If there is no struggle, there is no progress.
The teen boy looked panicked, then pressed his cell phone to his ear, nervously awaiting the other party to pick up.
When they finally did, the didn’t bother with polite platitudes.
“Dad, something is wrong with mom. She’s all weird and stuff! I don’t know what to do! I am freaking out!”
“OK, calm down. Where are you?” was Ethan’s response, his voice purposely firm, yet calm.
“Mom’s place. The penthouse! Dad, please … she’s freaking me out!” the boy’s voice sounded panicked and whiny.
“Blake, stay calm. I’ll be right there. Stay put, don’t do anything, don’t go anywhere. Just don’t panic, okay?”
“Ok.” the boy’s answer was quiet.
Somehow it took Ethan only 20 minutes to get from Brindleton Bay to downtown San Myshuno in the pouring rain, a record-worthy time, regardless the time of day or weather conditions.
He texted his son to open the door and wait there for him.
“Dad! Thank God!” Blake’s voice sounded a mix of relief, fright and frustration as he let him in and hugged him, Ethan felt happy to have his son initiate this for the first time after such a long time.
“It’s okay, kiddo. Where is she?”
“Kitchen – I think. Dad, she keeps asking when ‘daddy’ will be home, and kept wanting to read kids books to me and tuck me in. I tried to talk to her but she is ….weird. REALLY weird.” Panic reflected the inner turmoil of the barely sixteen year old boy.
“Okay .. I got it from here.” he told him, as Amy already appeared.
“Ethan, baby! Finally! Another late night. You should not work so much, my love. I’ll heat up dinner for you. And then we’ll tuck you in together, sweet baby boy! Yes, we will! Yes, we will!” The last part was aimed at 16 year old Blake and said in the voice you use when addressing babies. It would have been comical, were the backstory not so bleak. Mental health issues gone out of hand.
Ethan was just as shocked as Blake, even more so when Amy stepped up to him and kissed him.
Not just on the cheek, like a friend, but like a lover. Or a wife. Clearly she was not in the here and now. Ethan gently plucked her off himself, pleading with her. It was obvious he was overwhelmed by this situation. As was Blake. It all felt like a waking nightmare to him.
“Amy, hey. You need to snap out of it. I need you to try to come back to reality. Can you do that for me? For Blake? Please? Where are your meds? You didn’t take them, did you? Come on, Ames. You know better.” Ethan’s words were soft, there was a hint of regret in his eyes.
“Chemicals are not good for the baby, honey.” Amy told him.
“What baby? And where is your son, Amy?” Ethan’s tone was firm and kind at the same time.
“Right there. My sweet little baby boy. He is probably hungry, I need to feed him. But medicine is not good for mother’s milk …the doctor said so. What I take, he gets. I want our boy to grow up healthy” she smiled with a faraway look in her eyes, pointing at Blake, who shot another panicked glance at his dad, while Ethan began to realize there was no use. Amy was too far gone.
Now she just stared frightened like a lost puppy mumbling incoherently.
“Blake, where is Parker?” Ethan worried about Amy’s other son.
“Don’t know, haven’t seen him since I got here. Maybe he’s with his father?”
“Find your mother’s phone and call Carson. Or bring the phone to me.”
As Blake went to Amy and Carson’s bedroom to search for her phone, Ethan gently lead Amy towards a chair to sit her down, calmly speaking to her.
Blake had never been more relieved to see his dad. He wasn’t even sure why he had called him, and not grandpa, who was his usual go-to person for every problem. Maybe because this was about his mom, and therewith his dad’s ex-wife. And maybe because his mom kept talking about him like they were still married and he was a little boy. When he first got here for his scheduled visit, she had been normal. But then suddenly something snapped inside of her, she came to his room all weird.
In the meantime he found her phone, swiped to unlock it to find the number for Carson, Amy’s current husband.
Carson had never been too forthcoming about keeping in touch with Amy’s previous family, Blake still barely knew his half-brother on his mother’s side as Carson just always found ways to keep them separated, and none of the Camerons ever pressed the issue. Blake had only interacted with Carson on few occasions and only ever briefly, even when he stayed overnight.
Staring at the phone, there were several unread text messages and missed calls from Carson, Blake read some of it which only piqued his interest.
This tone was the common denominator in most of them, some accusatory, others more pleading. Not exactly Romeo & Juliet material.
In his teenage curiosity he read further, her answers to earlier messages told him she caught him with another woman, and from the sound of it, not for the first time. His reaction was rude and crude, not repentant, so she quit replying.
Oh shit! No wonder she snapped.
He went over to his father, who looked concerned while he had Amy sitting at the table with a cup of tea.
“Dad, can you look at something?” Blake’s tone had a sense of urgency.
Ethan came to him and looked at the messages.
“Crap! Last thing she needed!” he mumbled. “Can you stay with your mother, while I call Carson real quick? He needs to deal with this – NOW!”
“Dad … I don’t know …” Blake frowned.
“You just sit with her, talk to her, about the weather or music. I will be right over there in the living room keeping an eye on you both. Distract her, so she won’t hear too much.”
Blake got Amy to talk, she rambled on and on about random things, Blake just nodded now and then while trying to eavesdrop into his father’s brief conversation with Carson. His facial expression alone spoke volumes. He hung up, shook his head, sighed, then returned to the dining room, sat down and told his son.
“Blake, we need to get your mom to the hospital now. There is nothing we can do for her to help her here. Carson is being a dick … I meant … complicated. I can have Blythe pick you up there and take you home.”
“No, I want to stay with you dad.”
About two hours later, after a brief update by the attending doctor, Ethan told Blake to call his grandfather to pick him up.
“Dad, you’re not coming?”
“I can’t leave her alone here. Not until Carson graces us with his presence. If she comes to, she’d be scared out of her mind. She needs me now, since her fucking new husband’s priority seems to be other things, except his sick wife … sorry, kid, you shouldn’t have to hear that. I am sorry.”
“It’s okay dad, I can read. I already know what is going on. He’s a prick!”
About an hour later, Carson arrived, Ethan went to speak with him privately, which ended up being a very animated conversation. In other words, they fought.
The last thing Ethan said to him before he turned to leave Carson standing there was loud enough for Blake to hear
“She is your WIFE! For better or worse, remember!? This is about as worse as it can get, and she needs you now! This is YOUR job not mine. You broke this, it’s on YOU to fix it and decide where you want to be in all this! You cannot do this to her ever again! It will kill her! She needs you, now more than ever.”
Matching his father’s quick and angry pace out to the car, Blake asked him about it.
“Sorry you had to witness that, kid, I am going to take you home, then I will come back here. I cannot leave your mother, not knowing what he’ll do or say to her. Or if he’d even stay after seeing her sedated.”
“I want to stay with you dad. I am not leaving you now. I won’t let you do this alone.”
Ethan fought back tears as he hugged his son.
“That is probably the nicest thing anybody has ever said to me. I love you, Blake.”
“Love you too, dad. I am sorry, for everything. And thank you for being there for me today.”
“I’ll always be there for you. I know it has not always looked like it, but I never meant any of what happened as anything other than helping you. Let’s get you home. Maybe it would be better if I let them sort it out. Not like she registers much reality right now anyway and the doctor said the drugs would knock her out cold until tomorrow morning.”
“Dad, you think I could stay at your place tonight?”
“Sure! I’ll just text your grandfather.”
Few weeks later the sun was setting over Everett Heights.
For the past days all adolescents at Brindleton Bay High School had been counting down the time to the overnight camping party at Everett Heights which would ring in the lazy and carefree days of Summer Break. For many generations local teens had honored that tradion year after year and would in generations to follow.
Blake was having fun at that party, music, dancing, BBQ, laughter, group games, swimming, … whatever a teen heart desired and no adults.
Currently he was in a competition with Hailey who could swing higher, neither of them concerned whether that was considered age appropriate for a fifteen and a sixteen year old among their peers or not.
They were too busy having fun.
They were fast friends now and she had become one of the few people in his life whom Blake trusted.
By sheer coincidence had they discovered many months ago now that they had a lot in common.
For one, there was the desire to get away and just sit quietly, preferably out in nature, without saying a word, a very un-teen thing they both enjoyed.
Then there were other times when they would not stop talking, joking, being ridiculously silly.
Both loved swimming in natural lakes, rivers and ponds way more than chemical laden, overfilled public pools.
Blake felt absolutely comfortable around Hailey.
She liked to sing, and had a pretty decent voice. They discovered that when he was practicing once and she just started joining in.
Sometimes they would meet somewhere, her hiding spot near her parental farm in Windenburg or other places, he would play his guitar and she would just sit there and read. Or they would just sit in silence.
Being alone together, as they dubbed it.
He was no fool though. He knew she liked him well beyond friendship, and he also knew that he was lying to himself about it all being just platonic to him, but his guard was still up, he wouldn’t allow it to go any further, and she never pressed the issue. Instinctively somehow, without them ever discussing it, she seemed to know his boundaries and not once even came close to overstepping.
But tonight he couldn’t help but doubt his choice.
She looked so dang pretty, the almost turquoise bright blue of her eyes seemed to glow from within, as she danced with him, the glow of the fire reflecting off her long blond braids, creating a halo effect making her look like an angel to him with that sweet smile.
Some of the other kids drank alcohol, Blake stayed far away and he had never seen Hailey even taste any ever since he had known her. Eventually the party and the music slowed down.
His heart was beating so hard, he swore she could hear or feel it, as she was so close now, moving to the music. He didn’t want to, but could not stop staring into those eyes, mesmerizing him.
Her adorable freckles, that would dance when she wrinkled her nose as she sometimes would. Those soft lips that just looked so … so …
Suddenly there was the kiss.
As if coming to from a blackout, Blake was surprised, shocked even, and she looked equally as shocked and surprised. What surprised Blake even more was when he realized he had been the one who initiated it.
Staring at each other, Hailey was the first to break the awkward silence when she said, her voice barely more than a whisper
“You are just full of surprises, Blake.”
“I think I surprised myself.” he admitted.
She just smiled that sweet smile and suggested getting a soda which lifted the awkwardness but also broke the spell.
Luckily nothing changed between them after that summer night. Neither of them spoke of it ever again, and all the others had been too wrapped up in themselves to even have noticed.
But something had changed inside of him.
Torn apart by the wish to go along with this and see where it would lead them, the curiosity about first love in the balmy days of summer and the fear of losing their friendship, which he had grown to rely on. It helped him feel normal again. And there was that old problem with females and not being able to trust them as such. Most of the time he didn’t look at Hailey as female, which helped. But if he were to date her, he would have to.
Another point against even trying.
He even asked his grandmother for advice, who had told him to follow his heart.
This was not helpful, as he had no idea, which of the options, if not all, came from his heart. Also, his heart was usually pounding at a dizzying 200 mph whenever she was near now.
His grandpa had told him to follow his gut.
Also no good advice. If it came to Hailey, after that night his gut was usually twisted and turned into knots these days. How do you follow that while trying to remember to breathe and not puke for nervousness, while somehow working up something half way passable of conversation?
While he felt awkward around her, he also missed her when they didn’t see each other for a day or two. A vicious cycle and not something he ever expected having to deal with, nor was prepared for. Luckily did his awkwardness usually dissipate after being around her for a little while to an almost normal level. He would see her again tonight and was genuinely excited about that. His friends and he were going bowling.
While there, he had plans to ask her out. Practiced in the mirror for hours to make sure he sounded smooth and not needy or demanding. It wasn’t supposed to be a real date in a romantic sense, just see if she wanted to go to an ice cream parlor the next day, nothing special, and just see how it would go. A kinda date without it being too obviously a date if things went awry. Still, he was excited and nervous about the ‘not-date’. He had even washed and detailed ‘Betsy’ for the not-date, the Jeep his grandpa gave him for his 16th birthday, to not embarrass himself when he would go to pick her up.
Assuming she’d say yes.
Which she most likely would, since she was always so very sweet.
Currently Blake had other problems.
“Grandma? Have you seen my damn keys? I cannot find them anywhere.” Blake arrived in the kitchen, looking frantic. He should have left for the bowling alley 10 minutes ago. Now he would be late.
“Honey, no cursing please and if I had seen them, they would be hanging up on the board by the door, where they belong. Ask your grandpa. If he found them, he’d probably have them in his pocket.”
“No, he would not, he would have left them right where he saw him so he wouldn’t catch shit for doing the wrong thing with them by his gorgeous but slightly OCD wife.” KC arrived in the kitchen, smirking at Evey, who shook her head smiling.
“I literally have looked everywhere. I hope I didn’t lose them. Crap, maybe they are at mom’s. I betcha that’s where they are, I remember having them there. Dangit! I was just there yesterday, you dropped me off and picked me up, so I didn’t miss them. Dammit!”
Blake tried calling his mother but nobody answered.
“Can one of you guys drive me out there, please? I need the keys for tonight.”
“I am gonna be up, waiting for you to come home anyway, you can knock. Just get the keys tomorrow.” KC told him. It was true. He had let Blake go out, but had always been awake waiting for him. And Blake had never broken curfew.
“Umm .. the Jeep keys are on my key chain. Kinda hard to drive without them. And that may be the only set we have left for Betsy, after I accidentally may have dropped the other set down the sewer drain few weeks ago washing her … forgot to tell you … sorry..”
“Dammit kid, you need a spanking. Losing car keys and not telling me. And I was wondering what I did with my set, now I know your grabby paws are to blame. Without telling me. Unbelievable.” KC sounded angry, but Blake had never once been afraid of his grandparents. The worst thing was to disappoint them.
“I thought if I told you I would look irresponsible.” Blake said, dead serious.
“As opposed to looking responsible dropping that bomb last minute now?! Fine, get in the car, I’ll drive you. You still have a key to your mother’s penthouse or did you lose that too?” KC grumbled.
“Nah, that’s always in a drawer. I only take it when YOU make me spend the night.”
“I am going to ignore that complaint. Get that key and then your butt in the car before I come to my senses.” KC told him firmly.
Once in San Myshuno, KC parked in some restricted loading/unloading zone, his mood not exactly soaring, so without another word Blake jumped out of the car and ran inside, took the elevator up and knocked.
When Amy didn’t answer he decided to use his key and just go in. No time for politeness now. He had places to be.
She had mentioned when he saw her the day before that Carson was traveling again, and their son was at some camp for two weeks. Amy didn’t often go out, especially not alone, so Blake entered yelling for her.
“Mom? MOM!? It’s me, Blake. Mom? Please don’t pee your pants, I am coming through …. please be dressed and all …” He poked his head into the living room, dining room and kitchen.
Secretly he was hoping she had gone out.
After witnessing that one episode he was on eggshells with her, even though yesterday she seemed fine. They had even laughed, a lot.
Had actually not been too bad a visit, if you didn’t know any better you could have mistaken it for just a nice day of a mother and her teen son hanging out.
But who knew what today would be like?
With his mom, no telling.
Blake shrugged to himself, then went to her bedroom. Oddly, there were clothes on the floor, strange for Amy who had always been meticulous about tidiness. Hopefully not a sign that today was one of those days …
Maybe she was upstairs in the guestroom, which since they never had guests, was kind of Blake’s room now. In his mind he tried to remember how much of a mess he may have left it.
Last thing he needed now was a lecture by his mom, while she was picking up his dirty socks and underwear or something humiliating like that.
His room was empty, but he found his keys on the floor between the nightstand and the bed, where he had lost them several times before.
He rolled his eyes at himself.
Smiling victoriously in anticipation of bowling and potentially having ice cream with Hailey the next day, he turned to leave, but needed to use the bathroom first.
No time to do that once they got back to his grandparents’ place in Brindleton Bay, as he would have to jump in the Jeep and leave or he’d miss bowling altogether.
There was a big bathroom downstairs, near the front door, and it was much nicer than the tight one decorated for a child – his younger half-brother Parker – upstairs.
He ran downstairs and busted into the bathroom then stopped as if he had run into a wall.
In that same moment KC stepped off the elevator with the security guard from downstairs, both men laughing about the irresponsibility of teens.
Blake had taken too long, so KC parked the car and came to get his grandson, thinking he and his mother got to talking and forgot the time which is what he told the security guard who also had a grandson about Blake’s age.
Sure, he could have texted or called him, but that was always risky, because once that kid had his cell phone is his hands, he got sidetracked and sucked into the social media vortex all too easily.
Blake was a good kid, but very unfocused and scatter-brained sometimes.
The privilege of youth.
KC joked with the security guard that he would have probably ended up paying rent still waiting for Blake to come back to the car.
The elevator required a key or a key card to operate so the security guard took KC up to light a fire under Blake’s butt.
Chuckling the security guard had dug his master key from his pocket and was about to unlock the door, since Amy had not answered the knocks, when they heard the blood-curdling scream. Unmistakably Blake’s voice.
The guard quickly unlocked the penthouse door and KC called for Blake, who let out an odd noise, somewhere between a moan, groan and muffled scream.
“The bathroom, that way!” The security guard told KC and both men ran in the indicated direction.
They found a scene straight out of a horror movie.
The teen boy staring on in utter horror at a blood-filled bathtub, reddened water overflowing and pooling all over the floor around the tub, in which an eerily pale Amy laid as if asleep, even though the macabre truth was blatantly obvious. Next to the tub a wine bottle and still half full glass. Liquid courage.
“FUCKING HELL!” KC cursed and pulled his stiff-for-shock grandson into his arms, squeezing firmly, burying the boy’s face against his chest, as he dragged him out of the room with him, speaking softly to him while the security guard was calling it into police.