“Can I walk you home?” I asked.
“Okay,” she replied.
When we stepped outside, it was still raining. Alyssa shared her polka dot umbrella with me the whole way to her house. “You were amazing up there, Alyssa. Better than I’ve ever heard you perform. Better than I ever heard anyone perform, actually.”
She didn’t reply, but her lips curved up.
Once we reached her porch, she opened her mouth to invite me in, and I shook my head. “I can’t anymore.”
The sting of disappointment hit her blue eyes. Then the embarrassment reddened her cheeks. “Oh, yeah. No big deal.” I could tell that I hurt her with my simple words.
I was so tired.
It had been such a long day.
A long life.
A long, tiring life.
“I relapsed, Alyssa.” I rubbed my fingers against my forehead.
Her eyes shot from embarrassment to worry. “What? What happened? How? With what?”
My voice lowered, and I shrugged. “With you.”
“I came back, and my world was rocked again. I was back in my past, except this time it was worse because my brother was sick, and I went straight to my greatest high to help me forget for a while. I went to you. You’ve always been my safe haven, High. You’ve been my escape route from all of the crap that surrounded me. But it’s not fair to you, or to me. I want to get clean. I want to be able to stand up and not find the need to forget, which means I can’t relapse again, and we can’t keep doing this. We can’t keep sleeping together. But I need you.”
“Wait. Let me get this out because it’s been spinning in my mind for so long now. I know I’m not the same boy I was back then, but parts of that guy still linger within me. And I know we said the sex wouldn’t mean anything, but I think we know that it meant everything, which is why we can’t do it anymore. But, I need you. I need you to be my friend. Everything in my life has been hard. Everything in life has made me hard. Except for you and Kellan.
“And I know it’s selfish of me to ask this of you right now. I know it’s selfish, because I need someone to hold me up while I try to hold my brother too, but I need you. I need you to be my friend again, but that’s it, because I can’t hurt you again. I can’t be with you, but I need you. I need you. We won’t talk about the past. We won’t worry about the future. But we’ll just be us, be friends. Here and now. If you’re okay with that? Because I miss laughing, and I always laughed with you. I miss talking, and I could always talk to you. I miss you. So, I was wondering, can we be friends again?”
She leaned against the doorframe, appearing deep in thought before a smile found her lips. “We never stopped being friends, Logan. We were just in a weird time out.”
As tensions between Logan and I finally calmed down and we found our way to a new friendship, the rocky waters between Kellan and Erika began to build. Late one night, after a bad doctor’s appointment, the two came into the house fighting, as I sat on their couch, setting up Kellan’s medicine that Erika asked me to get from the pharmacy. I’d been staying at their place for a few days, just in order to help out with things. Plus, I was worried about Kellan more than I wanted to admit.
“You’re not listening!” Kellan shouted, straining his voice.
“No, I’m listening. What you’re saying is that you don’t want to marry me.”
“Of course I want to marry you, Erika. But it just doesn’t make sense now. If I died, you’d be left with all of the baggage. All of the bills, all of the…”
“I don’t care!”
“Well I do!”
“Why are you acting like this?” Erika flipped around to me. “Alyssa, can you tell Kellan how unreasonable he’s being?”
My lips parted and, before I could speak, Kellan said, “Don’t drag your sister into this!” I shut my mouth. I would’ve gone home, but they were standing right in the foyer blocking my path. So I sunk into the sofa, trying to become invisible.
She sighed heavily. “Let’s not talk about this right now. Let’s just calm down. Tomorrow is your chemo appointment, so we should rest before we go to that.”
“You’re not coming,” he said.
“I said you’re not coming. You flunked your last exam. You haven’t been studying as much as you used to, and you can’t keep falling behind. I’ll have Logan come with me.”
“Why are you shutting me out?” Erika whipped around to me again. “Why is he shutting me out?!”
I opened my mouth, and once again, Kellan spoke before I could. “Stop bringing her into this! You aren’t coming to my chemotherapy appointment, all right?!”
“Because you’re smothering me!” he shouted, louder than I’ve ever heard him yell. “You are smothering me with questions, and packets, and pills, and your goddamn wedding planning and your goddamn lamps! I can’t breathe, Erika!” He swung his arms in irritation, knocking a lamp off of the side table. As it crashed, the room went silent. Kellan’s eyes grew heavy with guilt as tears began to fall down Erika’s face.
Kellan lowered his voice, stepping closer to my sister. “I’m sorry, I just—”
She shrugged. “I know.”
Suddenly Logan came crashing out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist, dripping wet with water. His hair was dripping with some weird looking concoction that was slimy and green, and his eyes were wide in panic.
“What’s happening?!” he said, flustered, almost slipping on the water trail he created himself. He looked so serious, yet so ridiculous that the three of us couldn’t help but start hysterically laughing.
“What the heck is on your head?” I exclaimed.
He narrowed his eyes, confused by our laughter. “It’s the third Monday of the month. It’s an egg and avocado mask for deep conditioning.” We laughed harder, and the room which had previously been filled with anger and confusion was replaced with family and laughter.
“You know what we need?” Kellan said, lightly kissing Erika’s cheek.
“A music dance break.”