A/n: Thank you all for your reviews and reading. It's been a hard journey and…I expected there to be more than this but wow…can't believe I'm saying that this is the end. There are things I don't like about this chapter--in fact let me just say I don't like it, and I'm mad at it right now. But it's telling me to leave it alone and let it be. So...I hope it isn't jumpy or hard to follow I kept thinking it was jumpy. I fought with it, and I think it's better than it first was. I hope the endings ok too, it just feels off or something to me. The musi are slapping at my hands telling me to stop changing things though, and usually listening to them is the best way to go. I guess they know better than I do.
Anyway, I'm sad :( As hard as this story was to write, as emotional as it was, it's kind of hard for me to think of it as being over. It's really been my favorite, and I think it's been my best.
Heads up: Most likely there will be a spin-off fic or a sequel in the future. I want to finish some other stories first though. Once again, thanks all of you. You taking time to read my writing and share a few words mean a lot to me.
I haven't been back to my house for so long, I almost forgot which key fit into the lock. The three of us spilled inside, and it was strange and good for me to be home all at the same time. I guess over the months I'd spent with Christian, I'd gotten used to old familiarity of the dark, dirty wood paneling, the stain-worn carpet, the general clutter and feel of funky shadows leaving trails of darkness where ever they floated around. It was like back there, there was a constant heavy feeling, like the clouds in the sky were always black and they were always pressing down, like mold eaten pillows rancid and ready to slowly smother away the life withering your veins, as if the life you have back there is much of one to bother with at all. Your only hope is to scratch and claw your way out of it. Then you'll be like me, and overcompensate for everything you never had before—like I never close my curtains because the light is too beautiful. Back there, it seems like all we ever had were dingy shades of gray, the colors never bloomed as bright.
Right now, there wasn't a lot of light though, because it was the dead of night and we were all lurking around it like refugees attempting to cross the border, without being gunned down by the patrol guards. I managed to remember where the light switch was, although I bumped into a table on the way there. I never thought my own home would become like a maze to me.
The warm light showered over the familiar surroundings. Just being here gave me a great deal of relief, and somehow made me feel safer. I felt even better once I put the alarm system on. I glance back at Christian and Jeff, from where I stood closing the covering on the little keypad, the tiny buttons that protected my home. Jeff just stood there, a few steps in front of the door, looking like a ghost. He almost didn't look real to me, and at the same time he looked too real. He looked like some disoriented entity hovering between life and absence of life, and that thought made me feel sick. My brother looked terrified. He was squeezed into the corner right behind the door, almost cowering behind a coat that hung from the wall rack. If someone were to open my door he'd be smashed in the face with it. His eyes were trained on Jeff who was only a few feet in front of him, and I could somehow tell that it was one of those situations—he didn't want to look at what he was seeing, and yet he couldn't not look.
I went to Jeff and took his hand. It was cold and bony and just touching it almost made me cringe. He didn't blink at me, he didn't look at me, he seemed to look past me, as little muscles in his poor face twitched in mismatched rhythms, like some sick dance. The black of his empty eyes were like deep holes, dilated with only a thin ring of green rimming them. His hand trembled, and spasmed in mine as I led him away from the door. I brushed my palm against his face, almost crying because the way his cheek felt beneath my hand, sweaty and feverish-hot and hollow. He even smelled bad. I wanted to say something to him, but it took me a minute to be able to say anything without my voice cracking up on me.
"Jeff…Jeff are you okay?"
He didn't even look at me. I don't know if he even knew someone else was with him at all. I let go of his hand, and hooked my fingers in his belt loops.
"Jeff, do you have anything in your pockets? I don't want drugs in my house." I knew that at any moment, the cops would be showing up, because of that damn device on Christian's ankle showing he was out of range.
"Got holes." He said, one side of his mouth pulling up into a smile that looked more like a twisted scar. "Got holes in my pockets, got holes."
"Let's just make sure that's all you have in them."
I think I was being patronizing, speaking to him lowly like adults often speak to children, as though they're incapable of understanding words unless their laced with that sickening sweet tone. I hate it, and I never talk to my kids—the ones I teach music to—like that. But Jeff, I just don't know. I don't know what words to say to him or how, and by the poor looks of him it might not even matter. I reached into his back pockets first, finding nothing but a crumpled dollar bill and a wadded up tissue with dried smears of blood on it. Fishing in another one brought up a couple of oddball pills and a piece of rubber hose that he would tie around his arm to find a vein that wasn't too collapsed. Judging from the tracks up and down his arms, and knowing that he started out when he was just a fucking kid, it probably wasn't an easy task to find one these days.
I ducked my hand into the last pocket, and pulled it out with a hiss. God damn it. I should have felt the outside first instead of just diving right in. Now I had a needle stuck in the end of my finger, attached to an empty syringe. I could only hope there weren't some creepy diseases flowing around in his drugged soaked body, or that the syringe hadn't been used—better yet. I plucked it out of my finger and this time patted the pocket, rather than making that mistake a second time. They were all empty now. I took the stuff into the bathroom and flushed it all down the toilet. It was the best way I could think of.
When I came back out both of them were still exactly where I'd left them, although Christian was huddled up more, and he was crying. I went back to Jeff and led him to the couch, and sat him down. When I did that a little trail of blood crawled out of his nose, and slid over the curves of his cracked lips. I got a clean rag from the kitchen and put it in his hand, then put his hand up to his nose so he could hold it there. Jesus, he's so far gone. I want him to be okay, but I'm that foolish. I know that's too much to ask, and I can't help the tears that prick at my eyes as I stroked the clumps of his hair.
"Chris?" A tiny voice says, and it's my brother.
I left Jeff with the rag to his nose, and went over there. If that corner had been a hole in the wall Christian would have been ducked inside it, hiding. I drew him out of the corner and into my arms, where he shook against my chest.
"What's wrong baby?" I whispered, rubbing soft circles on his back.
"I don't wanna be like that!" He cried against my ear. "Chris don't let me end up like that, God!"
"You're not Christy, you're getting help for your problems and you're doing a fine job. You're going to be okay."
"I'm never gonna touch anything ever again—I'll cut my hand off first, Jesus Christ!"
He'd got himself so worked up over seeing Jeff that way, over seeing something of himself in Jeff, that he could hardly breathe. I don't know what was different about Jeff than mom, we saw her disintegrate into the same thing before our childish eyes. Maybe it was because we'd always seen her so strung out, we'd never seen her in a normal, functional state, but Jeff had once been a little boy with bright eyes and blushing cheeks. I think maybe that's the picture Christian saw in his mind, so twisted and decaying now that there was barely any resemblance left to something that had once been a vibrant life. I let go of him a little, and watched his lashes close over his scared eyes as tears steadily trailed from them.
"Christy, calm down—have a cigarette and calm down."
"Fuck no!" He pulled his pack out of his shirt pocket. His hands trembled so bad he could barely keep hold of the crinkling package. He dumped the white sticks into his hand and then started to tear them apart. I watched as the shredded paper and tobacco floated down into my carpet. "I'm not touching anything again—ever!"
"Don't tear 'em all up, I for one could use one." I said, reaching for the last one in his hand.
"No!" He yelled, and bent my fingers at an awkward, hurtful angle. I quickly drew them out of his grasp, shaking away the bite of pain that had temporarily crushed them. "You're not touchin' 'em either. Christopher Keith Irvine, so help me if I ever see you smoking one of these fuckers I'm gonna punch you in your god damn mouth!"
"Okay!" I surrendered, taking a step back from him. He tore up the last one, and just to make sure the evil little bits were really dead, he ground them into my carpet—ugh my nice clean carpet—with the heel of his shoe.
"Christian…you do realize you're gonna clean--" My words were cut off by banging on the door, coupled with muffled shouts of: "Police!"
That night was the craziest night of my entire life I think. First I had the bright idea to bust up into Jeff's place, blazing guns and shooting off at the mouth like some kind of shorty Clint Eastwood. That whole thing with Kev's gang, I was lucky to have escaped with my life I guess. We were even luckier that they never came after us. Then the cops, and Christian being hauled off to jail for his second probation violation, followed by Jeff being carted away for clearly being fucked up out of his mind. I hoped they'd got him in the psych hospital, because he was in no condition to sit in a jail cell. He probably wouldn't have lasted long, if that was the case.
That night, I didn't end up sleeping at all. How could I after all that? It had taken just long enough to try and explain everything that had gone on to the guy in the blue. At least he was nice and let me take my time. I stood there and tried to explain to him, as blue and red flashed in my eyes, and the neighbors stirred awake, and peeked out from behind their sheltered drapes. I think his name was Cena or something, he was a real nice guy.
When morning came on the heels of that hellish night, I was wide awake, smelling like cleaner, a raw wet spot on the carpet from Christian's panicked sacrifice of the Newports. It was weird, with both of them gone now I felt like I had nothing to do. The emptiness at having no one to look after, and fuss at, was annoying as hell. Maybe spending so much time with Christian had just made me realize how lonely I was with just myself to keep me company. I went straight away to the jail that morning, to visit Christy.
When I got there, that nice officer Cena was hanging around. He looked worn out from a long night, and he pulled me aside. He told me that Jeff hadn't made it through the night. They'd sent him on his way to the hospital, the poison in his body had finally chipped away any last strength and by the time they'd got him to the hospital, it was just another ambulance that had made it too late, hauling a cold shell strapped to a stretcher. Maybe it doesn't sound right, but in a way I was glad. He had not suitable life left on this Earth, there was too much damage to him for any type of repair to be possible. At least now, he wasn't in pain anymore and he was safe with Matt now, a little boy again, wrapped up in big brother's arms.
As for my brother, he had to spend some more time in the jug waiting to see the judge about his second probation violation. After things got explained, he just ended up with a longer amount of time to sport the ankle jewelry. We had to fill out some about change of address and all that, because I wasn't letting him go back to that place. Being there is like hanging onto the god damn end of the world, digging in with your nails, trying to keep from tumbling over. If he had went back there, I would have had to go right back with him. I couldn't let him slip away from me, although how long I could keep my aching fingers clenching with his, I didn't know. Even mountains crumble, and this mountain felt on the verge of a landslide if I had to go back. I was good at digging my heels into the soft, loose, dirt that slides under your feet, there at the edge of the world, but even the best dancers fall if their floor shatters. That's what would surely happen, if we went back again.
Well, I wasn't surprised now that Christian confessed he didn't want to go back. I was beyond glad, and I've never been so proud of him. I know how much that shell of a house meant to him because of Adam, but seeing what he could have became had he not done something drastic to change, and get better—that had been enough to make a straight arrow out of him.
And you know what? It's been over a year now. My baby brother hasn't touched a drink! He looks so good, too. He shaved, he doesn't walk around in clothes he's slept in for three days, and he doesn't smell like cigarettes and beer anymore. I think he's even putting on a little weight, which makes me feel a bit less guilty about this muffin top of mine, I guess. He's even a little less cynical than he used to be, but I'd never want him to change all that. He's my brother, and he's beautiful.
Last night, we sat out on the porch and watched the fireflies dance with the early spring. Our fingers were twined together loosely, his long slender ones no longer shaking as they had once from his addiction. They're so still now, and peaceful. In the low glow of the porch light, the lines that creased his face were no longer pulled into frowns. There was a contentedness there that I hadn't seen for a long, long time, and usually had equated with when he was a child, sleeping curled between Adam and I.
His fingers brushed against mine as he moved them, his dark emerald eyes winking in the night. He brought a can of soda to his lips, took a sip, and pointed.
"I finally understand what kept you going Chris. I finally get what motivated you stronger than it could motivate any of us, to get out of that place."
I kept my eyes on his face, and the way the shadows fell on it.
"Even in the dark, if we look hard enough, we can see the little winks of light flickering here and there…like Matt, like Adam, like you to me, y'know like the fireflies."
Now we both looked out over the yard, as the tiny bugs hung in the air, their fluorescent patterns like slow, lazy Christmas lights glowing under a layer of snow.
"Do you know what those little lights are? They're out there floating in the deepest, scariest, corners of darkness just waiting for a hand that's willing to reach that far, and try hard enough, to grab a hold." He slipped his fingers away from mine, and walked to the steps of the porch, down them, out into the yard. The little insects moved around him and he reached out, fisting his fingers around one. He brought it back, and knelt next to me, and uncurled his hand. In the center of the palm, cradled in one of the deep lines that traced that padded flesh, the tiny specimen lay, blinking with fascinating illumination. "It's hope." Christian said quietly, his lips curling up into a smile. He gave a puff of air against the bug, and it fluttered its wings and moved back into the silky velvet of the night around us.
"Chri-Christian…" My eyes were full of tears, and all I could do was wrap him in a hug, my chin resting against his head, his chin in my lap. It was just such a perfect, gorgeous moment, and I love him.
I just got to thinking about it, because earlier at school I turned the music room into a temporary art studio. We're going to have this spring musical with all the kids, and the first grade and kindergarten classes are going to have these little costumes so they look like flowers. I know, I'm showing my femme side, but it's gonna be so damn cute. Not to mention the fun we're having with crayons, and markers, and the glitter. The kids accused me of using too much glitter. I didn't think kids could have too many sparkles, but I guess I was wrong.
But anyway, that made me think of what Christian had said last night because you know, he's came such a long way, and this whole musical thing is about the new life that comes in the spring--the flowers bloom, the trees bud anew, yeah I sound really dopey right now, but I don't care. That's what Christian's like, in my eyes. He's been through a long, icy, fucked-up winter that could have left his leaves frozen, but now is his springtime. He's a new man, his blooms brighter, and held higher, than ever before.
That's a hard thing to do, to come through so much shit, and blossom on the other side. I'm just glad I got to hold his hand and help him through. Sometimes I thought he was going to slip away, and sometimes I didn't think I could hold on, but we bit in with our nails and by God, it's all okay right now. Sometimes you just have to reach out to someone, and take their hand. This place we live in isn't no Garden of Eden—maybe it once was but it's not now. It's fucked up, like that song that was supposed to pay homage to it, but the stoners messed up the name. I think how they put it in those lyrics might be pretty accurate though. Please take my hand…
But then again, you know, sometimes you have to know when to let go too.
Matt would want me to let go.
Christian's been pushing me to fill out crap for this dating site, and I keep avoiding it, brushing it off. If I was to meet someone new, I don't think I'd want it to be through a computer screen. I think Matt would laugh when those stupid E-Harmony commercials come on, and my brother looks at me, and says in a dramatic voice that "The Love Of My Life may be out there waiting with Twelve Steps to Compatibility"—or whatever the hell it is.
I refuse to do that. Twelve steps my ass, it takes a lot of steps to let someone into your life and heart. But well, there is a kid I kind of have my eye on. I remember him from growing up, he moved into our neighborhood with his crazy cat lady aunt that one year. I don't think he remembers me though. I might have to re-introduce myself. He's just started teaching Phys Ed here after the other teacher retired. I'll have to say, he seems like a real sweet guy, and uh, his ass looks pretty fine in those basketball shorts by the way.
He actually passed me in the hallway today, on our way out, but I didn't say anything yet. I was caught a little off guard because his pretty eyes fell over me, and they twinkled with laughter, and he was gone before I could spit my name out or ask him what was so funny. When I got to the car, I pulled down the visor, and saw the streaks of marker and the glitter on my face, and I laughed too. It's good to be able to laugh at your funny face in the mirror, rather than see it crying.
I reached over and turned the radio on, and noticed that Christian had moved it again from the usual head-banging station I put it on. I started to switch it, but then decided not to. The song on the radio just made me smile.
Don'tcha know that I love you?
Don'tcha know that I'll always be true?
Oh won'tcha come with me,
And take my hand?
Oh won'tcha come with me,
And walk this land?
Please take my hand...