Falling into Us Read online
I’d only heard Kyle talk about him a few times growing up. He was reclusive, I remember. Spent most of his time locked away in his room or in the old barn that served as a garage. He spent a lot of time in trouble in high school, I remember that much. Or rather, I’d heard the gossip. He’d left Michigan the day he graduated, leaving behind everything. I remember Kyle talking about it, sounding hurt and confused even as an eleven-year-old. He just left, and that was it.
Then he’d shown up at the burial, and Nell had gotten out of his huge pick-up truck. What was she doing with him? I couldn’t figure it out, standing at the awning-covered gravesite with Jason’s hand in mine. Why had he come back at all? He’d abandoned his family, his little brother, and as far as I knew, hadn’t so much as called. And now Nell was hanging out with him the day of her boyfriend’s funeral? I tried not to feel betrayed somehow. She didn’t look at me, at anyone. She just stood in front of the cherrywood casket with the brass railings around the outside, the wet grass around the hole covered by the fake-grass-turf sort of carpeting. She looked as if she was about to jump into the deep dark hole and stay there with Kyle.
When Nell stumbled on the grass, Colton’s hand steadied her. I didn’t want him to touch her. She belonged to Kyle. I felt anger radiating from Jason beside me, and I knew he was feeling a similar conflicted confusion.
Nell sat down on a chair and stared listlessly into space as a minister spoke meaningless words. I cried softly, like Kyle’s mother, like Mrs. Hawthorne, like so many people…except Nell. Nell wasn’t crying, hadn’t cried that I saw.
When the words were spoken, she had tossed a flower into the grave, then turned and ran, stumbling on her high heels, kicking them off, her cast cradled against her side. Who followed her? Colton. I heard whispers, people asking the same questions I was thinking.
Now she sat with a cup of coffee in front of her, stirring it idly with a battered spoon. We were in a diner in Ann Arbor. She’d come out to see me since I was inundated with classes and homework. When I called her this morning to see if she could come hang out for a few hours, she’d agreed, but her voice had sounded apathetic and resigned.
I sipped my coffee and watched Nell stare into the swirling caramel-colored depths of her coffee. “Nell? Have you…seen anyone?”
“Seen who?” She glanced at me briefly, but then went back to staring into her coffee, just the tips of her fingers peeking out from the sleeves of her dove-gray North Face fleece.
I shrugged. “Someone. A…therapist. About what happened. ”
She shook her head, the tip of her loosely braided hair shaking over her shoulder. “No. I’m fine. ”
“I don’t think you are. ”
She finally met my eyes, her gaze almost angry. “Okay, well, am I supposed to be? He died barely three months ago. I loved him. What’s a therapist going to do? Tell me it’s not my fault? Talk to me about acceptance and the stages of grief? I don’t need that bullshit, Becca. ” She looked away, out the window to the cool, overcast October afternoon. “I just want him back. ”
“I know. ”
“No…you don’t. ” The last word was uttered in an intense whisper, and the utter anguish I saw in her eyes tore into me.
“Nell…” I wanted to help her, to get her to talk about it.
She wouldn’t. She hadn’t said one word about the accident since that first day in her room. She’d stayed home with her parents rather than go to any of the universities to which she’d been accepted. She was going to Oakland Community College and working with her father in his office. Basically, she was going through the motions, but it seemed to me she’d just stopped living.
“I have to go,” Nell said, finishing her coffee and standing up.
“You just got here. ”
“I’m sorry, I just…I need to go. ”
I tossed money on the table for the coffee, my stomach rumbling since I’d foregone breakfast to have an early lunch with Nell. “Okay, then. ”
Nell must have heard the irritation in my voice. “Beck, I’m sorry. I just…I can’t be a good friend right now. ”
“It’s not that, Nell. ” I followed her out into the cool fall air, buttoning my pea coat part way up. “I’m worried about you. ”
She stopped and turned to look at me. “I know. Everyone is. I don’t know what to say. I just have to get through this, but I don’t know how and no one can help me do it. I just need to go home. I need to be alone. ” She was scratching at her right forearm over the fleece, almost as a nervous habit.
I stared at her scratching hand. “Nell, you’re not…you’re not doing drugs, are you?”
She flinched and dropped her hand. “No! Of course I’m not. ”
“Show me your arm. The one you were scratching. ”
Nell folded her arms under her br**sts. “No. Stop worrying about me. I swear to you on Kyle’s grave I’m not doing drugs. ”
I heard the sincerity in her voice and had no choice but to believe her. I leaned in for a hug and smelled alcohol on her breath. “But you’ve been drinking. ” I squeezed her tight, refusing to let go.
She looked down at me. “A little, here and there. It helps, okay? It helps me cope, and it’s under control. ” My concern must have shown on my face. “I’m an adult, Becca. I can drink if I want. ”
I narrowed my eyes at her. “You’re underage. ”
She huffed. “Stop being such a stickler, Beck. If this hadn’t happened, I’d be drinking at college anyway. This is just under different circumstances. ” She dug in her purse for her keys. “I’ll see you later, okay?”
“Are you safe to drive?” I asked.
“God, Rebecca! Yes! I’m fine! Geez. You’re worse than my parents. At least they leave me the hell alone!”
“Well, maybe they shouldn’t, Nell!” I snapped back. “Maybe they should be worried about you. I know I am. You’re scaring me. ”
“You’re my friend. You’re supposed to understand and support me. ”
“I do. I am. But that doesn’t mean I have to sit by and let you s-sink. ” I ground my teeth together at the stuttered last word, squeezing my eyes shut and focusing. I never stuttered anymore, especially not in public. “I know it’s only been a couple months, but you seem…worse, not better. ”
She shrugged. “I don’t know what you want from me. He wasn’t just my boyfriend, he was my best friend. I knew him my entire life. I saw him every single day for eighteen years. ” Her hand trembled and she squeezed it into a fist, her unpainted nails digging into her palm. “He was everything. And he’s gone. How am I ever supposed to be better?”
“I don’t know, Nell. I don’t. I know I can’t understand what you’re going through. ”
“So stop trying. ”
Nell leaned in and kissed my cheek. “I’m going. Thanks for the coffee. I’ll see you later. ” She turned and left without a backward glance, slipping into the driver’s seat of her mother’s Lexus SUV.
I watched her drive away, heart burdened by worry for my friend. She didn’t seem drunk, but I worried I was being a bad friend by letting her drive when I’d smelled alcohol on her breath. And the scratching of her arm? I’d seen Ben do that before, and I knew for a fact he’d tried hard drugs. She wouldn’t lie to me and swear on Kyle’s grave about it. I knew Nell well enough to know that.
* * *
I found Jason in the gym reserved for the football team, using a weight machine to lift what looked to be an enormous amount of weight with his legs. He was shirtless, his body glistening with sweat, the muscles swollen from exercise. Even though I was upset, I couldn’t help the low growl of desire from rippling through me. I watched him lower the weight until his knees were bent to his chest, and then he blew out a slow breath and pushed to straighten his legs, visibly straining.
He was alone in the room, so I crossed behind him, unseen,