Chapter 23 | Tony and a Pizza
As my sad eyes peer down at my mother’s grave, I can’t help but also smile.
“You want me to give you a minute?” Lexi asks from behind me.
I shake my head. She’s my best friend. She’s present for my entire life.
“No, it’s okay.”
I step closer, lowering a fresh white rose onto the top of her tombstone.
“Hey mom.” I smile weakly. “It’s been an interesting day.” I admit.
I stand there for a second; the only thing I hear is the rustling of the leaves beneath my feet.
“How come you never told us that you were seeing Lori? I met her today. She seems really nice. She’s great actually, kind of reminds me of you.” I rant. “I think she can really help me get a handle on myself.”
I sense Lexi listening behind me, not daring to interrupt my special time with my mom.
“I think it’s just starting to sink in that you’re really gone. Some days I wake up and still expect to find you slaving away in the kitchen making pancakes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sworn to still hear your laugh. It was always contagious, much like Liam’s.” Tears are in my eyes now.
“Liam seems to be doing okay, but I still need to talk to him about some things. It feels as though some days he doesn’t really want to show his emotions, but I’m going to help him do it because he needs to grieve just like the rest of us.” I sadly shrug.
“Don’t worry, mom, I’ll take care of him. I’ll take care of dad too, although it still feels as though he’s the one taking care of us.” I admit. “He really misses you, I can tell. I always catch him lingering his eyes on the spot on the sofa that you always used to sit. Or if we’re eating dinner, he will stare blankly at the empty chair on the other end of the kitchen table.”
I don’t know why I’m telling her all of this. It isn’t going to make a difference, she’s still gone. Still, somehow, it does make me feel a little better.
“I promise I’ll come visit you more. I’ve been trying to focus on school. I am determined to graduate. I just want to make you proud.” I let out a small sob.
I hear a sniffle from behind me.
“I love you mom, to infinity and beyond.” I give one final smile before wiping a stray tear from my cheek. “Oh, and Lexi says hi.” I grin as I turn to look at my friend.
Lexi steps forward with a wave. “Nothing is the same without you Mrs. Ryder. You’re greatly missed every single day.” She sadly smiles.
I wrap my arms around my best friend and we stand there for a few more minutes, before finally walking away and leaving the cemetery.
“Thanks for going with me.”
“Absolutely.” Lexi replies as she turns on the radio. A soft song begins playing, as the wind from the open window brushes through my hair.
“Hey, is it alright if I just drop you off and see you tomorrow? I need to go home and talk to Liam about a few things.” I glance over at Lexi.
She nods, and we listen to music until we pull up beside her place. She leans over and hugs me, before hopping out and heading for her front door.
I pull away and start driving again. After I’m a bit away from Lexi’s house, I hear a noise as the steering wheel begins to wobble.
A small part of me begins to panic, and then I hear rubber turn into steel.
The jeep jerks to the side, so I try my best to pull over on the side of the road.
Once the jeep is at a stop, I shakily fumble for my seatbelt. After taking off the constricting belt, I check the road before getting out and inspecting the damage.
This is the same tire that went flat on me before. Only now, it’s so flat that the rubber came off and I’m riding my rim.
Oh, this is just grand.
As I turn to head back for the driver’s side door to grab my phone, I hear footsteps coming from behind the jeep.
“Mam? Is there anything I can help you with?” The older man asks.
“Just a flat. I’m calling for help now.” I manage to reply.
“Do you have a spare? I can help change it.” He politely offers.
“That was the spare, unfortunately.” I sigh. I walk around the jeep before coming face to face with a man who appears to be around my father’s age. I motion toward the rubber on the ground beside the jeep and he nods in understanding.
“Well, if you feel more comfortable, I can wait here with you until help arrives. I don’t mean to sound too forward, but it’s late and dark.” He tries to smile.
I want to panic. I want to tell him to leave me the hell alone, but I don’t.
“Thank you actually.” I nod.
As I dial Liam’s number, I sit down beside the jeep, on the edge of the curb.
The man sits beside me, but down a few feet to give enough distance between us.
“Yellow!” Liam answers the call.
“Liam, SOS.” I say urgently.
“What happened now?” He sighs playfully.
“The tire on the jeep is sadly no more.” I quietly say, and the man beside me chuckles at how dramatic I’m being.
“Who is that?” Liam asks.
“A pleasant passerby who decided to sit with me until help arrives.” I state casually.
“Dallas…” Liam starts quietly, “You need to be careful around strangers.”
“Don’t lecture me, I’m fine. I’m at the corner of Pine and Waters, get a move on!”
“Let me grab the keys to dad’s car. I’ll be there soon.” He sighs.
After I hang up, I turn toward the man beside me.
“I’m Dallas.” I smile.
“Tony.” He offers with the same smile.
“Well Tony, I’m sorry you’re spending your evening with the likes of me.” I tease. “I swear bad stuff just has a habit of happening to me.”
“Oh I don’t mind. I always take my walks around this time. I live just two streets over.” He admits as he motions his head in the opposite direction.
Tony has brown hair that is starting to age into grey. His beard is long, so long in fact, that you could probably braid it. He’s wearing a pair of red joggers with a long-sleeve black t-shirt and regular running sneakers. I also notice an unopened bottle of water sitting beside him on the curb.
I am rather thirsty.
He must realize what I’m eying.
“You want this? I haven’t opened it yet.” He offers while picking the bottle up and setting it beside me.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course. I can just head back home once I leave here. I don’t mind skipping my run tonight.”
I smile. “Thank you.”
I open the bottle and take a drink. It’s still cold, so it definitely quenches my thirst.
As we wait for Liam, Tony and I talk about random things. We talk about how the weather is finally warming up, even though it’s still a little chilly at night. We talk about how I’m still a senior in high school and he tells me that he has two kids that still live with him, but they’re taking college courses.
I have never in my life, spoken like this with a complete stranger before, that is if you don’t count Lori.
“I think your help has arrived.” Tony motions to the two blinding headlights heading in our direction. We both stand up and I turn to thank Tony for sitting with me.
“Don’t mention it. It was my pleasure. The only thing that would have made it better was some fresh hot chocolate.” Tony smiles wide, and at the mention of hot chocolate something inside of me begins to panic.
“W-what did you say?” I mumble.
“Hot chocolate? You aren’t fond of it?” He raises an eyebrow.
“Dallas?” I hear my brother’s voice.
I can hear his footsteps, but I’m already backing away from Tony until the backs of my heels hit the curb and I fall backward, sitting on my butt.
I hiss in pain, just as Liam comes from around the jeep.
“Dallas!” He shouts as he rushes over to help me up. “What the hell did you do?” He then turns to a startled Tony.
“I swear I didn’t do anything. All I mentioned was something about hot chocolate and she started panicking.” Tony explains calmly. “Is she alright?”
“She will be. Please leave.” Liam instructs in a harsh tone.
From my blurred vision, I see Tony giving me a frown. “It was nice meeting you Dallas, I’m sorry for putting you into a panic.”
I want to tell him that it’s not his fault, that I don’t blame him. I want to yell that this is still all Jeremy’s fault, but my voice is gone. Instead, I just nod towards him, and then he eventually turns around and walks away.
“Dallas, breathe.” Liam says while his hands grasp my shoulders.
I do as instructed, and eventually I calm down.
Panic attacks like these, are minor, but still scare the crap out of me. Thankfully, I know I’ll be able to see Lori next week to talk about it.
Just the simple words, hot chocolate, and I can’t even act normal.
“I’m sorry.” I breathe.
“Don’t apologize. Go sit in dad’s car, I’ll take care of the jeep. Luckily we had an extra spare in the garage so I’ll get this fixed in no time.”
I nod and turn to head for dad’s car. As I sit inside and think about what just happened, I become more and more angry with myself.
That poor guy, did nothing but sit and wait with me for help, and I probably scared him. I doubt he’ll ever stop to help a poor, innocent girl ever again.
Way to go, Dallas.
After another half hour, Liam has the jeep up and running again.
“You want to drive the jeep home?” He asks once he opens the driver’s side door to dad’s car.
“No, that thing is a death trap. You can drive it home.” I shake my head, before hopping over into the driver’s seat of dad’s car. Liam chuckles with a shake of his head.
“Whatever you say sis, see you at home.”
“Can we talk when we get home?” I ask, remembering that I wanted to go home for a reason.
Liam heads over to the jeep, and the two of us drive home.
“Dallas, are you alright?” Dad asks as soon as I walk in the front door. Liam isn’t far behind me.
“Yes, I’m fine. Sorry about that.” I sheepishly smile. “Good ol’ jeep always giving me trouble.”
I’m trying to take this situation lightly, but knowing what happened the last time I had car troubles, seems to have everyone on edge.
“That isn’t funny.” My dad smiles while pulling me into a hug.
“Actually, no.” I pull away from him. “I have a bone to pick with you.”
I think he senses what this is about, because he gives me a look that tells me he’s ready for the yelling.
“Why didn’t you tell me that mom saw a therapist?” I point a finger at him.
“Honestly, it wasn’t my place to tell. Your mother didn’t want you or Liam knowing.” He sighs. “Believe me, I wanted to tell you two, but she said you were just kids and didn’t need to worry about that kind of stuff.”
I nod in understanding. “I just can’t believe it.”
Liam is sitting with us in the living room, listening to our conversation.
“Believe what?” Liam asks.
“How similar mom and I are.”
“Sweetheart, you’re the spitting image of your mother.” My dad says, and I look up to find him watching me contently with a small smile on his face. “Down to the attitude.” He jokes.
Liam and I both laugh.
“Anyway, I ordered dinner, it’s in the kitchen.”
Liam and I nod as we get up and walk into the kitchen.
“So, what did you wanna talk about?” Liam suddenly asks, just as I pull a slice of pizza out of the box.
“You. You haven’t really been talking about anything as far as your feelings go, so I just wanted to check in and make sure you were doing okay.” I try to say casually.
“Since when do I ever talk about my feelings, Dal?” He rolls his eyes.
“That’s my point. A lot of the attention has been on me lately, thanks to Jeremy, and I keep forgetting that you lost a mother just like I did. Ethan mentioned that you try your best to hide how you’re feeling, but I just want you to know that you don’t have to hide anything with me.” I give him a smile.
He nods. “Remind me to thank Ethan for telling you things that I mention in confidence. So much for a best friend.”
I know he’s only teasing, but I can’t help but feel a little bad.
I mean, if Lexi and my brother were to start dating, I’d be a little upset too if she told him things that I told her privately. Of course, pigs will fly before Lexi ever dates Liam or vice versa.
“I’m sorry, I promise not to talk to Ethan about anything that’s between you and him privately. He’s your best friend first.”
Liam smiles, “Thanks. And to answer your question, it’s been hard. I’m obviously a king at masking it, but I still hurt over what happened with mom, and with you.”
This surprises me.
“You’re my sister Dallas, my twin. Just the thought of what Jeremy has done to you, sets me off. I can’t explain it. The fact that someone who used to be so close to us hurt you the way he did, and felt no remorse whatsoever, just sickens me. If those cops and Lexi didn’t show up that night, Dal, I might’ve killed him.”
My eyes widen at Liam’s admission. His face is completely serious, so I know he isn’t joking.
“I would’ve killed him for you.”
I watch as Liam frowns, and if I look real close, I swear I see his eyes glistening.
“Liam…” I trail off, not sure what to say, so instead I pull him in for a hug.
“I hate that Jeremy has made us both feel this way. I can’t seem to escape my panic attacks, and here you are grieving silently. I don’t want you to do that anymore Liam, I’m your family, I want you to talk to me about how you’re feeling. Even if it’s bad. I can handle it.”
I pull away from our hug and stare at him in the eyes. The same eyes that mirror my own.
“Okay Dal, I will.” He nods with a small smile. “Now, can you step away from the cheesy goodness please?”
I smirk as I step aside and allow him to grab some pizza.
We spend the rest of the evening just watching TV shows and talking.
I suppose I missed my brother too.