Through All the Dust
Chapter Seventy-Nine: I Won't See You Tonight
After a morning of insistent screaming on baby Sullivan’s part, Lauren and I decided we needed to get out. If overstimulation was the culprit to blame for the sudden flare in Owen’s temperament, we needed to remedy the situation. So, we shackled both children into independent strollers and set out into the spring of Lenox.
We found ourselves a park and took up residence at one of the picnic tables, watching young children run around and scream and be otherwise annoying. Owen had fallen into an exhausted sleep the second we stepped foot into the great outdoors, so we were reluctant to ever leave the sanctuary we’d found. Brody stirred quietly, adjusting himself like he had any real consciousness of his comfort at all.
“I wish Owen was quiet like Brody,” Lauren grumbled in jealousy, admiring the way baby Haner settled himself back into a nap.
“He’s fresh,” I reminded her with a sly grin. “He just hasn’t discovered his lungs yet. Give him time.”
She nodded, “Then we’ll have a battle of the bands on our hands.”
“That’s right, Dr. Seuss,” I laughed.
“It’s nice to get out,” she sighed, closing her eyes to really enjoy the spring sun.
“Yeah…It’ll be nicer to get out once we’re back home, though.”
She opened her eyes, as if the very mention of returning to California had deeply disturbed her, “Is it totally weird that I almost forgot we’d have to go back? This has been such a nice home.”
“It will be strange not to see your dumb face every day,” I smirked. “Maybe we should just start a compound and we can live off the land and shit.”
She grimaced, “I don’t want to live off the land.”
“Fair enough,” I noted. “Manual labor…bad idea.”
“I do miss the warm weather though,” Lauren thought aloud. “One winter here was nice, but I’ll be glad to walk around in my t-shirt year-round again.”
I laughed, “You tolerated one winter, Lo. One. I lived here for nineteen years. You’re a fucking casual to the winter months.”
“I can’t even fathom that you lived here for most of your life,” she told me oddly, staring me down like it might help her to better visualize it.
The very park we’d rolled into was one Tyler and I had frequented as preteens. We’d hide under the slide and smoke cigarettes we’d stolen from Justin’s mom. If I squinted hard enough, I could almost see Tyler’s back shielding me from prying eyes as I took in a lung full of nicotine.
But the world was hazy, and everything was blurred. I decided I’d make an eye appointment the second we were back on home soil. We hadn’t picked a date for return yet, but once Brian and the guys had left us once again, I figured there wasn’t much reason to stay behind. My bones were starting to long for California, the way they had all those years ago.
“It was another lifetime,” I told her, stepping back into reality. “I don’t even know that girl anymore.”
This sentiment seemed to dishearten my best friend. She frowned, sinking into introspection as she considered her own journey; her own changes.
“Lo?” I asked absently.
She hummed in response.
“Do you believe in ghosts?”
She cracked up, “Ghosts? Like oOoOo?”
I narrowed my eyes at her, which only made her laugh harder.
“I don’t know,” she giggled. “Why?”
I shrugged my shoulders, reluctant to give her the real motives behind my sudden curiosity. The previous night with Jimmy had left a lasting imprint on my mind. It had felt so real; so palpable. I’d had absolutely no recollection of turning on the stereo, and yet it had woken Lauren the way it had woken me. It was entirely plausible that I’d ventured around in my sleep, hallucinating from the effects of sleep deprivation.
But I could not shake that feeling that it had been real.
“Sometimes I just wonder if there’s more than this,” I offered to her thoughtfully. “Where do we go when we die?”
She pursed her lips, “You’re getting a bit heavy for morning conversation, Blair.”
I laughed gently, “Yeah, maybe. But…Given all the death in my life, is it so crazy to think about?”
“Not crazy,” she said with a shake of her head. “But I really don’t know where we go. I like to think we move on…Maybe we start over.”
“Maybe,” I nodded, considering what that might mean.
“It would explain the whole weird experience of recognizing a stranger,” she informed me. “You know when you see someone and you just…you can’t help but feel like you know them somehow? You know that you don’t, but there’s something about them that just draws you over? I think maybe it’s people we knew in other lives. I think we start over.”
I grimaced a bit, “Fuck, I hope I don’t have to start over.”
She laughed, “You would look at it that way. Where do you think we go?”
“To hell, probably,” I snickered with a devious grin.
She rolled her eyes at me.
“I really don’t know,” I answered more seriously. “I think some of us get stuck. Hence, my sudden interest in ghosts.”
“Did you see something?” she asked nervously, glancing around like a ghoul might leap out at her at the mere mention of its possible existence.
I’d never been very forthcoming with my sporadic visits from Jimmy. It just didn’t seem like something that needed to be discussed. Though, I’d brought it up with Brian nearly every time it had happened. He’d told me he’d had dreams about him too, but that they’d been slowly diminishing in frequency over time. Like his ties to our minds were slowly becoming severed.
Maybe we were just moving on.
“I have dreams about Jimmy sometimes,” I told her cautiously. “And I had one last night that just felt…Like it wasn’t a dream at all.”
“Ah,” she nodded. “I have those too sometimes. Or I used to…I don’t so much anymore.”
For whatever reason, this surprised me to hear.
“Sure,” she shrugged. “After Owen was born, especially. I swear I’d see him every night. Sometimes we’d talk, sometimes we wouldn’t. It was nice.”
Nice wasn’t exactly the word I’d use to describe it.
“I haven’t had one in a long time though,” she told me. “I guess that means I’m healing.”
“What if it isn’t about our emotions at all?” I dared her to consider. “What if it is Jimmy?”
She scoffed, “What is this, the Sixth Sense? Are you seeing dead people?”
“All the time,” I joked.
“I’m not sure if Jimmy’s visiting us from beyond the grave, B,” she said more condescendingly than I think she’d intended. “But…I guess you never know.”
“Did you think dreams about Tyler were his ghost?” she asked me curiously, obviously looking to draw a parallel.
My eyes met hers, “That’s the thing. I’ve never dreamed of Tyler.”
She seemed genuinely confused, “What? Really? Never?”
I shook my head, “None. Not like the ones of Jimmy, anyway. I’ve never had a conversation with Tyler after…after he died.”
“Hm,” she thought quietly.
“If ghosts are real,” I mused. “and Jimmy really has been coming to visit us…It breaks my fucking heart.”
She frowned, “Why?”
“Well,” I considered, “everyone says ghosts are born from unfinished business, right?”
She shrugged, “Is that the going theory? I’m not sure.”
“I think so,” I laughed. “And if Tyler’s never…manifested…then I guess that means he’s at peace. Which I guess makes sense…And should probably make me feel better.”
“Maybe that’s what ghosts are,” Lauren suggested. “A way to make us feel better.”
I furrowed my brows, “Have you seen literally any fucking horror movie ever? Amityville Horror? Were those ghosts hanging around to make people feel better, Lo?”
“Anyway,” I snickered. “If Jimmy’s coming around…I think it might mean that he isn’t at peace. Which also makes sense…given the way he died.”
Lauren frowned deeply, setting wrinkles into her chin, “Well…If he is a ghost…I hope he’s finding some closure.”
“Maybe he’s giving closure,” I shrugged.
“What was your dream?” she asked, slinking into therapist mode.
I told her about the music. About the dancing and the sheer weight of it all.
“He said Owen was the most beautiful person in the world,” I told her with a subtle smile. “Second only to you.”
She smiled, “Sounds like Jimmy. Your subconscious is at least pretty bang on.”
“He told me that he was protecting me…or would protect me,” I continued, getting a bit hung up on the details. “From car wrecks and shit.”
My impression made her giggle.
“You said I had a guardian angel,” I reminded her.
She nodded, “I don’t, for one second, think Jimmy isn’t looking out for you. For all of us. I just don’t know if I can make the leap from an angel to a ghost. Ghosts are…spooky.”
“Jimmy was spooky,” I grinned.
“I guess,” she laughed shallowly.
“He told me everything was going to be okay,” I continued. “And the craziest part of it all is that I woke up feeling…Okay.”
She didn’t seem to think that was such a big deal.
I considered walking her through the flames of my mind over the past year, like she wasn’t already privy to it all. But I decided against it, figuring it would do only more harm than good. No use drudging up the past to make a point. I knew that waking up to feel content was an anomaly—and I couldn’t help but feel like it had something to do with the evening I’d had with my late best friend.
Like he’d said goodbye.
Like I could say goodbye.
“Maybe I just want to believe it was real,” I sighed. “Or maybe I’m fucking crazy.”
She smiled, “You’re not crazy, Blair. You’re just…missing him.”
“Don’t you?” I asked her lightly.
Her honesty caught me off guard. I’d expected some emotional outburst along the lines of how dare you. But, no.
“It’s getting easier with time,” she told me simply. “I’ve made peace with what’s happened. I can’t go back and change it…So, what’s the point in getting caught up in it? I saw what it did to me…What it’s done to you. It’s a risky place to linger around in, B.”
“I’m in fucking awe of you,” I told her seriously. “I don’t know how you do it.”
She shrugged, “Time.”
“Are you still swearing off all men?” I asked, a flicker of hope for my hunky friend lighting up in the forefront of my battered mind. “Or has that faded too?”
She looked unequivocally busted.
I choked, “Maybe?”
“We’re not talking about it,” she told me knowingly.
“Lauren,” I laughed. “You have to give me something. If you’re revoking your swearing off all men, I need to know.”
She smiled, “I guess I’m not swearing off all men…Just most of them.”
“Except one?” I grinned, wiggling my eyebrows.
“Maybe,” she answered softly, letting her eyes fall to the ground.
“It’s okay, you know,” I told her lightly. “To move on to someone else. It’s kind of, you know, what people do.”
“And it’s okay that it’s Matt,” I smirked.
Her eyes snapped up to meet mine, a shield of denial popping up to block my study of her soul. But it faded quickly as she realized there was no judgement to be found in me; only love. Only encouragement.
I loved the idea of Lauren and Matt. He was exactly what she needed to pull herself back onto her feet; and she was what he needed to coax the anger out from his soul and reassure him that his infatuation with her was okay. There was no one that could do that for him but Lauren.
And maybe Jimmy…But…
“I feel like a bad person,” she confessed quietly. “It wasn’t supposed to happen. It’s your fault, I think.”
“My fault?” I laughed. “How the fuck is it my fault?”
My entertainment caused Brody to jolt awake. He squirmed like a fish out of water, whimpering until I finally reached down to unbuckle him. He nuzzled into my chest, immediately falling back into a light sleep which only drove Lauren further into madness.
But Owen was still quiet, so she couldn’t be too pissed for long.
“Because you brought it up at Matt’s wedding,” she told me firmly. “And ever since then I’ve caught myself looking for Matt’s attention…Letting myself get way too cozy with his helpful attitude.”
“He isn’t that helpful,” I argued playfully. “He’s just helpful to you because he adores you.”
She blushed a little, which was adorable, “You think so? You don’t think he’s totally put off by the whole…Well, who I am thing?”
“Who you are?” I dared her, drawing small circles on my son’s back.
“Jimmy,” she stated flatly.
I shrugged, “I don’t think anyone cares about that. Jimmy’s…gone. And he wouldn’t want you sulking around, denying your own happiness because he felt he had some sort of ownership over you.”
“Yeah, but if Jimmy hadn’t died…There would be no Matt for me. It would have always been Jimmy.”
“Maybe so,” I considered briefly. “But…Maybe you’re lucky enough to have two loves in your life. Two real loves. I don’t think Matt would be a fling for you. And that’s probably why I’m so fucking for it. Matt’s the real deal…And if you two got together, it’s game over.”
She almost smiled, “What makes you so sure?”
“Because I’m wise as fuck,” I snickered. “And because there’s no one in this world more deserving of love than you. I’ve seen the love Matt can give…and it’s something that’s worthy. He’d never do you wrong; it’s just not in his nature.”
She hummed and hawed about it quietly.
“Will everyone hate us?” she asked me bravely but quietly.
“Absolutely not,” I answered straightly. “We all love you. I think everyone’s been waiting for this shit for a long fucking time.”
She didn’t seem convinced.
“I’ve been waiting for this since Matt’s wedding fell apart,” I laughed softly. “And maybe this is the reason that it did. Everything happens for a reason, right?”
“Maybe,” she grumbled, at war with herself.
“Lauren,” I said sternly. “You have a right to make your own happiness. If you’re moving on with your life, I think that’s great. You’re right, there’s no point lingering on the things that were. We are not the things we’ve left behind…So maybe it’s time to focus on the future. Take what you want. Do what makes you happy. Fuck the rest of it.”
She dared to hear me, leaning into my words with everything she had. But as the volume sunk into her skin, she met my gaze with caution.
“I will if you will,” she said lowly. “It’s time to let it go.”
As an echo of her former flame, Lauren tugged at my last thread of longing. With the blade of an affectionate knife, she severed it into two.
I nodded, holding Brody closed into me like he was the key to my life’s light. Perhaps he was.
It was time to let it go.
Let it all go.
I feel like I should be putting quotations around the chapter numbers now.