Falling into Us Read online
“Okay, I will. ’Bye, Becca. ”
“’Bye. ” I hung up and set the phone on the coffee table, but I didn’t go back to studying.
I was worried now. The longer I thought about it, the harder the knot of fear in my stomach became. Eventually I got back to studying, but my mind wasn’t totally in it.
Later that day, during dinner with Jason, Kate texted me: He’s back now. Stoned. Says it was only a little pot to calm him down. Im so mad but dont know what to do.
I sighed and showed the message to Jason. I’d explained the phone call to him after he’d gotten back from his run, and he’d agreed that if we hadn’t heard from Kate by tonight, we’d have to think about going down to look for Ben.
I texted back: At least he’s back and it wasn’t hard drugs.
Yeah, but for him weed really is a gateway drug to worse things.
I know, I responded, but I also know he loves you, and he won’t want to risk losing you. Maybe remind him of that, without making it a threat?
After a pause, Kate responded: Good point. I’ll try that. Thanks.
A few weeks passed and things seemed to have settled a bit, as I hadn’t heard anything else from Kate. Jason and I decided to head down for the weekend to check on them. Both Ben and Kate were at work when we got in, so we unpacked some of our clothes and went for a drive, ending up at the old oak tree, where we made love in the cab of his truck for old time’s sake. When we got back, Ben was home, sitting on the front step of the apartment building, smoking a cigarette, smoke mixing with the steam from his breath.
I nodded for Jason to go on in and sat down next to Ben. He looked pale, thinner than I’d last seen him, and his eyes held the old glint of tamped-down anger.
“Hey, you,” I said, bumping him with my shoulder.
“’Sup, Beck. ” He didn’t look at me, flicking the filter of his cigarette with his thumb so a chunk of ash fell between his feet.
“So, how are you?” I wasn’t sure how to broach the conversation now that I was here. He looked like shit, but I’d never say so outright.
“Kate send you?” He sounded petulant, morose.
“No, I haven’t seen Kate. She’s still at work, isn’t she?”
“Fuck if I know. She left. ”
I was stunned. I thought Kate would have told me if she was leaving Ben. “Why? When? Why would she leave?”
“Stupid shit. She never understood how smoking helps me. I tried, Beck. I really did. But it was just never good enough for her. No matter what I did, it wasn’t good enough for Miss Perfect Kate Yearling. ”
“So you’re smoking again?”
He shot a well, duh glance at me, lifting his cigarette in gesture. “I never quit, thus Kate moving out. ”
“No, I meant…I meant pot. ”
“Oh. No…well, yeah, but that started after she left. ”
I frowned in confusion. “She moved out and broke up with you over cigarettes? You were clean otherwise?”
“It’s f**king complicated, okay? I don’t need you breathing down my neck, too. ”
“I’m not…I’m sorry, I’m not trying to breathe down your neck. I’m just confused. ”
“What’s confusing to you? I’m a bipolar f**king mess. She got sick of my bullshit, just like I knew she would. ” He finished his cigarette and lit another with the butt of the first.
“But…that doesn’t make sense. She loves you. ”
“Loved. Emphasis on past tense, sis. It’s over. I haven’t seen her in two weeks. I’m losing the apartment because my stupid job at Belle Tire isn’t enough for a two-bedroom, and they don’t have any one-bedrooms left. I don’t know where I’m gonna go. I’ll live in my car, I guess. Won’t be the first f**king time. So yeah, sorry, but you and Jason will have find somewhere else to crash. ”
I sensed there was more to the story, and I had to find it. “Ben, please. Talk to me. There has to more to this than you’re saying. ”
He flinched visibly when I touched his arm. “Yeah, well…there’s no point, okay? More to the story or not, it’s over. She’s not coming back, and I’m f**king lost without her. ” He shot to his feet and walked away, long black hair loose around his shoulder, obviously unwashed. He was wearing a Belle Tire mechanic’s jumpsuit, stained with grease. Which was odd, since last I heard he was an assistant manager.
I called Kate, who picked up on the fourth ring. “Hey, Kate. I…I came down for the weekend, and Ben says you left. ”
She laughed, but it was bitter and mirthless. “Is that what he says? What else does our dear Benjamin say?”
I was confused as hell at this point and just trying to make sense of it all. “That it was about cigarettes. He said you’re gone and he’s lost without you. He said he was clean when you left him. ”
She made a sound that was part sob and part laugh. “That’s the bullshit lie he’s feeding you, huh? Don’t you know any better than to believe an addict, Becca? He’s using. ”
“Using? What is he on?”
“I found cocaine in his car. But of course it wasn’t his, oh no, he was holding it for a friend. ” She was clearly devastated. “I begged him to just tell me the truth and we’d get through it. But…it’s not enough that he quits for me. He has to quit for himself, or it’ll never work, no matter how much I love him. ”
“He’s a mess, Kate. ”
“I know!” she wailed. “Don’t you think I know that? I watched my father do this same exact f**king thing ten years ago. He OD’d on coke. He died right in front of me. Ben knows this. He knows I cannot and will not watch anyone else die because of drugs. I was hooked on coke. I nearly died, okay? For three years after my dad died, I was hooked on that shit. I OD’d just like him, but I didn’t die. I got help, and I haven’t gone back. I won’t. Not for anyone. I thought…I thought if I did what he did, I’d understand why Daddy left me. I’d understand why he couldn’t stay alive for me, why he abandoned me. ”
“God, Kate. I never knew. ”
“Of course not. You think I tell people this shit? No, it’s depressing. I’m alive. God gave me a second chance at life, and I’m not gonna waste it this time. I won’t watch Ben kill himself, no matter how much I love him. ” She sobbed again, then composed herself with a few deep breaths. “Sorry, Becca, but I have to go. My shift at the hospital is starting. ”
The line went dead, and I was left staring at the cracked concrete and the smoldering butt of Ben’s cigarette.
“Babe? What’s going on? Where’s Kate?” Jason plopped down on the step next to me, then saw the tear on my cheek. “What’s up? What’s wrong?”
“Kate’s gone. She left Ben…because he’s back on drugs. ”
“Shit. ” Jason scrubbed his hand over his face. “That’s not good. ”
“No. ” I leaned against him for support. “Ben says he’s losing the apartment. I’m—I’m worried about him. I’ve never seen him look so depressed as he was just now. He’s angry. I don’t know. I have—I have a really bad feeling, Jason. ”
Jason didn’t offer empty reassurances; he just sat with me until I felt ready to figure things out.
We stayed in the apartment that weekend, but Ben only came back once in the three days we were there, and he stayed in his room the whole time, filling the apartment with the acrid stench of marijuana. I tried to get him to come out and talk to me before we left, but he cracked the door enough to hug me goodbye and that was it.
I grabbed lunch with Nell before we left town for Ann Arbor, and that at least was an uplifting moment in the weekend. She seemed stable, if not happy, and she willingly showed me both forearms. She was wearing a dress with short sleeves, her wrists not covered, all the scars old and white.
“I haven’t cut in a long time,” she told me, sipping on a milkshake. “It’s not something that ever just goes away, and I can’t promise I won’t cut again, but I’m do