Through All the Dust
Chapter Fifty-One: The Beast and the Harlot
Our house was jam packed with people by five o’clock in the evening. People I didn’t even know how come out to celebrate the births of three legends. Well, two and then me. While I was mostly pleased to entertain, I was distracted by the impending talk I would have to inevitably have with Lauren.
But when it was just passed eleven and she still hadn’t shown up, I abandoned all hope of confronting her sober. I’d put it off for long enough and now I was done. Brian was distant, plagued by his own confusion. It had less to do with me than it had to do with him, so I mostly ignored it. We were only five hours out from my legitimate birthday and I wasn’t particularly interested in Brian ruining my evening with perpetual retrospective jealousy. The deadline for that had come and gone—I wasn’t going to entertain it any further.
However, Brian had come through and had scored a decent amount of the good shit. I snatched him away from Johnny, promising I’d return him quickly. He handed me the bag of it reluctantly.
“I don’t know if it’s such a good idea,” Brian said nervously. “Last time…”
“Bri,” I cut off impatiently. “I’m going to go indulge. Are you coming or not?”
His eyes shifted in their demeanor. He was dragging another carcass through his addled brain, no doubt. I groaned, turning on my heel and abandoning my decidedly boring almost husband.
Luckily, though, Matthew was always down for some indulgence. He followed happily and sank down onto the floor as I dumped a fraction of the bag onto my glass coffee table. Matt got to work.
“Are you going into business?” Matt grinned cheekily, gesturing to the ridiculous amount of cocaine sitting in the corner of the table.
“Ask Brian,” I laughed.
Matt chuckled, shaking his head as he bent down to take in the powder, “Ever overzealous that Synyster Gates.”
“Mm,” I moaned quietly, waiting patiently for Matt to get out of my way.
We took turns, taking more than we should back into the deepest recessed of our skulls. If we’d thought we weren’t trying to hide something with euphoria, there was hardly any denying it now. But soon enough the adrenaline coursed through my veins and the life that had been missing restored itself.
I glanced at Matt, hoping for a quick second that he’d somehow morphed himself into Jimmy. Cocaine was our favorite thing to do—and it often got us into trouble. The whole almost dying thing wasn’t lost on me.
Neither was his actually dying thing…
But that wasn’t cocaine’s fault…or mine…so, I decided it didn’t count.
“Where’s Lo?” Matt asked me curiously, his back leaned up against the base of my couch.
I just shrugged, my head leaned all the way back and eyes fixated on the ceiling. She was extremely pregnant so I couldn’t exactly fault her if she didn’t show up. However, the least she could have done was text me to let me know.
I checked my phone just to be sure—but nothing.
“Fighting?” Matt smirked. “Isn’t that what women do?”
I shrugged again, “Not yet…but maybe.”
“Oh,” Matt sang nosily. “What’d she do?”
“She told Brian something she shouldn’t have,” I told him casually. “I’m curious to know why.”
“Lauren doesn’t stir up trouble,” Matt told me like I didn’t know.
“Well she did,” I informed him. “Accidentally or not.”
“What’d she tell him?” Matt asked flatly.
I wasn’t sure if I should tell him. It hadn’t seemed like a big deal to me when it had happened but Brian was clearly unnerved by it…was I totally off base? It wouldn’t be the first time that I’d misinterpreted something. I was terrible for misunderstanding human emotion—probably because I was so hell bent on not having any.
“That Jimmy kissed me,” I told him with a straight face, watching as the ceiling fan went round and round and round.
“Like…Way back?” Matt asked confusedly. “Or again?”
I hesitated, feeling an odd kick in my chest, “Again.”
“Fuckin’ Jimmy,” Matt laughed. “Can never keep his hands off.”
“Bri’s pissed,” I confessed with a devious grin.
I don’t know why, but at that moment I found Brian’s rage to be absolutely hilarious. Maybe it was because I knew for certain that Jimmy and I were never romantic, or maybe it’s because I was overly stressed about Brian’s feelings about it. Maybe I was just high. I covered my face with my hands, groaning into my palms with a stifled laugh.
“He’s so pissed,” I reiterated, dropping my hands to my side.
“What? Why?” Matt scoffed. “Because Jim kissed his best friend? It’s not that fucking weird. You know what is weird, though? Toe tips.”
“Toe tips?” I repeated, dropping my head to look at him.
“We have fingertips but not toe tips,” he told me seriously, his face deadpan and his voice monotone. “But we can tiptoe. It doesn’t make any fucking sense. Feet are fucking weird.”
I blinked a couple of times as Matt howled with laughter. My hands were getting twitchy and I knew it was time to move.
“You’re an idiot,” I told him affectionately.
He tried to slow his laughter, “Or am I a genius?”
I was climbing to my feet when a vision in yellow slowed my roll. Feeling weirdly heavy, I fell back onto the floor. Lauren was towering over me, her arms folded across her chest—she looked like Brian was feeling.
“Hey,” I greeted her instinctively.
She raised an eyebrow, glancing at Matt, the table, and then back down at me, “Can I talk to you?”
“Sure,” I retorted, remembering suddenly that I was mad at her. “Talk.”
“Privately,” she insisted.
I shook my head, leaning back onto my elbows, “We don’t need to speak privately, Lauren. What’s on your mind?”
“At the moment?” she started angrily, gesturing to the table. “Are you two fucking stupid? Remember that guy we all loved that died recently? Remember how he died of a drug overdose? Remember? Or am I the only one living with that memory day in and day out?”
Matt’s face ran white. Cocaine white. You could physically see the impact of her words in his eyes. He flinched, composing himself immediately.
“Lauren,” I warned her with a threat hanging from my fangs.
She was welling up now, dramatically and hormonally as ever. I sat up, not willing to fight from a lay down.
“Of course we remember,” Matt said quietly.
“Do you?” Lauren snapped. “You couldn’t possibly. You couldn’t be doing drugs so soon after. There’s no way.”
Matt went to say something but stopped himself immediately. I wasn’t sure if he ceased fire out of shame or if he was trying to spare her some grief. I, however, wasn’t going to let Lauren emotionally bully me—not from the start, not at nine months pregnant; not fucking ever.
“Get a fucking grip, Lauren,” I told her seriously. “It’s not even close to the same thing.”
“Is it drugs, Blair?” she asked pointedly. “Didn’t you almost die from them? How the fuck do you not see the problem here?”
She was cussing. She was mad.
“The only problem that I see here is you,” I informed her venomously.
Her jaw dropped.
I’d literally never spoken to Lauren so harshly. She’d never warranted such a treatment. But I was suspicious of her, and bitter, and angry…and she’d made Matty upset. Oh, and you know, I had copious amounts of coke surging through my body and encouraging me to flare up my temper.
“Of course we fucking remember Jimmy,” I said even though I didn’t feel I should have to. “He was our best fucking friend. You think Matt doesn’t realize his brother is gone? You think we’re just that fucking callous that he doesn’t cross our minds? I’ll tell you, Lauren, he’s on my mind every second of every fucking day—”
“I know!” she shouted at me. “That’s the fucking problem, Blair!”
Well, I was officially confused.
What were we fighting about? I thought she was mad that Matt and I were partaking in some recreational danger—but turns out she was angry about…me…missing Jimmy? I was crazy confused.
“What?” I managed, my tone diffused immediately.
“It’s like walking in and looking into the past,” she told me weakly, the vein in her forehead throbbing with frustration. “I can’t handle it.”
Under duress, I pulled myself from the floor and dragged Lauren away. I closed the office door and immediately demanded she spill it. Whatever she needed to say, she needed to be done with it. If she left me to figure it out on my own, we’d be there for years—if it ever got resolved.
“It’s been seven months, Blair,” she scolded me. “It’s a little soon to be opening that box, don’t you think?”
I rolled my eyes, consciously maintaining my rage, “First of all, I’m not a child and I can do what I please. Secondly, if you think I wasn’t fucked out of my tree the night Jimmy died, you don’t know me at all.”
She seemed genuinely disheartened by that little piece of information.
“Beyond that, though,” I said less hostilely, “let’s re-fucking-wind here. What are you actually angry about, huh? Don’t make me quote you.”
She sighed loudly, shrugging with her arms out passed her sides, “I don’t even know.”
“You do,” I insisted carelessly. “So let’s fucking hear it.”
She pursed her lips, sizing me up like she thought she could take me. She couldn’t. Physically, emotionally, mentally…I’d kick Lauren up and down the turmoil field any day of the week. She wasn’t even in my league.
She realized this quickly, planting her eyes like seeds into the floor.
This softening did nothing to lessen my irritation.
“I need to tell you something,” she said finally, walking passed the room and taking a hesitant seat on the black leather couch. “Or ask you something…or both…I don’t know.”
This lightened my hostility just a tad.
“What?” I demanded.
Her eyes floated around the room, her secrets imprisoned behind grit teeth. I knew Lauren well enough to recognize genuine infliction to her soul. Although I was pissed, I relented enough to sit with her.
“Blair,” she finally spoke. “You’d never do anything to hurt me, right?”
The hope that clung to the word ‘right’ made me question her opinion of me. It shouldn’t have ever been a question, nor an uncertainty.
“Of course not,” I answered slowly.
She met my gaze and fell apart. I wanted to console her; to reassure her and lie and say everything would be fine. But whatever the problem was, I was sure it stemmed from me.
But she’d caused problems for me, too. So, I maintained my distance and hardened my heart to keep it from caring.
“God,” she growled, fanning at her tears.
I let her get her shit together, waiting patiently in the midst of my indifference. I didn’t push, I didn’t pry. Fuck, I wasn’t even sure that I cared. Cocaine is wild.
“Jimmy,” she squeaked. “He…I don’t know how to go about this.”
I squinted at her, “Try by making fucking sense.”
She weakened at my words, “Don’t you be snippy with me, Blair Peterson.”
“Oh, give me a fucking break,” I groaned with a roll of my eyes. “You’re allowed to go and tell my fiancée that Jimmy kissed me but I’m not allowed to call you out for being a two-faced, dramatic bitch?”
She gasped, “I’m not two-faced.”
“Did you or did you not tell Brian?” I asked her point blank.
She nodded grimly.
“Did you ask me about it first?” I continued hastily.
She shook her head.
“Right,” I concluded, rising to my feet. “You can get the fuck out of my house now.”
Just as I was headed for the door in a fury, her voice—and her message—cut through all the high.
“Jimmy told me you were the love of his life,” she called to me with a whimper.
I was planted in place for several excruciating minutes. My mind was racing with confusion. Was she lying? Was she misunderstanding? What? What, what, what?
I slowly turned to face her once more, “What?”
She sighed, gesturing to the place on the couch where I’d just vacated. I resumed my seat skeptically, unsure how to be near here.
“Okay,” she breathed. “The night before we left for Santa Barbara, Jimmy got…He was really messed up. He was almost incoherent. It was bad…I almost called Brian because I was sure Jimmy was going to…”
She stopped for a second, taking a couple of big breaths.
“I finally got him up to bed,” she eventually continued. “And he just started rambling…at first it didn’t make any sense. But…”
“What did he say?” I asked slowly.
“He was talking about a tour,” she told me, a hint of confusion in her own voice. “He was talking about Halloween and…how there were two of him. I don’t know. It made no sense. I assumed he was hallucinating.”
My mind waltzed back to a different time. I didn’t know how to tell her what I knew, so I ripped the band aid off without compassion.
“Haven was touring over Halloween,” I told her. “Justin dressed up as Jimmy. Or, The Rev more specifically. That’s probably what he was talking about.”
“Of course,” she groaned loudly. “Another Blair Peterson anecdote.”
“Lauren,” I seethed. “I don’t know what you’re getting at. Get to the point.”
“This is the point,” she told me helplessly. “He said that it was the best night of his life. He said it’s the night his soul mate came back to him. The night that he thought things might be okay.”
Halloween was the night Jimmy and I spoke for the first time following my overdose. It was the first time we ever really had a heart to heart…the first time we connected. It was the very first time that I knew for certain that Jimmy loved me—and I him. We’d spent the whole night together, inseparable. I’d opted to sleep in Jimmy’s bunk that night, which Brian had thought was a great idea and had volunteered himself to act as a third.
It was entirely wholesome and not at all bearing a resemblance to romance. It was sweaty and cramped and uncomfortable. Jimmy was guilty the whole night, feeling somehow responsible for my almost death. I was sober and sore and bored with my life. It wasn’t the best night ever—and I was confused to hear that it was.
“He was incoherent, Lauren,” I decided to tell her. “It wasn’t a very good night at all.”
She wasn’t having it.
“That’s not all, Blair,” she exhaled. “He was talking about Brian and how he was so lucky to have such a perfect girl.”
“Not a comparison,” I interjected impatiently.
She nodded subtly, “And then he said, and I quote, Blair Peterson is the love of my life…He passed out before I could ask him about it…And in the morning, he’d forgotten all about it. I…I don’t know what to do with it.”
“And you waited seven months to bring it up to me?” I challenged.
“I didn’t know how,” she said as her bottom lip quivered. “I didn’t want to confuse your grief the way it’s confused mine—”
“And so you told Brian?” I scoffed angrily. “What a good friend you are, Lauren. Truly.”
“I didn’t tell Brian about this,” she argued. “I…I asked him if you and Jimmy had ever hooked up or anything…if there was ever some cliché love triangle nonsense…he said there wasn’t.”
“I don’t know what to be more angry about,” I thought aloud. “The fact that you seriously think I’d fuck around with Jimmy behind your back, or that you felt more comfortable discussing it with Brian than you do with me.”
“I’m sorry,” was all she could offer me.
I bit at my lip so hard that it bled, “Do you have any idea what your little curiosity has done to my relationship?”
“Jimmy told me he kissed you,” she yelped with utmost heartbreak. “He said it like it was no big deal. I’ve been carrying that around with me, Blair, and it’s killing me.”
“You’re a really good fucking cad,” I informed her, impressed. “I thought we were friends. I thought that you trusted me…That we could talk about anything.”
“Jimmy did kiss me,” I confirmed with an irate head nod. “But if he mentioned it like it was no big deal, it’s because it wasn’t. We weren’t in love. We weren’t secretly pining for one another—”
“Maybe you weren’t,” she went to argue with me but I raised a hand to stop her.
“Jimmy wasn’t fucking either,” I told her through venom-stained teeth. “And he isn’t here to god damn defend himself—how convenient. I don’t know what you’re looking for but you aren’t going to find it. Not here.”
“I don’t know what to think,” she confessed.
“Where is this coming from?” I asked, at my wit’s end with the entire theme of my life.
Between Brian and Lauren, I was spent.
She hesitated before looking straight into my eyes and saying, “I stumbled on an interview of yours the other day…where you call Jimmy your soul mate. I’ve been…confused. But I think maybe I’ve just been naïve all this time.”
“Oh for fuck’s sakes,” I growled, back up on my feet once more. “I’m not going to spend my life defending something I haven’t done. You want the truth, Lauren? Here it is. Jimmy was my best friend. He was my soul mate. He was. He was my other half...and since he died, I’ve been broken. Really, really fucking broken. And I’ll probably never heal—and it isn’t because he died and ended some tragically unattainable love affair…it’s because he was my heart. He was my soul. He was everything to me—not just to me but to Brian. And Matt. And…the fucking world, Lauren. I’m ripped apart because he’s gone, not because I wanted to be with him. If Jimmy said I was the love of his life, I'm fucking certain it was in the same way that I describe him. We understood each other. We completed each other in a way that...a significant other just can't fucking do. You'll never know him like I knew him and that's okay. It's...It's okay. That's the whole fucking point. We loved each other but it wasn't the love you're thinking. You're way off base here...And beyond that ,you went behind my back and you spread this insane insecurity to my fiancée. I now have to defend Jimmy to his best fucking friend all because you couldn’t just ask me. Fuck, you’re still not asking—you’re telling me what was. You have no idea. If you seriously think Jimmy would ever do that you, you’re fucked. You’re so fucked.”
Lauren was ready for a fight now, on her feet and in tears, “He gave you a framed fucking picture of the two of you for Christmas, Blair! He gave you something thoughtful! Do you know what I got? A new fucking coffeemaker. So go ahead, tell me one more time that he wasn’t in love with you.”
I knew I shouldn’t. I knew it wasn’t right. I knew it was fucked up.
But I was high and angry and done with the entire debate.
I swiftly walked to the safe we had hidden inside the hutch—Brian’s idea, which had come in handy on more than one occasion. I pulled it open and retrieved the little box I’d been targeting.
“Jimmy loved me,” I told her sternly. “But it wasn’t the way he loved you. And…I’ll be honest with you, Lo, if he was here to hear all this shit…I’m not sure he’d love you at all.”
I tossed the ring onto the empty space beside her as I made for the door.
“That was going to be your late Christmas gift,” I told her without looking. “Now, like I said, you can get the fuck out of my house.”
As I slammed the door behind me and cursed myself for the tears the were building, Zach was running at me, grabbing at my arms. I pushed down the fight and prayed Lauren didn’t come after me.
As Zach pulled me into the living room, the room began to sing the obligatory birthday song. Brian stood in the center of it all, a giant vanilla cake absolutely covered in candles, a big grin plastered to his face.
Matt swung an arm over my shoulders, giving me a knowing smile without missing a single word to the song.
“Happy birthday to you!” they finished sloppily.
Brian stepped toward me, adoring me like nothing had happened, “Blow out the candles, Baby.”
The only thing I could think to wish for was Jimmy.
I tried not to notice Lauren slamming my front door.
I took the wish back; I wished for Lauren.
And I blew out the candles.