Through All the Dust
Chapter Seventy-Four: The Ninth of February
I opened my eyes to find that morning had come. A branch riddled with ice tapped patiently at my window. Unwilling to face the day just yet, I burrowed deeper into the mattress, pulling the blankets up by my chin and pursing my eyes tightly shut. The morning chill nipped at the tip of my nose, taunting me with memories of California. It had been nearly a month since the move to Lenox, and the cold had been relentless in it's responsibility for my home sickness. Nevertheless, things had been boding well enough.
The distinct sound of a blender caught through my tranquility. My eyes burst open with a fury, focusing their rage in on the beams of the ceiling that stretched from one end of my bedroom to the other. I suffocated myself with a down filled pillow, breathing feathers into my lungs with each exaggerated breath. But the noise did not relent.
With a huff and a groan and a violent toss of the pillow, I clambered to my swollen feet. My hair hung messily from its elastic, having hardly survived by restless night. I'd grown uncomfortable as my body altered and changed and defied me. The time of year really only made it worse.
I shuffled my way down the hall, using the solidity of the wall to guide my tired eyes. As I rounded the corner, the catastrophe that was my kitchen fell into plain view.
"Morning!" Lauren beamed happily, shaking her hips to the greatest Oingo Boingo song of all time.
My face contorted itself as I stared in disbelief at the good mood I'd found my best friend in. I was nothing short of stunned.
"I'm baking a cake!" she told me cheerily, glancing at me over her shoulder.
I could think of nothing to say to her.
"Stop making that face at me," she giggled.
"What..." I tried but stopped. "Why?...How?"
She smiled, shaking her thing all the way over to the freshly brewed coffee. She dumped a mug full on my behalf and then slid it across the counter to me. As I sank into a stool, I thanked her quietly.
A smiling face caught my attention as my eyes naturally found Owen, giggling from his swing. At the sight of me, his eyes lit up just like his father's used to. I'd recognize those blue havens anywhere. A strong surge of sorrow washed over my tired body, hitting me deep in the nerves.
"Did I wake you up?" Lauren asked with just a hint of guilt.
I just nodded, pulling my focus back forward and breathing the fresh caffeine smell deep, deep into my deadened soul. I'd finally moved along with the aversions enough that I could love my morning coffee again; what a joyous occasion that had been to discover.
"Heard from Brian yet?" she asked then.
"Nope," I shrugged, swirling the top of my hot liquid around in delicate circles. "But I would think he's still asleep. He's in the past right now, remember?"
"Right," she chuckled. "Time differences are confusing."
I nodded, "No shit."
"Well," she sighed, "when he calls, tell him I love him."
"I will," I assured her softly, daring to take my first sip of the scalding hot beverage. "I'm sure he's fine, though...He won't tell me if he isn't. He's on some fucking tirade about stress and the baby. He's convinced I live in a perpetual state of unease."
Lauren's lips cracked into a devious grin, "You do."
"This wasn't supposed to be about me," I informed her curtly. "Stay focused."
"Right, sorry," she giggled, dumping confetti batter into pan.
I admired her, the way she could always seem to put on a brave face. You'd never know she was capable of falling to pieces. She always seemed so...very Lauren. You'd never know she was broken to hell.
"Since when do you listen to Oingo Boingo?" I asked her as she wiped the side of the bowl clean with a rubber spoon.
She shrugged, swallowing down my insensitivity, "It just seemed appropriate."
"Fuck," I grumbled, "I know...I knew that. Sorry. I'm tired."
Lauren, the eternal saint, waved it off, "Feel free to change it."
Without saying a word, I disappeared back down the hall--with a newfound energy that had somehow flared up in the past several minutes. I snatched my green iPod from atop my dresser and hurriedly waltzed back to the kitchen. Lauren was just sliding the rounded cake pan into the oven, wincing as the heat blew back in her face.
As I slid the auxiliary cord from her player and into mine, she cocked an eyebrow at me.
"Since when do you not like Oingo Boingo?"
I scoffed, "Since never. Don't be dumb."
"And yet you're changing it," she smirked. "Okay, Blair."
"Oh, Lo," I laughed sarcastically, scrolling the wheel until I landed on the most glorious thing to come out of California. "I'll change it. But only because you've pegged this morning all wrong. Today is not the day for Oingo Boingo."
As they dynamic sound ruptured from the speakers, Jimmy's smiling face came flooding back to me.
"Today is the day for Mr. Bungle, dear Lauren," I informed her smugly.
She groaned loudly but made no moves to cease the sound. Lauren absolutely hated Mr. Bungle. She couldn't get into them and would demand we turn it off if ever she was faced with even a second of their music. Jimmy and I used to spend entirely too much time wrapped up in the intricacies of their songs. We'd break them down and gush about the genius--the insanely strange and incredibly brilliant genius. Brian would occasionally join in, but typically Jimmy and I saved Bungle for our alone time. Besides a particular Oingo Boingo song, there was nothing on this god forsaken earth that could make me instantaneously think of Jimmy quite like Mr. Bungle could. Avenged included.
I smiled to myself as I watched his eyes twinkle with delight and his crooked grin scrunch his nose into wrinkles. His infectious laugh rang out in my ears, sounding off sprinklers in my mind.
I had to consciously pull myself back...but if I could have had my way, I would have willingly gave up my sanity long ago. If it meant I could have spent my days with Jimmy, basking in what was, I would have given up anything.
Owen grew restless and loud, struggling to break free of his helplessness. As I released him from his moving prison, holding him tightly in my arms, it occurred to me that I might be a bit of a liar. I'd never give up Owen. Not even for Jimmy. He could be my one and only exception, if anyone ever asked.
I swayed my hips to every second beat, making slow and calculated steps as Owen and I danced to his dad's beloved artists. Owen's cheeky grin had me swooning, as per usual. Lauren leaned over the counter, quietly snapping a photo when she thought I wasn't looking. She promptly sent it Brian's way and then slid the phone back onto the counter.
"Don't take my picture," I chuckled, mostly ignoring her in favour of the blue eyed beauty in my tattooed arms.
Lauren smiled, "You just look so beautiful, B. You've got that adorable belly, the most beautiful boy and...it's just nice."
"Stop," I instructed her sternly, sensing her building emotions.
"Jimmy would have just been so obsessed with your connection with Owen," she sniffled. "I can almost imagine it sometimes. You two hunkered down in the corner, whispering and conspiring about my boy's future."
"We'd sell him to the gypsies," I told her teasingly.
"It's just a tragedy he isn't here to see it," Lauren sighed loudly. "It's really, really tragic."
I nodded slowly, trying not to let myself wallow for too long, "I'm sorry, Lo."
She forced a smile onto her pretty face and threw her hands to her hips, "No use throwing a pity party. So..." she moved on in proper Lauren fashion, "What's on our agenda for the day?"
"Nothing," I replied simply.
"Nothing?" she asked in disbelief.
I shook my head, a few strands of my black hair falling down against my cheek.
I'd intentionally blocked off the day...just in case. It was a hard day, after all. I wanted to make sure I could be around for Lauren in case her strength took a turn. I needed to be around.
My phone began to vibrate wildly in my pocket. I pulled Owen onto my hip as I dug around with my free hand. Finally, I released it from its denim captivity and skimmed the tiny screen.
"Hey you," I breathed into the phone, relieved to hear from him.
He yawned in my ear, "Hey yourself."
"Did you just get up?" I asked curiously, joining Lauren back in the thick of it all as she removed Owen from my side.
"Yeah," he grumbled. "Literally just rolled out of my bunk."
I made my way down the hall quickly to escape the noise of my past, "Where's everyone else? It's weirdly quiet."
"Don't know," he said shortly.
I wasn't sure if I should ask...or if I should volunteer some sort of sentiment. It had plagued my mind from the very second I'd opened my eyes, so I was sure it had had the same effect on my husband. The miles between us were anything but a consolation. I needed him that day--almost as badly as I'd needed him only five weeks prior. He'd come through that time, surprising me back home with his arrival.
Neither of us could have survived that day apart. The day the world died; the day the biggest part of our life faded away.
Somehow it felt almost the same to hear Brian's voice. He was defeated and distinctly unfamliar. It was exhausting just to hear his breathing.
I ran through a list of possible conversation topics but each time ruled them out. There was no proper protocol to follow for occassions such as these...What was there to say?
"He would have been twenty-nine today," Brian said quietly, as if saying it too loudly might somehow change the world.
I took in as much oxygen as I could get, "I know..."
"It's weird," he said lowly. "Every year for the past...fuck, forever...I've seen him on his birthday. We've eaten shitty cake and got properly fuckin' toasted...This is year two, Blair. But it feels like the fucking first. It feels like it just happened..."
"I know," I said again, pummelling myself for making like a parrot. "I feel it too."
He sighed, "I know you do...Have you gotten into the Bungle yet?"
I found myself smiling, "Yeah...Lauren was dosing out the Oingo first thing this morning."
"Doesn't she know it's a Mr. Bungle kind of day?" Brian grinned into the phone.
I laughed quietly, "I know. I fucking told her."
"How's my son?" Brian asked, his tone lightening just enough.
My hand found my growing stomach, rubbing at it affectionately, "Giving me heart burn as we speak."
"Perfect," Brian laughed but it was that specific kind of unnerving laughter that leaves you worrying more than anything else.
"What are you guys doing today?" I asked more pointedly.
"Honestly?" Brian grunted. "Nothing. I'm going to do my best to sleep through this fucking day and hope that I wake up tomorrow and it's suddenly March or some shit."
"Do you remember," I started, blowing right past Brian's concerning little sentiment. "A few years back...It was Jimmy's birthday and he insisted that we rent that traveling exotic zoo?"
Brian laughed loudly, "And he paid the keeper a grand to fuck off so we could get shit faced with the lemur?"
"Yeah!" I cackled, grinning like an idiot as I sank onto the very edge of my mattress.
"We laid in Matt's backyard all night; long after the guy came back for all of his crazy animals..."
"I know," I replied, feeling my heart sink with my smile. "And then we really drunkely ate the entire fucking cake in one sitting. No forks. Just hands...Really unsanitary, looking back."
Brian fell quiet.
Suddenly I was back in Matt's yard, cuddled up to Jimmy's chest as he excitedly pointed at the stars, icing layered in the ends of his hair. He and Brian had eaten entirely too many mushrooms and were hilariously narrating the effects through dramatic hand gestures and wild theories. We laid in the grass and talked until the sun rose up from behind the clouds.
I felt myself choking up at the memory. They'd betrayed me once more, stinging my fond reminesence with the painful reminder that it would never be anything but a memory. I'd have no chance to repeat it, no chance to top it at a later birthday. It was the last one we'd shared together. We'd seen many birthdays come and go...all of which without Jimmy.
And soon my son would have his birth day and Jimmy would miss that, too.
"I wish I could be with you," I frowned into the phone, leaning into Brian as much as I could.
He bit back his own feelings to spare mine, "Yeah..."
I knew it wouldn't matter if we were together or not. We were both afflicted by the same poison. We were not an antidote. There was no antidote. There was nothing to do but suffer through and hope that the pain relented at some point.
"I'm going to go back to bed," Brian decided then. "Will you be alright if I sleep through the day?"
"If that's what you need to do," I said carefully.
He sighed, "It is."
"Okay," I swallowed.
"You'll be okay?"
"Yeah," I nodded oddly. "I have Lauren...We'll keep each in other in check."
Brian laughed quietly, "Good...Give Owen a kiss for me."
"You know I will," I smiled faintly; just thinking of Owen made my heart swell up.
"I'll talk to you when it isn't Jim's birthday," Brian choked.
There was nothing for me to do but let Brian help himself. History had taught me that trying to force Brian's hand in anything would not turn out well. This included caring for himself and for others. He needed to be broody and to let himself get down into the thick of it. I wasn't going to stand in his way--despite how much I really needed him.
"I love you, Bri," I told him seriously, clinging to the words as they flowed from within me.
He sniffled back a tear, "Yeah, I love you too."
He ended our call before I could pass along Lauren's message. He'd ended our call before I could say anything encouraging or reassuring...Now I was left with the unavoidable heartache that any mention of Jimmy had brought in its wake. Brian had done that and then he'd stepped back. Thanks, Bri.
Knowing better than to entertain my own debris for too long, I stepped back into my other relationship. Lauren was dancing along to my music, swinging Owen around from side to side. I caught myself totally taken out by it. God, she was stunning. Something about strength and grace really makes a woman irresistable.
She caught me swooning and immediately stiffened back up. She went back to cleaning the counter, trying her best to feign innocence.
At first I let her have her moment. I let her think she'd been smooth and had recovered neatly. I joined her side and gathered up the dirtied dishes, dumping them into the sink with a loud clattering.
I glanced at her from the sides of my eyes and said, "I fucking knew you liked them."
"No!" she wailed dramatically. "I swear I don't! It was a fluke! I didn't know what I was doing!"
"I knew you liked them!" I continued happily, singing loudly to really drive her up the wall. "I fucking knew it!"
She screeched as I tormented her relentlessly up until the timer sounded for her cake. Once it had cooled, to the sounds of Pinkly Smooth, we decorated it in blues and sprinkles. Standing back to marvel at our creation, Owen cooed from within his mother's arms.
"Do we...light candles?" she asked me cautiously.
I couldn't bring myself to ask who would blow them out. So, I just shook my head, no.
"We should eat it," she told me. "It would be weirder not to."
I couldn't bring myself to tell her it had been weird to make it.
But she set Owen into his chair and sliced him off a piece to smash between his fingers. We each took a generous slice and smiled sympathetically at one another as we took a first bite.
It was god damn delicious...which honestly just made me feel like a pile of shit. Guilt is weird.
We ate the whole damn thing...because it would have been weirder if we didn't.
I'm so sorry about the delay in an update. I've been kind of focused on that new story and the last few days have just been absolute hell.
Anyway.......here's a new chapter.