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?”

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

Two.

The warmest brown eyes she had ever seen sparkled when he was happy and danced when he was excited. But they didn’t grow cold when he was upset or blaze when he was angry. They shuttered, closing the windows so you couldn’t see inside anymore.

 

The layover in Washington had been short, but anxiety inducing and when she stepped back onto the plane she wondered what she was doing. She didn’t like crowds, didn’t like flying, and didn’t like people she didn’t know. Most of the time, she didn’t like people she did know. She sighed in relief as she sat down, glad that she was sitting next to the man that had been there before. He had slept the first four hours but was awake now. His eyes were curious.

“Spring break in the Big Easy?,” he questioned. “Not sure how much fun you’ll have this time.”

She hesitated, not wanting to encourage conversation. “Katrina relief.”

“Really?”

“Don’t sound so surprised.”

Despite her inclination to not get to know her seatmate, but comforted by the fact that they only had an hour left until they landed, she found herself talking more than she had in days. This strange man that sat next to her was magnetizing and she didn’t know why. His eyes shone as they went on.

He made conversation easy, and his voice was all southern comfort and warm blankets. He asked questions that she normally considered probing, but kept it flowing with joking laughter and easy smiles. She told him she was studying development at the design school in Rhode Island and disliked her snobby roommate and worked at the art gallery on campus.

He told her that he was also living in Rhode Island, not just on vacation like she assumed, and worked as an associate at one of the theaters she liked to hang around in.

He didn’t tell her that he had seen her around, her unruly curls had caught his attention back in late October, and his breath caught in his throat a little each time she showed up in the theater to have lunch with some of the student interns.

He was originally from New Orleans, which explained his voice, but after school he went where the first available job took him, and he stayed. She teased him for referring to his home state by its embarrassing moniker and he gave it right back to her by taking a shot at her Jersey accent. He was also going to be spending his vacation volunteering relief.

As the announcement was made that they would be landing soon, her now not-so-strange man excused himself to the restroom and Samantha decided it would be nice if she saw him again. He had the kindest eyes. He was a little older, but she always related better to people with a little more experience. And seeing a familiar face around wouldn’t be so bad.

When he came back and settled himself, clicking the seatbelt for their descent, he turned back to her and smiled. “My name’s Danny, by the way.”

His eyes were red and blown.

 

Matt had wandered off some time ago and there had been quiet talking from downstairs for half an hour. The her phone pinged with another link from her mother. A new headline, a new never ending voicemail, a new feeling of shame she hadn’t experienced. She heard Matt’s car pull away from the house.

Danny slid his arms around her from behind, pulling her close and sinking his face into her neck. He didn’t kiss her, just breathed in her natural scent as it mixed with the sunshine and laundry perfume she wore.

She had known Danny was there, had waited a full five minutes in silence before coming up to her, and she didn’t know what to say. She never knew what to say anymore.

“I love you,” he whispered into her sweater. “I’m sorry.”

Turning into him, she whispered back, “It’s not okay.”

She didn’t need to look up at his face to know the windows of his eyes closed as he stopped breathing.

 

 

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

One.

It started with a photo taken long ago, showing up in the news with the headline DANNY KING MAKES WAVES WITH CHILD BRIDE. What was annoying was that 1. Samantha and Danny had only known each other for a few weeks at that point, and there was nothing scandalous about them sitting in the sand on the beach, obviously mid-conversation; and 2. Samantha was nineteen years old when the photo was taken, not sixteen like the article claimed. Young, but certainly not a child.

That didn’t stop the endless stream of media attention she was now receiving, or the angry voicemails her mother was leaving on her phone every time she watched the newest gossip segment on television.

Samantha was rarely in the news and she preferred it that way. Her position had no need to be folly for the media.

Danny was always in the news. He was a stage director in New York and his brilliance as one half of the dynamic duo that recently brought their biggest show to cinema had brought as much propaganda as success into their lives. His scandalous past had been brought up in every avenue she ran across. She had lived and breathed it, then locked it in a box and threw away the key. It had been years and she was tired. And now the box had been broken into and she had been brought into mix.

Something in her snapped, and she had taken to her social media account to post a rebuttal. The first being her copy of the beach photo, captioned with the year and a note saying ‘This is nineteen.’ Swiping left was a photo of her and school friends, captioned with the year and ‘This is sixteen.’ Danny’s bosses were not amused.

“You’ve really created a stir,” Matt said, creeping up behind her.

Samantha had been standing at the top of the stairs, staring unseeingly at the wedding dress her mother in law had framed as a gift. It sat imposingly against the wall, almost daring her to smash the frame along with her hopes and dreams.

“All of this makes you wonder if there are still beautiful things in the world,” she whispered, wishing Matt would go away.

He wouldn’t though. He was writing something new, which meant he was doing anything to avoid writing something new. So he was here, in what she deemed her safe place, but it was also her husband’s safe place, so that meant Matt. Sometimes she wondered which one she married.

“It’s all too close and incredibly loud, yadda yadda, but I have to give you style points. You were passive aggressive and I liked it. Danny did too. Have you spoken with him about it yet?”

“If you’re asking me about it then you already know the answer.”

Matt was silent, which showed more tact than he usually had.

“He’s scared, you know. Why you’re suddenly a story, when his track record has never been too boring for the rags. The lawyers are pissed.”

“The lawyers are pissed that I responded, not that my age or involvement with a man are a story.”

“He doesn’t want to –

“Peter’s not losing Wendy, Matt. It’s been fourteen years.”

 

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

Prologue.
The second time Danny went to rehab, but the first time in Samantha’s experience, Matt called her a jailbait piece of ass that Danny was just having a good time with until something better came along.
 
Samantha hated him until she married Danny, when, ten years later, Matt quietly apologized the day before their wedding. She knew he had hurled his words in anger, but the fact that he vocalized her worst fears still haunted her almost four years into her marriage. 
 
She appreciated what Matt was to her husband: his creative partner, a best friend, and a brother; but they would never have a good relationship. She spoke to him only when she had to.

She doesn’t know much about his life previous to her, aside from the drugs. He has family in New Orleans, and his work experience is public knowledge. But the age difference between them means he had a full life before they even met, and when they talk about the miscarriages, he gets a faraway look in his eyes.

She’s afraid to ask what it means.