All I see is white. At first I wonder if I might be in heaven, but even a heathen like me refuses to pretend that there’s a place for me there. I must be in the hospital, something that I definitely can’t afford at this point in my life.
“So you’re finally up.”
I don’t feel like any doctor here would have that Irish lilt except by one hell of a coincidence, and when I turn my head towards the sound, my entire neck feels bruised. I moan, and Damien comes into focus, plopping down onto the floor in front of me. “What the fuck is this?” I ask.
“You’re on your sofa. Take it easy now. I’ll get you a glass of water.”
Everything starts to come into focus, and I’m angry to find out that he’s right. I should be in the grave, but instead I’m still in this fucking house. This is ridiculous. I can’t even kill myself right. I’m sure that my father-in-law wouldn’t be surprised. Former father-in-law. Of course.
“What the fuck are you doing here? I thought I locked the front door.”
“Yeah, well, I happened to check up on you to find out what was going on with work. There was never any wall that needed mending. You made all that shit up, so I thought that you were trying to keep me away from this house. And it’s a fucking fine thing I did too, or else it wouldn’t just be the memories that would be long gone.”
I know he thinks that he’s being comforting, but instead I can’t meet his eye. I just want to rest. My entire body feels weary, like it’s gone through some ordeal and it’s quite sure that it’s made it through yet. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“Well, you shouldn’t be whatever the fuck you are. It took me forever to wake you up. What have you done to yourself?”
“You don’t want to know.”
He gives me a haunted look, as though I did something to injure him in particular. I feel guilty for having not protected him from myself. I never should have gotten close to him. Whenever I let people into my left, I just disappoint him. I should have been able to let Karen find happiness, but I’m too weak to remain here on this planet and know that I can’t have her. It’s just too much. I’d rather just step out of the way and let her do her thing, and if Damien had never met me, he wouldn’t have the pain of enduring the way I constantly fail.
“Should I be taking you to the hospital?” he asks, and I can tell that he’s serious. I don’t want to see a doctor. There’s nobody who can fix what’s been growing inside of me all these years. There’s no proper label for this cancer, and there’s no treatment for it. There’s no way that anyone can cut down to the source and save me from it without killing me at the same time. I need to keep this poison in my system in the hope that I can get rid of whatever else lingers beneath the surface. It might still manage to work its magic.
“Don’t. Please.” I know that he’s still considering it, trying to figure out how someone his size can drag a man like me out the front door and into a car. It would probably be next to impossible if I thrashed about, and I know that even now, I could put up enough of a fight to make his life hell.
“If I’m not going to do that, you at least have to tell me what went down last night.”
“It’s all just really fuzzy.” This is actually a lie, but he doesn’t need to know all of that. I just rub my head and feel a bruise forming on my temple. “I came back here to start to burn Karen’s stuff. I just wanted to make all of the hurt go away. I started to drink more because it made it easier… I must have blacked out or something.”
“You threw up is what you did. And there were pills.” He stares at me in accusation, but I don’t say anything. It’s not like he has to have me tell him what I was doing. He doesn’t need anything really fleshed out. I don’t know why I’m talking to him at all if he already knows everything he needs to know.
“I don’t remember,” I tell him, and there’s enough pain in my voice that he could certainly mistake it for sincerity rather than me suffering the fate of life’s worst hangover. “How long have you been here? And what time is it?”
“I don’t know. Must be getting to be a bit later in the day. I’d say six, so that would make it two, maybe three hours?”
The bar should already be open. He should be making money rather than sitting here with one of his best/worst clients, who has managed to nearly obligate himself with the vices he’d otherwise have to pay for by the unit. “You don’t have to stay. I can handle this on my own.”
“Like you handled it last night?” There’s an edge of sarcasm that I can’t quite handle, and I think he can sense how uncomfortable I am. Still, that doesn’t stop him from lighting a cigarette as he watches over me. I think he needs it for his nerves, or maybe he just needs to busy his hands with the matches. “No, I’m not going to go anywhere until you can get up on your own two feet. Then you’re packing a suitcase, and we’re going to go to my place.”
“You heard me.” He sounds tired, like a grandparent who has gone through too much in watching over a teenager. I expect him to pinch his nose and tell me that he’s disappointed in me, but instead he just looks over the length of my body like there might be some parts missing. It’s just too bad that the portions missing are those that can’t be quantified.
“I really don’t need you to look after me.” I give him a sad smile, and I know that he’s going to argue, so I just hold my hand up. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate it. I do. I think it’s amazing that you would even offer to go above and beyond like that, but what does it get you in the end? Why are you helping me? Why are you here?”
“Because.” I think he’s angry, but his hand is shaking when he’s dragging on his cigarette, and I realize that it’s because he’s actually emotional. He’s quaking because he doesn’t want to let me see him cry, and then when he does, he hastily rubs the tears away. “You’re a friend, you dickhead. I care about you.”
“I don’t deserve that.”
“Yeah well, maybe you could work on deserving it rather than just throwing that away with all your old photographs and knickers.”
I shouldn’t laugh, but I do anyway. It feels the same as the pills did when they went down, and I don’t quite like it. “I don’t know how to start though. I haven’t really had anyone to rely on before. Nothing in my life has ever really stayed.”
“The first step is to be less of a dickhead. After that…” He sniffs again and looks at the cigarette, wondering where to deposit the ash. Finally he stands and goes over to the fireplace, tapping the end of the cigarette until the cylinder dissolves harmlessly. In a way, it’s like he’s placing his own mark on the place and what’s been left behind. I kind of like that. “You just do what you can to be good to people. Is that really such a difficult concept?”
“Well, all I’ve known how to do is be selfish. And even that hasn’t worked out too well for me.” I give a tiny laugh, but it sounds canned, like something that came out of a sitcom that was decades old. Maybe that’s how long it’s been since I’ve really laughed. “You really want me to come live with you? How do you know that I won’t just pull something like this again?”
“Well, I’m counting on the hangover to discourage you from ever pulling some shit like this again. But if you try again and I find you, I’m going to make you wish you’d pulled it off.” There’s something a bit haunting about his gaze, intimidating and reassuring at the same time. I know that he means business, and I’m glad that I have someone like him in my corner of the world. It would be too terrifying to have him against me, that’s for damn sure.
I know that I shouldn’t exert myself, but I still struggle to sit up. My head is swimming, my stomach ready to empty itself again, but I need to show him that I’m going to make this right. If I’m stick in this world, then there must be some sort of reason. I have unfinished business, a ghost trapped in my own skin. There is something that I have to do before I go, and I have a feeling that he’s going to help me accomplish it. Reaching out, I wrap my arms around him and give him a hug. I realize that it’s possibly only the second time I’ve ever done this, but he doesn’t flinch away. He never has from me, damaged though I’ve always been. “You just saved my life,” I whisper in his ear, too scared of letting go then to actually loosen my grip even if his breath is forcefully shallow.
“Don’t make me regret it,” he responds, patting my side as though I haven’t just told the truth. Nobody will ever hear about this, but we’ll both always know. I owe him as much as to remember.