Author's Note and Preemptive Mea Culpa: I'm beginning the posting process of this with the guilty conscience of one who may not update as regularly as she'd like - I have a few chapters backlogged, but the next six months will be rather touch-and-go in the fanfiction department as I will be travelling quite a bit; the Internet access will be questionable at best; and I will be writing a thesis that may take more time than I've allotted. That said, I'm a little bit in love with this project and I'm not going to let it die some morose, pitiful, little death. That's best left to certain long-running medical dramas (yes, I went there). So essentially, I'm asking for leeway, here. I genuinely hope you all enjoy this, because it's been more work than any other piece of fiction I've written and a lot further from my comfort zone. I'm terribly grateful to Mrs. Eyre for betaing and to all the poor souls I bounced ideas off of when this was, as a friend calls it, just a plotbunny. Anyhow...on with the show, as it were.
I didn't say it. Not even knowing that there may very easily never be another chance to tell him. Not because it's not true – because it wasn't enough. Isn't enough.
I could have loved him more. Could have loved him better. Could have somehow made it enough to keep me from going down the path I did. I could have never loved him in the first place and never would have seen that look in his eyes as I passed our son over to him. Like I'd torn his heart out, stomped on it, set it on fire, and pissed on the ashes.
Although, honestly, I probably did a whole lot worse than that.
I rifle through the CD case in the center console. Celine Dion. Jewel. Fucking Stevie Wonder. Sonofabitch. Not quite the escape I had in mind. And here it is, perfectly organized, a musical chronology of our life together. I jab at the radio. Twist it around until I find something good and loud, good and angry, good and distracting. There'll be plenty of time for soul-searching and wallowing over the next thirty days. Right now…
Right now, if I don't take my mind off it, I'll turn the damn car around and floor it back to the apartment and grovel until he takes me in his arms and makes it all better.
And then I'll be right back where I started the second things get hard.
I try to drown out the obnoxious voice in my head that's telling me I've learned my lesson, I won't mess it up again, of course not, Luka's home, he can protect me, why not just go back and never tell him what happened and just go forward. The voice sounds an awful lot like the one I hear in the morning when the alarm goes off and I'm trying to reason my way out of getting up. Being fired is usually motivation enough to counterbalance that one, but this voice is more persistent. Louder. My fingers are itching to pull the wheel into a U-turn, illegal as it may be. They need something better to do. Some way to shut the nagging little voice off before I lose the nerve.
It hits me like a ton of bricks and I'm pulling over at a gas station before my mind has registered the decision. I don't bother to wait for the change before pulling the cellophane off. I'd bet good money that I look like some strung-out junkie the way I'm getting off from the feeling of the paper between my fingers, hands shaking as I shove the change in my purse and realize once I've already got the fucking thing hanging out of my mouth that I haven't carried a lighter in about two years. A pack of matches is offered to me and I mutter my thanks.
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Jesus, it's like magic. Whoever said smoking was bad clearly never did it right. Because it seems like a really, really fantastic thing to me at the moment, and the last shred of sanity I have left.
I'm two deep in the pack by the time I hit the expressway. It dawns on me that I'm probably going to have to make a couple of phone calls at some point. Like to work, since I somehow don't see this being the equivalent of a couple days in Croatia. And Janet. Which I honestly really dread. I know there's this whole thing about sponsors not being judgmental, but it feels like there's a giant, neon "told you so" sign attached to that conversation.
At some point, I'm going to have to call Maggie, too.
That is one conversation I really don't want to have.
Hey Mom. I know I've spent thirty-eight years lecturing you about being a responsible parent, but, as it turns out, I'm a raging drunk who put her toddler in danger. Guess we're more alike than I thought.
I need another cigarette. Badly.
It's amazing how easily it comes back to me. The rush of the nicotine, the calm of having something familiar to occupy me, the scent itself, rancid as it may be.
Sort of like drinking.
I'm already off to an amazing start with this sobriety thing. One addiction for another. And the sad thing is that I could really give a damn, because, right now, I really want a drink, and if I have to eat the thing to keep my mind off of that, pass me a fork.
Deep breath, Abby.
I run through the steps in my head. Once. Twice. Ten times.
I've conquered step one. I'm painfully aware of just how powerless I am over alcohol and how completely unmanageable my life has become.
Step two. Came to believe a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity.
Ironic, because, really that was where it all went wrong. Depending completely on a higher power for sanity. Believing that I didn't have the capacity to handle it myself. Convincing myself that I didn't need to keep working at it, so long as I had Luka.
Because he meant so much. More to me than anyone ever had.
I don't think, looking back, that I've ever been in love with anyone except him. Not really. Not completely. And I know, as messed up as I am, that that's a big part of why I'm where I am.
Because I figured it would be enough.
The dial tone is screaming in my ear, then a couple of shrill rings before it goes to voicemail.
I hang up. There are things you just can't leave in a message.
The place has all the ambiance and charm of a supermarket restroom. Actually, scratch that. Supermarket restrooms tend not to come with waivers.
I sign on the dotted lines until my hand cramps up and then someone who seems to think she's a nurse but probably isn't escorts me all too cheerily to "my home for the next thirty days." No shit, that's really how it's described to me. I try not to swear too loudly when it becomes apparent, mostly from all the crap piled on the opposite side of the room that it's not just my home.
I have a roommate. And that just thrills the hell out of me.
I mean, who wouldn't want to enter into something that terrifies them completely and share all that nice vulnerability and soul-searching and shame with a complete stranger?
Something is muttered in the general realm of "this isn't a day spa" when I ask very politely if there are any single rooms. I don't bother to muffle the cursing this time and throw my bags on the twin cot that is apparently mine, knowing full well that I look like a five-year-old in a toy store who was just told she couldn't have the Barbie she wanted.
But hey, if I'm going to have all my personal amenities stripped away along with my dignity, why not enjoy it, right?
"We'll need to go through your things for contraband items, and then you can get some rest. We usually don't have intakes this late at night." The tone implies that it's not something that's particularly appreciated.
A half hour later, I'm short my wallet, cell phone, most of my makeup, my razor, all of my liquid toiletries – in case I've snuck vodka in, apparently, which seems counterintuitive since I came here voluntarily, but I'm not about to argue over it – a bottle each of ibuprofen and aspirin, all my shoelaces, my nail clippers, and the Compazine that Luka wrote a prescription for out of sheer pity. It takes me a good minute to hand over the scrap of paper with his slanted cursive. It's a funny thing - chickenscratch can be beautiful if you stare at it long enough.
I'm allowed to keep the antacids. Score one for me.
I almost offer up my undergarments in case they suspect I might braid them into a noose and hang myself, but I refrain lest I end up going forcibly commando for the next month. I briefly think of what exactly Luka would say to that and catch myself. The guilt rushes back and the five-year-old having a tantrum is gone. Back to Abby.
Abby, who is in rehab.
Abby, who is a drunk.
Abby, who did…that…for a lousy martini and someone to hold her.
Because Abby was just hoping that maybe she was just drunk enough that she could close her eyes and believe it was her husband.
I really don't like Abby. And I can't much blame anyone else who feels the same way.
The nurse-who-probably-isn't is still standing in the doorway, giving me the sort of look that implies she thinks I'm a couple of olives short of the martini that got me here. I swallow my pride and manage a half-assed smile. Her face softens, and I wonder all of a sudden if she has three grandkids and a cat and a bridge club and just forgets all this bullshit when she goes home at night. "Get some rest. The first day is always a long one."
I want my cell back. Now. My eyes dart to it without thinking, and up to hers with what I can only assume to be a desperately pitiful expression akin to Oliver Twist. "Please. Just for a minute. I need…I need…"
She nods and doesn't force me to finish, just hands it over. And holds up two fingers.
I dial. Pick up, Luka. I know it's futile and beg silently all the same. Please pick up. Please.
Don't lose it. Don't. "L – Luka?"
"Yeah." His voice sounds like it's coming through a tin can. "I'm here."
"I thought –" The lump in my throat is the size of a tennis ball.
"Ice on the runway."
I nod. Idiot. He can't see you. "Yeah."
He stays silent. I hear fussing and sniff pathetically. Mumbles. "Joe wants the phone."
Words are completely pointless now. I'm going to end up electrocuting myself in a minute from how wet the phone is. "Hi, baby."
Rustling again. "I brought a picture for him. From the wedding."
The wedding. Not our wedding. "Oh."
"He…he won't give it back." I can almost hear the faltering grin on his face.
"Oh." Eloquence is my strong suit. "Look…I have to…I just…"
"I – I love you."
There's a brief pause and I'm not sure whether he's there or not. And then his voice cracks. "Yeah. Me too."
I don't say anything else until he tells me to get some rest and that he'll call tomorrow. I nod stupidly and wait for the dial tone.
It doesn't come as fast as I thought.
"I love you, Abby."