It had been about a year since I had left home, yet my room remained the same, as if time had skipped over it. Plastered on the pale purple walls were posters of bands I was "into" that week, along with piles of notebooks littering a mahogany desk in the corner. Inside were pages and pages of long forgotten journal entries and pathetic attempts at songwriting. Maybe I was cursed with the pack rat gene, but I couldn't bring myself to throw them away. They were probably good for a laugh anyway.
"I'm very proud of you." I turned to see my mother's tiny form standing in the doorway. A dark green sweater hung from her small frame, cascading down her narrow hips, ending just above the knee. Painted toenails peeked out from under the fraying ends of her favorite, faded blue jeans.
"Why?" I inquired as I plopped down on the bed. She glided over and joined me.
"This is hard for you. Coming back to see Pete, I mean." She wasn't kidding. Like Joe, she knew there was something beyond what I was willing to divulge, but she never voiced it the way he did. "How's he doing?"
"He's gonna be fine. But Dale asked me to stay over the house to watch after him." My mother frowned.
"And you said yes?" I nodded slowly.
"You know I did." Her grimace deepened. "I'm sorry."
"It's OK. It's just...you never come out to visit very often. I was hoping you'd spend some time here." Guilt trip, much?
"Well, if it's any consolation, Pete's staying at the hospital until Saturday. So you'll have me all to yourself until then." She grinned and adjusted her thick glasses.
"Aren't I lucky?" I smiled and placed my head on her shoulder, soaking in the comfortable silence.
"Remember when we got into that huge fight about me dating him?" A chuckle reverberated through her body.
"How can I forget? Imagine my surprise when my 16 year old baby girl introduced me to her 22 year old pedo-boyfriend." We dissolved into giggles.
"I can't believe you and daddy broke down." She shrugged.
"Me neither. But you know what? Joe didn't seem concerned and he's usually very protective of you. So we knew you were safe." Apparently, I wasn't as safe as they thought.
"Jesus, Lo, what did you pack?" Dirty asked as he lugged my duffle bag up to my room at Hotel Wentz.
"I'm sorry, was I paying you to complain?" He rolled his eyes.
"You're not paying me at all." I grinned.
"Oh...well thank you for helping." He shrugged.
"No problem. It's not like I have much else to do." Because of his passport-less situation, he wasn't permitted to follow the band to England. Unfortunately, there's no 9 to 5 willing to pay for his drunken services, so I was stuck with the task of entertaining him.
"When's Pete coming home?" I asked as I began to unpack my clothes into the wooden dresser.
"Soon-ish. Dale said around noon." I glanced at the radio clock sitting on the nearby nightstand. It read 11:43.
"Are you gonna be OK doing this?" My friend asked with soft concern apparent on his round face...which was rare for him.
"I'll be fine." I wished I could believe my own words. A sharp, unnerving vibration shot into my thigh, accompanied by a familiar ring. I pulled my pulsating cell phone from my pocket and glanced at the glowing screen that read: 'Maximus'
"Hey Maxie, what's up?"
"Not much, babe. How's Pete?" I shrugged.
"He's getting out of the hospital today."
"That's great. So you'll be coming home soon?" Well, not exactly.
"Um...doubtful. Mrs. Wentz asked if I could stay with him for a while. Just so he's not alone." A heavy sigh echoed through the earpiece.
"Lo, you know I love you, right?" Shit. I didn't like the sound of that. "But I can't run this salon by myself. I mean, Natalie is on maternity leave and Miguel was deported. That left me with you and Stacy. And now it's just me and Stacy."
"Are you firing me?" I asked in a small, baby voice.
"Well...kind of. I need to hire someone else. It's not fair to fire them if or when you return."/ If? Oh no, it's a when./ "Are you OK?" He asked after a bit of silence on my end.
"Yeah. I'm alright." I groaned, lying back on my bed.
"You're not gonna be mad at me, right?"
"Of course not, Max. I understand where you're coming from. You have a business to run. I respect that. It's just...what am I gonna do for money?"
"You could always sell your body." I smiled and rolled my eyes.
"You're hilarious, did you know that?"
"Look, maybe you should hang around there for a little while. You haven't been home in a long time." I sighed. He was right. Maybe this was fate wrapping its vengeful tentacles around me.
"I guess it wouldn't hurt to stick around for awhile. My mother will be thrilled."
"Tell Momma Trohman I said hello."
"I will-" A car pulling into the driveway interrupted my sentence. Both Dirty and I hurried over to the window that overlooked the front yard. A gaunt and rail thin Pete emerged from his mother's vehicle with her in tow. "I gotta go. I'll talk to you later."
"Alright. Bye, sweetness." I tossed the phone onto my nightstand and looked over to Dirty.
"So are you joining the unemployment line?" I nodded sadly, sticking my bottom lip out.
"But he was really nice about it."
"Ya know, the life of a merch guy is quite lucrative." Lucrative? Someone's been using their word of the day calendar.
"No. No fucking way." I shook my head as I followed him out of my new room and through the hallway.
"Why not?" He countered as we descended the staircase.
"If I recall correctly, the last time I volunteered to help with the merch table, you went off to the bathroom-"
"I had to piss." He said simply.
"For 3 hours? I found you passed out by a dumpster, you asshole."
"What? That's crazy. You're crazy, Lola." Just as I opened my mouth for a rebuttal, the front door swung open, revealing the matriarch Wentz and company. Dirty immediately threw his arms around his friend. There was some brief conversation between the two, but Pete seemed uninterested. He mumbled something about being exhausted and trudged upstairs, probably to his room, leaving us to gawk at each other.
"Did you settle into your room yet?" Dale asked as she removed her bulky winter coat and unwrapped the white scarf from around her neck.
"I unpacked a few things." I said while intently picking at my dark nail polish.
"Good, good." She replied mechanically. "I'm going to make some lunch. How does grilled cheese sound?" It sounded like the heavens opened up and the angels were singing.
"Sounds great. Thanks, Dale." Dirty plopped down on the couch, remote in hand. Already making himself at home, I see.
It struck me as odd that they were trying to ignore Pete's desire to isolate himself...especially after what happen last time.
"Shouldn't you go up there with him?" I asked quietly before I joined him on the sofa.
"He just got home. Let him get some sleep." Perhaps he was right: Pete's IV wounds hadn't even scabbed up yet and there I was, trying to play therapist. So I sat in silence, desperately attempting to quell the urge to care.
My eyes snapped open and the panic began to set in. Where the hell am I? God, please let me have all my organs. I looked down at my torso. No amateur incisions, that's a good sign. Then it hit me.
You're at the Wentz house, stupid.
I emitted a low sign before rolling out of my soft, warm bed. I straightened my Cat in the Hat pajama bottoms and smoothed out my white tank top. My bare feet sunk into the plush off white carpet as I made my way to the window. Pete's lone car sat in the empty driveway, indicating we were the only two left in the house.
"I'd better check in on him. He could be hanging by a neck tie or something." I mumbled to myself. That was mean. I shuffled through the house and up to his attic bedroom. His room was a mess as usual. Clothes were left forgotten on the floor. Old toys cluttered his shelves along with countless soccer trophies. I smiled at them, remembering how serious he was about the sport. He'd probably still be playing now if he didn't get so immersed in music.
Despite his disheveled bed, he was no where in sight.
"Pete?" I called out, scanning his room. I stood like a statue, waiting for his response. Silence. I descended the stairs and headed for the living room.
"Peter?" I tried again. An eerie stillness hung in the air, causing my heart to beat a little faster. "My first day on the job and I lost him." I whispered, suddenly feeling a lump form in my stomach. My pace picked up as I traveled through the house. I noticed the bathroom door was shut and the light peeked out from under the crack.
"Pete?" I questioned softly as I placed my ear against the door, hoping he was using the bathroom for its purpose. Through the wood, I could hear muffled, erratic breathing.
"Pete, are you OK?" I put my hand to the door knob and turned it slowly. The hinges squeaked in protest as I pushed the door open. My eyes grew wide at the sight. Pete was curled up on the powder blue tiled floor, surrounded by immeasurable amounts of white pills.
"What are you doing?" I asked, panic dripping from my voice.
"Look at them," He whispered, his vacant eyes staring off at something in the distance. "Look at all these fucking pills." He began to rattle off the medications and their purpose. It was terrifying. I did the only thing I could: I knelt down beside him, feeling the pills dig into my knees, and pulled him into a hug. His body shook as his chest was heaving rapidly. The sweat had soaked through his clothes. He looked up at me with dark ringed, heavily dilated eyes.
"Can you hear it?" He asked softly.
"The ringing," he muttered cryptically. "It's getting louder." Without warning, he convulsed and vomited into my lap. The hot, putrid liquid began to seep through the thin material of my pajamas.
What have I gotten myself into?