I See a Red Door
Of course it was raining.
She'd been trying for weeks to talk to Shawn; her first word drawing his sightless eyes and pushing her guilt to a point of subject changing. Again. It was the way his gaze didn't quite catch her face but fell towards an area just beyond her shoulder. He'd been getting better at it, but she was grateful he couldn't see the pity she felt at his attempts. And she hated the emotion. With her chosen career, she couldn't allow herself to feel pity. And it was that reminder that worked her through the hurt she was about to cause. She had no choice. It had to be now.
“Shawn... I...” His hand felt across the open air. He'd become more sensitive to her moods lately. He could hear the stress in her voice and, being the type of guy he was, wanted to take it away if he could. Just once more, she let him. Her fingers met his across the span and his thumb rubbed across her knuckles. She looked down so she wouldn't have to see the way his face calmed as well. He needed this as much as she did. She swallowed and ripped the bandage.
“I'm going away, Shawn.”
She finally looked up at him; his appearance nearly breaking her. His attentive expression had twisted down and the knotted scar, still clearly visible among the soft regrowth of hair, was a shiny pinkish red against skin that had gone pale. Cheeks she'd finally talked him into shaving the previous day were still mostly smooth and gave him a child-like appearance that almost smothered her with the need to pull him against her chest.
He swallowed and Abby could see how hard he worked to smile at her. Only one side managed to twist up, made a lie at the moisture across his blank eyes. “How... how long will you be gone?” His thumb rubbed harder along her fingers and though it was venturing into uncomfortable, she didn't pull away.
“What, like a week? Couple weeks?” She squeezed her hands around his when the pressure began to sting – knowing this couldn't have been remotely easy but not realizing it would be this damn hard. He wasn't letting her just tell him, but then, that was probably the point.
“It... it's going to be a while...”
“But you'll be back, right? I mean, it's not,” he chuckled, uncomfortable and sharp, “it's not like you're leaving forever!”
At her silence he stilled, fingers freezing over hers. “Oh my God, it is forever...”
From desperate denial to worst case scenario. There was never a middle ground for him. “No, Shawn, not forever.” Though it could very well be, for him. “I was given an opportunity to do something I've wanted to do for a very long time. I'm going to Uganda; to volunteer with the Peace Corps. I'll be gone for at least six months. I won't be able to call you or come back until I see it through.” And if she found this was her calling... But there was no need to mention that.
Something that was trying to be a smile worked over his lips before dying in defeat. “That's... that's a long time.” He finally leaked out. Abby nodded – too easy to forget he couldn't actually see her.
His fingers started rubbing hers again, though more softly. “W-when do you...”
“Wow that's...” He swallowed and pulled his hand back to rub at his eyes.
She didn't know what to say after that. Didn't want to say the ultimate cost of what this meant. They both knew but they were both good at denying the truth. And she couldn't bear to hurt him any more that day even though the thought of dragging this out would be worse. But then he took the choice from her.
“It's... are you...” he licked his lips and stared down at the deck – though the change of perspective was so obviously a way to avoid as he saw the same thing no matter where his eyes rested. “Is it over?” Such a small whisper that he reminded her of the children in her care. The same tone she heard when a little one was asking if he had to take a nap rather than play on the swing set.
“I'm sorry.” She whispered back, knowing it would be harder on him to offer the suggestion of “maybes”. They had only stayed so long because of his injury. But they'd begun to drift before then. They both knew it even if she was the only one who'd acknowledged it. Shawn tended to ignore whatever demanded too much of him emotionally. The irony was that he couldn't see this had contributed to them growing more distant.
He nodded, then. His hand tried to take hers again but she pulled free. “I should go.”
“I'll learn Braille!”
“Whatever you want! I'll... I'll get one of those white canes, and a dog! They still use dogs, right?”
She couldn't do this! “Shawn, it isn't about you learning Braille or anything else.” It's about me. How cliché'. She couldn't say that.
“Abs,” He was reaching for her again but she stood. It wasn't just difficult for him. This was tearing her apart and she was just barely escaping with her voice steady as it was. “I need to go, Shawn. I'll call before I leave, I promise.” A promise she shouldn't be making. But they were still friends regardless. It was what they could have been that was crushing her. She closed her lips around the “I love you” that would have been so easy to say. Would have been cruel to say.
“Abs...” He tried again, but she wiped her eyes and turned away – knowing the last thing he'd hear would be her heels on the sidewalk as she left him behind on the deck; and tried to ignore the hand that snatched for her arm, one last time, and missed.
It wasn't the way it was supposed to go. What sorta “At First Sight” action was this? Val got the girl at the end of the movie. She didn't walk away from her crippled boyfriend without even a goodbye kiss to offer the hope of reconciliation. He didn't even know what he'd done wrong. A temporary lift of his blindness – that had to be what was lacking. Just a short reprieve to show how much he needed her.
Shawn had moved from deck to couch after Abby had gone. Single word answers when dad asked if he was hungry led to complete silence when the old man asked what was wrong. Everything was wrong, but then, dad could see that. Everyone else could see that. He couldn't see but he could sure as hell feel. What went wrong? Long distance romance didn't have to mean none! She was coming back... eventually. Why did it have to end? Six months... half a year. They could make it work. They totally could!
“Lunch is ready. Here, turkey sandwich.” Shawn's hand was guided to the plate, and then to the glass of juice nearby.
“Thanks.” He moved his hand back to his lap. He wasn't hungry. Probably just end up wearing it anyhow and how embarrassing was it to have his dad clean up his dribbles like he was a toddler. He was surprised the old man hadn't dug out his old bibs. Granted, he'd always liked the one with the monkey clutching a banana...
“I thought Abby was staying for dinner.”
And there it was. He should have headed for the boardwalk instead. What had he been thinking?
“She... had something she had to do.”
“Gus is coming by in a bit. He's picking up dessert...”
Shawn let his father talk, barely grunting at the promise of key lime pie though it was one of his favorites. He poked at his sandwich and chewed a few bites here and there just to keep the worry prattle at bay. When his fingers mapped out that a little over half of the sandwich yet remained, his stomach torquing at the thought of swallowing more, he gave in and pushed his plate away. A light ting of glass and a lurch and stifled sigh from his father let him know he'd come close to knocking over his juice glass. How many times would that have made it? Nine? Twelve? Damn, he'd lost count. And if he wasn't knocking things over he was stepping in them or sitting on them or falling over them. Shifting something a single inch had a way of destroying the entire layout of a room and while he wanted to lay the blame on his father he had to face up to it that his own fat feet had a way of knocking things out of place. He hadn't decided yet if there was any funny in the pathetic.
He nodded, waiting for the lecture.
“I'll clean up. Why not go sit back out on the deck; it's nice out right now.”
Wow, really? No, “you're looking too skinny, Shawn” or “you barely touched your food” or even an “I killed that damn bird myself, now you're going to eat!”
“Okay.” No reason to remind old Henry that he was slipping. That was mom's job.
Shawn winced. Was mom's job. It'd been two weeks since he'd talked to her last...
Dad had been right about the deck – the morning rain gone now leaving the expanse haloed in warmth from the afternoon sunshine. Sliding his feet to the rail, he held on and tipped up his face, making certain his lids were closed just in case he was staring directly at the sun. No need to complicate healing by burning out his retinas. He supposed maybe he should take up that one suggestion about wearing sunglasses.
It was late in the day – a thing he'd never really have noted before without a glance at his watch, he now noticed from the angle of the rays hitting his face. No idea of the actual time he guessed it to be around four in the afternoon. Maybe five.
He'd been a single guy again for about four hours now. It didn't feel much different as it had when he'd still had a girlfriend except that now it was okay for him to ogle other... was okay if he...
Yeah, it wasn't the same at all.
Gus would be showing up soon and suddenly Shawn couldn't stand facing questions from his buddy anymore than he could stand them from his dad. Besides the fact that Gus would probably pick up on what had happened even through the lie that he was okay.
He'd promised he wouldn't go off on his own again but since when had he ever kept a promise that didn't involve bribery?
His walker slash cane slash walking stick was still inside but the last thing he wanted was to go back for it and get caught. Instead, he hoped like hell he wouldn't end up in another sand trap and grasped the railing as he made very, very slow steps down from the deck to the sidewalk.
Easy enough to stay on the path at this point – he held out one hand to catch the gate whenever he came to it. It was a further walk than he'd remembered and he took a splinter when his fingertips rammed the pickets rather than grasped them. He held his wounded hand close to his other hand where it rested in the sling; tried to feel where the splinters were imbedded. He could feel the sting but couldn't free them this way. He'd need help. Again.
Sucking his jabbed thumb, he continued forward through the gate. With both hands occupied, he led with his toe tips – nearly at a crawl in order to keep from stumbling. He should have remembered his cane. His legs felt stronger but he still needed the guidance and, though it agonized him to think it, he felt anxious without that barrier between himself and rest of the world. Nothing was safe any longer.
It was stubbornness and anger at his fears that continued the walk that frustration and hurt feelings had begun. Waves at his right washing up and down the beach. The same sound he'd heard since childhood – unchanged. The same smell too, of salt and sand and faintly of fish. Motor oil and gasoline from a fishing boat passing close to the shore where he stood, face to the water. He could hear the burbling spit of the motor as it trolled by at a slow clip.
Seagulls overhead, flying in from the waves. Their cries always sounded sad. Or maybe they sounded sad now. He'd never really thought about it until that moment.
The small rocks beneath his shoes squeaked as he shifted his feet. The path was uneven where he stood and it toyed with his balance. He'd faced this choice before the last time he'd wandered off on his own. Turn back where his steps were known or continue forward with the risk he could end up stuck again.
Of course, he was well known for being a whiny baby when it came to tough choices. Right.
He chose door number three and hung a right – down towards the beach.
Within seconds his feet were threading across grass that made the softest crunch under his heels. A smell rose up from the mashed stems; like watermelon and earth. Several children ran past, just a few feet away. Their giggling turned to complains when their parents, just a bit further down the beach, told them it was time to go home.
It was starting to cool, either from the sun setting or from clouds rolling in. Maybe both. It was probably later in the day than he'd assumed. He slowed even more when his feet left the grass for heavy sand. This was what had frozen him before.
He mired within seconds and stopped struggling while sucking in shallow breaths. He knew the hard packed sand was close – just a few feet. If he could make it there he'd be alright. Just keep some distance from the water. It would suck on a whole new level of suck to accidentally bumble into the ocean.
Another few moments before the throb faded in his thighs, he heaved at his right leg and took a step, then another. A few times he wobbled where the sand dipped unexpectedly into a pocket or rose up in a small hill. Not always did he keep his feet either and he hoped the beach really was clear of people as he, again, squirmed and tottered as he pulled himself out of the sand and back to his feet.
Sand was under his shirt, down his pants, and itching in places that would be embarrassing to scratch out in the open. So maybe defiant independence could have stayed to the smooth-ish concrete. Sure, he'd finally reached firmer sand but he still had to retrace his steps at some point. Unless he planned to simply stay on the beach forever. He could do it though, he supposed. Plenty of food vendors so he wouldn't starve. Plus, he had that whole blind thing going for him. That and a paper cup could earn him enough spending cash to keep him in churros for months.
Gus would quickly tell him that blind people could hold down jobs other than beach hobo, but this wasn't about insulting a group of people, it was about avoidance. Because backtracking towards the sidewalk not only meant another trip through Death Valley, but it would end in his father's house. Either to a bitchfest for disappearing or, possibly worse, some variation of coddling.
His legs ached and he wanted to sit but the only surface was wet sand. There was a pier not too far off – he could hear the hollow clud of heels moving along the planks. He could also hear the sound of the vendors preparing to close down for the evening and calling out for a few final sales. It really was later, then.
Feeling a bit Gus-like, Shawn tilted back his head to catch more of the salt air. With the proximity of the pier, he also caught the moldy vegetable smell of seaweed wrapped around the support beams beneath the boardwalk. And something else... Unwashed hair and oil...
He thought... he thought he knew that smell but...
“Hey! Shawn, right?”
Sliding scrinch of packed sand as someone walked up on his left side. He turned his body towards the voice – knowing he'd heard it before.
“David? David... Martin, right?” Of course his rescuer from before would turn up to save him a second time. Not that he really needed saving – just a teensy bit of assistance. An itty bitty smidge of guidance to get him back to the sidewalk. But not yet. It could even wait till after the sun set, really. It didn't make a difference anymore.
“You made it further this time.”
Shawn nodded. “I was thinking of entering the Santa Barbara marathon next month. Need to work my glutes.”
David chuckled and moved a little closer. Shawn could feel the heat of his body through his sling and shivered goosebumps down his frame at the jump in temperature. It was cool enough now that he wished for his jacket.
He really, really didn't want to walk all the way back to the house again. The word pathetic kept rolling round and round but it was being overshadowed by shaky fatigue and as determined as he'd been a few minutes ago to tough it out, he was just as determined now to have someone else do the work of getting his ass to his father's house.
He slid his hand towards his back pocket before he remembered, very clear for a memory that contained only tactile sensations, pulling his phone from his pocket when the casing had dug into his hip. He'd set it on the table while eating lunch. Far as he knew, it was still there.
“Damn it.” He was hoofing it after all. No worries. He'd likely pass out from exhaustion long before he'd need another dose of pain medication.
Shawn rubbed his eyes. They felt dry and scratchy. “I'm fine. Just forgot my phone. I was gonna call my dad for a lift.” Or Gus. Gus might be better. Then they could stop for waffle cones on the way back.
“Don't worry, I've got a phone right here.”
“Don't worry, I've got a phone...”
“I need you to call Carlton Lassiter...”
“You should hurry though, he's really motivated...”
“Tell me again who you need me to call...”
Shawn gasped, memory and pain stabbing a screwdriver into his brain and twisting the tool. His pushed his palm to his forehead and bent at the waist – felt hands on his shoulders.
“Hey, you alright, kid?”
“I say we just shoot him in the head and dump the body and get on with this.”
“You got a smart mouth.”
“Here, there's a bench close by...”
“...just stay here, I'll take care of this myself.”
“Come with me. You'll be okay.”
“Now you keep quiet about this, you got me?”
Greasy, unwashed hair. Oil and gasoline. The sharper smell of automotive paint. Gunpowder.
Shawn wrenched from the hands and half tripped backward – staring in the direction of the man who wasn't named David. But he knew this man. Knew his voice, his smell, his touch. That face, singed so firmly now across eyes that saw only his frame above him, a silhouette against the morning sun.
The last thing he ever saw.
“Well that's too bad. I was hoping we had just a little more time.”
Movement that Shawn couldn't dodge as Rollins grabbed his bicep and yanked him close – a hard, cold shape nestling up beneath his ribs and cloaked in the folds of his shirt.
It was silent above them, now. The food carts were gone and whatever people remained, they'd pay no attention to two men strolling along the beach.
“How about we talk a walk, huh? It looks like a beautiful evening.”
The gun buried in his side, the world black before him, Shawn had no choices left. Fear snapping through every nerve, legs stiff, he was dragged forward – away from the last touch of sunlight on his back – to vanish beneath the pier.