I couldn’t speak. I could hardly swallow the lump in my throat as we pulled up to Neil’s house. His car turned off and we sat there. Everything seemed to take four times as long to do, and it all happened in a dense and heavy smudge.
“How is Shamus?” I needed to change the subject. Anything to distract me from what I had just witnessed. My voice barely heard and my hands limp as I tried to wipe my nose and eyes on the sleeve of the sweatshirt.
“He’s fine, really. One of his buddies patched him up and he is probably on his second bottle of whiskey now. Let’s go inside and run you a bath. You’ll feel better once you clean.” I nodded as I sat waiting for him to open my car door. I couldn’t remember all of a sudden how to do it myself. Good thing he was a gentleman and did it, regardless. His hand on my back guided me into the house but I pulled away from his touch. Everything was too much right now. I felt so over stimulated. My body felt like I was covered in needles, barely poking my skin. Such a change from moments before where I was just a frozen sad shell of a woman.
He took me to a large suite that smelled strongly of him. He brought me to his bedroom? It did bring a little comfort to me mentally, I felt safe and my muscles started to relax a bit. I locked my sights onto his mirror which only reflected his armchair as I listened to him turn on the tap for the tub. Once full, he returned to me.
“Use anything you need. Really… take your time.” I nodded and his hand came halfway to my shoulder before he stopped himself and walked away instead. It hurt my heart to not want to be held by him. But I just felt defeated and bruised, inside and out.
My neck and hands had dirt, gun residue and blood. A slight splatter of blood went down my neck to my hoodie. I swallowed hard and took off the hoodie. I threw it on the floor along with my other clothes and slid into the steamy hot water. I soaked until the water went cold. I think. My fingers had turned to raisins and the tiny bumps on my legs clued me in. I really couldn’t process anything. The needle sensation had stopped finally. Wrapped in a thick, fluffy white towel my eyes found themselves in the mirror. They were red and swollen. My cheeks stained from endlessly wiping away streams, my lip swollen and scabbed a bit now. I took a drop of toothpaste on my finger and rubbed it around haphazardly. All I had been able to taste since we left Shamus’s house was blood from the slap Johnathan handed me.
Once dressed in an old tshirt and a pair of Neil’s boxers I found laid out for me on the bed, I sat on the edge of the massive bed with my legs crossed under me. My eyes fixed on the dresser in front of me and I checked out mentally for awhile. It must have been too long, the door creaking open after an unanswered knock snapped me back. The recent events came rushing back like bullet points. Neil’s house. Johnathan is gone. Howie is gone. Numb.
“Oh you’re up. I hoped you had found some sleep…” Awkwardness filled the room. I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t sure I could speak again. I lifted my hands from my lap but didn’t know what my intentions were for their movement. I was lost. So very lost.
He took a few cautious steps towards me and took my hands that hung in the air. When I hadn’t pulled away, he sat next to me on the bed. My hands reached for his strong form and he wrapped me in his long arms. His warmth spread throughout my body and I shuddered.
“Breathe...” I closed my eyes and nodded slowly. “In and out. In and out. In and out. Shhh...” My body went limp as he cooed me into comfort. His voice was husky, he sounded exhausted too. He lifted me up into the bed and drew up the lush down filled comforter. We laid in each other’s arms, warm and still until I fell asleep.
I woke to the quiet conversation of Neil in the bathroom on his phone.
“Hey Angelina… yeah she’s fine. She had a hot bath last night and got some sleep early this morning. Finally. How are you and Alex? Yeah good, I’m glad to hear that. I’m going to go check in on her now. Hopefully she can eat something... Just call me if you need anything at all, really… You too. Bye- bye.” I pulled the blanket to my chin and loved how the soft texture felt on my skin. Neil came out of the bathroom in just a towel and I had to hide my blushing cheeks. My eyes searched frantically for anything except his greek god like body to focus on. His lack of clothing and milky skin made him look like a giant. His hair was dripping down his cheeks and down his frame.
“Hey Lo, sorry. I thought you’d still be sleeping.” He dug through his dresser, quickly grabbed a shirt and jeans and disappeared behind the closed door.
I sat up and pulled my knotted hair out of the elastic band and redid my messy bun. It was all the energy I had to do. I felt like a robot. Numb. Just sort of doing whatever Neil did. My head was throbbing so I rested my elbows on my knees and held my head in my hands.
“You want something for your head?” He spoke softly. I didn’t bother looking up, just nodded my head. His footsteps faded away and then returned. His hand on my back made me lookup at the water bottle and aspirin in his hands. I held out my hand as he placed two small pills on my palm. I downed them with the entire bottle of water. My cheeks stung as I drank. I was so thirsty. He rubbed slow big circles on my back and warned me to slow down, to not make myself sick.
I finally had the courage to look into his eyes. He sat down in front of me and held my face between his palms. His gaze was blank at first. Looking for answers from me. I didn’t have any. His lips met mine and his soft, gentle kiss lingered just a second before he pulled away.
“Whatever you need. Honestly. If you need to be alone, cry, scream, eat, drink. Just let me help you. I don’t want you to be alone.” I nodded and a few tears welled up. “Are you hungry?” I thought for a moment and shrugged. He stood and held out a hand for me to follow him downstairs to the kitchen.
“Soup?” My mind was so far gone. I was trying to decipher the emotions in my heart; pain, regret, sadness, heartbreak, loneliness, lost, angry, used. Used. That one hurt the most. I didn’t answer him. This was definitely something that would come and go in waves.
The bowl placed in front of me got my attention. I leaned back on the kitchen bar stood and he sat next to me. My mind waking from its coma like state and the emotions flooded me all at once. I took a few sips and avoided the solids. It went down so easily but I stopped before it was half gone. My stomach churned a bit so I breathed through my mouth trying to push down the sick feeling rising to my mouth. I ran to the kitchen sink as my body emptied it’s contents. The soup, water, aspirin. I splashed my mouth and rinsed it with cool water. Cleaning the sink as I finished. Neil handed me a dry dish cloth and I dried my face off. My shaky hands tossed the cloth on the counter and buried my embarrassed face into Neil’s chest.
“Why…” I immediately scolded myself for asking such an idioitic question. The sigh that left his chest rang through my thoughts.
“I can’t even begin to imagine the answer. Just please, don’t let your thoughts dwell on that rat.” I felt his body tense and he pulled away so he could look into my eyes. “Do not let How- his death to protect you be shadowed by some garbage that was over due to be taken out.” I nodded and took a deep breath. I wanted to pull it together. I need to climb out of this deep well of sadness before I decide to dive in and lose this wonderful man.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Can we go sit?” A kiss on my forehead answered my question.
His large living space had a step down into the seating area from the rest of the house. Giving it a much more cozy feeling to such a large echoing space. His clean and modern home felt a little cold but this room’s warm colors and wood floors were very inviting. I chose a corner cushion on the couch as he wandered over to a turntable and swapped the current record for a different one. I could see his smile from the side of his face as he returned the record to its sleeve before starting the player. Sweet, slow music filled the room, wrapped in the white noise of the old record player. I closed my eyes to let it sink into my skin. A wave of warmth found me sitting and my hands were taken into another’s. I let their strength pull me up.
“Will you dance with me?” Barely a whisper was heard over the music. I opened my eyes and smiled. My right hand took his left. His arm wrapped around my torso and I cupped his cheek in my spare hand. Grey eyes locked on me and his eyelids grew heavy. Our bodies swayed and spun around the furniture as the song played. I couldn’t bring myself to look away from him. His eyes were safe. They didn’t hold the nightmare I was running from.
“Thank you Neil.” his smile grew and he stopped our dancing to kiss me. Both his arms wrapped around my body as I pressed mine into his. The touch sent sparks all over me. I deepened the kiss and let it pull me to stand on my tiptoes. I ran my hands up the back of his neck. A goan left his lips into mine. I shivered as his hands slipped under the fabric covering my back. We let the heat rise higher and higher. I wanted to have him, all of him. I ran my hands down his torso and could feel his body tense at my touch when they met his waist band.
“Wait…” he pulled his lips from our heated kiss and he put a gap between us. “I can’t do this. This is taking advantage of you.” Our foreheads touched, our eyes still closed. I was still burning inside for him and I shook my head in disagreement.
“Not if I want this, it’s not. If we want it...” I tried my best to change his mind, he let a smirk reach his lips and put a step between us. Our bodies finally separated completely. My body screamed to close the gap.
“This is not how I want our first time together to happen. Loreina you just want to feel anything that isn’t pain, grief. Just not yet. I’ve been craving this moment to touch you like this, but this is wrong. I don’t want you to regret it, us being like this.” he reached out to hold my cheek in his palm but my disappointed hands shook with frustration as I jerked them from him. I added my own paces to the space between us and let it fill with confusion and false anger. He tried to reach for me and part of me wanted to let him. But I couldn’t. I was embarrassed because he was right. I did just want to feel some kind of pleasure. Anything but this empty void swirling with the hurricane of emotions inside my mind. “I’m sorry, I ruined a perfectly sweet moment between us.” I chewed my thumb nail a little and avoided eye contact with him.
“You didn’t ruin anything. I did. I shouldn’t have put you in such a situation. I confused you and I am the one who is sorry.” I sighed and walked over to the fireplace that was roaring. My hands and feet were so cold. Two long legs joined me on the hardwood floors and I leaned back into his body. His arms wrapped around me. We sat there for awhile, until my legs itched from the warmth of the fire and the logs became coals that burned a little more calmly.
“Let’s start over.” he nodded in agreement and stood. Holding out his hands, I took them and he brought me to my feet. He pulled me to his guest bedroom and laid out a fresh towel for me.
“I have some clothing that may fit you better, from when my cousins came down last year for the holidays?” I nodded before hopping into a hot shower to get the feeling back to the surface of my skin.
When I came out I saw a pair of jeans, a long sleeve thermal shirt and canvas sneakers. I wished I had underwear as I pulled up the jeans, feeling a little rough inside the seams.
We spent the rest of the day inside, the storm got worse before it got better and the rain that followed the snowstorm from the other day was deafening in this big acoustic house. As dinner time approached, his cook found us in the den curled up on the couch together watching old movies.
“Sir, would you like me to prepare dinner tonight?” Neil nodded as his fingers ran through my hair in a soothing rhythm.
“Something light please. Fish sound okay to you?” there was a pause before I realized he was asking me.
“Fish is one of my favorites. Yes, thank you-...?” The man smiled at me and told me to call him Gio.
“I’ll have it all ready in an hour.” He gave us a curt nod and left us. I snickered.
“It doesn’t surprise me but I never actually thought you’d have a personal chef.” Neil rolled his eyes and shushed me as he faked interest in the movie we both had no interest in.
“I got a call this morning from Angelina. She asked how you were doing.” I swallowed hard. I felt a bit guilty coming straight here but I was so out of it last night and exhausted after an eight hour drive that I hadn’t even thought to ask to go home. Truth be told, I was glad not to be there.
“How is Alex?” I swallowed a dry lump in my throat as his lips brushed my temple and his hands returned to combing my hair.
“She said he was holding it together pretty well. Would you like to go see them tomorrow or some other day? I’ve taken an emergency period of leave from work for you and I.” I sat up to look at him and nodded my head.
“Tomorrow, I do.” he nodded a confirmation and pulled me back into his arms ’til the movie was over.
Dinner was amazing and I sought out Gio to thank him personally. He was kind and his Italian accent made me crave a glass of red wine. So I found a bottle and cracked it open and poured a glass for myself and Neil. I kissed him goodnight before I ascended upstairs to my temporary bedroom.
Sipping my wine I got lost looking at the clear sky at the stars, the cold concrete of the balcony made me calm against my bare feet. The storm must have moved on over dinner. Every single twinkle made me pray Howie was somewhere safe and pain free. We used to lay in the grass and pretend to know constellations but we really just searched for shooting stars to wish on. We wished for a better life, for us, for our parents, for our kids if we ever had any.
Sleep took me quickly and easily after such an emotionally draining day followed by some great vino. My dreams were vivid and loud.
I wandered the cabin looking for Shamus. Howie and Johnathan lay dead downstairs. My hands shook as I opened door after door. I found Angelina, blood covered her lifeless body. My heart rate picked up and I ran out of the room. The next room held Gray’s body, facedown in his own blood, a knife to the back. The last room made my body rip a scream almost deafening. Alex and Neil lay dead. Shamus held his hands on their wounds and yelled for me to call nine one one. I froze as tears wet my face and neck. A shot rang out right beside my ear, causing a ringing to sound like an alarm in my mind. I spun to see who fired it and Johnathan stood in the doorway smiling big. “Together at last…” it was then I sat up in bed, body covered in sweat and my door flew open. Neil stood, gun drawn, pointed to the ground.
“Lo, what’s wrong?” I slammed my eyes shut and rubbed them with my palms so hard, desperate to remove the images I just saw from my memory.
“I thought the nightmares would be over now. But they’re not. They’re not. They’re not Neil. Not at all. I don’t wanna play this game anymore. Please.” He climbed in my bed and buried my face against his chest. The gun made a thud as he laid it down. I jumped. I was terrified of every shadow.
“Shhh… Relax, you’re safe. I’m here.” He held me so tight. I could almost smell his anger. I knew he resented that I couldn’t rid my mind of the demon that had plagued my life for so long.
“Please stay with me.” My whisper laced with exhausted sobs. He kissed my head over and over gently ’til I relaxed my body.
“I’d never leave you now. Never.” My sore eyes met his as I realised what he was saying. My mind threatened to shut down again. My breath grew slow and I leaned into his chest as he laid us back on the bed and pulled up the blankets.