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.

The Lost Boy, 17.

The quarantine was over, but they still wouldn’t let him leave the hospital. They told him he fell through the ice but he didn’t remember. The last memory he had was of his confrontation with O’dell in his living room.

Doctors were sent to talk to him about the cutting but they found him unresponsive. The loss of his freedom didn’t move Jamie to speech. His removal from the team didn’t faze him either. His mother worried ridiculously about catatonia despite assurance from from the medical team treating her son. He had retreated into himself, but he was aware.

He needed this time. To process, to begin healing. He knew he couldn’t keep on this way. There were people wanting to help bring him back and he wanted to let them. To be in control, to be Jamie Daniels again.

His father kept coming to see him. Jamie hadn’t acknowledged him, staring at the ceiling or sometimes out the window. Alan talked to him anyway. About his life in England and his years playing hockey, his son. My brother, thought Jamie. His yearly box of pictures and news clippings his grandmother sent. All intriguing pieces of information that Jamie filed away to ponder when he was alone.

Samantha and John came, bringing the kids once or twice, but usually they were alone. His mother fussed over sheet thread counts and whether his pillows had feathers or were foam. His stepdad looked at her as though she’d lost her mind. “I have to do something,” she explained. She filled the room with flowers and then it was Jamie’s turn to look at her like she’d lost her mind.

The hospital became a revolving door of former teammates.

Goldstein came, bringing with him a meatball hero from his parent’s deli. “Ya gotta eat something other than jello.”

Dennis spent an afternoon with him, telling him ranching stories, all the while trying not to sneeze at the flowers.

Coach O’dell came while Jamie was asleep. He stared at the boy from the doorway for a long time, trying to figure out how things had gone so wrong. His number two for years had bloody limbs from his fall. Danny, of course, had filled him in on his other dramas and O’dell shook his head. “You’re gonna be okay, Jamie. You’ll make it.”

The days continued to pass in a blur of rotating nurses and friends and family visitations. He was still silent, but began letting on that he was paying attention. His nurses felt his gaze as they changed his dressings and smiled encouragingly. The doctors grew hopeful.

His cuts healed leaving angry scars in their wake. Jamie stared at them, remembering each slice. He wanted to cut. Needed to. Even though his head said no. He touched them gingerly, feeling his body practically scream for the blade, anything to feel the cold metal against his skin instead of dealing with his father’s sudden interest in his life, his mother’s sad eyes, Coach O’dell, Danny Jesse Adam Kayleigh.

Kayleigh.

Kayleigh had come to see him.

“What are you doing to yourself?” she whispered. She didn’t look sad, just disappointed.

Which was worse, in Jamie’s opinion. He spent so many years trying to be perfect; the perfect boyfriend, the perfect son, the perfect teammate. Maybe not the most perfect student but he tried. “Don’t you know how worried I’ve been? Danny said they almost didn’t pull you out in time. Do you remember? The ice was thin. You weren’t breathing.”

Kayleigh’s eyes strayed from his and looked down his body, stopping at his left arm, above the wrist. There was now bruising mixed with the scars.

“Why?” She moved closer, tears beginning to sting her eyes. Burying her face in his chest, she started to cry. Jamie shifted and breathed deeply. “I’m gonna be alright, Kales.”

 

The end.

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┬áto 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.”

 

The Lost Boy, 16.

When Jamie woke up, he was cold, thirsty, and alone. He felt the unseen walls surrounding him, and heard the beeping of the heart monitor in the corner of the room. What he didn’t know was how he got to the hospital. Pressing the call button above his right shoulder, he tried to shift himself into a more comfortable position, but found movement to be difficult. His arms felt numb, but his lower half was sore.

He winced as the nurse bustled in, turning the overhead light on and blinding him temporarily. She checked his vitals as he tried to blink away the tiny circles that blocked correct vision.

“Glad to see you’re up. How’re you feeling?” she asked. Jamie paused a moment, debating whether to bombard the poor woman with questions, or just answer her question.

“Tired.”

“That’d be the medications you’re on. They’ll make you feel sluggish for awhile.”

“But why am I on anything? How did I get here?”

“Your doctor will be in later to discuss your situation. Right now, I suggest resting until he gets here.”

“But – ”

“Just rest.” she said quietly, smoothing down his blanket.

xxx

“He needs to know. He wants to know.”

“And I will tell him when it’s time. Until then, you will not say anything to him. Do you understand?”

“I’m his father.”

“It only says that on paper.”

Jamie woke later in the night to the sound of voices talking outside his room. He recognized the woman’s voice, it was his mother’s, but the man’s voice was alien to him.

Groggily, he raised his head off the pillow, trying to catch more of their conversation, but they seemed to be moving away from the door. All he was able to hear was the padding of footsteps as they echoed away from his room.

What was that about? he thought to himself. He was positive they were talking about him, but he didn’t know why. Nothing made sense. Where was he, again? He just couldn’t remember.

Jamie turned his face towards the window, a sliver of light shining in. It shone and reflected off something white on his arm. Bandages. White in color, wrapped around his arm tightly, causing the feeling in it to fade to pins and needles. Underneath, the skin was itchy. Why?

Feeling another wave of tiredness fall over him, Jamie rested his head back on his pillows and closed his eyes. He was asleep within minutes, and never noticed the man with the green eyes that slipped into the room. He didn’t stir either, when he pulled a chair close to the bed, and took his hand.