I awoke to am empty bed and a pounding headache. Through narrow slits of eyes I scanned the room. The shades were drawn so it was still relatively dark. I noticed then the note on the bedside table, the glass of water and the bottle of Advil. I rolled over with a groan, grabbing the note, and read through it quickly.
How’s your head, sweetie? I left you some pills, and there’s a cigarette on the kitchen counter. We had to run, be back soon. Please make yourself something to eat.
The note brought a smile to my face. I reread it twice more before throwing back the covers to stretch. I was still clinging to the memory of sleeping in Jared’s arms, feeling quite invincible. I choked down a few of the little red pills even though I was only supposed to take two.
With a lot of rummaging I was able to find where Jared kept his shirts. I pulled one from the drawer at random, a black shirt with some band I didn’t know advertized upon it. It didn’t take long to shower, brush out my hair and scrub off the mask of makeup I’d worn the night before. When I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I asked myself what others saw. What did Jared or Richard see? What had Brielle seen?
Knowing I was alone made it easier to think of her. I needed to accept it. She was gone. I needed to let her go, because she wasn’t coming back. “Why’d you do it, Brielle?” I whispered to my own reflection. “I loved you. Fuck, I still love you.”
If I’d expected her to answer, it wasn’t happening. I flicked off the light and went to the kitchen. It should have been me who was gone. Brielle had been beautiful, perfect. She deserved to live, to draw in the glittering air and let it out in a delicate laugh. Instead she was in a box, crumbling to dust and dirt. And it was my fault.
I hated to be alone. I made some toast but it tasted like ash, so I downed a glass of water to erase the bitter flavor. Like every time she crept into my mind, I was longing for a cigarette. The smoke might chase her out. I thought I knew where I might find one, too. Just a quick look wouldn’t be hard… Don’t be stupid, the voice told me. “I always am,” I replied aloud. This is reaching a new level.
I set down my glass with a clank and started off down the hall. The door was closed, as it always was. The knob was cold against my palm, but I turned it nonetheless.
I was surprised at the simplicity of the room, completely impersonal. The shades were drawn. But I could see the cigarette pack sitting on the bedside table, and with a faint smile I padded over to grab one.
I might have noticed it if it hadn’t been draped right over the pack of Camels. But there is was, the silver chain I’d been so dying to know about for days. I lifted it gingerly between my thumb and middle finger, brought it close to examine it. Hanging from the chain was a silver ring inset with a single sapphire. All my love was engraved on the inside.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I cringed at the raw hatred, utter hostility in his voice. Dread stormed into the room, ripping the chain from my hands. “Get out. Get the fuck out.”
I shrank away, towards the door. “I’m sorry,” I mumbled. “I was only-”
“I said go,” he cut me off in a voice so venomous it hurt to hear. I turned and hurried to the door; I was definitely not going to press my luck and argue with him. But just before I reached it he spoke out again. “You think you belong here?” I dared to look back over my shoulder. “What the hell was so bad, Ruth? You don’t know shit about suffering, so why don’t you go back to your pathetic town and get out of our lives?”
“Shut up!” I screeched, surprising the both of us. Dread stared at me with wide eyes and parted lips. “You don’t know a damn thing about me, or what I’ve been through.”
We remained silent, save my deep breaths. I felt the first stings of tears in my eyes, but I would not break in front of him. I expected him to go on with his shouting. I did not expect him to let out a deep sigh and frown, brows knitting together as his expression changed to a visible sort of contemplation. “You’re right,” he said. “I don’t know you, and I don’t want to. There’s an order to things, Ruth. And I can promise you were never meant to be here.”
I wasn’t going to dispute that. None of this should have happened. I didn’t know what had happened to him, nor did I intend to find out. We all had our little stories, and knowing someone else’s was worse didn’t change the fact that you were in a pain of your own. It hit me then that everything he had said was right. Sometimes things happened, and there was no reason behind them. There was no reason for Jared to have helped me. there was no reason for me to be breathing when Brielle was rotting in a box.
“Maybe you’re right,” I said slowly, unable to fully admit that he was. So I left him there in all his misery and I took mine along with me. I had nothing, so there was nothing else to bring. The door wasn’t so very far away.
I would have made it, if not for the sudden hands grabbing my arm, the low voice of Jared asking, “What are you doing?”
“Leaving,” I said shortly, trying to shake him off. “I’m not supposed to be here.” It was as though the words had engrained themselves within me. They had consumed me and become my truth.
Jared looked away, then looked back. His eyes were filled with a quiet desperation. “Please, Ruth. Don’t listen to Dread, okay? Just…I’m asking you to stay. Stay for me.”
I bit down gently on my bottom lip, made no move towards the door. There was Jared, fully exposed, asking me to stay. I thought that I might have given anything to ask Brielle to stay, and how much worse it would have been if she’d have left me then. How much worse it would be to leave Jared now, when I knew that he wanted anything but. “I came here trying to escape,” I told him. “And I cant. She’s following me.”
Jared creased his forehead ever so slightly. “Who? Ruth, if someone means to harm you-”
I shook my head till he fell silent. “Her name was Brielle.” From there, it was impossible to hold it in. All my thoughts and memories and fears came pouring out with my tears. I collapsed into his arms, held to him as I sobbed. Jared stroked my hair until I managed to calm down.
“If you need to talk…” He left the invitation open.
I mustered up the energy to smile. “I think that might be nice.”
Jared took my be the hand and led me to his room. Unlike with Adam, there was no excitement or fear. There was only us, alone in his room, and I was safe. With his fingers still in my own, I told him everything. I told him of all the years spent with Brielle, all the changing ways in which I’d loved her. I told him of the kiss, and the rivulets of red, and how long I’d screamed into the ether for her to come back.
After, he was silent, an understandable reaction. What could he possibly say to such a story? In the end, we both decided that silence was louder, so I crawled into his lap, and he stroked my hair, and for the second time I fell asleep in the sanctuary of his arms.