Part 1 can be found here.
Part 2 can be found here.
Part 3 can be found here.
Nothing. Not a single word had been spoken between them over the lunch they settled for. Shay had directed him where to go, and the only indication that he’d even acknowledged her presence was the fact that they’d arrived at the right place. He simply drove, his body a tableau with all the misgivings of a brewing tempest.
Now, the car idled in the parking stall, music still blaring in a desperate attempt to drown out the noise of the outside world. However, it was apparent that the noise that was bothering Schwab was coming from within his own skull, being bounced around from neuron to neuron, dendrite to axon. He seemed lost in place. Broken and ashamed. He looked like a man ready to surrender. He looked like he needed a helping hand, and that’s exactly what Shay offered.
“Hey, are you okay?”
He jumped at the first sign of her touch. When he looked over at her, he saw the concern painted boldly on her face. She wanted to help him; she was more than willing to do anything to console him, if only she knew how.
“Schwab, please, talk to me.” she said, softly.
He didn’t hear her words; but, read their desperation as they slipped from her lips. He turned off the car and the stereo.
“It happened last year.”
“Please, just listen. This is hard enough for me to talk about as it is. I’m trusting you right now. Just … let me finish, first.”
“Okay.” She settled in her seat, giving her full attention. The world could have been burning around the cabin of that car and she would not have noticed. Unfortunately, the only thing burning was his face.
“Last year, I was dating a girl. Her name was Dianne. She was Burt’s sister and Burt and I were best friends.”
He paused to collect himself before continuing.
“I used to like to party all the time. Drinking and smoking were just a way to pass the time. And when I indulged, I did so heavily, no inhibitions. I guess that’s something I picked up from my alcoholic father. Anyway, despite my obvious faults, Dianne loved me and we had a pretty good relationship. I depended on her and she depended on me. She never let me down, and for the most part, I didn’t either. At least, not until the night I decided to rearrange my priorities.
My dad and I had gotten into a fight over something petty; I don’t even remember what it was anymore. All I remember is that the house was booming with our voices and being in each other faces. He slapped me, and before I knew what was happening, my fist was balled and heading on an express course for his jaw. It didn’t stop for a layover. After I hit him, I ran up to my room, ashamed of what I’d done. I had these little things of hard liqueur stashed in my room. I locked the door to my room and listened to my parents banging on it while I drained six of those little bottles. I got so smashed that I passed out and didn’t wake up until about seven hours later. The problem was that I’d neglected to remember that I’d told Dianne that I’d pick her up from the city when she was done hanging out with her friends. I didn’t show up. She tried to get home by taking the bus; but, before she even got to the stop, she was raped and mugged. They left her body, ruined and bare, in a pile of trash. I woke up to thirteen missed calls from Burt and his parents, trying to see where we were. They assumed that I’d kept my word. It only took us an hour to find out the consequences of my actions. Burt and my friendship ended that night. He grew to resent me. He had every right to after what I allowed to happen to his sister.
I spent the next months trying to numb the pain with cheap wine. When Burt found out, he castigated me and took to calling me Two Buck Chuck. You know, like the cheap wine? Well, yea. We don’t talk anymore unless he’s yelling at me. I don’t have any right to say anything back to him; but, only my love for his sister keeps me from striking at him. He acts like it didn’t hurt me, too. He acts like I didn’t weep myself into painful submission. He acts like I don’t carry that weight on my shoulders.
I get his anger, though. I get why he was upset seeing me with you. You look a bit like her. There’s nothing I’d hate more than seeing my sister with the guy that let her get killed. I wish I could tell him that I’ve improved, that I could earn his forgiveness. But, I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve anything.”
Shay was speechless. She couldn’t believe what she’d heard. She remembered the story. This boy didn’t seem anything like what she had imagined he would be. He was full of life, energy and a passion that did not add up to that incident. And now, after one conversation with Burt, all of that life was gone.
As a tear rolled down Schwab’s cheek, he opened the door of his car and got out, closing it behind him. Shay was left behind, still trying to catch up to him.
To be continued