A little hair of the dog (Alex)
Dylan and I had settled into a bit of a routine. We were both on the same schedule, work study with Doctor Forrester on Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 3 pm until 6. We were making a lot of progress, and had categorized most of Forrester’s library within the first two weeks. Once, maybe twice a week, we’d go get some coffee afterward, and talk.
Dylan was different. I’d known that since we first encountered each other again, but sometimes I could see it in conversation. Yeah, he was physically different, of course. But he was also quieter. When we knew each other in Israel, he always had a goofy smile, made silly jokes. Now, not so much. Occasionally I had to prod a little to get him to talk at all. It was disconcerting.
This day was different. I’d been delayed in class, and I got to Doctor Forrester’s office a few minutes late.
When I walked in the door, Dylan looked like… I don’t know. Like he was sick. His face was pale, and he was staring out the window, not actually doing anything, and he was breathing really quickly.
“Hey,” I said. “Are you okay?”
He looked at me, startled. He was wearing sunglasses in the office, something he did pretty frequently, now that I thought about it. It was almost like he was hung over. But Dylan didn’t drink. At least he didn’t used to.
“Yeah,” he said. “I’m all right, just a rough morning.”
“You want to talk about it?”
“No,” he said.
Well, that wasn’t ambiguous.
We went to work, sorting through the last of Forrester’s collection. Next time we’d be moving over to the library of rare books and manuscripts to start searching for additional materials. I dreaded the change. Not because there was anything horrible about it, but mostly because I’d come to really enjoy our sessions in Forrester’s office.
Speak of the devil. The door opened, and Forrester stumbled in.
His eyes went to Dylan, saw his pale face and sunglasses, and he grinned. “Good afternoon, you two. The morning after is always a little rough, isn’t it Dylan.”
Dylan sort of grunted, didn’t really answer.
“A little hair of the dog?”
“No thank you, sir.”
That was the first time I came close to really disliking Forrester.
An hour later we were sitting in the coffee shop. He was looking worse, his face even paler than before. I said, “Dylan, I’m worried about you. You sure you’re okay?”
He took off his sunglasses and rubbed his hands against his eyes, and I saw they were shaking.
“Hey,” I said. I leaned forward when he put his hands down, and took one of them in my own. “I know we’ve got our… um… history. But if you need to talk, I’m here.”
He looked almost as startled as I was when I took his hand. He looked at me, and swallowed. I let go, and you know, it kind of hurt to do that.
He shook his head, quickly, then muttered, “Brain injury. I’m not sure I’m going to make it through school. I’m not…”
He tried to say something else, then just stopped. I’d seen him do this several times over the last couple weeks. He’d be saying something, then just clam up. He closed his eyes, took a couple of breaths. Then said, “I’m not … smart. Not like I used to be. Can’t remember things.”
Oh, Dylan. I had to blink back tears.
“Maybe I can help,” I said, very quietly. Please, just say yes. Okay, Kelly was right. I still loved him, and seeing him like this, on a bad day, made me want to go quietly somewhere and cry. Please, I thought, let this man heal. And God, please protect my heart, because I can’t take it breaking it again.
He shook his head. “I don’t know.”
“Well,” I said, sadly. “Think about it.”
“There is one thing,” he said in a husky whisper.
“My doc says… I have to start running again. And … well… you’ve seen how I walk. I need a spotter. Basically someone to follow me and call the ambulance when I fall over.”
“You want me to … run with you?”
He nodded. His eyes darted away from me, then back. “Look… I shouldn’t have asked. I just don’t really know anyone here.”
My heart might have stopped. “I’d be happy to go running with you, Dylan. When?”
“Tomorrow? At six?”
“In the morning?”
“Is that too early?”
“No. That’s fine.”
Good God. What was I doing?
My mouth ran off with me again. “Let me get your number, in case something comes up.”
So, for the first time since we broke up last February, we exchanged phone numbers.
After we split up, I walked back to the dorm. And I was afraid. Oh, God I was afraid. Afraid I was going to ruin it. Even more afraid that he would. That I’d let myself get close to him again, and that I’d let him break my heart again.
Last February … it was a nightmare. I cried myself to sleep every night. Tortured myself really.
I was a mess.
I got back to the dorm and let myself in, then sat down on my bed, my eyes turning to the bottom drawer of my bureau. Don’t do it, I thought. I’d packed everything away, when six weeks had gone by with no word from him, no response from him.
Feeling like I was going to cry, feeling like a robot with no control over my own actions, I leaned forward and slid open the drawer.
To a casual examination, for example from a nosy as hell roommate, you’d see folded sweaters in the drawer.
Underneath, however… was a box. I slid the box out of the drawer and sat in on the bed next to me, and opened it.
On top was an 8 by 10 photo of me and Dylan. He was leaning on the grass on his side, head propped on his right arm. He wore a black trench-coat and a white turtleneck, and he was smiling. I was curled up against his legs, facing him. In the photo our eyes are locked, faces close together, huge smiles on both of our faces.
A tear ran down my face, looking at the picture. Angrily, I swiped it away, then set the photo to the side.
Underneath the picture was a thick leather photo album.
Inside was our own love story.
There we were, together in Tel Aviv. Holding hands together as we walked on the pier in Jaffa. Standing waist deep in the Mediterranean Sea, arms around each other.
Sitting together on the tour bus. He was wearing the ridiculous kuffiyah he’d bought in Nazareth. I was wearing a light brown sweater, hair loose around my shoulders. Because he liked it down. His arm was around my shoulder.
A whole series of the youth hostel in Ein Gedi near the Dead Sea… where we’d kissed for the first time.
Someone took a picture of us together standing in the Golan Heights, the Sea of Nazereth to our backs. He’s standing behind me, arms around my waist, my head thrown back in a giant laugh.
A series of greying photos taken in the photo booth at the bus station in San Francisco. He’d taken Greyhound all the way from Atlanta to come see me, the summer after his senior year. In the photos he’s wearing a leather jacket and a fedora, and we’re kissing.
Dried roses. They’d come on my nineteenth birthday, last fall, not long after he left for Afghanistan. It was the last thing I’d ever expected, to have flowers delivered from halfway around the world on my birthday.
When Kelly walked in the room, I was curled up on my bed crying, surrounded by all the evidence of my stupid inability to let go. She got one look and said, “Oh, no. Alex, hun. You’ve got it bad.”
“Oh, shit, I’m sorry Kelly.”
“It’s okay, babe. Slide over.”
I did, and she climbed into bed beside me and hugged me while I cried my eyes out.
This is first draft material from a story I’m working on during a two week hiatus before I start editing Insurgent. It’s a departure for me, because it falls under the “new adult” genre.You can find the beginning of the story, discussion of what NA books are, and contents of the story, here.