My heart beat so rapidly within my chest that I was sure that it would burst out, right then. I fingered the lump in my pocket, playing over the rehearsed words again and again. I told myself that it was Grace, not my presidential inauguration. But I couldn't shake the feeling in my stomach, the flutter in my chest.
But then it was happening, and I was on my knee and I fumbled for the box and she was
"Yes," She told me through teary eyes. "Yes, Sam. Yes."
"I love you." I exclaimed as I pulled our bodies together. I loved her. I loved her so much.
I woke to the sound of chirping birds, happy and wonderful. There was a moment between consciousness and slumber that was blissful: the birds, the morning sun, and the sweet scent of Sam next to me. For a moment everything was perfect and I clung to it with every ounce of strength my tired body could manage. Then I was awake, and it was over.
The moment I stretched my legs, I could feel the soreness in my muscles. An ache that lingered, even after I slumped back into my curled position. And my head. It hurt like hell. Sam's chest rose and fell against my back, timed and even. I was surprised to find him still asleep. I craned my neck over the edge of the bed and felt my way around the bedside table until I found what I was searching for, my phone. On it read the time, 9:32 AM in bright, round letters through my squinted eyes. Early for me, late for him.
Then, like he'd been reading my thoughts all along, he shifted next to me. He didn't stretch or yawn in the usual Sam way, but instead, sighed.
"Was I dreaming, or did all that actually happen last night?" He asked groggily. I turned to face him with a smile. His hand sat on his forehead, like he was searching for the full memory of the previous evening.
"Depends." I giggled, not at all like myself. I was morning drunk on Sam.
"On what?" He questioned.
"On what you remember." I replied easily. I watched him think this over. Sam always got that look, the one when he was really focused. I saw it on him when he played his guitar, or sometimes while he was reading. It was adorable and so Sam-like I almost couldn't bear it.
Suddenly he turned, reaching his arm behind his back. I watched him curiously, his hand fishing for something underneath him. It finally returned a moment later, holding a lacy white bra. My lacy white bra. I felt my cheeks fade into a burning shade of pink.
"It's all coming back to me now." He smiled widely, his grin illuminating the pale, grey room, lit only by the light streaming through the cracks in the curtains.
"Ugh." I groaned, and buried my face in my pillow. My head pounded with lingering alcohol and embarrassment.
"Oh, Grace, I was kidding." Sam said, but I didn't draw away from the pillow. I remained in its soft grasp, unwilling to face him. But even then, a smile hung on my cheeks.
"Grace," He sang into my ear. His shoulder was smashed into mine, and his heat radiated against me. I peaked my eyes out, but only slightly.
"Grace." He said again, this time a bit more deviously. I bit my lip, even though he could not see it. I cursed him for being so warm and wonderful and charming all at once. Before I could scold him for this, though, I felt his arms slide around my bare midriff and lift me from the pillow, despite my girlish squeals of opposition. In one swift move, he flipped himself onto his back, so that my stomach hovered just over his, as long as his arms held me. Slowly, though, he lowered me down until our noses touched and I could feel his smile against my own. He slid his fingers through my hair and then tightened his arms around my shoulders in a protective hold.
"I think I'm still drunk." Sam mumbled. He squeezed his eyes shut to ward off what I'm sure was the twin headache of my own. I rolled back next to him, wiggling my toes against the soft covers.
"Do you think Cole's alive?" I wondered aloud, but Sam just laughed. If I thought I could get drunk, I'd never seen Cole in action. I was sure he was going to die, or pass out, or least throw up. But he did none of those things, at least not before I stumbled back to Sam's room. Whether he lasted the night or not, I wasn't sure.
We laid there in silence for some minutes, only accompanied by the birds and Sam's growling stomach. I eventually pulled myself from the bed, and plucked my scattered clothes from the floor. Sam smirked while I did this, and I shot him a dirty look as I slid into one of t-shirts and padded down the hall to the bathroom.
I almost dropped my head in the sink as I splashed it with cold water, although it had no effect of my state of alertness. Isn't that what they always did, in the movies? They splashed themselves with some cold water and gritted their teeth and faced the day. But all I wanted to do was go back to bed. I couldn't even remember what day it was, let alone was I ready to face it with an eager smile.
I found Sam in the hall, a shirt half pulled over his head and his sweats sliding down his waist. He adjusted his shirt and then yanked his pants up, and I smiled at his goofy appearance. His hair stuck up against his head in a thousand directions and lines were pressed into his face after a a night of still and deep sleep. His eyes were red and his face tired, but he was Sam. Like I'd always known him.
"Breakfast?" I suggested, and he nodded lackadaisically. He me followed down to the kitchen, and already I could see the mess from the night before. The rocker laid on its side, and the salt and pepper had been poured out at the bottom of the stairs. I examined it oddly, and I heard Sam chuckle behind me.
"We were really drunk." He confirmed. The kitchen was disorganized and smelled vaguely of burnt cheese. I stepped over the rocker to reach the island in the center of the cold-floored kitchen.
I examined the contents of the fridge, odd leftovers and milk a few days old. I sighed and settled on a half-empty carton of eggs.
"Omelets?" I asked, and Sam called a yes from the bottom of the steps, where he clumsily scraped up the salt. I started to crack the eggs into a tall cup when I heard a groan.
"Cole?" I asked in disbelief, and leaned over the island. Sure enough, there laid Cole, his cheek pressed to the rug and his arms sprawled across the floor. His back was bare, his shirt only a few feet from him. From the odd discoloration and sour smell, something told me Cole hadn't, in fact, lasted the night without his stomach betraying him.
"Oh, my god." I mumbled, rubbing my eyes. I couldn't help a grin, although the whole picture was rather pathetic. I knew I should have moved him to his bed, or at least to the couch, but he didn't seem in any state to be on his feet. So I just stepped over him to retrieve a fork, and then went back to my whisking.
"He lives." Sam commented, pouring the contents of several plastic cups down the drain. Cole grumbled something neither of us could understand, but I could guess that it was something equally snarky and inappropriate. That was Cole. Brash, cocky, and occasionally, a wolf
Sam greased a pan and set it onto the stove, turning the knob and lighting a white-blue flame beneath it. I poured my eggs into the pan with a sizzling result. I pushed them around and around with the green rubber spatula Sam had gotten me for Christmas, until they looked at least half-way appetizing.
"Plate." I instructed Sam, who hovered two plates over the pan almost instantly. I roughly sliced the omelet in half with my spatula, offering a section to Sam's plate and a section to mine.
"And is St. Clair hungry, too?" I asked, crouching down with my plate of eggs. Cole's only response was a wrinkled nose.
"Guess not." Sam shrugged as I slid next to him at the messy kitchen table, covered in the last month's dishes and various bottles of pills. Sam was tearing at his omelet, taking large bites, stopping only to inhale a slurp of orange juice. But when I brought the egg to my mouth, my stomach flipped.
I groaned and set the fork back down, a wave of nausea and headache washing over me at the same time. I suddenly regretted the last few drinks from the night before. It took a moment for Sam to look away from his plate before he noticed my distress.
"Grace," said Sam, "Are you alright?" And from his perspective, I must have looked very not all right. I didn't feel all right, not at all.
"No," I groaned, and pushed the eggs out of my sight. "My stomach."
I knew I shouldn't have said it right as I let it escape, because I could almost hear Sam's stomach flip. I knew what nausea meant to him. Wolf.
"I'm not going to change." I assured him, probably cutting him off from asking that very question. He sat back in his chair as I said it, but he still looked concerned.
"Don't let me drink. Ever again." I moaned, and a grumble from behind the island suggested that Cole seconded this notion. Sam smiled sadly and then rose from his seat and picked me up, all in one motion. He carried me back up the stairs, his feet pressing, pressing, pressing against each step in a manner that felt more violent to my sensitive head than it really was. My stomach twisted.
He set me back in bed, gently. He brought the covers around my shoulders and kissed my forehead, like my dad might have done when I was little if he hadn't had a life separate from mine. Despite my pounding headache and nausea, I felt happy.
"You're a good husband." I mumbled, mostly into the pillow. I couldn't see Sam's reaction, as my eyes we're already sliding shut, but his voice suggested he was smiling.
"I love you." He responded, and then he was gone.
When I finally heard Grace stirring, it was nearly two o'clock. Since breakfast, I'd read through my copy of The Great Gatsby, left here by Beck. I heard her stumble to the bathroom, and then throw up. I reminded myself that this is what husbands did: they read and waited while their wife slept off a hangover.
It wasn't that I had forgotten the fact that this was my duty as a good husband, but more like I'd been happily revisited by the thought. I wasn't regretful, but the opposite; I was so lucky to be married to Grace.
She didn't come downstairs right away, but hovered. My senses were nothing of that of my old wolf self, but the house was old enough-and familiar enough-that I knew the patterns of footsteps as they moved around the house. And now, I knew, Grace was waiting at the top of the stairs. Maybe she was still waking up, or maybe she was considering a second trip to the bathroom. But whatever it was, she hesitated.
I considered running up to her, but quickly decided against it. She had a hangover, nothing more. She needed space, and Advil. Not my questions. But there it was again, that knot in my stomach and that thing gnawing at my brain that told me there was something more to her sickness. Like if didn't run after her now, she'd shift and be gone before I could even say goodbye.
I shook the thought from my head. She was fine. She was fine. She'd said so herself. We'd stopped keeping secrets from each other a long time ago. If she thought something was wrong, she would have told me.
So I sat in be Beck's office that was now more like Cole's office, and waited. Waited until she found her way to me in that little room: pale, tired, but alive. She instructed me to scoot over, when really she just wanted me to hold her.
"Hey," I said as she collapsed on my lap. Her hands were cold and she smelled like mint toothpaste.
"Feeling better?" I asked hopefully. She pressed her head to my chest. She played with the two rings on her finger, turning them each around and around, occasionally catching afternoon light.
"I guess." She shrugged. She felt small in my arms, like a child.
"Isabel called." I informed her. Once I'd explained the state of two-thirds of the household (the two-thirds in which she'd been most eager to talk), she didn't have much to say. Isabel and I never connected the way she had with Cole or Grace, so the conversation died quickly. She asked me-no, instructed me to have Cole return her call, and if possible, soon. I don't know what they usually discussed on the phone, but Isabel made it sound important. So I promised her I would relay the message.
"What'd she have to say?" Grace asked weakly. Her voice was raw, probably from the puking.
"Not much. Looking for you and Cole." I explained.
"Is Cole up yet?" She asked then, and I realized I hadn't checked on him. But, I hadn't heard movement in the kitchen since my settling in the office, so I shook my head.
"Wonder if he feels as as shitty as I do." She sighed, and I kissed the top of her head. I felt bad for her, I really did. I also thanked my previous self for not pouring that last drink or else Grace and I might be in the same boat. Someone had to be the adult, though, if even for the day. And today, it was my turn.
I held Grace for a while, her legs tucked under her weight and her head on my chest. The least I could do was hold her until the alcohol had finally drained from her system.
I didn't realize she had fallen asleep until I heard her gentle snoring. It was odd, Grace never snored. I blamed it on the liquor, though, and carried her back to our bed. This time, I laid with her.
The first thing I felt was the bile in the back of my throat, like I hadn't swallowed in a week. A river of saliva was pooling under my cheek, but I didn't bother to wipe it away. A string of curses flipped through my foggy brain as I attempted to lift myself from the floor. No luck.
As I lifted my hand to my face, my fingers caught on something stuck to my cheek. I examined it with between my fingers for a moment, until the word came to me: sticky note. There was sticky note stuck to my cheek.
I pulled it off, and held it right in front of my eyes. It was just black smudges. But wait, no. My eyes were focusing and I saw the smudges forming into letters, until Sam's scratchy handwriting appeared.
Take a shower.
So she called. The fact didn't really surprise me, but instead, satisfied me. It was easier to miss someone when they missed you back. Or at least I thought so.
When I was sure my stomach was steady, I carefully sat up and examined my surrounding area. A scene of drool and unidentifiable smells. And an empty needle. I sighed and peeled my shirt from the ground, and headed straight for the shower.
I let the hot water punch my back until I got tired of standing, and then I sat. A pool of water formed around me, suds and probably puke residue. Another long sigh.
After a considerable amount of time that I couldn't keep track of, I wrapped up in a towel and headed back into my room. First, though, I ducked my head into Sam's room to check on the happy couple. Both asleep, and probably hungover. They probably had it worse than I did. Neither of them ever struck me as heavy drinkers, whereas I had been drinking ever since I could hold a glass. Or more likely, since the day NARKOTIKA got signed.
In my room I found a sea of dirty clothes and an empty dresser. I did laundry never. That was something Isabel used to force me to do, before she left in June. Had it really been so many months? It was March now. Shit, so much time had passed. The thought left a hollow feeling in my stomach.
I decided on a slightly less questionable pair of sweats and called Isabel back.
I swear she answered before I'd even punched in the number. That was her, though.
"Finally." She groaned. She sounded breathless. Maybe she'd been running, or making out with some guy from the beach. Or both.
"Come back." I said firstly, without even a hello. Because that's what I always said first, every time she called. Come back. This tiny town was nothing without her.
"Sam said you were drunk." She replied, easily ignoring my request. I'd expected it, though. It's take more than a simple wish to bring a force like Isabel Culpeper back.
"I think I still am." I sighed. She released a choppy laugh through the line.
"Sam and Grace, too?"
"Sam and Grace, too." I confirmed. I could tell she was equally surprised by this fact as I was. Sam and Grace were responsible, that was the truth. I was the kid who drank and took pills and ran away from his life. Not them.
"So I can assume that Grace is still in bed?" She asked.
"Yep," I nodded, but as I said it, I heard movement in the room across the hall. I could herd Grace in here, but that meant I'd have to say goodbye. And I was just selfish enough to leave the statement uncorrected. I shouldn't have done it, but I was too infatuated to mind.
"And how's her counterpart?" She sighed. I imagined her in her room, filing her nails like she already knew the answer to her question. I chuckled.
"In love. Annoyingly so." I replied, and I think she must have nodded on the other side. I heard the distinct muffle of voices in the background, but soft enough that I couldn't make out their words or to whom they belonged.
"And how are you?" She added in a sickly sweet voice, something right out of a 60's sitcom. My smile widened.
"Tired, hungover, and much less wolf than a month ago." I answered. And although it was bitter and sarcastic, she seemed oddly pleased with the response. Like she was glad to know that I was okay, even if I was drunk. I was glad she cared.
"You know, I heard your song on the radio today." She said, like I should have known.
"Did they?" I asked, genuinely surprised. I didn't listen to the radio much these days.
"Tribute to the boy who changed the face of music." She read to me. I let out a bitter laugh.
"No one cares until you're dead." I said, and even though she probably didn't know it, it had been dubbed from one of the first songs I ever recorded. The memory used to be a good one, but it was stale now. I'd spent too much time in another life to love my old one.
"Call me when you're dead." Was all she said back, and then the line went dead. I held the phone to my ear for a while longer, letting her voice echo in thoughts to the dull tone playing from the speaker. Why was it so hard to give up something you never had? If it had been another time, I might have written it down to examine the thought further, but it seemed pointless now. My wet hair clung to my neck and the sheet that had once been wrapped around my mattress was now crumpled and pulled away. I made a note to fix it, even though I never would.
I laid there and hoped I would fall asleep, but it never came. Maybe I should get drunk again, I thought. It seemed, in the moment, to be the best and simplest solution to a problem that could never truly be solved.