I tied the belt tighter around my upper arm to stop the blood flow.
Squeezing my fist every few seconds to pump up my vein, it didn’t take me long to find old faithful. It never did. I leaned back against the old, dirty, mold-infested couch, faintly hearing “Mad World” by Andrew Michaels somewhere in the dark, ominous background. The lyrics immediately brought back old memories—good times, happy vibes, when in reality there was anything but fucking happiness.
This wasn't who I’d always been.
Once upon a time, I tried to find my independence, and somewhere along the way, I found solace in the haze of dependency, which was what led me to that place in time.
I didn’t bother to take in my surroundings.
It was always the same.
Familiar faces that blended together and never changed, always jonesing, always wanting, always needing, always craving.
More. More. More.
And never enough.
It wasn’t about being high anymore. The euphoric, free feeling was long gone. All that was left was the pursuit. Day after day I was pulled down the proverbial rabbit hole with nowhere to turn, always trying to escape, chasing the non-existent dragon that only led to darkness.
It was too late.
It had me.
A tight grasp on my soul, pushing me further and further into the black abyss. What goes up, must come down. It’s the law of physics, the code of life. I rode the high for as long as I could remember. I had been so far up that there was nowhere left for me to go but straight to the bottom. All I wanted was to drown out the feeling of my entire body caving in on me. Soothe the ache, throw fire on the chill, and ease the nausea.
The only thing I could do to feel as if I wasn’t dying was…
To kill myself a little more.
I inserted the needle, welcoming the sting. My blood rushed in, and I slowly pushed down the plunger.
I wanted it to last.
I always do.
It was the best fucking part.
I pulled the plunger back out and watched with hooded, constricted pupils as my blood swirled in once again.
Heaven and Hell. God and Satan. Love and hate. It all blended together. Forming a clusterfuck of hope and despair.
Now, I squeezed my fist.
Tingles from my fingers traveled up my arm and then, and then…
Simultaneously my eyes closed and my head fell back against the couch.
I don’t care that it’s dirty.
I don’t care that it smells.
I don’t care about one fucking thing.
All the misery was gone in the blink of an eye. As if it wasn’t even there to begin with. All that was left was the free, euphoric, and blissful feeling of pleasure that only this could ever bring me. My heart was full, filling in the hollow existence that was my life. The pain numbed.
Even if it was only temporary.
A few moments in time where the world faded into nothingness and I was swimming in an endless pool of possibilities. Not drowning in disappointment, judgment, and regret. Not feeling like I was dead inside, meanwhile I just killed myself a little more. I heard echoes everywhere. Colors blended together making it hard to focus on one thing. I blinked a few times and just like that…
I saw her face like I always did.
As if she was standing right in front of me.
My whole world…
My lips curled up slightly at the vision as I reached out for her. Wanting to touch her, needing to hold her, yearning to kiss her. Craving, God, craving to fucking love her.
“I’m sorry,” I murmured aloud to no one but the illusion of my drug-infested mind. “I’m so fucking sorry,” I repeated repentantly, longing for her to believe me.
Aching for her to love me again like she used to.
I don’t know how long I sat there, staring at her beautiful face before my eyes, subconsciously rubbing the tattooed daisy that was placed over my heart. I couldn’t take it anymore, and the desire won over the haze.
It was too powerful.
It was too vivid.
I grabbed my phone. “Baby,” I said into the speaker. The ringing quickly followed, going straight to voicemail. I hung up and tried again. “Baby,” I urged with desperation in my tone.
I tried again and again and again.
I would try until the end of time if that’s what it took for her to answer.
To talk to me.
To save me.
To crave me.
Time seemed to standstill, as my life slowly played out in front of me. Trying to balance somewhere in between the light and the darkness when all I could see was gray.
“What?!” she screamed into the phone, finally answering after I don’t know how many failed attempts. “What the hell do you want now?”
“Baby.” I breathed a sigh of relief.
“What do you want, Austin? Why are you calling me? We’re over! I can’t do this anymore!”
I shut my eyes and let my mind wander, allowing it to go to another place in time where she didn’t hate me.
“I remember the first time I made you smile,” I chuckled, as if it had just happened.
My nerves were on fire. The mere sound of her breathing through the phone was too intense for me. I hadn’t spoken to her in such a long time. I licked my lips, my mouth suddenly dry.
“I remember when you used to smile just for me. Do you remember, baby? Do you remember what my love feels like?”
I heard her faintly breathing.
“Do you remember my hands on you? My lips? My tongue? The first time I made you come with my mouth? Do you remember all the times since? Tell me I’m not forgotten. Tell me you remember, baby.”
“I love you, Briggs. I love you so fucking much. You’re killing me, don’t you see that? I’m dying without you.”
“No, Austin. You were dying with me,” she rasped, knowing that it killed her to say that.
“The first time I saw your face, I thought to myself, damn, this beautiful girl is goin’ to be the death of me. You were perfect in every way. I was a cocky son of a bitch who needed you then, as much as I need you now.”
“I had a dream about you, baby. I always fucking dream about you. In my dream, you had a ring on your finger. A ring I put there. You belonged to me. Only mine. Forever fucking mine. You were pregnant, Briggs. You looked so goddamn happy. I saw light at the end of the tunnel for the first time in years.”
She sniffled into the phone.
“I made love to you. Slow, just the way you love. Taking my time to touch every last inch of your body. Memorizing every last bit of you. Making you come until you begged me to stop. I didn’t.”
“I can’t—” she tried to interject, but I didn’t let up.
“I kissed your stomach. Our baby. Letting my lips linger there, whispering sweet lullabies, letting her know Daddy will always be there. Baby, it was so real. For a second I gave you the one thing you so desperately wanted, the one thing I can’t seem to give you.”
“After we were done, I just lay there with you and our unborn baby, both of you wrapped in my arms, the only place where you belonged. Unforgiving thoughts plagued my mind as I carefully moved you away from me, making sure not to wake you. I went into the bathroom and I got high. You found me. You always find me. Except this time… I died in your arms. You couldn’t save me, but it didn’t matter because the best part of me was already growing inside you. When I woke up, I was alone. I’m always alone, Briggs, even when you’re near me. I can promise you the world. I can promise you a life. But even in my dreams, baby, I’m haunted.”
“Jesus Christ, Austin,” she wept. “Where are you?”
I opened my eyes, finally taking in my surroundings. As if I was being woken up from a dream within a dream. I couldn’t tell what was real or lucid. Confused by my own reality. It was then that I looked down, the needle still firmly placed in my arm.
“Where are you?” she repeated with a shaky tone.
I shook my head, trying to find some clarity. “I’m so fuckin’ sorry, baby. I love you, Briggs. I love you with everything that’s left of me.”
“Austin, where are you? Please, tell me where you are?” she whimpered, panic taking over.
I took a deep breath and murmured, “The place I hate.”
Pushing in the syringe.
I drove with my heart in my throat like every other goddamn time before this.
I hated him.
I loved him.
I love him.
I slammed on my brakes, shoving my door open before my car was even fully shifted into park. The stench of the drug den immediately assaulted my senses, making me sick to my stomach that he was there.
I ran through the abandoned warehouse that he had told me about so many damn times on my voicemail. Ignoring the random junkies that were hollering at me, pleading for more drugs, begging for another hit. I tried my best to sideswipe the filth, piss, shit, and garbage all around me. I sprinted past the graffiti walls, covering my nose and mouth, trying like hell not to inhale the mold-contaminated air and decay that had taken over the shithole. Piles of trash surrounded the dirty mattresses and chairs, infested with rats and ghostlike junkies that appeared dead but could have been alive. I knew where I would find him. He always called from the same spot, leaving me voicemail after voicemail. Describing the back of the warehouse that looked over the harbor.
I turned the corner, and saw him. My once favorite maroon beanie placed securely on his head. I couldn’t control my emotions.
I hated him in that second.
I despised the love I still had for him in my broken, fucked-up heart in that moment.
I slowed down as I got closer, my calculated steps slow and precise. I wanted to face him. I wanted to look into his eyes like I had done so many damn times before, even though I knew there wouldn’t be anything but a hollow existence. A shell of the man I once knew gazing back at me.
The truth was eating me alive as if I was dying right along with him.
I couldn’t do it.
I stood behind the tattered couch, staring at the back of his head. He nodded off. The craving completely took over me, rotting its way into the empty space that now held his soul.
I shook my head in disgust and bewilderment with tears streaming down my face. This was all that was left of him.
No more I love you’s.
No more I promises.
No more tomorrows.
No. More. Austin.
“Why?!” I shouted, my chest heaving and my heart breaking bit by bit. “Why do you do this to me? Why do you keep doing this to me?” I sobbed uncontrollably. “I can’t fucking do this anymore! I can’t watch you die! I can’t watch you kill yourself more than I already have!” I bawled, my body shaking.
“I hate you! Do you hear me, Austin?! I fucking hate you!” I screamed loud enough to break glass.
Heaving, I leaned over and placed my hands on my knees for support, struggling to breathe in and out.
“Why do you do this to me? Please, Austin, please fucking enlighten me! I’m sorry! I’m so fucking sorry!” I whimpered hysterically.
He didn’t try to comfort me like he always did. He didn’t try to hold me, touch me, kiss me, or reassure me.
Lie to me.
I wiped my face, standing to look at him again. He hadn’t moved from the place he sat. His body was lifeless.
“Austin,” I murmured so low I could hardly hear myself. “Austin,” I said a little louder.
My feet moved on their own accord. Inch by inch, I made my way around the couch, old needles, bags, and God knows what else crunching under my feet. I felt as though I was having an out of body experience. I was there, but I wasn’t. Closing my eyes, I swallowed hard before I was standing fully in front of him.
“Please, God,” I found myself saying as I slowly opened my eyes.
My body shuddered as I took in the needle that was still lodged into his vein, his eyes were closed, and his head leaned over to the side.
“No!” I lunged into action, tearing the syringe out of his arm and throwing it as hard as I could across the place I called Hell on Earth.
“No! No! No! No!” I repeated, grabbing his face, making him look at me. All the color had drained from his body, his lips turned blue.
“Austin!” I shook him. “Austin!” I shook him harder. “AUSTIN!” I slapped him across the face.
“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”
He wasn’t breathing.
“Don’t do this to me! Don’t you do this to me again! Do you fucking hear me! Please! Don’t leave me!”
I reached for my phone.
“9-1-1, what is your emergency?”
“He’s not breathing. I don’t know what to do! Please, please, help him!” I explained as much as I could to the operator, but my thoughts were scattered.
“Where is your exact location?”
“We’re in the back of the warehouse overlooking the harbor by Wallace Street and Grant Avenue.”
“Ma’am, help is on the way. I need you to calm down. Can you do that for me?”
“I don’t know! He’s not breathing. Please don’t let him die!”
“Ma’am, I need you to calm down. You can’t help him if you don’t calm down.”
I nodded even though she couldn’t see me.
“Ma’am, are you still there?”
“I need you to lay him on his side with his knees bent for support. Make sure his face is turned to the side. Can you do that?”
“I think so.”
I gently laid him down on the couch and did as I was told. My hands shaking the entire time.
“The paramedics are almost there.”
The rest proceeded in slow motion.
Paramedics filled the vacant space, pushing me to the side. Narcan being injected up his nose. Paddles shocking him back to life.
“One, two, three, clear.”
His body jolted.
“One, two, three, clear.”
His body jerked again.
Laying him on a stretcher.
Rushing him into the ambulance.
Holding his hand the entire ride.
“Briggs,” a familiar voice called out, pulling me out of my fog.
I cocked my head to the side.
“Briggs, do you remember me? I’m Aubrey’s mom.”
I nodded unable to form words.
“They’re not going to let you go back there, honey. You’re not immediate family. It’s hospital policy. He’s in good hands. I promise I will do everything I can to make sure he comes out of this alive. That being said, there’s a chance he’s not… he was dead for too…” She placed her hand on my shoulder in a comforting gesture with hesitation, unsure how to proceed. “Honey, you need to call his family as soon as possible, time may not be on our side today. They need to be here now.”
I nodded again as she reassuringly squeezed my shoulder. I walked out the double doors of the emergency room, wanting some privacy. The cool breeze was a welcome feeling against my feverish face. The chaos all around me was too hard to ignore. I reached into my pocket for my phone and it was then that I noticed I was shaking. I couldn’t form one coherent thought as I dialed his number. Shame and remorse submerged me, pulling me under, making it hard to breathe.
“Hello,” he answered. I opened my mouth to say something, anything, but nothing came out.
“Darlin’, are you there?”
“Dylan,” I softly whispered his name into the phone. He was Austin’s best friend, and the only one that knew the truth.
“Briggs? Are you alright?”
“I-it’s Austin,” I blurted out, my voice breaking, the words causing my stomach to turn.
“It’s Austin, Dylan. I found him. He called me after you did.”
“He OD’d. He’s in the ICU. They don’t know if he’s going to make it,” I informed him, my tone sounding distant and detached.
“Jesus Christ,” he rasped. “What the fuck, Briggs? You promised me. You fucking promised me that you—”
“I’m sorry,” I wept, tears streaming down my face. “I’m so fucking sorry.”
“How did it get this bad? How has it come to this? How could you let this happen?” he roared question after question, looking for answers I didn’t have.
I violently shook my head. “I tried. I swear to God I fucking tried! You have to believe me, Dylan!”
“No, Briggs. You didn’t. You’re the reason he’s there. If he dies, it’s on you, do you fucking hear me? You!”
I shut my eyes, my phone falling from my trembling hand, crashing to the ground. My body shuddering, knowing in my heart, he was right.
It wasn’t always like this.
Not in the beginning.
“Austin, there you are!” my best friend Alex called out, running towards me with a huge smile on her pretty face.
Her name was Alexandra, but everyone called her Alex for short. She was only eight years old and thought she was one of us boys. Following us everywhere we went from the time she could crawl. Our Half-Pint shadow was our nickname for her.
“What are you doing over here on the dock all by yourself?”
I shrugged, not really knowing how to reply.
There were times that I wanted to be by myself. Alone with my thoughts where I could just let go and be me, without worrying about anyone else.
Where I wasn’t just one of the good ol’ boys.
Of all the people I knew, Alex would understand. Sometimes I felt like we had that in common, the need to escape.
It made things easier for me.
“Why do you have a fishing pole if you’re not fishing?” She giggled, taking a seat next to me on the dock. “What are you writing in that notebook, Austin? You can’t be doing homework, you hate school.”
She leaned over to see and I casually closed it, picking up the fishing pole and casting it out in the water.
“Did you walk over here by yourself, Half-Pint?” I asked, changing the subject.
She rolled her eyes. “I’m not a baby, Austin. You’re nine, that’s only one year older than me and you walked over here by yourself,” she sassed, making me grin.
“Is that right?”
“I know what you’re thinking.”
“Hey, I didn't say a word, but I’m a boy and you’re not. So there is that.”
She narrowed her eyes at me, giving me the signature Alex glare. There was no telling her she couldn’t do something just because she was a girl. If you did, she would prove you wrong the second you laid out the challenge. Her willpower to prove her point had gotten her in trouble more times than I could count, but it didn’t stop me from picking on her, mostly because I loved getting a rise out of her.
We all did.
Our eyes moved to the fishing pole when it jolted and arched.
“You got a bite! Reel it in, Austin!” she exclaimed as she bounced on the balls of her feet, clapping her hands with excitement.
I did, jerking my body back every few seconds, reeling until the fish was out of the water, flapping around everywhere. I stood, laying the fishing pole down on the dock. Squatting down to grab its scaly body with one hand, I used my other to pull out the hook from its mouth.
“I bet I can catch a bigger fish than you,” Alex chimed in.
I grinned again, raising an eyebrow as I stood. “Oh yeah?”
She enthusiastically nodded.
“By all means, Half-Pint,” I challenged, handing her my pole.
She smiled, big and wide as she removed her Chucks. The same black ones us boys started wearing instead of the pink ones her mom begged her to buy. She took a dramatic deep breath before sitting back down with her legs dangling over the edge of the dock, her feet swimming in the water. The exact same way I’d been sitting.
I shook my head and smiled at the image. I watched with a curious gaze as she sat with the pole out in front of her, placed between her legs, her hand ready to reel in a big fish. Determination was written all over her face. She would beat me, even if it meant she would have to stay there all day trying. Something about the way she looked in that moment inspired me. Before I knew it I was opening my notebook, turning it to a fresh page. She didn’t pay me any mind, her attention focused solely on the task at hand.
I tried to capture how the lighting from the sun made the freckles on her nose more prominent and enticing. I watched as a few dark brown strands of her hair blew in the wind. The rest of it tied high on her head so she could fit in better with us. I watched the way she rubbed her lips against each other every few minutes, biting on her bottom one when she was done. How the boy clothes she was adamant about wearing fell off her thin, tiny frame, making her appear younger than she really was.
Nothing lasts forever.
There would come a time when she would shed the boy clothes, not wanting to look like one of us anymore. Blossoming before our very own eyes. Always wearing her long hair down with loose fitting dresses and flip-flops.
Still a tomboy at heart.
The scent of her sunscreen that I knew she put on every morning filled the air all around us. I smiled, enjoying this rare time alone with her. These memories were few and far between. I tried to capture every last detail of her, my hand running wild against the sheet of paper. Peering up at her every few seconds. She just had this natural beauty about her. I don’t know how much time went by. I was in my own little world, and I loved it when that happened. My mind would shut off for a little while, and I could live in the moment.
That didn’t happen very often.
Even at that young of an age.
I always felt older than I was. Even my thoughts were beyond my years, an old soul was what my mom called me. Maybe that’s why being the youngest got to me so much. Having to try and do everything first, proving to the other boys and myself that I wasn’t the last one. Regardless of how much bigger and older they were, I wasn’t going to be the one left behind. It didn’t stop them from trying to order me around, and as we got older, I’d tell them where they could shove it.
Putting an even bigger rift among our friendship, to the point that I no longer called them my brothers. My best friends.
Except with Alex.
Never with her.
She was what held all of us good ol’ boys together, had been since she was born.
I continued to get lost in her, my hand not stopping for one single second. I could see her frustration growing with each passing minute. Not wanting to accept that defeat may be the inevitable, until finally she got a bite. Her face lit up and her body jerked forward from the force. She jumped to her feet for more leverage. I didn’t stop drawing, I couldn’t.
“Austin! I got one! I got a big one, too!” she celebrated, glowing from head to toe.
I laughed as she used all of her strength to reel it in. I could have offered to help her, but that would have only provoked her, and she would have pushed me away. She wanted to do this on her own. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to be the cause of her happiness.
The fish put up one hell of a fight; I'm surprised it didn't yank her into the water. It took her a while to reel it in, but once she did, the joy that radiated all around her was enough to make me put my pencil down and notebook aside.
“Look! Look how big! I don’t think you boys have ever caught one this big before!” she shouted, jumping up and down in front of me ecstatically.
“Well, I think you might be right about that one. Don't get used to that, Half-Pint," I teased.
She smiled, squatting down to take out the hook, exactly the way I taught her. I opened the cooler for her to stick it in next to my fish, but she hesitated and bit her lip, frowning.
“I don’t think I want to keep it. I mean… it’s so big. Maybe it could help one of the smaller fish fight off a big fish one day.”
I chuckled, nodding.
She shrugged, trying not to look embarrassed as she threw it back in the ocean. She turned back around to look at me, but something else caught her attention. Her eyes widened and she gasped, looking down at the picture I just drew of her. I immediately reached down, closing and grabbing my notebook before she had a chance to snatch it.
She reached out, stepping toward me.
“Austin, please let me see,” she begged with her big dark brown eyes gazing at me.
I couldn’t say no to her.
None of us ever could.
I sighed and handed her my notebook. No one knew this about me, not even my parents. She carefully flipped open the cover, her eyes widening once again as she took in page after page of the pictures that I had drawn over the years.
“Wow,” she breathed out. “Did you draw all these?” she questioned, peering up at me.
I nodded again.
She smiled, shaking her head as she looked back down, turning each and every page until she got to the drawing of her. Shock quickly replaced the smile on her face.
“Oh, wow.” She softly touched the outline of her face and then her hair on the paper, paying close attention to every detail I carefully drew. “I didn’t know you could even draw. How do I not know this? I know everything about you. Do the boys know?”
“No,” I simply stated, nervously rubbing the back of my neck.
She didn’t know how to feel about my response, I could see it all over her expression.
“Why are you hiding this amazing talent? I mean…” she gestured towards the notebook in her hands, “this is such a beautiful gift, Austin. You should share it with the world.”
I shrugged, not used to getting compliments or praise, especially for something I didn’t want anyone to know about me. She understood my silent response, nodding and closing the notebook. She handed it back to me.
“Do you not want anyone to know?” she asked what I was already thinking.
“It’ll be our secret.” She threw her arms around my waist. “I promise I won’t tell anyone until you say I can.”
I put my arms around her, kissing the top of her head. She hugged me tighter.
“Can you promise to show me more of your drawings? Can you share your talent with me, at least? Please?” she whispered, gazing up at me.
She nodded, hugging me one last time before she pulled away. It was then that we heard footsteps on the wooden dock, one big thud after another. We both peered in the direction of the noise.
“Bo!” Alex called out, her special nickname for him. “I’ve been lookin’ all morning for you. I found Austin instead.” She pointed in my direction.
He pulled her to his side, and she willingly went with love and adoration spilling right out of her. I looked back up toward Lucas and if looks could kill…
I would be dead.
“Daddy, can I have this?” I asked, holding a dolly with sparkling purple hair, trying to look as cute and adorable as I could. My puppy-dog eyes always worked with Daddy.
“Your mom said no, princess,” he responded.
“But, Daddy, I really need this, please, pleeeease, pretty please?” I begged, giving him the biggest pouty lip.
“Daisy, you already have hundreds of dolls that look exactly like that one,” Mom chimed in.
“No, Mommy, I don’t. She has sparkly purple hair,” I said, raising her above my head so she could see and understand what I was talking about.
She grabbed her out of my grasp and I smiled big, thinking I won. It soon faded when she placed her back on the highest shelf that I couldn’t reach.
“Mommy!” I stomped my foot on the ground.
“Daisy, don’t you dare throw a temper tantrum right now. You have hundreds of dolls, you don’t need another one,” she reasoned.
“You heard your mother, baby,” he soothed.
I rolled my eyes.
This was not the time for him to be calling me that. I grunted, “I’m not a baby!”
Did they not understand how much I needed that doll? She didn't know what she was talking about. I didn't have any like her. It was so unfair.
Ken didn’t want to be with plain Barbie anymore, he wanted to be with Sparkle Barbie. She was ruining all my plans for the wedding of the year, a huge, purple, beautiful wedding. I crossed my arms and sulked the entire way through the store as she placed one stupid item after another in the cart.
Why did she get a book and I got nothing? Why couldn’t she just not buy broccoli and get me my doll? I hated broccoli, even Daddy hated broccoli. Stupid Mom. Stupid broccoli.
She never let me buy what I wanted. Daddy never told me no. Sometimes I wished she wasn’t around. That it was just my daddy and me. Life would be so much better if it was just the two of us, then Mommy couldn’t tell me what I could and couldn’t have. My daddy and I don’t need a mommy. We would do fine without her.
I watched him pull out a wad of cash to pay for our groceries. There was a lot of money; we could have definitely bought my doll. She was just being mean.
“Daddy, please…” I pleaded, tugging on the ends of his shirt.
“Baby, we can talk about it later. I have to go. Daddy is running late for a meeting. You don’t want me getting into trouble, do you?”
I could see it in his eyes, he wanted to say yes, but Mommy cocked her head to the side as if she was testing him. He looked down at me and shook his head no. He grabbed my hand as we walked out to the car, but I didn’t want to leave, I wanted my doll.
“Daddy, please,” I tried again.
“Daisy, ya no más!” Mom scolded in Spanish, “Daisy, no more.” I narrowed my eyes at her, giving her my angry face.
He buckled me into my booster in the backseat of his car. I hated that thing; I was a big girl. Daddy told me so all the time. I didn’t need to sit in a baby seat. I was six years old, but my mom said that I was still under the weight and height, so by law, I still had to ride in one. I think she was lying, there was no law—she just wanted me to sit in one. Daddy gave me a kiss on the forehead and told me he loved me and closed the door.
He rounded the corner of the car and gave Mommy a kiss on the lips, telling her he loved her before he got into the passenger seat. I didn’t want to sit behind Mommy, I wanted to sit behind Daddy. I kicked the back of her seat before she got in the car.
Daddy looked down at his watch after Mommy started driving.
“There’s no way I’m going to make this meeting.”
She sighed. “I’m sorry, Michael. I know how important this meeting was for you.”
Her car had died on our way to the grocery store, so she called Daddy to come rescue us.
“It’s my fault. I should’ve taken it in weeks ago. I’ve been so busy with this merger. I haven’t had time for anything else. It’s fine, I gave the tow truck driver our mechanic’s address.” He grabbed his phone and dialed a number. “Lesley, put me through to the board.”
“Michael, where are you?” I heard someone say through the phone.
“I’m sorry, Dale. My wife’s car broke down and I had to pick them up. I can—”
“Can you still make it?”
Mom looked over at him, nodding. Making a sharp turn that caused my body jolt to the right.
“Yes, I’m on my way now. In the meantime, let me bring you up to date on the building codes,” he began.
“Mommy, I want to stay up and wait for Daddy to come home,” I said, knowing he would have to go back to work.
“Daisy, why don’t you ever make it easy on me? Huh? You know you can’t wait up for Daddy. You have school in the morning. We will eat dinner and do bath time—”
“I don’t want a bath. I want to take a shower,” I interjected, gritting my teeth.
“Damn it, it’s starting to pour.” Mom ignored my comment.
Dad pressed a button and some lights came on.
“No, baby, bath time is easier on me,” she added. “Por favor ya no me contestes así, Please don’t talk to me like that anymore.”
“Yes, Dale. The figures need to match the proposal,” Dad kept on talking, ignoring us both.
“But I don’t want a bath.” I kicked my leg against the booster seat, hitting the back of hers. She gave me a warning look through the rearview mirror.
Why couldn’t she let me do what I wanted? I was a big girl. What was her problem? A bath and a shower were the same. They both got me clean. I stared out the window. I could barely make out the trees as we passed them. It really started to pour, and I could hear the drops coming down hard on the car.
“Oye, niña, quedate quieta,” she ordered, “Hey, little girl, quiet down. You will get a bath,” she sternly stated. “Is that a red light? Fuck, I can’t see.”
“Ooohhh! You said a bad word. Daddy, she’s in trouble!”
“Daisy, enough!” Dad yelled at me, placing his hand over the phone.
Now they were both making me mad.
“No! I want a shower! I don’t want a bath! I'm not a baby! I don’t want one! I want a shower! I don’t want a bath!” I screamed, kicking my leg against the booster seat over and over again, my feet slamming into the back of Mom’s seat.
“Daisy Julissa Mitchell Martinez!” she roared in Spanish. “I swear if you say one more word…”
I didn’t like it when she said my full name. It meant I was in big trouble.
“No! I don’t care!”
“Daisy, you don’t talk to your mother like that.”
“I hate you both, I really hate you! I wish you would just go away and leave me alone!” I yelled, regretting it immediately.
She instantly turned around and looked at me wide- eyed with a tear running down her face. I had never said that to them before. It just came out. I didn't mean it, I loved them both. I felt really bad. I was about to apologize and tell her I loved them, but I was cut off.
“AMARI!” Dad yelled out, grabbing the steering wheel. “This fucking idiot—”
The loud crashing noise that followed made me want to put my hands over my ears as my body was thrown forward. The car spun, whipping Mommy and Daddy’s bodies all around. I wanted to cover my eyes. I think I was screaming, or maybe that was my mom? My head hit something hard and my body felt like it was on a roller coaster ride, as we tumbled and tumbled and tumbled. I didn't know which way was up and which was down.
For a second, I caught a glimpse of Mommy's face in the mirror, and I swear she mouthed, “I love you.”
It all happened so fast, yet it played out in slow motion in front of my eyes. I heard glass shattering all over me, pieces flying through the air. The sound of crushing metal drowned out our screams.
When we finally stopped, an eerie silence filled the car. All I could hear were raindrops hitting what was left and rumbles of thunder in the distance. I was really dizzy and tired. It was hard for me to open my eyes, but when I did, what I saw…
Would forever haunt me.
A week went by before we stood in the pouring rain. A black umbrella placed high above our heads, a man I had only just met holding it securely in place behind us. I watched the raindrops fall, forming puddles all around us, shuddering with every single drop.
I looked up at the tall, big man who called himself my Uncle Alejandro standing beside me. Mommy told me all about him. She said he was her baby brother who loved me very much but he was a very busy man and couldn’t come visit us. He always sent me gifts for my birthday and holidays so I always believed what my mommy had said. But now I wasn’t so sure.
He never smiled.
He didn’t laugh.
He barely even spoke to me.
I don’t think he liked me very much, but I still wanted to reach for his hand to hold it. I still wanted him to wrap his arm around me so I could hide inside his big arms and feel protected from what was happening all around us.
I bowed my head in remorse and shame.
“Are you ready, Daisy?” Uncle Alejandro’s rough voice filled the air from above me.
I nodded, lying. I wasn’t ready. I would never be ready. It surprised me when he reached for my hand. My gaze quickly followed the length of his arm up to his cold, dark eyes that never held any expression or emotion.
“The real world is a fucked up place,” he said in a neutral tone out of nowhere, making my eyes widen and my head jerk back by the way he spoke to me.
It didn’t faze him. “It’s better that you learn that now. You can’t stay a little girl forever, Daisy.”
“My name is Briggs,” I declared.
No more Michael.
No more Amari.
No. More. Daisy.
A part of me knew he wasn’t looking for an explanation. I didn’t say anything as we stepped forward, taking one last look at where my parents were laid to rest. Knowing I got my wish.
I had put them there.
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