Forever & Always: The Ever Trilogy (Book 1) (7 page)

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I still have the letter you sent me in my pocket. Its unopened. I havent read it yet. I might be a little drunk. Is that okay? I didn’t know what else to do. Its too much. Too too too much. What the fuck am I supposed to do?

I drove my dad home. From the hospital. I just left her there. But shes not there, is she. Mom is gone. The body in the bed is just meat. But we still just left her there. What happens next? Dad is gone too. Not dead, but just broken. I don’t know if he’ll ever be fixed. I think he needed Mom too much to live without her, and now he’s just meat too. So what about me?

In the last letter I read, from last week, you talked about your dad getting you a darkroom for your photography, but I realized after I’d sent the letter back that I didn’t know you were into photography too. Is that new? I know you paint and want to sculpt but I don’t remember ever talking about photography. That was just a random thought in my head.
 

 
I’m afraid. Will I always be alone? I’m only fifteen. Maybe Dad will just fade away, just stop being alive. Can I stop being alive too? I don’t know what to do next. Its like this huge wave has been cresting for weeks and just now broke and Im drowning. I saw a movie about someone surfing once, and they got rolled by a wave and the wave kept rolling and rolling and they got sucked under and spun so they couldn’t ever find the air or find the surface and thats what I feel like, rolled and rolled under this huge wave that won’t let me up and I can’t breathe.

I think this is where art is supposed to save me. I’m supposed to become this amazing artist because I’m going through tragedy, and that’s what births all the great art, right, is going through something awful and having art to express it with, but I’m not sure I have that inside me. I feel like even art is being sucked under. I drew one of Mom’s last moments, though. Dad, beside her. Waiting. Knowing.

Why didn’t they tell me? Why did they act like nothing was wrong until it was too late? I feel like I got robbed of goodbye. I would have
 

I don’t know what I would have done. Spent more time with her. Loved her better. Now there’s just nothing.
 

Just me, and I don’t know what to do.

Sorry for the awful letter.

Cade

Spinning walls and tilting ceiling met my gaze. The words I’d written blurred on the page, twisted and contorted. I knew it was unfair, but some part of me, the part responsible for caring about…life, maturity, others, anything…that part was beyond my grip. I shouldn’t send this to Ever, but I was going to anyway. I needed these feelings, the things I’d put on the page, to be out there, outside of me. Being able to write letters to someone who couldn’t judge me, who would write back and seem sympathetic and friendly, it helped me be me, helped me feel okay.
 

Now, nothing was okay, and sending this letter to Ever seemed necessary. It would make me okay.

I found the stamps where they always were, in the kitchen, in the junk drawer with scissors and a Phillips screwdriver and a crescent wrench and some tape and mismatched keys on a plastic American flag keychain. There were six stamps left. I had a flash of memory, vivid and hitting me like a hammer, of Mom, just a few weeks ago, digging through this drawer, looking for something—an Allen wrench to fix a wobbly side table, I think—and saying we needed more stamps, that she’d get more next time she went to the post office. Only, that never happened. She got too sick to go to the post office, got too sick to even leave her bed, and that was when Dad took her to the hospital for good. For the end.
 

And now there were only six stamps left.
 

I’d never bought stamps before. What would I do when they were gone? I’d have to buy more somehow. What if Dad just stopped living? What if he totally gave up and I was left to fend for myself? I was a teenage boy. I was fifteen. I didn’t know how to cook. I didn’t know how to do laundry or earn money. I needed parents.
 

What I had was six stamps left. A single row of pastel Benjamin Franklins, one after another. Sweat broke out on my face, and I stumbled to the side, dropping my letter on the floor. My stomach protested as I lurched again, stamps in my fist. I regained my balance, clutching the counter with my empty hand, staring at the small white rectangle face down on the tile. I had to lean over very carefully to pick up the envelope.
 

The initial rush of the alcohol had seemed euphoric and heady, but now it was changing inside me. Drunk was no longer so much fun. I just felt sick, and my emotions were rampant and raging through me without any filters to control them.
 

It felt like it should be midnight. Death should only happen at night, in the darkness and the shadows. But it was still light outside. I took one careful step after another out of the kitchen, through the living room with the gray microfiber sectional Mom had been so proud of and the sixty-inch flat-screen Dad loved so much and out the front door. The heavy glass storm door slammed back closed before I was through, bashing me in the shoulder and sending me stumbling to the side. I caught myself on the railing of the front porch and stood waiting for the evening world to stop spinning.

It was the golden moment of sundown. The sun was behind the trees and the buildings, but brilliantly shining amber, sending spears of light scattering across the street and the siding and brick and through car windows and house windows and all over everything. It was like a cosmic balloon full of golden light had been popped somewhere beyond the sky and the luminous contents were spilling around me, bathing me with sundeath glory.
 

I wasn’t sure that metaphor made any sense, even as it passed through my head, but it sounded poetic.
 

A robin’s egg–blue Toyota Prius slipped quietly down my street, a lance of golden light slicing across the hood and then the roof, and then the little car was gone, rounding a corner onto Garfield Avenue. The passage of the Prius seemed significant, somehow. Like it meant something in some way I was simply too drunk to comprehend.
 

I blinked, glanced down at the letter in my hand. I realized I hadn’t addressed it. I swore out loud, stumbled around in a full circle before I managed to find the front door. Only instead of going through it, I fell backward into the porch swing, an aged bench with spotted silver chain links that creaked when the swing moved. Oh, god. Oh, god. The swing swept me off my feet, and now I was swinging backward and forward, backward and forward, swinging, sunlight moving and shifting.
 

The letter. I still had my shading pencil behind my ear. I pinched it between deliberate fingers, set the envelope on the wide, smooth-worn armrest, and wrote my return address in small, shaky, and neat letters. Then, in the center, I wrote her name.
EVER ELIOT
. That was good. Each letter was perfectly formed, neat and angular. Her street name and number floated through my head, and I focused all my attention on making the pencil do my bidding.
17889 Crabtree Road, Bloomfield Hills
. I couldn’t remember the zip code, for some reason. I racked my brain, but it wouldn’t come. 48073? No, that was Royal Oak. Why did I know the zip code for Royal Oak, but not for Ever in Bloomfield Hills, when I wrote it on her letters every week?

Aha! I lifted my left hip and clumsily fished her letter from my back pocket. 48301, that was it.
 

I penciled in the zip code and made my way down the three steps to the sidewalk, holding on to the railing and measuring each motion with extreme care. At the bottom of the steps, I fixed my gaze on the mailbox at the end of the driveway; it suddenly looked to be a mile away. I resolved to make it to the mailbox and back without embarrassing myself. It wasn’t far, was it? Only twenty feet or so. But when the street and sidewalk and grass were tipping and bucking the way they were, twenty feet might have been a thousand. I left the safety of the railing and took a step, feeling like an astronaut moving away from the protective shelter of a spaceship on a faraway planet. I focused on the mailbox, not counting steps, and trying to act completely normal. Did I look as messed up as I was? I felt like I had a blazing neon sign plastered on my forehead, announcing to the world that I was drunker than anyone had ever been in the history of drunkenness.
 

I made it to the mailbox after an eternity of carefully placing one foot precisely in front of the other. I opened the black metal front, slid the letter in, closed it, and lifted the red flag. Wait, had I put a stamp on it? I opened the box again and peered blearily at the letter. Yes, old Ben with his idiotic little smirk stared up at me, slightly cockeyed on the envelope.
 

Now to make it back. No problem at all.
 

Except for that huge canyon of a crack at the edge of the driveway. When did that get there? And why was it suddenly such a massive problem? It grabbed my toe and sent me sprawling in the grass. Green blades tickled my toes, my cheek, my palms. Even lying down, things spun.
 

This was not fun.
 

Mom was still gone, and being drunk didn’t help. Well…maybe it did, just a little. The pain was distant. It didn’t feel like pain—it felt like something I knew about, like knowing I had a test to take in a few months. It would happen, and it would suck, but I didn’t have to think about it right now.
 

I had to get up. I couldn’t stay here on the grass. That would raise suspicion if anyone saw me. People didn’t go around lying on their front lawns at six in the evening—or ever, for that matter.

Ever. Ever.

Ever.

I wondered what her latest letter said. Time to get up. I could do it, easy peasy. I climbed to my feet, brushed off my knees and the seat of my jeans. The letter wasn’t in my back pocket anymore; where was it? I spun in stumbling circles, scanning the ground. Nothing. Where was it? Panic shot through me. I couldn’t lose that letter. It was important. Ever’s words to me were important. They were written for me. Meant for me. No one else. It meant she thought about me. That maybe she cared about me.
 

My gaze landed on the porch, up three steps. There it was, beneath the porch swing. Relief. Up the steps, maybe possibly using both hands on the railing to haul myself up. I landed on the swing, which again swept my feet out from beneath me and swung me in the golden light. I ended up not quite lying down, not quite sitting up.

Finally in possession of the precious letter, and a seat, I held the envelope in both hands and stared at it. The letters of my name and the numbers of my street address faded and blurred and doubled.
 

I was too drunk to read the damn letter. I fumbled it back into my pocket and tried to calm the dizziness in my skull. I hated this, hated being drunk.
 

Why did Dad think this would help anything?

I was suddenly exhausted, my eyes heavy and hot. My stomach roiled and twisted, and the swing drifted. The golden haze of sunset was gone, leaving behind an orange-pink fading into gray. I watched the leaves of a tree shake in the breeze, and watched the gray become thicker and darker, and then heaviness overtook me and my head lolled back on the swing.

~ ~ ~ ~

I woke up sick and disoriented. All was silent and dark around me, blackest night unbroken except by a distant streetlight, the one way down by Eisenhower. None of the houses had porch lights on, no cars passed, there were no stars and no moon. Only darkness, and the sound of my breathing.
 

Vomit surged in my throat, rising without warning to hit my teeth. I lurched off the swing to lean over the railing and empty my stomach in a hot, acidic flood into Mom’s azaleas. Again and again my stomach revolted, eventually leaving me limp against the cold wood, heaving in deep breaths and hoping it was over. I had nothing left to throw up, but still my stomach coiled into knots.
 

I waited until nothing else came up, and then went inside. Ever’s letter was crumpled now. I smoothed it against my thigh, considered opening it and reading it right there in the dim foyer. Not yet. Dad’s study was on my right, the door closed. I opened it, peered in. He was on the floor, face down, the bottle under his armpit, empty. His eyes were closed, loud snores coming from him. At least he was alive. I should do something for him. Help him somehow.
 

I knelt beside him, tugged the empty bottle free, and set it aside. He didn’t twitch or respond in any way, just kept snoring.
 

I shook his shoulder. “Dad. Hey, Dad. Wake up. Get off the floor.” Not even a snort. I shook him harder. “Dad!”

He rolled suddenly, knocked me stumbling with his outstretched arm. I heard a retching sound come from him, saw bile trickling from the corner of his mouth. I lunged for him, shoved him onto his side, and a stream of puke glumped from his lips to the carpet. Gagging, I grabbed Dad’s arm, dragged him away from the pile of mess. At which point he vomited again.

I let go of his hand and fell backward to my ass, sickness and frustration eliciting a whimper from me. Dad retched again, and again, and then finally groaned as if coming to consciousness. I inhaled deep breaths, trying to calm myself, but the smell of puke overpowered me and I choked, coughed, pushed down my gag reflex, pushed down the tears that boiled just beneath the surface.
 

Dad sat up groggily, blinking, peered around, saw the mess he’d made, saw me, and then struggled to his feet. He lurched to the futon, his foot slipping in the mess, and collapsed onto his back.
 

“Jan…” he murmured, the word a broken sob. A tear trickled down his cheek.

I sat with my back to the wall, watching my father weep in his drunken sleep. My proud, strong, father. He’d rarely ever even yelled or raised his voice, even when I’d hit a baseball into the windshield of his truck, or when he and Mom were arguing about something. I’d never seen him sad, or upset beyond irritation and quiet anger. Watching him cry now was simply too much.

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