“Can I get you anything?”
“No,” I rasped. “Thank you for…taking care of me last night.”
“How do you feel?”
“I feel like I’d probably rather be dead than as hung over as I am right now. It hurts to talk.” I wasn’t exaggerating.
“I didn’t rule out death last night.”
I closed my eyes. The reality of how f****d up I must have been last night sank in. “I just drank too much.”
“No, you drank at a bar without anyone you knew around you and then blacked out and fell out of a cab which, thank God, dropped you in front of Vanessa’s house. How you made it that far in the state you were in I’ll never know.”
Tears threatened again, causing the thrum in my head to grow louder and stronger.
“Please.” The plea came out in a whisper. “You can’t make me feel any worse than I already feel.”
“I’m not trying to make you feel bad. I’m trying to make you understand what you put me through. And Vanessa. Do you have any idea?”
His voice was strained. I could sense the unleashed anger from last night coming through each word, but that was what had set me off to begin with.
Against every instinct, I opened my eyes. The way he looked at me, with so much hurt and worry, destroyed the last part of me. I swallowed over the nausea that threatened anew. My body was still very much at war with itself.
“I’m sorry. You don’t have to stay here with me. I’m sure you want to be with your family. It’s Christmas after all.”
“As angry as I am, no, I’d rather be here with you.” He tossed a small wrapped package next to me.
“A present. One of them anyway. I didn’t really come prepared for Christmas morning when I was running after you last night.”
The edge of his voice stoked my guilt again. I wanted to reach for the simple wrapping of the gift but felt as undeserving of it as anything.
I looked up at him, my eyes brimming with unshed tears. “Are we breaking up?”
He winced. “No. Why are you saying that?”
A quiet laugh rasped from me. “Because I’m a f*****g mess, that’s why. I don’t understand why you would want to be with me like this.” I waved a hand over my sad, sick, torn up self.
“Well, thank God you’re not always blackout drunk. I happen to really enjoy you when you’re not. I’m invested in that part.”
“And what about the rest of me.”
“We’ll talk about it when you’re not feeling so rotten.” He gestured toward the package. “Open your gift.”
I reached for it, untying the twine and carefully revealing a notebook hidden inside the paper wrapping. My fingers grazed the soft brown leather of the cover. I flipped through the pages, sepia tinted parchment.
“This is beautiful.”
“For your writing.”
I looked up too quickly, my headache resurfacing immediately.
“This is too nice.” Too nice for my words. “Thank you.”
He took a deep breath, full of relief and exhaustion, it seemed. I wondered how late I’d kept him up, how scared I’d made him.
“Maya, I’m sorry too…about last night. I shouldn’t have let you leave like that.”
“I overreacted about Dermott. I mean, I’m not excusing his or Jia’s behavior, but I flew off the handle and you didn’t deserve that. I’m sure you wouldn’t have done this to yourself if I hadn’t been such an a*****e.”
“It’s not your fault I drank so much. I can find an excuse to do that any day of the week without your help, trust me.”
“Why?” His gaze found mine. “I can’t promise to understand, but at least try to explain what possesses you to do this.”
I let my forehead fall into my hand. Why? Why did I do this? Time and again, after swearing to myself that I’ll never drink again. After I punish my body so terribly, the way I had last night.
“Sometimes I need to make everything go away for a little while.” I closed my eyes against the reality that I was faced with now, but I couldn’t escape it. “When I’m in the moment, I’m happy,” I muttered, all too aware of my present and overwhelming lack of happiness.
“When all you’re trying to do is cover up feeling miserable, it’s an artificial kind of happiness, wouldn’t you say?”
“Maybe. The relief is what’s addictive, whether it’s real happiness or not. I’m afraid that feeling will stop, that reality will creep back in, and I’ll start feeling miserable before I’m ready to deal with my life again. So I drink more, and then at some point, I don’t realize what I’m doing. I get too far gone, and…yeah, sometimes I black out.”