I stared aimlessly out the window of my bedroom watching tiny droplets of water streak across the glass in an endless race. The sky was full of dark, grey clouds. They rumbled and groaned as they poured out big, fat raindrops down to the ground. It matched my mood.
It was the first time in my entire life that I didn't have my big brother with me anymore and I was feeling lost.
I could hear the soft footsteps of my mom lingering in the hall for a few seconds, and then finally a short rap on my door.
"Matthew? Are you okay? Can I come in?" The doorknob rattled lightly, and before I could tell her to go away, the door swung open. My Mom made her way to my bed and sat down carefully. I didn't turn away from the window to face her; she wasn't the one I wanted in my room.
"He had to go sweetheart, you know that, he couldn't stay." Her voice was light, loving, and full of sympathy.
I just shrugged, pretending it didn't affect me.
"He'll be back for Thanksgiving Matthew, and then Winter break. Maybe you can go down and visit him on campus a few times."
I turned around to look at her. She smiled at me and patted the space on the bed beside her. I plopped myself down next to her, wishing I could talk to her the way I used to talk to Joseph. She would never understand me, or my problems. I didn't know how to talk to her or ask her for help, the only person I knew how to talk to was gone.
Today I was feeling like shit, my school day had gone horrible. Samuel Fenton had shoved me up against the wall in the hallway. He called me an asshole and told me to stay the fuck away from his girlfriend. I didn't know what to say. I just stared at him. I didn't know what the hell he was talking about. I could care less about Fenton's girl; hell, I wasn't even sure who she was. If Joseph were here he would have told me what to say and what to do. But he wasn't here, so I sulked and mooned in my bedroom.
He'd been gone for almost two weeks. My parents dropped him off at college that Sunday and I didn't know when he was going to come back. The week moved slowly, it was only fourteen days but it felt like months. I wandered around the house every afternoon looking for something to do, finding myself standing at Joseph's old bedroom door each time, resting my shoulder against the door frame and watching all that empty space. I wondered how he was doing and if he even missed me at all.
"Your Dad and I are here if ever need to talk Matthew. You know that."
I nodded blindly, trying to get my mother out of my room as quickly as possible. The faster she was gone, the faster I could go back to staring at the raindrops...
"Mr. Steele, today marks the third month you have been in rehabilitation. How are you feeling?"
I glanced up from my lap in surprise, raising my eyebrows at Dr. Whitewater's words. Had it been three months already? It certainly didn't feel like it.
I almost didn't come today. The entire week had been beautiful, sunny, gorgeous weather. Except for today, today it was raining. I didn't want to walk to his office in the rain, but somehow I managed to throw on my jacket and dig through the crap in my closet until I found my old black umbrella spooled at the bottom, tangled up in a heap with all these extension cords.
Dr. Whitewater's words brightened my mood considerably, and I offered him a half smile, running my hand through my hair and straightening up in my seat just a bit.
"You should be proud, it's been a long hard road for you." He leaned back into his leather chair, tossing his clipboard down on top of his desk. His eyes moved over mine quickly, and he tilted his head to the side, sort of eyeing me, "Off the record, can I ask you something?"
The tone of voice shifted dramatically from professional doctor to one that sounded as if we were old friends. It threw me off balance and my head rose up to his sharply. I could only blink before nodding at him.
"I know you told me once, but your son, Henry, when was the last time you saw him?"
I wasn't sure where he was going with this but that change in his tone made me curious to what he had on his mind.
"When he got out of the hospital, it was the same day Sarah told me I couldn't see him again. It was the same day I checked into rehab." I could hear my voice shake, that day had been awful, but it was also the day that somehow gave me the kick in the ass that I needed. The one that sent me to see Jason, and Dr. Whitewater.
"What happened to him? And why did your wife tell you that you couldn't see him anymore?" There was no more writing on a clipboard, no more tapping of the pen against the desk. Dr. Whitewater simply crossed his arms in front of him and looked at me.
"Henry was in an accident, it happened almost eleven months after my brother died. He was at his daycare, the kids were served cookies as a snack, no one knew at the time that Henry was allergic to peanuts, deadly allergic. Those cookies had peanuts in them, Henry ate several and passed out. The daycare providers couldn't rouse him, and he was rushed to the hospital. He was in a coma for over a week," I paused, trying to swallow the lump that suddenly formed in my throat. I knew the next part was going to be hard to say, and normally I wouldn't have told Dr. Whitewater anything, kept it to myself, but today was different, everything was different, my mood, the weather, Dr. Whitewater's voice, all different.
"Go on." Dr. Whitewater nodded, his eyes never leaving my face.
"There were over forty messages on my answering machine, and they kept coming until my machine wouldn't hold anymore. They were all from Sarah. She kept on calling, even though I didn't answer. She kept trying to tell me that my son was in the hospital, that he might die, to hurry and get there." I tore my eyes away from Dr. Whitewater's as shame filled my entire being. I still felt that same shame, and I bet that Dr. Whitewater was going to start looking at me differently once he heard the next part.
"I wasn't even at my apartment that week. I was...at a...uh at a bar. I was in a bar drinking." I gave out this tiny sigh, trying to focus on something outside the window, there was nothing so I just started staring at this big drop of water that clung to the glass, watching it as it collected more and more moisture, getting fatter and fatter.
"For five days straight I was at a bar. I didn't bother to leave, to eat, to sleep. All I did was drink. And when I finally stumbled out into the rain and back to my apartment, I barely made it through the front door before I passed out on the floor. I think I woke up sometime the next day; it was nearly dark again when I finally opened my eyes. I was going to drag myself to my bedroom when I saw the blinking light of the answering machine. For some reason I hit the button to hear the messages."
I could still hear the hysteria in Sarah's voice, the fear and terror, the begging. It was loud and frantic, pleading and anxious, she kept calling out my name, over and over again.
The raindrop had finally collected enough water and began racing down the window, creating a blur as it made its way downward.
"Somehow I managed to make it out the door, and I'm not really sure how I got to the hospital. I can still see the double doors of the hospital entrance automatically opening for me, and the people around me gasping and frowning at my appearance. I remember yelling at the lady behind the welcome desk, screaming that my son was in here and I needed to see him. She had these wide frightened eyes and reached for the phone. Only she didn't call up to see what room he was in, she called security, and these two big burly guys came right up to me and told me I had to leave. I started arguing with them, swearing at them, they grabbed me."
I didn't tear my eyes away from that raindrop. I watched it puddle up along the bottom frame of the window, creating a miniature river as it blended in with the other raindrops.
"I kept fighting with them. Someone called the police. I was outnumbered and forced down on the ground. I think the police were debating whether to handcuff me or not, but when I looked up from the floor Sarah was standing right there. She looked completely horrified with Henry in her arms. He was okay, he looked just fine, almost as if he wasn't even a patient at the hospital, but I knew he was, he was wearing those tiny hospital gowns, and had a tube coming out of his arm. My parents were standing right behind her, they had the same looks on their faces. Sarah turned and gave Henry to my mother."
The rain suddenly began coming down harder, it started hitting the window with much more force, making these tiny plinking sounds. Dr. Whitewater didn't seem to notice, but I did. I tried to rush through the last part, the most painful part.
"She marched right up to me, just as the police were picking me up off the floor. I tried to talk to her, but I wasn't making any sense. She just wrinkled her nose at me and turned her head away, told me not to come back, that I couldn't see my son anymore..."
Dr. Whitewater stared at me silently, his face expressionless. I was almost relieved that there wasn't a look of disgust on his face, but the longer he stared at me the more I began to realize that he was guessing there was more to the story than I was telling him, and there was...
"My son is in here! I want to see him!" I was screaming at the top of my lungs, pulling my body away from the security guards. They held onto me tightly, grunting against my force, turning their heads away from the smell of my breath.
"Henry!" I hollered, "I need to see Henry!" A few people gathered around us, staring in disbelief at the scene before them. The police arrived and somehow I was down on the ground, my face pressed against the rough commercial carpet, both hands held firmly behind my back. I kept on struggling, not giving up, raising my head off the ground to breathe. That's when I saw her, she looked so thin and pale, her cheeks gaunt and hollow, she must have been with Henry all day and night, never leaving his side.
"Sarah!" I gasped, trying to free my hand to reach for her. She took a tiny step back, placing her free hand over her mouth; her face contorted in pain and disbelief.
The police forced me down again, but I just pulled my head right back up. "Henry! Is he okay?" My words were slow and slurred. Sarah quickly turned and gave Henry to my mother, her hands trembled, and I could see she was trying not to cry.
The police yanked me up to my feet; I couldn't keep my balance, my body hunched over as I stumbled over my own self.
She just walked right up to me, and when I looked into her eyes, all I saw was hatred and disgust.
"Get out of here." Her words spat from her lips, her eyes flashing in anger. "Get the hell out! I thought you still cared about him, even if you didn't care about me anymore. I thought you still cared, but you don't. You only care about yourself. So get out of here Matthew, I don't ever want to see you again, and I am sure as hell not letting you see Henry again. We don't need you anymore, we'll be just fine without you."
And then she was gone.
And I spent the night in jail.
Dr. Whitewater didn't ask any more questions about that night, and I was glad. Instead he shifted the conversation away, taking me by surprise again.
"Do you still play music?" He furrowed his eyebrows at me, obviously deep in thought.
"Music? Uh, no, not anymore." I shook my head, still reeling from the memories of the hospital.
"Why not?" He tilted is head to the side again, still frowning.
"I, I don't know. I don't have my guitar with me...I don't think I can...I don't know." The words just tumbled out of me and I'm not sure I made any sense.
"And the last time you played?" He leaned forward then, placing his elbow down on his desk.
"The night my brother died." I half whispered.
"And you haven't played since then?" He lowered his voice as he studied me, "Don't you miss playing?"
I just shook my head, feeling rattled my his questions. Trying no to panic at all the memories I was suddenly dealing with at the same time.
"Will you do me a favor Mr. Steele?" Dr. Whitewater began to rise from his seat and I glanced at the clock in surprise, our session was over already.
"Will you try to play something? Anything, maybe even write something, before your next session."
I just stared at him dumbfounded. He wanted me to play music and I wasn't sure why. "You don't need to show me," He walked around his desk and over to me, "I just think it might make you feel better, that's all."
I looked up at him as I rose from my own seat; the corners of his eyes were slightly crinkled as he smiled at me. "Thank you for coming today Mr. Steele. I'm glad you came, even in the rain."
I think I left his office more confused than when I went in. Our conversation tossed and swirled in my head as I walked back to my apartment. I didn't even try to shield myself from the rain; it felt cool and refreshing against my face.
I turned my head upward facing the sky, welcoming the wetness against my skin, it made me feel alive, and it been a long time since I felt alive.
The longer I walked the more I began to think about Henry. Only three people knew that I hadn't touched another drop of liquor since that night at the hospital. Only three people, me, Louis, and Dr. Whitewater, no one else, and I was starting to believe that maybe it was time other people found out.
If I could prove to Sarah, and even my parents, that I was no longer a drunk, that I was trying to get help, maybe, just maybe, I could see my son again. And with that hope, I finally reached my apartment, more determined than ever to prove myself to everyone, the new man I had become.
"This came for you today Matthew." My mom didn't even bother to knock; she just walked right into my room, a big bright smile on her face.
I frowned at her, more annoyed that she was invading my privacy than anything else, I mean, I could have been doing something private, not that I ever did anything private in here. I just could have been doing something private, and she just barged right in.
"What is it?" The frown on my face still showed my displeasure at her invasion of my room.
"It's a letter, from Joseph. It just came; I thought you might like it."
Knowing that my brother's words were in that envelope made all my unhappiness vanish in a blink of an eye, and I jumped up from my desk in a flash, extending my hand out to her unable to contain my eagerness.
She just laughed at my reaction and placed the letter in my hand before giving me a warm smile. "Dinner is almost ready, I expect you to join your dad and me in an hour."
I nodded, not tearing my eyes away from the letter, already trying to get it open. My mom left without another word, and I finally sat down on my bed, forcing my eyes to go over each word slowly, trying to savor every second I could.
How are you doing little bro? Mom tells me that you're moping around the house. It better not be because of me. I expect you to start acting like the man of the house and the big man on campus at school. Don't let anyone give you a hard time and if Fenton gives you any hassle about his so called girl, tell him he should worry about Colby Jenke. Rumor has it that Colby has been getting a little side action over at the bleachers after school while Fenton is at Bball practice. Wink Wink.
I'll be home for Thanksgiving; you can fill me in on all the juicy details when I get there. Hang in there Matt, I won't be gone forever. Give Mom and Dad a hug for me.
My eyes moved over the words more than once. How my brother always knew what was going on with me never failed to take me by surprise. And he always, always knew just what to say.
I slipped his letter in a small old shoebox I stored at the bottom of my clothes closet.
Over time, that box would become quite full.
For some reason I was restless tonight, maybe because for once it had stopped raining. The sky was still grey with clouds, but they stopped their assault for the time being. Tired of being cooped up in my apartment I decided to head out. I could go for a burger, much to my amazement, or a pizza sounded good.
The pavement was already beginning to dry as I made my way downtown. The air always smelled so fresh and clean after a rain. I liked it, and I breathed in a great big breath, trying to fill my lungs with as much fresh air as I could.
The longer I walked the stronger my hunger grew, until finally I felt ravenous, literally starving. I pushed my way through the double doors of the fast food place, my stomach growling at the smell of burgers and fries. I should get a milkshake too, I might regret it later on tonight, but right now, all I wanted to do was eat.
The line was short, and the cashier was a nice older lady who looked at me and took my order with warm friendly eyes. I felt like hugging her for treating me like a normal human being, for smiling at me when no one else would.
After pondering longer than I should have over whether to get Strawberry or Vanilla for my milkshake, I finally had my tray of food in hand. I weaved through some of the other people, a couple of families, a lady with a toddler, until I found a table near the back, out of the way. It would let me eat in peace, and I would be able to watch the people too.
The first bite was beyond delicious, and so was the second. I nearly finished that burger in three bites. I chewed slowly, trying to savor the taste, wondering why I had ever stopped loving food, loving anything really.
The toddler was crying now, he wanted to get down from his high chair. The mom looked exasperated, her food hardly touched, as she struggled with him. I felt bad for her, wondering why she didn't have any help, it dawned on me then, that Sarah must be going through the same thing whenever she took Henry out to eat. No one there to help her in a place like this.
The thought must have cursed me because at that second three people walking through the doors.
Whatever appetite I had left immediately vanished. What I saw was innocent enough. Henry being carried in Sarah's arms, giggling and smiling, pointing to the kid's meal sign. Sarah looked as beautiful as always, her hair pulled up into a single ponytail, tied up with a yellow ribbon, her jeans and sweatshirt hugging her body tightly. Actually, maybe not that tightly, her clothes did seen to hang off her a little bit, she was so thin, too thin.
But her face wore a smile as she pulled Henry close to her and whispered in his ear. I wanted to ignore the third person, but of course I couldn't. Clay was there too, he stood proudly by her side, a broad smile on his face.
I couldn't blame him, I would be smiling like that too if I was standing next to her. He didn't touch her, instead he ordered for the three of them, gallantly swooping them away to a table on the far end, settling them all down with their food. They laughed and talked while they ate, enjoying each's others company. The longer I watched, the more I began to think.
That what if Clay was the person Sarah really needed. What if Clay was the person who was meant to be with her. He obviously made her happy, made her smile, loved her. I kept watching them, and even though I probably shouldn't have, I couldn't tear my eyes away, thankful that they couldn't see me spying on them from behind the large fake potted plants.
"Have another fry baby." She was offering Henry a small piece of french fry. Henry turned his head away from her, wrinkling his nose.
"Maybe he wants a piece of hamburger." Clay tore a small piece of bun from the top of his burger and extended his hand to Henry. Henry watched it carefully, his small eyes moving from the bread to Clay's face. He smiled at him brightly.
"Dada!" he cried snatching up the bread and shoving it into his mouth all at once. Sarah's head snapped up at the same time as my heart sunk. Clay grinned and nearly nodded in agreement with Henry.
Breathe...breathe...breathe...I repeated over and over in my mind. Don't let it hurt you, he's just a baby, not even two. Just breathe Matthew.
"No." Sarah's voice was quite firm. She placed her hand on Henry's arm, and he turned to her giggling his small baby giggle. "No, Henry, not dada. This is Clay."
My heart began pounding harder, my ears straining to hear every word she said.
"Not dada, Henry. Clay."
Henry giggled again and shoved his fist against his mouth trying to place more bread than could fit. Sarah didn't say anything else and Clay sat rigid in his chair, not moving, no readable expression on his face.
It was like something shifted in my universe, my eyes suddenly saw what they couldn't see before. Sarah's hair slid over her shoulder as she leaned forward to clean Henry up, and eyes focused on the bright yellow ribbon she had tied in her hair. The color made her skin glow and her eyes sparkle. I was more in love with her at that moment than I had ever been.
I was still sitting there nearly an hour after they left, my mind going over and over what I saw today. What I talked with Dr. Whitewater about and what I wanted out of my and for the future. Dr. Whitewater told me weeks ago that it was time to fight, but it was barely making sense in my brain now, what he meant.
Will you do me a favor Mr. Steele? Dr. Whitewater's words drifted through my head as I cleared the papers off my tray and into the garbage can.
Dr. Whitewater wanted me to play something or maybe even write something. The thought of having a guitar grace my hands again appealed to me stronger than ever. I knew I couldn't go back to my old house for my guitar, so instead I made my way over to the secondhand music store that stood on the corner of Third Street. The smell of sheet music and polishing oils filled my nostrils and made my mouth turn up at the familiarity of it all.
I lingered in front of the sheet music for a while, checking out all the different songs they had that I could practice with. None of them captured my interest, called out to me, so after ten minutes had gone by I wandered away over to the instruments.
I knew the one I wanted before I even reached for it. This guitar did call out to me, immediately, once my fingers closed over the neck; I knew I had to have it. It was a Roger McGuinn guitar, just like the one Sarah had. I stroked the guitar gently, checking it for any flaws or nicks in the wood. There were none, it was perfect.
"I told you to stay the fuck away from my girl Steele."
I tried avoiding Samuel all day at school today but he finally caught up with me after the last bell. I was heading for my locker to grab my math book before going home. I felt his fingers close over the back of my shirt, jerking me backwards.
I spun around in surprise, trying to get Samuel to let go. "Hey!" I yelled, pulling my shoulder away from him. He just lunged for me again, grabbing the strap of my backpack, making me lose my balance. I sprawled forward, by body falling onto Samuel's.
"Fuck Steele, get off of me!" he slammed me against the lockers with both hands. I could see out of the corner of my eye the other kids turning to look and point at us. The heat began to rise in my body, and when I looked up into Fenton's eyes, something snapped.
"What the hell Fenton!" I took a step forward, trying to make my voice as deep and threatening as I could. "I don't even know who the fuck your girl is."
Fenton gave out this little huff, his eyes glaring at me. I narrowed my own eyes back at him, "You don't even know who she's screwing around with, do you?"
He blinked in surprise before trying to regain his composure, fisting his hands at his sides. "And I suppose you do?" he sneered.
He walked right into it. I just laughed sarcastically, throwing my head back, "Yeah I do, and so does half the school."
"You're full of it Steele." His voice was still tough but his eyes began to shift around him wildly, he started to notice the audience we attracted.
"Maybe you should ask your girl," I mocked, "Or better yet ask Jenke, you'll probably find him behind the bleachers."
The boys standing next to me began to snicker, and a couple of the girls giggled at my words.
Fenton didn't know what to say, he just opened his mouth but no sound came out. Then he half snorted, half choked before walking past me, most likely heading for the bleachers.
I was still grinning when I reached my house. Thanks Joseph, I thought.
I've been holding that Roger McGuinn guitar in my hands for an hour now and still haven't played a chord. I just keep holding it, staring at it, wondering if I am going to be able to do this.
It's harder than I thought. Everything looks just right, the strings are all tight, the wood is gleaming under the living room lights. It's begging me to be played. And I am afraid.
Afraid that the nightmares will return if I play. Afraid that my heart will break even more if I play. Afraid that it isn't going to make one damn bit of difference if I play.
So I keep staring at it, trying to find some sort of inspiration, something that would make me want to play.
And for some odd reason that yellow ribbon that Sarah wore in her hair pops into my brain. I close my eyes, trying to take my time, trying not to search for it, but let it come to me.
And I think of...
Sarah, her beautiful skin, and all the things she stands for.
Stars, how they shine with brightness, as if they shine for her.
And everything that I have done in the past, and everything that I would do in the future for her.
Slowly, little by little, the songs comes, and I write it all down. Everything that comes to mind, I write it all down.
I stay up until five am. It is the first night I stay up nearly all night, but not because I am drinking, but because I am writing, a song, Sarah's song.
And I call it,