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The Paths We Take #21: Burn

Jul 10, 2018

 

 

 

Michael

 

I imagined her dangling from the rocks below… reaching, calling out to me, her fingernails clawing at the stone as her hands slipped further towards the edge. I stretched out my arms to her and she gripped my hands, her red nails slicing into my wrists. The frantic, wide-eyed fear vanished from her face and was replaced by a sultry, red-lipped smile, and then she let go, throwing herself back, her eyes burning me as she disappeared into darkness.

I heard something hurling by overhead, a crack, and then a loud hissing sound. Foam and amber liquid burst from the can as it exploded on the rocks where I had imagined Nikki just a second before. I stumbled back from the railing. Sullivan laughed, polluting the silence… bringing my mind back to the party.

“That shit was awesome,” Sullivan coughed as he took a long drag on a cigarette. “I love this place,” he continued. I don’t think he noticed that he startled me. He had been one beer away from drunk when I got there. Sullivan took another beer from the cooler, but this time he didn’t launch it off the balcony, he just sat down and started drinking. “You want one?” he asked.

“Maybe in a bit,” I responded.

I wasn’t in the mood to drink. Nikki was the only thing that I thought about, the only thing I wanted to think about, but I couldn’t be with her. She had asked me for help; she told me that she was there against her will, and I panicked. Chicken-shit. I didn’t know what to do. The kind of thing she was talking about didn’t happen in real life, at least not in my life. I was supposed to be having fun, getting drunk and high with Sullivan, hooking up with the girls that came up to the cabin from Covington, not trying to save someone. I didn’t even know if she was telling me the truth.

“That girl is messing with your head,” he said.

“What?”

“I can see it man. She’s got you all depressed and shit. You might as well be back with Samantha.”

I grabbed a beer from the cooler and sat down next to him. “You happy now?” I asked as I took a gulp. “She’s nothing like Samantha.”

“Chill out man. You know that I’m just trying to make sure that you don’t get all depressed again.”

He was right. When it ended with Samantha, it took me a week to drag myself from my room. He came by every day to sit with me. Sometimes we didn’t even talk about Samantha, we just sat there eating take-out pork lo mein and egg drop soup and binge watched episodes of The Office.

“Your dad ever mention hiring girls?” I asked Sullivan. Drunk or not, he would give me an answer, at least when he was drunk, he was honest.

“Yeah, we have several girls that come and clean the house and do the laundry and stuff-”

“No… Not laundry. Like girls… you know…” I said, staring at him until he understood.

“Ha. Shit man. No… He won’t hire girls like that. He is too old to do anything with them. My mom would kill him anyway,” he laughed. “Why you asking?”

I wanted to tell him the truth. It’s funny how we’re always longing to tell the truth, but when the opportunity to do so arises, we never do. I thought it would make things worse if I told him who Nikki really was.

“I hope you aren’t that desperate man. I mean, the girls inside, they would probably-”

“No… I just heard about some people hiring girls and wanted to see if you heard anything about it,” I said, trying to play if off.

Sullivan stood up and hurled the empty beer can off the balcony. He held his hands up in victory, looked at me, and gave a glassy-eyed grin as the aluminum ding echoed against the mountainside. Something inside snatched his attention as his head made an abrupt turn to the right. I watched as a redhead came to the door. She pointed at him and gave one of those rich girl professionally-whitened-quarterly smiles that made the stars outside look dim. Sullivan seemed to float towards her, and I knew that I wouldn’t see him for the rest of the evening.

I zipped up my North Face until it was snug under my chin as I sat alone on the balcony. The thumping of the music and obnoxious liquor-laughs were muffled by the sounds of a dozen different conversations carried on by my friends and the Covington girls. Sullivan’s Red Pines pill connection was a no-show, so they would have to get by with hard liquor and small bag of weed, or anything else that the Covington girls brought along with them.

I didn’t know that I would ever be able to go back to being just a college kid, not after Nikki. If I learned anything about love so far, it’s that it’s acidic. It burns you immediately, but you don’t stop it until the damage is already done. Layer by layer it eats away at you, until there’s nothing left burn.

Headlights drowned me while an SUV hummed up the steep driveway to the cabin. I walked over to the corner of the balcony that overlooked part of the driveway. The Land Rover parked, and I watched as my dad got out of the driver’s seat. I ran through the house, almost knocking over two of the Covington girls in matching skirts, maybe twins, that were standing in the hallway by the door. I opened the door, and I found my dad standing outside smoking a cigarette. He was on the phone with someone, but he ended the call when he saw me.

“Dad… Hey. What’s going on?” I stammered as I walked up to him. He gave me one of those awkward hugs, one hand holding a cigarette and the other lightly patting me on the shoulder as I leaned in. I patted him on the back one time, like a weird, frat-boy bro-hug, before I stepped back, both of us staring at each other in an equally awkward way.

“I was on my way back to Harrisburg and I thought I’d stop by,” my dad broke in first. I nodded my head, wondering in my mind why he would go forty-five minutes out of his way to stop by. “I just left Donnelly’s,” he continued as he looked at the ground, kicking at a small pinecone. “They said that you left, well, that you didn’t seem to be yourself when you left there earlier,” he said, looking directly at me this time.

“Dad… did you see a girl while you were there?” I asked. He stepped closer to me. He was angry this time.

“Come on Mikie. You’re an adult now. You’re smart. Your mother and me haven’t been right since you were in junior high. She’s in Florida right now, supposedly for a girl’s week, but I know she’s screwing her trainer. This is just how it is.”

I thought I’d be more surprised, but he was right, I am smart, and I knew the answer to that question before I asked, but I still needed to ask it.

“You didn’t see Nikki… right?” I asked.

“Of course not. I’m not into that kinky shit your generation is into. Geez. I’m your father-”

“I know dad. Sorry… I just… It’s been a long day, and this whole thing with Nikki-”

“Did she say something to you?” my father interrupted. “What did she tell you?” he asked, his voice louder, more focused. I could tell this wasn’t going to end with one of those give-your-old-man-a-huggoodbyes.

“No… I mean, she told me that she didn’t want to be there, but that’s it,” I lied. Unfortunately, my dad knew that it was a lie.

“Don’t believe a word out of that whore’s mouth. She is using you. They’re all like that. They know what they’re doing, they’re trained that way, to make more money. They will bleed you dry if you’re not careful,” he exploded, his face pinched with anger. “This won’t go the way you think.”

“What if she isn’t lying? What am I supposed to do then? You want me to take responsibility, right? That’s what I’m trying to do,” I burst out, stepping towards him without realizing it.

My dad took a step back and looked around, several of my friends and a couple of the Covington girls were out on the balcony, smoking weed and dancing, not paying attention to the conversation my father and I were having. He seemed to calm down after a few seconds of breathing in the cool night air. He zipped up his Columbia coat and bladed his face away from the cabin.

“This wasn’t supposed to be this way. I told him that I wanted a nice girl for you, the best girl, not some greedy bitch with daddy issues,” he barked. “She will get you into more trouble than you can handle. You don’t know people like Donnelly; I’m with them every day. You don’t want to be his enemy…” he paused for a moment, scanned the balcony, and then looked back at me. “I’ll call him. Get you a new girl-”

“No. No… Don’t do that. I can play along with her game. I know she’s lying, and I will just play the game. If it gets to be too much, then I will ask for another girl,” I lied. I knew that she was telling the truth. If my dad came to see me after leaving Donnelly’s because they were concerned about my behavior when I left, then I know that they’re scared she got to me.

“Dad, she really didn’t say much of anything. She just said that she needed more money, and she didn’t like the way one of Donnelly’s guys looked at her. Really. It’s not a big deal. Sorry, I just don’t know how to do this kind of thing,” I lied again. “Don’t tell Donnelly what she said. I don’t want her to lose her job. I want to see her again.”

My dad stared at me. I knew the look; it was the same look he gave me when he was thinking about how to punish me after I apologized for crashing the Benz when I was sixteen. I knew that he loved me, and that he wanted me to be happy.

“He doesn’t have to know anything about it. I’ll just tell him that she wore you out,” he laughed. It was one of those moments that I didn’t know how to respond, so instead, I just stood there, silent.

“Get back to your friends. I have to get back to Harrisburg. I have meetings all day tomorrow.” he said, patting me on the shoulder this time. He opened the door to the Land Rover and pulled himself into the driver’s seat. I wanted to stop him, risk asking him to help me get Nikki out, but before I realized, he was gone.

I went back inside the cabin. My room was empty, everyone was congregating out on the balcony, and it would be that way until they got tired or ran out of whiskey. I scrolled through the contacts on my cell phone and pressed the send button when Allen’s contact was highlighted.

The phone rang a few times before Allen answered, “Hello.”

“Hey Allen. What’s going on man? How’s work?” I asked. Allen had joined the Pennsylvania State Police last year when he turned twenty-one. His father retired from the Red Pines Police Department after twenty-seven years, and Allen planned to do the same with the Troopers.

“It’s the job man. Pays the bills. What’s up?” he asked. I hadn’t realized that it was almost 10:30 PM, and I hoped that he was on the overnight shift.

“You know anyone that you trust with the Red Pines Police Department?”

“I know a guy. Worked with my dad before he retired. I will text you his number when we hang up. Everything good?” he asked.

“Yeah. Just have a friend who’s in some trouble and needs some help,” I lied.

“Cool. Well, I hope your friend gets everything worked out,” Allen said before saying goodbye.

Me too, I thought to myself. I could hear Sullivan yelling for me from outside of my door.

“Mikie, come on man. Where are you?” he mumbled as he fumbled with the door handle, too drunk to realize it was locked. I put my earphones in to drown him out. I thought about Nikki; I wondered if she loved me. I’d die for her,I thought to myself.

 

© Josiah A. Miller 2018. All Rights Reserved.