Authors: Nyrae Dawn
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Coming of Age
New York Boston
To Steph Campbell.
For always listening.
For never judging.
May our friendship be infinite.
I didn’t sleep for shit last night. Not that I ever really sleep that well, but last night was particularly bad. About 1:00 a.m., I was sick to death of all the drunk, high, loud-ass people in my house. Jesus, I wanted them gone. Wanted quiet, normal, but instead I’d smoked another bowl, lied and said I was going to bed before locking myself in my room.
The party went on without me because that’s what people do. It’s not that they really need me to have fun. I just have the house, shitty as it is, and everyone thinks I’m always down to have a good time. Scratch that. I
always down to have a good time. One look at me shows I’m stoned half the time. Weed? It clouds out the past. Parties drown out the stuff in my head I don’t want to hear. But last night of all nights? I deserved to hear that shit, since I’m the one who caused it. So that’s what I did. All night. Got blazed out of my head but kept myself awake so I could think about today.
Around six this morning, I jumped in my car like I have every January 12 for the past four years and drove my ass here. Rockville, Virginia. Home sweet fucking home, except I hate this place with a burning passion. When you spend your childhood getting beat by your dad, all you want to do is escape where you came from. I wouldn’t have come if I didn’t have to, but after everything, I figure it’s the least I can do.
Not that my sister, Angel, will ever know I came.
After all this time, I wonder if she’d want me here. If I were her, I wouldn’t.
Shaking my thermos, I realize I don’t have any more coffee. I toss it onto the passenger side floor and lean back in the seat. Four hours is a long-ass time to sit in my car, but I don’t want to risk getting out and her seeing me. Probably a good thing I ran out of coffee; otherwise I’d have to piss again.
Looking across the street, I see all the headstones. Most of them are laid flat, so I can’t see them from a distance, but I still know exactly which one belongs to Ashton. It’s under the big tree. He would have liked that. I bet he would have wanted me to lift him up and put him in that tree if he’d ever had the chance to see it. He thought it was cool to ride on my shoulders. I’d carry him all around the house and he’d laugh like it was fucking Disneyland or something.
Pain grabs hold of me, threatens to pull me under, and for the millionth time I wonder why I don’t let it. It would be so much easier than walking around in the masks I do now.
“Fuck.” I drop my head back. Run a hand through my dark hair. Feel my pocket for the pipe there and wish like hell I could light up. Seems kind of wrong to smoke weed at a cemetery, especially under the circumstances.
I hate the drugs anyway. You wouldn’t know it, though. No one does.
Adrian’s always down to smoke. Adrian’s always good for it.
That’s what everyone thinks, but really I just want to be swept away. To ride a tide or the wind or whatever the fuck will take me far from here. Weed is the only thing I can find. Sometimes it works; most of the time it doesn’t.
I’m itching to shove the key into the ignition, to push down on the gas pedal and get the hell out of here. Not that I ever went real far. I only live four hours away in Brenton because I couldn’t make myself leave the state. But I can’t live in Rockville anymore. I don’t want to see this. Don’t want to be here. I wish I could wake up and find out this has all been some fucked-up nightmare. Even if it meant going back in time before Ash and having to deal with shit from my parents.
Leaning forward, I push the useless thermos out of the way and reach for
The Count of Monte Cristo
, which is shoved under the seat. The cover’s all old and ripped. The spine’s cracked so much from how many times I’ve read it. It’ll probably fall apart any day now.
The thing is, I’ve always respected Edmond. He went through hell and back but fought despite it. He didn’t fold. He pushed through and worked his ass off to become so much more than he was. He was strong. Not me. I just can’t seem to make myself overcome the past.
There’s nothing to do but deal with it. And maybe lose myself behind a cloud of smoke or a girl.
I need to turn off my thoughts.
Even though I can’t stand hats, I grab the one from beside me, push it low on my head, open my book, and read. Maybe Edmond can help me clear my head.
* * *
Hours later, when I see my sister, Angel, walk over to Ash’s grave, I don’t get out of the car. When some guy walks up and grabs her hand, I don’t know who he is and yet, I don’t bother finding out. They hug and I don’t walk over and do the same thing to her. It’s not our thing to stand around having some group mourning session over the two-year-old boy who died too soon.
Nope. This is real life. Not like all the stupid fucking books I read or the movies people watch or the reality shows that couldn’t be farther away from reality.
Without moving an inch, I watch her. Watch as she sets flowers on Ashton’s grave. As the guy pulls her into a hug. As they kneel on the ground, probably talking to him in a way I’ll never have the balls to do.
The guy says something to her and then gets up and walks away. I duck lower in my seat, but no one is paying attention to me. He heads back to a little car and waits.
Angel’s hands go to her face and I know she’s crying in them. Know she’s mourning the loss of Ash, the boy she loved so much. The boy she took care of better than any mom could. I know she sent the guy away because she’s like me and needs to handle shit on her own. Only unlike me, she’ll never run.
She cries out there for probably thirty minutes. The whole time my chest is tight. Aching. It’s hard to breathe and I want to turn away, but I don’t. I deserve to feel this way and deserve to see this.
A fist squeezes tighter and tighter around my heart. My face is wet, but I don’t bother to wipe away the tears, either. Real men don’t fucking cry. That’s what Dad always said before he hit me in a series of body shots, until I couldn’t stop myself from doing just what he said I shouldn’t do.
Then he’d beat me harder for being weak.
Angel’s shoulders are shaking. I can tell from this far away.
I’m not an idiot. Never have been. I know it wouldn’t make me weak to walk over there and hug her. To hold her and tell her it’ll be okay, but I still won’t do it. What right do I have to try and console her when I’m the one who destroyed everything?
When I’m the one who let Ash die?
So I sit here and watch her, just so I’ll never forget the pain I caused.
I’m yanked out of a deep sleep by the sound of my cell. My room is still pitch-black, which means it’s the middle of the night. My heart immediately starts setting off rounds to the speed of a machine gun.
“Hello?” my voice squeaks out.
“Is this Delaney Cross?”
The official-sounding female does nothing to slow the rapid-fire beating in my chest. If anything, it makes it worse. “Yes. This is she.”
“I’m Doctor Marsh over at Three Valley’s Hospital. Your mother was brought in a little while ago. She’s okay, but—”
“What happened?” Now I pray for my heart to pick up again. It’s silent, almost as if it’s gone and I miss the pounding in my ears. Miss it because as ridiculous as it sounds, it takes the loneliness away.
“We’d really like you to come down. It’s not—”
“It’s not something I haven’t dealt with before,” I cut her off again. I don’t need her to try and make this easier on me. The fact is nothing would make me deal with it better. Saying it on the phone won’t make it any less real than in person.
“We’re assuming it was a suicide attempt. She took pills. We don’t know if she changed her mind or if she wasn’t lucid enough to make decisions, but sometime after, she must have tried to leave her apartment. A neighbor found her collapsed in her doorway and called nine-one-one.”
The tears that I didn’t realize had formed in my eyes are brimming over and starting their slow descent down my face. This is her third suicide attempt in the last four years.
“I’m sorry,” the doctor tells me.
“Me too,” I whisper. I’m sorry about all of it.
I push out of bed and race to my closet. “We’ll be there soon,” I tell the doctor before dropping my cell to the dresser. Yanking a sweatshirt over my head, I’m already shoving my feet into my tennis shoes. My heart seems to have found its beat now and as I finish shoving my other foot into my shoe, I try and concentrate on it. It’s a crazy thing to do, but it keeps me from cracking apart.
“Maddox!” I yell as I run into our small hallway. “Get up!” My fists come down on my brother’s door hard. “Come on! We have to go.” I try for the doorknob, but like I knew he would, he locked his room. Before I can knock again, he’s jerking the door open, his eyes wide and frantic with worry.
“What the fuck happened? Are you okay?”
“It’s Mom. She…”
Anger washes over the worry on Maddox’s face. His jaw tenses. Veins pulse in his hand; he’s gripping the doorknob so tightly I think it could break. Quite the pair, aren’t we? While I worry, he gets pissed.
“What did she do?” It’s almost as though he blanks out in times like this. Goes numb. All I have to do is bring up either of our parents and I can see the emotion drain from him and I hate it. He and Dad used to be so close… and then something switched and I was the one who got his attention, yet Mom was all about Maddox. Now he can’t stand to talk about either of them.
“Pills. We need to go, Maddy.”
“Don’t call me that. I hate it when you call me that.”
I reach for my older brother’s hand, but he jerks it away. “Yeah, because that’s what’s important right now. We need to go see her.”
He’s shaking his head and I know what he’s going to say before he does. That he doesn’t want to go. That he doesn’t care if she needs us. Before he can, I say the one thing that I know he can’t say no to. “I can’t do this without you. I need you.”
“Fuck,” he mumbles under his breath. “Gimme two minutes.” The door slams, guilt tingeing the edges of my pain. I shouldn’t manipulate him like that, but he’s my brother. Her son. Mom and I both need him. She can’t help that she fell apart after what Dad did.
Realizing I forgot my phone, I grab it and the car keys, and I’m pacing the living room when Maddox comes out, his dark hair all disheveled. He doesn’t look me in the eyes. He’s pissed and I know he knows what I did.
We head out to the car and I drive us to the hospital because I don’t trust him to do it when he’s mad. He likes to go too fast and the last thing we need is to get into an accident on the way.
I’m shivering by the time we walk through the hospital doors and only part of it is from the cold. Maddox isn’t wearing a jacket, even though it’s a frigid cold January in Virginia.
“We’re here to see Beatrice Cross,” I tell the desk clerk. Maddox doesn’t step up beside me. He has his arms crossed about five feet away from me.
“Are you family?” the clerk asks.
“Yes. We’re her children.”
She puts bands on each of our wrists and directs us where to go, as if we don’t know where the ER is. We could find anywhere in this place.
I’m not surprised when my eyes pool over again. No matter how many times this happens or how many times she slips back into her depression, it doesn’t get easier.
Right before we leave the sterile white hallway and head for the emergency room, Maddox grabs my wrist.
“Don’t cry for her, Laney. Don’t cry for either of them.”
Maddox is so much older than his twenty-one years. He’s always been the strong one and both of us know it. It’s not that simple for me. My mom just tried to take her own life. My dad is in prison and my brother—my best friend—hates the world.
“Why did this happen to us?” I ask. He grabs me and pulls me into his arms, letting me cry into his chest.
I can feel his awkwardness as he holds me. He’s not real big on affection and it makes me feel like crap that he has to console me again. But that’s what he does. He hates it, but he tries to make everything better. Mom couldn’t take care of stuff, so Maddox did. He’s still doing it.
“I don’t know,” is all he says. Honestly, I’m a little surprised I got that much out of him.
“We need to go see her.” I wipe my eyes with my sweatshirt.
Maddox nods at me, but before we can go in, a nurse stops us. As soon as I tell her who we are, she gets that small smile on her face that says she feels bad for us, but she’s trying not to let it show.
“Let me get the doctor first, okay? She wants to speak to you.” She disappears behind the sliding doors, the sound echoing through the halls. The emergency room is quiet tonight and I almost wish for more people around to distract us.
Right away, the door slides open again. A woman with graying hair, wearing the same smile as the nurse, comes out. “You’re Ms. Cross’s children?”
“Yes.” Of course it’s only me who answers.