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Then there’s Xander. He knew about Bell as well. When did he find out? Did he know the whole time or did River tell him?
There’s also Grace. I feel really bad I haven’t talked to her and I know I have to face her and talk through our issues.
And of course there’s Ellie. I know River loves me, and he isn’t interested in anyone else. Sure I do. But she’s after him. I know it. Whether he sees it or not, she is. And it bothers me that she’s always around lately, like she’s waiting for the pieces to fall, so she can be there to pick them up.
As the darkness turns into dawn, I lay awake thinking about what has happened between us. I’m not sure if I ever dozed off, but I did walk over to the door at least ten times and grab the knob, though I never turned it. I wanted to go out there, to see him, to be with him. But I couldn’t. River’s tendency to keep secrets from me is not something I know how to handle until he’s in a more coherent state of mind.
My phone rings and I sit up to see who’s calling so early in the morning. When I see it’s Ben’s nephew, Trent, I answer immediately.
“Dahlia,” he says in a trembling voice.
“Trent? What’s wrong?” Instantly, concern washes through me.
“I need help. I’m in trouble. Can you come get me?”
“Trent, where are you?”
“Don’t tell my mom, Dahlia.”
“Okay, just tell me where you are.” I am panicked and worried, ready to agree to anything just so he’ll tell me where he is.
I have to strain to hear his voice as he sniffles and tells me where he is before hanging up.
Jumping out of bed, I dash into the bathroom and then into our closet to throw on some clothes. I don’t stop to brush my hair; I just pull it back messily. When I get to the living room I see River facedown on the couch, a bottle of vodka on the floor next to him. I try to wake him up, to tell him where I’m going, but he doesn’t respond. I have to go, so I grab my keys and hurry out the door. I shouldn’t be that long, especially since as soon as I hit the freeway, I drive as fast as I can. I’ve talked myself into not calling Serena until I find Trent, but wonder if I should call Grace. I reach for my phone. Shit! I left it at home. Despite the light rain, I manage to get to Newport Beach in less than fifty minutes. I hope it’s fast enough.
My heart races as I park in the lot near the Ferris wheel. Walking past it, I head behind the concession stand. The smell hits me instantly. Rows of garbage cans and trash lead the way down to what must be the back alleyway of the fairway. I stop immediately when I see them among the stacked boxes and empty beer kegs. Ben is squatting down in front of Trent, who is sitting on the ground, supporting himself against the building. His legs are outstretched and his head is back. I’m not sure if he’s awake or asleep. One of Ben’s arms is in a sling. He’s talking to Trent, but I can’t hear what he’s saying. Trent seems to be moving his lips, but his eyes are closed. He looks so different. The once muscular young surfer looks to have lost at least twenty pounds, he has bruises on his arms, and seems frail. What happened to the boy with the big smile and dimples, just like his uncle? The boy on the ground is not the Trent I know.
Ben leans in closer—why I’m not sure. But when Trent’s head falls to the side and Ben lightly slaps his cheek, alarm seizes me. “Is he alright?” I yell.
Ben looks up at me, surprised. “Thank fuck. I need help. Help me get him out of here, will you?”
I rush over to them. Trent’s body has gone limp. Ben props Trent’s arm around his neck and does the best he can to lift him up to his feet. Trent’s eyes open and he sees me. “Dahlia, you didn’t tell my mom, did you?”
With tears in my eyes I look into his vacant face. “No Trent, no I didn’t.”
“Good,” he mutters and he tries to stand on his own. “I can do it,” he says to Ben.
“What’s going on? What’s wrong with him?”
Ben motions for me to grab Trent’s other arm and I do, wrapping it over my shoulder. Once we have Trent secured between us he looks over to me. “Let’s get him to the car first, then I’ll explain.”
Trent shuffles his feet as we assist him and Ben leads the way to his BMW. I open the door and Ben manages to get Trent into the backseat. Once he’s closed the door Ben looks at me. “Did you know about him?”
“That he’s a drug addict.”
I bring my hand to my mouth and my stomach turns. All I can do is shake my head no. Why wouldn’t Serena have said anything?
“I figured you didn’t. Serena’s in denial and my mom is so distraught over it; she’s not seeing things clearly. Do you mind helping me get him to the house?”
“Of course I don’t mind, but shouldn’t we take him to the hospital?”
“No, he doesn’t need that. He’s high. He needs to detox. I’m going to help him do that.”
“You are? Are you sure you should do that with Grace?”
“No, fuck, I don’t want her to know. We’ll take him to our house. Mom or Serena can’t see him this bad. Will you help me?”
I blink my eyes knowing there is no way I can say no. “Yes.”
“How did you know?”
“That he was here.”
“He called me.”
Ben nods his head. “Yeah, he left me a message and as soon as I heard it I came.”
“Did he tell you anything else?”
“No, just not to tell his mother.”
“I think he’s in some kind of trouble. He’s an addict. He keeps mumbling about owing people money.”
He kicks the tire of the car, then he turns and heads to the other side of the car. “You coming?” he says, pointing to the passenger door.
“Yeah, but I’ll follow you.”
He shrugs and gets in his car. I’m wet and cold, so I turn the heater in my car on full blast. Following Ben to our house, his house now, feels so strange. It’s a short drive, but it feels like it takes forever. I’m facing a deluge of memories as we get closer to the house. Memories that haven’t surfaced in a long time. Flashes of our life together. Him as a young five-year-old blond-haired boy—making friends with me and playing with me in the sand. Him as a rebel teenager—the strong resilient adolescent who was with me when I heard the news about the plane crash that forever changed my life—the one that killed my parents and my aunt. Our first kiss and our first time together on the beach. Images flash through my mind of the church altar and the stained-glass window reflecting upon it when Ben came and found me and told me I would never be alone. He was always there for me. He was my rock.
Even though I’ve known that he’s alive for a while now, seeing him interact with Trent, I actually feel it. He’s here, right now, taking care of his nephew. Being the rock he always was. Somehow it’s enough for me to let go of my resentment. I’m able to forgive him for the choice he made and tears slide down my cheeks. The man who was my friend through everything isn’t gone and I suddenly feel relieved. As my negative feelings toward Ben dissipate and are replaced with happy memories of our unbreakable bond, I know what I have to do. I have to actually talk to him. Maybe accept his apology. Maybe even be his friend. I think I can do that. Grace was right—I owe him that much.
I know River won’t be happy that I’m here, but he’ll have to understand that I came for Trent, because of Trent. I also feel that by letting go of my anger toward Ben, it may ease the stress on my relationship with River. To be honest, I don’t think Ben is even the issue between River and me anymore; the issue is really our inability to communicate effectively.
Arriving at the yellow house with the white picket fence, I wipe away my remaining tears and take a deep breath. I can do this. I can do this for Trent. I can do this for Ben. With a newfound determination, I hurry out of my car and help Ben. We manage to get Trent into the house. Once we get him settled in bed, he mumbles something I can’t understand, then he seems to lose consciousness again.
Alarmed, I grab Ben’s arm. “Is he okay?”
Ben looks at my hand and then pulls the blanket over Trent. He nods his head before wistfully saying, “He will be, just give him some time.”
Ben walks into the bathroom and I stare at the broken boy lying in the bed. A sixteen-year-old with his whole life ahead of him. A young boy who loved cats and dogs now a teenager in need of help. As I leave the room, I’m hopeful he can overcome this because he has so many things to look forward to.
Closing the door behind me, I notice boxes everywhere. Ben must have decided to move back in. I walk out to the living room and I stand there shivering, soaked to the bone.
Following me out of the room, Ben hands me a towel and says, “Here, dry off.”
I take it and wrap the towel around my shoulders. He walks over to the fireplace and stacks some Sterno logs. As he lights them, they easily catch fire and I can feel their warmth from where I stand.
“I’ll be right back,” Ben says as he leaves the room.
Walking over to the desk that Ben must have taken from Grace’s attic, I use the house phone to call River, but there’s no answer. I don’t leave a message because I know telling him where I am on voice mail will only piss him off more.
Ben returns a few minutes later having changed. He looks like he always did—khaki shorts and a white T-shirt. I have to remind myself that everything that has happened was not a dream. My trance is broken by the awkwardness of the moment as he hands me a T-shirt and a pair of sweatpants and says, “Here, put these on, so you’re not sitting here in wet clothes.”
Accepting the dry clothes, I go into the hall bathroom to change. I can’t help but think how strange it is to be here with him, in the house I shared with him for so many years. It used to be such a place of comfort but now everything is so different, and it feels unnatural to be here.
When I come out, I head toward the living room and drop my wet clothes near the door.
I can see that Ben’s reading something on his phone.
He looks up at me. “I have to find a facility to check Trent into immediately. Can you help me?”
“Sure, what can I do?”
He hands me his phone. “You could make a list of all the rehabilitation centers in Orange County and I’ll start calling them. I haven’t bought a new computer yet, but you can search for the numbers on my phone. It’s the one thing besides my journal I brought back with me from New York City. I think you even know the phone number,” he says with a weak smile.
Thoughts of him having to establish an entirely new life and then having to leave that life trigger something I never expected to feel for him again—sympathy. I haven’t really spent any time thinking about how all of this impacted him; I’ve been so focused on how his leaving affected me. Coming back here and starting over can’t have been easy.
We spend the next few hours trying to secure a spot for Trent. Once I’ve compiled the list, I leave Ben to the phone calls and go to check on Trent. I move my hand to his forehead and he stirs, mumbling something about money he owes. When I come back to the living room, Ben tells me he got Trent on six waiting lists at private centers.
Sitting on the couch, I throw my legs up, completely exhausted. Ben sits at the opposite end and stretches out his legs. Uncomfortable at the familiarity of the situation, I scramble to sit up. I pull my knees up to my chest and wrap my arms around my legs, resting my chin on them.
Smirking, he watches me as he absentmindedly rubs his arm.
“How bad is it? Did you go to the hospital?” I ask.
“Fuck no. Caleb just popped it back in place.”
I roll my eyes. “Of course he did.”
We sit in silence as I stare at the sling and then I have to ask, “When I checked on Trent he was mumbling that he owes people money again. Do you know who?”
Furrowing his brows he says, “I think he was selling and owes some dealers. When he’s more coherent I’ll find out who and how much and see what I can do to settle his debt.”
I let out a long silent sigh because there is nothing I can say to that. Trent suddenly yells and Ben rolls off the couch and hurries to check on him. When he comes back I ask, “Are you sure he shouldn’t be in the hospital?”
“Yeah Dahl, I am. I can do everything for him they can.”
“What do you mean?”
Sitting in one of the chairs he tells me, “When I was in New York I taught drug management and volunteered at a rehab center.”
“Really? What made you get into that?”
He looks at me, his blue eyes sad. “I had to find something to do that made me feel useful. I was looking for purpose and those kids needed someone. It worked.”
“Have you thought about what you’re going to do here?”
He props one elbow on his knee and hangs his head between them. Then he turns his head toward me. “No, I haven’t. I can’t do anything right now. First, I have to get my finances in order, reestablish my identity, and get through the legal proceedings. The frenzy will start once the press gets wind of the case and it will be hard to stay out of the public eye. I’m sure reporters will be hounding me. So until the trial is over, I can’t even think about what I’m going to do.”