“Perry we need to go!” I screamed, running to get my things together “We need to go now!”
“What, but sir…”
“NOW!” I shouted, barely even getting a shirt on.
He quickly grabbed Brooke and ran out to get the car ready.
“Aidan what’s going on?” Ivy asked, beginning to catch the fear in my eyes.
“Nothing, I-I just….Just tell Jayden I love him.” I shook my head and ran towards the door “I’ll explain tomorrow at school okay?” She made a face and slowly nodded her head. I ripped open the back door and jumped in “To Eli’s house now!”
“Aidan…” Brooke started
“I can’t talk about it, just get me there!” I ordered. My mind was racing so fast I didn’t even have time to think. I knew he couldn’t do this on his own! How stupid was I to think he could beat his addictions? He needs help! Real professional help!
“Sir, It’s cold out at least put on a jacket.” Perry pestered as we pulled up the house.
I quickly grabbed the large jacket off the seat “I’ll text you when to come get me!” I shouted running up to the door. The second my fist hit the large door I couldn’t stop from banging on it.
“Jesus Rookie.” Eli swayed, pulling open the door “It’s not like an emergency or anything.”
I looked at him and shook my head “It smells like a brewery in here! Have you lost your goddamn mind?!”
“I didn’t call you to get yelled at.” He slurred, doing his best to walk to the kitchen table.
I shut the door behind me, and quickly supported him as he walked “I called you!” I corrected “What have you even been drinking tonight?”
“Oh ya know.” He hiccupped plopping into the chair “A little bit of this, a little bit of that, just about everything.”
I took a deep breath and stared at him “Why?” was all I could manage.
“I’m sick.” He let out “I-I…I guess I can’t do this.”
“You can!” I insisted reaching out and grabbing onto his hand “You have to!”
He tilted his head and looked at me “Why?”
“Is this…” I felt tears begin to rise to the surface “Is this how you want your life to be? Last week you were so excited to still have a chance at life!” I yelped “You need real help…professional help!”
He shook his head and went to stand but fell back down “Can you get me water?”
“Are you even listening to me right now?” I argued, trying to wipe the tears from my eyes
“Yeah” he exhaled “but water…please?”
I nodded and got him a water bottle out of the fridge “Take this seriously!” I begged “Please!”
He took a big drink before looking over at me “I’m sorry, I was just about to leave…I didn’t want to do this to you…I let you down.”
“What?” I asked, not understanding.
“Your fight tonight.” he shook “ I missed it…I promised I would go and help…and I-I missed it…I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright.” I sighed “Are you going to be okay though? Did you take any pills tonight?”
“Some” he shrugged “Not enough to be concerned about.”
“What do you mean not enough to be concerned about?” I demanded “You’re not supposed to drink with any of those pills!”
He swayed his head “That’s just what they tell you.”
“No Eli! It’s not!” I yelped, starting to get overtaken by my emotions
He looked at me but quickly looked down “I’ve done the combination a million times…I’ll be okay alright?” I ran my hands up to my head and took a deep breath “I’ll be okay, okay?”
“We need to get you help.” I shook, taking a seat next to him “I..you…you need help.”
“I’m sorry” he shook “I didn’t mean to ruin your night…I missed your fight and I…I told you I would be there to keep Jayden calm.”
I felt concern drip over my face as I looked over at him “You said that already.”
“I did?” he asked making a face.
“Yeah” I let out staring at him “How drunk are you?”
“Very.” He looked up with sad eyes “I-I’m not gonna remember this…I need to sober up before I will.”
“So you’ll remember when you’re sober?” I confusingly asked.
“No…it’s like I…” he thought it over and leaned back “If I pass out right now I’ll black out and won’t remember a thing, but if I-I…I sober up then I’ll slowly be able to piece it all together tomorrow.”
“Oh” I exhaled looking down at the floor.
“Just give me like an hour…in the meantime…sit with me?” he weakly forced out.
“Of course.” I nodded, forcing a smile. I looked over to the mantle and at the picture of a young Eli and Jamie. “You look so proud in that picture.”
“I was.” He smiled thinking back to it “That’s the best day of my life.”
“You’ve got a lot of days left.” I comforted “A lot more great times.”
He made a face and looked back down “Not with him though.”
“No, not with him.” I sighed “but that doesn’t mean you can’t be happy…it doesn’t mean you have no reason to be alive. Would he want you to drink your life away?”
“No” he nervously tapped his foot “He was such a great guy, I know he had his issues…I know he fucked up…but like one of his favorite songs says “Sometimes our saints are sinners.””
“He was an avenged sevenfold fan?” I asked with a smile.
Eli gently nodded his head “Loved em.”
“I would like him.” I encouraged, trying to get Eli to open up more.
“He wouldn’t like you.” Eli laughed “Not at first anyway…but you have a habit of growing on people…a habit of getting them to warm up to you.”
“Is that what I did with you?” I smiled looking over at him.
He let out a short laugh and looked over “oh yeah.”
“You know…Jayden’s right, you need to forgive yourself, it’s not your fault…”
“I think I have, well for the most part anyway.” He sighed.
I saw sadness begin to fill his eyes “Then why keep self-destructing?”
“I…I’m an addict even if I wanted to…I can’t stop.”
“So you don’t want to?” I poked with a deep breathe.
“I…I didn’t mean it like…I-I still have stuff to run from.” He immediately looked right back to his feet shocked by his drunken confession.
“Like what? The Sanders don’t hold it against you, The Frees don’t hold it against you…No one…”
“Not about them.” He breathed as tears begin to fall from his eyes “I shot …I killed my dad.” The tears slowly begin to fall faster “That’s not something you just walk away from.”
I felt a large weight begin to hit me as I heard the biggest rumor of them all get confirmed “You were protecting yourself.”
“It’s not like I shot him once.” He shook, trying to wipe his eyes “I shot him with the whole clip…all 15 bullets…I-I was pissed…I was so fucking angry.”
I reached out and grabbed onto his hand “You didn’t know what he was going to do next…how did you know he wasn’t going to shoot you?”
“He wasn’t.” Eli insisted.
“Do you know that for sure?” I argued, trying to get a deeper understanding of the situation.
“No.” he sadly exhaled “I…but shit man that was my dad…my dad.” He shook his head trying to process his emotions “I love him…he killed Jamie and I still love him.” He looked up to me and tilted his head “Why?”
“Because that’s your father.” I thought back on my own dad and shook my head “No matter what he did, no matter how bad he fucked up, you want to be like him, you want to have him in your life…what boy doesn’t want his dad to be his hero?” I began to hold his hand tightly “It’s okay for you to still love him, it’s okay for you to miss him. Maybe you need to forgive him, then forgive yourself, but you can’t do that alone.”
He nodded in agreement as his tears kept falling “I’m such a fucking mess.”
“It’s alright.” I smiled “You’ll always have me and Jayden.”
“And me.” A quiet female voice groaned from the couch, causing me to jump.
“Go back to sleep mom.” Eli groaned, shaking his head.
“Last time I checked we we’re both addicts.” She muttered “Maybe we both need help.”
He exhaled a deep breath and the tears seemed to come faster “You’ll get it with me?”
“Yeah” she mumbled, trying to look over at us “If you go then I’ll follow.”
“Me and Aidan will figure it out when I sober up.” He instructed, doing his best to be strong for her.
I looked back then over to him “Alcohol?”
“Heroin” he answered in sadness “You really don’t know how ugly life can get until it drags you down.”
“Well I’m here to pick you back up.” I comforted. He looked over at me and smiled, but didn’t say anything. We spent the next 40 minutes in silence, every now and again Eli would get up to go vomit, but he reassured me that he would be fine.
Finally he got to his feet, and was able to fully balance himself “Come on, I need to go lay down.” He lead me to the stairs, and I carefully backed him as we both headed up. His room was a lot cleaner than I anticipated. Pictures of him and Jamie were scattered around, and various hockey posters decorated his walls, all capped off by a giant pride flag which hung above his bed. “You win tonight?” he asked, falling into his bed.
I gently nodded “I’ll have my title fight sometime next week.”
“That’s great.” He forced a smile and gently nudged me with his foot as I took a seat on the bottom of the bed “I’m sorry I ruined your night.”
“I ruined my own night.” I sighed
“I dislocated the other kids shoulder…Jayden’s really pissed at me.” I exhaled, shaking my head “I’m so stupid, I was so obsessed with leaving a mark, with scaring the next fighter, but all I did was upset Jayden.”
“So you did it on purpose than?” Eli lead
“Yeah.” I nodded “I covered up his free hand so he couldn’t tap, and I cranked away until I pulled the arm out of the socket.”
“Jesus Rook.” He let out with raised eyebrows “That’s fuckin brutal. I know you said you were going to go big, but sheesh that’s a bit extra.”
“I know.” I forced out “I just want to be feared…I want people to be know who I am.”
Eli shook his head “You don’t want to be feared, you want to be respected” he clarified “A few days ago in the hallways I was wrong…fear only leads you to where I am, fight clean, fight hard…make us all proud. You don’t need to go around breaking people in two to win…you’re better than that.”
“Thanks.” I forced a smile and looked back “But how do I fix things with Jayden? He wouldn’t even talk to me after the fight.”
“Just give him time…he loves you, he’ll forgive you on his own when he’s ready.” Eli looked at me and saw the overwhelming concern “He’s not going to break up with you, trust me he’s absolutely crazy about you. Whenever I talk to him he always brings you up, you’re his world. He probably just hates seeing you so aggressive.”
“I guess I get that.” I nodded
“You better.” He laughed “Don’t let a guy like Jayden go, there’s no one else like him.”
“You really think that highly of him?” I poked
“He still believes there’s good in this world…the only other person I know like that is you, so yeah.” he gently laughed “You two are perfect together.”
I looked into Eli’s eyes and saw that he was finally sober enough to have a serious conversation with “So then what’s next for you?”
“Probably go to one of those first step programs, 30 days or whatever all that bullshit is.” He groaned “There’s a place right over in Summit isn’t there?”
I bit my lip and thought back to what Jess had told me “Eli…you need to get out of here.”
“Like North Jersey?” he shrugged
“Like Michigan.” I replied, feeling sadness overtake me “Look you can’t stay here, you can’t handle…” I paused worried I was crossing the line.
“Keep going.” He exhaled, wanting to hear the rest of what I had to say.
“You can’t handle being around reminders of your father or your friends…you need a fresh start.” I explained “I really don’t want you to leave, but if it means keeping you around you have to.” I forced a smile and our eyes connected “I looked into it already, there’s a great place in Michigan by Lake Huron, they use nature and all. You could keep playing hockey up there while you get help too.”
“You looked into it already?” he let out in shock.
I gently nodded “It’s expensive but we could threaten my dad with a lawsuit, make him pay for the treatment…I mean he’s the one who was giving you pills, he’ll…”
“It’s okay.” He shrugged “We got a huge government payout from everything that happened, but Michigan? Damn it’s so far.”
“I know” I sighed with tears beginning to form “But you need help…you need a new start…there’s nothing left for you here.”
He bit his lip, and water slowly filled his eyes “I thought you said I’ll always have you.”
“You will.” I encouraged “but if you stay here with me you’ll just keep relapsing. “ I wiggled up the bed and let him lean against me “It’s for the best…1 year that’s all you need.”
I saw him think it all over slowly in his head. A few minutes past before he finally turned towards me “Will you visit?”
“I’ll even bring Jayden.” I forced a smile as we both began to cry.
“Promise.” I rested my head against him as we gently held one another. Before I knew it we had both fallen asleep. There was something calming about spending the night with him. Not in a romantic way or anything, but just knowing that he was safe…that everything was going to be okay.
As 9 am rolled around I woke up in a panic “Eli!” I shook “School…we’re late!” He opened his eyes slightly but let them close once more “Eli come on man! We fell asleep!”
He finally forced himself up and stared at me “I’m not going today.”
“Come on.” I insisted “We both missed yesterday, we can’t make it a habit!”
“I want to go to Michigan tonight.” He looked at me, and I saw nothing but seriousness on his face “I already want nothing but pills and alcohol…I said the cigarettes help, but they don’t... I need help now.”
“But…tonight?” I asked in shock “So this is goodbye? Jayden won’t even…”
“It’s not goodbye.” He interrupted forcing a smile “It’s a see you later, you said you’ll visit right?”
“Yeah I will.” I smiled, as tears streamed down my face once more.
He popped out of bed and led me downstairs “Mom” he called out, to the women still lying on the coach. “This is my friend Aidan, he’s…he has a plan for us.” She forced herself up and slowly shook my hand. I had to stop myself from jumping at her tattered look, It was clear that she had been abusing drugs…and lots of them. “You still want to get help right?”
“If you want to.” She meekly forced out.
He bravely nodded his head “Aidan has this great place in Michigan…I know it’s far…but god damn it we have to get out of this house.” I saw it all slowly hit her, but she nodded her head in agreement “So you’re in?”
“When do you want to leave?” she let out in a whisper.
“Tonight.” He sighed “If they can take us.”
“They can.” I nodded “I spoke with them last week…they ugh…they have open spots.”
She looked up at her son and forced a smile “Can you take care of it I…I…”
“I can.” He smiled sitting next to her “I can book the flight, and pack some of our bags…we’ll find a way to take care of the house, or clear it our…or something.”
“I’ll take care of it when we get our heads on straight.” She exhaled “but for now let’s just go get help.”
They embraced one another for a minute before Eli stood up “So this is goodbye?” I could feel the tears return to me as I spoke.
“This is see you later.” He corrected, walking over to the chair to get my jacket.
“Keep it.” I smiled “You’re gonna need it up there.”
“No.” he rejected “Every time you wear it, remember me. I’m still your mentor, whether we go to school together or not.”
I threw my jacket on and immediately hugged him. We held one another for a few minutes before I finally whipped out my phone and texted Perry. Together Eli and I went onto their website and started to register both he and his mother “You sure this is what you want?” I asked, starting to get second thoughts?”
“I’m positive.” He smiled, showing the true strength that lied within.
As I heard the car pull up emotions overflowed me one more time. “Eli, I’m going to miss you so fucking much.” I pushed out through tears “You’re like the grumpy big brother I’ve always wanted…I love you.”
“I love you too rook.” He reached out hugging me once more “I’ll just be a phone call or a plane ride away” I saw sadness sweep into his eyes “Please don’t forget about me…I’ve been such a dick to you, but you never let me slip away…not once. You’re going to do so many amazing things.”
“Never” I forced a smile as I pulled away, and pointed out his name sewn into my jacket “All for one”
“And one for all.” He smiled, fighting off tears.
As I walked out to the car, I looked back in the figure in the doorway and smiled. This isn’t goodbye I reminded myself, this is just see you later. I climbed into the passenger seat and instantly fell apart. “He’s going Perry…he’s leaving.”
Perry reached over and began to comfort me “Where’s he going sir?”
“To Michigan…to rehab…he’s got a drinking problem.” I forced out between cries.
“Then he’s getting the help he needs…you did the right thing Master Aidan.” He comforted “I’m so proud of you.”
“I love you Perry.” I forced out
“I love you too Aidan.” He let me cry for a few more minutes, before finally pulling off “So I take it you’re in no shape to go to school sir.”
“No, I want to go.” I reassured him “Just take me home to shower real quick.” He smiled and followed orders.
I made it back to school just in time for lunch, but as I walked up to the table Jayden quickly stood up and began walking away.
“Where have you been all day?” Henry asked, shoving food into his face.
I waved him off and quickly chased after Jayden “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Ivy warned as I got out of hearing distance.
“Jayden!” I called out “Jayden stop! Jayden I’m sorry! I’m stupid and arrogant, and obsessed with being the best. I let my ambitions get in the way of us…I’m sorry!” I pleaded “Ani ohev otach.” I slowly forced out, exposing the phrase I had tried to learn all afternoon.
He stopped walking but didn’t turn around “You said it wrong.” I heard him whimper “That’s how a man tells a women he loves her” He took a deep breath and I saw him thinking it over “Ani ohev otkha.”
“Are you teaching me or telling me?” I nervously asked, in fear of the answer.
“I never stopped loving you Aidan.” He squeaked, and I could tell he was crying “but I…I still need more time to forget what I saw you do to…”
“I don’t have time.” I insisted trying to keep it together “I need you right now, I need you!” I tried to fight it but I could feel myself beginning to fall apart “God damn it Jayden, everything is going to shit!”
He turned around and let me fall into his arms “What happened? Is this because of the figh…”
“Eli’s gone.” I whimpered “He’s flying to Michigan later tonight.”
“Why?” he poked, trying to gain strength.
“He’s going to rehab” I gently cried “He’s got a drinking problem…I spent all night trying to help him…I’m not strong enough…I couldn’t save him!” I felt myself beginning to fall further and further apart “I-I…I let you down, then I-I couldn’t save him…I couldn’t even help him!” My tears fell faster as my words cracked “I’m not strong enough…I spend all that time in the gym, and I’m still so worthless. I lost him, and now I’m losing you!”
“Hey!” he exclaimed “You’re not worthless! You’re not fucking anything up! You’re not losing me, I’m not happy…but we didn’t make it all this way together to give up here.” He reached up and lifted my chin to look into my eyes “You got him into rehab didn’t you?” I gently nodded to his question “Then you did help…you’re only 15 years old you can’t help someone beat their addictions…none of us would have been able to.” He forced a smile and pulled me in close “You dislocated a kid’s shoulder last night, then immediately ran to someone’s rescue…that’s why I love you. That’s why I’ll never stop loving you.”
“I’m sorry I took you for granitite.” I weeped “From now on I’ll fight the right way, by doing all the right things.”
“You better!” he forced out as tears began to fall from his eyes “Or next time I’m dislocating your shoulder!”
“I thought you said you were fine with anyway I fight.” I lightly laughed starting to calm down.
“Yeah well last night I didn’t just see the puppy kill a bird, I saw him devour it.” He sighed “I…I really don’t want to talk about it.”
I wiped the tears from my eyes and held him tightly “I think we should.”
“Aidan…”He thought it over in his head before letting out a deep sigh “Come on.”
Together we made our way through the school and into the huge library where we could get some privacy. “I’m sorry about last night.” I reiterated “I know I messed up, like really really messed up, but I’m not a bad person for it…me and the other fighter, we’ve even agreed to be training partners now, we’re going to learn from one another.”
“I never thought you were bad person for it.” Jayden exhaled “but…it’s just like you fight fine some nights, but others you lose your center and just go nuts.”
“What do you mean?” I poked
“A few fights ago I saw you intentionally snap someone’s ribs and arm, last night I watched you pull a kids arm out of its socket…you’re catching the fever.”
“The fever?” I repeated making a face.
“Yetzer Hara.” Jayden quietly spoke “My dad said it to you when you both first met, and I told you it was a Jewish blessing…but it’s when you get corrupted by pride, by greed…I….I don’t want to believe that’s happening to you, but god damn it what else am I supposed to believe? How long until last night becomes common?”
“It won’t” I forced out, having nothing else to say.
He went to speak but stopped himself. “How do I know that?” he forced out in a deep breath.
“I…How can I prove it to you? What can I do?” I quickly uttered, trying to him.
“Learn how to control your emotions…meditate.” He answered with a serious face.
I laughed it off at first but quickly stopped myself “Come on, that’s not going to help.”
“How do you know? Have you ever tried it?” He questioned, frustrated I wasn’t taking him seriously “Why did you do what you did last night?”
“He almost choked me out…I had to do something…I had to act.” I rationalized in my head.
“You were mad?” he poked and I gently nodded to the question “Well you shouldn’t have been! When you threw him off you should’ve knocked him out, or submitted him and let him tap! We wouldn’t be fighting right now if you kept control!”
“We’re fighting?” I asked, making a face.
“I don’t know.” He sighed with a frown “Just…find your center like you did 2 fights ago, meditate and hold it there. If you could control your emotions…I’ll never like that you fight, but it will make incidents like last night easier to swallow.”
I looked at him and had to sway my mouth to keep my emotions in check “I don’t want to stop fighting…but I don’t want to lose you.”
“I’m not saying you need to do either.” He argued, reaching across and grabbing onto my hands.
“What happens on a night like 2 fights ago, where I fight clean but the outcome is still brutal?” I sighed
He shrugged his shoulder and forced a half smile “It took me a minute, but I still spoke and hugged you after didn’t I?” I lightly nodded my head and grasped his hands tightly “Those nights will still be hard, but at least I can walk away proud that you fought the right way. I…I don’t mind if you want to amaze everyone, just please do it fairly…do it the right way…do it the way I know you can.”
I smiled, and planted a soft kiss on his lips. “Woh woh!” I heard a familiar male voice boom “Let’s uhm…no kissing in the library.” Mr. Jones ran over.
I quickly pulled away, while both our faces turned a bright shade of red. “Sorry Mr. Jones, I forgot where I was.” I nervously smiled
“Clearly” he sighed “I uhm…I had no idea you two were together.”
“It’s our one month anniversary in a few days.” Jayden smiled, trying to relax. I looked over to him and proudly smiled, realizing everything was going to be okay.
He tilted his head and looked at us both “Got any big celebrations?”
I went to speak but Jayden quickly picked himself up further “Aidan’s going to win the lightweight title for it.” He laughed.
“Oh yeah?” Mr. Jones poked
“Well yeah, I’ll have the title fight really soon, but he’s just joking, we’ll actually probably…”
“No, I’m being serious.” Jayden interrupted “He’s going to fight with respect, and win the belt for me.”
“Alright then.” Mr. Jones laughed “So you two think you’ll be high school sweet hearts?”
I nodded proudly “I really hope so.”
“Me and my husband were.” He smiled “Of course that was a different time.”
I looked to Jayden then back to him “You’re gay?”
He nodded his head “Yup.” He laughed “There was a time when I thought that rumor would never die, but I guess you kids stopped caring about stuff like that. I even run the LGBTQ club here if you guys want to join.”
“If I had the time.” I laughed, and look to Jayden who shrugged his shoulders.
“Maybe” he replied.
“Alright no pressure, just consider it.” He warmly smiled “I’ll see you both in class, and no more kissing!”
“Does this mean…”
“No.” he interrupted a few steps away “This doesn’t help you get better grades.”
I giggled and looked to Jayden “So for our anniversary I’m winning the title?” I teased with a smile.
“Yup” he smiled back “That’s what I want for our 1 month, for you to prove that you’re still the guy I fell in love with.”
I nodded my head understanding. It’s been a really really long day, but after all the dust cleared…here Jayden was…still by my side. No matter how mad at me he was, no matter how much space he needed, the second he saw me crumbling he rushed to put me back together. I looked over to the freckled brown haired teen in front of me who was now rambling about how his morning went and smiled, how the hell did I ever get this lucky?