When I finally woke up Jordan was already out of bed. I noticed that she had packed up her things. She was planning to leave today. As I sat up in bed I still felt tired, the events of last night heavy on my body. I went into the bathroom and splashed water on my face. I looked up from the sink and I noticed my reflection. I looked as tired as I felt. I groaned. Then I went to find Jordan.
She was out on the deck enjoying coffee. I poured myself a cup and went out to join her.
“Hey,” she said. “How was he?” I had texted her from the hospital to say that Tyler would be fine.
“Beat up. But he’ll live. Incredibly he didn’t get burned just a bad case of smoke inhalation.”
“And how are you?”
“Beat up. But I’ll live.” I tell her with a wry smile. She just shakes her head. “I know.” I say.
“I didn’t say anything,” she replies.
“You don’t have too.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“Truthfully? I don’t know.” She doesn’t speak, just waits for me to keep going. “I was so angry last night at the way he behaved. And it scared me. It gave me a flash-forward of what our relationship might look like and it wasn’t pretty. But seeing him in that hospital bed, hurt and vulnerable…all I could think about it is how much I love him. How much he needs me.” The stress of it all too heavy of a burden I collapse my head onto my knees. “Oh Jordan, what am I going to do?” She immediately puts her arms around me.
“I’m not going to tell you what to do. You have to figure that out for yourself but I am going to give you some advice.” I lift my head in anticipation. “Take care of yourself Alana. You’ve just been through an extremely traumatic, life-changing event. Don’t take on someone else’s problems.” I can hear the urgency in her voice.
“So you’re saying I should break up with him?”
“I’m saying you need to take care of yourself before you take care of him.” I sigh. The smart thing to do would be to leave with Jordan today. But I can’t. I feel weak and tired. I also feel leaving now would be running away. And I can’t do that to Tyler. Our love for each other was real I just didn’t know if the pain he was in would come between us.
“He did warn me you know.”
“What do you mean?” She asks confused.
“He was afraid to get involved because he says he’s screwed up. I just didn’t listen.”
“He needs to get over that bullshit self-fulfilling prophecy. We’re all fucked up in one way or another but we can’t stop it let us from being happy. And I just want you to be happy.” She hugs me even tighter.
“Do you really have to go?” I say.
“Yes. But you’ll be home in a couple of days.”
“Yeah, I’ll be picking my Mom up from the airport. Is it wrong that I’m not excited about that?”
“I get it. This is a big transition for your family. I’m sure none of you know how to act. That’s why…never mind.”
“I’ve said what I need to say.”
“Jordan.” I look at her. We always tell each other the truth. It’s one of the fundamental, and best things about our friendship. I give her that look.
“Say it.” I reiterate.
“You just don’t need this shit with him. That’s all. You’ve got enough shit to deal with.”
“Maybe dealing with his shit distracts me from my own.”
“That sounds healthy. Aren’t you a psychology major?” She teases me.
“I’m thinking about switching.” I tell her. She laughs.
Twenty minutes later and Jordan is gone. Dono is gone too. He went into the garage and then to pick up Tyler. He stayed true to his word and is bringing Tyler back here for a few days. I’m not sure whether I should be ecstatic or nervous about that. Maybe I’m both. I don’t have a plan for how I’m going to handle this. We need to talk, really talk. We have to both want this to work. He has to show me he’s all in.
I hear the sound of the truck on the driveway. My heart flutters with anticipation I head over to the front door to greet them. Tyler is walking normally if a little slower than usual. Dono is following right behind him.
“Hey,” I say as he steps on to the porch, my voice catching in my throat, the thought of losing him still fresh in my mind. I came so close to losing him is all I can think. I never want that to happen again. I practically throw myself into his arms.
“Hey,” he responds half-laughing, wrapping his arms around me.
“You scared me.” I confess, wiping away the forming tears.
“I know. I scared myself.” We hold each other a little longer appreciating his return.
“Are you hungry Tyler?” Dono asks reminding us of his presence.
“I’m OK,” he’s says. “I had some bad hospital food earlier.”
“Well I have to head back to the garage. I’ll pick up dinner on the way home. How does pizza sound to everyone?”
“Great.” We both respond. Dono must be exhausted, I don’t think he was able to go back to sleep for as long as I did. Neither one of us would have the energy to cook tonight.
“Well Lani, will look after you. You need to take it easy the rest of the day. No strenuous activities.” He looks pointedly at both of us. I turn away and blush. Dono leaves. Tyler smiles back at me, “Does that mean we can’t have sex?” He asks with a roguish smile. I’m glad to see the fire hasn’t dampened his sense of humor.
“I think that’s exactly what that means.”
“We’re both adults.” He grins again wrapping his arms tightly around my waist. And I have quell the desire that quickly rises. But then he launches into a coughing fit that stokes my concern.
“You need rest, come on,” I say taking him into the living room to sit on the couch.
“Can we sit outside? Fresh air sounds good.”
“Sure.” We head out to the deck. “You want something to drink?”
I grab us both a bottle from the fridge.
“How are you feeling?” I ask sitting down next to him.
“Tired, sore, my chest is still so tight but mainly I’m embarrassed,” he says turning to look at me. I hold his gaze but I don’t say anything. “I’m so sorry for the way I acted. Last night when we were trapped by the fire, I couldn’t breathe, it hurt too much. I crawled on my face to the other room, hoping to survive, hoping to live but my body felt so heavy and everything was so hot but all I could think about was you, all I could see was you. And I wanted to see you again so badly, I wanted to tell you I was sorry.” I take his hand, squeezing it tightly. Trying to suppress the idea of losing him.
“I’m so sorry Alana. I am truly, truly sorry. I was so stupid. I was drunk and defensive and I should explain to you why.”
“I know you’re going through a lot with your Dad.”
“You don’t know half of it. But I want to tell you. I need to tell you. I was just afraid to before because I was afraid of what you would think. My story is dark and messy and you’re not that. You’re light and beautiful and I want to be part of you but I’m afraid, I’m afraid I’m not good enough for you, no I know I’m not good enough for you. But I want you anyway because I’m a fucking selfish bastard.” I wrap my arms around him.
“Who says we have to perfect? No one is. Everyone has a story, a past, messiness, imperfections…but they don’t have to dictate our future. Flaws, traumas, experiences good and bad, that makes us who we are. And I love who you are Tyler. I just need you to let me in.” He takes a deep breath as if preparing himself.
“Tomorrow I’m going to my Dad’s parole hearing. My Dad was a violent alcoholic who used to beat me and my mother.” I gasp despite myself. Tyler hasn’t seen his Dad since he was eleven how sick do you have to be to beat a little boy? Tyler doesn’t look at me. He just continues to stare out at the Lake.
“One night he came home disgustingly drunk, spoiling for a fight, ready to hurt us. My mom would hide me. She could sense the minute he got home if it was going to be a bad night. Sometimes she would make us leave the house and hide at a friend’s. We came here a few times.” I look at him, shocked.
“To Dono’s?” He nods.
“Dono knew both my parents. My Dad used to work in his shop.” I can’t believe what I’m hearing. I had no idea the connection ran so deep. But I don’t interrupt him I want to hear the full story.
“Dono knew my Dad had a drinking problem. He tried to help him. He took him to AA meetings. It worked for a while…until it didn’t. He wasn’t violent sober. He was like I different person. I remember that. He was happy Dad. And there were even moments when I loved him. It must have been those moments that made my mother stay. But she didn’t really have anywhere to go…I think he was sober off and on for about two years or at least he would try and hide it but the last six months before he went away were bad. There was no period of sobriety. As the drinking got worse so did the violence. Once Dono found out about the violence he fired him. Which truthfully only made everything worse. The nights we came here, we slept upstairs in your room, this is the first place I ever felt safe. I know Dono tried to get her to leave I think they even had a plan in place. He would talk to Jimmy about what they could do. My mom had called the cops a couple of times…I don’t know, I don’t know what they were planning whatever it was it was too little too late. My Dad found out or figured out we’d been staying at Dono’s. He thought they were having an affair. They weren’t. My Dad never understood that there are good people in this world. People who give without taking from you… anyway he went ballistic. He beat me, pretty badly. I ended up with a fractured rib that night. My mom threw herself between us. She hit him with a baseball bat…he went crazy,” his voice chokes up as he speaks. I can’t imagine how hard this must be to share. And I realize why he’d avoided it. I squeeze his hand tightly in solidarity. I feel the tension he’s holding in his entire body. He takes my hand in both of his caressing it gently as he continues.
“He yanked the bat from her and began…” his voice breaks. He takes a minute to compose himself. I stay silent not wanting to interrupt him. “He began hitting her with it. She told me to run…I should have got to the phone sooner, I should have called the police but I was so scared. I couldn’t move, eventually when he got tired of beating her he threw her down the stairs. When she didn’t get up I watched him walk down and kick her in the stomach but she was already dead, her neck was broken. I screamed at him, I went after him. When he realized what he’d done, there was no remorse, no sadness. He just ran, like the coward he is he ran away. I don’t know how but I called 911, even though I knew it was too late. Then I called Dono he got there before the ambulance. He found me sobbing over her broken body…” his voice cracks again and this time he starts to cry, proper tears. In fact he sobs probably just how he did that night it all happened and I realize that kind of pain would never go away. I held him. That’s all I could do. There is nothing to say. I can’t begin to imagine how anyone could be capable of such cruelty. Especially towards someone they supposedly love, to their own child. I think about my father, our idyllic childhood and even though I was devastated to have lost him now I was unspeakably grateful to have had a father like him. Tyler was right; his story was dark and brutal. But that didn’t mean he was, he was a survivor.
“Last night when I smashed the bottle I know I scared you but it scared me more. I never thought about hitting you or touching you I swear! But I was scared of the anger inside me, the violence brimming at the surface. That’s why I left. I was scared. And I drank more to dull the fear. Pretty stupid huh? You’d think I would know better. The night when I fought Dave, I was drunk, and I beat him up pretty badly. That scared me too. I was in such a rage. When I thought about what he had done to you what he had tried to do to you. I couldn’t see straight with anger and the alcohol only fueled it and I had to wonder; is that what it felt like for him? I’m afraid of what I’m becoming, of turning into him.”
“Don’t say that!” I yell. “You’re nothing like him!”
“Sometimes the pain is too loud and the fear is too great. And I just want to numb it.” I knew all about that. I’d been doing it myself.
“At first the alcohol helps but only for a little bit, the more it hurts the more I drink until I’m at the bottom of the bottle and I don’t know what I’ve done. That’s how he was. I don’t think he consciously tried to hurt us. He would always apologize the next day. He’d come home with flowers for my Mom or a new baseball mitt for me. I could never use it though. It felt dirty and tainted.”
“Tomorrow I have to go sit in front of the parole board and tell them my story all over again. And I’m going to say that my father is a murderer who doesn’t deserve a second chance. Nothing can bring my mother back, nothing will ever change what he did.”
“It’s only been eight years. Why is he up for parole so soon?” I wonder.
“He was convicted on second degree murder, it carries a lighter sentence and apparently now he’s been sober for eight years and is trying to make amends. At least that’s what his lawyer is arguing. Dono is going with me. I’ve asked him to speak. He was witness to it all.”
“I’m coming too.” I tell him.
“No. I don’t want you anywhere near him.”
“But I want to support you. He can’t hurt you anymore Tyler.” Tyler gives kind of a bitter little half-laugh.
“He hurts me everyday in a million different ways.”
“Don’t let him.” I plead.
“I don’t want to. I thought things were moving forward. When I met you I glimpsed this idea of happiness, of love. I haven’t let myself truly love anyone or anything since it happened. It’s too painful. But then you come along and I have no choice but to love you but I’m afraid you’ll leave me too, shit you are leaving…”
“But we’ll still be together.” I remind him. He looks at me like he can’t quite believe it. I don’t blame him. If I’d been let down by the people I love like that I might not believe in love either.
“You still want that? After last night? And now knowing all this.”
“Yes. I want us. I want you. Last night wasn’t good but I’m so glad you opened up to me. At least now I can understand you better. And knowing what you’re going through helps put last night’s behavior in context.”
“I’m not excusing my behavior,” he says vehemently.
“Neither am I. But I do forgive it. This time.” Then I kiss him, slowly and deeply. There is an emotional quality to the kiss we’d never shared before. His confession had bonded us. I was so grateful he had finally opened up.
“I’m going with you tomorrow.” I tell him. He shakes his head.
“Please don’t Alana. I don’t know if I can be so open in front of you and I need to tell the board everything. And I don’t want my dad to see you. I don’t know why I just don’t…”
“But you were pretty open with me just now?”
“I spared you some of the gory details.”
“Oh.” I pause trying not to imagine the graphic nature of it. “I’m so sorry Tyler. I’m so sorry that happened to you.”
“Pretty shitty huh? Sometimes life really frustrates me. Here my Dad is about get another shot at life after the disgusting, unforgivable things he’s done and the good people like my Mom and your Dad, they’re gone. Their life gets cut short. Why? Why is that?”
“I wish I knew the answer. None of it’s fair.”
“I’m angry. Maybe when I was eleven I was just too devastated to be angry. But now I’m legitimately angry about what he did to us. The life he robbed me of. The life he took away. I’m so angry Alana.” He squeezes his eyes shut and places a fist at his temple. It physically hurts me to see him this way. I hadn’t realized how much he had suffered or how he was still suffering. I hadn’t realized the extent of what he was still dealing with. I don’t really know what to say. So I just hold him hoping my presence will be enough for now.
“You know Dono tried to get custody of me?” I look up once again shocked.
“I didn’t know that!”
“The courts wouldn’t let him. They thought I’d be better off with family. What a joke. Family got me in this situation. They awarded custody to my aunt and uncle, Ethan’s parents, my Dad’s sister. They did their best but I couldn’t wait to leave.”
“They didn’t hurt you did they?” I ask. Ethan didn’t exactly strike me as an example of stellar parenting.
“No. Unless you count Ethan beating up on me every other day.”
“Oh God Tyler!”
“It was minor,” he says dismissively. “I grew quickly and got my own back.” I give him this look that says I don’t quite believe him. He shrugs in response.
“My aunt and uncle left us mostly to our own devices. He worked two jobs, she worked too when she could, but they both were battling drug abuse.”
“Didn’t the courts check for that?”
“Listen I was just happy not to be in foster care. I know Ethan can be a jerk but he treated me like a brother, took me under his wing, and I wasn’t exactly a picnic myself.”
“Well that’s understandable considering what you went through.” I say in his defense. He just smiles in response, tenderly brushing the hair from my face. He was looking at me like he had never seen anything more beautiful. I felt myself blossom under his gaze.
“But most days I would escape,” he continued. “I would either be at the shop or here. Nobody was keeping tabs on me so I spent a lot of time with Dono. He would take me fishing, teach me his trade, he’s been like the father I never had.” He chokes up again as he says this. “I knew it wasn’t fair on him when I fell for you but…” he looks up at me his stormy blue eyes brimming with tears. “I couldn’t help it. I’ve never experienced anything so powerful in my life. The minute I saw you I knew. I knew I was lost to you forever.” He buries his head in my chest. I cradle him close and we sit in silence for a few minutes as I try to digest the enormity of everything he just revealed.
“I can’t believe I just told you all that,” he laughs.
“But I’m so, so glad you did. You know Dono didn’t tell me any of it. I had no idea of the bond you two have. I mean I realize that you’re close but I didn’t know…” Dono had done so much for Tyler over the last eight years. He had never told us any of it. I had to wonder if my Dad knew. Seeing what happened to Tyler and his parents must have been pretty good motivation for Dono to stay sober.
“I’m still going with you tomorrow. Even if I have to sit and wait in the car I want to be with you.” He smiles at me but it’s a painful smile, there doesn’t seem to be joy in it.
“I don’t deserve you,” he says.
“Yes you do Tyler.” I insist. “You deserve love and you to deserve to be happy.” He kisses me again with a deep longing that emotional quality back. The kiss is about more than desire it’s about us truly merging as a couple. I sit next to him in his chair and rest my head on his chest. He wraps his arms around me and we sit quietly staring at the view, the Lake peaceful, restful, maybe even healing. Maybe his confession would help unburden him of the heavy load he had been carrying these past eight years. This was so much for a child to carry, to live through. Maybe by sharing his pain it would make it a little easier to bear. With my head resting on his chest I noticed his strained breathing.
“Are you OK?” I ask.
“It’s still a little painful. You can’t imagine how good oxygen tastes,” he says, offering me a tired smile.
“Exactly how close did I come to losing you last night?” He looks away almost guiltily.
“I’m not sure. At one point the pain was so bad I couldn’t wait to be reunited with my Mom.” A hard lump forms in my throat.
“The flames had surrounded the house there didn’t seem to be any way out. The heat from the fire was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I was dripping with sweat, drenched like I was taking a shower. We all hit the ground trying to find oxygen through the heavy smoke. I crawled to the bathroom, my face is still raw from dragging it on the ground, I was looking for a wet towel to cover my face and try and block the doorway maybe buy us some time we’d called 911 from a cell phone. But I couldn’t bring myself up to the sink my limbs just felt so heavy. I thought about my mom and seeing her again, her face so clear in my mind. But then I saw you too. Seeing you was like a shot of adrenaline to my system. Somehow I stood up and got to the sink. That’s when I noticed the bathroom window might be a way out. The window was tiny. I called to the others and started to kick it out, Ethan came in to help me. We got it open and started to push people through. It’s a miracle we got out. His cabin is burned to the ground. The firemen were able to contain it so it didn’t spread to far into the brush, but there’s no house left.” I can’t help but feel bad for Ethan. Having your home and everything in it destroyed must be pretty devastating.
“What’s Ethan going to do?”
“I don’t know. He’s staying at my place for now trying to figure it all out.” Oh. Well at least Tyler was here with us. I brush my hand over his face and notice how tired he looks.
“Why don’t you come inside and lay down?” I suggest.
“In your bed?” He asks, again with that wicked grin.
“No! I meant on the couch. Seriously you need to take it easy.”
“Will you cuddle with me?”
“Always.” I reply.
I get him situated on the couch with enough pillows and blankets to make him comfortable and then I curl up beside him trying not to place any of my weight on to him. It’s not long before he’s asleep, exhausted by the events of last night and the confessions of today. I watch his beautiful profile as he sleeps. My heart is so sad for him. That he’s had to carry so much pain. And I hope, as I drift off to sleep, that my love for him will help repair his wounded heart.