Auden: Part One
The noise littering the black of night keeps Auden awake most nights.
She wiggles around on the couch bed, trying to get comfortable but her efforts fail once again. The mountain of blankets on top of her keeps her warm but fails to replace the long-gone sensation of a weighted blanket. Do heavy blankets mimic the sensation of feeling dead, thus the phrase ‘dead asleep’?
Her gaze falls on the digital clock on the kitchen counter - 3:04 AM. Its neon blue light bounces off the shiny exterior of the fridge and is the only thing lighting up the apartment. The city that never sleeps - more like the city that doesn’t let anyone sleep.
She gets up, wrapping one of the plush blankets tightly around her body, and waddles around to the other end of the couch bed. She faces the darker corner of the room and eyes the empty space next to Walker on the bed. His left arm curls on top of the blankets, cuddling them close to his body, and the gentle rise and fall of his chest are almost enough to lull her back to sleep - or a futile attempt at sleeping.
At least one of us gets a good night’s sleep.
She walks closer to Walker and sees him clutching onto a corner of the pillow with his right hand. His head is barely on the other end of it, but it’s the calmest he’s looked for months. Just this morning, he was pulling out his hair trying to recover from a nasty hangover before work.
Well, not just this morning. It was practically part of their morning routine. Walker would head to the bar after work and Julie the bartender called her a little after 9 PM asking her to pick him up. Luckily, it was a short walk to the bar but it wasn’t a walk she enjoyed doing. The street lights hardly illuminated the cracked concrete sidewalks below and alleyways were plentiful between the apartment buildings. For a city where a square foot of space could cost millions, it’s ironic how much of these spaces are used for alleys.
Once she arrived at the bar, almost always with her arms wrapped around her coat and with wary eyes, she thanked Julie and hooked her arm into Walker’s. Luckily, he was never immobilized from drinking and the walk home with him was always easy - not that it made a difference. Once they were home, she would bombard Walker with water and helped him shower as thoroughly as a drunk was capable of. He often clung onto her shoulders, despite towering over her and being twice her size, and would mumble about the bright overhead lights, the cold tile floors, the pitter patters of the water, or the sweet scent of their body wash. And, it continued on their brief shuffle back into bed as he would spend the next few hours mumbling about their life together - what he thought their life together was like, oblivious to her constant stress and unhappiness.
The topics tended to rotate every night: the wild not-so-studious nights spent at their college library during their senior year, moving to NYC to rekindle his relationship with his younger brother after losing his job, and the road trips they routinely took to a newly remodeled cabin from his childhood.
Towards the beginning of his slumber, the guilt would hit - guilt about losing his job, guilt about not being a man, guilt about drinking. It was a telltale sign for Auden to readjust his pillows and to make her way to the couch bed - originally purchased for guests to sleep over.
While she couldn’t understand his woes and he rarely spoke to her about them sober, she didn’t mind the routine so long as he got home safe. At the same time, she couldn’t share a bed with him anymore. His touch reminded her of their troubles and brought her to tears every time. On the couch bed, at least, she was temporarily numb to the pain. Her background in social services taught her to never judge and to always advocate, to support. It left her naive, but she would rather be naive than heartless.
Before she realizes it, her mindless staring and recollection of her first month in New York City ends, and reality starts to kick in as the sun begins to rise. A pink and orange gradient flows through the sky behind the highrises in the distance and calms her anxiety for a moment.
She moves to sit on her side of the bed and gently rubs Walker’s arm. “Walker?” She lays her chin on his upper arm. “Love, it’s almost 7.”
He stirs in his sleep and turns his body to face her. Rubbing his eyes, his heartbeat calms at the sight of the woman who’s been his compass north.
It was a better sight than the reality he dreamed of every night when he closed his eyes. Walker would wake up, still dreaming, but he wouldn’t see Auden by his side. Her side of the bed would be cold and untouched. Her distinct apple orchard scent wouldn’t linger on the pillow. And, her warm brown eyes wouldn’t be looking back at him.
“Good morning, baby.” He managed to coherently greet her, despite his pounding headache. “I did it again, didn’t I?” He sighs to himself, already knowing the answer. There was only ever one reason for his headache.
Auden nods, not knowing what else to say.
“I’m sorry, baby.”
She hears it time and time again, always the same words and endearment. With a heavy heart, she runs her fingers through his hair and feels him wrap his fingers around her other hand.
Sorry. You say it a million times. I don’t think you know the meaning of the word anymore.
“I never pegged you for a morning person.”
She chuckles, “Remember when I used to stay over at your parents’ and you had to shield me from them because I was always extra snappy in the morning?”
His thumb strokes the top of her hand and his light blue eyes never leave hers.
“Of course. You’re my little snapping turtle.” He chuckles and for a moment his eyes seem lighter as he recalls the memory. “It’s why we always kept a Thermos of hot water and extra tea bags on the counter.” He badly mimics her voice and tries to overpower his raspy morning voice, “I haven’t had my tea yet. Do you know what that means? It means I have no reason to be warm and heartfelt.”
She giggles, enjoying the moment, pulls her hand out of his, and nudges her shoulder. “I don’t sound like that.”
“It’s what I imagine your inner voice sounds like.”
He slides closer to her and gets up from her side of the bed. Before heading off to the bathroom, he hugs her from behind and whispers a quick ‘I love you’.
The mornings always start sweet and humorous, but they rarely last. She won’t see him for at least 12 more hours, and it would be back at the bar.
The rest of the morning is uneventful as she walks Walker to the subway station, splitting up at the coffee shop where she stayed to finish some busywork, and later returned home to clean in between client meetings - always the bathroom first. She can’t say the same for her afternoon as she stands outside a tall glass building in Downtown Manhattan, far from her comfort zone but not in uncharted territory.
“I’m here to see Mr. Bryan. I have an appointment for 12:30.” She fiddles with the pen in her jacket pocket as the receptionist enthusiastically looks her up and down before picking up the phone to verify the appointment.
While she’s on the phone, Auden looks down at her own outfit. She spent hours the day before putting it together and still wasn’t sure she was presentable. Her white turtleneck and black checkered-blazer jacket were neutral and meant to symbolize the peace she was attempting to maintain, but the outfit only felt mediocre now.
As she’s about to check in with the receptionist about the status of her appointment, she notices a familiar face walking towards her from the elevators. In all fairness, his crisp blacker than black suit and bold white pants would catch anyone’s attention.
He swiftly walks through the security turnstiles and in her direction, fixing his cuffs along the way. “Auden, I hope you know my appointments are for business endeavors. I already talked to my assistant about scheduling you in again. How you managed to make an appointment at my office to begin with is beyond my understanding.” He smirks, “Unless you’ve finally come to your senses about working in a field that’s worth your while.”
She scoffs at his snarky behavior. “I’m here to talk about your brother, Mr. Bryan.”
“Auden, we’ve known each other for years. There are no formalities between us. You know you can call me Zach.”
He cuts her off and gestures towards the elevators. “I know, we’re at my office but surely our relationship supersedes that. Let’s head up before I change my mind.” As they wait for the elevators, her eyes bounce back-and-forth between the blurry images of people moving about the lobby behind Zach’s body. She wanted to focus on anything but him - a physical carbon copy of Walker but with a wave of confidence unknown to the older sibling. “What’s going through that head of yours?”
She doesn’t answer him and their trip to his office is silent. He doesn’t pester her for an answer, understanding that not all ears should be privy to his family matters, but watches her body motions intently.
As he situates her in his office, he can’t help but suddenly notice her rapid, anxious breathing. The confident, easy-going girl from their college days was long gone. And, once again, he felt like he was the older one. “I won’t ask again, Auden. What’s wrong?”
With a deep breath, she slides the Alexandrite promise ring off her ring finger and lays it on the coster in front of him.
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