He knew that she didn't give a damn about him or anyone else. She used him time after time, knocking on his door at 3 a.m. after another fight with her mother. He always swore that the next time would be the last time. But when he caught one glimpse of her, it all went out the window, including his self-respect.
It happened every week, like clockwork. It was just to take the pain away, she'd always said. Just this once, she'd beg. So he'd take her in his arms and lay her down, trying to erase her nightmares.
He'd deny it if anyone ever asked, but he loved her. Every bit of her broken, empty self. He took what she would give him and tried desperately to crush the uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. He knew he was selfish. But then again, so was she.
The morning afters were the worst. He'd turn over and she'd be gone. No note, no crinkle in the sheet, no dark lipstick on the pillowcase. Often he wondered if he created the meetings in his head. But if the aches in his chest were any indication, it was real. Every minute of it.
But this month she didn't come.
He sat against a thin pillow against the bedpost, a Whitman book in his hand despite that the only light in the room came through the window from Mrs. Sullivan's streetlight. When 3:13 hit, he became jittery. He threw the book of poems on the floor and, against his better judgment, picked up the phone.
"Bev," he heard her answer in a monotone voice.
"You okay?" he'd asked.
"Get a new fuck buddy, Gerry." Her voice was harsher, raspier than normal. He knew it anywhere. She'd been drinking. Probably inhaling vodka and whiskey like a kid eats chocolate on Easter.
He could picture her in his head. She was lying on her bed, half-wrapped in a quilt her grandmother made for her sixteen years ago. Her red hair was frizzy and matted to her head. She had on a plain-looking bra and boxers because she always got hot when she was drunk. On second thought, she probably had on her leather jacket, too. Because once she got hot, she would open her window and tear the screen out. So, she was probably cold, too.
"I can help you, you know."
She scoffed. "Like fuck you can. No one can bringhim back, Gerry. Not you, not my goddamned mother, not the half-dozen shrinks I've been to since I was seven."
He heard her slam the phone down then, the monotony of the dial tone makes him wince.
She was right, of course. He didn't need her to tell him that. As long as she was alive, the memory of her father hanging from the bedroom-ceiling fan would follow her everywhere.
He was the only one she'd ever told, the only person outside her family who knew what really happened. She'd kept it locked up until a year ago, six months after they started fucking. He had no idea why he was the one she chose to tell to keep her darkest secret.
He remembered once when they were eight and down by the pond behind Mr. Copick's house. She waded into the green pond scum fearlessly, searching for any sign of water life. He wanted no part of it, so he sat on the bank and looked on in awe of her. He watched her scouring for hours, never giving up until she found some sign of a frog or a fish. He told her she was stupid, that no amphibian in his or her right mind would live in that waste.
Of course she proved him wrong. He could still see her holding the frog in her palm, a huge grin stretched to her ears. He carried that memory like a photo in his pocket. He pulled it out when he couldn't erase her haunted eyes from his memory.
They were inseparable until they were ten, when her father killed himself. He ran to her after her mother knocked on their door at 5 a.m. Bev's eyes were empty and she stood cold as a statue when his arms wrapped around her. When he let go, she walked away. Out of his life for the next eight years, despite phone calls and protested knocks on her door.
He was devastated when she stopped talking to him, but he'd given up after a year.
One night, two years ago, she just appeared without warning. And after being apart for so long, he didn't have the heart to question her. He wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
There were no words, at first. When she showed up, she hadn't even looked him in the eye. Just attacked his mouth and dragged him upstairs expertly. He knew something wasn't right, knew he had to stop her. He tried—several times, really, he did-but she was too intoxicating. He missed her and couldn't get enough. It was just a few kisses, after all.
At least, that's what he fooled himself into thinking. He told himself each time would be the last, and the next time he would sit her down and make her deal with everything. He'd make her tell him what happened. He'd make her apologize for dumping her best friend at the ripe age of ten. He'd get her some help; get her out of her house—anything to keep her from self-destruction.
The night she told him what really happened to her father was one of those nights. He'd pushed her off him, pleading and yelling at her to tell him what happened. She clawed and thrashed at him, desperation and fear overcoming her. She screamed at him, called him a bastard. The fire in her eyes matched her flaming curly hair. He held her tight to him for an hour til she calmed down.
When she spoke, the words poured out of her, broken like a train wreck.
"Mom, she-she wasn't even home. Went out for cigarettes or coffee…can't quite remember. I think I…I walked home from school early that day. That was the day Mr. Lombardi made us watch those awful videos…What were they about? I was nauseous and the nurse told me to go home. No one—they didn't answer when I called. So I just left. Walked home."
She spoke in a voice faraway, like she couldn't escape far enough from her life.
"I remember feeling sicker and sicker as I walked towards the house. Dad's car was in the driveway, but the door….it was locked. I couldn't find my key, so I got the hide-a-key from under that stupid gnome…"
He knew the one she was talking about. His dad had bought her family a gnome for Christmas one year. He thought it was the coolest thing ever. Of course, Gerry could tell from the looks on their faces that they found it repulsive, but they put it on their lawn anyway.
"I yelled for him. After I got in the house, I—I yelled for him. I didn't hear anything, so I thought he went with mom. They'd been fighting a lot lately, but I just thought…I don't know. Maybe they'd made up?
"I wanted to sleep awhile, so I walked up the stairs to my room. But I stopped. I can't…I remember…their bedroom door was closed. The door was never closed."
She looked confused and hazy, like she was reliving it with her ten year-old self.
"I shouldn't…why did I open it, Gerry? I don't understand. He kissed me goodbye that morning…and he—he promised me, promised that we were going to go fishing that weekend. But instead….God, he just hung there like, like.."
Her sobs finally overcame her and she never finished. But she didn't need to. He didn't need the details, could see it clearly in his head.
After that night, she never spoke about it again. Maybe she was ashamed, he didn't know. But they just continued on in their routine like they'd never spoken about it.
Now here they were, stuck at an impasse. He didn't know what to do anymore. She fought with her mother daily, angry with her for going out for cigarettes or coffee or…whatever it was.
He dialed her number again, cursing himself for caring so much about someone who didn't seem to want any help from anyone.
"What do you want?" he heard her slur slightly into the phone. He rubbed his jaw anxiously.
"How'd you know it was me?"
She laughed sarcastically. "Lucky guess, Romeo."
"Can't get enough of me, huh?" she teased. Behind her banter, he could hear the desperation in her voice. She needed him tonight. She needed him to shake her awake and make her see that she was throwing her life away.
He rolled his eyes. But for now, he was gonna play her little game. It was the only way she'd come.
"I want you." He said in the deepest voice he could muster.
He smirked when he heard the dial tone. She would be over in a matter of minutes. He was sure of it.
Five minutes later, he heard a soft tap on the door. When he opened, the stench of alcohol overwhelmed him. Her skirt was in disarray, stained with what smelled like grey goose vodka. Her black eyeliner trailed down her face and her lipstick smeared her front teeth.
"Let's do this thing." She grabbed his face and forced her tongue into his mouth. He continued kissing her until they were in his room.
When she unbuttoned her shirt, he made his move. He grabbed a chair from his desk and sat down on it in front of the door.
She wagged a finger, beckoning him to come closer. He shook his head firmly. She frowned.
"What are you doing?" she whined. Her eyes narrowed and she crossed her arms over her chest.
He shrugged. "Nothing," he said simply.
"Goddamnit, Gerry. Either take your pants off or I'm leaving." She said, eyes flashing. He knew she meant it, but he also knew that there was no way she'd be able to follow through on her threat. At least not with him blocking the door and the window to his room being three stories high.
"How exactly are you going to do that?" he challenged.
"What do you want from me?" she yelled, grabbing fistfuls of her frizzy red hair. She began pacing the room anxiously. She tore her leather jacket from her shoulders, balled it up, and threw it in the corner. His autographed Peyton Manning football clattered to the floor noisily.
He winced, thanking God his parents slept like the dead. He shook his head furiously at her then, steamed.
"What do I want from you?" he leapt off the chair and grabbed her, shaking her.
"I want you to get out of this nightmare, Beverly! I want you to stop blaming your mother and stop fucking up your life because your father's dead. His life is over, Bev. But yours isn't."
"Fuck you." She spat in his face. She tried with all her might to break his grip, but she couldn't. Five years of weight training paid off.
"How do you think your Dad would feel, huh? You think he wants you to waste your life boozing it up and beating up your mother? You think he wants you to throw your life away?" He was barely an inch from her face, eyes boring into hers.
"He threw his away so why should I give a fuck?" she yelled in his face, tears pricking her eyes.
"Because you aren't him. Your father was a coward, Beverly." He said bluntly.
She flinched like he slapped her across the face. He was tired of babying her for the last two years. She needed to get it through her head.
"You're fucking your life up. You're letting his death tear your mother apart. It's not her fault." He said forcefully.
"Yes, it is!" she screamed at him. Her eyes were red, angry and relentless.
He pushed her away from him then, and she fell onto the bed.
"Did she tie the noose around his neck?" he spat harshly.
"Stop it." She pleaded. She put her hands over her ears and began shaking her head. He thought he could feel his heart breaking right then. She looked ten years old again. He didn't want to be responsible for breaking her further, but he had to try to reach her.
"Did your mother hang him from the fan, Beverly?" he yelled, sitting down on the floor in front of her, fists balled on either side of her legs. He looked down at her feet, knowing that if he looked her in the face now, he wouldn't be able to finish.
She shook her head, tears pouring down her face.
"No, because she didn't kill him. He killed himself, Beverly. He killed himself." He finished quietly, tears pricking his eyes.
She burst out in sobs and slowly collapsed to the ground, taking him with her.
"Please. Just let me hold you tonight. Can you do that? Can you just let me hold you?" he asked desperately.
She nodded slowly, gasping in short breaths, her arms wrapped around his neck, clinging to life.