Through All the Dust
Chapter Forty-Eight: Strength of the World
Lauren wasn’t home by time Lily and I rolled up, much to my relief. Apparently her dad had dragged her out of the house so that we’d have more time to go in and execute the proper install of her new baby items. I’d sent the SOS to Brian and he’d assured me that he’d be around within the hour, with the other men in tow.
Lily and I got to work on the things that we could without help; like putting sweet little baby clothes away and hanging fabric shelves for stuffed animals. I was ashamed to find that I really enjoyed putting together a nursery.
By some freak psychotic connection, Lily spoke up from behind a giant teddy bear, “Will it be your turn next?”
“I’m not sure,” I shrugged, running my fingers over top a tiny little blue onesie. “I think about it sometimes.”
“Does Brian want children?”
“I think so…” I mused. “We’ve talked about it vaguely before. But…It’s complicated.”
She tilted her head at me, “Complicated? Why’s that?”
“I don’t know…If I had a baby, I’d have to sacrifice my career for a while. I know it’s selfish but I don’t think I’m ready to do that yet.”
“That isn’t selfish,” she corrected me with a smile. “You’re young. There is plenty of time for children.”
I nodded in agreement but the reality was that sometimes the baby fever was so strong that I legitimately thought about asking Brian to make me a mother. But, within a few minutes, reality would touch back down and I was back to fretting about making a success out of myself, and putting babies on the backburner.
“Besides,” she added cheerily. “You’ll have a godson to spoil rotten soon.”
“That’s true,” I smiled at the thought. “I’m excited for that.”
There was a tap at the door and soon Brian’s head popped around it. I panicked for a second wondering if he’d overheard our conversation…but then I realized that the honest parts had been an internal monologue and there was nothing for him to overhear.
“The cavalry has arrived,” he announced as all four of them waltzed into the room.
That never got any easier.
They got straight to work, Brian and Matt had taken on the crib. Johnny was determined to build a rocking chair by his lonesome, which left Zach alone to build the changing table. There was much whining about the latter but he got to work anyway.
“I’m going to sneak out for a smoke,” I told the group as I exited the nursery and headed for the back door.
Lauren’s house was small but her yard was entirely beautiful. It stretched out further than most other Huntington homes. Her pool was small but tasteful and her patio furniture was maybe the most comfortable set I’d ever sat in.
She’d been offered Jimmy’s condo when he died but she’d declined. They’d planned to move into it together after Christmas, but obviously that didn’t pan out. When I asked her why she’d turned it down, she told me it would have been too much. She had memories of Jimmy in her home, and only a few in his. I guess it made more sense to stay where the ghosts were.
I took a seat, lighting my cigarette. We’d sat out here together the day after Jimmy died. Lauren had been like a zombie, unblinking and completely void of all life. She’d just sat. And I’d sat with her, content in our silence.
When she’d finally worked up the will to speak, she said, “I wish I could die.”
She didn’t look like she wanted to press into it, so I allowed her one cryptic—albeit insanely concerning—verbalized thought. We never spoke of it again, but it always made me that much more conscious of her well-being. I needed to avoid another Tyler at all costs. Losing Lauren would have been like losing a limb.
But…she’d crawled out of it in time. It was difficult to think of her that way, broken or jaded…The way she had rebounded, you’d never known she’d had the life knocked out of her. However, those who knew her…knew.
The door opened and closed behind me but I didn’t bother to turn around.
“Hey,” Matt smiled at me as he sunk into the chair next to me.
“You okay?” he asked curiously, giving me a little nudge of the shoulder.
I nodded, “Yeah, I’m fine. Why?”
“You just seem weird today,” he shrugged. “Distant.”
“I guess it’s just a weird day,” I replied lamely. “It’s, uh…It’s not lost on me that we’re doing shit that Jimmy should have been doing.”
“We would have been here regardless,” Matt noted.
“True…But…You think Jimmy wouldn’t be building that crib right now?” I asked seriously. “You think he wouldn’t have gone out and bought out the whole store? It’s just…fucked. We’re trying to sub in and…I guess I understand why Lauren’s put it off.”
Matt frowned, picking at his thumbs, “The whole thing is fucked. But the only thing left to do is to stick together.”
“I know that,” I smiled. “It’s just shitty.”
“It is, yeah,” Matt half-laughed.
“Do you think this shit will ever not bother me? Or any of us for that matter?”
He sighed, leaning back on his elbows, “Probably not. I think Jimmy was such a force that we’ll notice the void forever.”
“Great,” I groaned.
“You’re looking at it all wrong,” he smirked. “The void means he was once there. We were lucky enough that he carved out a place in our lives. He’s worth noticing. I think that’s pretty fucking cool.”
“How optimistic of you,” I grinned.
“If I’m not optimistic, I’ll fucking hang myself,” he said gravely. “It’s hard on all of us, Blair. But…If we stick together, it’s not as daunting.”
“Like glue,” I winked at him, leaning against his knee.
“What the fuck?” I heard Lauren’s voice shriek from within the house.
Matt shot up and we both froze in panic. He looked at me for advice—I had none to give. It was too late, anyway. Lauren stormed through the back door angrily, fests clinched at her side as she waddled toward us.
“You’re on your own,” Matt whispered to me.
“Matthew,” Lauren hissed as she passed him.
“It was all Blair!” he smirked, sure to shut the door behind him.
“Blair Ryan Peterson,” she growled at me. “What the fuck were you thinking?”
Uh oh. She cussed. I knew right away that I was done for.
“What ever do you mean?” I asked coyly.
She pointed a shaking finger in my face, “Don’t you be cutesy with me!”
“I can’t help it,” I grinned. “I’m cute.”
“In what world did you think that I’d be fine with you buying an entire nursery for me?” she asked me angrily. “I told you! I don’t want your money!”
I raised my hands in defence, “Okay, in all fairness, it isn’t my money. It’s Brian’s.”
Her jaw fell as she ran her hands through her golden hair, “Blair.”
“What?” I tried not to laugh. “Lo, listen to me. It’s fine.”
She was shaking she was so mad.
I pulled her into the chair beside me, but kept her hand in mine. She was seething, shaking her head and muttering to herself like a crazy person.
“Calm the fuck down,” I told her playfully. “You’re going to go into labor.”
She mimicked me pettily. I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Here’s the reality of the situation,” I informed her kindly. “We all love you and we love that baby. There was shit that needed to get done; we got it done. End of story.”
“I was going to do it,” she told me. “I’m not the world’s worst mother or anything.”
I frowned, “Of course you’re not. We all…We all get it, Lo. We just want to be here for you—for Jimmy.”
Her typically composed exterior cracked just before my eyes. Her bottom lip quivered as her glassy eyes began to water. I hated upsetting Lauren, it was a wretched thing to watch her cry.
“This whole experience,” she started but stopped, taking a second to collect her breathing. “I’ve been having a hard time.”
“I know,” I empathized, giving her hand a good squeeze.
“I just feel like…I have to keep it together, you know?” she asked me sadly, dabbing at her eyes with her free hand. “I’m afraid that if I don’t, even for a second, I’ll just never get out of bed.”
“Lo,” I sighed. “You need to talk to me about this shit, okay?”
She huffed, “I didn’t want you to think that I couldn’t handle it. I’m not a bad mother.”
“Why do you keep saying that?” I asked seriously.
“Because,” she pouted. “I’m not excited to have him. I’m not excited to name him or to see what he looks like. I…I want so much to not be pregnant. If I wasn’t pregnant, Blair, I would have—”
She stopped just in time to catch my stomach as it leapt from my body. I was still as I waited for her to finish her thought.
“You would have what, Lauren?” I asked slowly, terrified of the response.
Her eyes fell a little, “You know.”
A week after Jimmy had passed, I’d stopped on an impromptu check-in mission. It had worked out that I had, because I’d caught Lauren downing an entire bottle of prescription pills. She was hysterical, shouting about things that didn’t make any sense—claiming she could see Jimmy.
I didn’t believe her until I’d hallucinated so vividly in the hospital.
I’d had to physically fight my pregnant friend to the floor, struggling for dominance and control over the little orange bottle. Ultimately, I’d won; but Lauren had spent the next eleven days in the hospital. The baby was fine, Lauren was fine…but it was something that had happened between us that neither of us had ever had the moxie to confront head-on. So, we didn’t.
“I need you to not do that,” I told her gravely. “I need you, Lauren.”
She frowned, “I know that…And I’m…I’m terrified, Blair.”
“I know, honey,” I cooed, rubbing at her hand with my thumb.
“He’s going to look just like Jimmy,” she sighed. “I just know it. What if I can’t handle it? What if it’s too much?”
I shook my head, “Not possible.”
“Can you promise me one thing?” she demanded, wiping at her tears. “If something happens—”
“Lauren, no,” I growled.
“Blair,” she tried desperately. “If something happens, I need you to take the baby.”
“Nothing’s going to happen,” I insisted. “You’re going to be okay.”
“Blair, please,” she pled with me.
The look in her eyes was absolute fear. Nothing less, nothing more. If she was in a plane crash and died, I wouldn’t hesitate to take the baby into my life. So, why should it be any different if she were to go any other way? But…it felt a little like giving permission. Which I wasn’t about to do.
“You know I would,” I told her quietly. “But…I also know that you’re going to be okay. You’re going to be such a good mother.”
She started to well up viciously.
“It’s okay for you to feel these things, Lo,” I assured her. “You’ve been through hell this year…and we all know that this baby is going to bring up a lot of…shit. But you’re going to take one look at him and you’re going to fall so madly in love with him that you’ll forget about all this anxiety. And if you fall apart, there are five of us here to pick you back up. I will never leave you. Never. But…I need you to not leave me, okay? I need you to stay around and be my friend and keep my soul afloat.”
She laughed a little as I began to ramble about all of the things I needed her for. But they were all true.
“You,” I said with a subtle smile and a shake of her hand, “are the light in my life. Please don’t go anywhere.”
“I won’t,” she smiled back. “I’m sorry for being dramatic.”
“Hey, you’re talking to the queen of the theatrics,” I smirked. “So, you’re in good company at least!”
“I’m still mad about the nursery,” she told me with a laugh.
“Let’s go be mad inside,” I replied coolly. “We got some pretty cool stuff. It’s all adorable as fuck.”
“Can you not swear in reference to my son’s things?”
I rolled my eyes, pushing her arm playfully, “Nice to have you back.”