Stroked long, p.29
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       STROKED LONG, p.29

           Meghan Quinn
 

  Stepping into the other room, I place my call and wait impatiently for Eva to pick up.

  “Hello?”

  After the fourth ring she answers, only for me to barely hear her. “Eva? Where are you?” My anxiety picks up as someone screams in the background.

  “Out living up Rio,” she slurs.

  “Are you drunk?” Anxiety turns into anger.

  “I don’t know, are you drunk?”

  I practically hiss into the phone. “You know damn well I’m not drunk. What the fuck are you doing, Eva? Where are you?”

  “I’m out with Lauren, calm down. We’re fine.”

  “You’re not fine. You’re in a fucking foreign city, drunk, and no idea how to get around.”

  “Settle down,” she says in a condescending tone. “We are walking distance from our place and we know what we’re doing.”

  “You’re supposed to be back at your place, locked up and sending me a picture,” I bite out.

  “I have a life, unlike you, Bodi.” The way she says my name isn’t like her. The alcohol is controlling her inflection. At least that’s what I tell myself. “I’m in Rio; I’m not going to tuck myself in at eight thirty. Stop being my dad and worry about yourself.”

  Pain ricochets through my chest.

  Stop being my dad.

  My palms turn clammy.

  Stop being my dad.

  I can’t help the nervous jitter that takes over my legs.

  Stop being my dad.

  “Eva,” I speak softly. “Please go home.”

  It seems to be quieter. Has she moved outside on her own? She exhales and says, “Bodi, I’m not going home. I want to live my life. I don’t want to hold Lauren back, deprive her of experiences because of what happened in my past. We are having fun, we are living, something I wish you’d try.”

  “It’s not that easy.”

  “It really is,” she answers back.

  It’s so fucking not.

  “Can you just go back?”

  “No,” she answers firmly. “But I will text you when we are back, safe and sound.”

  “When will that be?” I ask, desperate for some kind of timeframe.

  “When we decide we are done. Aren’t you with Ruby?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Then get off the phone with me and go enjoy your girl. Celebrate. Live, Bodi. I will text you later. Love you.”

  She doesn’t let me answer, but hangs up and leaves me feeling ill.

  I stare at my phone, feeling lost.

  Stop being my dad.

  I just want my sister to be safe.

  I don’t want to hold Lauren back, deprive her of experiences because of what happened in my past.

  Is that what I am doing for Lauren? For Eva? I just want them safe. I need them to be safe.

  Am I doing that with Ruby?

  Holding her back?

  What am I doing? I’m standing in the other room of our shared hotel, talking to my sister rather than wrapped around my girl. But I needed to call Eva.

  Am I letting my routines, my tendencies already affect her.

  Fuck.

  I pull on my hair, unsure of what to do. I’m so fucking nauseous from Eva’s refusal to lock up for the night that I’m afraid I won’t be able to be the man Ruby deserves now. But if I don’t go back in there, she will wonder where I’ve gone.

  Deciding to run through a quick check of the hotel to calm my nerves, I lock and relock the chain three times on the hotel door, I check the windows three times, making sure they are set even though we are in a high-rise hotel, it eases some of the tension in my body.

  Eva said she would text me when they get back to their hotel. Eva will tell me she’s safe. This is okay. I can do this.

  Slightly calmer, I go to the bedroom and see Ruby curled up on the bed, under the covers, her back to the door, the light turned out. I wasn’t gone for that long, was I?

  I was only on the phone with Eva for a short bit of time and then I checked the locks . . . three times. I wince, loathing myself for how long I took fulfilling my need for order in my life.

  Because I’m fucking obsessed with all the wrong things, Ruby had to go to bed by herself.

  Fuck.

  FUCK!

  My hand goes to my hair and starts yanking on it some more. I’m surprised I’m not fucking bald by now. What do I do now? Is she mad at me? Do I go to her, wrap my arms around her warm, soft body and act like nothing happened? Do I go sleep on the couch? What would she think of that?

  For the life of me I can’t figure out what she might want. All I can consider is what I would like, what I need, and that’s the feel of Ruby’s skin against mine. Taking the selfish route, I plug my phone into my charger on the nightstand and crawl into bed. A clothed Ruby greets me. Clothed?

  Fuck, so not what I wanted. Is she mad? Last time she was upset, I brought her flowers. Is that something I should do now? I have no fucking clue. I’m at a total loss right now.

  Testing the waters, I slide in behind her, my nerves completely shot, and move my hand around her stomach to pull her into my chest. She doesn’t protest, instead she makes a soft sound and allows me to hold on to her.

  I bury my face in her hair and breathe in her sweet scent, the scent that has me waking up in the morning, feeling guilty as fuck for taking this woman into my fucked-up world.

  If tonight isn’t an indication of that, I don’t know what is.

  I feel so fucking unsteady right now. I hold on to her tight, willing the panic boiling in the pit of my stomach to simmer.

  Eva is going to text. Eva is going to text. Eva is going to text.

  I repeat myself over and over again in threes until I’m so fucking tired I pass out, holding on to the only lifeline I have right now, the one life line I don’t fucking deserve.

  ***

  BANG.

  “What the fuck?” I startle out of bed, confusion consuming me as I try to gain my whereabouts. The faint glimmer of the sunrise fills the hotel room, casting an eerie glow around the space.

  BANG.

  My chest seizes, my entire body instantly turns cold as slick sweat coats me. My heart is beating out of my chest, my breathing is almost non-existent, and flashes of that night start to pop into my head.

  The blood-curdling screams from my mom.

  Two gunshots ringing through the house.

  The cold tile of the tub freezing my skin.

  Eva’s voice ringing through my head.

  We have to call 9-1-1.

  Eva.

  Fuck. Eva!

  Where is she? The bar. She was drunk. The promise of a text message. Fuck, I passed out without seeing her response. I reach for my phone, so discombobulated I can’t figure out how to turn it on; I can’t find the button. My mind is warring back and forth between the past and the present, mixing sounds and smells, bringing that painful, life-changing moment to the forefront of my mind.

  Focus, Bodi. Press the home button.

  Steadying my hands, I find the button and watch my phone come to light. I type my password in feverously, messing up twice, and finally unlocking the screen.

  Zero text messages from Eva. Zero texts from Eva.

  “Fuck!” I cry out, swinging my legs over the side of the bed.

  “Is everything okay?” Ruby asks in a sleepy voice, scaring the shit out of me. I completely forgot she is here.

  I don’t answer her, I can’t. I need to make sure Eva is okay. I call her cell phone but she doesn’t pick up, so I call Lauren’s. Straight to voicemail.

  My throat tightens on me, as my legs start to go numb. This is not happening. This is so not fucking happening.

  Tearing my phone off the charger, I walk into the other room and start pacing the floor as I repeatedly dial Eva’s number, over and over again.

  “Bodi,” Ruby says with concern. “What’s going on?” She looks disheveled, her hair matted, her clothes askew, her hands twisting together. She’s not the same Ruby I’
m used to, the happy-go-lucky Ruby, the joyful and contagious Ruby. No, she’s a nervous wreck, thanks to me.

  Ignoring her, I pull on my hair and continue to pace while dialing Eva. As I hold the phone to my ear, look around the hotel, and stop in my tracks when I look at the door. The phone drops out of my hand, my stomach bottoms out and I have the instant urge to puke.

  I locked it. I know I did. I fucking locked the door. I checked three times.

  I had to make sure Ruby was safe. I locked the door. I didn’t forget to lock the door.

  My head snaps to Ruby, my voice booms out of me before I can control it. “Did you fucking leave this hotel room?”

  “What?” She’s so startled she backs up.

  I point at the door. “Did you leave this room?”

  “Um, yeah.” She twists her hands some more, her eyes wide with fear. “I was thirsty and was told not to drink the tap water here, so I got a water from a vending machine.”

  “Why didn’t you lock the door when you came back?” My chest is rising and falling so rapidly. The panic attack is starting to take over.

  “The doors lock automatically, Bodi.”

  “People can still get in!” I yell. I need to get the hell out of here before she sees me in an even worse state.

  Blowing by her, I grab my bag, stuff everything in it, throw a shirt on over my head, slip on my sandals, and head for the bathroom to grab my toothbrush.

  “What are you doing?”

  “I need to leave. I need to get the fuck out of here.”

  “Bodi, I don’t understand what’s going on. Will you please talk to me?”

  I rip my charger cord out of the wall, stuff it in my bag and pick my phone up from the floor. With one thought on my mind, I head for the door.

  Leave. Leave. Leave.

  “Bodi,” Ruby calls out, chasing after me. “Please, you’re scaring me. I’m sorry I didn’t lock the door. I didn’t know. Will you please just talk to me? Who were you calling? Maybe I can help you.”

  “You can’t,” I say sternly.

  “Please.” She yanks on my arm right before I’m about to leave, turning me around so I come face to face with the tears falling from her beautiful brown eyes.

  I fucking lose it. My entire body splits in half, hatred for myself pouring out, loathing who I’ve become; it’s eating me alive, pure distaste for the shit I’ve put Ruby through coursing through me.

  I can’t do this.

  “What?” she asks.

  Did I say that out loud? I’m so fucking lost in my thoughts I have no idea what’s going on.

  I turn to leave but she grabs on to me one more time. “Bodi, what did you say?”

  Without looking her in the eyes, my throat barely able to let words go by as my heart hammers so hard I can feel it in my brain, I quickly say, “I can’t do this,” and leave.

  Tunnel vision eclipses me, my feet propel me forward, my breathing is so out of control I’m having a hard time making it to a safe spot. I pour through the stairwell door and stumble down the first few steps, grabbing hold of the rail. My bag teeters down the stairs as I lower myself to one of the steps.

  Leaning against the wall, I grip my head and will my breathing to become steady, but it doesn’t happen, it continues to become more erratic with each second. My chest burns, my vision blurs as tears fall from my eyes, rolling off my cheeks and onto my jeans.

  Why isn’t Eva answering her phone?

  Why didn’t Ruby lock the door?

  Fuck, Ruby.

  Her distraught face. Those tears. That fear.

  It’s eating me alive.

  I did that to her. I hurt her. Just like I hurt my parents . . .

  Fuck, I didn’t hurt them. I killed them.

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  RUBY

  “Where is he?” Eva asks, entering my hotel room. Last night’s makeup is smeared down her face, her hair is tied up in a disheveled bun, and she’s wearing her pajamas. Lauren follows closely behind her, looking just as rough.

  “I don’t know,” I cry, still shaking uncontrollably despite the blanket around my body.

  “Shit.” Eva grips her forehead. “Tell me everything that happened.”

  We sit down in the living space where Bodi’s medals rest. When he left, I realized he didn’t even pack them so I made sure to put them gently back in their boxes and in a prominent place so if he came back, hopefully he came back, he wouldn’t forget them.

  “Where should I start?” I’m in such shock. My body feels if I were stabbed, I wouldn’t notice it.

  “When things started to go sour.”

  I bite my lip and think back to last night. “Well, um, we had sex.” Ugh this is awkward.

  “Okay.” My comment doesn’t even affect Eva.

  “I noticed he seemed a little different, a little off, as if there were a million things running through his mind. Usually right after, he will cuddle me and he will talk, joke around, but he didn’t do that this time. It almost seemed like a dark cloud started to eclipse him. He then stepped away to make a phone call.”

  “Shit, that’s when he called me.” Pure and utter regret flashes through her face. “I was drunk and said stupid things I would never say to him sober.”

  “I heard him talking, and he sounded angry. I didn’t want to drop in on his conversation so I got ready for bed. I waited a while but heard him walking around the hotel for quite some time. I didn’t realize how long he was busying himself until I woke up with him wrapped around me.”

  “Checking the locks,” Lauren says at almost a whisper to Eva who nods her head in agreement.

  “What?” I ask. They both ignore my question and tell me to continue. “I was thirsty and was told not to drink the tap water here, so I went to one of the vending machines to grab a drink. It wasn’t until Bodi was swearing and breathing heavily that I woke up again. He was pacing the floor again, trying to call someone on his phone when he saw the door was unlocked. I didn’t slip the deadbolt thing over. He freaked out, yelled at me, packed his things and bolted before I could stop him. He, uh,” I paused as tears started to stream down my cheeks, “he said he couldn’t do this anymore, as in us. I tried to stop him, I tried to get him to talk to me but he wouldn’t. He took off and won’t answer his phone now.”

  “Fuck,” Eva hisses, leaning back on the couch. “This is all my fault. I should have known better than to push him. He seemed . . .” She sighs and pinches her nose; I can see tears start to well up. “He just seemed like he was getting better, like he was living because of you, Ruby.”

  “Babe, it’s not your fault,” Lauren says, attempting to comfort Eva.

  “It is. This all started with me. We should never have gone out last night.”

  “Fuck that,” Lauren says, standing up, speaking in a harsher tone than I’ve ever heard from her. “Babe, you know I love that boy just as much as you do, but there is a time where we need to stop babying him, where he needs to learn how to deal with new circumstances. You’re always asking him to live his life and here you are, barely living yours because you’re always keeping a watchful eye over him.”

  “Yeah, and see what happens when I change things? He bolts.” Eva grips her forehead. I’ve only known Bodi for such a short time and my heart is breaking. I can’t imagine the agony she must be feeling. She looks . . . bleak. Inconsolable. “Where the fuck could he be?”

  “He’s probably flying home,” Lauren says without skipping a beat. “Knowing Bodi, he’s searching for the familiar, looking to get back into routine. He’s been so far from it, I couldn’t imagine him wanting anything else.”

  I kind of want to say that he would want me, that my loving arms are all he needs, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. That realization cuts me deeper than his dismissal this morning.

  “God, what should we do?” Eva asks. “Should we call Dr. Auburn?”

  I feel like an outsider looking in once again, begging to be in Bodi’s inner
circle. Yet, I’m clearly nowhere near the edge. Even after everything we’ve been through, all of our late night conversations and random text messages, I still don’t know him like I wish I did.

  Who’s Dr. Auburn?

  Why is Bodi freaking out?

  What is with the door being locked?

  This goes further than his OCD. There is something else he never told me, something I wish he had because I wouldn’t feel so helpless right now. Maybe if I knew, I could have helped avoid this entire situation.

  “We can call him on the way back to our room,” Lauren says, patting Eva on the shoulder. “Best thing we can do is figure out how to tackle this head-on.”

  “You’re right,” Eva agrees, staring at the medals on the table. “Did he leave those?”

  I look down at the cases and nod my head, tears falling from my eyes. I can’t hold them back any longer; my emotions have worn thin, and I’m at my breaking point. I want Bodi back. I want his strong arms wrapped around me. I want to run my fingers up under his shirt, along his bare back, and tell him in a soothing tone that everything is going to be okay.

  Eva sighs and sits next to me. She wraps her arm around my shoulder and pulls me into a hug. “This has nothing to do with you.”

  “Then why does it feel like it does, like I ruined everything?”

  “You didn’t. Bodi has demons he’s still dealing with. They came to a crashing halt this morning. You were just here to witness it.”

  “No, I didn’t lock the door. I had no clue that was something that mattered.” Barely containing my sobs, I ask, “Why does that matter?”

  Eva exchanges a look with Lauren who nods her head. Taking a deep breath, Eva asks, “Do you love him, Ruby? Or is this just something fun you’re doing for the summer?”

  I look her dead in the eyes, and my lip trembles as I say, “I’m so in love with your brother, Eva. I’m so desperately and hopelessly in love with him.” More tears fall as I think about the loss I endured this morning.

  I can’t do this.

  His words play on repeat over and over in my head. We can’t be over, can we? Was that his way of breaking everything off? I pray it wasn’t. I’ve never known this sort of heartache. Never. I don’t think my heart could withstand not being with him. In such a short amount of time, he’s become so vital to me. To my heart. To my mind. To my body. To my soul.

 
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