New York City – December 31st, 2013
“I’m so glad we’re not out in the freezing cold right now,” Audrey told Joe as they sat in front of the TV, curled up on the couch in her apartment, not far from where probably a million people stood in Time Square waiting for the ball to drop.
“I’ve been out there. This is much better,” he said with a smirk.
“Oh, believe me, I know,” she giggled.
“Oh, man. New Years of ’08…” Joe laughed, shaking his head. Audrey smirked at him waiting for him to continue, because she already knew where he was going to take it.
“It was so awkward. So awkward,” he laughed.
“I can imagine,” she said, remembering how the Jonas Brothers, Demi Lovato, and Taylor Swift all stood together outside with Ryan Seacrest bringing in the New Year.
“Taylor was still pissed at me, so she wouldn’t talk to me. But I kept catching her staring at me and it was just… it was awkward,” he laughed lightly.
“You broke her heart,” Audrey pointed out.
“Whose side are you on?” He asked with a hint of a smile, poking her side.
“I have nothing else to say in the matter,” she giggled.
“Good. Are you ready for midnight?” Joe asked, changing the subject quickly.
“I am more than ready,” she said, smiling at him contently.
“I don’t think you are,” he said matter-of-factly.
“And what makes you say that?” She asked as she cocked her eyebrow at him.
“Nothing, nothing,” he said, getting up from the couch.
“Where are you going?” She asked, turning her head to watch him walk away from him.
“I’m going to get the champagne!” He said excitedly.
“Ooh! I forgot you brought the bubbily!” Audrey giggled as she faced forward again, watching Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year.
“Sucks that Dick Clark died,” she called back to Joe.
“Yeah, I know. He was a really nice guy,” she heard Joe say from the kitchen.
“It’s not the same,” Audrey said, watching Ryan Seacrest talk about how thankful he was to be there in Dick Clark’s honor.
“It’s not,” Joe agreed.
Audrey sat watching the TV for a bit. There was less than five minutes until the ball was going to drop and Joe was still messing around in the kitchen.
“Hey, what’s taking you so long?” She asked, turning to find Joe with his back to her, standing in the kitchen.
“Just, hold on,” he said, turning his head slightly to look at her.
“We’ve got minutes, dude. Minutes,” Audrey told him.
“I’m coming,” he huffed playfully.
“That’s what she said,” Audrey giggled, being immature.
“Ha. Ha,” he said dryly.
Soon enough, Joe was walking back into the living room with two flutes of champagne in his hands.
“Ooh, fancy,” she said, smiling at him.
The stems of the glass he handed her even had a pretty ribbon and decoration on it. She looked over at Joe smiling widely at him.
“To the new year,” she said, raising her glass toward his.
“To how much I love you,” he said, clinking his glass against hers.
Joe’s eyes stayed on Audrey as they took a sip. That’s when she noticed Joe’s glass didn’t have the pretty ribbon and decoration on it.
“Where’s your ribbon?” She asked, taking a good look at her glass.
“I don’t need one,” he said.
“Joe—” Audrey gasped, registering just what the decoration on the glass was. She heard him chuckle and she looked up at him wide-eyed.
“I love you so much, Audrey. You have no idea what your love and support has done for me, not only in just the past six months, but through the nearly two years that we’ve been together,” Joe told her.
“Joe…” Audrey breathed out in shock.
“Here,” he said, grabbing her glass from her, untying the ribbon.
“Audrey Leigh Brighton, will you marry me?” Joe asked, holding out the gorgeous diamond ring that was tied onto the stem of her glass with the ribbon.
“Oh my god,” she breathed, bringing her hands up to cover her mouth.
Joe reached out, pulling her left hand away from her face, ready to slip the ring on her finger. She couldn’t speak. She couldn’t breathe. She could barely think. But his eyes were boring into hers, demanding an answer. She knew what she would say long before all of this. She would never deny this man… ever.
“Yes,” she said, her voice cracking, almost making her answer inaudible.
“Yes?” He beamed at her.
“Yes, Joe. Oh my god,” she said again as she watched him slip the massive stone onto her finger.
“I love you so much, Audrey,” Joe told her again.
“I love you, Joe!” She said, throwing her arms around him tightly.
“You make me a better person,” he breathed in her ear.
“You are everything to me, Joe,” she choked out as tears welled in her eyes.
“I love you, Aud,” he said again, pulling back to kiss her.
“Here we go! 10, 9, 8…” They heard Ryan Seacrest start the countdown. They pulled back enough to see the TV.
“Here we go,” Joe smiled, intertwining his fingers with Audrey’s.
“4, 3, 2, 1! HAPPY NEW YEAR!” The countdown concluded and the traditional New Year’s music began to play over the television.
“Happy New Year,” Joe said, leaning in to kiss her lips again.
It was the first moments of 2014 and Audrey was spending it with a man she could now call her fiancée.
New York to Los Angeles – July 7th, 2013
“Nick…” Audrey said quietly into the phone once he picked up.
“Audrey? Are you okay?” He asked.
“I uh… I…” She stammered, feeling her heart beat pounding in her chest.
She hated asking for things. She hated it. She wasn’t one to take hand-outs, but this was important. This was necessary.
“What is it, Aud?” Nick asked.
“Fuck,” she sighed.
“Audrey, whatever it is, you can say it, okay. I’m your best friend. Just say it,” he said, trying to coax it out of her.
“I uh… I really need your help with something,” she said quietly.
“Anything,” he said immediately.
“I need to go see Joe,” she told him.
“Okay,” Nick said.
“I just… I don’t have the money for the plane ticket. But-it’s-an-emergency, I-promise-you,” she said, saying the last part really fast.
“Done,” he said immediately without even thinking about it.
“It’s just… I need to see him,” she sighed, feeling like she needed to give him some sort of explanation.
“What’s going on? What kind of an emergency?” Nick asked.
“I… I can’t tell you,” she said quietly.
“Oh,” he replied.
She couldn’t just out Joe like that. Not before she knew exactly how serious it really was. She needed to see Joe and talk to him to be able to assess the situation. If it was something she couldn’t handle, she was more than willing to go to Nick about it. But until then, she would leave it between her and Joe.
“I’m sorry, Nick. I really am. It’s just… Joe… he… it’s… god. I just I can’t tell you right now. I’m so sorry,” she told him.
“It’s okay, Audrey. If you can’t tell me, you can’t tell me,” Nick said.
“Thank you,” she said, feeling a fraction of the weight lifted off her shoulder.
“Is he in some kind of trouble?” Nick asked and Audrey sighed.
“I just really need to see him,” she choked out as the emotions hit her.
It was almost a week since Joe stormed out of her apartment high on cocaine, denying it left and right. Audrey gave him a day or so to cool off – to come to his sense, before she called him. But like before, he didn’t answer. And for the past week, she hadn’t gotten ahold of him and he hadn’t bothered to call her back. She had no idea what he was thinking, but she wasn’t going to let him just fall off the deep end. She needed to go to him and make him realize what the hell he was going to lose if he continued to go down the destructive path his so-called friend, Wilmer was leading him down.
Nick booked Audrey a plane ticket for the next morning and she was headed out to California.
“Audrey, are you sure I can’t help?” Nick asked as he drove her to Joe’s straight from the airport.
“I just… I need to talk to him,” she told him once again.
In all honesty, she hoped things were okay with Joe. She hoped he just needed a little cooling off period. And she hoped his use of the drug was just recreational instead of habitual. She wanted to give Joe the benefit of the doubt before worrying anyone in his family.
During the ride, Nick got Audrey to confess that Joe hadn’t spoken to her in a week, but she wouldn’t go as far to tell him why. She saw the worried look in his eye and knew he was concerned.
“Do you want me come up with you? Or I could wait for you here,” Nick offered.
“I’ll be okay, Nick. I promise you. But if you could hold onto my suitcase…” Audrey trailed off.
“For sure,” he nodded.
“Thank you so much,” she said, leaning over to hug him.
“Call me if you need me to come get you, Aud,” Nick told her.
“I will. I promise,” she told him and he nodded.
Audrey pushed open the passenger door and got out, walking straight for the apartment building’s front entrance. When she arrived at Joe’s front door, she took a deep breath. She had Nick’s spare key to Joe’s place, but she didn’t want to use it. She was too afraid of what she might find if she just barged in.
It took her a few moments to work up the nerve to knock and when she did, it was light and quiet. She stood there for a few moments thinking how stupid it was that she hadn’t knocked louder, but when she heard Winston sniffing at the door, she felt relief that he at least heard her. The thought of seeing the dog brought me a temporary sense of excitement. She missed Winny every time she was away from him – which was way too much.
“Is someone there, dude?” She heard Joe’s voice from the other side of the door and it caused her stomach to tie in knots.
Fuck. What was she going to say? How was he going to react? Shit. Had she really thought this over? Her fight or flight instincts started kicking in and she wanted nothing more than to run as fast as she could to the stairwell door and not stop. But she remembered this was the boy she loved for so many years. This was the boy of her dreams who loved her back. This boy was her forever. And she would do anything and everything in her power to help him. And that’s why she was there. She wanted to help him. She wouldn’t give up.
When she heard the lock click and saw the door open, her body froze instantly. She felt like nothing could prepare her for this reunion.
“Audrey,” Joe said, looking at her surprised.
“Joe,” she choked out, getting a good look at him.
He stood in front of her in a pair of sweatpants – that’s it. Sweatpants. Baggy sweatpants that seemed to be two sizes too big, which were riding so low on his hips, she could see the end of his treasure trail and the end of his sex lines. He was in desperate need of a haircut and a shave, possibly a shower at that too. He looked pale and his eyes were wide with surprise, with dark circles below them, like he hadn’t slept in days. And if he were still on the drug, he might not have.
“Wh-what are you doing here?” Joe asked, gripping onto the doorknob.
“You… you haven’t returned any of my calls,” she told him.
He stood there silently, not giving any explanation, not giving her any indication one way or the other if he still cared or not.
“What is going on with you?” She asked.
“Nothing. I… I can’t talk right now, Audrey,” he told her.
“What? You can’t talk?” She asked, furrowing her brow in confusion.
“I can’t,” he said as he closed the open gap of the door by wedging his body in it, telling her without words that she wasn’t welcome.
“I flew across the country for this, Joe. You’re going to talk to me,” she said firmly.
“I—not right now,” he said, shaking his head.
“What the hell is going on?” She asked him, feeling her heart squeeze painfully in her chest.
“I just need some time, Audrey,” he sighed.
“I think a week is adequate time, Joe,” she growled at him.
“Just give me some time, Audrey,” he snapped, pulling his body away from the opening, trying to shut the door on her.
“NO!” She said, slamming her palm against the door, pushing it open.
She took Joe by surprise and he staggered back just enough for her to push inside.
“Audrey, please,” Joe pleaded.
“We’re going to deal with this, Joe. We’re not giving up,” she said, walking deeper into his apartment with him following right behind her.
“Audrey, just…” He sighed as she stopped dead in her tracks once she got close enough to the living room.
She saw all she needed to see. It was sitting on his table plain as day, like he was just about to do it before she interrupted or like he just did it.
“Joe,” she said, turning toward him with tears in her eyes.
“Audrey, let me explain,” he said, his eyes looking worried.
“You can’t explain this away, Joe. You can’t,” she said, shaking her head.
“Aud…” He sighed.
“Why?” She asked as her tears blurred her eyes.
“God,” he growled, frustrated.
“Joe,” Audrey said again, needing him to give her an answer.
“Audrey, it’s not… I just… there’s just… fuck,” he sighed.
“You need help, Joe,” she said finally.
“No,” he said, shaking his head, moving away from her toward the coffee table.
He gathered up all the paraphernalia and threw it in a small box before tucking it away.
“Yes, you do,” she told him.
“No, Audrey. It’s not… it’s not a big deal. So I’ve done coke a few times. Whatever,” he shrugged.
“Are you listening to yourself, Joe?” Audrey scoffed.
“Audrey, just stop,” he growled.
“You have a fucking stash, Joe!” She yelled.
“It’s not… Audrey, just drop it,” he said, getting angry with her.
“If you think I am just going to sit back and watch you do this to yourself, then you’re fucking delusional,” she said, getting angry right back.
“It’s none of your business,” he snapped.
“You are my business, Joe! The moment we got into this relationship, the things you do became my business!” She yelled at him.
“Why are you here? Why do you care?” Joe shouted at her.
Her heart broke with his words. Why did she care? How could she not care?
“Because I love you,” she told him as the tears slid out of her eyes.
“You love me? Then leave me alone,” he lashed out.
“No, Joe. I won’t,” she said quietly. He scoffed, moving away from her.
“You once said that true love is when you can love someone’s good and bad sides. Well, this is your bad side. I’ve seen you at your worst and I still love you, Joe. And nothing is going to change that,” Audrey told him.
“Nothing?” He chuckled darkly.
“Nothing,” she said sharply to prove to him she was serious.
“Audrey, you don’t even know that half of it,” he said, shaking his head.
“Then tell me! Tell me, Joe! Tell me so I can help fix you!” She yelled desperately.
“What if I can’t be fixed!?” He yelled back at her.
“You can. You’ve just have to want to,” she told him.
“What I want is to be left alone!” He shouted at her.
“Joe,” Audrey said sadly as her tears built up again.
“Audrey, just go back home,” he sighed.
“No!” She growled.
“GET OUT OF HERE!” He yelled.
“Why are you doing this?” She cried.
“Just go back to Nick’s! That’s where you were anyway, wasn’t it? With my brother? That’s where you always are. With my brother!” He shouted at her, implying things that were so far from the truth.
“What are you even talking about?” She scoffed.
“Go run back to Nick,” he lashed out, projecting his negative feelings about himself onto the friendship that she had with Nick. He was trying to steer the problem area away from himself, making up a new one.
“You know that nothing is going on with me and Nick. Nothing ever has, Joe. Stop it right now,” Audrey snapped at him.
“Yeah. How do I really know that?” He asked, narrowing his eyes at her.
“You’re fucking losing your mind,” Audrey scoffed, shaking her head, feeling her heart breaking with the way he was acting toward her.
“Ha,” he laughed darkly.
“You need to open your eyes,” she told him.
“And you need to open your eyes to the fact that I don’t want you here,” he said viciously, verbally lashing out at me as painfully as he could.
Audrey’s jaw dropped open as the tears blurred her vision. Everything in her mind and body felt his words. Everything hurt.
“You don’t really mean that,” she said quietly.
“Right now… yeah, I do,” he said, still seeming really worked up.
Audrey’s heart broke in two with his words as she staggered back on her feet. She couldn’t believe he was acting this way and it was hard to distinguish whether or not it was the addiction talking or if it was really Joe. Either way, she turned on her heels and left him standing there all alone in his apartment. As she made a break for the elevator, her tears hit her hard and she was sobbing. When the elevator doors opened to the lobby, the doorman immediately took notice of her emotional breakdown.
“Miss, are you alright?” He asked walking toward her. Audrey instantly began wiping at her eyes, trying to compose herself.
“Are you hurt? Can I help you with something?” He asked concerned.
She was hurt but not in way he or anyone could be of any help to her. Unless he knew how to fix a broken heart.
“Cab. I need a cab,” she choked out.
“Sure, Miss. Sure,” he said, moving toward the desk in the lobby.
“Is there anything else I can do for you?” He asked as he dialed the phone.
“Just the cab, please,” Audrey said, still wiping at her tears.
“Of course,” he said, offering her a box of tissues.
“Thank you,” she told him as she grabbed a few and used them to sop up the tears.
Once he called, it didn’t take long for the cab to pull up in front of the building.
“I hope you feel better, Miss. Are you sure there isn’t anything I can do for you?” The doorman asked once again.
“You’ve been so helpful. Thank you so much,” Audrey told him.
“You’re very welcome,” he nodded as he shut the cab door after her.
She told the cab driver Nick’s address and he took her there immediately. She called Nick as soon as she got close to his place.
“Audrey, hey. How did everything go?” Nick asked.
“I need you to let me up,” she told him.
“Where? At my place?” He asked.
“Yes, I’m here,” she told him as the cab pulled into the parking lot.
“Are you okay?” He asked.
“Just let your doorman know I’m on my way,” she told him.
“I will,” he said and she hung up the phone.
Audrey was let in immediately at Nick’s place and took the elevator up to his floor. He pulled the door open immediately after she knocked. And just the sight of Nick’s face caused her to breakdown again.
“Audrey. What happened?” Nick asked, pulling her into his arms.
“Joe… he’s… he needs help, Nick,” she cried.
“Help? What kind of help?” He asked, pulling away to look into her eyes.
“He has a problem…” She told him.
“What happened? What kind of problem?” Nick asked confused.
“Cocaine,” she choked out.
“What? What are you talking about?” Nick asked.
Audrey pulled out of Nick’s arms trying to pull herself together. She wiped at her eyes, not even caring what she must look like after all that crying.
“I’ve seen it, Nick. I’ve seen it in his apartment. I just saw it. He has it right now. And… and when he was in New York, he was on it and we got into a huge fight over it and that’s why we haven’t talked in a week,” Audrey told him.
“God,” Nick sighed, looking shocked as he ran his fingers through his hair.
“I went there to talk to him and he… he was so mean… he told me he wanted me gone. He didn’t want to see me,” she said as her emotions overwhelmed her again.
“He said that?” Nick asked.
“He told me to leave. To go back home,” she cried.
“Uh…” Nick said, pulling his phone out of his pocket.
“Are you calling him?” She asked.
“Yeah,” Nick said, putting the phone up to his ear.
“Good luck. He thinks you and are… that we’re… that we…” She stammered.
“What? That we…” He asked, looking at her wide-eyed.
“That we’re way too close,” Audrey told him.
“He said that?” Nick scoffed.
“He implied that things were going on between us that shouldn’t be going on,” she told him.
“Like what?” Nick scoffed.
“I don’t know. I don’t know, Nick. I just know he needs help and I can’t do this alone,” she told him.
“Voicemail,” Nick said, pulling his phone away from his ear. Audrey sighed, knowing it was a long shot anyway.
“I’m going to go over there,” Nick said.
“It’s Wilmer, Nick. Wilmer has been supplying him. I know he is,” Audrey told him. Nick scoffed and shook his head.
“I shouldn’t be surprised,” Nick said bitterly.
“I’m sorry,” Audrey said.
“What do you have to be sorry for?” Nick asked.
“I don’t know. For not telling you sooner,” she said with a shrug.
Nick walked over to Audrey and hugged her quickly.
“We’ll help him, Audrey. Don’t worry,” Nick assured her. She nodded at him, feeling a small sense of relief with his words.
“Here’s… here’s his key…” Audrey said, pulling Joe’s apartment key out of her pocket.
“Thanks,” Nick said, grabbing it from her.
Audrey watched Nick walk out the apartment door and hoped like hell Joe would be able to see reason – that Nick would be able to get through to him.