Chapter 2: Coming Home
Updated: May 7, 2019
The ride to Reggie's consisted of us hanging on for dear life as Rachel hit every single pithole on the way there. It was a surprise that she hadn't killed us yet. Even though she ended up with a speeding ticket every other day when the speed limit throughout the entire town was twenty-five, her parents never cracked down and snatched her keys. In their eyes she could get all the tickets in the world and they would pay them off as long as she wasn't seeing Reggie.
He wasn't a bad guy. He was just incredibly too old for her. Unlike with me, we all refused to tell her what to do. We never told her that he could get arrested and end up as a registered sex offender if her parents were to find out about them. We all knew what kind of chances the two of them were taking, but we just enjoyed seeing her happy.
"Derek can meet us there with a few bottles," Mel said as she texted faster than the speed of light on her phone. That was a relief. "Awww! But I like playing 'Hello Titty' with the cashier!" Rachel whined. We all stared at her like she was insane. "Girl, what the hell is wrong with you?!" I shouted over the wind whipping through the open windows.
The usual cashier was gross. He was obviously middle aged and didn't take care of himself very well. He was overweight, going bald, and always wearing a white t-shirt with a different mysterious stain on the front of it every time we stopped by there. In all honesty, Rachel was attracted to older men because of her daddy issues. She was raised by her mom and step-dad after her biological father skipped out of her life when she was only ten. She had a close relationship with her dad one minute where they would talk every day, she would tell him her secrets and he'd guard them with his life even though they were small, and he treated her like a princess. Next thing you know, he leaves her mom and now she maybe hears from him once or twice a year. That threw her into deep depression.
She longed for that father figure and sadly she went looking for it in a boyfriend. It wasn't bad when she was around Reggie. It always seemed like he was just one of us. It got gross when she tried to show off for old guys like the one at the gas station where we were always able to get a few bottles without being carded. It was already bad that he was selling alcohol to minors but we clearly saw that he was a pedophile. He creeped me out to the point that I simply referred to him as Al and I kept my distance.
I was nervous the whole ride there and I was fighting hard to keep everyone from noticing. But they already knew. I never knew what these nights had in store for me. I didn't know if I would be able to power through the lonliness or if I was going to spend the night hugging the toilet. My friends always hoped that it would end up pushing me to talk to someone and get to the know them to keep my mind off of things, but I wasn't really into it. One night stands weren't my thing and everyone else was only concerned with getting high. I could easily focus on watching my back when I was drinking, but when I finally went down, at least it was in the safety of Reggie's house and I'd usually end the night curled up in his extra bedroom with everyone guarding me with their lives. I didn't feel good about the fact that people had to kind of baby sit me, but they didn't mind. At least all of them didn't mind except for Candace. Sometimes I thought that she secretly had it out for me, but I often attributed that to my constant paranoia because I had trust issues. I gave her the benefit of the doubt because she was one of the most important people I had in my life.
We pulled into Reggie's yard where he and Derek were lounging on the stone steps in front of his house. The two of them were smoking cigarettes and my craving for nicotine kicked in. I don't know what the hell happened on this crazy journey to me being so screwed up, but somewhere along the way, I picked up a pack of menthol cigarettes and I became a chain smoker. I had Al to thank for that. He was the only person that would sell them to me. I always hoped that he didn't expect any favors in return. Because of Rachel, he always looked at us like he was waiting for something like that to happen.
Rachel ran into Reggie's embrace and Mel did the same with Derek. Apart from me, Jamie and Candace never wanted to deal with long term boyfriends. But the two always linked up with Brayden and Kayden Adair. The twins liked to party hard, but they never got too messed up and they kept themselves together. On the weekends, they'd venture to Welch all the way from Coalwood just to hang out with us and you'd swear that they went to our school. The girls always flocked to them but they always turned them down. Seeing a new face in Welch whether they were only in the next town over or from out of state was like dangling a piece of meat in front of a lion at the zoo.
"The twins will be here soon. I thought it would be a small get together, but who am I to turn down a full blown party?" Reggie said, flashing his smile at Rachel. Sometimes I felt like they were always pairing off to force me into wanting to hang out with someone other than them, but this was my comfort zone. I liked to suffer in silence and spend my night clutching a red Solo cup in my own little world.
He glanced at me from the corner of his eye and it confirmed my suspicion. "Thanks Reg," I said sarcastically. "Any time Syd. Just don't go throwing punches tonight," he replied with a chuckle.
As expected, everyone separated with the usual guys that floated into the party and I was holding up the wall, downing my fifth drink. I felt a little buzzed but not enough to make me tired. I was only slightly relaxed and a little disppointed. Either Reggie had some weak ass liquor or my alcohol tolerance was through the roof.
Rachel was draped across Reggie's lap on the black sofa sitting across the room. Candace was clinging to Kayden in the corner by the front door, Jamie and Brayden were holding a conversation with her hand resting on his thigh as he sat on the barstool in the kitchen and Mel and Derek were fighting as usual. All of the aspects of relationships that I couldn't handle were being laid out right in front of me and my anxiety started climbing through the roof. It was time for a cigarette.
All of their eyes darted to me as I bolted out of the front door. The cool air of the night was exactly what I needed right now. The sound of crickets in the night helped calm my nerves as I plopped down on the last cool concrete step. I was always able to walk around and put up a pretty good front when it came to not needing or wanting to be in a relationship. When I got out of my last one, everyone knew the story and some knew all of the hairy details. It was enough to make someone feel like the strongest person in the world when they left, but my heart was still shattered. Nothing is more painful than wanting something to work out with someone and then watching it crumble right before your very eyes.
The thought of it caused my eyes to burn from tears threatening to swell to the surface. Before I knew it, I was lighting another cigarette right after my last one. My heart was racing and my throat was getting dry. I hated when my mind would drift back to those memories and all of the pain. When I got like this, I could blow through a whole pack without even thinking.
"Long time, no see," I heard someone murmur in the dark after a few puffs. It scared the shit out of me. I whipped my head from side to side, looking for who I thought it was, causing my hair to fly back and forth over my face. I jumped onto my feet when I was greeted by a ghost from my past.
"Bet you weren't expecting to see me again?" Danny Connor said with a wide smile like he was excited to see me. "Oh my God!" I shouted causing me to throw my arms around his neck and pull him into a warm embrace. His arms slid across my back and he held me tighter. It was odd how I felt so peaceful while I was hugging him and when I realized what was happening, I quickly pulled away and pulled myself back together. "Nice to see you again too," he said. I couldn't get my thoughts together to form coherent sentences.
The last time I saw Danny had to have been at least a year ago. At one point, he was my backbone that gave me extra support during one of the hardest times of my life. I was so happy to see him that my heart felt like it was about to burst.
But then, my mood died down when I remembered the circumstances that were probably the reason why he decided to leave.
It was a bright chilly morning in early March when he had texted me to tell me to meet him at the park in town. At that point I really didn't know whether I was coming or going and he had always been there to help keep me going. I was sleep deprived and incredibly tired but I had spent my nights curled up in bed crying my eyes out and by the time the sun came up, my friends and family were forcing me to get up and function like a normal human being when I felt so broken. Danny was there to help me take life at my own pace even though I didn't even want to be alive. He's probably the only reason why I never ended up killing myself.
When I got to the park, he sat there, dressed in a fresh black t-shirt and dark jeans that hung off of his semi-muscular frame, all tied together with a classic pair of low-top Chuck Taylor's. He also paired the outfit with a silver necklace that hung slightly past his collar bones. His hair was neatly trimmed with his hairline lined up to perfection. He was like any other white guy that usually traveled back and forth from out of state. They wore nice clothes, kept themselves cleaned up, and females were always drooling over them. He was gorgeous but I had to remember to keep my eyes off of him. His appearance was only a plus. He had the kindest of hearts and he would take care of anyone that needed it.
Then there I was, sauntering around in clothes that were incredibly too big for me and I was as pale as a ghost. On this particular day, I just rolled out of bed, threw on some baggy grey sweat pants and a huge white t-shirt. I didn't even go through the trouble of brushing my hair. I just didn't have the energy to deal with it.
The closer I got to the bench, confused as to why he was so dressed up at ten in the morning on a Saturday, I could see his cold facial expression. I was afraid to approach him, but I decided to anyway. I sat down, keeping a safe distance from him in case I was the reason why he was pissed off.
He was silent at first, staring off into space. "What are we doing?" he finally asked, trying his best not to look at me. That caught me off guard. "I need to know what's going on with us Syd." I didn't know what to say. "I don't know, Danny. I honestly don't and I don't know what to say." I thought he was my best friend, but after meeting him here, my entire world had been flipped upside down. He dropped his head and held his hands together in his lap.
"Then I have to leave," he said after being silent for a few more minutes. My heart broke a little more than what it had been. I started to panic. "Please don't," I started as I moved closer to him. "You're my best friend," I said as I fought back tears.
"I know, but I don't want that to be the only thing we are. I've done everything possible to help you these last few months, but I feel like you'll only become dependent on me if I stick around. I know you're still dealing with everything that happened between you and Dean. I respect that and I know that it will take some time to heal. But I don't want to be stuck in the friend zone with you. I care about you and there's nothing more that I want than to stay by your side and help you get better, but if I stay, I know you'll only get worse. I don't want to ask for too much. I only want you to care about me the way I care about you and I know that probably won't happen right away." He wasn't pissed off at all. He was hurt.
I couldn't bring myself to pull him into a relationship with me when I was falling apart every single day and it wasn't fair. "I can't stick around with you being stuck on Dean. I'm not trying to be an asshole, but it's going to take a hot minute for you to pull yourself back together." I was hurting and he was hurting and as much as I wanted to fight, I didn't have it in me and I didn't have it in me to hurt someone the way that I was hurt. "I'm really trying. I'm sorry that I can't give you what you need," I said softly.
I sat there with tears streaming down my face. The silence was only making it worse. He wasn't being an asshole about things at all, but it still hurt. He stood up, the expression on his face looking as if he was about to break, and kissed my forehead before turning and walking away.
"You're right. I didn't think you were ever coming back," I said. He looked down at his feet and shoved his hands in his pockets. "You weren't the only reason why I left, but I had to give you your space so you could figure out what you wanted. You needed to get better. Are you better now?" he asked, raising his eyebrow. "Yeah. Sure," I lied quickly. I wasn't better. I just got better at hiding it.
"You're a terrible liar. You're smoking now." I took another pull from the small bit of the cigarette I had left before plucking it into the bushes. "Get off of my back. You aren't my boyfriend and you never were. You left me remember?" I snapped. I was surrounded by friends and still felt lonely after he took off. That hurt just as much as everything else. "And you rejected me. Did you forget what went down?" This was going to turn into a disaster. He was next to the last person I expected to see tonight and it wasn't going to turn into us arguing. "Does anybody else know that you're here?" I asked, trying to cool down my temper. "No. I just got back." I never knew where it was that he took off to.
He'd drifted in from North Carolina when he found our group. He had a brother that lived here and stayed with him before getting his own apartment. Once in a while, we'd have the small get togethers at his place and they were small because he didn't like for anyone to know where he lived.
"So, why'd you come back?" I asked as I folded my arms across my chest. I had always hoped that he would come back but I was glad when he didn't. I decided to push him out of my mind when he was gone. I figured that if he wanted to leave then he no longer held a significant role in my life. It was true that I was becoming dependent on him, but I had to let him go.
He shrugged his shoulders. "Seemed like a good idea. I had to see if you went crazy or not. I guess I was right, considering the fact that you don't stay home anymore." What the hell? "I know you're not keeping tabs on me," I almost shouted. "Nope. I stopped by your house and your mom told me where to look." I forgot that they were the ones keeping tabs on me.
"Well, you left when I needed you and I don't need you now," I said coldly. "That's fair. Can I at least make up for lost time?" he asked, taking a step toward me. I took a step back. I knew all along that he had feelings for me. For the life of me, I'll never understand his reason for leaving. If you cared about someone, you would stay with them whether they become dependent on you or not.
"I didn't come here to fight. I don't even want to lecture you because we all have shit that we do to help us survive. That's none of my business. But if you're doing things that are going to hurt you, I will make it my business." I swear to God, I wanted to wrap my hands around his neck.
My aggravation was making me crave another cigarette. I gripped my lighter as tight as I could until my knuckles turned white and struck the flame. "I'm here for a good time. Not a long time," I said, letting the smoke escape between my lips. He dropped his head, shaking it and he chuckled. "Well, could you at least let me back in?" he asked. Things may have been awkward between us and things might not have ended on a good note when he left, but he was still a very close friend and someone I enjoyed being around a year ago. He knew me like the back of his hand and vice versa.
I bit my lip, trying to fight off a grin and shook my head, answering yes to his question. "Buckle up because a lot of shit has went down in the last year. You sure you haven't been keeping tabs on me?" I asked. He put one hand over his heart and held up the other one. "I swear. I know you needed your space. It wasn't my place to be in your business like that." Boy was he wrong. If I would have had a way of contacting him, I know that we would have spent hours on the phone with me giving him updates on what was going on back here.
"I'm glad that you decided to come back. It hasn't been the same without you." The icy shield that was usually guarding my heart to protect me from getting hurt started to melt. I was happy again. I would have pinched myself because any other time, I would have thought that I was dreaming. I was happy for the second time today and that hadn't happened in an incredibly long time.
We stepped toward each other and he pulled me into a warm embrace. I felt his hand hold the back of my head while his face was buried in the hair wrapped around my neck. I held his waist as tight as I could without making it obvious that I really did miss him. You could tell that we missed each other, but I wasn't going to be the first to admit it. "I shouldn't have stayed away so long. I missed you," I heard him mumble. We stood there in front of Reggie's steps, holding each other like we were preparing for another goodbye and everything around us faded into nothing.
I was crushed when he left and finally being able to see him again left me feeling everything that I usually kept under wraps. Part of me wanted to square up with him and knock his jaw loose for ditching me and the other part wanted him to hold me while I cried because I always thought that he was never coming back. I would never say it out loud, but there was no way that I could ever lose him again. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was home.