Title: Trip Through Your Wires
He was rushing about the
apartment frantically, trying to find the rest of his work clothes. Keith
probably wouldn’t care if he was late, but now that his dad was back at the
dealership he had been going out of his way to prove that he could handle the
new responsibilities life had thrown his way. And right now that wasn’t going
so well. The apartment was eerily quiet. It had been these past few months. He
could barely remember the last time he had heard her singing in the morning,
fooling with a new bit of lyrics she had come up with while he ate breakfast.
He could barely remember the last time he had heard her voice at all. It wasn’t
right, wasn’t fair that the sunshine of a girl who could ramble like no one’s
business was silent. The girl who had stood her ground, never gave up on
convictions, never gave up on her beliefs was silent. She didn’t have to give
up on her beliefs. Someone ripped them away from her. And there was nothing he
could do about it. He was seventeen, for god’s sake.
It was a daily juggling act, trying not to let his life fall apart. Managing an apartment, a job, school, and a marriage. He knew how to love her, that was the easy part. But he didn’t know how to fix this. Somehow all the words seemed hollow, useless, and fake. He tried to tell her it would be ok, that things would get better. He wasn’t sure about that anymore. How could things be ok in a world that let someone like her get hurt, let someone crush her spirit, and stomp all over her beautiful soul? Before he met her, he didn’t believe in anything. Didn’t believe in anything good except that you have to look out for number one, or else you’ll get stabbed in the back. People always hurt you in the end, unless you hurt them first. And then she came along, and refused to back down when he came at her with his bullshit and his arrogance and it was as if an entirely new world opened up to him. A world she introduced to him, where people are honest, and they cared about you. They sincerely cared about you, trusted you, believed in you. A world where he didn’t have to lie anymore, or continue to hide behind his carefully contrived mask. And that world was beautiful. Finally, he believed in something. He believed in her. He believed in their love. And then the world just had to go and prove what a horrible, screwed-up place it was. And she was silent.
“Haley, are you almost done in there? I need to finish getting ready for work,” Nathan knocked impatiently on the bathroom door. He couldn’t imagine what was taking her so long. She was one of the most low-maintenance females, he had ever met, and she had been in there for over an hour. Pressing his ear to the door, he could hear the water still running. “Haley,” he called out again. Receiving no response, he tried again, “Haley, can you hear me?” Growing worried, he tried the bathroom door. Finding it unlocked, he strode into the tiny room, about to berate her for taking so long when he noticed her shadow behind the curtain. Utterly still. Utterly silent. Pulling back the curtain gently so as not to startle her, he fought back an urge to cry when he saw her, staring straight ahead, her face blank and impassive.
She turned to him, her eyes wide and searching, “I’m sorry. I just couldn’t get clean. I can never get clean,” she whispered in a small, child-like voice, letting the now icy water run over her puckered skin. “I can’t get clean, Nathan.”
It was his turn to remain silent. He never thought it was possible to actually feel your heart break. But right now, he wasn’t so sure, as he stared at her, his stomach in physical pain. He tried to find words. Words of comfort, words of reassurance. But words weren’t going to help her regain her faith in the world. And he couldn’t bear to lie to her, to paint a picture of a perfect world with rainbows and puppies and hearts and flowers. He didn’t know how to reaffirm her faith, when his was shattering before his eyes. But she needed him now. Or maybe he needed her to be whole again.
“C’mon, Haley. Let’s get you dried off,” he whispered to her gently, enveloping her in a fluffy blue bath towel. He was afraid even the sound of his voice would cause her to shatter into smaller pieces. Even more broken pieces that he couldn’t fix, couldn't put back together. She simply let him lead her out of the bathroom, watching him quietly, transfixed as he tucked the towel around her, and led her to the bedroom. Gingerly, he replaced the towel with her robe, and clumsily attempted to wrap her hair in the towel like he had watched her do so many times before. She remained silent, her eyes dark and cloudy.
Settling her down at the kitchen counter, he finally allowed himself to stop and think. Glancing at the clock on the microwave, he realized he was long past due at the dealership but that didn’t matter anymore. Nothing did except the broken girl in front of him. Grabbing a pan, from underneath the cabinet, he set in upon the stove, and moved towards the refrigerator.
“What are you doing?” she asked meekly, her former fire all but extinguished.
“I’m going to make your favorite breakfast, chocolate chip pancakes,” he answered her, afraid to face her.
She remained contemplative for a few moments, running her hand over the smooth surface of the counter, “You have to go to work, Nathan.”
“No, Haley, I need to be with you right now,” he answered her with a conviction that startled both of them.
“You don’t know how to make chocolate chip pancakes,” she asserted in a matter-of-fact voice.
“I know but I can try. I’m going to try, Haley. And you can help me.” He struggled to keep his composure, fought not to break down in front of her. His eyes darted to the living room couch, where he had sat in stony silence. Biting back painful tears every night, after he had stayed to make sure she was asleep.
Stealthily, she rose from her chair, padding up behind him, to retrieve the needed ingredients from the refrigerator. Together they mixed together the batter, and the chocolate chips. Together, they poured it into the old-fashioned set of molds that they had found during yet another yard sale she had dragged him to. Her eyes lit up when she had seen the N, H, S, and heart, and her face cracked into the most beautifully joyous smile he had ever seen. He would’ve done anything to see that smile again. He would’ve gone to a million more yard sales, bought a million more cookie cutters. But she doesn’t smile anymore.
They eat in silence; the air is always heavy and somber now in their apartment. Their friends try to joke with him, ease his burden, and distract him for a few moments. But they could never make him forget that his heart was broken. She was broken. “These are good, Nathan,” she utters in a half-whisper, afraid of the shadows in the morning sun.
“You did most of the work.”
“But you were,” she pauses and pushes the pancakes around her plate, “You were there.”
“I’m always going to be there, Haley,” he answers and then he decides that he can’t stand this façade anymore. This delicate, gentle politeness. “And I’m going to be here when you’re ready to talk to me. As long as you need, I’ll be here.” She had talked to everyone else about it. Lucas, Jake, Peyton, Brooke, Karen. Everyone but him. He knew that now wasn’t the time to act like a spoiled six-year old that refused to share his favorite toy, but she was his. His to protect, his to comfort.
Her eyes grow catatonic, unfocused again at his promise, at the verbal break down of the wall they have built between them. Or that was built for them. She looks at him for the first time in months, really looks at him, and she feels things. And she doesn’t want to feel, doesn’t want to let the tide of hurt rush over her, she just wants to remain numb. But she realizes he has been hurting, too and that is enough to make her want to scream in anguish.
“I talk to them because they’re not you.” He watches her face questioningly, not understanding. She summons up her last remaining vestiges of strength, looks into his eyes for courage. His eyes that have always reminded her of the ocean tides. “You make things real for me. Every good thing that happens to me, it’s like it hasn’t really happened until I tell you, because I see the look in your eyes. Sometimes, I think you’re happier for me than I am for myself. And when something bad happens I know I can deal with it, because I’ll have you by my side. But I don’t want to deal with this, Nathan,” her voice spirals into jagged sobs. “Because then it’ll be real.”
“This is all my fault,” he answers her, fighting futilely against burning tears of his own.
“Don’t say that,” she whispers insistently, angrily. “Don’t ever say that.”
“Why, Haley? I promised you I would protect you and I let you get hurt. I let him hurt you,” he shoots back, his voice growing with unleashed rage with every syllable.
“You let me get hurt? You let me get hurt? Did you attack me in the club that night, lock the storage room door?” she questions him angrily, disbelieving. He turns away from her, his jaw clenched painfully. He has long since given up on crying. “Did you rip my shirt off? Unzip my pants? Keep going until I was lying on the floor bruised? Did you refuse to listen every time I struggled? Every time I said no? Did you, Nathan, huh, did you?”
“I should’ve protected you. I promised you I would.”
She can’t help but smile slightly at this, a small, sad smile. He took his promises so seriously, uttered them with such passion. “The bruises will heal. Most of them already have. I feel like I have ten million other people looking out for my physical safety anymore. I can’t be alone anymore. God, I can’t even manage to take a simple shower alone anymore. I don’t need you to look out for me. I don’t need you for that.”
He feels like he has been sucker-punched, the pancakes dry and bitter in his mouth. Slowly, tentatively she reaches for his hand, laying hers lightly across it. “I need you to protect my heart. Keep it safe for me.” She tries out her smile once more, attempts to stretch it further across her cheeks. It’s rusty, but there.