"We were a goldmine, they gutted us."
-Bright Eyes, Gold Mine Gutted
I was sitting on window ledge in Ethan's room, watching the blue light of the TV shine through the neighbor's window across the street. Each major station no doubt airing some asinine show - filling everyone's heads with something to talk about the next day. But it was hard to get too bitter thinking about that when there were Christmas lights wrapped around front doors and lamp-posts up and down the street.
I couldn't stop myself from wondering if across town, the white lights that my mom bought because she thought they looked "classy" were lit. Back when it was just us, she used to have me help her secure them over the tops of the windows out front so our neighbors wouldn't think less of us for not decorating. When she met my step-dad he'd been too concerned with running up the electric bill to allow her to put them up. The thought of him pulled me away from the world outside and into the familiar ache of a bruise still inside me.
I hopped down off the window ledge and turned my attention back to the sleeping infant, her eyelashes casting long shadows down her cheeks. She'd been asleep for an hour now - she'd pretty much gone right to sleep after I fed her the jar of mushy peas and carrots Ethan had pointed out before he'd left. Henrietta had never come back with dinner for us, and the feeling that something was incredibly wrong expanded through the house with every passing hour.
My manager had called earlier, begging me to convince Mike to stick around. I wasn't going to talk anyone into anything. Somewhere in this claustrophobic, frozen town, Lynn and Mike were laying in one another's arms, happy that the pieces of their world were falling into place finally. I guess I hadn't realized how much I had needed to believe that someone could actually find happiness.
I'd half-listened as my manager described how the label could hold Mike hostage to the contract and force him to produce another album. His arrogant tone reminded me of a label representative I'd met in a club years ago who had tried to exchange interest in my musical career for a sexual favor. Everything just repeated in the end. I thought of Ethan waiting for me at an icy bus-top in the middle of the night, waiting to take me into his arms. Was he still that person now, and would I even want him to be?
Still, how had I missed all the signs that they'd been in love all those months? How had I completely dismissed Mike's obvious change in behavior - always bleary-eyed in the hotel lobby every morning like he hadn't slept at all.. Sometimes I wondered if I could feel anything other than the blind desperation that got me everything that I have now. And everything that I don't have. I couldn't count how many times I'd sworn to myself that I wasn't still in love with Ethan - from lonely cafes in England to humid nights outside packed stadiums on the east coast. I thought I was empty, I thought I was broken, but one glance of him again in Benny's yesterday undid everything. And for what?
I still had an hour until he came home, I tried not to think about what that would mean. Was what had happened earlier just a fluke? Would he spend his shift at work picking it apart? Wondering what he might be thinking was far less complex than feeling anything myself.
Why I wasn't on my way to my manager's office to help carefully salvage my music career. Why I could barely fight the urge to go out in the streets looking through every window in South Park for Henrietta. I jumped up when I heard the front door open.
"Henri?" Georgie called, he was clutching a plastic bag with his gloved hands.
He offered me a half-smile when he saw me appear at the end of the hallway.
"Hey Dylan," he said, sitting the bag down on the counter. A beanie was pulled down over his forehead, making his longer hair stick out along his red cheeks. I could see the collar of his black work polo shirt under his coat.
"Where is everyone?"
"Dev is sleeping and Ethan's at work."
"Oh," he said, stuffing a couple styrofoam to-go containers into the fridge and leaving two half-full packs of bagels sit on the counter. "So you're babysitting?"
I nodded. He seemed warily pleased at the knowledge. "Want some coffee?" He asked, filling the Mr. Coffee with tap water.
I leaned my elbows on the counter. I wondered what he thought of all of this. The baby, Henrietta's disappearing act, Ethan's role as Mr. Mom. I was trying to think of the best way to ask, when the front door clicked open again. Henrietta slowly and soundlessly shut it behind her, keeping her head down as she made a direct path towards her room. She hadn't even paused to take off her coat, which was covered in melting snowflakes.. I wondered if she'd changed her mind about being okay that I was here with Dev, or here at all.
"Hey," I said-and when she didn't turn to acknowledge me I said her name.
She offered a sarcastic half wave and kept walking.
"Where are the groceries?" I followed her down the hallway, resisting the urge to cross my arms across my chest.
"The groceries I gave you money for?"
"Oh, God, Dylan, there's more important shit going on right now." She grabbed a section of her hair and started running her fingers over the ends. I thought maybe she was talking about Dev or the fact that her hours had been cut at work again.
I turned to shoot Georgie a look, but he had busied himself scooping coffee grounds into the filter.
"What's the matter with you?" I walked closer to her, wondering if I'd be hit by the smell of pot or vodka-something to explain why her eyes kept drooping shut.
She scrubbed a hand over her face. "Look just leave me alone right now. Shit is falling apart that doesn't involve you." She threw an arm out and her open palm was flat against the wall. She used it to balance herself as she staggered down the hallway to her room.
"Henri-" I said finally following her and pushed my way into her room when she tried to shut the door. I gingerly stepped over piles of dirty clothes. "What's going on? What happened after you left here-I thought you were coming back?"
She had her phone pressed to her ear as she sat on the edge of her bed ignoring me. "Answer your phone you piece of shit," she muttered, pushing her bangs out of her eyes.
She kicked off her boots and laid back on her unmade bed, stabbing out a text message before throwing her phone on the floor. She started chewing on her thumbnail before her eyes lost focus for a second. Then her phone made a noise and she shook her head and reached down on the floor for it aimlessly. I picked it up for her, and caught the end of a text that had flashed across the screen; "-the fuck alone."
She looked down at it for awhile without saying anything, her bangs back in her face, I thought maybe she was crying, but her neck snapped forward - almost like she'd fallen asleep.
"Henrietta!" I said, grabbing her shoulder. Her eyes focused on me like she was seeing me for the first time.
"What did you take tonight?"
"Damien," she said finally looking back at her phone. "He's with someone else. He took what we bought and went to see her."
"Henrietta, God- what's going on? What did you buy, what are you on right now?"
But now that she was staring at me so close up, I didn't need her to say it-her pupils were pinholes. You weren't in the music industry for more than a month without seeing someone taking heroin backstage at a festival. Even then, it hardly seemed glamorous. In a small red-neck town like this, it was a jail sentence or a death-wish.
"I don't want to tell you," she said, "you'll think I'm a loser." She pulled away from me and buried her head in a ball of her sheets. I placed my hand softly on her back - afraid she'd shake me off. She turned her head - her face wet and red, her eye lashes clumped together in sticky mascara. "I feel so lost Dylan, why did you have to come back now?"
For the first time since I'd been back I felt like I was talking to the real Henrietta and the realization broke my heart. I wanted to tell her everything that she always meant to me, no matter how much it didn't seem that way. But nothing I could say would be good enough, so all I managed to get out was a meek, "It'll be okay."
She turned her head and stared at where my hand was pressed flat against the bed."Isn't this Ethan's?" she pinched the fabric that bunched at my wrists. I hesitated for a moment and she shook her head. "God, you've got to be fucking kidding me."
"No, I'm not surprised. It's you and Ethan. It's always been you and Ethan. Even the distance and silence was just some sort of strange fucked up love between you two. You wouldn't even be in this house right now if Ethan wasn't going to grace us with his presence soon."
Her words were sliding together and her eyes were closed now. I tried, to really believe that what she said was just drug-addled nonsense. I stared down at her and pulled one of the covers that had fallen off the bed over her. I couldn't sit here dissecting the statement while there were actual problems - a big neon sign problem- filling up the room. I quietly stood up and headed to the hallway. I paused for a second and tugged the striped shirt over my head and tossed it across Ethan's tangled sheets, sparing a look at the sleeping toddler in the crib before heading back out to the kitchen. It didn't take a lot of common sense to see that this wasn't an environment for a toddler - how often was this the case? How had Ethan and Georgie not noticed what was going on?
Georgie was searching for creamer in the fridge and didn't seem to want to acknowledge my presence. I didn't know how to broach the subject, so the direct approach seemed the only practical way.
"Henrietta's high right now, I think it's herion but I'm not really sure."
"Yeah," Georgie said, sitting the creamer on the counter and staring at the floor.
"Yeah?" I said, my tone incredulous. "Yeah?"
"I mean-I know. He shrugged and took a sip of coffee like maybe I'd let the topic drop but his shoulders bunched together defensively.
"Have you told Ethan?"
"He already knows?"
"What does that mean? Does he or doesn't he?"
"We just don't talk about it." Georgie looked down the hallway and then back at the floor. "I mean, what is there to say? Obviously we all know it's not good. But we look out after her. That's why I'm always over here."
"So you're looking out for her- by dropping off half-expired packs of bagels from Benny's?
"Jesus, Dylan I don't know-keep your voice down-she could hear you. He was biting down on his lip-ring, making the left corner of his lip skew at an unnatural angle. "Anyway, 24 hours ago- you didn't even know Dev existed."
"I'm so sorry if she hears that I'm opposed to her being a drug addict." I sighed and pushed my bangs out of my face. "This isn't okay Georgie - you can't just let her hurt herself like this!"
"What do you want me to? She's an adult. I can't control what she does. Just like I can't control what you did."
I leaned back in disbelief, my face tight. I was completely unwilling to let this be turned around on me.
Georgie shrugged and looked hard at the empty plastic bag he'd left on the counter.
"You left. Got a duffle bag of your stuff together one night and boarded a plane and expected us all to be happy for you."
"I didn't expect anything," I mumbled - but he wasn't listening.
"And you want to come home now and point a finger at me and Ethan and Henri because we don't have our shit together? At least we didn't abandon each other."
"This is about Henrietta."
"This is about how you don't have a say anymore!" Georgie was yelling - I don't know if I can ever remember a time Georgie had yelled at me. But it didn't matter right now.
"Like hell, I'm going to go over to the Biggle's house right now. That's who is bankrolling the rent here right? There's no way that Mrs. Biggle would be okay with her daughter high on heroin with her granddaughter asleep in the room next door."
Georgie slammed his mug on the counter hard and the coffee spilled over the sides over his hand. "Absolutely not!"
"Stay here with the baby." I grabbed my jacket off the back of the kitchen chair. I didn't care if I had to walk ten blocks in the snow, this was going to end tonight.
"Dylan - please, listen to me, just - listen to me." Georgie seemed to realize that he was practically shouting mid-sentence and lowered his voice to a harsh whisper. "You never think anything through - don't you realize by now that's how you keep fucking everything up?!"
I felt so overwhelmed and so rattled by everything that my hand was shaking as I tried to do up the buttons of my jacket. There was just no air in the room, there was just no sense in anything. Georgie wasn't supposed to be calling me a fuck-up with hurt blue eyes, Henrietta wasn't supposed to be high alone in her room, and Ethan wasn't supposed to be sweeping everyone's problems under the rug to savage everyone's life but his own. If I could just fix one thing - if I could just fix this thing tonight -
The door opened and Ethan was shaking snow off his shoulders in the doorway. Georgie turned his back and swiped at his eyes with the back of his hands. "Don't," he whispered harshly so only I would hear.
"Hey," Ethan said. "What's going on? Where are you going?" He glanced at me and then to Georgie's turned back. I quickly glanced down at the criss-crossed laces on my boots, trying to ease the strained look on my face.
"I was just dropping off some food," Georgie said, "and Dylan was about to step out for a smoke."
I wanted to contradict him but it actually sounded like a damn fine idea, and suddenly I was happy he'd turned into such an opportunistic liar. I patted my jacket pocket for my cigarettes and headed towards the door after shooting a tight smile at Ethan. He looked like he was about to follow me but Georgie asked some question about Dev and I shut the door soundlessly.
I kicked some snow off the small porch and leaned under the awning as I light my cigarette. My heart my pounding under my stupid jacket and I thought of all those Edgar Allen Poe stories we used to pass around to read in study hall. Loud pounding hearts under floorboards - mad narrators haunted by something only they could hear. I wanted to focus on anything other than what was on the other side of the wall behind me for one solid second so I could shake this feeling - this claustrophobic feeling of ruin.
My cellphone was vibrating in my pocket and I stared down at Mike's number. "Hey," I said, taking a drag of my cigarette. I pulled the hood of my coat over my head and sat on the frozen ground where I'd kicked away the snow.
"Hey Dylan - I just wanted I to check in. Everything happened so fast this morning."
"It's fine, really." My breaths were clouds of smoke in the night. I imagined them floating above South Park and becoming the snow that was blanketing everything.
"You don't sound fine. Has management been calling you?"
I hated that the only alternative to the completely overwhelming situation behind me was an equally overwhelming situation involving my music career. Somehow though, this seemed easier.
"They have. But that's their job, you know?" I felt good, showing someone that I was a reasonable person.
"Yeah." He didn't sound convinced.
Through the window I could see Georgie and Ethan talking in the kitchen. There was nothing about their body language to indicate that anything ground-breaking was taking place. I shivered under my jacket and wondered how long I could stretch this cigarette break. How much time I could buy to put my thoughts together. Isn't that what Georgie wanted - for me to think things through?
"Listen, I guess I called because I just wanted to make sure you were okay, per say, after seeing Ethan this morning."
"Mike, stop being weird." I'd gone years without having an emotional conversation with Mike, I wasn't going to start now.
"No, I mean - I know things are strained between you and your friends. But I thought you should know that the last time we toured in Austin I ran into Ethan outside the venue. He didn't want you to know that he was there. I didn't tell you at the time because I thought it might throw you off, knowing he was there. But it was selfish, and anyway-now you know."
I tried to imagine Ethan slinking into the back of the club, standing by the wall as fans reached up towards me and Mike, screaming his terrible lyrics back at us. I wished knowing it now meant I could change the moment - meant I could confront him then - ask him why he felt so comfortable buying a ticket to see me but unable to pick up the phone to call me. But the anger faded before it'd ever really formed and all I felt was regret for something that never happened.
I thought of the copy of AP Magazine that I'd found earlier tucked under a stack of unopened bills on Ethan's desk. My face stared back up at me from the front cover through eyes thickly coated with eyeliner. Mike was standing in the foreground, as I looked over his shoulder, the guitar that was strapped across my body wasn't even mine. They'd given me a red Fender to match the color scheme of the shoot.I remember how the hot lights had started to melt the foundation they'd caked on my face over old acne scars.
"Okay, it's okay. It doesn't matter."
"It's just - you never know what's going to matter, you know?"
"I guess not," I said, finally stubbing out the cigarette under my boot. A silver SUV pulled up into the driveway, the snow falling hard in the gaze of its headlights. Even before it had come to a complete stop I recognized Henrietta's parents.
"Listen, I gotta go, I'll talk to you later man." I was sure I was cutting him off, but I hadn't heard anything he'd just said anyway. I slid my phone back in my pocket as I tore open the front door.
"Henrietta's parents are here - and I didn't call them!" I said, moving as far as I could away from the door. Ethan shot me a confused look and Georgie shot up, his eyes wide.
"The fuck you did Dylan!" he was stabbing his finger in the air as I shook my head vehemently.
"Georgie, I swear -"
"You don't care what you fuck up because you don't stick around for the fallout from it!"
I felt a wave of lightheadedness crash over me, everything was happening too fast.
"Georgie, calm down! Jesus!" Ethan clamped his hand on Georgie's shoulder. They were both staring at me: Georgie shooting daggers and Ethan somewhere between confusion and concern. The front door was going to open any second and I felt like I'd betrayed Henrietta on the basis of Georgie's anger alone. It's not that I didn't think her parents needed to know, but not like this - not high as shit, stretched across her unmade bed.
"Just leave Dylan!"
I took a step backwards like maybe I was going to. I wasn't - I just thought it might make him feel better. I felt like my whole existence was one long charade where I tried to do what was right without upsetting anyone. And only in this moment did I realize that it was impossible.
"What the hell is going on?" Ethan demanded, struggling to catch up.
Henrietta was standing at the edge of the hall behind both of them with her phone clutched in her hand. Her face was red and puffy. "Leave him alone Georgie, I called them okay?"
"No, I'm fucking sick of myself. I don't need any of your help," she turned and looked at me, "or any of your stupid fucking money. Okay? I just want to feel like myself again. I don't want to hear you and Dylan fighting over me like I'm some big fucking problem. So I'm leaving. And my parents can take care of Dev for awhile."
"No Henri, you're not a problem -" I said.
But there wasn't time for conversation, the door opened and Henrietta's parents reluctantly shuffled in, dusting snow off of themselves by the doorway.
"Hello Mr. and Mrs. Biggle," Ethan said cooly. Mrs. Biggle shot him a thin smile before asking Henrietta for duffle bags for Dev's things. It was obvious from the mood that this wasn't new information to them - maybe something they'd suspected for a long time and not wanted to believe. Henrietta mumbled that she'd be in to help them pack as they solemnly went into her room. She poured a cup of coffee with shaky hands, and shot us all a look, as if daring us to try and talk her out of anything.
"I think we should leave for a bit," Ethan said, as we watched Mr. Biggle carry two large duffle bags out the front door. From the bedroom, Dev was starting to cry and Mrs. Biggle rushed to the kitchen and told Henrietta to help her prepare a bottle.
"See you later Henri," Georgie mumbled. I tried to shoot her a smile, but she wouldn't turn away from the microwave counting down the seconds until the bottle would be done.
The three of us slunk outside without another word. "I'm going over to Ike's," Georgie announced, brushing by us to his car. I thought Ethan would try and stop him but he didn't.
We both climbed into his Jetta like we'd done one thousand times before and waited for the heat to actually kick in.
"Where should we go?" He asked while digging around in the backseat.
He turned back around and sat a thick striped scarf on my lap. Only when I went to wrap it around my neck did I realize that my hands had been shaking from the cold. We made our way slowly down the snow blanketed street and I pulled the scarf over my chin, trying not to obsess over how much it smelled like him.
"I can't even believe that she got high tonight," he said, more to himself than to me. "Where did she even get the money?"
I watched the houses pass by the window and told the truth before I stopped myself. "I gave it to her-for groceries-I didn't know," I said, my voice raised at the end. I was prepared for him to be upset at me about it.
"It's not your fault," he said softly. I wanted to make myself believe it, and tried to pretend for a moment that I did.
When we got to the hotel the front desk attendant looked surprised to see me - I guess I had been gone for a day. I passed her without a word though - sure that she was about to barrage me with messages from my manager. I unlocked the door to my room and slunk inside. The bed had been made and the empty snack wrappers and pilot sized bottles of vodka had been thrown away. He sat down on the edge of bed and I joined him.
"I didn't know they had hotels this nice around here," he said, nodding to the flat-screen TV across from him. I could have pointed out that this was the most dismal room I'd stayed in for ages, and not just because the skyline consisted of the Walmart shopping center sign and telephone poles.
He crossed his long legs and closed his eyes - before pressing his thumb to his temple. "Tonight was a shitshow, " he glanced at me. "Sorry that you had to be there for that. But you know, I'm not sorry about what happened the rest of the day."
"Hey," he said, tugging his scarf loose from my neck. Heat crept up my neck when his lips pressed against my throat.
"I should have never left you guys." I didn't mean to say it out loud. But the sentiment had been so loud in my brain that it just slipped out.
"Don't say that."
From the window I watched the snow swirling in the lampposts in the parking lot below. I ran my finger over the frozen glass, leaving behind a melting line in the condensation. "I could have stayed - re-recorded the demo, or just sent it to more labels-played more shows outside the area. If the Bellandonnas had made it -"
"And maybe we wouldn't have, maybe we'd still be in South Park together, only you'd be shift leader at Starbucks instead of the guitarist in a famous band that has toured Europe and made fucking music videos."
"We're not exactly famous," I mumbled.
He raised his eyebrows and looked away. "God, Dylan - don't you realize what you've accomplished. Don't you realize that you did it - you got out? You're living our dream, and I'm so fucking proud of you."
"This wasn't the dream!" I kneeled on the floor in front of him and grabbed his hands in mine. "We were, the Belladonnas were!"
"It was just something," he took a long breath and looked somewhere behind me, "the band was just something the rest of us did to have an excuse to hang out."
"Bullshit," I said, "God Ethan-how can you say that to me!?"
His head was bent down now, his curls brushing the edges of his cheeks. "I don't know," he mumbled. "I don't know anymore."
"We can be a band again, you and me - we can be the Belladonnas."
"Can we just not talk about this anymore tonight?" his fingers were dragging a cluster of curls down towards his chin then letting them go. Did he think I was the same high school slacker with pipe-dreams that used to say stuff like this from the floor of my bedroom? Or did he just genuinely hate the thought of us together in any capacity but the occasional fuck?
He looked so fragile and pensive that my heart broke and I didn't care what his reason was. I tucked his curls behind his ear and kissed his temple. "Yeah, I'm sorry - we can talk about whatever you want."
He shot me an uncertain glance - like it was some ruse to keep the line of conversation open. Instead I leaned my head back against the wall as he laid back on the uncomfortable hotel bed.
"It's weird to think about you in all these empty hotel rooms," he mumbled, shifting in bed, his cheek pressed to the comforter as he looked down at me. "Come up here."
When I sat on the bed, his fingers circled my wrist and pulled me towards him. For the first time since he'd left me alone in his bed earlier today I felt warm again. I wanted to get used to the feeling again - to tell myself that life could be like this again.
"I've been fine," I said. For some reason it made him pull me closer - I could feel his heartbeat against my chest.
"I know you have," he said, his fingers brushing my bangs away from my eyes. It was a gesture that took me back four years ago - when it really was me and Ethan - when things really were fine.
When I fell asleep I dreamt that I was alone - in a generic hotel room - with white walls and windows that overlooked unfamiliar buildings. Every half hour I'd wake up and remember that I was here with him, the warmth of his body pressed against mine. It was opposite of dreaming and I kept pressing my fingernails into my palm to stay awake.