We're getting there, I swear. But, I'm also getting lazy.
"Getting", he says. As if I didn't just go how many months between posts? And that last post really was just an attempt to get someone to buy me a shirt? And now I'm claiming to be just "getting" lazy?
I know, I know...
Anyway, my laziness knows no bounds. Still, I've finished most of the rest of the story, but I'm still going to break it into what I feel are easily-digestible pieces of prose for your perusal.
Damn, I love alliteration.
So, if you need to catch up or anything, here are the links to the previous installments in the story:
Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six
We're building toward an ending, I swear. Just bear with. Thanks again for the reading, and I really do enjoy the comments and appreciate them. I'm just...you know...too lazy to respond.
Even though it was late, the front light still shone. For a few moments, I sat in my car, steeling myself. I checked and double-checked the address one more time; the GPS chip in my phone was telling me I was where I wanted to be. Despite this, I took my time checking my hair in the mirror and smiling several times to make sure none of my last meal stuck with me. I grabbed a stick of gum and began chewing it ferociously as I finally forced myself out of the car. For a few seconds, I stood on the sidewalk, staring across the street tow where the porch light burned unwaveringly, a welcoming beacon to drag me toward it. With a sigh, I stepped into the road.
I tucked the photograph in my front pocket, a shield and a charm all in one.
The street was quiet. There were no cars moving along the long, straight avenue. Cars lined the road in either direction, shielded from the night by endless lines of ancient, giant trees. Shaking my head, I focused on the front light and walked across the street.
My heart hammered in my chest and my pulse rang in my ears. I could feel my legs getting weak as I climbed the steps up onto the porch and my hand shook ever so slightly as I reached out to ring the doorbell. The chime sounded, but no one immediately came to the door.
"This is fucking stupid," I told myself, preparing to go when I heard voices squealing inside and the heavy footfalls of someone approaching the door. Instead of running, I straightened myself, trying to fix a smile on my face that I hoped would be charming and friendly all at the same time.
My heart sank when a man answered the door. For a second, he stood behind the storm door before pushing it open quickly.
"Hey," I said, extending my hand, "you must be Drew."
His fist smashed into my face and I remembered falling backward off the porch, but I do not remember landing.
I walked over to the student section where the ballroom was located; Tori and her new husband had reserved it for their reception. As I walked up the stairs leading to the second floor landing, a young man--probably a student staying for the summer session or just to work around the college for a summer job--was setting up the bar under the watchful gaze of a college employee. I nodded to both of them as they watched me walking past.
"Is there something I can help you with?" the official asked as I walked over to one of the doors and tried to open it, finding it locked. I frowned at the door that would not open for a moment before turning to them.
"I just wanted to drop off a gift for the new couple," I said, showing him the envelope holding the card. I originally had thought to put the photograph in with the card, as a way of showing Tori that our relationship, friendship and all, was finished. For the merest second, I thought to go back to the grotto and retrieve it, but the desire passed and I was left looking at a surly college employee fold his arms across his chest.
"The wedding should be going now," he stated flatly.
"I didn't want to walk into the church late," I said. "I thought I'd drop the gift and hang out, waiting for the reception to start." I did not recognize the man from my time at the school, but it had been a few years.
"Fine," the man said after a few seconds of me staring at him, "I'll let you in, but you better not be causing trouble."
"I'm dropping a card. It's not like there's much trouble to cause."
"Fine." It seemed to be the man's favorite word. "Just put the card on the table with the other gifts and get out." He unlocked the door and held it open for me.
I shook my head incomprehensively for a moment before walking into the ballroom and finding a table with pastel-colored packages covering it. I wanted to swear at the guy, but instead I tucked the card in between a couple of boxes and slipped back out, nodding to the guy. "Thanks. I guess I'll see you in an hour?"
"Fine." He stared at me with a look that said he would be watching me later.
"Joke's on you, jackass," I said to myself as I left the student center and made for my car. I heard the bells of the chapel ringing as I pulled the door closed. I started toward the main entrance of the campus, but decided to take one of the back ways out so that I could avoid the chapel area altogether.
I tried not to think about Tori's wedding and the reception I was avoiding as I drove home that afternoon. I stopped over somewhere south of Philadelphia for dinner. Checking my messages, I saw that I had one from Tori. Not wanting to listen to her voice right now, I deleted the message and continued driving, arriving home late at night. Too tired to care, I threw myself into my bed and my misery at the same time. Though exhausted, sleep would not come. The glow of my clock had suddenly become the unceasing blaze of the sun's face; the light glowing in the bathroom had transformed into a blue inferno that refused to let me sleep. Together, they colluded to display a tableau on which I could project my memories. As I lay in my bed, trying desperately to sleep--if only to ignore the phantasmagoria flashing before me--my mind continued to churn faster and faster, sifting through every memory of Tori that it could dredge up. I set my mp3-player in the docking station and hit random, hoping that the music would be enough to soothe me to sleep. Instead, every song that it played reminded me of her.
The light outside my window had shifted from black to a pale gray by the time exhaustion won out, and I slept fitfully through a large portion of the morning until I was awakened by the phone.
"Hey," said a familiar voice when I groggily answered it, forgetting for a moment that I was ignoring the phone. "You back from the wedding?"
"Never really went," I croaked.
"I told you it was a bad idea. Anyway, you need to get out and get your mind of her," Steve told me. "How about we hit the town tonight, do an old-fashioned pub crawl. Start around five and make sure that Happy Hour never dies."
"Yeah," I said and hung up, falling back into my pillows and my shattered, jagged dreams. A few hours later I threw myself into my misery again, drinking and smoking until my mind was clouded enough to let me think that I was happy, that I was over losing Tori. Whenever I would sober up briefly, I would throw myself back into the bottom of a bottle, hoping that when I emerged the next time I would be blissfully unaware of what I had could never have again.
A few weeks after I had strapped the lies on like armor, a card arrived in the mail. It was a thank you card from Tori and her husband. Inside, she had written a form thank you, but there was also a folded piece of paper. On it was written in her flowing, looping handwriting:
Inside the folded note was the picture from my graduation weekend that I had thrown on the ground.
The memories came rushing back along with the feelings of sadness and despair. I reached for a smoke from the table at the side of me bed, and as I closed my eyes I knew that I would never be able to drown the memories from my mind. I picked up the phone, dialed half of her number but before I could punch the last few buttons, I set the phone back down on the base. Someday I would talk to her again, but it would not be today.
I got up and walked out of the bedroom, out of my townhouse and went out into the night, hoping that some fresh air would do a better job of clearing my head than the alcohol had done. I suspected that it would not, but at that point, I needed any reason to get away...