Trigger Warnings: violence, addiction
As I looked through my purse for a small bottle of tequila to add to my iced coffee, I felt like throwing it across the room. I was ready to give up and chug half of a bottle of wine back at the Merlin House when my hand finally landed on the smooth, cold glass bottle.
“Are you serious?” Chase took a seat at my table with an iced cappuccino. “Bubba, what the fuck are you doing to yourself?”
I added the alcohol to my iced coffee, ignoring the tears that burned in my eyes. “I warned you not to fall in love with me.”
“And I didn’t listen.” He pressed his large, sun kissed hand over the top of mine. His thumb played with the purple band that sat on my pinky finger, as it dawned on me that I felt like a trash bag rotting out in the sun.
My stomach was churning. Whenever I became nervous it hurt in this horrible way that I can’t explain, as if somebody had a saw digging into my abdomen. At my last appointment, I told my therapist it was anxiety and she told me to go to the hospital.
“I do love you, but we have some things to figure out.” He twisted the ring around my finger faster. “We both have problems. I was under this assumption that dating a wealthy and young heiress would be easy. From the beginning, I thought you’d have your shit together. I mean, just look at you. You always look perfect. The dress, the hair, your makeup, and even your nails.”
I laughed as I rested my chin on my fist. “My mom makes my nail appointments. She’s consistent with that one aspect of our relationship, otherwise she’s hot and cold. Amy Pacer is a fucking wonder.”
“So are you.” He gave me a serious look. “You own three cars, a house, a business, and a bank account that is greater than the money I will ever see in my lifetime.”
“So, is that what attracted you to me? Because, that makes you a snake. My life is my life. I have never promised what is mine to anyone. It’s not something that I use to draw people in, and if you’re one of these idiots who is going to tell me I didn’t earn it, you have no idea what it costs to be me.”
“I never wanted anything but you,” he assured me, as I gulped half of my iced coffee right out of the cup before replacing the lid and straw. I laid my head back, staring towards the window as he added, “I have the feeling that’s the one thing you’d never be able to give me.”
I pulled my hand away from him. “Is this how it finally ends? After all I tolerated from you?”
“We are a problem.”
“Where does this conversation end, Chase? What is your goal? Because, if you need me to fess up to my problems, I can. I own them, but you knew that getting into this. I drink too much and I fall apart over nothing. I don’t think you got into this for me, though. What is it? Is it money or the chance to be seen with a Pacer? Because, wow, you had no clue that neither of those things are worth loving me, did you?” I laughed, clapping my hands to my mouth. “I don’t even love me. How could I? I get on the right path for all of five days, and then before I know it, I’m flying off of the rails again.”
He tried to grab hold of my hand, and whether it was the pain of a breakup that I didn’t see coming, or past trauma, I buried my fingernails within his skin until he cringed in pain. He used his free hand to push me away, and my elbow knocked my coffee to the ground.
Before I could even blink, Chase disappeared out of the door. I buried my face into my hands and sobbed. If I cried for Chase at all, it was only because I failed at loving him.
Eden walked around the front counter of Coffee Break and pulled me into a tight hug, rocking me back and forth. “Hey, let’s go to my office before the whole town is trying to catch a recording of your breakdown for their feeds.”
“Eden, I don’t know how to do this anymore.”
“Do what? What do you need help with?”
“Being alive. Breathing. Making it from one day to the next. I don’t know how to do it without fucking up everything I touch. I’m like that guy who turned everything to gold.”
“Not the tire guy, oh my fuck. The gold guy, Eden.”
Eden fought off a smirk as she sat down in the booth next to me. “You just do it. You do it because you’re my big sister and I don’t know what I would do without your vanilla hugs. You do it because amazing things are going to happen for you and you deserve them. You do it for yourself, Elaina. Fuck everyone else and what they want. This is your life and you have got to do it your way, without apologizing or feeling like you owe anyone anything.”
I sucked in deep breaths until I steadied myself. Laughing, I asked her, “Can you get me another coffee?”
“Absolutely.” She gave me a concerned. “Just be careful how much tequila you add into it. You’re heavy handed and we have a baby shower in less than two hours.“
“You saw that?”
She laughed, throwing out her arms. “I am positive that the whole shop saw it.”
I looked around to see if there was anyone worth noting inside of the shop that afternoon, and my eyes landed on Thaden. He smiled at me, from where he sat munching on a fruit plate with a large iced water. I remember the days I used to beg him to get sober off of pills for his own well-being, and it broke me to see that the tables had turned.
Over our breakfast together, I promised him that I wouldn’t drink before the babyshower that day. There I was, making a complete liar of myself right to his face, and in a coffee shop.
After Eden dropped off my coffee, I walked out of the double doors, onto Broadway Boulevard, whispering to myself, “Just make it through the fucking baby shower,” as I typed out a text to Chase.
I am sorry. I am so sorry. I don’t know why…I am just a fucking nightmare, and you’re not wrong to not want to deal with it.
I sat on a bench, waiting for his response.
I think you’re in love with him. You didn’t spiral until he came around. We need space, Elaina. Let’s call it, dude, because this is exhausting.
We had been going back and forth for a while, but he never called me “dude” before then, and I knew we were done. There was no more, “Let’s see what happens,” or “Just give me a chance.” We were done, and he was right.
I loved Thaden.
I poured some tequila straight out of the bottle, into my mouth. I didn’t care that I sat right on the busiest road in Pepper’s Ferry, or that people were gawking at the Princess of Pacer Hill having herself another moment. Who needs a solid reputation when you can pay people to love you.
I stood up to leave with my purse, my iced coffee, and none of my dignity.
I didn’t have time to scream, to run, or even to throw my coffee at him. He grabbed hold of me and pulled me next to the building as quickly as he caught my attention.
Arthur Lake had me with his hand around my throat.
I felt him jerk my purse off of my arm and heard it hit the ground. I tried to fight him, but he maintained his grip as I fought for my breath.
“You fucking ruined me,” he growled. “I could kill you right now, and there’s no punishment that could leave me worse off than I am. You have my children stuck up on that hill in your little cult. Huh? None of them want to see me or talk to me and it’s all ‘cause of you and that dead bitch. But, I won’t do it today. I want you to have fucking nightmares about it. I want you to spend every second believing that I am coming for you, terrified out of your mind, until I finally show up, and there is nothing you can do.”
He slammed my head backwards against the brick wall behind me, before letting me drop to the ground. He calmly grabbed my purse and began walking away, towards a red truck that sat on the side of the road.
“Fuck this,” I whispered to myself as I somehow found the strength to get up to my feet, stumbling against the wall as I struggled to take a step.
Out of all of the people who had been gawking at me inside out the coffee shop, and while I sat on the bench, not a single person tried to help me as I stumbled towards the steps by the Pepper’s Ferry Family Courthouse. In hindsight, I believe that they all assumed that I was stumbling because of the alcohol, but in the moment their apathy added to my rage.
I made it up to the Merlin House with a pounding headache and a burning sensation in my throat every time I took a breath.
“I just have to make it to the baby shower,” I whispered to myself, as I crawled up my stairs like a small child who hadn’t found their balance.
Once inside my bathroom, I grabbed hold of my makeup bag, pouring half of the contents out onto the ground to find my concealer.
“Hey babe, just wanted to let you know I’m here!” Rae shouted from the doorway of my bedroom. “Eli is hanging out with the guys already. I had an awesome lunch with my sisters.”
“Okay.” I pushed my bathroom door closed as I tried to force myself to sound normal. “I’ll be out in a minute.”
“I heard a rumor that you were out to eat with Thaden this morning,” she teased, as she cracked it open.
“Mmm.” I cleared my throat, and it made me cringe in pain, with tears in my eyes as I stared into the mirror. “We went to the Secret Garden. He ate everything. I just had a smoothie.”
“Why just a smoothie?”
I stopped the bathroom door with my hand before she could push it open.
“I said I will be out in a minute.”
“Are we being shy around each other all of a sudden?” she asked.
I could see her eyes in the crack of the door, peering into the mirror as I applied the makeup to my neck, so I stepped back from it.
“Laney, why are you being so weird?” She pushed the door open.
“I am fine. Stop worrying about me.” I focused on picking up the makeup I dumped on the floor, while I ignored the pounding in my head. “I am just in a hurry to get myself together.”
“I’m not supposed to show up for another ninety minutes. Everyone was very firm about what time I needed to be there. No earlier, no later, so we are fine.”
“Mmm.” I stopped and held my palms over my eyes, feeling as though I could fall over. “Right. We had that long break.”
“Laney, seriously.” Rae stared at me as I opened up my closet door and gazed at all of the dresses, only a third of them without a price tag.
Dress shopping was a form of therapy for me before I started actual therapy.
“I am fine, alright?” I chimed in the perkiest voice I could commit to with my throat aching. “You’re the one who is pregnant and just suffered from a violent breakdown that cost me hundreds of dollars when you pushed your dresser through my window. You’re the one I should be worried about. Don’t worry about me.”
“I didn’t think the dresser would actually go through the window,” she told me with a guilty expression on her face, as she sunk down onto my bed.
“Here.” I tossed her a bag. “I almost forgot that I got you a dress for today when I was out shopping for mine.”
“Elaina,” she gushed, as she opened the zipper bag. “This is crazy.”
“It’s beautiful. Almost like it was made with you in mind. The way that blue pops against the white, and all of the stars and moons on the side. I couldn’t pass it up after you told me you want Little Man’s room to be a summer sky theme.”
She kissed me on the cheek. “I love you!” she sang.
“I’m going to add it to your tab for all of the trouble that you caused me after moving in here,” I teased, as she dashed for the door.
I walked into the middle of my closet and sunk down to the floor, my legs twisted around me as I stared at the ceiling in surrender. How much more could I take until I couldn’t take it anymore? How much longer did I have to walk around being stronger than I really felt until I didn’t have to be strong anymore?
I was so tired.
“Just make it through the baby shower,” I whispered to myself as I emerged from the closet. At the bottom of my dresser, I found a prescription bottle of leftover pain pills I was prescribed after Oliver bashed my head into the dash of his car. I dumped four into my hand and swallowed them down with a forgotten glass of wine from the night before, as I tried to decide if I was more pathetic when I was making up lies to cover up his abuse, or right in that moment. “Just make it through the fucking baby shower.”
Rae and I met each other in the living room as I shoved a handful of THC gummies into my mouth to add to the disaster that was shaping out to be my day, brought forth by my own terrible choices.
“What are those?”
“A gift from Thaden that he snuck here from Arizona.”
She pointed at the window as Thaden’s face popped up in the glass. “What is that? You just speak his name and he arrives?”
“He is my best friend. I guess we’re on the same wavelength.”
“You know, you’re calling him your best friend so much that it is actually starting to piss me off,” she sneered.
“Don’t worry, babe. You will always be my girl,” I promised as Thaden busted through the front door, with Eli right behind him.
“Are you ready to party?” Thaden exclaimed.
I fell into my recliner and tried to force a smile, as I fought off a wave of exhaustion that felt as though it was bigger than me.
“Laney, your head is bleeding,” Rae pointed out to me.
“What?” I jumped up to see a bloodstain on the back of the chair. “I fell. It’s fine. I’m fine.”
I rushed off to the black bathroom, and seconds later Thaden was in there with me. I pressed my forehead against his strong shoulder as I silently cried, and the most precious thing is he never tried to make me tell him why I was crying.
“Are you ready to give your speech?” Amy asked me, twenty minutes into the shower.
“Speech?” I asked her, my eyebrows raised in surprise. “There’s a speech? Nobody told me that I had to give a speech. I feel like that information should’ve been relayed to me.”
“I gave a speech when I helped throw Stella’s first baby shower.”
“Brilliant,” I told my mother. “I bet you didn’t pay for her whole party, did you? I supplied everything in here right down to the fucking ice cubes. I think she’ll forgive me if I don’t give a speech.”
“I think you should stop drinking,” Amy snapped, pointing to the glass of wine in my hand. “It’s the middle of the day and you’re being bitchy.”
“Mmm. This from the woman who I spent two years cleaning up after, because you got belligerently drunk everyday. I had to pry the bottle out of your hand and help Emmet get you into your bed more times than I can count. Make excuses for why you’re not around and tell everyone that you’re just having a really hard time with the grieving process—that I never had—because I didn’t want anyone to know that my mother was an outrageous alcoholic who abandoned all of her commitments, including parenting. I sat there while you called me names, and watched you tear Stella apart, while she suffered from losing her own daughter. You were the worst, so save it.”
“You’re really going to pick Rae’s baby shower to be a dick?” Amy glared at me. “If you think I won’t take you on, keep pushing me and find out, Elaina Georgie.”
She left me with a spinning head, wondering if I was walking or floating. I couldn’t feel my feet. I didn’t know if I had feet, but more importantly, I didn’t know if I felt that way because I mixed a head injury with expired pain pills, weed, and alcohol, or if it was just my head injury.
“What are you doing?” Thaden asked, sneaking up behind me and wrapping his arms around my waist.
I turned to look at him, grabbing hold of the collar of his black polo as I looked into his beautiful eyes.
“I want to come with you.”
“What?” he asked.
“When you leave tonight, I want to come with you.”
“To Arizona?” he asked. “For how long?”
“I don’t know,” I answered, shaking my head.
“What about Rae and the baby? What about Georgie’s?”
“I don’t know,” I answered, again.
“So, you’ve thought about this?” he chuckled.
“Nick mentioned it to me. It was her idea, but it’s a good one, isn’t it?”
“Girl.” He caught me as I almost fell trying to take a step. “Are you okay right now?”
“No. And it’s not because of any substance abuse, though I have done plenty of that, today. Arthur got to me when I was leaving Coffee Break. He has my purse. He has everything.”
“Fuck. Girl.” He gave me a worried look, before wrapping his arm around my neck and kissing my forehead. “Why didn’t you call me? I was right inside.”
I laughed. “My phone was in my purse, and I clearly wasn’t levelheaded.”
“Did you cancel everything? If that man gets the chance he’ll take it all.”
“I emailed my accountant when my good senses came to me. He hasn’t touched anything. I think he just wanted to feel some kind of power over me since he thinks that I ruined his life as a small, six year old child who couldn’t fight back.”
“I am going to kill him,” he growled.
“Don’t do that.” I laid my forehead on his shoulder. “Thaden, just take me away.”
“I will be on your front porch at nine,” he whispered in my ear. “Meet me there with a suitcase. You’ll get some sleep on the plane and when we land in Arizona we will figure out what happens next.”
“Mmm.” I smiled into his chest as he held me. “That sounds so nice.”
He grabbed my cheeks, looking into my eyes with a promising smile underneath his thick beard. “I would do anything for you. All you ever have to do is ask me. I would do the dumbest things for you just because you wanted it. I have a feeling you won’t remember me saying this, but I love you. So, if you want to come for two weeks, two years, the rest of our lives, I have your back just like you have always had mine. I just needed the right opportunity to say this to you.”
“Now, if everyone doesn’t mind quieting down for a minute, we’re going to have Elaina come up here and give a speech,” Amy said, before looking at me from the stage, with this huge grin on her face, and clapping her hands together. “Come on up here, baby.”
“Mmm. She is such a bitch,” I grumbled.
Thaden laughed. “How are you going to give a fucking speech?”
“Pause this.” I raised my finger at him. “Keep this right where it is.”
I walked up onto the stage, still feeling like I was floating as I reached for the stool meant for Rae to use to open her gifts and leaned against it, almost sitting on top of her.
“I didn’t know there was supposed to be a speech,” I told her, as I was handed the microphone by her oldest sister. “This is your first ever baby shower, and I had no idea there was a speech involved. You know how I am with speeches. I write out all kinds of beautiful things. I even draw little pictures on the side. I keep most of them in a binder for later reference so that I don’t repeat too much information, and so that I can reuse certain antidotes depending on the setting. I am amazing at speeches, and you’re just amazing. Seeing you become a mom is a gift that I can’t explain, because I know how much love you have in your heart. Baby Elias is so lucky to have you. We all are, Rae. You’re the voice of reason, the calm, the warm hug. You’re a bowl of soup on a sick day, a cozy blanket on a snow day, and an umbrella in the rain. One day he’s going to look at you and realize God gave him the best mother he could have asked for, because you were always there. I love you and my brother so much. Eli is just going to be the perfect dad, because while you stress out over the baby, he’ll be the guy that’s taking care of you. That’s who he is. It doesn’t matter how many people are in the room, Eli is always looking at you. You’re his everything, but I know he’ll make plenty of room for that little boy and he’ll keep you up on a pedestal. I love you, and I am so happy to share this day with you.”
Thaden gave me a thumbs up as I looked at him after sharing a hug with Rae.
“I love you so much.”
“You’re such a babe in that dress.” I gave her a tight squeeze. “Get to opening those presents so that I can dance with you and that baby belly.”
“Are you sure you can handle that?” she asked, as she kept me from stumbling over my feet.
“Like I said, don’t worry about me.” I gave her a wink. “I’m just here for a good time.”
“I am always going to worry about you. That’s what I do.”
“And, I am always going to make it to tomorrow. That’s what I do.”
I started down the steps and caught my mother glaring at me.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Did you think that was going to trip me up?” I gave her what I hoped was my most perfect grin. “Even on my bad day, I’m still Elaina fucking Pacer. Remember that, Mom. No matter how hard you try to bring me down, I’m never going to stop being everything you could never be.”
“And I am never trying to bring you down,” she sneered. “No matter what, you are my daughter.”
“But starting today, I will no longer be a thing that you possess. I mean that.”
“You have lost your mind.”
“No.” I gave her a glare. “I lost that when I was six, along with everything else that made me innocent. It’s just now starting to catch up with me. The brilliant thing about that is I also found my voice, and as hard as you try you won’t be able to shut me up anymore.”
“Elaina Georgie Pacer.” She crossed her arms over her chest.
“Amy Etta Pacer.” I flipped her off as I walked away. I had no excuse to do that. I knew my mother could kick my ass and I would let it happen, because she was still my mom.
But, I was feeling as bold as a habanero pepper, and I only had one more loose end to tie up.
“You win.” I slammed my hands down on the counter of the bar in front of Chase. “I love him. I do love Thaden and I was wrong for ever letting you believe that you had a chance. You knew. You always knew and maybe that’s why you couldn’t just get rid of your ex. I think you still love her, too. But, we had so much fun and you did make me happy. I want that to be enough, Chase. I want that to be enough because I want you to keep your job here. I want you to have everything you want because you’re a sweetheart and you deserve it. We are just not it.”
He laughed. “We were wild, we did way too much, and you’re right…We fuel each other’s crazy, but we are not it. We’re not it, and I kept it going for far too long because I was afraid of losing this chance. You changed my life, Elaina. I didn’t want to blow it.”
“Consider it not blown.” I pointed at him and gave him a wink. “You still have your chance, and I am going to run to mine.”
I gave him a thumbs up, before saying, “I really have to walk, though. Today has been way too much for me.”
As I walked away from him to get to the restroom, I felt a rush of lightheadedness, and my stomach locked up on me as if I were in the middle of doing a stomach crunch. I felt the urge to burp and puke at the same time, but as I made it into a stall, the dizziness got the better of me.
I turned to lock the door, and instead, fell through it.
The last I can remember was hearing Eden’s screams for help when she found me, knowing that she would watch me die and there was nothing I could do to stop it from happening.
What a perfect ending of such an unremarkable life.
My final headline in Pepper’s Ferry Daily would read, ‘The Princess of Pacer Hill Dies on the Bathroom Floor of Her Own Hotel.’
Written by Ava McClure
If you enjoyed part six check out the other parts 1-5 on the homepage of RPH Fiction, and stick around. There are updates coming which may or may not include a podcast!