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Chapter Eighteen

“Oh my god. Please tell me you’re being serious.” I gasp, my heart stuttering in my chest. Did she really say my brother is coming home?

“Yes baby. Alex is coming home.”

“Oh my god.” I repeated. “Wait when? Why even?” I ask, feeling my excitement begin to thrum.

“One question at a time! So you know that I’ve been on the phone with your brother a lot recently. Him and his doctors both agree that he’s ready to be released. We’ve been talking about it for weeks now.”

“When is he coming home?” I prod, anxious as ever. I don’t know what to say or how to feel right now. My brother, who I haven’t spoken to or seen for months, is actually coming home. How different would he look since the last time I saw him? Has he read all the letters I’ve sent him? Does he hate me? He never bothered to reply. He doesn’t accept phone calls from me. If I happen to answer the phone before Mom does he hangs up the minute he hears my voice. I can’t count how many times I’ve tried to convince myself that he isn’t mad at me. That he doesn’t blame me for what happened. Like how I spent forever blaming myself for the events of that day.

“He’s being released next Saturday. Your father and I are going to pick him up.” My mom says, standing up and walking to the fridge. She pulls out a few things and prepares a dinner I totally forgot about.

“I’m going with you guys.” I declare suddenly. I need to see Alex. I can’t wait any longer. He’s kept me in the dark long enough. I need to talk to him face to face and sort this out. He’s my brother. He can’t hate me forever.

“Honey-” my mom protests but I’m quick to interject.

“I’m being serious. I’m going with you guys to pick up Alex. I’ll be taking all of my finals next week before winter break. School will be done so there’s no excuse to why I can’t go.” I say firmly. She’s not keeping me from him any longer.

“I just think he needs to ease into coming home and that includes as minimal interactions as possible. Let him comes to terms with seeing you again. You need to be ready to see him also. We all, as a family, need to take baby steps with this. We all need to heal together.”

“That’s bullshit mom. I need to see Alex and I’m not waiting any longer. He’s ignored me long enough!” I growl, frustration pooling in the bottom of my stomach. I want to go with them. I want Alex to know that I’m not mad at him and I don’t blame him for anything, even if he blames me for everything. My mom gives me a hard look, her dark brown eyes unrelenting. I feel myself quickly losing this battle, causing panic and anxiety to swirl around inside of me. She has to let me go.

“Please mom,” I beg, my voice cracking. “Let me go with you guys. I’ve been away from my big brother long enough.” My mom’s eyes soften and I know I’ve won even before she says anything else.

“Fine! But-” My mom relents and I muffle her words by tackling her into a hug, squeezing her tight while mumbling my thanks.

“Thank you so much mom! I can’t believe Alex is actually coming home. This feels so surreal.” I say, the full impact of the situation just now hitting me. What would things at the house be like when he’s back? What if he relapses again? Will he be back for good this time?

“Not so quick. I have a few conditions,” She exclaims, causing me to throw my head back and groan. Of course she does.

“You have to pass all of your finals with a C+ or better. Your lowest grade on your report card better be a C. And I want you to spend Christmas Eve with your father and Karen’s family with no complaints or whining this year. You have to be on your absolute best behavior.”

“I seriously have to get along with Karen?”

“Lilly! I’m being serious.” She scolds. I sigh in defeat.

“Fine. I will abide by all rules. Is Karen going with Dad?” I ask curiously.

“No. We all three decided it would be the best thing for Alex if she wasn’t there. Your father will be staying in a separate hotel room. We were going to allow Alex to choose who he would room with but since you’re coming we’ll have to arrange something.”

“Okay mom. Yell for me when dinner’s done okay?” When she nods yes I walk out of the kitchen, making my way upstairs to my bedroom. Face planting on my bed, I think about what next Saturday will bring. I want to ask Alex why he cut all communication with me, even though I fear I know the answer. I need to hear it from his mouth. I can’t wait for him to come home first. The events of last summer are suddenly inescapable and I can’t discern the difference between what actually happened and what my mind conjured up.

I’m excited and terrified for Alex’s return. What if the events of last summer repeat themselves?

And what if Alex doesn’t survive this time? I’d never forgive myself.

I’m the only one to blame for what happened the last time Alex came home. And it can’t happen ever again. I need to talk to Alex and ask him to forgive me.

Maybe then I could learn to forgive myself.

“That final was awful. I literally feel like the dumbest person alive.” I groan, walking with Lou to the cafeteria. She rolls her eyes at me and caps her red lipstick.

“It wasn’t that bad. I swear a ton of it was review from French II.” Lou says casually. Now I roll my eyes.

“Of course you’d say that.”

“Hey! Don’t be a bitch. I bet you didn’t do as bad as you think you did.”

“And I bet that pigs can fly,” I snort and Lou punches my arm. After we stood in line and bought our lunch we made our way to the table to greet everyone. Sitting down, Justin throws his arm over my shoulder and I snuggle into him. Between baseball practise and studying for finals we haven’t seen much of each other. I missed how much his presence calms me. If I’m being honest I’ve just missed him.

“Are you doing okay? Feeling nervous about Saturday?” He runs his thumb soothingly over the back of my hand that’s clasped in his. Our hands are resting on the table in-between both of our lunch trays, and we’re surrounded by our closests friends. I’m thankful for this moment, and every single person sat at this table. Issues and feelings aside, every single one of them are amazing and truly wonderful in their own way. So despite finals and seeing Alex in two days, I realize I have plenty of things to not stress about and be happy over.

“Definitely nervous. I think I’ll be okay though. I’m just glad I have you and everyone else for me to lean on if I need it.”

“I’m always here for you,” He murmurs, causing warmth on my cheeks and a smile to flit on my lips.

“Can you two please try to not ruin my appetite?” Shane grumbles, but his words lack their usual malice. He’s been kind of down lately, and I don’t know if it’s because Jasmine’s moving when the semester ends or something else. Maybe it’s a mixture of multiple things.

“Okay everyone! Enough of Shane’s whining. I’m throwing a goodbye party for Jasmine this Saturday since she’s decided she doesn’t love us anymore and is moving back in with her step-father.” Lou announces.

“I still love you guys. Don’t listen to Lou. I’ve been thinking this over for a while now and I think it’s important that I go back home and stay with my step-dad and his daughter who’s been like a real sister to me every since my mom passed away. There’s just too much unfinished business back at home. I’m going to miss you guys so much though! You guys have been so amazing to me and all of your guy’s friendship mean the world to me. I love you guys.” Jasmine smiles tearfully at all of us, and Lou and Amiyah immediately hug her since they were sat on opposite sides of her.

“Jasmine stop! You’re going to make me cry girl. I love you so much.” Amiyah sniffs, squeezing Jasmine closer.

“You better call us and visit soon! I’ll beat your cute little ass if you don’t.” Lou says and we all laugh. I couldn’t help but notice when Shane’s face fell when Jasmine mentioned how much everyone’s friendship meant to her. He may be an ass, but he apparently still has a heart and I don’t think Jasmine realizes it belongs to her. I speak up when a thought suddenly hits me.

“I can’t go Saturday. I’m going to pick up my brother.” I say, the crunch of my apple resounding as I take a large bite into it.

“Where’s he at?” Gracson asks, confusion clear on his face. “I didn’t even know you had a brother.” Lou goes to say something but I hold up my hand to stop her. I had told the girls about my brother, and Justin but I hadn’t gotten around to mentioning him to Gracson and Shane. Since Alex is gonna be around I realized I needed to talk about him. It got easier the more people I’ve told. It caused my chest to feel lighter.

“He’s been in rehab for the past seven months. He’s been struggling with his drug addiction for years and was reinstated last June. He’s well enough to come home on Saturday.” I say as casually as I can, sipping on my soda. Gracson’s eyes widen and even Shane looks surprised.

“Wow. I’m sorry Lilly. I had no idea,” Gracson says, his cerulean eyes sincere.

“It’s okay. I’m just glad he’s coming home, and hopefully for good this time.”

“I can just postpone the party then if you can’t make it. You’re not leaving right away are you Jasmine?” Lou asks. Jasmine shakes her head.

“No. I want to spend some more time with you guys and my grandma. I need to say goodbye to this place first.”

“Well we’re on break next week anyhow so we could always get together sometime then. I’ll text you guys the details later. Ooo! We could also trade gifts for secret santa,” Lou says excitedly causing me to groan. Crap! I totally forgot about that. Lou made us all pick out names for secret santa two weeks ago and of course the universe is hilarious enough to make me pull out Shane’s name. He doesn’t even celebrate Christmas because his family’s jewish. Oh the irony.

“Right,” I mutter. I wonder who my secret santa is? I have no idea who picked my name. I also have no clue what to buy Shane. How do you shop for a rude fuckboi who hates you? The answer is you don’t. Unless you’re friends with Louisa Denerise. Everyone begins leaving as the bell goes and Justin walks with me to precalculus.

“This exam is going to be awful. I think I’m just gonna cry and circle the answer choice the teardrop falls by.” Justin grins at me and starts chuckling softly.

“You’re too goofy for your own good.”

“I am not! Besides, not everyone can be a genius like Justin Grey.” I teased, poking his stomach and laughing as he flinches.

“Stop that! You’re annoying sometimes, did you know that?” He laughs, holding me back when I try to attack him.

“Take that back! I am not you bully.” I tsk, grabbing one his cheeks and pinching the soft skin between my fingers and he hisses at me, swatting at my hands.

“I’m the bully?” He scoffs, green eyes twinkling with mischief, “you’ll regret that one Lilly bear.” He whispers and my lungs basically collapse when he shoves me against a wall. He pins my arms above my head and his body is basically all up on me and holy crap how do you breathe? I think I’ve forgotten that very important bodily function.

“What are you doing Justin?” I ask, my breathing returning in rapid succession. I can’t look anywhere but in his flawless eyes because when my eyes stray they fall on his delectable lips and those lips give me dangerous thoughts I can’t afford to have.

“I’m staring at all of my hopes and dreams.” He breathes out, his warm breath falling on my quivering lips. His dark eyes are watching my every move.

“You drive me insane. I swear sometimes I want to hate you for that.”

“You could never hate me,” He lets out gruffly, his hand reaching out to trace my cheek, sending electric sparks up my spine.

“And why not Justin Grey?” I ask raspily, tilting my chin up so my eyes meet his again. He gives me that panty dropping smirk and leans in close, so close that our lips almost brush with every word he speaks.

“Because you like me too much. And you want me to kiss you,” He whispers and I go to object but he places a calloused finger against my lips.

“Just know this Lilly; when I kiss you you’re mine.” The bell decides to ring at that exact moment and Justin releases me, sauntering off to class.

“This is exactly why your contact name is ‘Tease’ in my phone you, you jerk! Smirking idiot who pushes girls against walls and then leaves them hanging,” I mutter at the end, stomping into my math class. Now I get to spend the next two hours taking a test with Justin’s friggin lips haunting my thoughts. In math there’s only one correct answer, if only that were the case with hot boys like Justin who make you want to scream and jump their bones all at the same time.

I pull out my review guide as the study period begins, hoping I don’t fail this test. I have to get at least a C for my mom to let me drive with them to pick up Alex on Saturday. I don’t even know what I’m going to say when I see him. Hey big bro, I know you’ve been ignoring me for almost seven months, how’s life? That’s not much of a conversation starter.

Why is it so difficult for me to find something to say? I’m a writer for god’s sake. It shouldn’t be this hard to figure out what to say to my own brother. When did everything become so fucked up?

Even though I already know the answer to that question. It began when mom and dad first started having problems. Alex used to adore our dad. They did everything together and Alex relied on him for a lot. So when we found out about the cheating and how dad was leaving mom, Alex went down a dark path. He started failing his classes, coming home late, befriending this guys who got him to start taking drugs.

It began with him helping them distribute and sell them before Alex started doing them himself. He got caught by the police one day doing a sale and he was in juvie for months. When he was finally released he swore to our parents that he was done with that lifestyle. But he started doing drugs again, heavier ones this time. Soon he became addicted to heroin.

He started stealing money from our mom to get him another fix. It caused an even larger strain on our family and I had to watch my brother turn into a person I didn’t recognize. When he failed a pee test and violated his probation he was taken to court and had a choice between doing more time or going to rehab where he would be monitored closely. Our parents forced him to go and that’s how he ended up at Vincent. He steadily got better and last April when he came home I thought everything would be okay. He smiled more, began to eat healthily and gain the weight back he lost, and for a while I had my loving big brother back. But things came crashing down in July.

I remember feeling so scared and betrayed when I found Alex. The following weeks spent in the hospital were absolute hell. I blamed myself then and I still blame myself now. When Alex finally woke up he refused to talk to me. He got furious anytime I attempted to enter his hospital room and screamed at me to leave. I didn’t even get to say goodbye when he went back to rehab. It was his choice this time, since he was eighteen at the time and our parents couldn’t force him to go. I haven’t spoken to him ever since. I’ve sent letters but he doesn’t respond. He doesn’t accept phone calls from me.

I have to make things right on Saturday. I just need to figure out how.

“You know I’m very proud of you Lilly. You passed all of your finals with A’s and B’s, with one C in French.” My mom says, smiling at me from the passenger seat. My father grins from behind the wheel.

“I knew she could do it. That’s my girl.” Things were a bit awkward between my mom and dad, but this day was about Alex and not the problems between them. So they were gonna suck it up and deal with being in a car together for three hours. When we go to Vincent Care Rehabilitation Center, it’s going to take a while to get Alex released since he’s going to have to sign a lot of forms. We’re just going to stay at a hotel and make the drive back tomorrow. Alex could probably use the rest and mom and dad time away from each other. And it will give me time to talk to him and hopefully patch things up before we’re stuck in a car together for three hours. I’ve handled seven months of silence from him but an extra three hours is something I just can’t take.

I sigh, leaning back in my seat and browsing my phone for something to do. I didn’t realize how boring this trip was going to be, especially since my parents aren’t talking to each other leaving a stiff silence in the air. When I die again on the game I’m playing I get off the app and plug in my headphones, starting a random playlist and throwing my legs across the back seat. Closing my eyes, I try to soothe my nerves. In three hours I will be face to face with Alex.

Before I know it I’m slipping into unconsciousness, and unknown to me while I was preparing to see Alex my subconscious was preparing to put me through hell.

It was July 14, 2016. Alex had promised to hang with me tonight, just the two of us. The first month or so he was home things had been going great. I could tell how much he wanted to prove to mom and I that he was doing better. The house was less lonely and suddenly full of life, like it remembered Alex and his presence brought hope into these fading walls. Dad just recently moved in with his girlfriend Karen and her daughter Frankie. I know that it must hurt mom but she’s putting on a brave face for Alex and I. I was scared that it may cause Alex to relapse but he seems to be doing fine. He’s been seeing a therapist and I think the visits have been really helping him.

But he’s been acting strange these past few weeks. He seems on edge all the time and he’s beginning to leave the house more frequently. I expressed my concern to my mom but she said we have to trust him. That we can’t coddle him and keep him locked up in the house for the rest of his life. So I tried to squash my suspicions.

But last week I saw him hanging around Tony, an old friend of his who he used to get high with. I confronted Alex about it but he swore Tony was clean and asked me to not tell mom or dad about it. He knew how stressed and worried she was with him being back home and Dad moving in with the woman who tore our family apart. I stared into his hazel eyes that mirrored mine as he promised me he was still clean. And I believed him. He was my Alex again. It was like the drugs never tainted him and he was still his whole, full self.

But yesterday I found xanax in his sock drawer. Mom was doing laundry and asked me to put his away for her. Walking into his room, I was just so happy to find the familiar sight of it looking lived in and messy like it used to be. I was so, so happy that he was home. I can’t even describe the ache I felt when he left. I felt like a part of myself was missing. When Bryce and I had broken up I needed my big brother to help me through it. But I was alone. I needed him and now he needs me.

I probably wouldn’t have even noticed the pills if I didn’t hear them rattle when I tried to organize his god awful drawers. My hands shook so much when I lifted a pair of bundled socks and pulled out a bottle full of them. My hands clenched into fists as tears stung at my eyes. I knew it. I fucking knew it. He lied to me. My own brother looked me in the eye and deceived me. He wasn’t better. Dare I say it, this time he might just be worse. I don’t know who he is anymore.

I’m going to confront him today about it before I tell mom. I want him to look me in the eye and try to explain his lies away. I want him to see how much he’s hurt me and how angry I am. I want to scream at him that he’s tearing our family apart. Ripping to shreds any happiness we possibly have left.

I want to shake him and scream that mom and dad’s divorce hurt me too. That their split tore me apart. He wasn’t the only one who was affected. It fucking hurt me too. How none of it was fair. I didn’t turn to drugs when things fell apart. Now all of mom and dad’s attention stays on Alex. Bryce broke my heart and I was ripped to shreds yet no one even noticed. Only Alex and his problems mattered. And when he’s supposed to be better he fucks it all up again.

I waited all morning for Alex to get home. He stayed out all night, probably getting too high to remember that he had a mom and little sister he was supposed to fake being okay for. I left the house for a little while to go to the store and buy some deodorant and other things I had run out of. When I got back home mom told me that Alex was upstairs in his bedroom, probably asleep. I went upstairs, taking each step with deliberate purpose. I was shaking, all of my hurt and anger from yesterday coming to a peak. I stomped over to Alex’s room, my fists pounding on his door.

“Open up Alex! We need to talk!” I yell, increasing the power behind my fists. “Wake the hell up!” I yell in frustration. When he still doesn’t answer I swing the door open, choking at the sight before me.

There my brother laid sprawled on his bedroom floor, body spasming, his eyes rolled back. I dashed over to him, feeling his cold and clammy forehead, and I began crying hysterically when I feel how slow his pulse is. His dark brown hair is drenched in sweat, and his lips are cracked with blood pooling at the corners.

I don’t remember much of what happened next. I just know I was screaming, screaming so loud my voice became hoarse. I remember my mom tumbling into the room. I remember hearing her on the phone screaming for an ambulance. I remember tripping over to my brother’s dresser, yanking open his sock drawer.

I couldn’t find the pills. Wherearethey, wherearethey, wherearethey? I started tearing his room apart trying to find those fucking pills when suddenly a flash of orange crossed my vision. I dove under his bed and clutched the empty bottle in my hands.

It’s empty. It can’t be empty. Ohmygod, ohmygod, it was full yesterday. I can hear sirens outside. There’s feet stomping on the stairs. A paramedic is in the room. He says my brother isn’t breathing. But that can’t be possible. He was just breathing a minute ago. The paramedic is performing cpr. Is my brother dead? Is he dead, is he dead, is he dead? He can’t be dead. He was just breathing a minute ago.

The paramedic has a pulse. My brother is hoisted on a stretcher. Where are they taking him? The paramedic is asking my mom what my brother took. She doesn’t know. She’s crying, snot dripping from her nose. She. Doesn’t. Know.

“Xanax.” I utter, the first words I’ve spoken since the ambulance got here. “This bottle was full. It’s empty now.” My mom’s face. She’s hurt. She’s betrayed. I follow them numbly down the stairs and into the back of the ambulance. The paramedic says only one person can ride in the back. Mom tells me to call dad. Dad doesn’t know? His son just overdosed and he doesn’t know? The ambulance races off and I’m standing alone outside of the house as the neighbors gawk. Call dad. I need to call dad.

My fingers are numb as I dial his number. He answers. He sounds happy. But now he’s frantic. He’s leaving now. He tells me to not move. I don’t think I could move even if I tried. Thoughts swirl in my muddled brain.

Is Alex dead? Is Alex dead? Is Alex dead?

It’s all my fault. It’s all my fault. It’s all my fault.

It’s fault my brother overdosed. And it’s my fault if he dies. I’m so sorry Alex. So sorry. God, I’m so sorry.

I gasp when I wake up, eyes frantically searching my surroundings. My mom is staring down at me worriedly as she removes her hand from my arm.

“Are you okay sweetheart?” She asks, concern etched on her face.

“Yeah mom, I’m fine. Just had a bad dream.” More like a memory I’ve been trying to escape for seven months.

“Well we’re outside of the hotel now. We’re going to check in and then pick Alex up.” I tell her okay and I go through the motions of getting our room keys and settling my luggage in my mom’s hotel room. We go to a vending machine and buy drinks and snacks. Once we’re seated back in the car, I take a deep breath.

“Are you ready to see Alex?” My dad asks, turning in his seat to look at me. I smile at him, but I know it doesn’t reach my eyes.

“Yes. I can’t wait to see him.” I need to tell him how sorry I am. I want to tell him how fucking sorry I am. He needs to know. It’s the only way I can ever begin to let last summer go.

“Let’s get going then,” My mother says, and dad takes off, and I try to stop my hands from shaking. This is it. It’s time to see Alex.

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