38. Veracity and Character
I wake up to Hawke sleeping on my chest. The way his body is draped over me, his head on my chest, his arms wrapped around me. It’s heartwarming and heartbreaking in the same sense.
This broken, sweet man, clinging to me even in his dreams. I can’t wait for him to finally know and realize he’s it for me. The day he finally feels his heart and his secrets are safe with me will be my happiest.
I stroke his hair, combing through it with my fingers, cradling him tightly to me. I want nothing more than to hold and comfort him, loving him every second I’m given. We sit like that for at least an hour while he sleeps. I don’t want to move, I don’t want to wake him out of his blissful slumber, but it’s out of my control when my phone begins ringing on the desk nearby.
His head pops up slightly, his squinted eyes looking for the sound. I shush him and press his cheek back against my chest, running my fingers through his hair as I let it ring and ring.
I know who it is.
He sighs against me, relaxing for a moment again, squeezing me between his arms, releasing a tiny groan before popping his head back up.
“He’s not going to stop until he knows where you are,” he says with a raspy tone.
I look down at my fingers still threading through his hair, swallowing uncomfortably.
“You’re right,” I whisper.
Hawke sits up off of me, leaving the warm space besides me, going to the side of the bed to put his sweats on before sitting back down on the edge of it, facing the wall. He rakes his hands through his hair, resting his elbows on his knees.
The sight breaks me.
I grab the sheet, clinging it to my body, as I put my clothes on from the other side of the bed. I crawl to him across the mattress on my knees, scooting closer, throwing myself around him, my arms draping his, my front pressed firmly against his back.
His hand comes up, holding my forearm to him, embracing my hold. I litter him with kisses along his neck and on his ear before whispering, “I love you and you alone.”
He sighs again, turning to face me with a tiny grin.
“I know baby, it isn’t that. I know how you feel, how you’ve felt. It’s just...everything else you don’t know,” he says, reluctantly looking up into my eyes.
He wants to tell me. He needs to tell me. Especially before going back to face Patrick. I feel the heaviness of this moment. The pain and regret in his eyes. I know he wishes he wasn’t the one to tell me, but it’s time. It’s time I find out the things that he said would change everything.
“Tell me, Cam. Tell me everything that happened that night.”
With a deep breath he begins unleashing it all. I can tell he’s reluctant, but he needs to, for me to finally understand. I’ve come this far alone, figuring out that it couldn’t have been Hawke who killed Ben, he’d never act so reckless when it meant someone he loved was involved. But the rest, I’d never know unless told by someone who was there, in the flesh, the only witness telling the truth of the entire event.
“Believe it or not, Patrick and I used to hang out. Not by choice, I always thought he was kind of a prick, but Ben always told me to give people a chance, not be so hard on him, that it was bad for me more than anything. Ben was the nicest guy I’ve literally ever known. He connected people wherever he went. He always saw the good in everyone and brought it out of them when he was in their presence. He was so vibrant, so positive, so full of energy, everything I’m organically not.” He scoffs at the last part, making me smile.
“He sounded amazing,” I reply with a sad smile, wishing I’d have had the chance to meet the special guy that makes Cameron light up when talking about him.
“After a football game one Friday night, we all went out to their family cabin to ‘celebrate’ him playing his first varsity game.”
“Wait, the cabin? The one you guys still go to?”
“Yep.” He nods. “After everything that happened, Ben’s parents gave the cabin to his older brother, Mark. Signed it over and everything. They didn’t want it anymore after losing him, too many memories I guess. But his brother moved outta state and some of his friends rented out the place. It’s kind of just a party pad now.”
“Sad,” I say without thinking.
“It is,” Hawke responds, looking sorrowful, “Ben wouldn’t like it.”
I clutch his hand in mine as he continues.
“Anyways, we went to the cabin, partied it up. I mean, we were kids at the time, trying to hang with the older crew. We drank, I did coke, got fucked up, Ben was drunk...”
I see his face start to hold the pain of the memory he’s spilling onto me. His breathing becomes shallow as he stares at this little tear in the blue colored carpet down next to the bed. I stroke my hand down his back, attempting to soothe him the best I can.
“W-we were out most of the night. Ben’s mom was calling him non-stop, knowing he was with his brother, knowing he was getting into trouble. Patrick was out there with some of the other football guys, but after realizing they were too drunk to leave, he asked Ben if he could get a ride with him.”
“But wasn’t Ben drinking?”
“Right, and so was I. We were in no position to drive and we knew it. We’d planned to just crash there, but Patrick came up to us while we were outside by ourselves having a smoke and started begging Ben to head out early. He was hounding him, told him he’d drive his car since he hadn’t been drinking, saying he’d drop us off so he could get home for his curfew. He was freaking out about it.” Hawke’s eyes narrow into the floor remembering.
My jaw tightens hearing this story, already knowing how this is about to play out. Knowing Patrick and knowing his family, I can imagine him on the edge of paranoia for making the mistake of being stranded at a cabin party, leaving himself vulnerable, selfishly doing whatever it took to get home. I begin feeling a sickness take over me, and anger that is uncontrolled.
“Ben, being the nice guy that he was, asked if I was cool with leaving early since we came there together in his car and he was my ride, promising me he’d find some girls for us on a different night. He was always thinking of others before himself.” A tiny grin pulls at his lip.
I smile slightly at the idea of a young Hawke scouting girls with his best friend, before my smile drops at his sudden pause. He takes a breath, seemingly trying to calm himself while he stares at the little tear on the floor again, almost needing to focus on it. Needing something to remove the horrifying visuals his mind is playing out before him. His mouth opens to talk, but he stalls for a moment, the seconds feeling heavier than before.
“I made the biggest mistake of my life by agreeing to go. I should’ve put up a fight, told Ben to stop being a fucking people pleaser, a pushover, to just focus on himself for a night and what he wanted to do. But that wasn’t him. He was the guy that would do anything for anyone...and Patrick fucking knew it and took full advantage of that.”
His eyes connect with mine, looking deeply into the part of me that knows that side of him too. It’s all so obvious, sickeningly so. I feel where this is going and it’s starting to give me an achingly cold chill down my spine.
“We get in the car, Patrick driving, Ben in the passenger seat, and my fucked up ass laying down in the back. A few miles into the drive I started to question how sober Patrick actually was. Mind you, I was lit, and yet...I could still tell shit wasn’t right.”
“What was he doing?” I question, grabbing his hand in mine again, weaving my fingers through for some sort of support.
“He was swerving a bit, went over the median for a second then hit the hazard strips, making that loud noise under the tires. I remember hearing that.”
“He was drunk,” I state, shaking my head in disbelief.
“I don’t know for sure. I didn’t see him drinking at the party, but I also wasn’t watching. No one saw us leave together because I was outside smoking at the time.”
“So no one could confirm that he left with you guys, driving,” I state, knowingly.
“Exactly.” he nods, licking his lips.
He pauses again, letting out a shaky breath, and I feel the next part of the story is the part he wishes he could forget. The part that destroyed a piece of him he’ll never get back. The part where he lost Ben.
“It’s okay, I’m right here,” I whisper, leaning in closer to him, cupping his face, planting kisses along his cheek and jaw before holding him tightly, rubbing his arm.
“It just happened so fast. So fast that I’m not even sure how we got there. The next thing I remember is the car swerving out of control. It threw me into the space between the front and back seats. The car—” He pauses, closing his eyes tightly.
I grip him tightly, kissing his shoulder.
“The car hit something and flipped. I remember being airborne at one point, before hitting the roof and getting knocked out in the process. When I came to, I was alone in the car. Somehow I was alright. Banged the fuck up, yeah, bleeding from my head, but I was able to get out. I crawled my way through one of the broken windows in the back, looking around for them.”
My eyes are watering as I’m quickly wiping away the tears as they fall. I can see this in my mind as he’s telling me the story and the agony of it all, hurts.
“I saw—” He stops, his voice cracking as he stops himself, pinching the bridge between his nose to let out a breath. “I saw Ben laying over by a tree. He was thrown from the car, had a deep gash on the side of his abdomen where blood was gushing. His head was bleeding, he looked...he looked like...” He pauses to catch his breath again.
“It’s okay,” I whisper again, shaking my head, not needing him to continue.
“I ran to him, picked him up and held him as he was struggling to breathe. I lied to him and told him it would be alright, that I’d get help, but his eyes told me he knew he wouldn’t make it. Somehow he’d already accepted it.” He bends over into his hands, breathing through the tears, his hands shaking, before running them through his hair and cursing. “Fuck.”
“I’m here, it’s okay, it’s okay,” I continue whispering, holding onto him as he grips my arm, needing to hang on.
“He died in my arms, Cole,” he cries out, explaining the unfairness in his tone. “I always wondered what his last thoughts were and as sad as it is, I think he was more worried about me than himself, even as he lay dying.”
He loses himself for a moment, wincing his eyes in pain at the memory of that last look. A look of concern for the friend he knew best. Ben was dying and worried about Hawke. Worried about how he’d take it, how he’d be able to move on without him, almost knowing Hawke would fall apart on his own, head down a dark trail of deep suffering and loss. The thought tells me all I need to know about who Ben was, he was the brother he never had. The only family that looked out for him, someone who cared for who he was so deeply, gone in a second.
“I wish it would’ve been me. It should’ve been me. Ben was good, a better man than me.” He shakes his head, curling his fist and pressing it to his skull, attempting to withdraw the hurt.
"No," I whisper, clinging to him as the tears fall.
After a minute of getting himself together again, his sadness slowly phases into something else entirely. Anger. A deep rooted anger that’s been so deeply repressed.
“I saw him, standing there on the road, out of the corner of my eye.”
He doesn’t even need to tell me who. I know he’s talking about Patrick.
“He just stood there, watching. I screamed at him at the top of my lungs, wiping the blood out of my eyes to look him in his. I demanded he go call someone, go do something, anything, but he was just frozen in fear. Fear of knowing what he’d done.”
This is the part that has Hawke tied to Patrick is ways he wished he never was. The part that’s holding him hostage in a situation out of his control.
“Patrick killed Ben. He killed Ben and fled the scene.”