Through All the Dust
Chapter Sixty-Four: When I'm Not With You Tonight
When I was thirteen, I found myself in the midst of a tsunami. Carolyn and I had been fighting endlessly—about what, I couldn’t tell you. But I remember casually reminding her that she was not my parent and she’d casually rebutted that she’d been forced into the role. From there, I’d packed a bag and set off for the Brody house.
They’d always taken me in; it didn’t matter the circumstances, the timing…it never mattered. They were home and even in my darkest hours, I knew that I could depend on them.
So, I’d shown up with my bag in tow, seeking asylum. I can still remember the permanent sympathy etched into Marge’s face as she took my bag from me and pulled me into the house. She never once brought herself to ask why. Maybe she never needed to…But I was always thankful for it.
Tyler was playing on his Nintendo and glanced up only when he heard my throat clear. There was a second of confusion before ultimate realization washed his curiosity clean away.
“I just need a day or two,” I said flatly.
He nodded, a tiny smile toying at the edges of his lips, “If you’re good, we could probably swing a year.”
I laughed lightly, running the mechanics of that over in my mind.
He set the controller down onto the floor and immediately rose to pull me into his arms. He, too, would never ask; but somehow he’d always get it out of me. He was the only person in the universe that I was ever comfortable shedding the weight onto…The only one I could ever convince myself to be totally and completely vulnerable with.
Maybe it’s because we were codependent in the worst way…or maybe it was because we’d been through so much in our short lives—either way, it didn’t matter. At the end of it all, Tyler was there. He was always there.
We fished his old camping tent from the creepy storage room, careful not to disturb the swarms of spiders that had made their homes in the deepest corners. We spent the next several hours trying to figure out how to actually pitch a tent. It occurred to me as we restrung a pole for the thousandth time just how very young we really were.
We thought we were so grown up…We had all of these adult problems and mature feelings about them…But we were young. We were naïve. The worst was yet to come and we hadn’t even touched on the tip of how chaotic our lives would grow to be. We couldn’t have seen it coming.
Once we finally got the tent to stay upright long enough to climb inside, we wasted no further time filling it with blankets and every single couch pillow and cushion that the Brodys owned. Marge was not pleased to discover her living room ransacked. She followed the orange extension cord out from the kitchen and down into the yard—where we’d strategically installed it inside our new camp.
From a place behind our potato chips, we looked up at her like deer in headlights. She just smiled, rolling her eyes just enough to let us know that we were ridiculous. But she didn’t ask us to return it all; she didn’t scold us for taking what wasn’t ours. Instead, she simply said, “Let’s go.”
We weren’t exactly in a place to argue—two teenaged thieves caught in the act of pilfering her comfort. To our surprise, though, she drove us to the nearest movie rental shop and told us to each pick a movie. I begged for Stand by Me, since it was my all-time favorite; a little piece of me that really has never changed. Tyler flat out refused, citing that he hated coming of age movies and boys really weren’t like that at all.
“What would you know about it?” I’d teased. “Your only friend is a girl.”
“The dead body part I can get behind,” he’d told me seriously. “It’s all that mushy shit in between.”
He’d ducked his head low as the curse word slipped from his lips—to his luck, Marge didn’t catch it. If she did, she didn’t make it known.
“You’re the mushiest person I know, Tyler,” I’d said blankly.
We eventually settled on a couple of classics; The Blair Witch Project and The Exorcist. Marge eyed them with great suspicion, a single eyebrow pulled back at the ready. But we insisted these were the movies we’d chosen. We were quite pleased with the decision.
“No crying when you get scared,” she’d instructed but it felt almost like a dare.
We’d scoffed and totally blown it off. We thought we were so tough.
But once night had fallen over our little camp and we’d realized just how alone in our little hometown we were, the fear crept in. I clung myself to Tyler, holding his arm in my hands and burying my face in his chest as the tension in that fictional forest came to a head.
“Stop,” Tyler had laughed, forcefully trying to turn my head so I’d have to watch the events unfold.
“I can’t,” I frowned, pushing myself further into my friend. “We’ve made a terrible decision here. Turn it off.”
“No,” he chuckled, changing up his tactic to hold my skull lovingly. “It’s just a movie, Blair.”
I looked up at him with pleading leaking through my green eyes, “I’m scared.”
He smiled at me fondly, “I know…But it’s just a movie. I’m here.”
“What if it isn’t just a movie?” I asked him gravely. “What if that Blair Witch bitch climbs out of the tv and takes my soul?”
“First of all,” Tyler scoffed with a laugh. “that’s never going to happen. You don’t have a soul to take. Second, the only Blair Witch in here is you, Blair.”
I gasped dramatically—but seriously, “Oh my god.”
He cackled, pulling my entire body into him and wrapping his arms around me protectively, “Don’t worry, B. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
“Promise?” I whined from somewhere inside the folds of his t-shirt.
“I promise,” he assured me softly. “Just don’t take me into a cabin and murder me like your namesake.”
I decided that his sentiment was more important than informing him that I was not named after some witch. Or town. Or wherever the Blair Witch got her name from—wait, where did I get my name from? It doesn’t matter.
Somehow, from the depths of Tyler’s arms, I made it through the movie. And then through the night.
I walked around my home slowly, taking in each grain of each floorboard…the way that the stairs would creak as you climbed them…Normally, I wouldn’t classify myself as typically sentimental; but when it came to leaving, I was sure to memorize everything I could. Every single fiber of my being had to be assessed and committed to memory.
“Blair,” Brian’s voice broke softly through the fragile tension in my veins. “It’s time to go.”
“Okay,” I called back to him down the stairs, running my hands over the sweater he’d left hanging over the rail.
He smiled up at me, admiring me as I totally bummed myself out.
“Come on,” he insisted fondly. “Everything’s in the car. We really have to go.”
“Would it matter if I said I didn’t want to?” I frowned.
He shook his head, “The sooner you go, the sooner you come back.”
The hangover was surprisingly less harsh than I’d anticipated. I worked it out to sadness trumping all else. The only thing I’d felt when I’d risen in the morning was absolute restraint. I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to go.
But, as it turned out, my life was far more forceful than my will. I finally allowed myself to let go, and I followed Brian out to the car.
We drove quietly, as if suddenly unsure how to communicate with one another. Maybe we were afraid we’d say something stupid—but really we weren’t saying enough.
“You’ll check in with Lo, right?” I finally spoke.
Brian glanced at me quickly, “Yes, Blair. I will check in with Lauren.”
“I’m just making sure,” I smiled. “Owen’s only going to have one half the Bs for a while…I need to make sure he gets his fix.”
“Don’t worry,” Brian assured me, reaching over to lace his fingers with mine. “Everything will be fine while you’re gone.”
I accepted this partially. Mostly, I just wasn’t prepared to go to battle over something I couldn’t predict.
“And then I’ll see you in Montreal,” I stated, although I’d meant to confirm.
He nodded, sensing my anxiety as my lower lip began to take a beating. His hand squeezed mine twice, as if to say ‘it’s okay’. It didn’t feel okay.
“I hate that I’m leaving,” I sighed, turning my head away just enough to find the world outside my window.
I couldn’t look at Brian. I just couldn’t.
“Honey, it’s fine,” he assured me coolly.
Yeah, it didn’t feel fine.
“It’s bad timing,” I went on. “Everyone is still so…You know. And Owen’s so young…Lauren will be all alone…I can’t go, Bri. I should just cancel the whole thing. I don’t know why I thought I could do this. I can’t fucking do this.”
As the panic set in, Brian got to work. He pulled over immediately, slamming the car into park as other drivers whizzed by us angrily. His eyes found mine as he pulled my chin so I’d have to face him.
“Listen to me,” he spoke calmly but firmly. “You can do this. Beyond that, you have to do this. Because if you don’t get on that fucking bus and go and face your life, then there is no fucking way I’m going to be able to.”
My brows fell.
“I need you to test the waters,” he told me, his tone slightly more uplifted. “I need you to be stronger than I am. I’m going to have to leave soon too—and it’ll be my first tour without Jimmy…too.”
I nodded, blinking the tears into the back of my skeleton.
“You can do this, Blair,” he assured me. “You have to do this.”
“I…” I took a second to work out exactly what I was trying to say. “I don’t want to be without you.”
He smiled, sighing deeply as he ran his hand down my arm and landed on the metal band around my finger. He twisted it until it was uncomfortable on my hand.
“You’re never without me,” he informed me cockily. “That’s the whole point, isn’t it?”
My voice cracked away, “I can’t be alone, Brian. I’m…afraid.”
“Blair,” he exhaled deeply, “you’re never alone. I know sometimes it feels that way…and I can never really fault you for it, because…well, fuck. I get it. But you’re not going to be alone. You’ll have Mona and Justin…and I’ll see you when I can.”
I nodded glumly, already trying to convince myself that Justin would be a good enough stand in for all of my friends and family at home. He’d been a decent enough sub in the past—but he’d never had to take me on full-time on his own. He was in for a shock; which made me laugh to myself.
“Besides,” Brian shrugged lazily, “I’m sure Jimmy’s tagging along too.”
I tried to smile.
“Are you good?” he asked flatly.
“Enough,” I agreed reluctantly.
Brian gave me one last look before pulling us back onto the road and toward my demise. I dug my heels into the floor like that would somehow stop the train I was on. It didn’t. Sooner than I’d have liked, we were pulling into a parking lot where I could see the bus running with its lights on. Justin was leaned up against its back, talking to Pete as he tossed a giant duffel inside. This was my future.
It wasn’t looking too bright…and it was met with great hesitation from the Blair camp.
We parked and Brian immediately climbed out to fetch my things. I couldn’t feel my feet. It felt so different this time around…The only difference that I could really work out was Brian. He’d left me behind to chase his aspirations—but I’d never had to leave him in my dust. I wasn’t sure I was ready.
But he opened my door and pulled me from my seat. I guess I was going to be forced into readiness.
“The Haners!” Justin called affectionately, a smug grin stapled to his even smugger face. “Fashionably late as always.”
“Someone,” Brian said, gesturing to me with a thumb, “had a bit of a panic on the way over.”
“Figures,” Justin laughed, reaching out to grab two of my bags from Brian’s tattooed hands. “We’re ready to go when you are, B.”
I just nodded, instinctively lighting a cigarette and praying that its chemicals would somehow bring me satisfaction.
“I’m going to go throw your shit in the back,” Brian told me. “I’ll be back.”
He disappeared with Justin. I wondered if I’d over packed, given how much of my shit was being carted away from me. But four months was a long time…and I needed to feel like I still had some semblance of home with me. My free hand found Jimmy’s cross, tucked neatly around my neck.
“You’re coming, right?” I asked the near-autumn breeze. “Please don’t make me go alone.”
When no excited response came, I knew I was on my own. I pulled harder at my cigarette, desperate for some sort of relief.
Brian trotted back toward me and I could already feel the grief welling up in me. How do you leave behind the ones that you love? I should have said goodbye at the house. It would have been easier if I didn’t have to watch Brian from the rearview.
“They’re ready,” he told me as he finally neared me.
I watched as Justin pulled the rear hatch shut and started waving off the crew.
“Good for them,” I seethed, digging my roots deeper.
Brian almost laughed, “Blair.”
“I don’t want to go,” I told him again.
I bit at my lip, “And I don’t want to leave you.”
“I know that too.”
“Why is this so easy for you?” I whined, feeling almost rejected.
His face faltered in its entirety, like I’d just slapped him. I tried to find an apology but came up short.
“Easy?” he choked. “Blair.”
“It’s just go, go, go with you,” I told him. “Aren’t you sad at all to see me go?”
“Of course I’m sad,” he breathed. “That’s the dumbest fucking question I’ve ever heard. I don’t want you to go; but what’s the alternative? This is your life. I’m not going to make you feel worse by playing into your pity party.”
“Nice, Bri,” I groaned, taking another lung full of nicotine.
He stepped toward me, sizing me up as he always had, “I’m going to miss you every single second until I see you again…Fuck, I miss you now. But…We’ve survived it before and we’ll survive it again.”
I just kind of nodded…I wasn’t sure what else to do.
He snatched me up into his arms, nearly burning himself in the abrupt movement. I flicked the cigarette away and let myself melt into him.
“I love you,” he said into my neck, running his hand through the ends of my hair.
I sniffled back a few salty tears, “I love you, too.”
He kept his arms stitched around me for a moment, savoring in the way I felt—and I was taking in his scent. I’d been clever enough to poach a few of his t-shirts for the trip…and a few sweaters. He’d never get those back.
“You’ll be alright,” Brian informed me as he took a step back, leaving his hands latched to my arms.
“Okay,” was all I could think to say.
“You’ve got Tyler,” he smiled oddly. “No way he’s not looming around you at all times.”
Tyler. Another tour…without Tyler. I’d hardly made it through the first without him; I doubted sincerely that he was anywhere near me. He’d abandoned me long ago and hadn’t looked back. Of that, I was certain.
“Uh-huh,” I grumbled.
“Call me when you get lonely,” Brian instructed me fondly. “I’ll be around.”
I smirked a little, completely against my will, “You better be.”
He cupped my saddened face in his hands, urging me to be okay. I wanted to appease him—but I couldn’t. As he moved his lips to mine and we began our familiar dance, I nearly fell apart entirely. Life was cruel. Everything I’d endured…what was it for? To give me something so wonderful and then to rip it away? What was the point of it all?
His eyes were glistening, too, as he pulled away from me and gave me one last encouraging sort of head nod. It always made me laugh. But not this time.
“I love you, B,” he told me again, his voice cracking a little under the weight of it all.
“I love you,” I echoed, pushing myself into him for one last kiss.
“Blair!” Gabriel was calling from the bus. “We gotta go, girl!”
Sniffling and fanning at my eyes, I stepped away from my husband.
“I’ll see you soon,” Brian smiled at me, letting his touch linger for only a second more before severing the last tie.
Clenching my jaw firmly to keep myself from screaming, I waved and I forced myself to leave. I didn’t look back until I was seated on the bus—and even then, it took every ounce of courage I had to let myself find Brian. He looked so beautiful, leaned against the back of his BMW with a cigarette between his fingers. He’d knocked his sunglasses off the top of his head and onto the bridge of his nose; I wondered if he was hiding bits of tears behind the lenses.
As the bus lurched forward, Brian began to slip from view.
Justin slid next to me, wrapping an arm around me instinctively; protectively. As I pushed my tear-stained face into his chest, I let myself fall apart.
Maybe I wasn’t alone—but it sure as shit felt that way. Of all the people that I was without, the only one I cared about in that moment was Brian.
I guess that’s love, right?