Tabitha sat quietly on the sofa humming softly as she listened to music. She worked with Bonnie to clean me up and placed me in new clothes but it didn’t help to make me feel more human. I fucked up. I fucked up again and I would feel like shit for the rest of my life.
It didn’t surprise me Tabitha took the night shift. She had small children at home and a nanny to help her get some sleep but the real reason centered on the controversy of it all. She would sit and tell me I couldn’t have any drugs, she would even stab me with medicine when my body crept close to death, but she wouldn’t let it be known we shared the same parents. By her staying with me here at this time of the night she could keep me her dirty little secret. Her husband knew of course, but he was the only one. Heaven forbid the girls at the country club found out. The ones who thought she was some rich, high fluting debutante but really, she held on to her status by the seat of her pants. Her husband’s company scraped by, and they overspent to keep up with their status in the community. I only knew this because they couldn’t help our mother when she had to mortgage the house. Tabitha didn’t know I knew but I wouldn’t let it out anyway. I had hurt enough people already.
Bonnie texted Tabitha making plans for Chelsea’s shift when the door opened and Chelsea peeked her head in surprising me. I took in her blue red-rimmed eyes and the unkempt hair making it look as though she didn’t even shower. I didn’t even think she changed clothes and the bags under her told me of a sleepless night at my hand.
“What are you doing here?” She faced me with a look so tender, so undeserved, I hated myself even more.
Bending down, she brushed the hair out of my eyes. “You didn’t think you would get rid of me that easy, did you?” She had a small smile on her face but it was laden in sympathy. She walked over to Tabitha while I watched from a distance. They discussed the meds she gave me over the course of the night and my overall condition as if I wasn’t even in the room.
After Tabitha left Chelsea came and sat on the floor by me. Looking at her made me feel like shit. She looked almost as if she went through detox instead of me. It twisted my stomach for another reason. I did this to her. She didn’t deserve it and after all the hell I put her through, she was back to help me.
My throat went dry and my voice became a hoarse whisper, “Does Brandt know you are here?”
She tried a half-smile and looked down at her hands. “Yes. He doesn’t like it but I made a promise to you.”
It hurt knowing the rift I caused and that she came back for more of my shit. “I... I am sorry. I shouldn’t...”
“It was the drugs talking. JJ, you are hurting and striking out. I am sorry you need to endure this, but we will get you through it.”
Unable to contain my pain the tears came full force again. Christ, I was turning into such a fucking pussy but I couldn’t believe she returned to help me after all the shit I caused. It was unfathomable considering the way Brandt talked to me yesterday and I put her in a bad place with him. People like Chelsea really did exist.
“Why do you have such faith in me? Don’t you think I will just shoot up the minute I walk out of here?” Both sisters did. I saw it in their eyes when they left at the end of their shift. They were waiting for me to screw up their lives again and especially my own.
She shook her head, “No, I know you. You don’t believe it but there is a good guy inside you. Especially now since you have a reason to stay clean. You are doing it for someone other than yourself. Jaeger needs you.”
Unable to meet her eyes, I turned away as I said, “He isn’t mine. He is Quade’s. Don’t call him mine.” She reached up to rake her fingernails through my hair and it felt both gentle and painful knowing I didn’t deserve it but craved a human touch right now.
“It doesn’t matter how it happened but there is someone out there that you are responsible for bringing into this world. Kids have a way of changing a person and this one needs you even if you don’t believe it.” Yeah, he needed my organs. It was the only thing I was good for but at least I could give him something. I grew quiet as she continued to stroke my hair and for the first time in a long time I actually thought I could succeed. I could dig myself out of the hole I dug for myself. And more importantly, she was right, I had a reason now.
Sleep came quicker than I thought. It wasn’t until mid-afternoon, after I woke up from several hours of well-needed rest, that I could actually eat anything. Chelsea fed me soup before Bonnie’s shift started, and much to my amazement, it stayed down. The shaking was still there to the point I couldn’t do the soup on my own. It made me feel like a fucking invalid to require her to feed me too. I didn’t care. It was the best fucking soup I have had in a while and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Bonnie and Chelsea exchanged the shift report and a hug before Chelsea left. Bonnie looked down at me and sighed. Shaking her head, she went over to the couch and sat down staring at me. “You are lucky she came back.” She shifted to the table next to the couch and picked up her book before continuing, “Why she came back is a mystery. Hell, maybe you actually found someone that likes you.”
Her words stung even though I knew I deserved them. I remembered a time when we were friends. A time when we were both young, before life got rough for us. Our father dying changed all of it. “Bullshit, it would ruin my reputation if someone liked me.”
She tilted her head to hide a small smile. “Your wrong. Your reputation was ruined a long time ago by your sparkling personality.” She sighed and got up from her place on the couch to sit by me on the floor. Painstakingly slowly I made my way up into a sitting position and waited for the dizziness to leave before speaking again.
“I’m sorry I am making it hard for you.”
Bonnie leaned back against the wall and hugged one knee against her body as she stared at me trying to figure out my angle. It wasn’t as if I ever said those words to her before much less meant it. She aged mostly in the past couple of years. I was not the full blame but seemed to be the one on top of the pile lately. Her two teenage kids mainly caused the other issues. A daughter entering high school gave her worries enough, but add onto it a son who liked to smoke weed, a lot. Only marijuana right now that she knew of, but she feared he would follow in his uncle’s footsteps. Her fears were real as it happened to me and could only hope her uncontrollable son didn’t end up in the same situation. Bonnie’s husband split a couple of years ago, and she was still trying to get child support, so I knew she had a hard time of her own ever since. It pained me to be adding to her shit now.
“You almost sound as if you mean it today.” She looked out the window, and I was ashamed at the want in her voice.
“I do.” Quietly I looked out the window too. I saw the side of the house and watched mom in the window of the kitchen. “How is she today?” We never knew if she remembered what I was attempting to do in the sunroom. She never came in, only kept to herself in her routine. Any deviation made her anxious so periodically throughout the day and during ‘shift change’ the others checked in on her.
She shook her head and looked at me, “It is an off day. She keeps calling out for dad.” It was typical of her. If she didn’t know who we were then she most certainly would be searching for dad that day. “You know she needs professional help.”
I looked at her almost wounded. I had been gone so long avoiding coming here and seeing her deteriorate before my eyes, almost as if I didn’t show up she couldn’t be that bad. “I thought so but I hate to do it.”
She looked at me squarely, “You hate to do it? You? I have been the one here dealing with this shit while you went to medicate yourself. Between you and Tabitha I have been the only one left to deal with it.”
She had a right to be mad. “You are right. I hid my head in the sand. I shouldn’t have left you to deal with it.” She seemed taken aback by my honesty. Pensively I turned to her, “Fuck! I just wish dad wouldn’t have died. Things would have worked out better.”
Laughing, she gave me an incredulous look, “You always put him on a pedestal, didn’t you? You never saw him for what he was.”
“What do you mean? Mom loved him. When he died, she was crushed. We all were.”
“You were nine when he died, and she always sheltered you and Tabitha. I was the only one who knew the truth. The way he used to drink. Coming home drunk, night after night. Using up his whole paycheck, so we would go without food and mom would have to sit outside the food bank and tell us she went grocery shopping. You never found out.” He drank? Well, yes, he would drink but was it really that bad?
“I don’t... I...” I couldn’t remember having it that rough. Yes, we were considered poor which pissed me off going through school and getting picked on, but to call our father a worthless drunk seemed out of line.
“He was sick.”
She harrumphed, “That wasn’t his cancer. His illness came later. Mom just told you it as an excuse. He wasn’t as pristine as you think he was.”
Contemplating my younger years I realized I could have easily overlooked a lot with my parents. Somehow I knew mom had been covering for dad. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
She shrugged, “Why? Mom would have hated it if you and Tabitha thought he was anything less than wonderful.” Bonnie let her leg fall back down to the floor as her mouth kept spewing truths, “First him and now you. It is probably something with your DNA. You know, some type of addiction gene.”
I swallowed and felt guilty all the more knowing she could be correct. Did it only follow the male side of the family since Bonnie and Tabitha didn’t reach for drugs or alcohol to get by? What would this mean for Jaeger? Then I thought about the other male Harries clan. “How is Jeremy?”
“Still living in my basement smoking pot when I am not there to yell at him.” She had tears in her eyes and it was hard for me to see. We didn’t cry. The Harries’ kids never cried although I had let the waterworks open for the last couple of days.
“I am going to get better. I am going to get better and help us all out again.”
She smiled and shook her head, “No offense, but I am just hoping you get better and help yourself out. I can take care of myself.” She could. She had been the backbone of this family for way too long.
My only contribution was throwing money at it hoping the issues went away. Since my money dried up, I had a more important need to get my shit together. It was time I stepped up to be the man of the family like I should have all those years ago. “Well, I am going to anyway.”