There was so much blood leaking out of his body he felt completely weightless, sinking slowly into darkness. He could feel the warmth of it over his torso, the metallic scent becoming stronger with each passing second. Slipping deeper into the blackness, Hayden Carlson could no longer see the red ink pouring out, but felt it pooling around his body on the hard floor. His mind was slithering away from him. What had happened? Where was he? Why was he bleeding? He was conscious, but reality was sliding away into the shadowy abyss…
And then he was there, in his old apartment staring at Bethany. It seemed so long ago. Sweet, perfect Bethany who sat on the windowsill facing the fire escape while reading her beat-up copy of “Go Ask Alice”. Everything Bethany did reminded Hayden she was too good for him; even something as simple as reading by the window. But he couldn’t let her go. He needed her more than air. She looked so calm and still as the morning light shined brightly on her. There could have been a million other places, with anyone else in the world that would have been better for her, but she chose to stay with him. And Hayden would not tell her otherwise no matter how selfish it was to keep a daisy out of the sun.
The book was folded over, the cover barely holding on. Bethany had read it, what seemed like, a thousand times and never got tired of it. Suddenly she looked up at him and smiled that radiant smile, the one that showed her white teeth, and reached her brown eyes.
“Your mother is coming over today to see the apartment,” Bethany dog-eared the page, got up, and put a hand on each of his elbows. She could read the anxiety in his dark eyes, the way he ran his fingers through his hair.
Oh, just perfect. His mother, coming to see their first shared apartment. Maggie Simon-Carlson never remained quiet when it came to tearing down her son. When he dropped out of school she claimed to have known it would happen. Any time he lost a job, it was no surprise. Having a drink, spending the night in jail, getting into a fight; none of those things ever shocked her or brought up concern. But if there was one thing that Maggie could not believe, it was that her son was doing well. She seemed to count the days until his happiness would be over.
But he wouldn’t be alone when she came, he had Bethany.
Under normal circumstances, Bethany would have been someone his mother would adore. A college graduate who just happened to be a jaw-dropping beauty, she was perfect. Unfortunately, because Bethany was with her lowlife, useless son, a relationship had never really formed between the two. It didn’t matter. He didn’t need her, all he needed was Bethany, and he had that.
The memory jumped ahead.
Maggie stood in the doorway to the studio with her arms folded across her chest, an expression of disgust on her face. Hayden knew that look. Her mouth turned down in a frown, eyebrows knitted together with her wide eyes, so similar to his, examining every inch of the place for mistakes. The white tile with gray flecks too dirty looking, the walls and appliances too shockingly white. The wall with its small spider web cracks lined the corners like bright scars on a pale face. It wasn’t good enough, it never was.
“This is it?” She said as she stepped closer to the kitchenette.
“We figured it was a good place to start. You know, save our money.” Poor, sweet Bethany. She didn’t deserve this; constantly having to explain for his inadequacy. Hayden would give her everything if he could, but he couldn’t. She turned to him with that smile again. It said everything would be alright.
His mother stood there with a frown that said: “It will never be alright”. She was right.
The memory faded slowly, changing.
Hayden slowly opened his eyes. The fluorescent lights glowed starkly, sending a dull ache through his head. The air conditioner blowing prevented him from sweating bullets as he lay there unable to move because of the pain. The lids of his eyes drooped, but he fought to keep them open when Bethany entered the hospital room.
“Did you think this would bring us back together?” Were the first words out of her mouth, her maroon hair in disarray. The glassiness of her eyes seemed to be permanent those days. Every time he saw her it looked as if she had been crying.
They weren’t together anymore, she broke up with him. No, that wasn’t right. He broke up with her. He couldn’t do it anymore, couldn’t hold her back from her life to stay with him in a pit. She had cried, he had wanted to, but in the end Hayden moved out of their studio to rent a bedroom from a less than honest butcher.
He recalled walking into speeding traffic months later after picking up the last of his things. He knew he should have waited for the walk sign to flash, but he didn’t.
Hayden was still silent in his hospital bed. Bethany was sitting in a plastic chair to his right, reading to him. It was a familiar book. One she told him to read a hundred times, but he never did. She had begun reading “Go Ask Alice” to him when she came for visits, but never finished.
Bethany was the only one to come and visit him. Maggie never came.
It was a heartbreaking feeling when Bethany stopped coming, but he understood why.
*To be continued…..