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    Libby Drew
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Keeper of the Rituals - 12. Chapter 12

I have been absent, and I'm sorry. Life is ridiculous at the moment, not in a bad way, but still... And tomorrow I'm leaving for vacation until next Monday, so... I squished two chapters together for your reading enjoyment. I have been remiss in replying to comments, but please know your thoughts, guesses, and discussion make my days better. Thank you for continuing to read.

Had he? I don’t remember it like that. But I also won’t deny a cloud of pain has hovered over our parting for fifteen years. Maybe I owe myself, and Chase, an adult’s viewpoint of events. I take Burke’s advice, find a quiet, shady place under a tree near Billie’s kitchen garden and sink into a light meditation. I seek true memory, unfettered by heartbreak and bitterness. It’s never easy, leaving bias behind, but today it proves impossibly difficult.

“What’s that?” I remember asking when Chase slid the paper in front of me. I couldn’t give it more than a passing glance. The complex measure and combination of herbs needed for the tea required focus. And I’d felt hazy since that afternoon in his kitchen eight days ago. Irascible. Dipping into daydreams without warning and unable to focus on the simplest of tasks.

I’d spent several sleepless nights cursing my impulsive confession. To an outsider, Chase and I were business as usual. Laughing. Joking. Making our usual amount of trouble. Between us, the dynamic was tense and convoluted. Getting worse instead of better. A mantle of inevitability had settled over me. We were ending, and I couldn’t stop it.

“Bring me a bundle of burlap pouches, Chase,” Billie called through the door from the garden.

“Yeah. Okay,” Chase replied over his shoulder. He bent over the table where I sat, weight on his elbows, and flicked his bangs out of his eyes. “It’s a camp, kind of. I guess? My mom signed me up. A six-week symposium for aspiring medical students. It starts as soon as school ends.” He tapped the paper with his finger. “Supposed to look good on my college applications.”

A week ago, Chase leaving for college had been the monster under the bed. The demon in the closet. Long-Ears lying in wait at the swamp’s edge. I’d accepted our impending separation, even if Chase had promised we’d go to college together. I recognized the impossibility of that, and anyway, that pact existed only in abstract now, a hurdle I feared we’d never reach. I slid my gaze to the letter. Printed on heavy ivory stock with brushed script, it looked out of place on Billie’s scarred, wooden table, next to my mortar and pestle and surrounded by cut herbs. It punctuated every societal difference between us.

I gave up on the recipe. Set the pestle aside. “I thought you wanted to study criminology.”

“I don’t know. Medicine might be okay.” His shrug made me cringe. I glanced over, and he straightened. Moved away before I could catch his eye. Since when do we lie to each other, I wanted to ask. But I didn’t. Because the answer was, undeniably, since eight days ago.

“I’ll be back before you even miss me. Besides, you and Billie have the Green Corn Dance to get ready for.”

The second part was true. Not the first. I swiped my sweaty, trembling hands over my jeans, then took up by pestle and grabbed a sprig of basil. “Sounds like fun.”

Sounds like six weeks of pure torture, my old friend would’ve answered. The Chase of eight days ago. This stranger simply said, “Yeah, I think so.”

That had been the moment, I remember thinking. When the slow unraveling of our friendship reached the point of no return. A Rubicon crossed. After a few moments of silence, Chase scooped his precious letter off the table and left to do Billie’s bidding. I separated the basil leaves from their stems, placed them in the mortar and ground them into paste.

He called in the sixth week of camp to tell me about an opportunity to shadow a physician in New Orleans. A friend of his mother’s. From there, he traveled to Alaska and stayed a month. Some high adventure experience I had no hope of affording. By mid-August, I hadn’t received a letter in several weeks, and it was either get information or go quietly crazy with worry. Those were my choices. I picked the former.

I found my aunt folding laundry in the kitchen, alone for once. An unseasonably cool breeze blew through the open back door. From the yard, I heard my cousins’ overlapping voices chattering. That one’s mine. No, hold it like this when you throw it. I’m gonna tell mom!

She glanced up, gave me a ghost of a smile. “Michael.”

I joined her at the basket, pulled a tattered bath towel from the pile and folded it into thirds. She threw me a suspicious side glance, but said nothing.

“Sarah and Kyle have their physicals for school this afternoon?” I knew they did. At the clinic. Where Chase’s mom worked.

A small groan escaped her mouth and this time she offered a real smile, brief but conspiratorial.

“I’ll take them,” I said.

My offer made her hands stutter in the middle of folding a shirt in half. Nobody asked for that particular chore. For Sarah, five, and Kyle, three, trips to the clinic meant nasty tasting medicine on a good day. Sharp, wicked-looking needles on a bad one. Tears would be on the menu for sure.

“You don’t need to do that.” She finished folding the shirt and dropped it in a basket of clean laundry at her feet. Turned to me and put a hand on my shoulder. “Just call his mother, Michael. Find out where he is.”

My aunt never asked for the responsibility of raising me. I would never look back and call her warm and loving, but she took the job seriously. Not much got by her.

“I don’t mind,” I insisted.

Shrugging, she plucked another dryer-warm shirt from the pile on the table. “That’s because you’re young and foolish.” But two hours later she strapped Sarah and Kyle into their car seats, gave me the keys and handed me a stack of forms that needed to be filled out for school.

Chase’s mother greeted me with a hug, and I asked after him before my courage abandoned me.

“He’s been accepted to the Cambridge Scholars Programme,” she replied, surprised. As though my ignorance was a shock. “A year in England. It’s a phenomenal opportunity, Michael.” She beamed, eyes warm with pride, while my cousins clung to me with their scrawny arms, refusing to detach in view of the line of syringes lined up on the counter.

“Is—Is he coming home before he goes?” I croaked, absently patting little Sarah’s back when she hid her face in the crook of my neck. “I mean, he has to pack and stuff, right?”

Chase’s mother tempted Sarah off my lap with a friendly smile and a cherry lollipop. “He was home last week for a few days. Didn’t he get in touch?”

I squeezed Kyle so tightly, he whimpered and squirmed in my arms. Several seconds passed before my lips would form words, even longer before I could find the breath to utter them. “I must have missed his call.”

“Oh no! You haven’t seen each other in months. I’m so sorry!”

I forced a nod. Struggled to breathe.

“He’ll be back at Christmas, of course, sweetheart. And you’ll have senior year together.”

I nodded, accepting a tearful, sticky Sarah back into my arms while Kyle took his turn. Christmas, of course, and senior year. That sounded reasonable. Yet a sick certainty settled in my heart that day. I’d never see Chase Becker again. Turns out, I’d been right.

Until now.


“How did you know my mother?” I ask Burke.

We’re hours past the discussion in the kitchen, but all I see in the licking flames of Billie’s fire is fifteen-year-old Chase, tears dripping down his cheeks. It makes every breath I draw a painful one. I need distracting.

Tonight, Billie has invited Burke to stay and share in his lesson. It’s an honor to be asked, and he accepts with the traditional formal reply. “Atloniis, Uiyik imijosi.” Though they’re old friends, some things will always stand on ceremony. It takes eleven years of apprenticeship to learn how to convert grasses, roots, leaves and myriad ingredients into salves, ointments and remedies. Hundreds of ceremonial songs and chants are needed for the process of making Indian medicine. I am in my tenth year, advanced, but Burke absorbs and retains the lesson with uncanny ease. He habitually shrouds his brilliant intellect, a tactic adopted after decades of law enforcement, but it serves him well here, in the grove.

The fire throws strange shadows across his face. His vague answer is, “We were friends before she left for Oklahoma.”

But not after? I wait in vain for more detail. Get none. “What did you mean you felt helpless when you heard what happened to her?”

Billie arches a brow at my question. It’s unlike me to voluntarily broach this subject. He splits the contents of his canteen into three cups, chanting under his breath as he does. The air is cool for late June, the animals restless with the drop in barometric pressure. I felt their disquiet strongly earlier. The approaching storm will come ashore far north of here, but my assurances don’t seem to calm them.

Burke grimaces, either at my question or the contents of the mug Billie passes him. “Micco…”

“I’d like to know.”

“Maybe this isn’t the time,” he says.

Billie snorts into this cup. “Maybe it’s past time.”

“Maybe you should keep your own council,” Burke snaps.

My hand freezes with my cup still inches from my lips. In twenty years, I’ve never seen Burke anything but placid. Billie tsks, gestures for me to drink. “Peace.”

Peace hasn’t been my default emotion in several days. I find no reason to seek it now, so I push the issue. “Were you very close?”

“Yes.” Burke caps this with a swig from Billie’s earthen mug.

“Did you know my father?”

As a child, orphaned and displaced to a home and community in which I knew no one, I often thought about my father, though his existence was a subject my mother never dwelled on. I would lie on my lumpy mattress on the floor next to my cousin’s bed and dream he’d ride to my rescue. He never did. Eventually I’d found Billie, then Chase, and those fleeting, fruitless dreams faded.

Burke nods. “I knew him.”

From across the fire, Billie smokes and listens. Offers a few words when Burke doesn’t. “He’s gone now.”

I don’t ask how, or even in what context. Enough upheaval. Enough stirring up the past. I let the conversation drop.

Burke, oddly, doesn’t. “When your mother left, Mary was only four years old. You had yet to be born. Maria made that trek alone, without friends or guidance. She built a life there the same way. My duty as her friend was to protect and help her. I failed.”

“You were very young,” Billie says.

Burke’s eyes drift closed. “An overused and meaningless excuse.”

My throat is tight. I’m not even sure why. “Please don’t blame yourself for anything. We were okay. We were happy.” We had been. Until that night.

Burke continues as though I said nothing. “I failed your mother, Micco. I couldn’t be there for her when she needed me.” He sucks in a deep breath, lifts his head and meets my eyes. “I won’t fail you the same way.”

Billie lifts his cup in acknowledgment. Expression grim, Burke does the same. I follow suit, touched by his words. They carry power and magic, but with the passing of each hour, I fear more and more that they won’t be enough.




The moon sets long before I reach my house. My journey home takes longer than usual, due less to Billie’s moonshine and more to the turmoil I feel in the air. Earth’s creatures are on the move, restless at a time when many should be quiescent. The air sizzles with some impending crisis I can’t identify. I stop often, listen, and reach out to question the animals’ foreboding. Get no answer.

After many years under Billie’s influence, my home has begun to mirror his. I don’t own much. Items I claim as possessions are either necessary tools or totems of healing or magic. Fewer still are souvenirs of special memories. Everything has a place. So to walk in my front door and see my laptop open on my small dining table is a shock. I haven’t used it in weeks, relying on the desktop computer at the refuge to manage my correspondence. A glass with a splash of amber liquid at the bottom sits next to it. A dining chair is pulled out and angled away from the monitor. I have no idea what to make of any of it.

“Hello?” I hover on the threshold and scan the living area. No obvious signs of a break-in. My door had been locked. I thrust my hand into my pocket, retrieve my phone, and swipe it open to dial 911. I’ve tapped out the first two digits when some sense of self-preservation stops me from hitting the final number.

What do I say, beyond the fact that a few things seem out of place? Although someone could be hiding in my one bedroom or tiny bathroom, I feel alone. Probably not the safest instinct to rely on. While my bond with animals leaves me open to much, I’ve never had any luck in sensing a human’s presence, and certainly not their motivations.

I could be in real danger.

Still, I pocket the phone without hitting the send button, step inside and close the door behind me. I spend a few moments listening. Beyond my racing heart, which beats like a bass drum in my ears, I hear nothing. The laptop screen is black, despite being folded open. The tiny orange light I see flashing in the corner indicates the machine is powered up but sleeping. I approach with slow, careful steps.

I inspect the tumbler first, gasping it by the base so I can sniff the contents. Whiskey. I do own some, kept to add to tea with a splash of honey when I’m in the mood. I’ve nursed the same bottle for several years. Drinking it straight would never occur to me.

Next, I slide into the chair and nudge the computer mouse with a fingertip. The screen lights up. A picture of puppy Kane greets me. My usual home screen. Ignoring the creeping dread, I open the browser. Check the history. It lists a series of internet searches between four and five a.m. that morning. I fold back against the chair and sift through my thoughts. I had left for the refuge around that time, hadn’t I? The memory, which is a mundane part of my daily routine, should have been crisp, not foggy and indistinct, despite my lack of sleep. Twenty hours had passed, not twenty years. So why can’t I call the details to mind?

Could I have done this? Sat at my laptop and cruised the Internet? Poured a drink before breakfast? Is my stress so acute and my mind so debilitated that I would’ve forgotten? Is this a manifestation of the unusual and reckless behavior Martina was talking about? I don’t want to contemplate the odds. I draw in a shaky breath and click on the first link in the history. Then wish I hadn’t.

Psychology Today’s article on Dissociative Identity Disorder is comprehensive. The condition may manifest at any age. Individuals with DID may also have post-traumatic symptoms, nightmares or flashbacks, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Many people with DID experience dissociative fugues, where they discover they have traveled or done things but have no recollection of the experience.

Some have a tendency toward violence.

I slam the laptop shut. Consider the alcohol, then head to the kitchen for water instead. I’m weighed down with equal amounts of doubt and denial and so dry I can barely swallow. I crave water. Want it so cold it makes my head pound. Anything to shock my system and knock me out of this stupor. Groundwater here is only ever lukewarm, so I head to the freezer for reinforcements. As I reach inside for a handful of ice cubes, I notice the stain on the worn mustard-yellow laminate countertop.


I’ve seen my share. I’ve been treating animal wounds for a decade, and my own cuts and scrapes before that—more times than I care to count once Chase had buggered off for greener pastures. This matte reddish-brown blot looks like blood residue, rubbed off fresh and dried in place. The mark is about twelve inches long, uneven. More a pattern of rusty flakes than a smear.

Had it been here this morning before I left? I don’t recall. In the dark, it’s a fair assumption I would have missed the mess regardless. I stretch back into my memory for the last time I was here, standing right here, and what I was doing at the time.

Nothing. I can’t remember. Two days? Three? I don’t know. My memory has been sketchy lately, a fact I’ve been consciously ignoring.

The blood… I shudder. Just once. An all-over tremor that steals the air from my lungs. It whooshes out with a low moan of distress. No, not now. I wrestle the anxiety back behind its door, put the glass down before I drop it and unravel a wad of paper towels from the roll by the sink. A sense of detachment takes over, inconsistent from a typical panic attack. My vision doesn’t narrow or fade. On the contrary, it rolls on in technicolor, first in rust-red, then in dark pink as I pour water from my glass over the stain and mop up the puddle with paper towels.

“This is a maladaptive coping mechanism,” my old therapist lectures in my head. “You can’t make this go away with water and a roll of Bounty.”

“Watch me,” I mutter, scrubbing harder. When the stain is gone, I stuff the used paper towels in the trash, wash my hands in scalding water and retreat to safer harbors. My living room is as I left it. Laptop closed, but humming softly on the table. Chair askew. Whiskey a placid lake at the bottom of the tumbler. I reach out, steady myself on the doorframe and glance about for more unwelcome surprises.

This modest house has been my home for ten years. The apartment in Oklahoma where I was born is little more than a wispy memory stained with tragedy. I don’t consciously think of it, choosing instead to recall my family in happier settings. The playground down the street with the rusting, purple monkey bars. The chaotic, steamy kitchen of the restaurant where my mother worked. Mary and I spent hours there studying English and math or playing Old Maid. The details of their faces fade a little more each year, but I refuse to let them go. Study my one old photograph to memorize their smiles.

I hesitate to call my aunt’s house a home, but I can’t disrespect a woman who took me in when I had no one. What little affection she showed me over the years was undoubtedly a transplanted love for my mother, who at one point had been her closest friend. Still, she fed and clothed me. Was never abusive or outwardly cruel. Many of those years belonged to Chase, anyway. I spent more time under his roof than hers.

My current abode is small, but not cramped. Private, surrounded on three sides by trees and brush, it appeals to my stubborn streak of introversion. Most importantly, it’s mine outright, in both a financial and emotional sense. The third slice of my domestic trifecta, Billie’s house and the refuge being the first two. Battling this unnamed and mysterious foe in my safe space is one more stick on the smoldering fire of my “compromised” emotions. I almost wish for evidence of an intruder. Anything to prove I’m not the one sneaking whiskey from my dusty liquor cabinet and leaving streaks of blood on my kitchen counter.

A sudden urge for fresh air sends me striding across my living room and out the front door. I sit before my wobbly legs betray me.

The night bristles with activity. Hums with a background noise that’s much like sitting in a crowded coffee shop. I catch snatches of conversation. The occasional hunting cry or mating call. It’s impossible to feel alone out here, though loneliness is another matter. In an uncanny coincidence—or perhaps not, depending on which spirits are attending me tonight—a car pulls around the bend of the road just as this thought crosses my mind. It slows as it approaches my driveway. My heart leaps in my chest at the sight, then again for a whole different reason when I recognize the vehicle.

Light pours through my open front door onto the porch where I’m sitting. I’m in a literal spotlight, impossible to miss. The car idles, unmoving. In the end, I’m the one to break the stalemate. I lift an arm in greeting, and Chase slowly turns the SUV onto the gravel drive. When he kills the engine and gets out, the nightlife quiets. The creatures must be as curious as I am about my late night visitor.

“You’re up late,” he says, keys jangling from his fingers. This is the Chase I remember. Faded jeans, frayed at the hem, navy T-shirt and weathered sneakers. The five o’clock shadow is new, to me at least.

I can’t take my eyes off of him.

“Micco?” He sidles closer. “You okay?”

“Not quite sure how to answer that,” I admit.

“I understand.”

And that’s all I get. He takes a seat on the step below me, warily, as though I’m a wild animal. He’s staring too, not even trying to be circumspect about it, and I can’t help but inch closer, because it’s been so damn long and my vulnerability is currently off the chart. He breathes a quiet sigh, does the same, and we play a few rounds of this silly game before we’re sitting close enough to satisfy us both. Almost touching, but not quite. He’s radiating heat. Breathing heavily. It’s an intoxicating combination, and my arousal builds like I’m entering a hot pool toes first and sinking beneath the surface an inch at a time. My reaction doesn’t embarrass me. I don’t bother hiding it. We’re not fifteen anymore, and I couldn’t care less if he knows I want him. Maybe it’s time. And I’m curious, to be perfectly honest. I reach out and trail a finger across his brow and over his cheek.

He reacts in a way I don’t expect. The emotion I pick up in return feels so familiar I think he must have somehow grabbed all my tension and desire and bounced it back, but no. His cheeks are flushed dark, pupils dilated, even in the bright light from the room behind us, and his eyes rove over me with a hunger I’ve come to recognize over the years. I haven’t exactly been a monk while we were separated.

He’s drowning in as much lust as I am, and I can’t help wondering, faced with the obvious, if I was blind at fifteen or just really stupid. There’s nothing humorous in the irony of my epiphany. I’ve experienced too much pain for that.

I test my theory. Reverse my hunched, defensive posture and lean back on my elbows. Let my legs fall open slightly. Chase drags his eyes over everything I’ve put on display. Swallows. Lays a trembling hand on my chest, right over my heart. “Micco?”

Life is a comedy of errors, Billie likes to say. I’m beginning to think that for me it’s just a lot of errors. I sit up, scoot away, and cross one leg over the other. “Why are you out so late?”

He frowns. Moves to erase some of the distance I’ve put between us. Not all of it, I notice. “Couldn’t sleep,” he says, clearing his throat. “What about you?”

“Just got back from Billie’s.” To some really screwed up shit in my house. I won’t be mentioning that.

“Can you talk about it?”

Can you talk about it? The ghosts are thick tonight. It hadn’t been a polite inquiry, words to make conversation. He genuinely loves to hear what Billie teaches me in the grove, or at least he had, and I’m his only source of information in that regard. My tribe doesn’t create textural records. We don’t have books like History of the Florida Panther, so heavy with facts and information it could prop open a door. For us, history is alive. Past is present. We express this through the drama of collective ceremony. Chase comprehends the power of keeping those rituals. Respects them.

The history flowing between us tonight is more alive than ever, but I’m still not sure I trust him. “I’m sorry, no.”

Chase shrugs. “I understand.”

“So what’s it like? The FBI?”

“It’s…” One deep sigh later, he says, “It’s good. I wasn’t appointed until a few years ago. The work is rewarding. Tough. Keeps me occupied.”

Not the most ringing endorsement, but there’s a measure of warmth in his voice. He’s tentative. Almost ambivalent. But also gratified. The layers of emotion are new, at least for me. The Chase I knew was a fiercely intelligent person but tended to see the world in black and white. Good or bad.

I suppose we all grow up sometime.

“What happened to being a doctor?”

Chase smiles as he absently scrubs his palms over his stubbled cheeks. “You seriously just channeled my mother.”

“Oh, I bet. How does she feel about the FBI?”

“She’s getting used to the idea.” He nudges my knee with his. “Do you like your job? At Brother Wolf?”

“Very much.”

“It suits you.” He says this quietly, and the soft, fond smile that follows drags me into the past kicking and screaming.

“Why are you here?” I ask.

To his credit, he doesn’t deflect this time. “I wanted to see you.” He’s still looking his fill, as a matter of fact. Shamelessly. Has he forgotten what brought us back together in the first place? We didn’t cross paths on Facebook or reconnect at a class reunion. He’s working a murder case. I’m the prime suspect. All signs point to an unhappy ending.

“I can’t think of a worse time for this conversation, Chase,” I say.

He cocks his head. Doesn’t speak. The bastard’s going to make me say it, and now I’m unsure, questioning my conclusions, because Chase was many things in our youth, but cruel was never one of them. “I’m confused,” I say. “You confuse me.”

“How so?” His hand lifts from his lap, reaches out and curls around my calf. I’m not sure he’s even conscious of what he’s done. And I’m angry that he finds it so easy to touch me.

“How can you be here, wanting this now? When you couldn’t wait to get away from me when I told you how I felt the first time?” I sense my anger rising, of all my repressed insecurities swelling with it.

“How you felt the first time? Micco.” Chase purses his lips. His eyes narrow enough that a map of fine lines appear at the corners. “I—”

“Do you have any idea how long I wanted to tell you?”

His fingers tighten on my calf. “Yes.” For all the anger I’m putting off, he’s matching it in confusion. “Of course I do.”

He knew. He knew. It upends everything. And changes nothing. “You enjoyed watching me suffer?”

“What?” He yanks his hand back. I miss its warmth immediately. “How can you say that?”

“How can you deny it?”

“I was trying to—I wanted you to tell me when you were ready. I was waiting.”

“So you could leave afterward?”

“No!” His shout echoes across my small yard, silencing the insects for a few moments. “So I could…”

I’m quaking as his voice tapers off, his explanation with it. “Chase?”

“Never mind.” He shoots to his feet, paces a few feet away, and runs a hand through his hair. “Fuck! I shouldn’t have come.”

I rise to my feet as well, though more slowly. “Then why did you?”

“Because I’m an idiot.” He says this under his breath, but my hearing is almost as sharp as Burke’s. I stoop to grab the keys he left in his haste to escape, jingle them to get his attention, then toss them across the vast, fathomless space between us. He catches them effortlessly.

“Tell me why you ran away,” I say. “At least tell me that.” Then maybe I can put some of my demons to sleep, if not to death.

“Well, you don’t ask for much, do you?” he mutters. So much bitterness in his voice. I can’t reconcile it with the Chase I knew, who always made the best of everything. Who believed only good things happened when you tried your best. What had become of that boy?

Chase folds his fingers over the keys and turns toward his car. “I knew you were gay, Micco,” he says over his shoulder as he walks away. “Back then, I didn’t entertain the idea, even for a second, that you felt differently than I did about where we were headed. God, I was a cocky little shit.” He slows to a halt, lays a hand on the hood. I can see it shaking, even in the dark. “When you told me how you felt the first time? Is that what you just said? You think that day isn’t scorched in my memory like a fucking burn that won’t heal? You told me you’d never…” he trailed off again. Shook his head and continued. “That’s why I left. Because it hurt too much to be around you when I knew you’d never want the same things I did.” He gives a heavy sigh. “Which is as pathetic as it sounds. And the reason I came here tonight?” He pauses, considering, then turns to look over his shoulder. “Because I can’t stay away from you.”

His monologue, which lasted less than a minute, just permanently altered the last fifteen years of my life. I’ll never think of you like that. You’ll always be my brother. Nothing else. I’d said those words to him thinking they could save us. Instead I’d accomplished the opposite. Doomed us both to more than a decade of self-pity and myself to a period of self-destruction I don’t care to recall in too much detail. Could the universe really be that cruel? I reflect on my life to date and conclude that yes, indeed it could be.

“I missed you,” I blurt out. So inadequate and understated, those three words. I’d been adrift after he left, wasting away inside. Destroying everything in reach, but in increments, so I could spread the hurt as I faded. Too much loss numbs a person, at least I’ve been told. It must, because by the time Burke found me on that water tower, I’d stopped caring about most everything. That I found my way back, rescued by good fortune and better friends, may be the ultimate survival story. And Burke had been right about the long, painful recovery. It took me years to get to where I am now. Happy. Confident. Secure. At least I’d been those things a week ago.

The thought of experiencing all of that again with him terrifies me. Yet I want to grab what I crave, consequences be damned. “I missed you so damn much. God, Chase.” I rise and take a step toward him. “You have no idea.”

“I think I have an idea.” Though pitched low, his tortured voice carries to me across the yard. “And I’m sorry. I just—” He slips around to the side of the car, and I’m pulled helplessly, magnetically, toward him. “I didn’t see a way forward after that day. I had it all planned out, right? Not the details, I mean, but… you and me. That was solid. A constant. My constant. I knew whatever else happened along the way, we’d figure it out. But then you said…you said….”

I nod. Yes, we’d been in tune all right, although not even our bond, which seemed preternatural at times, had prevented this one small, but major lapse in communication. I have to touch him now. Move past the words that destroyed us originally and communicate in a way I know won’t be misunderstood. My next step brings us close enough that I can see the bright sheen in his eyes, but Chase raises an arm to halt my progress. “I had to change my plan,” he says. “All my expectations. Stop thinking about you. And the thing is, Micco, you were all I thought about when we were together.” He retreats, arm still raised, warding me off. “I’m sorry I hurt you. So, so sorry. But you made your feelings clear, and leaving was the only way I knew how to deal with them.”

I’m equal parts devastated and giddy, a dizzying combination, and so off-balance I let him slip away. He yanks the car door open before dropping his arm. My instincts are a spinning compass. Let him go. Make him stay. I have no idea what to do. And while I debate, he escapes.

“Chase,” I call as he climbs into the driver’s seat. I say the only thing that might make a difference after all this time. “Did it ever occur to you that I might have lied?”

I don’t specify about what, which carries more than a modicum of danger, considering. But I want him to make the leap himself. See the forest of misunderstandings we’ve been living in. He sits behind his tinted windshield for several moments, unmoving, before a hand creeps into view, grabs the handle of the door and pulls it shut. He drives away into the night, while I wander back to my house, take a seat outside my front door, and wrap my arms around my knees.

Copyright © 2023 Libby Drew; All Rights Reserved.
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On 11/18/2023 at 4:12 PM, drpaladin said:

I had wondered if the comment about thinking about Chase as a brother was the catalyst behind Chase leaving. All these years of painful separation were based on Micco's misguided lie. Chase has always wanted exactly the same relationship Micco desired.

Is Micco really experiencing fugue states or is someone cleverly gaslighting him. I'm thinking it's the latter.

In virtually every relationship there is a catalyst that sets things in motion. Whether for a good outcome, a bad outcome, or for a neutral one that is often thought of as "sitting on the fence" or "undecided". Waiting for a "deciding factor".

As to "fugue' or "gaslighting" involving Micco (and why not Chase)? Just perhaps, as has been shown in real analysis, a combination of both. 

Psychiatry was once (best?) described like someone spinning plates, trying to keep them from crashing down. 

witch superhero GIF

In the past psychiatry believed hysteria or epilepsy brought on fugue or dissociative states. In the last 50 years, 'fugue' is most often described as a period of loss of awareness (or confusion) of one's identity, often coupled with flight from a persons 'usual' environment. But most agree it is triggered by stress; including PTSD, PTSI and other factors.

IMHO, both are fleeing from something they both want and fear, and can't reconcile.


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Sorry, Sorry, sorry guys. I'm finally home and formatting the next chapter now. Should be up shortly. Thanks for your patience. 

(But old San Juan was beautiful, and I could live there forever. Just sayin'...)

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