Rachel glared at her boyfriend. “You need to shut up. Just because Clay actually understands the word romance doesn’t mean he’s a pu**y.”
Daniel laughed. “Uh, yeah it does actually.”
“Give it up, Daniel, before you get kneed in the junk,” I warned, seeing the way Rachel’s face darkened dangerously. Daniel struggled to maintain a straight face.
“I’m sorry, babe. You’re right I need to channel some of Clay’s douchy, I mean awesome romantic qualities,” Daniel choked out and Rachel finally gave it up and giggled. They were such a functional couple. It was sort of awe inspiring.
The night started to wind down and Maggie’s guests began to leave. Finally there was only Daniel, Rachel and I left. Mr. and Mrs. Young had ordered some pizza, because most of the food from the party had been eaten up early on. We started cleaning up. Rachel and Daniel became comically competitive about it, making the whole process take twice as long as it should have.
“Thanks Mom and Dad! And Rach, Danny, I just love you guys,” Maggie said, clutching a trash bag to her chest. Her parents gave her a hug, followed by her friends. I kissed the top of her head and she looked up at me with an expression that literally took my breath away. I didn’t think I’d ever get tired of looking at her.
“And you already know what I think of you,” her eyebrows waggling suggestively and I chuckled. We moved out into the yard to pick up more trash. Rachel and Daniel had given up and were watching television and Maggie’s parents were in the kitchen drinking coffee.
“So, I know we haven’t really talked about it. But what do you think about Beach Week? Daniel and Rachel rented this amazing house right on the water at Virginia Beach. It would be really fun. My parents would be fine with you going, particularly since I’m a full grown adult now,” Maggie grinned and my stomach knotted up.
I hadn’t wanted to do this now, but I couldn’t keep putting her off. I had been evasive and vague about my plans for after graduation. It wasn’t fair to her.
“I don’t think I can do that,” I told her, dropping the trashcan and sitting heavily on the patio chair. Maggie’s face fell and I already hated myself for what I was about to do.
“Oh, okay, that’s fine. But maybe we could go away somewhere later in the summer. Just the two of us. That would be really nice, don’t you think?” Maggie was starting to ramble now and I knew she was picking up on my unease.
I took ahold of her hand and pulled her into the seat beside me. “Maggie,” I started.
“We could go to Ocean City, or even New York. Anywhere as long as we’re together!” Maggie was on a roll, as though if she talked fast enough and long enough, I would forget about whatever it was I was trying to tell her. The thing that she feared would break her heart. And I wasn’t so sure she wasn’t right.
“Maggie,” I tried again. She stared straight ahead, not even glancing my way.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Savannah. I’ve heard it’s beautiful. We could take a week and just drive.” She sounded almost desperate and I knew I had to put a stop to it.
“Maggie, stop talking for a minute and please listen to me,” I pleaded and she instantly shut her mouth and lowered her eyes.
“Okay, sorry,” Maggie murmured. I cupped her cheeks between my palms and lifted her face to mine. I kissed her slowly and thoroughly. I needed to taste her and savor her before dropping my news in her unsuspecting lap.
“I want to do all of those things with you. I really do. There is nothing I want more than to explore this world with you. But it can’t happen. At least not for a while. I can’t make you any specific promises about my future because right now things have to be put on hold. For me at least. For us,” I said slowly, watching as comprehension dawned on her face.
She turned to look at me apprehensively. “What are you trying to say?” she asked, her voice trembling and I hated to do this to her. Not after everything she had already been through because of me. But I honestly felt this was for the best.
“I’m readmitting myself into the Grayson Center for a six month program. Then after that, I will most likely go into a group home for a while longer. I’ve already talked with Dr. Todd and I’m set to be checked in next Wednesday,” I said, seeing the way her face paled.
“You’re going back to Grayson’s? To Florida? But why? I thought things were going fine. That you were doing better,” Maggie seemed so lost and I wish I had the magic answer for her. So instead I just tried to explain.
“I’ve tried, Mags. I really have. And while some things are changing, I still have so far to go. The truth is every day is a struggle. Some days I can barely get out of bed.”
“But your medication…” Maggie started and I shook my head.
“I told you before it wasn’t a cure all. It helps, but it doesn’t fix everything. You don’t know how many times I’ve thought about hurting myself. Of ending the pain. It’s like there’s this voice in my head that tells me to do it. That no one loves me, that I’m nothing but a burden,” I could hear the strain in my voice and I couldn’t even look at Maggie.
“But that’s not true, Clay! You have so many people that love you! You have never been a burden! That’s ridiculous!” she implored, as she reached for me. Her hands clutched at my shirt and I almost lost my resolve. Almost.
“But don’t you see, the fact that I think about it at all means I’m not ready. I’m not ready to plan any sort of future. I need to focus on the present and getting my shit sorted. Otherwise I’m not good to myself or to you. I can’t do that to you. I won’t do that to you!” My voice started to rise and I had to work on keeping it at a normal volume. Particularly when all I wanted to do was scream.
“What about the ring? All those promises you made just a few hours ago? Was that just a way to butter me up, to soften the blow? I can’t believe you!” Maggie’s tears were coming in earnest now.
“No, Maggie! I meant every word I said! But those promises are for what I hope is our future! I won’t leave this time and shut you out. I can’t do that again. To either of us. I want you to take this journey with me, wherever it goes. I hope that you’ll wait for me to get myself together. I know it’s incredibly selfish of me to even ask you to. But knowing you’re waiting for me on the other end of all this will make the process that much easier to deal with,” I said sincerely. Maggie started hiccupping and heaving. Raw, ugly tears ripped from her chest and I felt helpless.