Through All the Dust
Chapter Sixty-Three: Whatever Will Be, Will Be
I was properly wasted by nine o'clock. It was a rookie hour to be so shitfaced by but when did I ever do anything at a slow pace? That's right, never. I was undoubtedly trying to cope with my impending departure by numbing out the entire world around me. Safe to say, I was feeling pretty good.
Lauren and I had taken up residence by the pool, neglecting the autumn chill that the sunset had brought in its wake. We kicked at the surface, causing tiny dimples to surface around us and out. In my drunken state, it was therapeutic to watch. Lauren was babbling about Owen's latest antics and how string-willed the kid was; just like his father. Her sentiment was not lost on me, the pain still ringing clear through her voice...despite how hard she tried to hide it.
It hadn't even been a year yet. It felt surreal to think of. Death was remarkable in that way--sometimes it felt like it had just happened, and others it was as if the person had never really existed at all. Lauren tended to lean into the latter. It probably made it easier on her, her shoulders were so frail after all.
"He's going to be big by time you get home," Lauren said then, her tone changing its form into sadness instead of defeat. "Maybe he'll be crawling!"
I nodded glumly, keying up my motto for the night, "Maybe."
"Sorry," she sighed knowingly, pulling her lips to one side. "Am I bumming you out?"
"No," I lied. "Yes...Sort of. I don't fucking know."
"You don't know if you're bummed?" Lauren giggled. "Okay, Blair."
It wasn't that I didn't know. Of course I knew. Of course I was. But it felt a little double-handed. This was my choice to leave--it was my choice to chase after the limelight. My career was my choice. I knew what it would mean for everything else in my life, but I'd sought it out anyway. So, could I really feel badly for simply following through on what I knew I'd have to eventually do? I figured no but it didn't change the ache in my chest.
"Tell me something good," I thought aloud, glancing over at my chipper friend. "Something to look forward to."
"Look forward to?" she asked, pure confusion in his eyes. "How about your life, B? You're leaving on some glamorous tour in the morning! That's something good!"
"Relative," I breathed.
"You're being short-sighted," she decided aloud. "I know it sucks to leave; trust me, I'm feeling it. But...Your life is so incredible."
If my life was so incredible, why didn't it feel that way? I was still riding the high of my wedding, don't get me wrong...But the two weeks since had flown by so fucking fast that I hadn't had any real time to grasp at the straws as they blazed by.
"Sure," I grunted, pulling a cigarette from my almost empty pack. "Incredible."
"Oh, stop," she smiled, waving a hand at me. "Broody is Brian's thing. It doesn't look as good on you."
I smirked as I lit my cigarette, pausing to look into her eyes, "Everything looks better on Brian."
She smiled, watching as I heavily breathed out a lung full of carcinogens. My hands shook from the weight of the anxiety. Or maybe from the alcohol coursing through my blood. Who the fuck knows.
Lauren leaned her head against my shoulder, despite the smoke flowing freely into her pretty face.
"When you come home," she said quietly, "everything will be as you left it. We won't move on without you, I promise."
I caught myself smiling. Somehow she'd managed to say exactly what I didn't know that I needed to hear.
That was it, wasn't it? Life didn't stop just because I wasn't around to see it. Every time I'd gone away from my foundation, something within it cracked. I needed to know it could withhold the distance this time. No one else could leave me.
"I love you, Lo," I breathed, the cigarette between my lips flopping around like a fish in a net.
"I love you more."
We sat that way for what felt like forever, kicking at the water and relishing in one another's company. It would be seven weeks before I could breathe in her scent again. Seven weeks before she could read my mind like a mild-mannered psychic. I'd been lucky in my life to be granted more than one best friend. Each one was different from the last, but each bringing something more profound and substantial to the table. Lauren was my eternal. She was the one thing I knew that I could always count on, right down to the bitter end.
"Lo," Matt's voice boomed behind us, startling us from our loving daze. "Something's on fire in the kitchen."
"What?" I cracked, fearful that my house was about to go up in flames.
He laughed, shaking his head, "Not actually on fire...But something's definitely burning."
Lauren shot straight up, eyes wide, "My cupcakes!"
Only Lauren would leave cupcakes in the oven unattended...and, you know, even decide to make them at nine o'clock at night. I laughed loudly as she darted away and toward the house. Matt stepped away but I stopped him with my cheer.
His jaw dropped a little as he turned back around, "Did you just...Did you just middle fuckin' name me?"
"Take a seat, would ya?" I said in my most casual voice.
He was reluctant.
"It's my last night here," I told him. "And the last time I'll see you...for a while. Take a fucking seat."
"Yes, ma'm," he snickered, pulling up a space of concrete beside me.
Before he could say a word, I cut right to the chase.
"What are you doing?"
His brows contorted themselves, "Like...currently?"
"With Lauren," I explained simply, studying his face for giveaways.
It gave nothing away.
"I don't understand the question," he smirked. "Can I buy a vowel?"
"Sure," I nodded. "How about a 'U'...For what are you doing with Lauren?"
"How about an 'I'", he retorted with a wide grin. "For I don't know what the fuck you're talking about."
"Is that true?" I asked him lamely, almost pleading for honesty.
Surely I wasn't crazy, right? The way he doted on her. Fuck, not just her but on Owen, too. Don't get me wrong, we all doted on Owen. Brian dedicated most of his life to ensuring Baby Owen had the finest life. But it was different with Matt...I couldn't explain how. It just was.
"What would you like me to say, Blair?" he sighed, glancing up at the night sky just as stars began to wake from their dreaming.
"You love her, right?" I smirked, fiddling my toes against the surface of the pool.
He smiled softly, just a sublte touch of a no, "She's my best friend's widow, Blair."
"It's not lost on me who she is," I shrugged, taking my turn to search the galaxy for answers to questions I hadn't thought to ask yet. "But that doesn't change who she is for you, does it."
"I don't know," he said grimly.
I bumped his shoulder with mine, casting my eyes back down to his troubled hunky face, "It wouldn't be the worst thing, you know...Jimmy would--"
"Hate me forever?" he finished for me, clenching his jaw as he spoke. "What would that make me, Blair? Seriously. Getting past all the romantic, movie-worthy shit, what does that say about me? That's not who I am."
I bit at my lip, "I know who you are, Matty. And I love you more because of what you're very obviously feeling."
"I'm not feeling anything," he groaned, daring to look back at me. "You're looking for shit where it doesn't exist."
I laughed shallowly, "Sure it doesn't. But when it does...Just know that I think it's great."
He paused for a really long time, begging the moon for reassurance, before finally breathing, "Yeah?"
"Fuck yeah," I encouraged. "Lauren's...Well, you know. She's the greatest person to ever live. Aside from Jimmy, obviously. Oh, and me. But other than that! You'd be lucky as fuck to have her."
He smirked, laughing through his nose, "I know. But I can't."
"Give it time," I shrugged.
"How are you so easy to welcome it in?" he asked me seriously. "Jimmy was your best friend, too. You don't think he'd seriously have something to say about it?"
I furrowed my brows, scowling just enough, "Sure I do. I just don't think he'd feel the way you think he would. He loved Lauren so much...And you. Would he want Lauren to be alone forever? On the contrary to that, would he want her to meet some random dude and have him raise his son? I doubt it. I think he'd rest easy knowing someone he loved...and knew...and trusted...was watching over Owen. And Lauren. Lauren deserves to be loved, Matt. She lost out the first time around, there's no fucking doubt about that. But she deserves to be happy...despite who she finds it with."
He smiled but shook his head, ever denying the truth, "It can't happen. So, just let it go, Blair."
"Whatever you say," I relented with a careless shrug. "But like I said...When it happens..."
"Stop," he laughed, pushing at me a little to get me to shut up.
I grinned over at him, admiring the dimples etched into his strong face, "I'm really going to miss you, Matty."
He nodded, "Ditto, punk."
"Okay," I declared, pushing myself to my feet. "This is getting entirely too emotional. We need to drink these feelings away."
I held my hand down to him, which he happily snatched up. We headed to the patio for more booze. Anything to wash away the impending future that was stretched out before us both. It occurred to me than that I wasn't the only one that would be leaving.
Brian stole my attention immediately, taking me under his arm as he continued to chat with Justin. He and Mona would be by my side in the morning as we headed out on our latest adventure. Brian had told me that he felt safe in my leaving, knowing that Justin was around to watch out for me. Like I needed supervision.
A quick run-through of my track record when left to my own devices determined that I did, in fact, need supervision. Some fucking adult I was.
"Lauren's burning our house down," Brian finally acknowledged me.
I laughed from under his monster-ridden arm, "I know."
"Cupcakes," he said flatly, almost in disbelief. "You sure know how to pick 'em."
"Technically Jimmy picked her," I pointed us. "I just chose to keep her around forever."
"Thank god for that," Brian smiled. "Who else is Matt going to marry?"
"Oh my fuck!" I gasped loudly, slapping my husband's chest from the excitement. "You see it too!?"
He stared at me with utmost concern for a second before ever-so-casually mentioning, "I was kidding...Crazy lady."
Maybe I was crazy.
"We're going to take off," Justin thought aloud, checking the level of his beer to find it emptied. "Gotta be up early."
"So do I," I argued lowly.
"Yeah, but we're not alcoholics," Mona teased. "Or I'm not anyway."
Justin shrugged, "She's my ride."
"Fine," I sighed. "Leave me. See if I care."
They laughed, bidding farewell to Brian with a handshake from Jay and a hug from Mona. It was the last time they'd see each other for...fuck, who knew how long. Avenged hadn't exactly set out their timeline in stone yet, much to my displeasure. One thing was clear, though, it would be a while.
As they disappeared into the night, I glanced through the kitchen window to find Lauren arguing wildly with Zach. About what, I couldn't tell. Zach looked so entertained by it that I couldn't help but snicker. I loved how well she'd morphed into the family, despite her obvious severed connection. She never gave up on them, and they never gave up on her. It was an effort to be commended.
"Enjoying your party?" Brian asked me, releasing me to refill his supply of liquor.
"You mean Matt's party," I corrected. "But yes...and no. It's bittersweet."
He glanced at me over his shoulder, "Is it?"
I nodded, biting at my lip once again, "I hate to say goodbye...I don't know how the fuck I'm going to leave you in the morning. Every time I think about it..."
"I know," he frowned. "Me too."
He pulled two beers from the cooler and handed one to me. I downed half of it in one fell swoop. Feelings were rising and I was dead set to drown them.
"We've known from the start that this would be our life," Brian sighed, cracking his neck as he spoke. "Now we get to deal."
"Great," I laughed sarcastically. "We all know how good I am at dealing."
He grinned, "A well seasoned fucking pro."
"I guess I should just be grateful," I mused as I climbed into one of the high-top patio chairs.
Brian shot me an inquisitive type look.
"I have shit in my life that I'm sad to leave," I explained lamely, feeling gross for being so sentimental. "If it was easy to go, I think that would be worse."
He smiled, taking a step toward me to place himself between my knees.
"It's disturbing when I get mushy, I know," I teased lightly.
He ran his thumb carefully over my cheek. I happily leaned into his touch, enamored by how very safe he could make me feel in an instant.
"We'll get through it," he assured me with those chocolate eyes soaking in honesty. "And we'll be stronger for it."
"Ah, maybe," I half-smiled. "Or it'll rip us apart and we'll have some nasty highly-publicized split."
"Think of the pay day on that," he laughed. "Silver linings!"
"Please don't ever leave me," I snickered, almost embarrassed by how serious I actually was. "I wouldn't survive it."
He stepped back, "You would. But I won't. Where could I ever find another B?"
"Mm," I hummed, slamming back more of my liquid healer. "Barbara...Beatrice...Betty..."
"What am I, dating a fucking ninety year old?" Brian yelped with laughter. "I'd break their hips!"
I shrugged dramatically, "Hey, whatever you're into, man. No judgements!"
"Shut up, Peterson," he caught himself tripping over my old name. With a genuine smile, he corrected, "Haner."
"Can you just kiss me already?" I teased with an eyeroll. "Your flirtation game is getting weak in your old age. Does this shit work on the elderly crowd?"
He appeased me, probably just to shut me the fuck up. But I let him. I memorized every inch of the feel of his lips against mine. I listened to the way his breathing would shift at my touch. I let his hands carve permanently grooves into my cheeks. This was love and this was worth leaving. I knew that it wasn't going to decay in the void, I could leave it as it was and it would be just the same when I picked it up again. Brian was worth dreading departure for.
He was my something good.
He was my something to look forward to.
"Knock it off," Johnny called loudly. "You guys have guests!"
Brian grinned as he turned from me, "Fifty bucks and I'll let you guys watch!"
"Brian!" I gasped.
He cringed as his eyes met mine.
"No less than a hundred," I said seriously. "We're famous, remember?"
He erupted into laughter, stealing one more quick kiss before chasing after Johnny.
As I took a deep breath of California air and headed inside for Lauren, I couldn't wait to come home.
Sometimes I wish I could just take a day to do nothing but write this particular story. I've finally gotten to the point I've been working toward forever and just want to get to it already.
But that also means we're nearing the end. Which is sad as fuck.