“I understand if that’s asking too much. But I need you to understand that I’m not leaving you this time! I’m going away for a little while to work on my head. But that I hope you will be there every step of the way. I’ll support you and you will support me. We’ll learn together what a healthy and functional relationship looks like. Because as I am right now, I know I can’t give that to you. And I want to give that to you. Because I want my life to begin and end with us together.”
My heart was beating so hard in my chest, the blood rushing through my ears so that I could barely hear Maggie’s whispered response.
I leaned in closer, gripping her hands tightly in my own. “I’ll wait for you. I’ll always wait for you,” she swore. Her tears had stopped and she seemed to have settled down. I cautiously reached out and ran my fingers through her hair, stopping to rest my hand on the back of her neck. I rested my forehead against hers.
“Are you sure?” I asked her. I didn’t want her to feel pressured into it. This had to be her choice. If she chose to walk away, I’d let her; even though I knew I’d never move on from her. I would do it for her.
“I’m sure, Clay. I want to be with you. And even if it takes fifty years, I’ll be there at the end of it all,” she said firmly and I couldn’t stop the smile that spread across my face.
“I love you, Maggie May Young. Always and forever.” And then my mouth touched hers and I felt my future begin.
So I graduated high school. And Clay left for Florida. I went to Beach Week with my best friends. Ruby sold her house and moved to Key West. Her shop was bought by a couple who turned it into a holistic foods store. I refused to go inside.
I spent the summer working and saving money. I spent time with my parents. I went to the movies with Rachel. I helped Daniel clean out his garage.
And I spoke with Clay three times a week. He had kept his promise to not shut me out. He shared every bit of his treatment with me. He told me about his group therapy and his sessions with his counselors. I told him about my college preparations and getting my school schedule.
We stayed a part of each other’s lives in every way that we could, even with a thousand miles separating us.
And I firmly believed that this was a new chapter for us. Hell, it was brand new freaking book. The Maggie and Clay story was far from over. And we would always be looking for the light…together.
Six years later
“I’ll have her back there by six-thirty! Stop freaking out and let us do some shopping. And don’t call again!” Rachel barked into the phone before hanging up. I rubbed the raised skin on the underside of my wrist, the scab over my newly inked tattoo was driving me crazy. I couldn’t help but smile at the tiny symbol that looked like an off kilter upside down U, emblazoned on my skin. It was identical in size and location to the one adorning Maggie’s arm. I loved what the rune stood for. I remembered when Maggie explained the meaning to me over dinner all those years ago.
Healing and endurance. And most of all courage. I finally felt, after all this time, that I was mastering these qualities. So I had taken the plunge and marked my body with a permanent reminder of the love I shared with the woman who had saved me in every way possible.
I was pacing around the living room, rubbing my tattoo when I stubbed my toe on a box that sat strategically in the middle of the floor.
“God damn it all to f**king hell!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. The place was a disaster. Maggie and I had just moved into our new apartment last weekend and we were in the middle of moving chaos. Boxes were everywhere, being systematically unpacked in stages.
So far we had a semi-functional kitchen. Our bed was a mattress on the floor. But none of that mattered because we were here. Together. Finally.
It was almost six years to the day that I flew back to Florida after leaving Virginia and readmitted myself into the Grayson Center, using a big chunk of the money from Lisa’s life insurance policy that Ruby had given me.
I had wondered in those first few days if I had made the right decision. I had missed Maggie so much I was tempted to check myself out again and head back to her. But then I would remember that I was doing this for myself. For the future we wanted to have. And I would suck it up and make it through the day.
They say that the third time’s a charm and my third go around in a facility proved that old saying to be true. I was focused and on task. I worked my treatment plan and dealt with my demons, despite the fact that there were days I wanted to forget about all of it. It helped that Maggie and I talked several times a week. She’d tell me about college; her classes, her new friends, the crappy dorms. I’d tell her about group and art therapy.
She flew down during fall break and when I was released into a transitional group home for mental health patients before Christmas, she came to Florida and we spent the holidays together. She stayed in a hotel of course, but made sure that Christmas was special.
Ruby had also continued to be a constant and reassuring presence. And her move to Key West went a long way in invigorating her and giving her a new lease on life.
She still grieved for Lisa. We both did. But she was learning to move on as best she could. And really that was the only thing any of us could do.
After moving into the group home, I had enrolled in the local community college and took some art and psychology classes. After working my ass off, I was accepted into the University of Miami. I wouldn’t live on campus and for the first year I opted to take my classes online.
It took me almost five and a half years to get my Bachelor’s Degree. That may seem like a long time to get a four year degree but the fact that I had done it all made the time seem insignificant.
I graduated in May with a BS in psychology and a minor in art. I had decided to apply my passion with the thing that had saved my life in so many ways and now I was enrolled for my Masters in art therapy at George Washington University.
Before leaving Florida, I had attempted to make amends with my parents. Years had passed and I stopped hearing from them all together. They didn’t know where I was, so I couldn’t expect any of the obligatory birthday and Christmas cards. But I strongly doubted they would have even bothered.
When they had cut me out of their life, I knew it was a quick and decisive severing. I saw my parents on TV now and then. My father eventually won the state senate seat and was now the congressman for Florida’s twenty-third district.
They seemed plastic, almost robotic during their public appearances. My mother’s flat, emotionless face most likely a result of Botox. My dad’s lack of personality even more noticeable. It was amazing that a man as devoid of life as my father had been able to sway people to vote for him. It’s amazing what a stupid amount of money will buy you, I guess.