Falling into You Read online
It took a long, long time to walk the mile home, and my ankle was swollen, throbbing, lances of pain rocketing up my leg and into my hip. I pushed open the front door, ignored my parents in the den, who shot to their feet and called my name. Colton had followed me in.
“She twisted her ankle,” he told them. “I think it’s sprained. ”
“Thank you for going with her,” Dad said. I heard the suspicion in his voice as I listened from the top of the stairs.
“No problem. ” I heard Colton’s foot squeak on the marble, then the door open.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Colton. ” My mom’s voice.
“Yeah. ” That was it from him, just that one word, and then the door closed and he was gone. I hobbled into my room, letting myself limp now that I was alone. I shut my door and stripped off my dress, my rain-soaked panties, wrapped plastic around my cast and stepped into the shower. Hot water, scalding on my lower back, scouring away the pain, but not the guilt.
When the water ran lukewarm, I stepped out, toweled off, wrapped myself in my robe and curled on my bed under a pile of blankets. The silence in my room was profound.
I closed my eyes and saw Kyle, crushed under the tree, spiked through, bleeding, breath whistling. I heard his voice whispering “I love you…I love you…” over and over again, until he had no more breath and the sirens in the distance hailed his passing.
I heard my door open, felt the bed dip as Mom sat down next to me. I squeezed my eyes shut, felt something hot and wet trickle down my cheek. It wasn’t a tear. I wouldn’t cry. Couldn’t. To let it go would be to open my soul. It would never stop. I would break…just shatter. The liquid on my cheek was blood, surging out from my ripped and tattered heart.
“Nell…sweetheart. ” Mom’s voice was soft, tentative. I felt her shift the blankets and probe my ankle with a finger. “Oh god, Nell. You need to see a doctor. Your ankle is swollen and purple. ”
I shook my head. “Just wrap it. Ice it. It’s not broken. ”
She sighed, sat silent for a long minute, then came back with an ice pack and an ACE bandage. When I was iced and wrapped, she sat down again.
“I didn’t know you knew Colton. ”
“I don’t. ”
“You were smoking. ” I didn’t answer. I had no reason or excuse to give her. “Talk to me, baby. ”
I shook my head. “And say what?” I pulled the blanket over my head.
Mom tugged it down and brushed my damp hair out of my eye. “I can’t say it will stop hurting. It’ll just get easier to deal with it. ”
Her older brother had died in a car accident when Mom was in college. She still got choked up when she talked about him. They had been very close, I think.
“I don’t want it to get easier. ”
“Why?” She took the brush from my nightstand and tugged on me until I sat up. She brushed my hair with long, smooth strokes, reminding me of when I was a girl. She would sing to me and brush my hair before bed.
“Because if it gets easier…I’ll forget him. ” I still had the note clutched in my cast-clad hand. I took in in my free hand and opened it, read it. The paper was damp, the blue ink faded but still legible.
I heard Mom sigh, something like a sob. “Oh, honey. No. I promise you, you’ll never forget him. But you have to let yourself heal. It’s not a betrayal of his memory to let go of the pain. He would want you to be okay. ”
I strangled on something thick and hot in my throat. I had thought exactly that. If I stopped remembering, if I tried to let go of the pain, it would be a betrayal of him. Of us.
“It’s not your fault, Nell. ”
I shuddered, and my breath failed me. “Sing to me? Like you used to?”
I had to distract her. I couldn’t tell her how it was my fault. She would just try to convince me it wasn’t.
She sighed, as if seeing through my tactic. She took a breath, stroking my hair with the brush, and sang. She sang “Danny’s Song” by Kenny Loggins. It was her favorite song, and I knew all the words from having listened to her sing it to me at night all growing up.
When the last note quavered from her throat, I shuddered again, feeling more heart-blood leak out from my eye. I didn’t wipe it away, just let it slip into my lips, down my chin.
Mom set the brush down and stood up. “Sleep, Nell. ”
I nodded and lay down. Eventually I slept, and dreamed. Haunted dreams, tortured dreams. Kyle’s eyes on me, dying; Colton’s eyes on me, knowing.
I read the note again, seven times. Recited the words under my breath like a poem.
I woke up and clock read 3:38 a. m. I couldn’t breathe from the pressure of grief. The walls of my room closed in around me, pressed in on my skull. I took off the melted bag of ice and rewrapped my ankle, then put on my favorite loose sweatpants and a hoodie. Kyle’s hoodie. It smelled of him, and that only made the pressure on my chest worse, but the smell comforted me as well. It pierced through the numbness and touched my heart, pinched it with hot fingers. I descended quietly, slowly, awkwardly, not able to use my foot much. Out the backdoor, down the steps, onto the cobblestone path leading to the dock.
Quiet guitar strains floated to me from the Calloway’s dock. I knew who it was. The grass was wet with dew and old rain under foot, cold, bracing. The night air was thin and cool, sky a black blanket strewn with silver. My bare feet were silent on the smooth-worn wood of the dock. The guitar chords didn’t falter, but I knew he knew it was me.
He was leaning back in an Adirondack chair, feet stretched out in front of him, guitar held on his stomach. A bottle of liquor sat next to him.
“You should have shoes on,” he said, picking a slow, lilting melody.
I didn’t answer. A second chair sat a few feet away from Colton’s, and he held the guitar by the neck as he reached out to drag the chair closer. I eased into it, aware of his tension, his hand waiting to reach out help me.
“How’s the foot?” He lifted the bottle to his lips, took a long sip, then handed it to me.
“Hurts. ” I took a hesitant sip. Whiskey burned my throat. “Ohmigod, what is that?” I hissed, rasping and coughing.
Colton chuckled. “Jameson Irish Whiskey, baby. The best whiskey there is. ” He reached down to the other side of the chair, and handed me a beer. “Here. Chase it with that. ”
I took it and cracked the tab, sipped. “Trying to get me drunk?”
He shrugged. “You can always say no. ”
“Does it help?” I asked.
He sipped from his own beer. “I don’t know. I’m not drunk enough yet. ” He took another shot from the Jameson. “I’ll let you know. ”
“Maybe I’ll find out on my own. ”
“Maybe you will. Just don’t tell our parents you got the alcohol from me. You’re underage. ”
“What alcohol?” I took another fiery slug from the whiskey.
I felt lightheaded, loose. The pressure of guilt and grief didn’t dissipate, but it did seem to be pushed to the back by the weight of the whiskey.
“If you don’t drink much, I’d hold off on anymore. It tends to sneak up on you. ”
I handed the bottle back and clutched the cold beer can in my fist. “How do you know I’m not a hard drinker?”
Colton laughed openly. “Well, I guess I don’t know for sure. But you’re not. ”
“How can you tell?”
“You’re a good girl. Kyle wouldn’t have dated a party girl. ” He lifted his hips up and dug in his jeans pocket for his smokes and lighter. “Besides, your reaction when you took the first shot told me enough. ”
“You’re right. I’m not a drinker. Kyle and I got hammered once. It was awful. ”
“It can be fun if you do it right. But hangovers always suck. ” He blew a plume of gray, dissipating into the starry sky.
We sat in silence for awhile, and Colton kept drinking. I l