“Gabby was triangulating him against every other person in Los Angeles, and she said she came up with something she wanted to show you. It didn’t sound good.”
“Great. Secrets. Love those.”
“Come on,” Darren rubbed my shoulders. “Let’s go watch a stupid movie and talk about Kevin’s thing. I’m bored, and I’ve decided I’d love to make that guy crazy.”
We never did speak about Kevin’s thing. We never even watched a movie. We lay on the couch and watched a string of shows about rock stars with debilitating drug addictions who redeemed themselves in their fifties. I fell asleep on Darren’s chest, where I felt as safe and comfortable as when I was with with Jonathan.
I dreamed of some nether desert where the sky spoke in narrators, laugh tracks, and commercials, and I kneeled in the sand and put my hands in my pants to relieve the ache that had become water to me.
I woke up to the sound of Darren on the phone. Morning Stretch was muted. Darren’s voice squeaked, but I thought nothing of it. The fullness of my bladder pushed against some sexual part of my insides, making me feel engorged and ready. I wanted to f**k.
I went to my room, crawled into bed, and pulled the legal pad I used for middle-of-the-night ideas from the nightstand. I wrote:
What if he collars me? Slaps me? Spanks me? Bites me? Fucks me in the ass? Whips me? Hurts me? Displays me? Gags me? Blindfolds me? Shares me? Humiliates me? Ties me down? Makes me bleed? Fucks me up?
I couldn’t write any more. My imagination kept coming up with new things to do, and they got more and more horrible as I dug deeper.
I went to the bathroom and sat on the bowl, in the dark, trying not to wake up too much. I’d defined something about Jonathan during my conversation with Darren, and though I was comforted at having come to a conclusion, I was saddened at the decision.
There was a tap on the door.
“Mon?” Darren whispered.
“Use the other bathroom.”
“They found Gabrielle.” He sounded so calm I thought he meant something innocuous. “I have to identify the body.”
I stood up, my pants around my knees. “What?”
He asked softly, “Can you come with me?”
In my life, I’d experienced grief like I experienced love. Deeply and with very few people.
My father had been taken from me when I was nineteen. I didn’t see much of him, even when he wasn’t deployed. My mother owned him, up in buttfuck Castaic, two hours north of the den of sin and temptation I called home. The news came through her, icily framed as a happier existence with a benevolent God. I didn’t want to talk to her about how it happened. I ended up on the phone with his supervisor at Tomrock, who told me he’d taken mortar fire while escorting a Saudi prince to the central mosque in Kabul. I had told Dad he should have stayed in the military, that privatizing himself would leave him unprotected, but he was tired of listening to politically motivated orders dressed up as patriotism. If he was walking into death, he wanted it called that, and he wanted to be paid to take those risks. No fanfare. No dressing up in the flag. Dad was real. He wanted life so real it hurt. He’d been shot twice, stabbed once, and had his bell rung more than a few times in neighborhood brawls. He still held the door open for my mother after twenty years of marriage and loved her like a queen, even though she didn’t deserve it.
When he was killed, I thought I’d go insane. I felt unmoored, unsafe, orphaned. I found myself pulling the car over and checking directions to places I’d been to a hundred times. I called Darren twice as often, just to hear the voice of someone who loved me. I didn’t want to go outside if I could avoid it. The only thing that saved me, besides Darren and Gabby, was music. Dad had taught me piano. He approved of my pursuits. So when I played, especially when I played in front of people, I felt safe again. As the years passed, I found other ways to feel secure and loved, and grief slipped away so slowly I didn’t notice when it became a dull ache of memory brought on by some corner of the house or Dad’s mandarin tree in the backyard.
Grief had been hiding, ready for the next time. So when Darren and I listened to the lady cop tell us that Gabby had been found, drowned, two miles north of the Santa Monica Pier, I listened, but I was too busy trying to keep the bucket of grief from tipping. Darren needed me, and if I fell into a cacophony of emotion, I wasn’t going to be there for him.
We stood by a plexi-glass window, watching a sheet-covered gurney get wheeled into the adjacent room. I felt that bucket of sorrow tip and empty, dropping its contents from my throat to my heart. It sloshed around when I moved, and I thought I would be emptying it with a teaspoon.
I didn’t know what Darren was feeling, initially. He identified his sister, who looked bloated and blue, then turned to leave. He collapsed into my arms, weeping. I did my best to hold him up, but the lady cop with the inky curly hair had to help me get him to her desk.
Lady Cop brought us water and a box of tissues. “Was she on any medication?”
“Marplan,” Darren whispered.
“Did she mix it with alcohol?”
He grabbed my hand. “We should have gotten her. We shouldn’t have trusted Theo. Fuck. Of all people.”
I wasn’t buying it. “She was drinking, sure, but I thought she drowned,” I said to Lady Cop.
“Technically, yes. But what happens is people overdo, and because their judgment is compromised, they go for a swim. Their breath is shallower, and their coordination is poor, so they succumb.” She paused in a way that felt practiced and professional. “I’m sorry.”
We signed some papers. They wanted to know where to send the body. I gave the name of the funeral home my dad went to because I had no room in my brain for anything else, and Darren was too emotionally brutalized to make any kind of decision. I didn’t know how we were going to walk out of there, but we did, slowly, because the farther away we got from the police station, the farther behind we left Gabby. We stopped dead in the parking lot, holding hands, immovable.
“I don’t think I can go home,” he said.
“You can stay with me.”
“What about Adam?”
Darren just stared into the distance, his face a blank. I didn’t know what to do next. He had no family except Gabby. I was it, and I had no idea how to help him. His gaze fixed on something, and I followed it. Theo closed the door on his Impala and came toward us, his gait a little crooked. I squeezed Darren’s hand tighter.