Manhattan – June 21st, 2014
Joe stood in front of the mirror in one of the many Sunday school rooms in the basement of the church, tying the grey silk tie that was around his neck. He took a deep breath looking up into his own eyes, remembering how bad things were just a year ago, how he almost ruined everything. But Audrey, she was so strong, so forgiving, even though Joe didn’t deserve it. Not after the way he treated her. But nevertheless, she stood by his side through it all and now today they were going to stand before God, and all their family and friends, taking the next step with each other. By the end of the day, Audrey would be his wife.
“Hey,” Nick said as he opened the door and slid inside the room, already perfectly dressed in his groomsmen attire.
Joe’s eyes found his through the mirror, his fingers pausing from their duty of tying the tie.
“I just went to see Audrey,” Nick told him, walking deeper into the room toward Joe.
“How is she doing?” Joe turned to ask him, dropping the tie from his fingers altogether, letting it fall lax against his shoulders.
“She’s a rock as usual,” Nick said with a smirk and Joe couldn’t help but smile back.
“She doesn’t have any plans of leaving me at the alter, does she?” Joe joked.
“You know, she said the same thing about you. Isn’t trust like the number one component in a marriage?” Nick chuckled.
“She would say that,” Joe chuckled lightly, ignoring the second half of what Nick said.
Joe turned back toward the mirror as he began working on his tie again.
“Need some help?” Nick asked walking over to him, grabbing the tie in his hands. Joe dropped his own hands immediately and let him work his magic.
“Thanks,” Joe breathed. His nerves felt frayed and having one less thing to worry about, even if it was just his tie, felt freeing.
“I’ll tell you the same thing I told, Audrey,” Nick paused, looking up in Joe’s eyes before his attention went back to the tie. Joe just waited patiently for his little brother’s words of wisdom.
“It doesn’t matter what you’ve gone through to get to this point, all that matters is that you’re here now,” he told him.
Joe took in his words fully before his lips turned up into a smile. Nick looked up at him and smiled too.
“Give or take a few words,” he shrugged and continued tying the tie until it was knotted perfectly.
“There you go,” Nick said, running his hand down it once, before he took a step back.
“You know, you would have made a perfect maid of honor for Audrey,” Joe smirked at him and he laughed out loud.
“I’ll stick to your side of the aisle,” Nick laughed.
“You would have looked good in those green dresses,” Joe laughed.
“I don’t think I have the legs for it,” Nick joked.
“You’re probably right,” Joe said, letting his laughter die out.
“Thank you,” Joe told him sincerely.
“For what?” Nick asked.
“For just… everything. You’re not only Audrey’s best friend, but you’re mine too, you know,” Joe told him.
“You’re my best friend too, Joe,” he said seriously.
Joe held out his hand to shake Nick’s and once he placed his palm in it, Joe pulled him in, giving him a tight hug.
“I love you, man,” Joe told him.
“I love you too, Joe,” Nick said right back.
New York City – July 12th, 2013
Audrey kept in constant contact with Nick about Joe – whether or not he was allowing people over to his house, whether or not he was taking phone calls. Because she only knew he wasn’t taking her phone calls. And everything about that tore her apart. Five days passed since she flew to Los Angeles to confront Joe and it was nearly two weeks since they were on decent terms with one another. The hardest thing to deal with was the unknown. She didn’t know if Joe would seek the help he so desperately needed. She didn’t know if things would ever go back to normal. She didn’t even know if they would go back to normal. She had no idea about a lot of things and it was absolutely agonizing.
Audrey missed hearing his voice before she went to bed. And hearing those three simple words that over time seemed to be spoken out of habit instead of need. She longed to hear ‘I love you’ spoken from Joe’s lips once again. What she wouldn’t give to go back and live it all again – every moment they spent together, blissfully happy. She felt like the boy she knew was gone forever and she wouldn’t get him back.
After Nick’s initial confrontation with Joe, he got their father involved. If there was one person on earth you didn’t want to disappoint, it was their father. But Joe needed the reality check, big time. And Audrey prayed to God he would get the help he needed.
“How are you holding up?” Audrey’s sister Renee asked her over the phone as she boiled some water for tea.
“I’m fine. I just really wish I knew what was going on with Joe,” Audrey sighed, feeling the uncertainty fester inside of her.
“What does Nick say?” Renee asked.
“I haven’t heard from him since yesterday morning. He said their dad was getting through to him, so hopefully they can get the ball rolling,” Audrey told her.
“And what are you going to do once the ball does get rolling?” She asked.
“I am going to be there. I am going to fight like hell right by his side,” Audrey told her.
“You’re just going to ignore the way he treated you?” She asked.
“I’m not going to ignore it, but I’m not going to hold it against him, Renee. It was the drugs, the addiction talking, okay. Joe… he’s not like that,” Audrey told her.
“He’s not the pompous celebrity that everyone says he is?” She chuckled.
“You know he’s not,” Audrey sighed.
“I was kidding, Aud,” Renee told her.
Renee lived in London since she was nineteen years old, since Audrey was a freshman in high school. They kept up with each other regularly, but Audrey always longed to have her sister with her instead of worlds away. She had yet to meet the beautiful man that swept her off her feet and she only had what Audrey told her and what the media told her about him to go off of. She just hoped she didn’t put too much flak in what all the gossip sites said about him, because most of it was idiotic.
“Hold on a sec, Renee,” Audrey said, cocking her ear toward her apartment door, swearing she heard a knock.
She waited, holding her breath until she heard it again. It was just a soft knock, barely audible. But she heard it.
“Hold on. Someone is at my door,” Audrey told her.
“Alright,” Renee chuckled.
Audrey quickly moved toward the door to see who it was. When she looked out the peephole she couldn’t see much.
“Who is it?” Renee asked.
“I don’t know,” Audrey said quietly.
She quickly unlocked it and pulled it open as all her breath left her body at the sight of him.
“Joe,” Audrey breathed.
“What? Joe’s there?” Audrey heard Renee squawk in her ear.
Joe stood in her doorway wearing jeans and a dark t-shirt with a black baseball cap cocked slightly up and to the side. He looked like the normal Joe again and it took her breath away.
“Audrey,” he breathed, shoving his hands deep in his pockets.
“Renee, I have to go,” Audrey said, still staring at Joe, completely shocked.
“Alright,” she heard her say as she pulled the phone from her ear, ending the call.
Audrey stood paralyzed just staring at him, afraid of what he might say, afraid of where they’d end up when all was said and done.
“Audrey, there’s… god…” He sighed, looking down at the floor. She waited on baited breath.
“There’s so much I need to say,” he said, looking up into her eyes, but then quickly looking away again.
But this was different than before – before when he was using. This time she could see the pain in his eyes whether he was looking at her or not. She could see the regret and the despair and all the embarrassment he felt.
“I’m just… I’m so sorry,” he choked out as his emotions got the best of him.
He pulled his hand up to shield his face as his tears hit him hard. As much as she deserved this apology, just the sight of Joe crying was too much to handle. She couldn’t take it. She pulled him into her arms immediately, comforting him, letting her apartment door close itself.
“I’m so sorry, Audrey,” he cried against her shoulder as he squeezed her tightly in his arms.
“I know you are, Joe. I know,” she breathed in his ear as tears welled in her eyes.
“I love you so much. I-I never meant to hurt you,” he wept.
“I know, baby. I know,” she cooed.
Audrey held him until his tears subsided and he pulled out of her arms, wiping at his bloodshot eyes.
“I’m gonna get help. I-I… I’m getting help,” he told her.
With his words, her emotions got the better of her and she pulled him back into her arms.
“I’m going to be in New York for a while, Aud,” he told her.
“You are?” She choked out, pulling back to look into his eyes.
“I am. My drug therapy is here,” he told her.
“Joe,” she breathed, hugging him tightly again.
“We can be together,” he breathed in her ear.
“Oh my god,” she cried.
“If you’ll still have me,” he added.
“You’ll always have me,” she told him truthfully.
“I love you so much, Audrey Leigh,” he breathed in her ear, squeezing her tightly in his arms.
They say not to regret, because if you regret you never forget. In all honesty, Audrey didn’t want to forget because forgetting means that the blissful feelings of their reunion leave along with it. The happiness she felt to have Joe back in her arms and to hear out of his mouth that he was ready to get help was like nothing she could have ever imagined.
Everything they are. Everything they ever were. Everything they ever did. Everything they stood for. Every strategic touch. Every perfect kiss. Every heartbeat. Every moment they spent together led up to this.
Why would she want to forget something that good?
Los Angeles – July 7th, 2013
After Audrey left, after Joe ran her out of there, he just felt miserable. It wasn’t he didn’t want her around, because he wanted her around so badly. He missed her so much. He just couldn’t handle seeing the disappointment and disgust in her eyes when she looked at him. He couldn’t handle facing that, so he didn’t. He would just sit there and wallow in his own misery if it meant he wouldn’t have to disappoint her any further. The less she knew the better.
Joe walked toward the living room and plopped down on the couch, feeling miserable and pathetic. The look in Audrey’s eyes haunted him, making him feel like the biggest piece of shit on the planet. She was the love of his life, a girl that was so in love with his that she’d been willing to stick around through just about everything, but he wasn’t too entirely sure if that would hold up after today. He didn’t deserve it.
Joe sat there feeling all of this inner-turmoil, and hated himself even more when he felt the itching in his blood for the drug. He hadn’t even realized how his fingernails were absent-mindedly scratching against the palms of his hands, causing sore patches on his skin. His body was calling for it, needing it, aching for it. And he didn’t have it in him to resist. He immediate pulled out the small box he shoved it all in when Audrey was there, staring at its contents. He knew he didn’t have any will-power. His body was screaming too loudly for it.
Three lines later, Joe sat with his head draped back against the couch, his body feeling numb and he hated that he loved it so much. But the high made it feel like his problems were a million miles away and it was just an overall intoxicating feeling he couldn’t pass up.
Joe’s eyes fluttered open when he heard a boisterous knock at his door. He scoffed to himself, hoping that if he didn’t answer it, maybe they’d just go away. But then he heard the loud knock again.
“GO AWAY!” Joe bellowed.
“Open the door, Joe,” he heard Nick’s stern voice.
“Fuck,” Joe said under his breath as he gathered up all the paraphernalia, putting it back into its little box before he tucked it away again.
Nick knocked again, startling Joe to his feet.
“I don’t want to talk, Nick! Go away!” Joe said, grabbing up a grey hoodie from the couch, putting it over his bare upper body before zipping it up.
“Joe, I have your key. You might as well open the door,” Nick said through the door.
“God damn it,” Joe grumbled to himself, catching a quick glimpse of himself in the mirror on his way to the door.
He did not look good, that was apparent. He really didn’t want to see Nick, but he wasn’t going to make this easy for him.
Joe’s bare feet padded across the tiled floor toward the door as Winston trailed at his feet. He quickly unlocked the door and turned back toward his kitchen. Nick pushed open the door and shut it behind him. Joe heard his footsteps coming closer to him as he dug in the refrigerator for something to drink. He pulled out a beer, closing the door behind him. His eyes registered the stern look on Nick’s face before he popped open the top of the beer, taking a long swig.
“It’s barely noon, Joe,” Nick said evenly.
“But that’s the least of my worries. Isn’t it, Nick?” Joe snapped at him.
Nick sighed, running his fingers through his hair.
“What are you doing, Joe?” He asked quietly.
“It’s really none of yours or Audrey’s business,” Joe scoffed, clenching his jaw tightly, hating this completely. Nick wasn’t going to let this rest and Joe didn’t want to deal with him at all.
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Nick said matter-of-factly.
“As far as I am concerned, you two can fucking ride off into the fucking sunset on your god damn high horses,” Joe scoffed, taking another swig of his beer, walking away from Nick toward the living room.
“Really, Joe?” Nick scoffed back at him.
“Yeah, fucking really,” Joe said, plopping down on the couch with his beer.
“Is what Audrey told me true?” Joe heard Nick say from behind him. He shut his eyes tightly, wishing for Nick to just vanish into thin fucking air.
The numbness in his body was now just aggravating him. In all honesty, he wished he could be sleeping, but as he watched his knee involuntarily bounce, he knew the drug flowing through his bloodstream would never allow it.
“Joe—” Nick demanded.
“I’m not feeling well right now. Maybe you could come back later,” Joe said sarcastically, taking another swig of the beer.
“Tell me right now, Joe. No bullshit. Are you on drugs?” Nick said, standing in front of Joe in a flash.
“Define drugs. Because I am pretty sure I consumed some caffeine at some point today. Caffeine’s a drug, isn’t it?” Joe said, trying to get under Nick’s skin like he was getting under his.
“Cocaine, Joe. Cocaine,” Nick spat at him.
“Hmm,” Joe breathed, taking another pull off the bottle.
“You’re on it right now,” Nick said matter-of-factly.
“Like I said, it’s none of your business,” Joe told him.
“Where is it?” Nick asked as he began looking around the room, opening the drawers on Joe’s coffee table.
“Get the fuck out of here,” Joe scoffed, getting up as Nick ripped open the drawer that held the box with the coke in it.
“Is this it, Joe?” Nick asked, grabbing the box out.
“Fuck, Nick,” Joe growled, grabbing for the box.
But Nick backed away just in time to keep it out of his reach. Before Joe had another chance to lunge for the box, Nick opened the top.
“God damn it,” Nick sighed, shaking his head.
Nick hardly ever swore and when he did, he refrained from taking the Lord’s name in vain. But Joe knew he disappointed him in the exact same way he disappointed Audrey and it tore him apart. He didn’t want to deal with it. He just wanted him gone.
“Just get the fuck out of here, Nick,” Joe said, snatching the box from his hands, tucking it back in the drawer.
“No. You’re not going to run me out of here like you did Audrey. It’s not going to be that easy, Joe,” Nick told him.
“Well, then you can just fucking stand there looking like an idiot,” Joe scoffed, going to move passed him.
“No. We’re going to talk about this,” Nick said, gripping Joe’s upper arm.
“The fuck we are,” Joe scoffed, shaking out of his grip.
“I know it’s Wilmer who got you into it and who keeps supplying you,” Nick pointed out.
“You don’t know anything,” Joe snapped.
“I know you’re about to lose everything, Joe,” Nick growled at him, his eyes full of anger.
Joe took a deep breath. He knew he meant Audrey. He knew he was putting a huge strain on their relationship. He said horrible things to break her down, to make her leave. Why should Nick’s words be a surprise to him? But it hurt. And he didn’t want to hurt her. He just couldn’t stop.
“What the hell are you thinking, Joe? You think this is okay? You think this is something you can handle?” Nick yelled at him.
“I’m just fine,” Joe growled.
“Clearly!” Nick yelled sarcastically.
“Who the fuck do you think you are, huh? Dad? Because you’re not!” Joe yelled at him.
“I’m not dad. But if I have to get him involved I will, Joe,” Nick threatened.
Joe narrowed his eyes at him, feeling nothing but hatred in those moments.
“You’re a fucking prick,” Joe spat at him.
“No, I’m your brother,” Nick said firmly, standing his ground.
“I don’t need your help!” Joe yelled at him.
“Unfortunately, you do. And I’m not going to just sit back and watch you ruin your life,” Nick said as he moved passed Joe to go to the door.
Joe felt relief watching him leave, but he also knew it the back of his mind that it wasn’t over. That the real fight had just begun.