Alex was ready and waiting for me.
He had unlocked the door on his side so there was no need for me to kick it down – but I wouldn’t be grateful for that cost-saving decision until much, much later.
He stood leaning against the wall to my right, the bed standing between us like an undersized referee that was about to be run over in his attempt to keep two fighters apart. His arms were crossed, his lips pressed firmly together, and his right foot rested against the wall next to his left knee.
“What did you do with the rest of my damn pills?” I did not shout. I did not advance from my position in the doorway. But I was fully prepared to do both.
“They are in a safe place and I will take responsibility for giving you the appropriate dosage,” Alex replied in a flat voice. I took a step into the room. “Since you have proven that you cannot be trusted to do it on your own.” And another. “You are not yourself, Nate.”
“Give them back,” I said quietly, “or I will take them back.”
“Why? So that you can overdose while I stand by and do nothing?” Two more large strides took me to the edge of the bed and Alex uncrossed his arms. “You know that you are only hurting yourself. I understand that you are in pain but—”
“You know nothing about pain!” My voice was like the roar of a mortally wounded lion – loud, proud, and filled with the knowledge that a more physical protest was out of the question.
“I know nothing about pain?” It was Alex’s turn to shout, the young lion rising up to take his elder’s place. His eyes were wide with anger and shock and hurt. “I am thousands of miles from my family! Their safety is on my shoulders and it threatens to grind me into the dirt every single day. If I falter, if I fail, I may never see them again and it will be my fault.” He pushed off the wall and strode to his side of the bed, his hands balling into fists and falling to his sides. “Do you know what I dream of, Nate? It is not boxing. It is my family. Every. Single. Night.”
“Alex, I just—”
“And you stand there with a little ache in your poor little hand…”
“Don’t you dare mock me!”
“… ready to throw it all away because you cannot stand to suffer it.” I placed a foot on his bed and prepared to leap across the space that separated us but his next words froze me in place. “Think of your daughter, Nate. What will she do, who will she become, without you there.”
I tried to respond but no words would come. My teeth ground against each other, my eyes narrowed, and my chest rose and fell in ragged waves but the rest of my body remained perfectly still.
“Do you wish for me to tell Cara that I gave you your poison because you got angry at me?” His hands and tone relaxed slightly when I didn’t advance further. “No, I will not have that conversation. If you want your medicine so badly you will have to fight me for it. Defeat me and at least I can tell her I did what I could. It will do nothing to make up for her loss but at least I will have done something.”
Blinking rapidly, I let my head fall to my chest as hot tears welled up in my eyes. Embarrassment and shame threatened to push me to the ground as I took my foot off the bed and returned it to the floor. Without a word I turned and stumbled back toward my room.
“Take the pills I left you,” Alex said as I reached the doorway. “Sleep until dinner, I will come and get you when Gregor returns. Tonight I will give you two more to help you sleep.”
I closed the door between us with little enthusiasm and shuffled to my bed before letting my body freefall backward onto it, my legs hanging over the edge. Turning my head, my eyes found the two pills that Alex had left for me resting against each other on the bed and the tears began in earnest.
“You old, bloody fool.” My voice sounded tiny and pathetic in my ears. I moved my bandaged hand until it rested beside the relief it so desperately craved. “See those, you useless piece of crap? Never again.”
And then I swept my hand across the rumpled sheets, sending the pills tumbling to the floor. It felt humiliating and exhilarating and nauseating all at once. How had I fallen so far so quickly? Had I always been so weak? Had I just been waiting for the slightest excuse to fall to pieces?
My hand continued to throb, the tears continued to fall, and the questions continued to batter me like acid rain, burning me with every contact. I was a miserable wreck and I never wanted to move again. Why would Alex ever listen to me after that? If a boxer didn’t respect his trainer then nothing else mattered.
And what of Cara? What sort of role model could I be after such disgrace, after failing her so completely? Because there was no doubt in my mind that I would confess my sins to her. Hiding the truth of my weakness from her would only torment me further and push an invisible divide between us. Better to have it out in the open.
But I would not ask for forgiveness. I would not ask for something I knew I did not deserve.
And so I lay there, awash in self pity, until sleep at last took me into her gentle arms and granted me relief from myself.
Alex was ready and waiting for me.