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Authors: A.M. Madden

Stone Walls (8 page)

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I was up all night. Masturbating was a huge mistake. It left me wanting and needing more than just what my vibrator was able to give me. At the crack of dawn I gave up on sleep, threw on some workout clothes, and headed to my favorite place to run. Most head up to Central Park, but I prefer running along the waterfront on the Hudson. It stretches from uptown to Battery Park, and the view of the river is calming. My mother often took me to the beaches near our home in Massachusetts. It’s where I sprinkled her ashes. She said having grown up in the middle of the country, beaches were only seen in pictures or movies. She transferred her love of the ocean to me. When the ocean isn’t available, the Hudson River is my substitute.

It’s a gorgeous day. I usually sleep in on weekends, but when the weather is this spectacular, I enjoy getting up early for a run. I can always relax later in a bubble bath before possibly taking an afternoon nap. That’s the beauty of the weekend.

I love my job, but I love weekends more. While dating Peter, I sometimes felt suffocated on weekends. We would see each other a few nights after work and have dinner, even occasionally staying at each other’s apartments overnight. I enjoyed those times, and it was just enough. On the weekends, he often wanted to spend every waking moment together. My first red flag was when I tried to negotiate one weekend apart a month. He didn’t understand my need to have time alone. He argued that already happened during the workweek. My need for distance hurt his feelings. Feeling guilty, I gave up my request just to make him happy.

Since his departure, I have enjoyed my weekends as if they’ve been a precious gift. In such a short amount of time, I’ve seen every inch of this city from the top to bottom on my own. Last summer, Andrea and Rob had Peter and me over to their place on the beach a few times. Peter and Rob had nothing in common. It was awkward.

This year I told Andrea once the weather changes I’ll be there often. Their place is a serene haven that sits so close to the city, yet far enough away to provide solitude and peace. Since I adore the beach, having best friends with an apartment sitting on one should count for something.

Wait, that is unless
he’s
there.

Damn it. Now every time I think of my best friends, I can’t help but to think about him. I don’t even like him. I find him arrogant and conceited. It’s most definitely a physical thing. He’s exactly my type. He’s tall, dark, and handsome. The combination of his eye candy looks and my unfortunate state of horniness is not good, at all.

I try to focus on my run, staring out at the sun shimmering off the ripples in the river to draw some calm into my chest. I try to listen to my music as it fills my ears with the familiar lyrics I love so much, hoping they will distract me. I even try to channel my frustration by punishingly pounding the pavement, running faster than my normal pace. Nothing works in removing Ben’s face from my thoughts or the unexplainable desire that settled in my core.

When I feel like I’m about to pass out, I slow to a jog and then finally stop, bent over and panting heavily. Other joggers run around me, making me aware that I am inconsiderately blocking the jogging path. I slowly move toward the nearest park bench and sit heavily, wondering how I’m going to stop thinking about a man I clearly can’t stand.

Nat called me last night as I was on my way home from The Grind. I wasn’t in the mood to play nice, in spite of the fact it’s been days since I’ve had sex. I’ve been avoiding her. It was time to put an end to whatever this was that we were doing. My admission to Rob wasn’t an excuse to get out of being set up. I need to stay focused, and the opposite sex would be a major distraction, right now. Whether it’s Nat or Ella, or anyone else that Andrea pulls out of the woodwork. So I agreed to see Nat with the intent of ending it once and for all. By the time I got home, she was already waiting for me, sitting on my front stoop.

On our way up to my apartment, I had gotten the text from Andrea. It may have been shitty of me, but I decided to call Ella while Nat sat on my couch. Selfishly, I thought it could initiate a conversation that needed to be had. I was right. The minute I hung up the call, Nat pounced.

“Who the hell is Ella?”

Her question pissed me off. I owed her no explanation. Just because she decided to change the dynamics of our relationship didn’t mean I needed to suddenly agree.

Ignoring her question, I instead cut to the chase. “Nat, this isn’t working for me. I’m starting a new case, and I need to be completely focused on my job.”

“Is the new case called Ella?” she asked sarcastically.

“Not that I need to explain, I’ve never given you a reason to think we were exclusive. Ella is a friend of Andrea’s.”

“Well, that explains a lot. Andrea hates me. Are you seeing her?”

Part of me wanted to say yes, just to get rid of Nat. But in spite of my need to distance myself from her, she’s always been a good friend. Until recently, she was easy to talk to and easy to get along with. I’m not sure what’s going on that’s causing her to be so possessive and jealous.

She kept throwing question after question at me. I didn’t respond to one of them. She had no rights to know my business, and by responding that would be an admission that she did have a right.

“Natalia, I think you should go,” I finally said.

She couldn’t hide the look of defeat that crossed her features. She came to stand before me, took my hands in hers, and said, “Ben, I know you and I have always had an unconventional relationship. I was hoping when the time came that you were ready for a real relationship, it would be with me. I care about you, but I deserve better than this. I’m ready to take it to the next step, and it hurts that you aren’t. I think we could’ve been good together.” She leaned up on her toes and gave me a long hard kiss on my lips. When she pulled away, a few tears escaped. “I’ll miss you.”

The combination of her words and the sorrow in her eyes gave me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I quickly looked away for fear I would cave in once again. I could easily see myself agreeing to keep seeing her due to nothing but the guilt she made me feel at that moment.

Guilt is my fucking kryptonite.

I never met her eyes, not even after she hugged me briefly, or after she kissed me one last time before leaving my apartment.

I should have never left. I should have never left.

It’s all I repeated in my mind over and over. Even after finding my parents lying on the floor, covered with sheets. Even after my brother cried in my arms. Even after listening to his recount of the events that occurred that would forever change his life and mine.

I was plagued with guilt, sadness, and regret. I should have never left.

After my dad had been arrested on a DUI, he was then convicted of possession with intent to sell. He served one year. Life had become peaceful and calm for my mother, brother, and me. I hate to admit my dad’s absence was a blessing.

I decided to attend community college, abandoning my original plan of moving away to New York City. I majored in law enforcement, deciding that was the path I wanted to take. My mom and brother needed me. While at home, I assumed the role of little league coach and chauffeur to Jonathan. We’d become even closer during that time. Mom continued to work hard, but still maintained a strict, respectful household.

When Dad was released, my mom threw him out of the house. He didn’t even argue. He packed his things and left. He thought so little of us that he didn’t even feel the need to say goodbye. Jonathan couldn’t understand it. He thought, we both thought that he would’ve missed us being away for that year. Jonathan thought he did something to cause our father to cut us from his life. No matter what I said to comfort him, he still believed it was his fault. To a thirteen-year-old boy, it’s perfectly logical to believe your mischief is what caused your father to walk out the front door.

One month to the day of his release from prison, he returned. I was out, hanging out with friends, being a normal college kid. Dad said that he came back for something he left behind. My mother let him in.

While Jonathan slept in his room, my father shot my mother and then himself.

The guilt still cripples me, even after all these years.

I should have never left.

I hate weekends. Too much down time to mess with my head. Farley warned that we’d be working on a lot of them, and said to enjoy the time as we have it. I wish we could dive right in right now.

We could be using the time to study the facts, but Rob is busy proposing to Andrea. He planned this weekend weeks ago. I doubt she’ll be surprised, as she’s been expecting it on every occasion for the past year. Her ability to predict his moves is what has him proposing on an ordinary Saturday in May. Without warning, he’s going to drop to one knee. He doesn’t know if it will be in their apartment, or while food shopping, or maybe even while they go for a walk on the beach. He feels since he won’t know when that exact moment will be, there is no way Andrea could predict it.

Marriage.

Why is it necessary? If you happen to find that “one” person you can’t live without, why does everyone require a piece of paper to say they are now officially the “one” person you can’t live without?

I feel two people can be completely committed, completely loyal to each other without the need to sign a contract. Contracts are manmade and easily broken.

Look at my parents.

If they had never met, married, and pledged to love and honor until death, where would they be now? Would Dad have found a wealthy girl to marry, eliminating all the angst being poor caused him? Would Mom have found the man who would cherish her like she was a precious gift?

Who the fuck knows?

From their union, the only positive thing that resulted was Jonathan.

After that night, my brother was forced to grow up quickly. Aunt Beth essentially dropped her life, moved into our home to raise her sister’s son. After a few years, she practically pushed me out of the house. She said I needed to go. She convinced me that she and Jonathan would be just fine. I wonder if I hadn’t listened, where would I be at the moment? I’d probably be a small town cop, hating my existence, just as my father did.

Regardless, I carry a tremendous amount of guilt for having left Jonathan behind with our aunt. All these years later, I still carry it. It didn’t damage my relationship with Jonathan. He still looks up to me, respects me, and loves me with all his heart. I don’t feel I deserve it because I left him.

I shouldn’t have left.

It’s early here in New York, but that doesn’t stop me from picking up my phone to call my little brother.

“What the hell, dude?” he says groggily over the line.

“Sleeping?”

“It’s like five o’clock on a fucking Saturday. Of course, I’m sleeping.”

“You’re a busy law student. I need to pick my opportunities. How’s UCLA?” I hear shuffling over the phone, some moaning, and a female whining. “I’m guessing it’s awesome.” I openly laugh at my brother’s active sex life. “Who’s the chick?”

“We were studying.”

“Is that what they call it these days? I called it hooking up.”

“Screw you, you’re one to talk. How’s Nat?”

“Over.”

Now Jonathan openly laughs at me. I hear my brother shut a door. “Damn, that’s a shame. She was hot, a real keeper.”

“How would you know from a few pictures?”

“I could tell. I’m observant like that.” After a short pause, he asks, “How’s work?”

“It’s fine.” I purposefully omit the latest development with the Politto case. My brother isn’t thrilled that I’m a cop in New York. He’s especially not thrilled that I chose narcotics to specialize in.

“Have you called Aunt Beth?”

“You obviously know the answer if you’re asking,” I respond impatiently. He asks me every goddamn time we speak.

“She misses you, man.”

I predictably choose not to respond to Jon’s comment.

Whenever I speak to my aunt, I get a painful stab in my chest from guilt. She dropped her entire life to help her nephews. She left her boyfriend, Theo, behind to move into our home. She raised Jonathan when it should have been my job to do so. Speaking to my aunt causes me nothing but pain from the guilt. Not speaking to her causes the guilt I carry to fester.

“Ben, stop beating yourself up. What happened affected you, too. You had your future ahead of you. Besides, I turned out just fine.” He laughs before adding, “Hell, I’m a very handsome dude who happens to be brilliant as well.”

“That you are, bro. I’ll let you get back to sleep or back to your
studying
. Be good.”

“Always.”

I stare at the phone once he disconnects. It’s early, but Beth would be up. I scroll through my contacts to stare at her name and number. As if my thumb has a mind of its own, it pushes the cancel button before the call connects. Maybe later.

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