Through All the Dust
Chapter Five: Until the End
By the time my fear had relinquished its control and I had mustered enough courage to exist, I thought it wise to find Brian. Maybe his proposal hadn’t been exactly heartfelt—but it was something that needed to be discussed anyway. I needed him to understand the reasons behind my objection—and the reasons behind his sudden interest in getting hitched in the first place.
But he was nowhere to be found. Atop my pack of cigarettes was a rather sloppily written note that said only,
I scoffed a little at it, tossing it onto the counter without any further thought. With my cigarette pack in my clutches, I clambered outside and collapsed into a patio chair. I must have smoked six cigarettes in succession. Nothing was calming my nerves.
Is this what death was supposed to be? The death of all things? I couldn’t help but compare. Sure, I’d been a bit of a mess when Tyler died—and later on, a really big mess—but I’d never pushed Brian away. Not like this. Never to this extreme.
He’d faced me with an ugly decision and then he’d run before we could speak in detail about it. What a man I’d chosen for myself. But Brian was thorough—he’d kind of always been this way. His opinions and his feelings had always run deeper and established themselves as more important than mine. From the second I confessed my love for him to the very second that Jimmy took his last breath. Brian was more important.
Maybe that was my own fault, though. I’d always put others before myself—call it compassion or call it a total lack of self-care, but it was my reality. It was my pattern. Sometimes, despite my best efforts, I failed the people I loved. But, even then, I was just not important.
I wished I could talk to Jimmy about it. No doubt he’d be on my side; he’d happily reassure me that Brian had temporarily lost his marbles. And then he’d push Brian to cool himself and to come back to me…just like every other time.
My lungs took in my sweet nicotine as I ran though the lines in Jimmy’s face. I crawled through the deep spaces in his mind where he’d let me in—he’d let me marvel.
I thought then about stepping into our bathtub and slitting my wrists wide open. Maybe in the mess, the world could see what it had been doing to me. What it’s neglect for my well-being had caused my troubled mind to resort to.
But I couldn’t bring myself to actually carry it out—I could never allow myself to do that to Brian.
But I was so tired of surviving. I was tired of going through the motions and taking care of everyone. I couldn’t be bothered to take care of me. There was nothing left for myself anyway.
My phone vibrated in my pocket.
From: Papa Gates
He fucking proposed?!?!?
I took in a deep breath. I couldn’t bring myself to answer him—but at least I knew Brian was alive still. Whether he was at his dad’s house or had simply checked in, I wasn’t sure.
From: Papa Gates
It’s going to be okay.
I smiled a little.
To: Papa Gates
Is he with you?
I lit my billionth cigarette.
From Papa Gates:
Yeah, he’s here. A shell of him is anyway.
To: Papa Gates
So does he hate me or what? You get why I had to say no, right…?
From: Papa Gates
Yes. I’ll talk to him, don’t worry. You crazy kids.
When Brian didn’t come home for three days—and didn’t answer any of my calls—I figured things were finished. I guessed that there was no coming back from rejecting a marriage proposal, even if the question had come from a place of insecurity and desperation. Should I have just said yes?
Did I actually want to marry him? Or did I just want the life that I had back. Those days, I honestly couldn’t tell. Everything was in the air—everything was a fucking mess.
I’d had a photoshoot scheduled in the afternoon, which I’d dragged Lauren to. She needed to get out of the house and I needed to try and reinstate some normalcy into my life—especially if Brian was playing the vanishing game. I needed something to do.
She was in a fairly good mood, considering the shambles her life had found itself in. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her about Brian. There was too much sorrow in her heart still to take on my problems. I had to shoulder them on my own.
Plus I was fucking embarrassed.
She mostly played on her phone while I worked, but she was sure to cat call me when I came out in a particularly slutty outfit. She gave me the genuine look of approval.
It was nice to see her in high spirits.
“Should we get dinner?” I asked once I was finished for the day and we were released back into the world. “My treat.”
“Can I take a raincheck?” she asked, trying her best not to sound like the depressed version of her former self. “I’m exhausted.”
“Sure,” I nodded. “Offer’s good whenever.”
“Maybe tomorrow,” she smiled. “It was nice to get out.”
I dropped her off at home as the sun started to set, seriously doubting that I’d be able to convince her to leave her home twice in one week. But, like always, I had to let her do her thing. It was none of my business how people chose to harbor their mourning.
I obviously wasn’t shepherding mine anywhere.
My heart sunk when I pulled into my driveway and realized Brian was home. I had visions of him busily packing his things while I was away—he knew I was working today. I tried not to let that little implication rip my very soul apart.
He was on the couch when I let myself in. He looked at me, but said nothing. I wasn’t sure what to do so I stood in one fucking spot.
“You’re back,” I finally said, my voice challenging him to explain.
I hadn’t realized how angry I was until I saw him.
He just nodded.
“Are you going to speak to me?” I hissed. “Or are you just going to sit on my furniture and sulk?”
“This is my couch too,” he grumbled.
“Brian,” I said firmly, drawing closer to him. “We need to have it out.”
“I don’t know what you want from me,” he grunted. “I came back, didn’t I?”
“Oh, bless my lucky stars!” I shouted as sarcastically as humanly possible. “I’m so happy to have your brooding inconsiderate ass back! Thank god, Bri. Really. My whole life literally stopped in your absence. So, I guess I can go back to living now.”
“Blair,” he groaned.
I shook my head, “Fuck you. I deserve better than this shit.”
“Better than me,” he said knowingly.
“Don’t you dare give me that self-loathing bullshit,” I moaned. “You know that isn’t what I meant. That said, though, I absolutely deserve better than this version of you.”
“What do you want from me?” he barked. “I’m doing the fucking best I can!”
“No, you’re not,” I said so flatly that his tension dropped away. “”You’re hanging around in some weird form of depression. You’re not making any efforts to get out of it. Hell, you push some crazy idea about marriage on me and then take off for three fucking days. You’re acting a lot like a petulant child, rather than a grown ass man.”
“My best friend died,” he said like I didn’t know.
“I know that, Bri,” I sighed. “I understand. But it just…What did you say to me once? It isn’t an excuse to act however you want. Isn’t that right?”
He just looked at me.
I don’t think it had actually worked itself out in his mind before then that when Tyler died, it was real. It was the exact same as the situation he found himself in now. For him, Tyler was like a symbol—he had a vague idea about what Ty’s death meant, but it had never really meant anything to him. Not really. And so, he’d been great about my grief because he was completely removed from it. He didn’t understand.
Now he understood.
“My dad says I’m an idiot for asking you to marry me,” Brian sighed.
I smirked, “That’s nice.”
“He says you’re right,” he continued. “That I’m only trying to replace something…”
I just nodded.
“I’m not replacing anything,” he told me seriously. “I really don’t think it’s that crazy of an idea.”
I pursed my lips tightly, “Try me when you haven’t just been gone for three days.”
“I’m sorry,” he groaned.
I nodded, “You’re sorry a lot lately.”
“Blair,” he frowned.
I shook my head, “I’m running out of forgiveness, Brian. You’re running me dry… I think that I’ve been incredibly patient with you…I’ve been really understanding…The fucking queen of understanding. But I’m tired of this. I’m tired of fighting for you.”
He looked helpless, “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that you either get your shit together,” my voice was shaking. “And stop treating me like a permanent fixture. You’re awfully sure of our relationship for someone who’s been shoving me around emotionally like a ragdoll.”
He flinched, “We are permanent. You are. You don’t get it, do you?”
“Get what, Brian?” I groaned, totally flustered. “Please don’t even try and defend the way you’ve been acting—I swear to god I will punch you in your lip.”
He laughed a little—I wasn’t scary, “Maybe my asking came at a bad time…I guess I can see that…But I really did mean it.”
“Mean what? That you want to get married?”
“Yeah. I’m not exactly thrilled about how horrified you are by the notion though.”
I took this as my queue to sit down. He seemed less tense now, and I was significantly less angry.
“Brian, it isn’t a good time,” I said with a sigh. “It’s hard to take you seriously when one second you’re flipping out on me for something totally unimportant and then all of a sudden you’re ready to what….get married? I just can’t wrap my head around it.”
“Jimmy’s death really fucked me up,” Brian said, looking straight into my soul. “Not just because, you know, it’s my whole life that just got fucking derailed….but because he didn’t get a chance to live his life, Blair. He’s not going to see his kid, he won’t get the chance to propose to Lauren or see her in a white dress…He took it for granted and now it’s too late.”
Brian was working himself up. I reached out and took his hand, giving him an I’m still with you squeeze. He shook away his building frustration.
“I don’t want to take this life for granted,” he said sternly. “I refuse to take you for granted.”
I opened my mouth to put out how that’s exactly what he’d been doing, but he stopped me.
“I know I’ve been an asshole,” he said quickly. “You’re right, this version of me is terrible. But if it’s going to cost me losing you…I can change. I can be who I was before—”
“You will never be that person again,” I frowned. “It isn’t your fault. It just…is what it is.”
He looked broken.
“I just need you to be here with me,” I pleaded. “Here. Physically, mentally…You have to stop, Brian. You have to stop.”
“I know,” he sighed.
“I’m not going anywhere,” I said because I had to. “You know that, right?”
“You don’t need to propose to me in an attempt to make me stay,” I half-laughed. “Especially if your reaction is to hide out at your parents.”
“I really did mean it,” he said lightly.
I rolled my eyes, “Don’t give me that, Haner. You’re a planner—and you very obviously didn’t plan shit.”
“This conversation is…” he trailed off, standing up and slapping his hands to his knees. “I need a smoke.”
He headed for the back door, stopping only to ask if I was coming. I supposed that finishing our conversation outside with conveniently placed cigarettes was probably a logical decision. Though, it felt like the ice had started to thaw out finally.
Maybe his dad had gotten through to him.
I was ready to get back into explaining to him that I couldn’t be a replacement for Jimmy—I’d never be able to fill those shoes.
But the second we stepped outside, the last few weeks slipped away.
My yard had been transformed into something straight out of a Disney movie—there were lights strung up everywhere, candles spread out all over our patio—even floating in our pool. I was stunned.
He grabbed my shaking hand and led me to a chair, where he sat me down gently. He looked amused.
“This is beautiful,” I said awkwardly. “When—”
“Listen,” he said to me, crouching down to sit at eye-level with me. “I need you to understand something. When I asked you to marry me, you’re right…it wasn’t handled properly. It was bad timing and it was an ugly way for me to do it.”
I nodded confusedly.
“But I love you, Blair,” he continued. “I think I’ve always loved you. Maybe we’re young and maybe we’re a little cursed…but I’ve never, not even for a second, stopped loving you.”
“It was supposed to be on New Year’s Eve,” he told me, a little sadness pinging through his voice. “Jimmy helped me plan it out…I’m sorry that didn’t happen.”
I tilted my head at him.
But then he pulled a little black box from his back pocket and changed his position so he was on one knee—and one knee only. His hands were shaking.
“I’m sorry that I’m not always good to you,” he said, his brown eyes feeling around in mine. “But I will spend every day of the rest of my life trying to be deserving of you.”
“Brian—” I tried again.
“Blair,” he said and my heart stopped. “Fucking marry me.”
He clicked the box open to reveal the most beautiful fucking piece of jewelry I’ve ever seen in my life. It was a giant emerald, encrusted with diamonds around the edges. It wasn’t traditional—it was…me.
He had thought this out.
“Are you sure about this?” was all I could manage.
He laughed really uncomfortably, “I’ve been sure since you stumbled into my life.”
“I just think the timing—”
“Doesn’t change anything,” he interrupted hurriedly.
I looked at him, and then away, and then back.
“Marry me,” he insisted.
Do we forgive me now?