we left a trail of excuses as we ran with the devil

Five.

Danny’s greatest personal accomplishment to date was beating his addiction. Not getting married, not winning the girl back when he fucked up, not the movie he made with his best friend. A long, hard fought battle to clean himself up and rid himself of the demons that had been plaguing him for a lifetime had cost him a lot but in the end, he had twelve years.

His eternal battle was raging. Danny sat on the edge of the bathtub, frowning down at the small bag of powder in his hand. It wasn’t the first time he had been in its presence in the span of his sobriety, but it was the first time he was alone with it. Thinking seriously of tapping some out on the sink and letting the blissful high take him on a ride to euphoria.

He thought about it often, of course he did. He didn’t go a day without thinking about getting high. He was a drug addict and he would be one for the rest of his life, and he’d already blown through so many second chances. But the craving was always there. He just tried to take it one day at a time, there wasn’t any other way.

It wasn’t unusual for Danny to walk the halls of the theater and smell a familiar aroma late at night. He’d pace the hallways, lights low and hear quiet voices, working out whatever problem that had cropped up – or talking Matt off a ledge when he couldn’t get a scene right and was convinced he needed to throw himself off a bridge immediately because he was a hack – and get a whiff so strong he could taste it and wonder idly if a hit would be as good as he remembered. He’d walked in on someone more than a few times bent over a line, but he’d always been able to walk away. Fight through the longing, put it out of his head, and when he couldn’t, there was a circle of people he could rely on, Samantha and Matt at the top of the list.

Danny had gone to see Roger that morning. The lithe man was a jaguar in human skin who took no shit from anybody. People in Roger’s position didn’t get to where they are by rolling over. He spent his days protecting the company’s stock, meaning he spent the day yelling at anyone and everyone to put out any and all fires. He watched percentages rise and dip, and handled it all with a Cheshire smile on his face. No one saw his real face, the one he had married his wife in. And she was long gone now, her memory buried under facts and figures and blow.

That’s how Danny ended up with the powder. He had blown into Roger’s office, ignoring the poor assistant calling his name, barely knocking on the door. He’d received another text from Lily, an ex-girlfriend, and needed to tell Roger before she blew everything up even further. Danny counted Roger as one of his inner circle because he had to, rather than wanted to, and knew the help he was receiving with the press wasn’t for his sake at all, but he was glad for it all the same.

Danny found Roger with his head bent over his desk, a spray of white inches from his face.

Roger looked up, seconds away from indulgence, cold eyes meeting Danny’s, who was practically salivating at the sight. He straightened up and cleared his throat, “I assume you’re here to discuss the newest script?”

Danny dragged his eyes away from the sight on the desk and looked up. “No. I’m here about Lily.”

“What now?”

“She’s threatening to go the papers about my son.”

Ringing sounded in Roger’s ears, blocking everything else out. Another goddamn problem he had to deal with. He wanted to say Danny was more trouble then he was worth, but it just wasn’t true. Having him on staff increased profits immeasurably. He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Let me deal with this,” he said, gesturing to the spread on his desk, “And then we’ll deal with you and your.. newest problem.”

we left a trail of excuses as we ran with the devil

Four.

 

The problem with coke is that you don’t always remember things when you’re fucked up on it.

The first time Danny overdosed he was twenty four and Matt found him collapsed on the bathroom floor. Danny went to rehab and it didn’t stick because he didn’t remember the hallucinations or convulsions. He was young and thought he was invincible and self-destructive creative genius was glamorous.

The second time Danny overdosed he was thirty two and he woke up in the hospital hooked up to a ventilator. He didn’t remember the powder, didn’t remember the yelling – Samantha shouting on the cliff side for him to give her a reason to stay. He didn’t remember pushing her out of the way during his drug fueled psychosis or her slipping and crashing to the ground.

He still doesn’t. Danny can’t remember a lot of things, but he does remember what followed. That June through December nightmare that slipped away into a moment of time he would never forget. It’s what sent him back to rehab, where this time he let over ten years of addiction claw it’s way out of his skin and smear itself on the walls and leave him him raw and exposed.

He was told he pushed her hard, but was just trying to move around her to get away from their argument, but it didn’t matter in the end because he did it. She fell on the cliffs, crashing onto the rocks below and in that instant the four week old life that was growing inside her no longer was. They hadn’t even known it existed.

Three months later, Matt drove him away from the rehab and back into the life he had been hiding from, not taking any visitors or calls; just Danny alone with himself and the other patients and the doctors. He was barely stitched back together.

“It doesn’t smell like her anymore.”

“Hmm?”

“I can’t smell her perfume.” Danny glanced around the apartment, noting things that were missing. Photos, the absence of her humming, the fabric swatches that were always thrown around in a seemingly haphazard way, but made total sense to her, no longer pinned up all over. How quiet and still it was, how stale the air tasted. He turned around and faced his best friend.

“How long as she been gone?” He didn’t want to know.

Matt didn’t want to tell him, but he was going to, because he had just about enough of keeping secrets. He’d watched the man who was basically his brother practically destroy himself. The scraping and fighting to get where he was in life wasn’t going to be for nothing. People recognized his name, his ambition, his ability to turn nothing into something.

He’d watched Danny with women. Things usually ended badly, either because he was an addict or because he was never around or the girl was enamored with the idea that he was going to make it big, and then realized he was still years away from that. He’d watched Danny pick up a loose stray of a girl and devote himself to her. He was different with this one, whether it was because he was eleven years older than her or because she was strong minded, firm in her beliefs and not afraid to stand up for herself. Then it went to hell again and Matt tore her down with a few simple words because he didn’t think she was good enough for him. It bothered him and he didn’t know why, but he wasn’t going to let her ghost haunt him. He couldn’t tell if a storm was coming, or already came.

“Weeks now. Something about a semester abroad and maybe she wouldn’t come back, I don’t know. I came by to grab some of your stuff and she was packing up. Don’t worry about it.”

Danny’s stitches came loose.

 

The devil rolled the dice on Monday morning. Samantha headed her mother off by sending her a link to the story with a text that told her she was fine and to stay where she was. Danny was right, she would be on the next train up, and fuck if she was dealing with her face to face too.

“Are you ever going to forgive me?”

Startled, a bit too in her own head, Samantha stopped herself from sighing, and rolled her eyes at the board she was looking at. “Stop blaming yourself, Danny. Don’t worry about it.”

“You say ‘don’t worry about it’ a lot.”

“I learned from Matt.”

“He learned from me.”

They were sitting in the kitchen, Danny with his laptop open watching nonsense that was frying his brain, his feet kicked up on the table. The late morning sun streaming through the windows was making him squint but it was also casting a glow around his wife that made him think of beach days in Newport and long walks through Audubon Park in the afternoon. Once, during that spring break long ago, Danny had taken her to where he grew up. While walking through the outskirts of the Garden District, a homeless person tried to stop them to tell Samantha that she had the brightest aura around her. She grabbed Danny’s hand tightly and pulled him away, but he had wanted to stop and chat with the guy; he was right.

Samantha had set up a project she was working on against the row of windows in the kitchen because the natural light was good for seeing color. She was trying to match a piece of fabric but all Danny could see was a woman in her element. Her messy hair had fallen out of its ponytail, the tie attempting to reign it all in having lost the battle. He loved her when she was dreaming, but he loved her the best like this. In ripped sweaters and loose shorts, so focused on her work that she forgot everything around her. It wasn’t unusual for her to forget there were other people in a room with her, so absorbed she could get.

“Why don’t you let the design team handle that?”

“Because they won’t take into consideration the price and send in a velvet. The customer will love it and I’ll be annoyed later trying to cost it out. It’s too expensive.”

Danny understood that, price margins were a part of his job, but he wished she had just taken the day off instead of working from home. Their morning had been mostly pleasant. After Samantha shot off a text to her mom they had both turned off their phones. They had set up with coffee and toast and spoke to each other quietly, just enjoying being together like they always did when time allowed.

Eventually, Samantha put her swatches down and turned back to Danny. He was watching her with crinkled eyes and rumpled clothes; he’d never bothered to change this morning. He looked soft and tired, but smiled sadly and sweetly at her as she made her way toward him. Reaching out to push his feet off the table, she felt herself smile back and climbed into his lap.

Pushing her forehead into his and meeting his eyes, she said “I’m happier to have you then be mad at you. I’m.. really sad this is happening, but Danny this isn’t your fault. Listen to me. I hate this. So much. And it’s not okay. But I’m not blaming you.” She pressed her lips to his slowly, letting the kiss linger before pulling away. “I don’t know why all of this is such a big deal or what we did to piss someone off, but if you’re waiting for me to fall apart, I’m not going to. You’re out of luck.”

“I feel like we’re on our way to being burned down,” Danny admitted.

we left a trail of excuses as we ran with the devil

Three.

 

When the press decided her age was no longer bringing in views, they attacked Samantha’s hospital records instead. That turned into an even bigger mess, and when Roger showed up, she retreated even further into the house to block out the never ending unraveling that had become her life.

Why the chairman of the board, Danny’s fucking boss, was in her house, and this whole shit storm had not been taken to the office, she didn’t know. They lived in those buildings, in the theaters and studios, but they all descended to invade her personal space as she became company property instead of a person.

“I don’t care that your wife can’t pop out a kid, I care that the drama is causing a drop in the company’s stock price.”

Samantha’s mother always called Danny the devil, but if she ever had the misfortune of meeting Roger Chadwick, she was sure she would change her mind.

 

The sound of glass breaking as Samantha made her way into the kitchen later that night broke the quiet calm that had settled over the house. Roger was gone, not before looking at her like she was an infestation that needed to be taken care of, and Matt was back and in the guest house with a bottle of something and a pack of cigarettes. She could smell them across the lawn and she reminded herself to do a deep cleaning after his visit was over.

Danny looked up from the shards he was picking up, “I knocked a bottle over.”

“Then why’s there glass on the floor across the room?”

“I threw that one.”

“You’re bleeding. Let me see.”

 

“PR is going to have a statement released.”

“I don’t want to release a statement.”

“It’s not up to you.”

Samantha looked up sharply, but saw no demands in his eyes, no anger, just apologies. She went back to cleaning Danny’s wounds. He had cut himself picking up the glass, his normally steady hands a trembling mess. They had been for days, but only when they were alone, just her and him and the sounds of crickets in the distance. She pressed a soaked cloth against his skin, perhaps not quite as gently as she could have.

“That stings,” Danny grimaced.

“This whole situation stings.”

“The press is ahead of us at every turn, Manny. We need to get ahead of the story before it consumes us.”

“It already has.”

“It hasn’t yet.”

She knew the weight of his words and knew he was right. She also knew the potential impact of letting it continue. Still, would they ever get back to normal?

“This isn’t.. me, getting caught with a dollar bill up my nose. This is you, us, what we have together. What we haven’t been able to do.”

“Not Roger’s percentage dips?” Shaking her head, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“We should.”

She finished wrapping his hand and stood up. “Does it always feel like this?”

“It’s never felt like this.”

 

For as long as Samantha could remember, she loved to wear nightdresses. The kind with ribbons and no lace because it itched. The kind that made her feel like a lady, and not a little girl playing dress up. Loose and flowing, she imagined herself walking around in the twilight lighting lanterns to guide the souls on their journey. As she pulled her favorite over her head, she wondered not for the first time when she landed in a Gothic horror film.

Danny was there, on the other side of their bedroom, grimacing through his fifth water bottle of the evening, a sign that he was wishing it was something else. In flannel bottoms and a cotton tshirt because he was Danny, and he was reliable and warm and steady. She loved him despite his faults and he loved her, and that’s all that mattered. He was hers.

“You wore that one that first time we spent the night together.” His eyes were full of stars at the memory, a small smile on his face, his wavy blonde hair a jumbled mess from rubbing his hands through it all day.

“Please don’t speak. I’m mentally composing the musical score to go with my nightmare.”

Danny’s lips twitched in a smirk, a ghost of a smile, this is why he loved her. She was funny in a way no one else he knew was, a little sarcastic, a little out there, and said the wildest things without meaning to.

“There were no good moors to wander across near your apartment, so your bedroom had to do.”

“There were the cliffs by the water. The beaches were empty at night.”

“The beaches were full of the sounds of drunken college kids up at the campus. Not conducive to good nighttime strolls.”

“I had to build you a house instead to wander around in your nightie.”

“You didn’t build this house. You bought it from some old man who died. I can feel his presence at night.”

“Did you get into Matt’s tequila?”

“I had tea.”

“You don’t like tea.”

“It fits the mood. I can’t wander around in a nightdress without a cup of tea.”

“This might be why Matt thinks you’re crazy.”

“Matt will be forever alone because his imagination is wild on paper and hidden away in a stone castle by Dracula himself in everything else.”

Chuckling, “Okay, okay,” Danny put up his hands. Bracing himself, “Do you want to read the press release before it goes live tomorrow?”

“No.” Samantha switched from dreamer to locked down fortress in an instant. The saltiness in her voice matched the tears threatening to fall because everything came back to this.

Danny barreled on anyway, “They’re going pretty deep. They’re going to talk about the baby and my overdose, and I’m pretty sure your mom will be the next uninvited guest once it hits. You sure you don’t want to know?”

“Which one?”

“Wh-what?”

“Which baby? Which overdose?”

and so, 0.7.

Hunched over the toilet, Christopher plunged two fingers down his throat, tickling the opening of his esophagus, then harder, rougher, up and down up and down. He was holding his breath, almost choking, and when the bile finally rushed up he moved his hand away and let it spill. No time to brace himself or catch his breath, he slammed his fingers down again, willing the act to continue lest he lose momentum.

Finally he leaned back on his heels, hand raw, head pounding. Using the wall for support, he stood up and went to the sink. Thrusting his whole lower arm under the water, he rinsed it, then cupped a handful and brought it to his mouth to rinse, and splashed another handful over his face.

Slowly turning his face up, he looked into the mirror. It was easy to not think about what he was doing while he was actually doing it. It required too much preparation and effort, and total concentration. Afterward all the thoughts he pushed away came rushing back.

Seeing his reflection was like coming out of a fog. His skin was pale. His eyes were wet and red and they looked like he had burst another blood vessel again, and he could tell by the way his throat hurt that it would be sore all day tomorrow. He reached up to feel his neck, ran his fingers over the swollen nodes, and sighed. He couldn’t do anything about that, but some drops would help his eyes, although probably not as well as he hoped.

Trying not to think about the new atrocity he was engaging in, he took a swig of mouthwash and let it burn. Later on, he would brush his teeth and hope they wouldn’t hurt too much. It would be a couple hours until then, hours of forcing himself to smile and talk and answer questions.

Taking one last look around the bathroom to make sure he hadn’t forgotten to clean anything up, he exited, took the stairs slowly, and went to the family room. It was Sunday and dinner had ended, but it would still be a long time before anyone went home and he could escape to his room. Sunday dinners were the worst because all the adult Reagan children came, with their wives and girlfriends and boyfriends, kids of their own. They would stay; watching football, finishing homework, and chatting about the week and the one to come.

XXX

Later, Will slid a piece of pie towards his foster brother, pulling a chair from the kitchen to sit with him. Christopher was in the squashy leather armchair that sat near the stairs, legs curled up under himself, slightly away from everyone else but close enough to be seen by them. He was totally engrossed in a book, lost in the world of Louisa May Allcott, who Kelly insisted he read for the betterment of his soul.

“Little Women?” Will questioned.

“Mhmm,” Chris said simply, hoping he would be left alone but knowing he wouldn’t be that lucky. Still, the youngest Reagan sibling was better than Davy or Dana.

“Ma wanted me to bring you that,” Will nodded towards the pie.

Chris looked at it and tried not to grimace, turning a shade paler, “Thank you.” His chest had felt funny since earlier, which wasn’t a new thing, but it clenched more at the idea of having to consume and rid himself of something else.

“So… the book?”

“Kelly asked me to read it. She wants to see the new movie next weekend but doesn’t want me to judge her choices or something.”

“Sounds like she thinks the movie’s going to be bad.”

Christopher just nodded.

Trying to meet his brother’s eyes, “You gonna eat that pie or keep looking at it like it’s a bomb? Or is it something I said?”

Embarrassed, Chris looked up and smiled guiltily. “Sorry. I’m – I don’t know. I don’t feel great, I guess.”

Will looked at him for a long moment. He picked up the plate and stood. “Yeah, I imagine you don’t.” He turned to go but then looked over his shoulder. “The vent in the bathroom connects to my room.”

 

and so, 0.6.

“Where are you going to stay?” George Reagan asked his foster son. The quiet anger hadn’t left his voice but years on the job and raising children of his own had him well versed in controlling his temper. That morning while looking for change, he realized all the spare cash they kept in the coffee can in the kitchen was gone. It didn’t take long for him to realize a few other things were missing and, living with only one son these days, who the culprit was. Finding the stash took even less time.

Putting an old backpack down onto the bed, Christopher started throwing things in haphazardly. “I don’t know. Not here.”

“You have nowhere to go.”

“I guess that’s not your problem anymore, right? Eighteen’s long since passed.”

“That doesn’t matter to me. What you’re doing now matters to me. When did you fall off?”

“It doesn’t matter to you or it didn’t matter to her?” Chris sneered. He hadn’t mentioned his foster mother since she died, and doing so he knew he had struck a nerve. It was never a secret in the Reagan house that his fostering was something Mrs. Reagan wanted and everyone else obliged. He threw his wallet into the bag and zipped it up. Mr. Reagan stared at the boy as he crossed the room.

“Let him go.” Davy said from the doorway.

Christopher, half inside his coat, looked back at him.

“He’s faded now anyway. You’re wasting your breath.”

xxx

Mr. Reagan stood looking out the kitchen windows, snow coating the backyard in a thick blanket of white. It lit up the night to the point where he hadn’t needed a light to come down the stairs, and was heavy enough to keep him upstate despite not planning to spend the night. He sighed contentedly, thinking of the day.

Christopher stamped his feet on the ground and looked up, his breath rising in the cold winter air. He looked at his foster father, his eyes full of worry and fear and faintly, hope. So different from the emptiness that was there last time they met.

“Dana calls every now and then, Davy texts sometimes. But we don’t talk about anything really. I wanted to see you. I just wanted you to know. Um. That I’m okay, I guess.”

“That you’re not dead in a ditch.”

“No.”

“You’re sober.”

“I am.”

“And you’re a father.”

“I am. And a husband.”

Mr. Reagan nodded at the boy. He smiled at him, “Good.”

“I’m sorry.” Shrugging, Chris clarified, “For everything.”

xxx

“I am incredibly proud of the man you have become,” Mr. Reagan whispered as he hugged his foster son to his chest. Pulling away but still gripping Christopher’s shoulders, he said more clearly, “Don’t forget that.”

“I won’t. Be safe. We’ll see you soon.” With one last look at the boy and his little family, he got into his car and backed out of the drive, careful of the ice.

Snapping the front door shut and locking it against the cold evening, Christopher allowed himself to smile as he moved to his daughters room to check on her. There was always a little tension between himself and his foster father, especially after Amelia died and he started using again, but their first meeting since Chris got clean again went well.

He ran his fingers through Reagan’s curls as she slept, amazed at how much bigger she looked. She was more toddler than baby now, and it was happening much too fast.

“Daddy?”

“Shh. Go back to sleep.”

“I see you.”

“I see you too, Reagan. I love you.”

 

“How are you doing?” Kelly asked him later, as they moved around the kitchen putting things away.

Chris looked over his shoulder at her, “I’m alright,” he nodded. Knowing exactly what she was angling for, “I’m glad he’s not still mad.”

“George was never mad at you. He just wanted you to be better. And you are.”

“I know,” he said quietly. “I think a lot about the last time I saw him. I was awful.”

“You weren’t you. He understands.”

“I was a disaster, Kel.” Pausing to sink into a chair, Chris folded his arms across his chest and stretched his legs out. Tilting his head back, “I hate that I think about it so often but I’m glad I do too. You and Reagan, you two are why I stay clean, but remembering the lying and stealing I did – from such good people? That reminds me why I can’t go back to it, even a little.”

Kelly looked right into his eyes. “Christopher, if you ever touch anything even a little again, I will take our daughter and not come back.”

“I know.” Reaching his hand out, he pulled her to his lap and kissed her. “Kel?”

“Hmm?”

“My dad called me. Like, my real one.”