time I walk back to the huddle, trying to forget about the pain in my shoulder. Coach is striding out on the field, right for me that stupid scowl on his face.
“Ben, what the hell was that?! If this was a real game you would have just given up an easy touchdown for the other team! God you’re turning as useless as your father!” he screamed smacking me up alongside the helmet.
Trying to keep my cool, “Coach it was an honest mistake. I’ll get it right next time.”
“Damn right you will. If you drop the ball one more time you are doing reps until I say stop. You understand me! Catch the ball and run for a few yards. Even if you have no one on you, do not run for a touchdown.” He says spiting black chew out from the corner of his mouth. Shoving me back into the huddle he mumbles something that I don’t catch. But I bet it’s something along the lines of how lousy of a football player I am.
“What I wouldn’t give to knock the snot out of coach.” I say fixing my mouth guard
“Take it easy Ben.” Cooper says slapping me on the back.
“Man, shut up and give me the ball.” I snap back lining up with everyone else.
Cooper ignores me “Falcon 2, falcon 2, set hut!” It’s a play designed just for me.
I’m late getting off the line, but make up for it when I see my gap and accelerate through it. This time I out run #56, and cut through mid-field. Just as I look over my shoulder the ball is floating endlessly in the air. I take a deep breath, eyes still on the ball and stick my hands out. I know that I caught it when I hear my teammates yell in excitement, even though its only practice. So I keep on running all the way to the end zone. “Touchdown Ben Thomas!” I think in my head. I take a deep breath to steady the adrenaline and pain that’s pumping through my body. Coach is standing on the sidelines, a smirk on his face as he stares at me. I nod back, the same cold gesture, practice is over he can’t touch me. I don’t have to look at the man for another 24 hours.
“That’s it for today boys, practice again tomorrow at 3 P.M.” coach says still staring at me. I start to walk off the field trying to put as much distance as I could between me and him, but it’s impossible. Coach is matching me step for step on the sidelines. He still has this sinister grin on his face like he has some type of surprise for me. Something tells me it’s one of coach’s secret punishments. I don’t know why the football players still call them secrets. We all know about them, at some point we’ve all been a victim of coach’s anger. He immediately cuts me off as soon as my feet hit the track which surrounds the football field.
“You need something coach?” I ask haughtily taking my helmet off.
He leans up against the chain linked fence “I’m just wondering why you ran in for a touchdown today when I told you not to.” He asks pulling off his baseball cap. Random tuffs of hair shooting out everywhere.
“I was just finishing strong for the day coach.” I say pulling my jersey off feeling the light breeze on my skin
He squints at me in frustration moving a little closer “So that’s what it was, huh?”
“Yeah.” I say taking a step back, keeping eye contact with him. I know what’s coming so I brace myself for a fight, hands balled up into fists.
Coach keeps slinking towards me; inch by inch he’s that much closer to me. And all I can do is stand my ground, someone has to put an end to this, why not me. I’m not going to put up, and shut up just for him. I’m not going to sit by and watch the affects of his anger and drinking problems be taken out on my football team. He may be my football coach but he isn’t my dad, he doesn’t know who I am, the hell I’ve been through.
“That’s a load of s*** if I’ve heard one. You knew damn well what you were supposed to do. You blatantly went against me, just for a few moments of recognition from your teammates. And look where it’s gotten you. You want to be a show off, fine go ahead and do it somewhere else. But you will not do it on my field. So since you made a fool out of me in front of the team and the coaches guess what, you now have 350 reps to do for me, you have two days to finish them. I’ll make a football player out of you yet, hell by the time I’m done with you. You just might be a better than you’re waste of talent father.” Coach sneers, spiting a wad of chew on my cleats. “What do you have to say about that, Ben?” he slaps me hard on the face. We stare at each other for a little while longer, before Coach losses his nerve and begins to walk away laughing to himself. It takes every living piece of me to not go after the man and beat him into a coma.
“Hey coach.” I yell at him, running up from behind. He spins around; he too must be waiting for a fist fight to break out between the two of us. I wonder if he wants it as bad as I do, to turn him into the victim this time. I don’t even care if I get suspended for it, at least I will have my revenge.
“Just so you know, I won’t be doing any of those reps. I quit” I say throwing my equipment at his feet
“So that’s it, you are just going to quit because the big bad coach is being too hard on you, huh?” he says looking down at the equipment.
“Yeah I am.” I shoot back walking down the hill I’ve beat him at his own game.
“You are just like your old man. A waste of talent.” He yells down too me. It’s this that gets me to turn around and walk back up the hill to where Coach Farr stands.
My hands clenched into rock hard fists, the muscles in my arms locked up tightly.
“No I’m really not, you want to know why?” I ask. Before he gets the chance to even sputter out the question I swing at him and my fist connects with his jaw. And just for everything he has put me and my ex-teammates through I throw in a lower punch to his stomach. He double’s over and drops to the ground in defeat. I stand over him watching as he gasps for air.
“That’s why.” I say and walk away for the last time
After punching coach in the face I go and take a nice cold shower. Silence engulfs the darkness of the locker room I’m the only here. I stand in the shower, thinking about the fight with coach, not feeling guilty about anything. “He got what he deserved.” I say water dripping off of my face. After the shower I throw on a pair of khaki shorts and walk across the hall to the training room. I take a good look at my shoulder. It has swollen up to the size of a basketball, and bruised as black as a raven. I decide to wrap it and swallow four viccodin, even though the recommend dose is only two. I know what I’m doing is wrong, but the urge to have viccodin in my system is so great that it’s hard to resist so I grab another handful and shove them into my jean pocket. I’ve been addicted to viccodin ever since I broke four of my ribs during a JV football game. Coach slipped me some viccodin during halftime in the training room, there was instant relief, and after that I ran out to the field with everyone else ready to play, ready for my revenge.
I throw the jar back onto the shelf, leap over the table, and quietly close the door of the training room when I hear the locker room door squeak open; “could it be coach. Maybe it’s another player.” I think to myself. I stand in the hallways holding my breath, listing for a voice. But there’s nothing so I sneak out to take a look. It’s the last person I expect to see in the locker room my boy Jay. He has a pair of baggy jeans that hang low on him like always, and a white cropped muscle T-shirt that is one size to small. He still has the small diamond stub in his ear from a couple of weeks ago. His golden blonde hair flattened underneath his worn out Twins baseball cap. And his latest addition, a freshly lit cigarette hanging out of his mouth
“Haven’t you taken up enough of my time today?” he asks blowing a ring of smoke out
“What’s the big rush? You have a hot date tonight?” I ask jokingly throwing on an old T-shirt from my locker and shoving the rest of my things into a duffle bag.
“Yes, for your information I do have a hot date tonight. And so do you Now can we please get out of here!” he whines walking out of the locker room letting the door slam behind him. I look around the locker room remembering all the good and bad times, knowing that when I walk out the door, a part of me is going to die. I take a deep breath, hit the light switch and walk out of the locker room for the last time , leaving no regret.
“So how did you know that I was still here?” as we walk
Jay laughs to himself “I’ve been your best friend since first grade. It wasn’t hard to figure out that you would be sitting in the locker room going through every single problem you have had for the day. And by the way I saw you punch Coach Farr up on the hill.” He says motioning with his eyes, a smirk of victory on his face. “So how did it feel punching Coach in the face?” he asks all too excited.
I stare at the top of the hill, the sun just beginning to set. “Damn good.” I say laughing giving him a knuckle touch. “So how about you, you doing okay” I ask throwing my bag into the back of my old beaten up truck.
“I’m good now.” He says kicking his shoes through the dirt.
“Are you sure?” I ask suspiciously getting into the cab of the truck.
He gets mad “Yeah I’m sure, now enough with this gushy talk. We have dates tonight; meet at Rack’s Bar around 11:00 PM. Don’t be late!” he yells as he revs up his mustang and speeds out of the parking lot onto the highway.
After weaving in and out of the smaller groups of people Jessica and I had made it to the opposite end of the boardwalk, only to see why the park was becoming so deserted. A raging storm of black and blue was beginning to brew above the ocean and coming straight for us. As bad as I wanted to leave before the storm hit, Jessica gave me every reason in the world not to.
“Jessica seriously let’s gets out of here. I don’t want to end up looking like a drowned rat tonight at Rack’s Bar!” I say grabbing her by the arm and pulling towards the parking lot. But she stands as still as a concert statue.
“No, just wait a few more seconds they said to meet them here. They promised they would be here on time, they are late. I swear men are worse than women when it comes to being on time!” She unknowingly blurts out.
I spin on my heel and smile crossing my arms, typical Jessica can’t keep a secret if her life depended on it. “Who’s supposed to be here?” I ask scrunching my eyebrows together.
She smiles sheepishly “Well…” but before she can answer I spot the only two people I know standing in a small area of the boardwalk that is bare. Scott and Nick are standing side by side, arms full of stuffed animals that they must have won at the game booths. I catch their attention by jumping up and down and waving; they notice and give me acknowledgment by giving a quick typical guy nod. Jessica is still scanning over the few people that remain on the boardwalk.
“Is that who you were talking about?” I jerk my head in their direction.
She stands on her tiptoes to look past my head. Her face turns red in embarrassment as soon as she sees them. “Yep.” She says rolling her eyes, walking towards them.
“You guys are jerks I said to meet us over there.” She says pointing in where we had previously been standing.
Scott laughs dropping the stuffed animals at Nicks feet “Sorry we were having too much fun watching the two of you.” He leans in to give Jessica a kiss on the cheek, but is rejected badly when she turns away.
“Oh come on Jessica, it was just a joke. But if you would like I can make it up to you.” He whispers slowly slipping his hand down the small of her back.
Jessica squeals like a little pig “Scott, we are so not doing this here!” but in a way that makes me think that at some point of the night they are going to run off together.
“Well then how about we get out of here and go someplace else?” He asks, tucking her closer into him.
“What about Nick and Harper though? We just can’t leave them here. Rack’s Bar is nine blocks away. And with that storm coming we just can’t let them walk.” She says
Scott thinks for a moment. “We can take your car and Nick can take mine, that way we can have some alone time before the party tonight and they can do whatever they want. That fine with you Nick?” he asks tossing the keys to him.
Up until this moment I have forgotten that Nick is still standing there with two armfuls of stuffed animals.
“It’s okay with me if it’s okay with Harper.” He says looking at me.
“Yeah it’s okay with me.” I say zipping up my jacket and throwing my hoodie over my head
Jessica doesn’t hesitate “Great! Scott let’s get out of here!” she jumps on Scott’s back, and they head for the parking lot. Jessica turns around and yells out “Don’t forget, met at Rack’s around 10:00!” before they disappear behind a parked van.
The storm has gotten closer now, the winds have picked up, forcing a cold mist to come from the ocean. The dark blues and blacks have mixed, the clouds looking like they’re about to burst. Lighting spilts the sky in half, a rumble of thunder follows. The few groups of people that had been standing on the piere to watch the storm roll in had decided to make a run for their cars before it started to pour.
“Well if you want we can go get something to eat or if you want to do something different that’s cool too.” Nick says trying to rearrange the stuffed animals in his arms. I start to pick up the pile of stuffed animals that Scott had dropped when I hear another rumble of thunder. And just like always the rain begins to pour.
“Harper let’s get out of here!” Nick yells giving up trying to pick up the rest of the stuffed animals.
We run around the parking lot like mindless idiots for what feels like an hour looking for Scott’s new car. The rain and wind is making it impossible to see anything unless its two feet from our faces.
“Hit the panic button!” I yell to Nick spitting out water.
“I did!” Nick yells somewhere from my left.
I try and listen over the roar of wind. Somehow I hear a faint beeping noise to my right.
“This way!” I yell trying to find him.
“What way?” he says bumping into me.
“Grab my hand!” I yell pulling my hand out of my soaked hoodie. His hand wraps around mine, and it still feels the same, strong and warm just like the rest of him.
After sloshing through a couple more puddles we find Scott’s new orange and black hummer. It must be Scott’s very expensive eighteenth birthday from his parents. It still has the car dealer’s license plates and not even a scratch on it. Water is seeping into my cloth shoes, my hoodie is so wet that it feels like a hundred pound vest, my newly bought jeans are splattered with mud, and my hair is an absolute wet mess.
“Nick, hurry up!” wiping more rain from my face.
“I’m hurrying!” he yells trying to find the right key among hundreds. He finally finds the right one and opens the door to the hummer for me. Soaking wet and freezing cold I jump in and over the console into the passenger seat.
“Well this sucks.” Nick says shaking the drops of rain from his hair everywhere.
“Maybe it won’t last that long.” I say peeling off my hoodie.
“I doubt it. We could be stuck here for awhile.” He says looking out the windshield.
“I guess we should find something to talk about then.” I say pulling the visor down so I can assess how bad my hair really is. I let out a long drawn out sigh, it is as bad as I had assumed, my nicely brushed hair is now consumed by a wet blob that surrounds my face. I can’t do anything about it though since the hummer is a man’s car, which means no girl accessories what so ever. So I forget about it and flip the visor back up and look at Nick. He’s staring mindlessly out the window, the color in his face as drained away. I have a feeling where his mind is, but the question is if he knows he’s in that place right now, ever since the accident Nick has had a tendency to zone out.
“Nick?” I say gently placing my hand on his arm. But he doesn’t move he just stares into the sheet of rain. “Nick?!” I say again this time harder, prying one of his hands from the steering wheel placing it between two of mine. He jumps when I squeeze his hand, like he’s forgotten that I was sitting just inches away from him.
He looks away from the windshield down to our intertwined hands. He laughs under his breath “Sorry, I was just thinking about something.” He says looking back out the windshield.
“What were you thinking about?” I ask wriggling out of my wet shoes.
“It’s nothing.” He says looking at me, but his eyes tell another story. I just wish I could get him to talk to someone, and that someone might as well be me because we have practically grown up together.
“Nick, I know what it is, just tell me.” I say looking at him.
“It’s not that simple.” He says running his free hand through his black hair.
“Nick, you and I have grown up together our entire lives. There’s nothing in the world that you can’t tell me. “I say squeezing his hand harder.
He looks up at me one last time with his deep brown eyes, and tucks a strand of hair behind my ear.
“You’re wrong.” he whispers.
After I left school I headed home to get ready for the party at Rack’s, my mom and Don were out doing some late Christmas shopping and probably hitting some local bars along the way, and Cassi should still be in school for another hour so that meant that I would have the house to myself for awhile. Usually I park my old beaten up truck alongside the curb but today I pull it into our three car garage. I close the garage door, let the truck keep on running and crack the windows just a bit so I can get a wift of the gas. I shove my hand into my jean pocket and dig out two more viccodin pills, pop them in my mouth and sallow them. I know at any point and time I could die from overdoes, or the inflation of the fumes. The thought of death being as simple as this seems nice to me at times. To just close my eyes and never wake up again is like an easy way out. I lean back and close my eyes focusing on the grinding of the engine.
“Stop Ben, think of Cassi.” My eyes dart open and I jerk up in my seat. I look around the garage, but I’m still alone. The voice is familiar, but there is no possible way it could be him, my older brother had died more than three years ago in a school shooting. I have an outer-body experience and let my mind wander back to March 12th, 2009.
I was only fifth teen at the time and Cassi was only eight, so I would like to say that it didn’t affect her as much as it did me, but you would be surprised at the things children know about the world at the age of eight. I was sprawled out on the bathroom floor sick as a dog with the flu, while Ethan got Cassi ready for school. More often than not I would hear Cassi complain about how her head band didn’t match her outfit, or how she liked it when I dressed her more. I was so weak that I couldn’t even bring myself to stand up with the support of the sink. Every time I moved it was shear agony and I was more than likely to find myself more nauseated than a drunk with a hangover. Before they left Ethan poked his head in one last time, slipping his jacket on.
“How you doing?” he asks setting a glass of water down by my face.
“Awful.” I mumble into the bathroom rug.
“I’ll call you on my lunch period to check on you.” He says looking at himself in the mirror.
“Come on Ethan I don’t want to miss my first recess! “ Cassi yells from the opposite end of the house.
Ethan laughs “I better get going, wouldn’t want to be the cause of Cassi missing her recess. I’ll see you later.” He says lightly slapping me on the back.
“Okay.” I say looking up at him.
March 12th, 2009 was the last time I saw my brother.
From what people have told me my brother died saving twenty people including four teachers. The memorial service took three days to properly commemorate each individual. My family sat in the back row of the church those days along with countless others in a confused mist that settled over the town of West River. Looking at my mother, stepfather, father, and my little sister who was nestled in between my arms it hit me that this was the first time in years that we had all been together in five years. Considering the circumstances though I felt no great need to jump up and down with joy. The only reason why we were being decent to one another was because my brother was dead. Not because it was someone’s birth day, or because someone had graduated, it was because my brother was dead.
“Ben?!” Cassi whispers lightly shaking my shoulders.
I take a deep breath, blink a couple of times, and look at Cassi. “It was just a dream.” I mumble to myself leaning against the steering wheel. I’m still in the garage, and more shocking my truck is no longer running. “It was just a dream.” I mumble again looking at Cassi.
“What was your dream about?” Cassi asks opening the door of my truck and hopping in with me.
“Nothing, just about Ethan.” I say stretching my stiff arms and legs.
“Oh …” she says playing with the seatbelt. “I miss him.”
“I do too squirt.” I say climbing out of the truck and offering to help her out. But she waits for me to put my arms down before she jumps out.
“So what are we going to do tonight?” she asks picking her Bratz doll.
“We’ll as soon as mom and Don get home I am going to a party. You can stay here and color or something.” I say scrunching my eyebrows together.
“What do you want for a snack?” I ask digging through the freezer.
“PIZZA! PIZZA!” she squeals jumping up and down. I should have known pizza has always been Cassi’s favorite food.
“Okay, okay settle down.” I yell over her opening the door to the house.
After I stick the pizza in the oven, I let our dog Spink out, check my email, and spend extra time picking out my clothes for the party tonight. When the timer goes off I call Cassi, and check the time. 5:30, Mom and Don are running late “probably already hitting the local bar.” I think to myself, I’m half tempted to send Mom a nasty text when the door bell rings. I jump down the flight of stairs open the door and am greeted with the usual ring of smoke that accompanies Jay.
“You are never going to believe this man, Vicky and her friend bailed on us for tonight. So I thought we could get some of the guys together and still go to Rack’s Bar.” Jays says flicking his cigarette into the yard.
“Sounds good to me.” I say standing out on the porch. The air outside damp and cool because of the storm that still lingers around the town of West River.
“I thought you would say that.” Jay says allowing himself inside, just like he has done for the past ten years. He kicks his shoes off, saunters up the stairs, plops down on the couch and makes himself at home.
“Hey Uncle Jay! I’m eating pizza!” in between bites Cassi mumbled.
Jay really isn’t Cassis’ uncle, but he might as well be because he has been around her as much as I have. Ever since Jay turned twelve he has been crashing on our couch every night. For his sixteenth birthday Jay did not ask for a skateboard or a pair of roller blades, or even hard cash to blow at the mall. Instead he asked my mom and Don to legally adopt him, naturally they were hesitant at first, but after realizing that Jay needed us it didn’t take long for the paper work to be completed. Since then Jay has officially been a part of our family. After all this time I suppose finding a home like ours, no matter how screwed up I think it is, to Jay it is like winning the lottery.
“I see that kid.” He says flipping through the channels.
“Dude, let’s get out of here.” Jay says after awhile standing up from the couch.
“Can’t, mom and Don aren’t home yet. I’m on Cassi duty till they get home.” I say ruffling my hair.
“That sucks.” Jays mumbles unbuttoning his shirt.
“I can hear you Uncle Jay!” Cassi says somewhere in the kitchen.
I stifle a laugh, “I know.” I mouth silently to Jay across the room, motioning towards my room.
As soon as Jay and I sneak away into my room I unbutton my own shirt and start going through the small pile of clothes I had already picked out for the night. I hold up the shirts one by one standing in front of the mirror carefully inspecting them for perfection. Only to realize that the entire time Jay is standing in the opposite corner of the room watching me like a hawk.
“What the hell are you doing?” he asks striding across the room kicking piles of garbage out of the way.
“I’m just trying to decide what shirt to wear for tonight.” I say narrowing my choices down to three.
“Dude, who cares, we are guys we can look ridiculously good in anything!” he says ripping the shirts out of my hand
“That’s easy for you to say.” I shoot back rifling through a pile of jeans on the floor.
“Yeah, I know one of the many joys of being me. Now would you hurry up, I think the rents just pulled up in the driveway.” He says throwing one of the three shirts in my face, looking out the window.
I don’t even bother checking the shirt, trusting Jay’s decision. As soon as we are both dressed we slip out of my room and into the living room itching to get out of the house. Cassi is busying herself with the new coloring books I bought for her just a few days ago. Her face is all scrunched up in concentration focusing on staying in the bold lines.
“We’re home.” Mom’s voices carries up the stairway as the door creaks and bangs shut.
Both Jay and I jump to our feet ready to get the hell out of the house as soon as mom trots up the stairs.
“Hey guys how was your day?” mom asks slurring all the words together so it sounds like gibberish, unsteadily making her way towards Cassi in the kitchen.
“It was okay.” Jay and I answer simultaneously slipping our shoes and jackets on.
I snatch the car keys from the hook on the wall “Okay well we are going to Rack’s Bar tonight for a party don’t know when we will be back.” I say waiting for mom’s response, but she doesn’t even notice. I elbow Jay in the side and we race down the stairs out to the car before mom can register what I have told her. We bolt out the door and past Don before he can even sputter out a word. Jay gracefully slides across the hood of the car to the driver’s side waiting for me to toss him the keys.
“Tonight I’m driving!’ he says clapping his hands together
“Just make sure we get to Rack’s Bar sometime tonight alright? I’m dying for a couple of drinks, I’ve went a whole three weeks without one, and I’m ready to get wasted tonight! But that stays between you and me!” I say chucking the keys over top of the car to Jay.
Jay slams the car door behind him and cranks the stereo up so loud that the car’s body begins to vibrate. After that he revs the engine a couple of times before peeling off down the road.
“So what’s the deal with you and Harper?” Jay asks slamming on the breaks for a stop sign.
“I don’t know man. One day things are perfect the next day one little fight can is the end of the world to her.” I say rolling my window down.
“Well I say you guys should just be done for good. You deserve a girl who is going to make you happy, you know build you up all the gooey love shit.” Jay mumbles merging into the traffic.
I don’t even answer him; I’m too busy watching the other cars pass us by. The combination of rain and the classical jazz music lolls me into a lazy mid -summer day dream. I close my eyes just long enough to see her face. “I wish it was that simple.” I think to myself.
“So what are you going to do if Harper is at the bar tonight?” Jay asks pulling me back from the abyss.
“I don’t know, probably just ignore her.” I say sounding a little unsure of myself.
“Good!” he says too excitedly pumping his fist.
I spin around in my seat more than surprised by his answer. When he looks back at me I can tell by the expression on his face that he didn’t mean for it to come out that way.
“I’m just going to say it now; I never really liked Harper in the first place.” He says avoiding eye contact for a few seconds. But temptation proves too great for Jay and he glances back over to me.
“It’s alright man.” I say reassuring him. We blow through a couple more red lights and before Jay and I can find something else to talk about we pull into Rack’s bar parking lot.
“Looks like it’s going to be a full house tonight.” Jay says driving around in circles trying to find a parking spot.
“Nah, it will be fine.” I say looking through my wallet for a twenty dollar bill. Until a group of squealing girls and muscle head jocks walk past the front of Jay’s car. Any fool could see that they are already drunk; stumbling over each other splashing through the puddles of rain. They somehow make it past the bouncer and into the bar for few more drinks.
Jay opens his car door “You ready?” He asks throwing his leather jacket into the backseat.
“Yeah ready to get wasted.” I say with a twisted smile on my face opening the car door.
The tiny pitter-patter of the rain and the boisterous thunder seemed to be the only thing keeping me from loosing myself in Nick’s warm amber eyes. His face was close enough to mine that I could smell the sweet mint gum on his breath. Though my mind was racing a million thoughts per second I couldn’t understand what Nick had just said. It was like my ears had temporally been turned off, but my mind hadn’t. Nick slowly moved his hand down my face to gently caress my chin. Despite the cold weather and lack of heat in the car Nick’s hands are warm and calloused from all the years of working on his Uncle’s farm.
“You’re wrong.” He whispers again biting his lip.
“I don’t understand.” I say scooting to the furthest corner of my seat crossing my arms.
“Just stop…. Harper.” He says harshly, pulling away from me. The sudden change in his personality has startled me.
I’m growing more impatient with every drop of rain that splashes against the windows. I don’t know why I try so hard to break through the walls he has put up over the years. I suppose I feel obligated as his best friend to try and help him. Even though I won’t admit it to anyone part of me wants the old Nick back. I want the Nick who was outgoing, and loving; not the cold, unfeeling Nick that’s sitting across from me. I can’t say that I understand what he’s going through, because if it had been my little brother that had died in the car accident I don’t know how I would function everyday knowing he’s gone.
“Nick.” I whisper trying to comfort him.
“Damn it Harper quit making this harder than it is for me alright! You don’t think I want to tell you! Hell I thought a smart girl like you would have figured it out by now.” He says angrily digging through his wet jacket pocket throwing clumps of dollar bills on the floor along with a pack of gum and some old movie ticket stubs. I sit rigid in my seat, I’ve never seen this side of Nick before and it frightens me. Up until this point I never recognized the dark bags under his crazed eyes, the muscles and veins in his neck are so pronounce that I wonder what’s wrong with him.
Whatever he’s looking for he finds it and shoves it into my hand. It’s a small, old, black, dripping wet pocket book with a corner ripped off. I slowly try to peel the cover away from the pages, but Nick’s hand comes down on top of mine. “Don’t open it yet.” He says reaching up with his free hand to tuck another strand of hair behind my ear, but mid way through stops as if he thinks that it would be a bad move.
“Okay.” I whisper putting the pocket book in my bag. “Where are we going?” I ask as he starts the car.
While he whips Scott’s car out of the parking lot he replies “I thought we could go to my place for awhile.”
The idea seemed as good as any to me, I hadn’t seen Nick’s mom since the funeral and it looked like the rain wasn’t going to let up any time soon. The streets that were usually full of life were now quiet and deserted. Shops on the main street were closed down for the day, shoppers and owners alike fled from downtown to seek shelter elsewhere. And any unfortunate person to get caught in this storm would be impossible to see through the steel like sheets of rain. The car ride only took us fifteen minutes but it might as well be an eternity, because neither one of us said another word. I was just going over everything in my head that I had thought I had known about Nick. But these sudden outbursts of frustration and break downs of tears have had a severe case of whiplash on my heart.
“You ready to go in?” Nick asks when he kills the lights of the car.
“Yea.” I say grabbing my pile of wet clothes and bag. When I get out of the car I’m surprised at how cold the wind is against my bare skin. Even though my tank-drop is dry by now I still shiver, I forget about Nick and run for the front door, and the light that floods out into the yard from the window is a warm welcoming.
Ms. Hall looks over the top of her glasses when I bound in through the door. “Well hey Harper, I haven’t seen you for a long time.” She says.
“Nice to see you too, Ms. Hall” I say trying not to drip everywhere.
“Ugh… you’re soaking wet! Let me see if Maci has a pair of clothes you can borrow.” She says as she runs off down the hall.
I’m left standing there all alone; Nick’s house still looks the same as it did nineteen years ago when we were kids. The spiral staircase catches my attention as soon as I walk in, “we had some good times sliding down the banister.” I think to myself. The grandfather clock signals the top of the hour by chiming; the sound bounces off the wood floors echoing up the two levels of the house. The sweet smell of baked apple pies still floats in the air after all these years, but it’s mixed with dust something I never smelt before in this house. The walls are bare not a single picture hangs is on display for everyone to see, unusual for this family since a sense of pride in family had been the basic building blocks to which Ms. Hall had built her family on.
When I was a little kid I would come over here every Sunday, Mr. Hall and his buddies would be watching football on the flat screen in the living room, Mrs. Hall would be busy baking everything from cookies to a three tier cake, and us kids would be tiring ourselves out by chasing the dog from my end of the house to another. Those were the days before everything changed, before Mr. Hall and Mrs. Hall got a divorce, before Maci went off to college, before the car accident that killed Nick’s little brother.
“Harper, you okay?” Nick asks wrapping his arms around me.
I jump a little wriggling out of his arms “Where did you go?” I ask
He laughs “I was admiring Scott’s new car. Did I scare you?” He asks hanging his drenched jacket on one of the hooks.
“No, you didn’t scare me.” I say smugly.
“Uh sure… you want a drink?” he asks heading for the kitchen
“Yea you have Dr. Pepper?” I ask standing alone in the entry way again.
“Yep, I’ll grab one.” He yells from inside the fridge.
Ms. Hall comes back down the hall with an arm full of Maci’s old clothes.
“You and Maci seem to be the same size, so I think these will fit. Take whatever you want. ” She says pushing the clothes into my arms then walking back to her chair.
“Thanks Ms. Hall.” I say picking out a worn Nike T-shirt and a pair of grey sweatpants. After I drip dry on the welcome mat in the entry way I tiptoe across the living room through the kitchen and make my way down the hall to the bathroom. I take my time in the bathroom, assessing each piece of my ruined outfit as I peel everything off. When I have my new clothes on I try and fix my messy hair as best as I can, but give up and throw it up into a ponytail. When I’m done in the bathroom I pick up my wet clothes and put them into a garbage bag and head back to the kitchen. The hall way is just like the rest of the house cold and bare. All but one door remains open I can feel the waves up heartbreak wash over me as I reach out for the door knob.
I hesitate for a moment “Grant’s room.” I say before opening the door. I take a breath and slowly open the door, my heart beats so fast I can hear it pounding in my ears. Time stands still in his room, dust collects in the corners of the wall, his bed is still unmade, and his army of robots still stands at attention in front of his toy chest. The poster of his most idolized baseball player, Johan Santana, is beginning to peel away from the wall I walk over and smooth it out with my hand carefully. It seems just like yesterday Grant was taken from us, it’s not right and it’s not fair, yet life goes on and here I stand in his room alone. I’ve never been the emotional type, but I let a few tears fall down my face when I see the picture of him, Nick and myself at the zoo.
“Harper what are you doing in here?” Nick says
It scares me half to death and I drop the picture breaking the glass “Nick, I was just….” I mumble wiping away the tears of my sleeve before turning around. “Nick I’m sorry… I just wanted to see.” I say carefully picking up the picture frame.
“It’s done, just leave it. He says standing against the door frame.
“There’s a Dr. Pepper on the counter for you.” He says pointing his thumb over his shoulder.
I understand what that means I know that I have crossed so invisible line. He stands still as I brush past him to get into the hallway. I watch as he stands on the edge of his brother’s room looking around, I can see it in the way he drops his shoulders when he gazes around for the last time before closing the door.
Nick’s mom was standing at the end of the hallway when we round the corner from Grant’s room. Her arms are folded, a furious scowl on her face.
“Mom, what’s wrong?” Nick asks leading me back into the kitchen. He grabs the pop off the counter and tosses it to me.
I pop the lid open and look just in time to see Nick’s mom spin on her heel “What were you doing in Grant’s room?” she ask moving towards Nick.
Nick stutters “Nothing, Harper just wanted to look.” Jumping up on the counter top
“I told you to stay out of his room.” She says through clenched teeth.
Nick plays with the tab on the pop can before looking up “Mom, we have to go through Grant’s room sometime. It’s been a year since the…”
“Nick, stop it! If it wasn’t for you trying to sneak him out of the house, maybe Grant would still be here! It’s your fault he’s gone!” she screams slamming her fist down on the counter. When she sees the look on Nick’s face she knows she has gone too far. There’s an awkward silence that hangs in the air and I feel like an intruder on a private family matter.
“Nick, I didn’t …” she starts to cry as she moves towards him.
“Yes you did.” He says sliding of the counter walking past her towards his room. I stare down the hallway after him until I hear the door slam shut. I look back at Ms. Hall wondering how she could say something that cruel to her now only son.
“Harper, I’m sorry you had to see that.” Ms. Hall says now walking my way. I tense every muscle in my body afraid of what she will do now.
“How could you do something like that to him?” I mumble ripping off the tab of the pop can. I stand up from the table “You know he has had a hard enough time with the accident he doesn’t need you to add to it. Nick will have to live with the fact that his little brother died in the car accident, for the rest of this life. So I think you can cut him a little slack.” I say pulling the black pocket book that Nick had given me earlier out of my bag, waiting for Ms. Hall to say something, but she never does.
The further I walk down the hallway the louder Nick’s head banging music gets.
“Nick open up, it’s Harper.” I yell knocking on the door.
The music softens and I hear the click of the locked door before Nick stands in the doorway.
“Hey.” I whisper
“Hey” he says back pulling me into his room. His room has changed so much, the slime green and red paint splatters are now hidden beneath the coats of coffee brown paint. The walls are now overtaken by black and white pictures Nick must have taken after graduation. His Xbox and games have been replaced with piles of thick college books, clothes hang off the bars of his lofted bed. And a old pizza, and musty towel smell hangs about the room.
“Sorry the place is such a mess.” Nick says cramming clothes into the closet.
“It’s okay, life of the college student right?” I say hosting myself up onto his bed.
“Yea unfortunately.” He says cranking the window to his room open. The fresh burst of air into the room is relieving. Nick turns the music off completely and searches through the mess to find himself a chair. He looks up at me “Go ahead open it up.” He says leaning forward. I’ve forgotten about the little black pocket book that is clutched in my hands. I carefully open the worn cover not knowing what to expect. Neatly written on the inside of the cover was
Property of Nicholas Tate Hall
In hopes that one day I can show this
To the girl whom I have secretly loved from the
Shadows in which I have watched her with
Un-daunting eyes, waiting to love
Her the way she deserves to be loved
“Nick, what is this?’ I ask starting to flip through page upon page that is filled with the same neat hand writing.
“Go to October 14th.” He says not looking up.
I flip through the old wrinkled pages until I find October 14th
October 14th, 2008
If only she would see how wrong he is for her.
When I look into those eyes all I see is hurt
And sadness staring back at me. I’ve seen what
He’s done to her, but I never show how much I care.
No matter what changes I will be standing in the
Shadows loving her just the same.
My heart skips a few beats as the realization that the girl Nick is talking about is me. I slide off the bed, whether it was under my own will or the stock that numbs my body I don’t know. I slowly walk towards the window and stick my head out trying to suck in air through shallow rattling breaths. “It‘s me, the girl you are talking about.” I say out loud feeling the black pocket book slip out of my hands.
Nick slowly stands up from the chair moving towards me “Yes.” Is all he can seem to sputter out . I quickly run through the only two options I have in my head. Option one: I can just walk past Nick right out of this house and never say another word to him. Option two: I hold his hand and tell him everything will be okay, that I will leave Ben and coming running to him. It’s a no win scenario, if I just walk away from all of this right now I leave behind nineteen years of friendship, and that’s something I’m not willing to do. But I can’t leave Ben, I know what he does isn’t right, but somewhere deep down I’d like to think there is some good in him.
When the wisps of fog that has settled around me releases their grasp on me Nick is standing only inches away from me. He is staring at me with those caramel colored eyes that catch me of guard every time. Through the musty towel smell and the fresh air that clashes together I can smell the sweet peppermint gum on his breath.
“Nick….why didn’t you tell me.” I say pushing his hands away from my waist.
“I know I’m sorry.” He says throwing my arms up around his neck.
“Nick, stop.” I say sliding my arms off of his neck
“You know if you were with me I would treat you like you deserve to be treated. I would never hurt you the way he has hurt you over the years. I can love you in ways Ben never can.” He says pushing me into him. But there’s nothing threatening or malicious behind it. So I take a deep breath and relax as I let the world fade away until there is nothing left besides the two of us .
“Nick...” I whisper, but am interrupted when gives up talking to me and pulls me up in his strong arms for a kiss. Naturally I throw my arms around his neck and intertwine my fingers in his raven black hair. The room beginnings to spin, but I won’t be the first to pull away because the fire that is between us is nothing I have ever felt. For these few moments everything that has weighed on my mind just disappears and I have a feeling of weightlessness. Eventually Nick pulls away, leaving both of us gasping for air.
I fall into Nick’s strong arms, through his shirt I can hear his heart pounding against the chest. At least I’m not the only one who had a heart that was about to burst.
“Well that’s one way to get me to shut up.” I say playing with the sleeve of his T-shirt.
“Yea it was the only thing I could come up with.” He says resting his chin on the top of my head.
“Next time let’s not rush into it.” I say stretching up on my tiptoes pulling his face down to mine for another kiss.
“Sounds good to me.” He says in-between a few more kisses.
Nick slowly pulls away “We should get going to Rack’s, Jessica and Scott will be wondering where we are.” He says gently putting his hand against my face.
Like Jay had predicted Rack’s Bar was already full with muscled head jocks and flirtatious college girls. One of the few good local bands, Flunk Outs, is setting up in the corner of the bar for the night, waiters wearing caution bright orange shirts are pushing the tables as close to the walls as possible to clear the dance floor. Rack has managed to collect more sports memorabilia that covers every inch of the wall of fame. He has somehow has managed to collect more Brett Favre items than a diehard Green Bay Packers fan. After standing in the doorway for a couple more seconds I find two open seats at the bar and walk away from Jay.
“Dude…two open seats.” I yell over my shoulder. Jay starts to follow, but gets sidetracked when he sees a waitress bend over, who has way too small of shorts on. He stares at her mouth wide open while he imagines what could be if she would just turn around and look at him.
“Jay, you’re drooling man.” I say grabbing the collar to his jacket pulling him towards the bar.
“Thanks man.” He grumbles pissed off slamming his fist on the counter.
“Whatca ya going to have?” the bartender asks in a southern drawl
“Give me a Bud Light.” I say shoving a handful of peanuts in my mouth
“I’ll have the same.” Jay says flipping through the channels on the flat screen until he finds something he deems worthy of his attention.
“Yalright.” The bartender says grabbing the empty beer bottles in front of us.
A couple of minutes later the bartender comes back with our beers and another dish of peanuts.
“Y’all going to be in for a treat tonight.” He says smiling a tooth less smile.
“Why do you say that?” I ask taking a long pull off the beer bottle.
“I heard some guys tawk about it, some pretty girls awl comin down from awl university. Y’all gonna have uh fun tonight. Rack’s is my best friend; he uh… hired me to do work here. But he ugh… says I’m not allowed to look at the pretty ladies cuz I scare them. ” he says scratching the bald spot on top of his head.
“Oh okay.” I say awkwardly and focus my attention on the TV. The bartender gets the message and decides to leave me and Jay to watch the baseball game.
“What a freak.” Jay says before taking a drink.
“Yeah.” I say looking down the bar to see him talking to some more men about what was going to happen tonight.
We go through a couple through a couple of more beers before we give up watching the baseball game and head outside for a smoke. A light wind has picked up from out of the east, making this blazing summer heat just barely bearable for this time of night. It’s only 10:30p.m. , but I can feel the heat coming off of the black asphalt through my shoes. Two girls are walking straight for us; one particularly has Jay in her sights. Unlike her friend, who could stand to lose a few pounds and wears wrinkled clothes with her hair sloppily pulled back into a ponytail.
Everything about the girl who has not stopped staring at Jay screams perfection. She is slender, average height, her shoulder length brown hair flows freely around her in the light wind, and a dark natural tan from the summer. All of those things would make any man fall crazy in love, but it he wasn’t careful he would miss those bright green eyes that are accented with just a little makeup. She’s wearing a low cut pink and white Victoria Secret shirt, with a fitting short skirt that doesn’t even come past her knees.
“ Hey.” She says managing a small smile.
“Hey.” Jay says winking at her.
“My name is Kylie.” She says tossing her hair over her shoulder.
“I’m Jay and this is Ben.” He says pointing to me.
“Hi.” I say pulling my baseball cap down further. But she ignores me and grabs onto Jay’s arm.
“Well Jay I’ve had an awful long week. And I’ve been looking for someone to show me a good time.” She says pulling down her shirt a little further so that even more cleavage shows
On the inside Jay’s wild man hormones must be flooding through his bloodstream, but on the outside he puts on a calm and cool front.
He bends over to whisper in her ear “I can help you with that.”
I stand there while they become a jumbled mess of squeals and laughter right there outside the bar door.
At some point they are able to restrain themselves “How about you go in and find us a table. Give me a few with my boy.” He says holding her in his arms.
“Okay!” Kylie says and runs into the bar to find a table.
Jay turns and flicks his cigarette at me “Oh yeah I’m going to get it in tonight!” He says leaning against the building. “You’re going to be okay though right? I think Austin, and Cody were planning on coming.” He says
Being the smart ass that I am I jokingly say “What happened to bros before hoes?” I ask pushing off of the building.
“She’s not a hoe. Well maybe a little but it doesn’t matter.” He shoots back, and then starts laughing.
“You don’t even know her!” I say laughing.
“I bet you a hundred dollars that I will by the end of the night!” he says sticking out his hand.
“Yeah her bra size!” I say slapping his hand away.
He ignores me “Just another perk of being me!” he says while walking back into the bar.
I finish the rest of my cigarette and head back into the bar. Being outside I have failed to realize just how packed the bar has actually become, every single seat and table has been taken, forcing groups of people to crowd around the bar. While I search for a place to stand I see that Jay and the new girl, Kylie, are putting on a show of face sucking on top of their own little table. There are tons of hooting and hollering going on as if the people are actually enjoying these two random strangers swap spit. I follow the trail of empty beer cans and discarded peanut shells back to the bar where I order myself a round of shots.
“Ain’t you drank enough yet?” the bartender with the southern drawl and eye blinding bald spot asks.
“Just keep them coming.” I say as take my first shot. The baseball game that Jay and I had been watching is now over, with a no surprise big win. There’s hooting and hollering still going on behind me but I don’t even bother to turn around. When the next baseball game comes on I take another shot, I am assuming that it’s close to my eighth because the bartender stares up at me every once in while he is pouring me another drink. But it doesn’t bother me after being ditched by Jay and no sign of Harper I have nothing better to do than waste my night away in shots and baseball.
I’m just about to drink my tenth or twelfth shot when a big muscled hand comes down on my shoulder “Why don’t you save one of those for me.” A ruff voice says behind me.
I turn around to see the massive six foot seven inches Cody “Breaker” Long standing behind me. It looks like he’s packed on another twenty pounds, but it’s all pure muscle. He has grown a small chin beard and has trimmed it to a point. His capacious arms that make the stitching in his T-shirt bulge have had another round of tattoos added to them. I can tell he’s spent the last hour on his hair because every little spike is in its place.
“Cody what’s up man?” I say pulling my shot out of his hand
He takes a seat next to me at the bar “The usual spending endless hours in the sun for basic training.”
He orders himself a round of shots before staring out at the mass of people on the dance floor. “So where is Harper?” He asks drinking his first shot as if it were apple juice.
“She’s not here. We broke up around the time you left for training.” I say.
“Of course you did. If you and Harper were locked up in a room for a couple of hours I know who I’d bet on to come out alive.” He says pointing to a tattoo on his left arm that said “only the strong survive.” In bold words that encompassed a cross.
“Thanks for your support.” I say standing up to stretch.
“Anytime.” He answers reaching behind him for another shot.
“So when do you leave for Iraq?” I ask knowing that this night just might be the very last time we hang out.
“This Saturday.” He says looking down at the peanut-shelled ground.
Shock runs through me when I hear this. I knew Cody had signed up for the Army but I didn’t think his squad would be called up this quickly. I bite the side of my cheek “Already? You’ve only been in training for six months.”
“Yea I know, but this is my job Ben.” He says elbowing me in the side.
We stand there for awhile not saying anything. I can only imagine what must be running through Cody’s head. And I thought I had some tough shit to get through. While I’m worried about my relationship with Harper and getting wasted. Cody has to worry about going into suicidal mission over in some place strange where 99% of the population wants to kill him.
“How about we have one last hurrah, for the boys.” He says drinking another shot.
When we returned to the family living room for what I hoped would be the last time for the night, Ms. Hall was nowhere to be found. The pile of clothes she had handed to me earlier was still sitting in the same tidy pile on the sofa. The mundane song of the evening news was quietly pouring out from the TV speakers. All of the lights have managed to fight of the darkness that has crept its way through every part of the house except this impenetrable place, where once four human begins came together to become a family. Nothing is out of place that is until we go through the kitchen. Boxes of crackers, cereal, and pasta noodles are slashed through so that contents are strewn across the kitchen island. The fridge door is wide open, below it busted bottles of milk, juice, and pop create their own lakes as they spread across the tile floor.
“Nick….what happened?” I ask stunned at the mess that has overtaken the kitchen
He reaches up into one of the cupboards that has had its door replaced several times. When he pulls his hand back out he looks at me. “She found it.” He says crossing the massive lakes of liquid on the floor to the sink where he grabs a few rags.
“Found what?” I ask swiping the garbage on the counter off into the stainless steel garbage can.
“Her alcohol.” He says closing the fridge door. “HER ALCOHOL!” he yells in a fit of rage punching a hole into the wall. It all must have been a big blur of rushing emotions, because when he pulls his mutilated hand out of the wall he stares at it in horror.
“Nick!” I say, I too must have been shocked by his actions because all of my muscles are stiff from locking up so suddenly. I know that whatever surged through Nick has subsided for right now and attempt to look at his hand.
“Harper I’m sorry…….I didn’t mean to. I just lost control.” He says cradling his bloody hand against his white T-shirt.
“Shhh. It’s okay. It’s okay.” I whisper moving closer to him. “Let me see it.” I say holding his closed fist. At first he resists me, but a simple sweet kiss on the cheek seems to get him to cooperate. He unclenches his hand to reveal tiny cuts and pieces of drywall stuck to the inside of his palm and fingers by already dried blood. After cleaning and further examination and having him close and open his hand multiple times I say “Well the good news is that it doesn’t look like anything’s broken.” I say carefully tracing the lines on the inside of his injured hand. For the first time he looks at me with those deep, mud brown eyes that catch me in a dizzying spell. I’m afraid of what my feelings for him could bring. What he thinks of me, what I think of him.
While I finish cleaning up the mess in the kitchen Nick goes to wrap his hand and swap his blood splattered shirt for a clean one from the laundry room. When he gets back he dumps what alcohol his mother left down the drain and throws the bottles into the recycling bin. We leave a sink which is overflowing with dishes and a sticky floor as a present for Nick’s mom whenever she drags her drunken self home.
“Let’s get out of here.” Nick says guiding me down the stairs to the front door. Out of the corner of my eye I see Nick grab something small and shiny from the wooden hook alongside the door. He closes the door behind us and slips the key under the welcome mat.
“Just in case she decides to come home tonight.” He says digging around for the car keys. The rain has momentarily stopped but the frigid air still nips at my skin. When we pull out of the driveway we drive back up the road we had taken from the beach. But at the corner of Stonewall we take a left instead of a right and join the light flow of traffic on the main road. The shops and restaurants show signs of life with their propped open doors and welcoming lights that flood through the windows, though no restaurants seem fully occupied.
When we got to one of the only stop lights in Westdeal Nick says “Harper , I’m sorry for everything that happened back there. Seeing Grant’s room, fighting with my mom, me kissing…. ” He begins, but I cut him off guessing at what’s going to come next.
“Nick stop.” I say listing to the strumming of his fingers on the steering wheel. As we wait for what seems to be the longest light. The light turns green and we take another left onto a back road towards Rack’s Bar. Cars are parked alongside the road and even in the ditch because the parking lot is maxed out with cars and people. Nick parks Scott’s new orange hummer on the other side of the street in the abandoned factory’s parking lot under a light pole. If it was me driving I would have not chosen this spot to park Scott’s new hummer. I would have taken a chance at getting down into the ditch on the other side of the street. While the chances would have greatly increased of it getting nicks in the doors at least it would have been in somebody’s sight twenty-four-seven.
Rumor has it that when the government shut down this factory the manger refused to leave, it took seven policemen to remove him in restraints. Eventually the workers had forgotten about the factory and had found new jobs. But neighbors of the manger said after he was released from jail he shut himself up in his rundown house. Multiple of them filed complaints about the wretched smell of booze and human feces coming from the house. Others gossiped about how unkempt the lawn was, multi colored shutters barley holding onto their hinges, and the blue tarp that covered a hole on the roof that was from a previous fire. Some people were considering starting a petition for the town council to demolish the house and man once and for all.
One night a neighbor reported seeing the manger come out of his house in the dead of night. Said he thought he saw something that resembled a gun in the manger’s hand, but thought nothing of it as the man drove down the street into the night. The neighbor said he sat on his deck waiting for the manger to come back and planned to confront him about the mysterious object, but feel asleep what he assumed was sometime around 2:00 AM. The next morning he woke up to police sirens blasting down the street towards the way the manager had gone earlier.
Police found the manger lying in the middle of the factory floor with a single bullet in his head. At first the police wouldn’t rule out foul play, but after finding the suicide note in the manger’s home, and no one’s print besides his own on the gun, police ended the case stating that the manger had died by his own hand. After the cops quieted it down people starting parking their cars there while they were over at Rack’s. After a very long night of drinking they would come back to unexplainable broken windows and slashed tires. Police said it had to be a bunch of kids playing jokes, and they even installed security cameras to catch the little shits, but no one was ever caught. And there is where the rumor started, with no other explanations the people of Westdeal have been left to believe that the ghost of the manager has tormented them and ruined their cars for all these years.
“What, you scared to be on this side of the street.” Nick says resting his hand on top of mine.
“No. Are you?” I ask looking over at him.
“I’m only afraid of one thing and the stupid manger rumor is not it.” He says pulling on his baseball cap.
“What are you afraid of?” I ask shifting in my seat.
He takes a deep breath before answering me “I’m afraid of losing you.” He says kissing the top of my hand. “Now let’s get out of here, I could use I drink. And I promise I won’t let anything happen to you.” He jokingly says opening the car door.
“Wait Nick.” I say before he swings his other leg out the door. “I want to tell you something.” I say playing with the rhinestone bracelet on my wrist.
“What?” he asks closing the car door. The overhead light slowly dims out so that we become engulfed in darkness.
“You know you said before that you were sorry about kissing me. Well I’m not sorry about kissing you back.” I say moving closer to him so I can feel his hot breath on my face; breathing in the smell of sweet mint gum. He moves in closer and unlike before our lips slowly touch before we kiss for the third time tonight. Even though we are sitting in Scott’s car I manage to end up sitting in Nick’s lap, arms wrapped around his neck, fingers intertwined in his short raven black hair. I put everything I have into the kiss, and eventually lose myself.
“Okay, okay you win.” He whispers in my ear running a hand through my silk brown hair.
“I always do.” I say putting his baseball cap back on. “I think I’m ready to go in now.” I say climbing over the console, making last second adjustments to my hair. Nick jumps out of the car and walks around the front to open the door for me.
He leans against the door waiting for me “I’m not sorry for that.” He says putting his arm around my waist as we walk towards Rack’s Bar. We show the bouncer our ID’s and we make our way through the sea of people that are crowded towards the back of the bar. Nick leaves me for just a few minutes to scrounge around the bar for a free table. I stand on my tiptoes to see if I can find him in the mass of people; it’s then when I see him sitting at the bar. Ben is only ten feet away from me, but because I’m height challenged and the fact that he’s probably already wasted he doesn’t even see me. He still looks the same as he did six months ago when we were dating. He’s wearing a black and red checkered Buckle shirt with a pair of jeans which have the knees blown out.
Nick tries to yell over the crowd of people that separate us “Harper! Over here!”. I wriggle in and out of groups of people to get to him. “I got us a table. C’mon!” he yells grabbing for my hand. I willingly follow behind him like a lost puppy to what is the only open table in the opposite side of the room to the bar. But not far enough for me and Nick to still be recognized. If Ben turned his head to his right he would immediately see us. More importantly see us together.
“Hey what’s wrong?” Nick ask reaching across the table to tuck a runaway strand of hair behind my ear.
“You like doing that don’t you?” I ask holding his hand to my face.
He smiles that infamous smile that I haven’t seen in a while “Yes I do, but you didn’t answer my question. What’s wrong?”He asks sliding his hand down to my chin.
I look past him to the bar at the other end of the room where Ben is still sitting. Empty shot glasses are lined up in front of him. “He’s here.” Is all I manage to say eyes still fixated as I watch him take another shot.
“Who’s here?” Nick asks shaking his head in confusion.
“Ben is here.” I say nodding my head in Ben’s direction.
Nick slowly turns around and looks. “Great. We’ll just make sure to stay out of his way. He can do his thing and we can do ours. By the looks of it he’s already wasted.” He says picking up a handful of peanuts from the dish. Just when I begin to relax I hear Jay’s voice “Hey Ben get your ass over here!” he yells just a few tables down from us. I immediately spin in the booth to find Ben, with every heartbeat that pounds against my chest I pray that for some reason Ben won’t turn around. Moments tick by, and the music becomes a soft lulling noise that blocks out the rest of the world. For those few seconds I have tunnel vision and the only person I’m looking at is Ben. He grabs a beer from the waitress spins around in the bar chair, his eyes instantly meet with mine.
Before he disappears into the crowd I see a wicked smile spread across his face.
I was aware of the fact that I had eight beers in me, but I know that I saw Harper. I saw the panic in her eyes when I grinned at her and the distress on her face when I slipped into the crowd. It had been six months since we had broken up. And already she was with someone else?! What makes it even worse is that, that someone is Nick Hall one of my best buds. I watched them throw peanuts at each other across the table. As I make my way through the crowd towards their table every step is another surge of anger running through me.
Nick is the first one to see me, “Hey Ben, been a long time.” He says standing up to shake hands.
I look at it disgusted and pull a chair from another table up close to sit down. Staring at him through squinted eyes “Yea enough time for you to hook up with my girl.” I spat looking over at Harper who has failed to even acknowledge me.
“I’m not your girl anymore.” She says through pursed lips. Her hair has created a long brown wall between us making it impossible to see her face.
“Oh come on. It was just a little fight.” I say moving from my chair to the booth. I move in closer and closer until she’s pressed up against the wall, trapped right where I want her. “You and me, we could work this out. “What’d you say baby?” I’m beginning to slur my words together, but Harper has had months of practice at trying to figure out what I’m saying when I’m wasted. “Come on baby I got blankets in the car why don’t we get out of here and makeup.” I say grabbing her chin in-between my thumb and finger. I pull her close to me so I can bury my face in her vanilla scented hair. Before I can breathe in my first whiff she pulls away and I feel a sharp, burning sensation swelling on the side of my face. The taste of metal sweeps into my mouth, I use the back of my hand to wipe the blood away.
“I’m not your girl anymore.” She says climbing over me to Nick. He wraps his arm around her and they begin to walk away from the booth.
“No we’re not finished!” I yell unsteadily getting to my feet. I stumble after them “Get back here!’ I yell again grabbing Harper by her hair. She lets out a scream: Nick spins on his heel ready to punch me in the face.
“You touch here again I swear I will.” Nick says getting up in my face.
“You’ll what?” I ask snidely letting Harper go. “You already took her from me.” I say throwing a little bit of my beer at him.
“Ben just get the hell out of here before things get bad.” Nick says wiping away the alcohol on his face.
“Okay Nick.” I nod and begin to walk away but the stubborn jack-ass comes out in me and I decide that I haven’t been in a good bar fight for awhile. “Or we could just handle things right now.” I say throwing my beer bottle down so it shatters into a million pieces on the floor. I pull back and make a solid connection with Nick’s jaw somewhere in the follow through of the punch. All 213 lb. of Nick collapses on the ground. He slowly stands up massaging his chin breathing heavily. Seconds later I’m the one on the ground, blood flowing down the side of my face. After that it becomes a full blown out riot, we become a tangled mess of punches and groans on the floor of the bar. People have gathered around to watch the fight cheering for whoever is on top of the heap for the moment until power changes to the other person. Harper is screaming somewhere in the crowd for us to knock it off but we don’t. I have Nick pinned to the ground about to punch him when somebody pulls me off of him from behind.
“Hey! Hey!” Jay yells from behind me holding onto me by the arms as I fight to get free.
“Let me go!” I yell struggling to get free. Nick is still lying on the floor surrounded by people.
“Ben he’s had enough!” Jay says putting me in a choke hold. With the help of some people Nick gets to his feet. The area around his eyes is already starting to bruise, blood oozes from his busted lip. Pieces of glass are stuck in his hands.
“You got what you deserved you son of a bitch!” I yell across the room still in Jay’s hold. Nick and Harper are slowly making their way towards the back door. “We aren’t done! I’m coming for you Hall!” I yell. Neither of them turns to look at me but disappear out of the door. The bar is dead silent everyone in the bar has stopped to watch the fight, and now that it’s over they have nothing better to do than to gape in awe.
“What the hell are you all looking at?!” I ask as Jay pulls me out the bar’s front door. When we get outside Jay lets me go but stays close by in case I decide to go crazy again. The air has turned freezing cold, I can see the sweat steaming off of Jay’s head in the light that comes from the neon sign that hangs over the door. After taking some deep rattling breaths I realize that somewhere in the brawl I have broken my hand. It’s already starting to swell like a balloon. Though I’ve had twice the amount of alcohol in my system nothing can dull the stabbing pain radiating from my hand.
Jay lights another cigarette “Man you are messed up.” He says blowing a ring of smoke.
“Whatever man shut up.” I say spitting blood and a couple of teeth in a nearby puddle.
“I thought you said you were over Harper?” Jay asks stomping his cigarette out.
“Yeah I thought I was too, but when I saw Nick all over her. I don’t know my temper erupted and the next thing I know I’m on top of him punching him in the face. I thought I was going to kill him.” I say looking at my reflection in the puddle.
“Yea so did I.” Jay grumbles.
“I have to get out of here.” I say sticking my hand out for my keys.
Jay stares at my empty hand “But what about me? How the hell am I going to get back?” he asks riffling through his pockets for the keys.
“Ask your new girlfriend, I’m sure she would be happy to give you a ride.” I say snatching the keys out of his hand.
“Oh right.” He says nodding his head in agreement. He turns around and heads back into the bar for what I assume will be a very long night for him.
I dodge puddles and broken pieces of beer bottles walking to my car. I dig around in my pocket until my fingers wrap around another viccodin pill. “The perfect combination.” I say before taking the pill with the last swig of my beer. I get in the car and peel out of the parking lot onto the highway. I push my car to its limits as I get out of the town limits 60mphh…70mph…80mph….90mph not knowing and caring where I end up. After driving around for an hour I make my way back into the city limits. Through the next mind numbing hour I drive myself past the still open bar, down main street and park the car on the East side of the school’s football field.
I kill; the headlights to the car and sit in the silence staring out through the windshield at the quiet football field. Ever since I was a little boy I dreamed about playing on this field. I dreamed of becoming the star receiver that girls and teachers adored. I dreamed that people would drive from all over just to see me play. And one day scouts from all universities would be lined up outside my house persuading me to come with them. But most importantly at night I would lay awake and hope that I would meet that one perfect girl who would make my life complete. I take a long breath and slip my hand under my seat. My hand find a cold, metal, object that has a handle at one end and a long tube at the other.
I take a deep breath and pull the object from out under the seat; it shimmers in the moonlight as I turn it around in my hands. The deadly mixture of pills and beer has started to take a toll on me as I am now seeing double of everything. I slip the gun under my shirt against the waist band of my jeans, and grab for the letter that has been hidden behind the visor for all these months. I pop the collar of my leather jacket and step out of the car into the cold night.
As I walk towards the stadium I see that I am not the only one here because further down the parking lot sits an old beat up Camaro, to whom it belongs to I have no idea. I keep on walking towards the student entry gate which propped open with a cement block. I sneak through the grand stands to the tunnel that I have stood in so many times. Now standing in it by myself everything seems irrelevant, the yelling of the team and the sound of cleats hitting the cement ring in my ear. I run my hand across the saying that lines the right hand side of the tunnel. “Football is an honest game. It’s true to life. It’s a game about sharing. Football is a team game. So is life.” Joe Namath. I make my way out of the tunnel and walk on to the football field. Suddenly the note in my hand and the gun that rest against the waistband of my jeans seems to feel a thousand pounds of guilt about to erupt.
As I walk out to the middle of the field I imagine the stands filled with crowds of people cheering for their teams. The lights that have never failed to illuminate the night sky every Friday night. I close my eyes and I feel the adrenaline start to run through my veins. I smell the beer and the hotdogs, I feel like drops of water on the blades of grass below my feet. The crunch of gravel makes me open my eyes and I spin around looking through the darkness and the fog that has begun to settle around the football field.
“Who’s there?” I ask standing my ground. A figure emerges from the fog and I see that it is one of the grounds keepers. He has a slight gimp in his walk and is gangly. He has a long trench coat on and clinking below his tool belt that hangs from his jeans is a flashlight and ring filled with keys. He reaches down for the flashlight and turns it on pointing it directly at me. And it’s then that I realize who it is, Bert Nabor, a once all American football player.
“You have exactly three minutes to get off this field before I call the cops.” he says walking towards me flashlight held steadily on me.
“Wait! Wait!” I say trying to block the beam of light. “It’s Ben Watts you remember me don’t you? I graduated from here a year ago. I was a wide receiver on the football team and second baseman on the baseball team.”
He moves in closer and its then that I see that one side of his face droops lifeless. He stares at me for a while before putting his cell phone back in his pocket. Half of his face curves up in a smile and he sticks his hand out “I remember you kid. You were my youngest son’s hero when you played football” he says.
“Ugh thanks.” I say shaking his hand.
“So what are you doing out here? I thought you had left for college awhile back?” he says getting a firm hold on his wooden cane.
“No sir.” I say trying not to stare at his face. When I was growing up I remember watching him play on this same football field. Back then he was a150 lb soaking wet, and was one of the fastest running backs in the nation. As with all the promising athletes of his generation he went to the University of Texas and played football for a year before he was seriously injured and just like that his scholarship was yanked away and he found himself back here as a grounds keeper. Now looking at him he was still as gangly as ever but in no shape to do work that requires extensive strength.
“Well why don’t we go sit down and talk for a while. That is if you have time.” He says looking over his shoulder walking away from me.
“Yea sure.” I say dragging my feet through the grass. When his back his turned to me I stick the note into my jacket pocket and make sure the gun is hidden and secured against my waist band in my jeans.
“So why aren’t you out playing college ball for some prestigious university?” he ask slowly sitting down on the metal bench.
“It’s a long story.” I say making sure he can’t see the gun hidden underneath my jeans. “Basically after high school I got mixed up with the wrong people and I didn’t make it through the first midterm of college.
“My sorry to hear that.” He says fiddling with his gloves.
“Don’t be. I messed up my own life.” I say looking across the football field. “I had everything, I had the dream, of leaving this run down town and making something of myself, I had the perfect girlfriend who had put up with more than she should have. And then I turned into the person who I promised I would never become and it all just fell apart from there.”
“You’re young, there’s still a chance that you could go back and fix it.” Bert says.
“There’s no way I could fix everything I have done. I hoped and prayed that there would be a way that I could fix this but there simply isn’t. I stopped kidding myself about that a long time ago.” I say feeling the gun through the cloth of my jeans.
After about another hour of talking Bert looked down at his watch and announced that he should be getting home otherwise his daughter might start to worry about him.
“You want me to leave the gate open for you?” Bert asks as he unsteadily gets to his feet.
“Yea I’m going to sit here for a little longer if that’s alright.” I say standing up.
“Fine by me. Just don’t stay out here all night. And don’t beat yourself up about everything. Life is too short to let the past hold you back from your future. You still have time to find your way, and make the best of your life. Trust me kid you don’t want to end up like me, an old man who has done many people wrong and lives with regrets every day. That’s not the kind of life you want.” he says as he hobbles towards the gate.
“I’ll be pulling for you kid!” He yells as he drives past the stadium in his Camaro.
As I watched the tail lights of the Camaro disappear into the night as Bert drove off into the night driving down the yellow dotted line in the middle of the road. I started to wonder what Bert meant when he said “ Trust me kid you do want to end up like me.” His life couldn’t have been all that bad, he played football in high school and college, but I guess after his injury it all went downhill from there. I wondered if he felt like a failure when he drove back into the dump of a town for the first time. If he managed to ignore the whispers in the grocery store by the teenage cashiers and bag boys. Or if he looked right through the fifty stares that greeted him when he walked into the local bar. If the ghost of his past beckoned to him in the middle of the night just waiting to eat away at the rest of the man’s soul.
I walked back out onto the middle of the football field contemplating my decision of suicide. Sure the gun was the easiest and fastest way to end all of this, but defiantly not the cleanest. On the other hand drinking myself to death was cleaner, but could be a slow and painful death. Who knows how many drinks it would take for me to finally die. That way I would look like just another drunk who had managed to stumble all the way out here and passed out. The same was true with the pills. The gun seemed to be the right way to go.
Sometime in the early morning before the sun begins to rise, and when the cars begin to fill up the parking lot for early football practice. And the football team groggily makes their way up the hill to the field I wondered who would be the first to find me, with a note in my hand, splattered brains and all. I wondered if they would all stand around me with their freshly washed practice jerseys and helmets in hand saying they knew it would happen sooner or later. If Cooper would run for a coach knowing that it would do no good because I’d been dead long ago.
Would Jay drop to his knees knowing that only hours earlier would be the last time he would talk to me? Would even his tough exterior melt away and no longer be a man, but a boy whose best friend committed suicide on the field he loved? Most of all I wondered if Coach Farr would secretly try and hide his satisfaction of me dead. That son of a bitch would have the other coaches take the players off the field momentarily and into the locker room, while the sirens of the ambulance cried somewhere in the city. After the coast was clear he would cram his mouth full of chew, and spit the black remnants out on my sneaker before smiling and shaking his head because his pain in the ass football player was now dead. That would be his last dig into me.
And then I thought about my parents and my little sister, Cassi. I pictured a cop dressed in light brown slackers with a black line running down the middle, a similar button down shirt with a badge and the Westdeal logo surrounding it. And his brimmed hat keeping the sun out of his eyes, and his belt covered in pepper spray, stun gun, handcuffs and an actual gun. His face is gray and lifeless as he walks up the pathway trying to brace himself for delivering the information that I am dead. I see him take a deep breath before he pushes a chubby finger on the doorbell.
I see mom look through the side window before answering the door. She can tell by the look on the cop’s face that I have killed myself, she falls to her knees in a puddle of tears. My father comes to her side surprised by the sudden cries of anguish. He ushers mom out of the way enough so that the cop walk through the door and sits on the family sofa like he has done so many other times and tells my parents the bad news. My sister now thirteen comes into the room with her belly shirt, and her ass cut short shorts. Accompanied by two new tattoos on her arms, and a belly button piercing. At first when she hears the bad news dad takes her in his arms tries to comfort as best as he can, she sits statue like. But when she breathes for the first time she pulls away from dad looks at the cop and screams “YOU’RE LYING!! MY BROTHER IS ALIVE! HE’S NOT THE TYPE OF PERSON WHO WOULD KILL THEMSLEVES! HE PROMISED ME THAT HE WOULDN’T LEAVE ME, HE PROMISED!” She stops to take a breath, and then begins again “FIRST ETHAN, NOW BEN, IT’S NOT FAIR!” she runs down the hallway and slams the door to her room. The walls begin to melt into the floor, and the conversation between my parents and the cop has been put on mute. The smell of freshly baked cookies and the warmth the house provides gives away to rain and the cold bitter wind.
When I open my eyes all these things that run through my head disappear and become only figments of my imagination. Time seems to have stood still for these few moments of reminisce and I am still the only one on the football field. I look over the note one more time and decide that as far as suicide notes went it was pretty good. I pull the gun out of my waist band and listen for the clicking of the gun, ready to be fired.
A single tear slips down the side of my face giving me last evidence that I am only human. I put the gun up to my head and counted to six
“One….. I wish I could have been a better son, brother, and friend.”
“Two….. After all these years I hope I get the chance to see Ethan again.”
“Three….. I wish I would have been Harper’s knight in shining armor.”
“Four….. I wish she knew that deep down I have always loved her.”
It was a little after three in the morning, and after getting away from Ben and spilling Nick into Scott’s Hummer I drove us back to his house. Even though it was late at night or early in the morning however you want to picture it Nick’s mom was still not home. The only light can from the green and blue ceiling light that hung above the sink.
“Ouch! Damn it will you just leave it alone?!” Nick yelled swatting my hand away from his face.
“Well if you would sit still for minute I could fix it.” I said scooting my chair closer to his.
“Harper I’m fine. It’s just a little cut.” He says grabbing my hands again. What he thought was a “little” cut was actually a deep laceration above his eyebrow that oozed blood when his forehead furrowed in frustration.
“I use to be a Girl Scout, I know how to stich that right up for you.” I say digging around the first aid kit.
“Yeah how long ago was that?” He asks trying not to laugh.
“Shut up!” I say as push his head back with one hand and begin stitching. It doesn’t take me long to close it up, I take a wet table cloth and begin to dab at the dry blood on his face. “There good as new.” I say when I am done.
“Thanks.” He says as he slowly gets up. He leaves me sitting at the table and walks over to the food pantry browsing for something food. “Hey you want something to eat?” He asks grabbing a box of cereal from the top shelf and a bottle of chocolate syrup from the side rack.
“Sure.” I say watching as he grabs a medium sized mixing bowl and spoon from the dishwasher plus what’s left of the milk jug.
“There are bagels by the toaster, and maybe a few yogurts in the fridge help yourself.” Nick says sitting down at the other side of the table.
I decide to make myself a cinnamon bagel and throw it in the toaster; I boost myself up onto the counter while I wait for it to be done. The smell coming from the toaster suggests that it hasn’t been used for a while. Nick pours half the box of cereal into the mixing bowl, pours all the milk in, and adds four squirts of chocolate syrup. He looks up and asks “What?! This is how I’ve always eaten my cereal.” He says plunging his spoon into the bowl. He swallows “This is the breakfast of champions.” He says wiping his mouth on his T-shirt sleeve.
My bagel pops out of the toaster steaming hot, I spread butter on it and grab myself a glass of water taking a seat at the other end of the table. “Typical guy.” I say cutting my bagel in half looking over the top of my glasses I must have forgotten to take off after stitching Nick up.
“Well I wouldn’t say that I am a typical guy.” He says putting his empty bowl in the sink. He wraps his arm around me and buries his face in my hair. “I’m getting you to fall in love me with aren’t I?” he asks taking in a deep breathe.
I smile to myself and turn to look into those auburn color eyes that take make my heart beat faster. “Just a little.” I say pulling him closer to me so that our lips can meet for the third time that night. Every time it gets better and better, when I kiss Nick it’s like nothing exist, it’s the complete opposite than kissing Ben. I actually feel the love run through him into me, and I like it.
I don’t know how long we stayed in the kitchen, but eventually we found ourselves sitting in the living room with the lights dimmed low and the TV barely audible. Nick leaned up against the arm rest and I snuggled in between the couch and him. He wrapped his arms around me giving me a sense of security. For another hour we laid there and played the “What’s your favorite game” for some time until the headlights of Nick’s mom’s car flashed through the three paned windows.
He jumped up letting my head fall against the arm rest, raced across the room shutting all the lights off before jumping back onto the couch with me. He put his finger up to his mouth, which was the universal sign for shut the F*** up. I moved in closer to him and waited for the front door to open. Nick’s mom stumbled through the threshold sloshing beer everywhere. She stumbled past the TV and her silhouette was that of a person who looked like they had been dumpster diving and through a shredder all in the same night. Then there was some incoherent mumbling from her before she made her way down the hallway and slammed the door to her room. We waited for a few minutes to make sure that we wouldn’t be interrupted again in case we decide to try and make out on the couch.
Which we did for another hour or so before we were both so tired that we could hardly keep our eyes open. It was five in the morning and I was running on no sleep for the past two days. The warmth radiating off of Nick made me feel safe and warm. I was sure that he was asleep by now because he had started to snore and when he was asleep he looked like an American Eagle model and the boy next door.
I laid there for a while, my head on Nick’s chest rising and falling with every breath he took. Fighting the urge to fall asleep. If my mother found out that not only did I sneak out the back window, but if she knew that I was at the bar and then accidently fell asleep Nick’s house, she would for surly kill me, because I was already supposed to be grounded. I slipped the afghan off of me and laid it on Nick, I slowly got up and slipped out of his boxers, and football T-shirt which I was swimming in and exchanged them for my own clothes. I was almost out the door when he woke up. He rubbed his face a couple times then sat up the afghan still draped around him.
“Where are you going?” He asks standing up to stretch.
“I have to get going. If my mom finds out I was with you all night, she’s going to kill me.” I say digging through my beach like bag for my phone, praying to the God of all Gods that it hadn’t died over night.”
“At least let me drive you home.” He says pulling on a shirt to cover up his six pack.
“I’d like that.” I say smiling at him. He throws on a pair of cargo shorts and we walk out the door hand in hand to the car. Luckily for me my phone did not die and on the way home I shot mom a text. The car ride was not near long enough time for me to get over everything that had happened the night before. I could already see myself sitting in the driveway, kiss Nick quickly on the cheek, jump out of the car, and run inside straight up to my room, to write in my diary and explain what had happened as the best night of my existence.
The warmth of Nick’s hand brought my head out of the storm clouds that loomed over us. “I had a really good time last night.” He says brining my hand up so that he can kiss it. We come upon road construction and are forced to sit and wait, which is okay because we can spend more time together. I can’t say that I’m completely over Ben just yet, but spending time with Nick makes me wonder why the hell I’ve even wasting my time on Ben. The more I get to know Nick the more I realize, he just might be my knight in shining armor, after all these years I finally found him.
We get through construction and before I know it, we are sitting in front of my house. No cars are in the driveway and the blinds have been pulled shut for some privacy. “I’m still safe.” I think to myself. I check my phone it’s now 7:30 AM mom is for surly still sleeping since it’s the weekend and I can slip in through the back door. I go through my bag one more time to double check that I didn’t leave anything at Nick’s house and reach behind my seat for the plastic bag which contains my wet and mud splattered clothes.
My hand reaches for the door handle. “Wait.” Nick says looking at me. “I know we haven’t hung out that much and this is all going way to fast but…Harper I love you more than anything.” He says taking my face in his rough hands.
He stares back at me waiting for an answer “Nick, I love….” But am cut off when my phone vibrates crazily in my bag. “Hold on.” I say grabbing the phone out of my pocket. It’s Ben’s mom, Abby. I haven’t talked to her since the last time I broke up with Ben. She and I didn’t see exactly eye to eye when it came to Ben’s drug abuse. And quite frankly I couldn’t stand the bitch.
“Hello?” I answered in the most pleasant voice I could muster up for this time of the morning.
“Harper, Harper…there’s been an accident.” Abby says through broken up sobs.
“What do you mean?” I ask shaking my head and looking at Nick. He leans in closer to hear the conversation.
“He finally did it.” She says.
“What did he do?” I ask a little agitated, rubbing my free hand up and down my face.
“Ben killed himself last night.” She says and hangs up the phone.
It was either late at night or early morning to be honest I didn’t give a damn, all I knew was that the sun wasn’t up so I shouldn’t be either. I stared out the curtain free windows at the endless darkness that subsisted outside, trying to recall just what exactly happened last night. It was easier said than done between the pulsating headache that made it impossible to sit straight up in bed and the sensation of throwing up the acid from last night I was immobilized. Luckily for me I kept a bottle of pills in my walnut bedside table. I popped a few into my mouth and laid my head back down, rubbing my gunk covered hands up and down my face a couple times. “Hmm… what did happen last night?” I think to myself staring up at the fly covered ceiling. “Ben and I went to the bar last night had a few drinks with the guys. Oh yeah and Ben almost beat the shit out of this guy who was with Harper. How could I forget about that?’ I laugh to under my breathe before I attempt to throw the covers off me and swing my legs over the bed.
As I pull on my plaid green and blue boxers that lay crumpled in a ball at the foot of the bed I hear the bathroom door open. “That’s weird I didn’t think Nathan would be back here for another week?” I think to myself as I stick my head cautiously out the bedroom and look around for any unwanted guest that might have accidently stumbled into our tiny two bedroom- one bathroom apartment. No signs of any foreign invaders so I proceed down the grey painted wall hallway towards the bathroom still weary of what I might find around the corner? “It would be just my luck to find a bum of the streets taking a dump in my bathroom.” I think to myself before peeking into the bathroom.
Bending over a multi colored makeup bag that is perched in between the bathroom stole and the wall, is the girl, whose name I have forgotten among other things about last night. She is wearing her tank top without a bra and another pair of my solid blue boxers hangs loose on her hips. She is still busying herself over what kind of makeup would make her more presentable after her one night stand with me when she snuck out of the apartment complex in the light of day.
“Good morning.” is all I say I don’t add her name because it still eludes me.
She jumps a couple feet in the air and her cheap three dollar slippers fall of her feet. She spins in a disheveled mess and turns to face me. Her mascara from the night before is smudged all over her face creating black waves of disaster from eye to eye. Strands of her hair are glued together while some are plastered against her forehead by some unknown liquid that glimmers when the light hits it just right.
“Good morning.” She says back adjusting the boxers so that now they come past her waist and hug her small but eye pleasing love handles.
“Listen…about last night if I said or did something totally out of line I’m sorry.” I say leaning up against the door frame. “What’s your name again?” I throw in as well, I will never admit this out loud but this girl was just a good screw for the night. She wasn’t the only one night stand I have had over the past year. And by this time I should be use to the daily evening and morning routine. “Oh hey…forget to tell you that some girl, Harper I think has been text bombing you since I got up an hour ago.” She says spreading blue tooth paste across her electric toothbrush.
“What did she want?” I ask angrily heading back towards my bedroom. “She probably wants to chew me out for what Ben did to her friend, possibly boyfriend last night at Rack’s.” I think to myself scratching the top of my head.
“How the hell would I know, I don’t look through a one night stand’s phone.” She snaps back.
“So it was a one night stand for you too.” I say as I crawl over the mounds of pillows and blankets on the bed. I grab for my cell phone the red screen pops up when I run my finger across the screen. The screen reads “36 new messages from Harper T”, I am about to flip to the message screen but Kayla, or Kylie whatever the hell her name was came stomping back in after me. She had her makeup bag in one hand and her set of keys and her phone in the other.
“Well I’m going to get going, I had fun night, but like I said it was nothing more than a one night stand. That’s just how I operate, no string attached means I don’t have to get hurt later on.” She says shrugging her shoulders.
“Yeah see you around.” I say no even looking up from the phone that lies in my lap. Before I even finish my sentence I hear the whine of the front door hinges, and the engine startup of her new Mercedes in the driveway. I fall backwards on my bed closing my eyes, wondering when Ben would call me about our afternoon fishing plans. My phone buzzes on top my chest I look to see who it is before I hit the green accept call button. It’s not Ben but instead the one person I least wanted to talk to at this moment Harper.
“Hello?” I say into the phone.
“Jay, about time you answered your phone I’ve been trying to get ahold of you all morning!” Harper answers back.
“Yeah I know, Kayla, I mean Kylie hold me that you had been text bombing me nonstop.” I answer in the same tone back
“Who’s Kylie?” Harper asks, I can about imagine her face, forehead all scrunched up, eye brows drawn close together, lips twisted together.
“She’s this girl I….oh never mind what did you want?! If it’s about what happened between Ben and your friend you better talk to Ben about that. I am staying out of this. And was that guy you were with just a friend or a boyfriend?” not that it matters I add.
There is nothing but silence for a few seconds and then I hear some barely audible sniffling at the other end of the line.
“His name is Nick, and yea he is my new boyfriend. That’s not why I am calling you though. And it’s not about what happened about last night either. Well it sort of is but it’s mainly just about Ben.” She says slowly.
“Yeah well I haven’t heard anything from him yet this morning.” I say flattening the piles of blankets down so I can see my alarm clock. Red flashing 11:00 AM appears for a few seconds. “Yeah he was supposed to call an hour ago we have plans for an all guy fishing trip.”
“Jay, there is a reason why you haven’t heard anything from him.” More silence follows, she takes a deep breath. “Jay, Ben killed himself last night on the football field.” She says.
The phone slips through my hand as I sit motionless on the bed. I want to pinch myself to make sure I am actually awake and that this is not just another alcohol induced nightmare. Like a semi-truck barreling out of control on the interstate it all hits me at once that Harper isn’t joking around about this. I bend over and put the back up to my ear.
“Where are you?” I ask softly.
“I am on my way to Ben’s house, everyone is meeting there.” Harper says in between another exasperated breath. “You should come over.”
“I don’t know, maybe. Do any of the boys know about….Ben” I sputter up putting my head in my hands.
“No not yet I was just going to call some of them.” She says.
“No, I’ll do. They need to hear it from me.” I say looking at the picture of me and Ben that sits across the room on top of my entertainment center staring back at me.
I’m glad that Harper didn’t ask me to do anything stupid, reckless or something I was going to regret, because I can’t promise that at the exact moment. After talking to Harper on the phone I head directly to the glass liquor cabinet. I grabbed a couple fake crystal shot glasses from the top shelf, lined them up on the built into the wall bar/table, and start pouring the liquor into the small glasses until they over flow. “1…2…3…4…5” I count as I drink and pour another round for myself. After another round, okay maybe another 2, I throw a couple of blankets over the windows to block out the mid afternoon sun and plop on to the couch.
“It would have been five years of sobriety tomorrow and I blew it.” I say to the barren apartment. My addiction to drinking started when I was thirteen; I suppose I came by it because of genetics. My old man had a drinking problem, not to mention he beat on my mom and me like we were human sized punching bags. Though I didn’t inherit the aggression and abuse that I withstood over my childhood. It was so easy to grab a bottle of Captain Morgan and head up to my room; I spent many nights drinking my problems away. I must have passed out after turning on Pandora radio, because by the time I woke up the sun outside had momentarily stopped trying to creep in to the apartment through the tiny portion of the window that the blanket did not cover. My phone rested on my chest rising and falling with the even breaths I took. Moments later it again started buzzing, and again it was Harper.
“Jay where are you?” She asks
“I’m atttttt…..home” I answer back slurring my words together
“Jay, you need to come over here. Don’t start drinking again, you’re better than that. Come over here be with us.” She pleads muffled voices and blubbering can be heard in the background.
“Damn it Harper just leave me alone, let me handle Ben committing…..suicide on my own! If drinking eases the pain then that’s just what I am going to do, and I don’t give a F*** what anyone thinks or says about it.” I yell through the phone trying to get up from the couch.
“Jay….just come over please.” Harper pleads on the other end
“No Harper! What happens if I come over? Are you going to hold me close and tell me it’s okay. That even though my best friend blew his brains out on the football field somehow we will be okay?!” I end the conversation by hitting the red END button.
After talking to Harper I wander back to the bathroom to take an ice cold shower. Wandering around the house in nothing but a tattered towel I look for a pair of non-ripped jeans and a T-shirt that could pass as being clean. After going through the motions of brushing my teeth and using blobs of hair gel to create short spikes atop my head , I pull my phone back out and search through the contact list. “Who to call first? Word should get out sooner or later that the town’s star running back killed himself last night.” I think to myself as find the one person I have been looking for.
“Hello?” the person on the other end answers groggily
“Cooper, it’s Jay, umm listen…..Ben killed himself last night…on the football field.” I say letting each word sink in. There is no response from the other end.
“Yea I heard.” Cooper says half way through a yawn.
“Harper called me and said that a bunch of people are meeting at his house.” I say grabbing a pair of shoes by the front door.
“Yeah I know that too. I told the other guys on the team too. You know I figured being the quarter back/ captain it was kind of my responsibility to let them know what was up.” Cooper answers.
I don’t answer, as I rip one of the blankets off the front window and stare out at the colorless world that lay outside my front door. Suddenly it was like everything that I had ever known was ripped away from me. My best friend killed himself just hours ago, I didn’t even have time to tell the guys, and now I’m back to being an alcoholic. It’s funny how the world can go from being all lovey dovey and peace signs to a world that is nothing but total shit.
Cooper asks “Jay are you still there?”
“Yeah.” I say as I grab my keys and head out the door towards my car parked on the nonexistent city street.
“Are you going over to Ben’s house?” Cooper questions
“Might as well I see no getting around it.” I say as I wait for the line of traffic to pass so I can open the driver’s door.
“Listen…I didn’t mean anything by telling the guys what happened. I know you and Ben were tight, but I we all lost a team member, a brother. And you know that this isn’t your fault right? ” His voice fades away.
“Shut Up man this is all my fault. I was the last one to see him. I was the one who gave him his keys at Rack’s bar! And don’t you dare tell me how you are going through the same thing right now because you aren’t! I yell hammering the steering wheel with my fist.
“Just remember we are all a team.” Cooper says.
“I don’t want to talk about this right now man. You know I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve; I’m not into all that emotional shit. I’ll just see you at Ben’s house in 15min.” I say and hang up.
It didn’t take long for Ben’s parent’s house to fill up quickly with high school football players, and preppy girls that thought they knew him. Other family friends some more recognizable than others were in attendance too. Even though Ben’s funeral and the reception that follows wasn’t for another couple of days Ben’s parents went ahead and order fancy finger sandwiches, potato salad, snow flake cookies, and apple cider. I watched as the man in the white jacket with black buttons stood behind the table of food and greeted people with “Hi, this was Ben’s favorite food.” The people that didn’t know Ben just nodded in agreement but those who did stared at the man and said nothing. The people who knew Ben knew that this wasn’t the stuff Ben liked and that more likely than not Ben’s parents ordered this food to make themselves and their dead son look good. They probably even paid the man in the white jacket under the table an extra hundred dollars to add the bullshitted greeting.
In some ways I blame Ben’s parents Jaclyn and Ted for bitterly divorcing shortly after the death of Ben’s older brother. Not to mention the resentment each other had for the other person when they each started their own new families. Ted eventually remarried and had the family that Jaclyn always dreamed of but never could have seeing as she would never remarry. Now seeing them back together at Jaclyn’s house it’s somewhat disgusting, they are all pretending to get along but not for the right reasons. I thought they would have had practice at pretending to get along when their first son died, but as always I guess I was wrong. I sometimes lose sight of the human ability to hold on to grudges for a long time. Now poor Cassi is the only child that still keeps Ted and Jaclyn somewhat in each other lives. I wonder would happen god forbid if Cassi ever died. I would willingly bet a thousand dollars that the two would lose all contact with each other and become complete strangers to each other.
I make my way around the table with the overpaid man who is standing behind it and through the tiny the tiny hall that was once bare is now plastered with pictures of Ben giving the illusion that they have always been there. The kitchen was a little less crammed with bodies; I grabbed a can of Pepsi from the fridge and join the usual group of Ben and my friends outside on the back patio. The air outside is a relief that is well welcomed to everyone that is sitting outside on the cheap patio furniture.
“What’s up Harper?” Tab asks before he takes a hit off of his cigarette.
“Nothing…much.” I say back lowering myself into a chair next to Cameron
“How’s it going in there?” Cameron asks throwing his finely muscled arm over the back of my chair.
I laugh under my breathe in anger “I’m so sick and tired of his parents being in the same room faking trying to get along. I hate that all those preppy girls are in there sitting on the couch bawling their eyes out because they think they knew Ben. If anyone deserves to be upset it should be us.” I say making a small circular motion with my hand encompassing my small group of friends.
Cameron gets up crouches down in front of me “Harper we are all sick of this bullshit. And you are right the only people that should be heartbroken about this is us. That’s why we are all sitting out here, so stay here with us remember the good times. And don’t you dare think for one moment that this is your fault. Yours and Ben’s relationship wasn’t healthy it wasn’t meant for it to work out.” Cameron says as he wipes away the tears that begin to cascade from my eyes.
“Some of us are headed down to the pier after this. You and Nick should come with.” Shayla running her fingers through her hair.
“Damn it Shayla why did you have to bring that whole thing up?” Cameron asks
“What’s wrong Harper has a right to come to the pier with us too.” Shayla remarks
“Not that part you dumb blonde! The other part!” Cameron shoots back
“Oh yeah….I forgot sorry, I’m such an idiot.” Shayla says smacking herself in the forehead.
“You got that right.” Tab says stamping out the remainder of his cigarette
I laugh along with my four other friends. “Yeah well I have a feeling that Nick won’t be coming around here for a while.” I say looking back over my shoulder at the still less occupied kitchen.
“Why not? You two make a cute couple.” Shayla says wiggling her eyebrows when the words “cute” slips through her lips.
“God Shayla you really are as dumb as you look.” Tad adds another snide remark.
“Can’t you see that this is an extremely horrible and awkward situation for Harper to be in right now?!” Liz says slapping Shayla in the arm. “Obviously Harper feels guilty about breaking up with Ben now that he’s killed himself. And confused about falling in love with Nick because she isn’t totally ready to be in a relationship right now. But at the same time Nick isn’t going anywhere so she feels bad about leading him on when she herself can’t tell if she is coming or going.” Liz says in one long exasperated sentence. She’s always good at saying it how it is.
“Thanks, Liz for laying my life tragedy out there for everyone.” I say zipping up my jacket and shoving my hands into my pockets.
“Anytime girl.” She says back throwing her flip flopped feet up on the glass table.
“That wasn’t exactly a compliment.” I say.
“And you say I’m bad at the stuff.” Shayla says standing up to walk inside
“Just so everybody knows, me and Nick are just starting to date. Do I feel bad about what happened between me and Ben, absolutely. Will I let what happened between me and Ben hold me back?” I pause looking around at all my friends who wait for me to answer my own question. “I don’t know.” I say more to myself than my friends.
I stand up and head back into the kitchen, and the person I least expected to show up shuffles out of the hallway, and almost runs into the table because he keeps his head hung low. He doesn’t see me right away as he makes is way towards the large multi-picture frame hung upon the all. He stands off to the side admiring each and every one of the outdated pictures of Ben with his friends and family. There’s one particular one that I catch him starting at for a moment longer than all the others. The one with Jay and Ben in the russet colored autumn leaves in their black and gold pee-wee jerseys, each has a ball tucked snuggly in the crook of their arms while they stand side, grins as big as Texas spread across their faces.
I quietly shut the sliding glass door behind me; Jay still hasn’t realized that he’s not the only one in the kitchen. “Jay.” I say startling him and he moves toward the fridge as if that was his intended destination.
“Yeah, what Harper.” He says as he pokes his head in the controlled ice chilled fridge and back out as if he didn’t find what he was looking for.
“I’m just surprised that you are here.” I say sitting on one of the bar stools.
“I told you I was coming didn’t I?” He snaps back.
“Yeah you did.” Was all I could say.
“Yeah well I’m only here to be seen and not heard.” Jay says leaning up against the light brown colored wall.
“That’s not fair.” I say getting off the stool.
“What the hell do you want me to say Harper that even though my best friend killed himself I’m okay?!” He yells across the small space.
“No…” I whisper ringing my hands by my side
“Then what do you want?! Harper I’m not good at this stuff. The only thing that this has proven is that what I’ve thought all along. The only ones who can hurt you are the ones in your heart.” Jay says as he turns his back towards the hallway.
I chase him back down the hallway and through the larger crowds of people that have crammed into the small sized living room and down the flight of stairs until he comes to the front door. He grabs his leather jacket from the hook and jumps down the three front steps. I’m still hot on his heels, I know that he doesn’t like me, and I can’t stand him but considering the circumstances I feel obligated to help Jay out.
“Are you going to make a habit of this?” He asks as we make our way down the long and curved driveway onto the deserted street.
“I might if you keep ignoring me like this.” I say darting in between parked cars.
“Well it’s going to be a damn long night for you then.” He says unlocks his car, and sits in the driver’s seat.
“Damn it Jay would you just tell me what’s going on in that stupid tiny head of yours!” I yell leaning up against the side of the car. He ignores me for a while until he pulls a cigarette out of his jacket side pocket and squinting into the sunset as if he is thinking real hard about his answer. But still no answer.
“Jay whether you like it or not, because of Ben we will be in each other’s lives.” I say playing with the class ring on my finger.
“Yeah I know, it’s just that I’m playing a lot of stupid mind games with myself right now. You know the coulda, woulda, and shoulda game. Just tell me when the funeral is and I’ll be there.” Jays says picking at the cover on the steering wheel.
“I heard Ben’s parents said this Thursday at 10 AM at Saint George Church, the one just west of here. We can give you a ride if you need one.” I say kicking a pebble with my foot.
“We?” he asks looking up at me
“Me and Nick are going together, but if you need a ride we’ll pick you up.” I say
“Nah, that’s okay I’ll figure something out. Don’t you think it will be kind of weird going to your ex-boyfriend’s funeral with your new boyfriend?” he asks again.
“I’ve got to try and move on Jay.” I say pulling the ends of my tattered sleeves.
“But can you truly move on?” He asks a rain his eyebrows coming together with a faint hit of a smile playing on his lips. I pull away from the side of the car as he sticks the key into the ignition and pulls both feet in and straps his seatbelt over him.
I don’t answer because I don’t even know myself, deep down I hope I can move on, but right now I can’t even see past the end of today.
A raven black Pontiac slowly meanders its way down the middle of the road until it parallel parks only a few feet away from me and Jay. Its un-tinted windows do a poor job of protecting the identity of its driver as he is clearly visible to the both of us. Our suspicions of who it is , is only confirmed more when Nick steps out of the car in a black NIKE shirt and a pair of khaki shorts, and what seems to be a new pair of orange rimmed sun glasses.
Jay flicks his stub of a cigarette into the street drain storm “You better get going your boyfriend is waiting.” Jay says closing the door of his car, and peels off down the street.
Though some would say that it was not my place to be standing outside the house of one of my old buddies, who had recently killed himself, whose ex-girlfriend I just so happened to be dating, I wasn’t there for anyone besides Harper. I watched as Jay took off down the street, ignoring the red octagon that sat upon a metal post, and shot around the corner. I leaned up against the black Pontiac or “The Creen” as I called it simply because it sounded cool, and every guy needed a name for his car. I watched Harper stare off down the street at her past that was slowly fading away, taking with it what I hoped was the memories of Ben. I whistled a couple versus of “Lonely” out loud to get her attention, trying to pull her mind out of the gutter and back to me. I could feel the stares of Ben’s mourners flying out through the clear panned glass windows, searing their judgmental thoughts into my back as Harper came closer to me with every step.
“Hey beautiful….how you doing today?” I asked as I placed my sunglasses on the steaming hot hood of “The Creen”.
“Please don’t say that…..I am not beautiful today.” Harper said as she sauntered past me to find a patch of luscious green grass alongside the curb to sit on.
“I’m not sorry for saying it, Harper you are beautiful every day.” I whispered as I lowered myself close to her on the curb, imaging that “this” would give the “audience” inside with their noses pushed up against the glass something to really talk about. “How are you doing today?” I asked again stroking her shoulder.
“How am I doing? How am I doing?” she said staring at me with tears welling up in her eyes. “ Everything has be horrible since this the sun rose this morning, from my parents lack of emotional support, to the pre funereal get together here, to Ben’s parents trying to avoid me at every turn in the house, and now Jay took off and if my luck keeps going the way it is, he’ll probably kill himself too.” She says as she begins to sob into my shoulder.
I didn’t care what the onlookers in the house said, I gently picked Harper up in my arms and placed her in my lap. Rocking slowly in the grass as I tried to sooth her in the best way I knew. At times when Harper had to adjust to the swaying motion I’d catch the Bath and Body Works products tangled in her hair and the lotion soaked into her skin. The sun had begun to go down around the suburbs, a picture perfect moment to be holding the girl of my dreams if only it was under different circumstances. “Harper…look at me.” I gently muffled into her hair as she still hung to my T-shirt. I caressed soft chin in my too rough of hand, swiping away the tears with my calloused thumb. “I promise eventually this will all just become a memory, eventually the gaping hole in your heart will become a dull scar, and you will move on from this.” I said looking back at those bloodshot eyes that belonged to the girl who I had loved since first grade.
“ Yeah but Nick, you don’t understand, what if I’m the reason why Ben killed himself. But now I guess we never will know why, because Ben is dead and he didn’t leave behind one single clue as to why!’ She pounded her fist into the semi-soft grass. “It’s my fault!” she screamed into her hands. “ I should just kill myself too, that way everyone could feel like it was a tragic accident that involved love and ended in death.” Wiping her nose on she Macy’s jacket.
If the audience thought what they had just witnessed they were even for an even bigger surprise. “That’s a sick joke, you are joking right?” I asked taking her hands in mine. She shook her head side to side without making eye contact. “No damn it, Harper don’t ever say that! Please don’t say that!” I said grabbing the back of her neck and gently pulling her closer to me so our heads met in the middle. “ I don’t know what I would do without you, you’re like the better half of me, without you I’d cease to exist , I’d die without you. Please don’t leave me, now that we are finally together.” I said brushing her lipped glossed lips with mine.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it, I’m just you know upset.” She said before locking lips with me, while the world melted away into watercolors, and pain became love.
“Just promise me that you will always be with me.” I gasped in between kisses as I tried to restrain myself from going any further.
“I promise.” She said as she sealed it with one last kiss, one arm wrapped around my neck and the other creeping down the inside of my leg.
After our brief make out session that both satisfied Harper and me we stood up as we watched the last few moments of the sunset turn from a fiery, raging red eventually to a deep purple before we headed for the house to face the audience that had attentively watched everything from the window.
“You ready to go in?” she ask as I swung my arm over her.
“It will be fine, we just need to be there for an hour or so and then we can leave. Plus we have all night to forget about all of this afterwards, my mom went out again so I have the house to myself.” before entering the house that held a million knives sharp stares. After the few moments of glares and listing to the floorboards creek under people’s weight we made our way up the stairs where nothing seemed to be better.
Ben’s parents as well as two other strangers whom I had never met were standing next to a closet where I’m sure there was a loaded gun, ready to blow me apart. Three older people moved as we made our way towards the couch, where we sat board back while the glares and whispers continued.
However the silence that chilled the air molecules didn’t last long because, after even more people had migrated to other parts of the house. Only Ben’s mother and father, Harper and I occupied the living room. I decided to break the awkward silence “Listen I…we are sorry for your loss, we can’t imagine what it must be like for you to have to burry you child.”
Only Ben’s mother moved away from the wall and towards us. “Get out of my house.” Her words cut cold and harsh right through us.
“Yes Ma’am.” I looked at Harper and she nodded her head in agreement, it was if Ben’s mother had read our minds, we intended to leave just like that, and without another word or glance back we left the house and drove off into the night.
Dodging several bottomless pot holes West Camey had to offer if driven right into unknowingly could bottom out even the nicest of cars. It was hard not to glimpse at half of Harper’s face that was bathed in sudden burst of the overhead street lights. She stared through the passenger window as we passed family after perfect family out for a nightly stroll through the neighborhood. I wonder what it must be like to have one boyfriend dead and the other only inches away driving his car to his house. We came to a stoplight with its middle circle flashing a dull yellow. I slowed to a stop and looked both ways even though the road that ran East and West occupied no vehicles. After checking the review mirror I put “The Creen” in park and waited for Harper to say something, anything would be better than nothing right now.
“You know…I use to dream when I was a little girl of the perfect life I was going to have when I grew older. I just didn’t imagine this.” She mumbled as she unbuckled her seatbelt and turned towards me. “ I use to dream of becoming a teacher, because I loved kids and for me it was never about the money, but about making a difference. Then one day I’d find my knight in shining armor, he’d sweep me off my feet and we live happily ever after. Our house would be deep brown with this great big entrance and the inside even greater. Soon our lives would revolve around the children we had, I’d drive a Soccer mom’s car during the weekends to games, football scrimmages, and ballet performances. I’d have it all; I’d use to dream it would come true.” she spoke looking past me out to the rows and rows of corn that lay beyond the highway.
“Things can change in an instant.” I say moving into her line of vision.
She replied “Yeah I guess they can.” We were still the only vehicle at the stoplight. “You know the color of this stoplight is always a sure thing, the world could come to an end and yet the first light will always be green, the second yellow, and the third red. It’s one thing that people can count on to remain the same. We sat quietly watching the lights change from green, yellow, and to red, only to repeat the pattern again.
She laughed under her breath before resting her hand on top of mine “You know even though my life hasn’t turned out exactly the way I wanted….”
“Harper not to be an insensitive asshole or anything, but we have already been through this. You promised me that you would stay with me.” I said loosing myself in her eyes.
“You didn’t let me finish.” She said gently placing her hand on the side of my face. “Even if parts of my dream don’t fall into place…..you are my knight in shining armor and I want to be with you. So here it goes, Nick I love you…and I promise to never leave you.” She said crawling over the center console into my lap, as I became statute hard clearing the cobwebs out my head to process everything. “Nick are you okay?” she asked shifting between the leather covered steering wheel and me.
“You have no idea how long I have waited for to you say that.” Tucking a piece of misdirected strand of hair behind her double pierced ear, I whisper.
“I love you too.” I say running my hand down the side of her face migrating south toward the lower part of her body, all the while looking to see if she was okay with the progression of our relationship.
“I’m glad you feel the same, cause I would have felt stupid if you didn’t.” she giggled while unbuttoning part of her black and white dress shirt. I watched as more of her body became visible, trying to keep the drool from pouring out of my mouth. The four shirt buttons didn’t pose much of a problem for Harper as she moved down to the buttons of her slacks.
She fumbled with the buttons of my dirt filled and ripped jeans, but I had to stop her, it wasn’t right to be doing this, not only because it was in the car, but because our relationship didn’t need to move this fast. We have plenty of time for that aspect of our relationship. “Harper...not here…stop trying to take my clothes off.”
“What’s the matter?” she asked stopping hesitantly.
“It’s just that I wanted our first time doing this to be special, I didn’t picture this happening in the front of my car.” I said handing her shirt back to her.
“Oh okay?” she said slipping into the shirt, buttoning her slacks and sliding back over to her own seat.
“Believe me I want to, but just not like this.” I said kissing the top of her hand.
“You are completely right; I just got so caught up in the moment I guess. Your right though our first time should be special, and if we are meant to be together we will have plenty of time.” She said a smile spreading across her face. “Can we still go to your house though? It’s still early and I don’t feel like going back to my house.” She said strapping her seatbelt across her.
It didn’t take us long to cut through downtown and back up High View road to reach our final destination of the night, my house. Its familiar lights again flooded the lawn, the driveway again vacant as always. We slipped silently out of the car and through the breaks of light in the front yard, though it was evident that my mother had went out on the “all bars, all night” spree again. We found the kitchen to still be in tacked and everything neatly in its place from a couple of nights before. My mother must have grabbed her one decent coat and left with her pack of girlfriends, forgetting about her one alive son. I was used to it by now as surely anyone else would be.
“So what do you want to do now?” I asked plopping down in the brown leathered Lazy Boy.
“A shower and a movie sound nice. Don’t you think?” She questions twirling her hair.
“That sounds good to me, I’ll grab you a towel.” I say lifting myself out of the chair, brushing past her down the hallway. I know she’s following me by the sound of socked feet stepping lightly in the hallway. It there is one thing that I have loved since the day we have moved into our house, it’s the master bathroom which just so happens to be located right off of my room. There are two perfectly square windows located on either side of the sink where a person can look past the rolling hills out into no man’s land. The floor is tiled with a deep marble that shines just right when the overhead lights turn on, reviling the reflection of one’s true self. The glass windows that enclose the shower are wiped clean of all finger smudges and seems almost as nonexistent as the proof of human existence in this very house. There is an enormous tub that is so big that for a moment I want to ask Harper if she would care for company the in the bubbly water.
“You should have everything you need; I’ll just be in my room.” I say grabbing for the door handle
“Wait….I didn’t say you had to leave.” Harper says dropping her clothes to the floor. I node my head and began to peel away the layers of clothes from my body. I’m down to the very last item that hangs on my body; I look at her “You sure you want to do this?” I ask ringing my hands around the waistband.
“I’m sure.” She says crawling into the bathtub; I let my boxers fall at the very last second before enfolding into the pear scented soapy water. “Is this a little more special?” she whispers laying her head against my bare chest that heaves with every breath I take.
“Yea.” Is the only thing that I allow myself to stutter out. The truth is all guys in the high school would envy me if I let this slip in the hallways. I never would though, I should relish in the moment, in the fact that I have one of the hottest girl in the bathtub, but I don’t, I just want it to be me and her, nothing else.
Her body fits perfectly with mine, like puzzle pieces that slide easily together. Her body moves through the bubbles and glides over me for what seems like a marvelous eternity, becoming part of each other feels just what I always thought it would be, it just feels right. We stay intertwined with each other until the bubbles disappear and our skin becomes wrinkled like a prune.
We wrap towel around ourselves and head for my room where I throw on a ragged baseball T-shirt and a pair of boxer while I look for “decent” clothes for Harper as she air dries on the floor watching as scour through the cluttered drawers. “The only thing I have is T-shirts and boxers; I don’t secretly dress as a drag queen during my free time.” I say with a chuckle.
“I don’t mind boxers and a T-shirt.” Harper says unraveling the towel around her.
I grab a Penn State T-shirt and pair of green checkered boxers and walk towards her as she rises from the floor with her arms held above her head. I slip the T-shirt slowly over her making sure to let my fingers tips brush against her. I hold the boxers out as she steps into them making sure her damp strands of hair fall into my face.
“Let’s skip the movie tonight.” She says after moving away from me and pulling back the few blankets and flannel sheets of my king sized bed.
I node and crawl into the bed next to her as if I had done it so many times before. She snuggles her way into the crook of my arm where we lay for hours and talk, amongst other things. Harper fell asleep shortly after that. I spent most of the night replaying everything that happened in the last few days in my mind. The last thing I thought of was Harper, at 3:00 AM I fell asleep with a smile on my face.
I woke up to the morning sun breaking through the semi-closed blinds of the window. I took a deep couple of breaths as I tossed and turned on my side of the bed. The covers had been kicked to the bottom of the bed and the sheets were torn from their respected end corners. I turned away from the streams of sunshine to find Nick still asleep next to me with his lips hinting at a smile. His arm acting like a cradle for me, so rock hard and subtle yet warm and welcoming during those few morning hours. I laid there for what seemed like all day thinking about everything, being in love with Ben, fighting with Ben, Ben killing himself, and then falling in love with a secrete admirer who adored me from the shadows after all these years, whom now I shared a bed with.
I tangled with my head and my heart as I breathed in the faint smell of Nick’s cologne from the night before My head told me go with the more rational decision which was to let the past stay the past and to no longer allow its iron like grip told me to feelings of guilt. It was time for me to move on, I deserved to find someone who would love and treat me right for the rest of my life. On the polar opposite end, the red, flesh, bleeding thing in the middle of my chest told me otherwise. My heart was given away a long time ago to a boy who I promised to love for what back then seemed like forever, we were even more naïve teenagers then we were a few days ago.
I couldn’t help who I genetically fell in love with for the first time, it just so happened to be Ben. First loves weren’t supposed to mean anything significant, but it wasn’t like that for me and Ben and now that I was the only lone survivor of our relationship I had a choice to make. Leave my first true love behind in the past and let myself fall in love with Nick like God had intended. Or push Nick away from me in efforts to not only save him from me but myself also, if I couldn’t love myself at the moment, then I couldn’t love anyone. It was clear to me laying in that bed in Nick’s arm that it would be an unwinnable battle for a little while longer, but I wasn’t going to let another person I “loved” slip through my fingers like with Ben.
I could hear Nick’s mother stumbling down the hall mumbling to herself about her kick in the ass hangover just outside Nick’s closed door. I snuggled in tighter in the nook of Nick’s arm against his bare chest; I polished finger nails run through the hair that covered a tiny portion of his forehead.
He groaned before opening his eyes “Good morning.” He said his morning breath brushing over me.
“Good morning sleepy head.” I said laughing as my fingers still played with strands of his hair.
“We could make this a habit you know, waking up like this in the morning, I could picture a better way to start the day. “He propped himself up one elbow.
“Only in your dreams.” I tease as I mimic his movement.
“Unfortunately, something’s are too sweet to exist in dreams.” He says. I smile at his response Nick always seems to have such a way of using words to his advantage. Not that he has had that much practice I am only the second girl he has been with since freshman year in high school.
It was in that instant that my head and heart had made a consensual agreement that what I needed the most was to move on. “Well fortunately for you, I’m not going anywhere soon.” I say letting my arm give out beneath me
“What are you saying?” He asks flashing a toothy smile; he knew the answer before I had even spit it out.
So I play hard to get by slipping deep down under the covers where the light filters through the tan sheets of his bed. “What sorry I couldn’t hear you. You’ll have to come under here if you want to know the secrete.” I say playfully scooting further down the bed. “Oh and I may not be decent down here either, just a fair warning.” I say unlatching the clip of my bra and slipping out of Nick’s boxers.
That was all it took for Nick to crawl right under the covers with me, just as bare skinned as I was. “So now that I’m down here, are you going to tell me the secret?” He muzzled into the side of my neck.
I tried to resist jumping away when I felt his hot skin against my cool, and goose bumped skin. “I meant what I said before in the car last night, I love you with all my heart and I want to be with you for as long as possible.” I said feeling the goose bumps on my skin and heart melt away as again we became part of each other. We tried as much as we could to muffle our laughs and blights of joy as the springs of the mattress began to squeak.
“Shh….my mom while even drunk might here us.” Nick says between heaving breaths.
“But we were just getting to the good part!” I tease rubbing the cut abs of his chest.
“C’mon we have to get ready for the funeral.” He says throwing the sheets off both of us. What I saw above the sheets was no different than what I had seen under them, Nick was perfect in every way. He sat on the edge of the bed as he slipped his shorts and boxers back on before ducking out in the hallway to declare the cost clear.
I stood far away from the window as I threw on my clothes from last night, I remained topless as a buckled my belt. Nick was over in seconds bra in his hand before assisting me with the clips. “ I’d say our relationship has moved in a different direction, wouldn’t you say? It’s nice right?” I said facing him as I pressed myself against him, wrapping my arms around his neck which tensed at my touch.
“Yea nice.” He said rubbing his calloused hand against the side my face, where I held it there until there was a knock from the other side of the door. It was Nick’s mom.
“Good morning…it’s a stormy one out there today with a 95% chance of rain. Make sure you grab an umbrella if you are headed out doors. As always stay cool my fellow peeps.” I jab my fat thumb into the snooze button without even opening my eyes. My eye lids are stuck together with a thin layer of mucus from picking up pink eye from some nerd who stood too close to me when I was over at Ben’s house a couple of nights ago. The glue like substance flakes off in tiny little balls as I attempt to open my eyes. The red lights flashed against the black glass of the alarm clock 9:30 AM. Way to dam early for me to be up right now, thanks to Ben’s funeral I would miss out on two extra hours of sleep. That’s right I slept until noon or later on my days off from work, which seemed to be few and far in between these days.
I dug towards the very bottom of my dresser drawer to find a semi wrinkled Buckle button dress blue and white dress shirt and grabbed the only pair of dress pants I owned off the hanger in the back of the closet. I slapped on a piece of duct tape on my shoes to cover the holes that had made the suede shoes instant water absorbers. I stared at myself for a few moments in the mirror as a tried to fix my tie. Deep purple bags had begun to develop under my eyes, the skin surrounding my cheekbones had begun to melt away and bony prominence stuck out. My skin a sicken ashened color began to reveal of all the internal hell I had silently been putting myself through.
“Just a couple more hours…and all of this will be over with.” The reflection’s lips moved. I grab the keys of the crooked hook that hung on the wall and shut the door behind me. It didn’t take much effort on my part to find Saint George’s Church because #1 there was a massive line of cars that were moving at a sloths pace, and #2 my grandma had been dragging me to this church ever since I was a little kid. The rain has settled at a light mist for the moment being but the puddles still reflected the dullness and unending cloud filled sky above us.
Like all good things in our small town, nothing in the church had seemed to be even the slightest bit out of place. The welcoming rugs were vacuumed and the glass cases finger print free. Old Father Marcus still stood by the entry doors into the chapel greeting everybody with a weakened handshake and a fake tooth smile. To the right of the doors stood a foldable white toped table with pamphlets that had Ben’s senior picture plastered on the front of them. They gave clear descriptions of the agony each and every one of us would have to endure through the service. I did my best to avoid Father Marcus and sneak as unnoticed as possible into the chapel, and the last row of pews. I figured if I sat in the back, I would be less likely to being called on to give some kind of eulogy on Ben’s life. And I wouldn’t have a hundred of stares piercing into my back while trying to mumble my way through the rosary.
I scanned the crowed several times looking for Harper and Nick. Though I caught some of the guy’s eyes I failed to recognize their existence. I twisted the pamphlet in my hands as I nonchantly watched people fill the rows of pews ahead of me.
“I didn’t think you would show up.” A familiar voice whispered into my ear from behind.
I shrugged “Just because you, Nick and I aren’t getting along doesn’t mean I wasn’t coming to my friend’s funeral. How lousy do you think I am?”
“Jay, just scoot over.” She said unwrapping herself from her black coat. I didn’t even bother to look up as I shifted over in the wooden pew. Harper sat should to shoulder in between me and Nick which must have been the most controversy thing so far this morning besides the casket that was in front of the altar.
“I haven’t seen Ben’s parents come in yet.” I said still staring ahead of me.
“I suppose they are on their way. I wouldn’t be in a big rush to get to my child’s funeral either.” She replied with the same cold venom.
We sat in silence for another half hour while recognizing every other person who walked through the doors. Eventually the chapel filled up to maximum occupancy and chairs were being stacked along the windows of the gathering space. Ben’s family wandered down the aisle to the front row of pews and sat as still and straight as statues. They hung their eyes low in attempt to hide the red puffiness. As the church sermon began my eyes began to gloss over and my mind drift. I don’t listen to Father Marcus and I don’t even bother standing up, sitting, kneeling or signing during the appropriate times. I can’t tell you how many people stood up at the podium to give their last words of Ben, because I couldn’t hear and I defiantly couldn’t see. I didn’t realize that the wooden pews had temporally been turned into a work line when people began to hand boxes of tissues down either. It was the hard side punch to the ribs from Harper that pulled me out of the life sucking abyss.
“Jay…you should get up and say something.” Harper says.
“I don’t do public speaking.” I look her dead in the eyes.
“Please…for me” she pleads laying her hand across my thigh.
“Harper I’m not getting up there and making a fool of myself.” I say shaking my head.
“You know he would do it for you.” She says removing her hand from my thigh.
I glanced at her once more before standing up and crabbing walking out of the pew and towards the podium that faced a couple hundred people. Adjusting the microphone I took a deep breath before looking up at the faces the eyes that were dead locked on me. I never was good at public speaking and no matter how many mechanisms I always managed to pit out, and stumbled over the words that cascaded out of my mouth.
“My...my name is Jason Mone and I was a friend of Ben’s since first grade. I guess I’m standing up here in front of you because it’s a favor to a friend.” I stop and bite my lip. “Listen I’m not very good at this so I’m just going to get this over with.” I jab my fits into my pockets. “Ben was a really good friend of mine. Even more so he became a brother after his family took me in. We did everything together, and while sometimes those things might not have been legal we always had fun.” A few people in the crowd started laughing. “I wish I could have been there that night with Ben on the football field. Maybe I could have stopped him. Made him change his mind.” I looked down at my bud’s casket. I looked up to a new crowd now…a crowd whose cheeks were wet with tears and trembling hands that covered their sobs. I looked for Harper’s eyes in the crowd before giving my last words to the empty air
“And I am so sorry that I wasn’t there.” A single tear slipped from the corner of my eye before I stepped down from the podium and walked towards the exit of the church without looking back.
Back in my car a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I wasn’t going to the cemetery with everyone else to burry Ben. I had in my own way let my brother go, and since his death I had found peace.
There was no signs of Jay as we made our way to Nick’s car there was no black tire marks that lead out of the parking lot, or a trail of cigarette buds that would suggest he left on foot. He simply was gone. The sky had no intentions of clearing up, as another thunder head barged its way over the small town. People silently made their way to their cars and began to form the procession that would cut through the heart of the town and past the football field.
“I was surprised he got up in front of everyone.” Nick said as we waited to merge into traffic.
“I knew he would, it certainly was not a rehearsed speech, but it was all Jay. And for Ben I think that would have been good enough.” I say unbuttoning my dress shirt.
“Yeah good enough.” Nick answers back looking through the review mirror. “I would have thought that you would have been the first to get up there and talk. You know since you guys were such an item for the longest time.” He says coldly.
The remark catches me off guard and for a moment the lack of sleep and the rush of feelings I had bottled up made me want to punch him in the face. “I didn’t think it would be appropriate. You know since I moved on.” I said watching my knuckles turn white.
“Since you started dating me, right?” He spat back taking a corner too sharp.
“Nick, I don’t want to fight right now, I’m highly over emotional and I feel like I’ve been run over by a bus then reversed upon. So please let’s not do this right now.” I plead with him.
“I just don’t want to be the best rebound for you. I have feelings for you and they are real and they are happening now. And I just want to make sure that you hold those same feelings.” His face begins to turn a light red and I can see that this ordeal has also taken its toll on him.
We take a few more rights and a final left out of town before coming upon a gravel road that even in the daylight cast an ominous glow upon intruders. We follow the pattern of the cars before us and park in a narrow ditch. The wind begins to pick up and the car methodically rocks back and forth with the wind. Rain begins to pelt the unprotected black jacketed people as they run for cover under the poorly staked tent. Nick reaches behind his seat to grab our jackets.
He holds out my jacket for me “Better take this…wouldn’t want you to get sick”
“Nick, I’m sorry if I’ve been acting like a.” I struggled to find the word that fit my persona in the last day.
“For acting like a selfish, heartless pisshead.” He said with a smile on his face.
“Okay I deserved that.” I say trying not to laugh.
“I found it to be fitting given the situation.” He replied grinning ear from ear.
“I just want you to know that you aren’t a quick fix rebound for me. I do want to be with you, and you are everything that I want in a boyfriend. You know how to make the shitty days better and you have learned to love me when I am the ugliest person on the planet. Nick, I love you more today than I did yesterday, and I hope I will love you more tomorrow than I do today.”
“I’m glad you do.” Nick said caressing my chin. We slunk down in our seats and shared a quick kiss.
“Can’t get too carried away.” He says gasping for air. “Too many people here.” He says fixing the collar of his shirt.
“Just think after all of this is over with we can be a normal couple.” I say zipping my jacket up.
“That would be nice.” Nick says pulling the key from the ignition and opening the door letting in a brisk wind that ruffled my hair.
We joined the rest of the people at the tent covered hill. We squeezed under the small shelter next to Mr. Mac, our old history teacher. His hair had started to recede from the front of his head and speckles of white could be found upon further observation. He wore wire rimmed glasses that were with no surprise too small for his oversized head. His white and red checkered sweater vest bulged at the seams especially where his stomach tended to protrude.
“Well speak of the devil; I didn’t think you two were in attendance today.” Mr. Mac spoke in his gravely past timely voice.
“Good to see you too Mr. Mac.” Nick and I say in unison. Then we awkwardly attempt to side step around him and into the back of the pack of people.
The burial wasn’t much different than the sermon in the church was with the exception of the whipping wind against the side of the shelter. The dug of mound of dirt had become a pile of mud that lay next to Ben’s casket. Thankfully everyone seemed to get their feelings out in the safety of the church so we didn’t have to endure the elements for long. Like everyone else we paid our last respects to Ben as a couple and then we began the long journey back to Nick’s car. My three inch heels sunk into the soft ground with every step I took.
Nick had beaten me to the car and was waiting patiently by the passenger door. I kick off my shoes and slide into the passenger seat; he closes the door behind me and runs around the front of the car to his side.
“So did you want to go to the church for lunch or did you want to go somewhere else?” Nick asks turning the speed of the windshield wipers up.
I don’t answer him. I stare at the top of the tent covered hill where only one person remains, Ben’s mom.
“Let’s go back to your house.” I say and watch out the window as the cemetery and the woman disappear from sight.