The night Scott left…
“Natalie.” Scott pleaded, hoping the desperation in his voice would make her see how serious he was.
“No.” She replied. “I’m not going anywhere. You can tell me to leave a million times, but I am not going anywhere. There’s nothing you can say that will make me leave.”
That was the problem. Nothing he did would ever make her leave. He could hurt her time and time again and she’d still stay. He didn’t want that for her. He didn’t want her to give up everything she believed in whenever he did something shitty and she had to forgive him for it. He wouldn’t do that to her. He refused to.
“You have to leave.” He said. “Please. Stop making this so hard.”
“I’m not going to make it easy.” She barked back angrily.
“Please, please just leave. I want you to leave.” He was begging her now. There was nothing else left but to beg. She wouldn’t listen to him, she wouldn’t hear what he was saying. He could only beg and hope that somehow he’d get through and she’d leave.
“No.” She said.
“You have to leave.”
“Or what? You’ll cheat on me again?” He felt like she’d slapped him. Everyone else had thrown that in his face, but this was the first time he’d ever heard it from her. He hated hearing the words come from her mouth, hated seeing the hurt that flashed through her eyes as she remembered that moment. This was why he was doing this. For her. So she never had to feel that way again.
“Please just go.” He said, his voice small.
“I’m not going anywhere.” She replied.
“Fine.” He exploded, jumping to his feet. “Then I’ll leave.”
It was his last ditch effort to show her this was happening. She couldn’t tell him she wasn’t leaving. She couldn’t stop this. He loved that she wanted to. He loved her even more for trying so hard, for wanting him this desperately. No one had ever loved him the way she did, no one had ever made him feel special the way she did. She made him feel like he mattered, like he could conquer the word.
He couldn’t be the reason she ruined hers. He didn’t want them to be together 10 years from now, her a shell of the person she’d once been, resenting him because he’d made her just as miserable as he was. He couldn’t do that to her. He was a selfish, but he wasn’t going to be selfish with her. He could never make her happy, not the way she deserved, and she deserved the world.
He stormed out of the house and headed for the nearest bus stop. It took over 30 minutes for it to arrive, and while he waited he almost went back to her. He was so close to running back into the manor, up to his room, throwing himself at her feet and saying over and over again that he didn’t mean it.
He stopped himself though. Every time he almost went back he reminded himself why he couldn’t. She might make him happy, but one day she’d resent him instead, because with him baggage came attached, baggage she hadn’t asked for, baggage that would eventually smother her just like it smothered him.
He rode the bus until its last stop. Then he waited for the next one, riding that to the end of the line too. He did it again with the next bus, and the next, and the next. The sun was just starting to rise when his current bus pulled into the city, the office blocks, skyscrapers, dirty sidewalks and musky smell familiar to him even though he’d never seen this particular area before.
When the bus stopped he stepped out and headed into the first bar he saw. It was starting to close, only a handful of patrons remaining, all of them nursing hangovers and looking as if they’d just gone toe-to-toe with Godzilla.
“What are you having?” A friendly looking guy from behind the bar asked.
“You still serving?” Scott asked.
“Technically no, but you look like you could use one.” The bartender replied. “You look worse than Reuben over there.” He nodded toward a corner booth where a younger guy, Reuben lay draped over the table, passed out. An eyebrow had been shaved, a moustache drawn on his face, and his shoes were missing.
“Thanks.” He said to the bartender as he placed a glass on the counter in front of Scott.
“I guess I’ll have…”
“Let me guess your drink.” The bartender said, interrupting him. “I’m good at this.” He turned to the rows of spirits, pulling down a bottle of bourbon and pouring it into the glass, neat.
“I’m more a scotch kind a guy.” He said, taking the drink anyway.
“Everyone is until they try my stuff.”
He brought the drink to his lips, and took a sip. The taste exploded on his tongue, spices dancing across his palette, reminding him of a simpler time, putting him at ease and settling the tension that had formed in his shoulders. He swallowed, and it easily travelled down his throat, burning in the best way. Scott had always been a scotch guy, but now he was considering a change. He’d never tasted bourbon like this, he’d never tasted anything like this. The stuff was good.
“You make this?” He asked the bartender.
“More or less. It’s a family recipe passed down through the ages. I’m Leo.” He extended his hand, and Scott took it.
“Scott.” He said shaking Leo’s hand. “You feel like pouring me another.”
“Of course.” He replied, grabbing the bottle of bourbon and adding more to Scott’s glass.
He drank in silence while Leo cleaned the bar and packed everything away. They made polite chit chat, had a few drinks, woke up the unconscious patrons and ordered them cabs to get them home. The whole thing worked as a great distraction for Scott, who, for a whole hour now, hadn’t focused on just how much everything was going to suck. He’d gotten a taste of happiness, gotten so close to getting that life he’d always wanted, the girl, a job he’d be passionate about, a family. He’d almost had it all.
“I should get going.” He said to Leo, downing the rest of his drink and getting to his feet. “Gotta find myself an apartment.”
“I have a spare room upstairs.” Leo replied. “A couple spare rooms. One’s free though. You can use it if you want.”
“Thanks but I…”
“It’s nothing creepy.” Leo said. “You just look like you could use a win.”
“That bad huh?”
“Worse if I’m being honest.”
“Yeah.” Scott said. He could imagine. He felt dead, numb, and miserable all at once. He didn’t know how it was even possible, but it was like his misery had taken over so that all he did was process everything. His body was on autopilot, doing the things it should, while his mind shut down and his heart didn’t care. He didn’t care about any of this.
Three days later…
“Rough day huh?” Leo greeted as Scott sat down at the bar three days later. The place was just starting to get busy, people piling in for a night to let loose with their friends.
“Got a job.” Scott replied.
“Some hotel. I’m their newest janitor.”
The place only got busier from there, just like it always did. The bar was one of the hotspots on the strip, Leo and his staff always run off their feet as customers barked drink orders at them and treated them like crap.
Scott sat at the bar throughout it all. Answering Leo’s occasional comments with grunts, nods and sometimes a’yeah’. He didn’t feel much like talking. He’d never been a big talker. The desire to keep quiet was stronger now. He just didn’t have anything to say anymore.
“Hi.” Came a squeaky high-pitched voice, belonging to a girl who was clearly trying to make herself sound ditzy. “I noticed you’ve been alone all night.”
“I guess I am.”
“You want some company?” She asked.
“I don’t care.” He replied. “Do what you want.”
A flirty smile appeared on her lips, and she leaned forward, her mouth by his ear.
“I want you.” She whispered. “I want you to make me scream.”
She ran her hand down his chest, her sharp nails feeling like glass, cutting into his chest through his shirt. She dropped her hand lower, into his lap, giving his dick a quick squeeze as the smile she thought was seductive grew bigger.
Whatever, he thought, downing his drink and getting to his feet. He grabbed the girl’s hand and lead her to the disabled bathroom. He’d make her scream, he’d make her scream louder than she’d ever screamed before. She wanted a release. Fine. He was willing to oblige.
He needed this too, because this girl was everything Natalie was not, and Scott needed to forget Natalie. Every day it became harder to ignore her. Every day he wanted to go back to her. But he couldn’t. She wasn’t the girl he ended up with. Burnouts like him ended up with trashy girls like this one. This is what he deserved. No intimacy, no warmth, no tenderness and no love. Just an empty encounter with a girl he didn’t give a crap about in the bathroom of bar. He didn’t get to have anything more.
Two Weeks Later…
Scott was going through the motions. Every day had been the same since he’d left Natalie. He woke up, went to work, then came back to his room, stopping in the bar where he’d sit drinking for hours before going upstairs and passing out on his bed. Then he’d wake up the next morning and do it all again.
The worst part were those few moments after he work up. For a second he forget everything. He woke up thinking Natalie would be beside him, that he would roll over, wrap her in his arms and fall back to sleep content. Then he remembered she was gone. He’d left her. He didn’t have Natalie, or Bryce or Jenny or Eliza or even Pete. He was alone. Just like he’d been for eight years, but this time it felt a million times worse.
Back then he hadn’t really known what he wanted. He’d ruined his career and ruined his relationship but he’d still hoped that somehow it would all work out. Now that hope was gone. He knew there was no happiness in his future. Not here. Not without Natalie.
“Okay you have to tell me who she is.” Leo said, topping up his drink without Scott having to ask.
“Who, who is?” Scot asked, lifting the glass to his lips and taking a sip.
“The girl who did this to you.” Leo replied. “Must’ve been some girl.”
“So why’d she leave you?”
“She didn’t. I left.” With a long gulp he downed the whole contents of the drink and without even blinking Leo refilled it.
“What did she do?”
“Nothing.” He brought the scotch back to his mouth, downing it like a shot. In seconds Leo had filled it again.
“She must have done something.”
“I was the problem. I’m always the problem.” He knocked the drink back just like he’d done the others, each time it became easier to swallow, it stung less in his throat, and breathing became less painful as the beautiful haze of drunkenness took over.
“So you’re one of those guys huh?” Leo said. “The self-deprecating kind?”
“Sure.” Scott agreed absentmindedly, taking another sip from his drink, savouring it this time rather than chugging it down.
“Humour me.” Leo continued. “What exactly makes you so awful?”
“I’m the guy who’s always disappointing everyone. I’m always doing the wrong thing, I give up when things get tough, run away cause I can’t handle life. I’m a waste of space, a burnout, not going anywhere and not doing anything.”
“You like being that guy?”
“What do you think?”
“I think you come in here every night, sit down in that same spot and wait for me to pour you some scotch. You down three as if they’re shots, and then move onto the bourbon, drinking it slowly and savouring the taste because now you’ve taken the edge off. Then you go upstairs, sometimes with a girl, wake up the following day and do it all again.”
“What’s the point of doing anything else?” He asked. “Nothing’s going to make me happy.”
“So why not go back to the girl?”
“Sure you can.”
“I’ll just end up hurting her.”
“Why are you so sure of that?”
“It’s just who I am.”
“Okay.” Leo conceded. “Then tell me. In this future of yours where you hurt her, how do you do it?”
“I just do.”
He just would. That’s what Leo didn’t get. Scott was just the kind of guy who destroyed things. He didn’t know how it would happen, or what he’d do to make it happen, but one way or another he’d disappoint her, like he’d disappointed everyone else in his life.
“It’s just who I am.” He finally said.
“Can I give you my opinion?”
“I’d prefer it if you didn’t.”
“You drink for free the least you can do is listen.” Leo said before continuing. “I think you made a mistake. I think you know you made a mistake. So you sit around, doing nothing, going nowhere, just drinking every night because you need to prove you’re the burnout. If you’re not that guy it means you left her for nothing.”
Leo topped up his glass, the amber liquid shining up at Scott, taunting him as Leo’s words rang through his head. He picked up the glass and quickly downed the bourbon while Leo looked on, disappointed Scott had just wasted the fine, exquisite drink.
“Give me the cheap stuff.” Scott said, sliding the empty glass back to Leo. The bartender paused a moment, and Scott could tell he was asking himself whether he should do it, supply Scott with the cheap stuff so he could drink himself stupid. He shrugged and grabbed some knockoff brand of whiskey.
“There are other ways.” He said as he poured. “You don’t have to be miserable. You just have to care enough about yourself to work for something better.”
Leo slid over the glass, and Scott took it and drank, tuning out Leo’s words. The advice had come too late. Scott had burned too many bridges. It was too late to fix them. And truthfully, he didn’t know if he cared enough about himself to try. Who was he anyway? He was just some guy drinking alone at a bar. What did he matter?
Several hours later…
Scott walked into the cabin exhausted, his snowboard tucked under his arm, dripping wet sleet all over the creaky wooden floor as he carried it through the small house and out to the balcony where it could dry.
“This is why I got sick.” Natalie said from where she sat on the couch watching Gilmore Girls, a huge blanket wrapped around her body, used tissues scattered across the couch, nose red and eyes watery. “You bring in the snow, and you make it all cold and wet.”
“I thought you weren’t sick.” Scott challenged.
“Look at me.” Natalie replied. “Denial’s not gonna get me out of this one.”
“Momma, momma, I went all the way down the hill without falling.” Said a young boy, poking his head out from behind Scott, his face a mixture of Scott and Natalie’s features.
He ran to the couch, jumping onto Natalie’s lap, drenching the blanket in the snow that had melted around his jacket.
“Not once?” Natalie asked, matching his enthusiasm despite the head cold she fought. “Wow, not even Daddy could do that when he was your age.”
“Really? So I will be better than him?”
“Way better.” Natalie said, shooting Scott a cheeky smile that made his heart leap.
“What’s with all the noise?” Came another voice, an angry one belonging to a girl. She was the spitting image of Natalie at her age, and she shared Natalie’s red nose, watery eyes and pyjama clad body. “I’m trying to sleep.”
“Look Daddy.” Said a different tiny voice, and Scott looked down at his feet to see a third kid, holding up a horribly drawn picture of the five of them.
With a start Scott opened his eyes and was immediately surrounded by darkness. He looked around, trying to figure out where he was. What happened to the cabin? To Natalie? To those three little kids? Who were those kids?
He couldn’t see a thing.
Disorientated, he tried to walk. That’s when he realised he wasn’t standing. He was in a bed. He’d been sleeping.
That’s when it hit him. The cabin, Natalie, those kids, none of it had been real. It was a dream. A cruel dream that made his chest ache all over again, brought on by Leo and his bartender psycho-babble. He’d told Scott that maybe he’d been wrong in leaving, that things could have ended happily for him. Now his subconscious was getting in on the joke, showing him exactly what he’d thrown away.
Leo was right. He was scared he’d made a mistake in leaving. He was scared he’d blown it. Now he was doing everything he could to fail because if he didn’t then this was all for nothing. What the hell was he doing? He never should have left her. Why had he left her?
He sat up, his back perfectly straight as the realisation hit him. Leaving Natalie had been a mistake.
Then another realisation hit him. He’s left. He’d been gone for almost three weeks now. He’d left her when she’d been begging him not to. Almost exactly like he’d done eight years ago. She forgave him for that. There’s no way she’d look past it this time. What was that saying, fool me once shame on me, fool me twice…
He’d left Natalie. He’d left her for nothing. Now he could never have her again.
A couple days later…
Two days later Scott stepped into the bar, bypassing the actual bar area and heading straight upstairs. He ignored Leo as he went, knowing the bartender would have some comment to make, or some joke about how he should have become a shrink. Scott didn’t understand why he was on such a high horse. He hadn’t really done anything, just strung a bunch of coherent sentences together.
Besides, nothing was going to change. Yep, Scott had found himself his own apartment, he had an interview for a football strategist position and he’d been drinking less, but he wasn’t getting Natalie back. He was still miserable, still going through the motions, just doing it in a more productive way.
He stepped out of the stairwell, key ready to unlock the massive apartment Leo had divided up into rooms for anyone who needed one. A familiar face greeted him at the door, and Scott wondered if he were hallucinating as he took in his brother, his body draped across the floor where he’d fallen asleep waiting on Scott. His back was to the door, and his head was propped up on his knees, his hands being used as a makeshift pillow. He looked peaceful. It was unfair how peaceful and content Pete could be. Scott meanwhile hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep since leaving Natalie, a large part of that because of the things Pete had said to him.
Regaining his composure he silently walked to the door, unlocked it and pushed it open. Pete went flying backward onto the tiled floor, smacking his head hard against the ground and jolting himself awake.
“What the?” He said in a daze and Scott pushed past him and into apartment, letting his brother figure out where he was by himself. “What’s the time?”
“I dunno.” Scott shrugged.
“Where have you been?”
“Does it matter?”
“So this is your place huh?” Pete said, taking in the large apartment. The spacious living area, polished kitchen, huge flatscreen TV. He was impressed, and surprised Scott had managed it. Just wait until he saw the jacuzzi on the roof.
“Why are you here?” Scott asked him.
“I’ve been meaning to come for weeks.” Pete replied, not answering his question at all. “I’ve been putting it off, and finally Eliza made me come. She’s leaving me you know.”
“I don’t feel sad.” He admitted. “I kind of feel relieved. And I feel guilty because I shouldn’t feel relieved. I should be fighting to save my marriage.”
“You know what Pete, doing the right thing doesn’t always mean doing what everyone expects of you. Sometimes the right thing is doing what will make you happy.”
“Then why did you leave?” Pete asked. “You’re clearly not happy.”
“I thought I was doing the right thing.”
“And now the damage is done.”
“That’s sort of why I’m here, why I’ve been putting this off.” Pete said letting out a long sigh. “It was brought to my attention that I haven’t treated you right, that I’ve…made you feel like a screwup.”
“Who brought on this epiphany?”
“Who do you think?”
He didn’t have to say her name. He knew it had to be Natalie, still defending him even though he’d walked away from her. Why had he walked away? He hadn’t wanted to hurt her but he’d done it anyway. Natalie deserved a hell of a lot better than that.
“For the record, I don’t think you’re a screwup.” Pete said. “You’ve screwed up, but you’re not a screwup”
“What’s the difference?”
“The difference is you made Eliza laugh, really laugh, and you completely won over Jenny and Bryce, and Bryce hates people, he absolutely hated you. And Natalie, she’s one of the most amazing people I have ever met, and she chose you. She wouldn’t have done that if you weren’t worth the trouble, and trust me, you cause a lot of trouble.”
“You’re not making any sense.” Scott said, the brief trip down memory lane hurting more than he thought it would.
“What I’m trying to say is this. You screwed up your job, and your life, and probably your health, but you don’t screw up with people. And people are the only thing that really matter.”
“I screwed up with you, and Mom and Dad.” He pointed out.
“No. We screwed up with you.” Pete said. “We made you feel like you didn’t…matter. Like you weren’t good enough. You just weren’t what we were expecting. Me, Mom and Dad, we’re all so serious. Then you came along, and you…weren’t. We never really knew what to do with you. But Natalie…”
“Don’t.” Scott didn’t want to hear about her. It was hard enough just trying not to think about her all the time.
“Ryan tried to get her back.” Oh course he had. Scott’s first instinct was to hate the guy, but he couldn’t blame him really. He’d done exactly the same thing hadn’t he? “She said no. Said you might have walked away but she was gonna hold out for someone who she could love as much as she loved you.”
“Is this why you came here?” Scott demanded, lashing out at Pete because he couldn’t handle hearing about Natalie. God he’d failed her. She’d asked him if he was in this, if he regretted anything, and he’d promised he didn’t, he’d promised things would be different. Now look at what he’d done. He’d fucked everything up. He’d let all his fears and insecurities take over and he’d lost Natalie. He knew how badly he’d screwed up. He didn’t need Pete to tell him just how much she was hurting.
“I actually came to give you this.” He walked over to where Scott stood at the counter and slid a piece of paper across the table. Scott caught the heading, The Last Will and Testament of Quincey Garrison. “It’s you’re third of the estate.”
Scott only stared at it, scared to touch it. This was what he’d wanted. It was the reason he’d come back, the cabin in the mountains.
“I should go.” Pete said.
“Yeah.” Scott agreed. Pete nodded, and began to walk toward the door. “Pete.”
“Yeah?” He asked turning around.
“Are we good?”
“Yeah.” He nodded, a small smile forming on his lips.
“I don’t know.” He replied, taking a deep breath. “You didn’t come to Dad’s funeral. I don’t think she’s ever going to get over that.”
Scott’s gut twisted with shame. He hated that he hadn’t come back, that he’d been too much of a coward to face everyone for just one day. When things got too hard he ran away and hid. He hated admitting that, hated admitting they were all right, but he couldn’t deny it anymore. He needed to own up to his mistakes. He couldn’t keep making the same ones over and over again.
Pete left soon after that, and only once he was gone did Scott pick up his father’s Will and read through it. Everything was in order, he was getting his share of his dad’s fortune. He’d have more than enough money to last the rest of his life. He could do whatever he wanted with it.
He waited to feel some sort of relief, a small smidgen of happiness for the freedom it provided. He didn’t even feel excited to be a millionaire. He felt nothing. Just the same old misery he’d felt since he’d left Spring Fields.
One week later…
Scott stepped through the cabin, taking in the tacky wooden walls, wooden roof and wooden floor. Everywhere he looked he saw brown. It gave him a headache. You’d think someone would paint a wall or something, break up the colour, but no.
It was the third one Scott had looked at that day and they all just seemed to be getting worse. The first one had been way too big, the second had smelt weird, and this one was too brown.
“You have anything else?” He asked the agent who’d been showing him around.
“These are our best properties.” The agent replied.
“Not for me.” He said. “Forget how much money I have. Show me something you’d show an average income family.”
The agent nodded, and lead Scott down a path to the more modest cabins. These cabins were all closer together, less space, less views, less unnecessary driveways. It was comfortable, quaint, and as Scott walked past the cabins he saw people outside, chatting to their neighbours, a good sense of community hanging in the air.nThey all smiled at Scott as he passed by, each one of them welcoming, friendly. It wasn’t a small town, it was a holiday destination, but it felt like the small town community, except here no one asked him how he’d spent the last eight years of his life.
“We have this one for sale.” The agent said, opening the door.
Scott stepped inside and for a moment thought the universe must be playing some sort of cosmic joke on him. It was almost exactly the same as the one he’d seen in that dream. It had two levels. On the bottom two small bedrooms, a bathroom, and an open floor plan where the kitchen, dining and living area all mixed into one. Upstairs was the master bedroom, the ensuite, a balcony that overlooked the mountain landscape. It even had a fireplace. It was cosy, homey, peaceful.
He closed his eyes, and the dream came back. He saw himself walking inside after a tiring day out on the snow. He saw Natalie waiting for him on the couch, scolding him for tracking in snow. He saw those three little kids, the ones he knew were supposed to belong to himself and Natalie, looking at them both with nothing but love and admiration.
When Scott opened his eyes the cabin suddenly seemed empty, the appeal gone. He realised he didn’t want the cabin. He wanted the family inside of it. But he could never have that family. He’d ruined his chance with Natalie and he didn’t want this with anyone else. He couldn’t go back.
Could he? Would she be able to forgive him again? Open her heart to him again? He had to at least try right? He had to know if he still had a shot. If she told him no it would kill him, but he had to physically hear her say no. He’d never be able to accept it otherwise, find some sort of closure, get on with his life. He needed to hear her say no, no matter how painful it was going to be.
He got on the first plane back to the city, and soon was at Leo’s, packing the small things he’d accumulated since staying there. He didn’t know why he’d come back really, there was nothing here he couldn’t replace, he should have saved time and gone straight back to Spring Fields.
“Where are you going?” Leo asked as Scott headed to the door with his bag.
“Home.” He said.
“Okay, give me a minute, I’ll get my stuff.” Leo said jumping up from the couch.
“What?” Scott asked. “You’re not coming with.”
“You need someone to drive, and I am curious to explore these towns named after seasons. Plus I wanna try get my drinks out there, small towns are the best place to start.”
“Leo, you don’t have to come.”
“I’ll literally just be a minute, I’ve had a bag packed for days now.” He said, rushing into his room. Exactly a minute later he emerged, a similar duffle bag to Scott’s draped over his shoulder.
“What about the bar?” Scot asked.
“I own it, I don’t manage it. It’ll be fine.” He replied. “Now come on, we’re losing daylight here.”
Leo charged forward, leading the way down onto the street and to where he’d parked his car. Then they were off, Leo driving slightly over the speed limit as Scott directed him toward Spring Fields.