Chapter 1

1900 Words
I took a drag from the cigarette in my hand and stared out at the dark loft apartment. It was calm and quiet, with the exception of a little bit of noise from the street below. In the bed beside me was a passed-out brunette. I didn’t know her name. It didn’t matter anyway—I was never coming back. Little groans signaled she was waking back up, and that I’d missed my opportunity to leave. Fuck. She reached out and found my thigh, running her hand slowly up and then down. “Mmm, baby, you really know how to pound a pussy.” Baby. My stomach turned. A small term of endearment that could either be the first step of clingy, or the less likely—she forgot my name. I would prefer the latter. Makes my never seeing her again easier. A different woman every few weeks. They were nothing more than a human fleshlight. A tool to get off. “I have to go,” I said as I snuffed out the cigarette. Her hand fell from me as I stood so to locate my clothes. “So soon? Don’t you want to go for another round first?” “No.” Any niceties, finesse, and chivalry I had expressed when we met were gone. Exhaustion took over, and after a fuckfest, I no longer had the energy to keep up the façade. She balked at me, mouth open and eyes wide before her anger and indignation exploded. She got up and turned the light on. “Seriously? That’s it?” I pulled my shirt over my head, noticing the way her eyes widened at the large scar on my left side, and I slipped my shoes on. “Yep.” Fuck and run. Don’t get close. They’re always watching. “Asshole!” Her shrill scream echoed through the room as she lofted the nearest item—a pillow—at me. A quick check for my wallet, keys, and phone, and then I looked at her. “What? Did you think we’d run off into the sunset? Get married? All because you let me f**k you?” She stared at me, her arms crossing over her chest. “Is a date really too much to ask for?” I stepped around the bed, stopped right in front of her, and leaned down to run my tongue across her lips. “Yes.” Matter of fact. Had to be. Break down any inkling of more, because there could never be more again. She c****d her hand back, but I was too far away by the time she swung. The curses aimed at me could still be heard as I shut the door and walked the few feet to the elevator. When the doors opened, I stepped in and leaned against the far wall, her shrieks drifting away as the doors closed. How many was it now? Who knew. I stopped counting long ago. As the anxiety, the PTSD, spiraled out of control, so did an insatiable s*x drive. The doors opened, and I exited into the parking garage. Her hand was on my c**k when we pulled in, so I couldn’t remember where I parked. It took a few minutes and a lot of clicks on my fob before the lights on my sedan blinked. Climbing in, I pulled out my phone. It was two in the morning, and I had three missed phone calls. Before driving off, I looked at the call list—my parents. With a sigh, I hit the button for voicemail. “You have two unheard messages,” the automated voice said before playing the first one. “Nate, it’s your dad.” I shook my head and let out a small chuckle. He always started out that way, like I wouldn’t recognize his voice. “Just calling to remind you Erin’s birthday is Saturday. We really hope to see you. Call me back when you get this. Love you.” Backing up, I drove out and headed home. I’d call him back in the morning and tell him I’d go, even though I didn’t want to. Family functions sent me into the worst panic attacks. Maybe I wouldn’t go. “Hi Nate, it’s Jack.” My heart stopped before picking up into a furious tempo. My hands began to shake as my second father’s voice came through the phone. “It’s been a while. You haven’t been replying to my emails.” Because I can’t. Because I have nothing to say. “I want to get together for lunch this week. I have a proposition for you. Call me… We miss you, son.” Son. I clenched my hands around the steering wheel to stop the vibrations, to calm myself. After everything, he still called me son. It stung. A burning sword of guilt to the gut compared to the pride it used to evoke. I was the man that got his only daughter killed. The man who should have died. My body held the scars to prove it. I drove home, contemplating what he could want, and trying to decide when to call him back. It wasn’t like my days were filled with activity. Get up, run, eat, smoke, go to the bar, f**k something or somebody, sleep—my daily routine when I could get out of bed. For a year I’d rented a studio apartment over some stranger’s garage. Contact with anyone I knew was a minimum. Family only if I had to. Trapped in hell. My wife was dead. My son was dead. And I should have stayed dead with them. I died on scene, but they revived me. Every single day since I wished they hadn’t. Recovery from having my body torn apart was long and painful. Chronic pain was just another classified issue in my mountain of problems. The scars, the meds, the migraines, the body aches—all added up to a miserable way of being alive. Parking in the driveway, I climbed the stairs to my tiny abode. It was just as empty as I left it. The bare necessities. Nothing and no one else they could take away from me. I flopped down on the bed, cringing as my scar pulled and my knee protested. Reminders that I needed to do my stretching. And that was how I lived my life. A stark contrast to a decade ago when I had my love beside me and we were trying to make a family. When I was happy. When I lived. My being could not be classified as living. More like the walking dead. Three years of not working, of existing. Of popping pills all day long to combat the symptoms of my existence. Every day I lived trapped in the memories. Trapped in the crash. Trapped in the aftermath. Once an ambitious child, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer after watching shows like Law & Order. Later I figured out what I wanted to do and the man I wanted to be. The end result was far off. I hated the man I’d become. Pathetic. Broken. Angry. f****d up beyond any and all repair. I just wanted to close my eyes and never open them again. The constant drip of the faucet drove me crazy with each distinct and evenly spaced plopping sound, but at the same time, I couldn’t be f****d to get my ass out of bed. One arm was slung over my eyes, blocking out the small slivers of light coming through the edges of my blackout curtains, the other ending in a clenched fist at my side. The drip seemed to be getting louder, making me cringe at the pain searing through my eardrums. “f**k!” I cursed as I flung my arm out and opened my eyes to stare at the ceiling. I’d hoped an hour after taking my medication things would be better, but there was no calming my migraine. Reaching out toward the nightstand, I blindly patted around looking for my pain meds in hopes that they might be able to help. They probably wouldn’t, but they might give me the strength to get up. Six bottles sat on what was actually a side table, my fingers knocking them over as I pulled them to me one at a time. By the fourth bottle, I found the one I was looking for—Vicodin. “Shit.” The bottle was empty, and I had a vague recollection of taking one before I passed out the night before. It was another empty day, so nothing pushed me to get up, except the damn drip. The real question was—how much more torture could I take? Once I refilled my prescription, I was tempted to just take the entire bottle and climb into bed. It would take a few days for someone to find my body, but at least I wouldn’t be stuck in my living hell. A nightmare that never ended. I let out a long, low hiss as I bent my knee in the first step to picking my ass up from the bed. After lying for hours and not doing my morning stretches, it was pretty tight and stiff. I wondered if it would ever not hurt, but considering my knee was no longer constructed of bone but of metal, I doubted it. My muscles weren’t all that happy with the foreign material. As I stood, I pulled my left arm above my head and leaned to the side, stretching out the second area that caused horrible feelings. Sometimes, I had a ghost feeling like if I went too far, the scar would burst open, spilling my entrails all over the floor. Evisceration was one way to end it all, but not a very pleasant experience. Then again, the scar didn’t go far enough across my abdomen to reach the level of nasty I was envisioning. It traveled down my ribs, side, and then the twist around my hip. I was tired of being in pain. Tired of living in hell. Just f*****g end it, then. It was a thought that crossed my mind almost daily, but for some insane reason, I kept going long past when I should have quit. Only a few more stretches before I couldn’t stand the sound of dripping any longer. Having the kitchen only a few feet from my bed was a huge drawback to having a studio apartment. Every sound the appliances made amplified through the small space, bouncing off the walls. The damn sink had been a motherfucking asshole for weeks, needing just the right angle to stop water flow, and I apparently missed it when I got some water earlier. It took a few tries in the dark, but then finally—silence. Except the f*****g birds. Jesus, nature was never so annoying before. Yeah, well, before you weren’t a f*****g disaster. It was a very valid point. Just make the f*****g call. Day’s not going to get any better. I craned my neck to the side, cracking it, trying to keep the beast inside quiet. I’d avoided calling Jack for two days, but any longer and they were all going to show up at my door to check on me, and that was too much socialization for me. Grabbing my phone, I heaved a sigh and pulled up his number. “Holloway,” a voice said from the other end. “Hey, Jack.” There was a pause. “Nate…I…I wasn’t sure you’d call back.” Stepping to the fridge, I pulled out a bottle of vodka that was just about the only thing on my bare shelves. “Yeah, well… I did.” “Could you do one more step and meet me for lunch on Friday?” he asked. Lunch? He said it so fast, like he was afraid I’d hang up before he got the words out. I wanted to say no. I had pushed my entire family away after what happened to keep them safe. Meeting him, for something as innocent as lunch, had the possibility of putting him in danger. They were watching. They were always watching. “It’s just lunch, Nate.” His voice was soft but pleading. I nodded. “Yeah. Okay.”
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