The wall felt cold against my back as I slid down the scuffed white paint to the aged orange and brown carpet. My phone buzzed, and I held it to my ear.
I covered my face with my hand. “I fucked up, Jojo,” I said, pressing my lips together to stifle a sob.
“You’re right. You did. Now you need to pack your things and get right back on the wagon. Do you hear me?”
“You know you do. I’m not saying what you did is okay, but it’s an uphill battle. You lost this one. Come home, and let’s start preparing for the next one.”
My face crumbled, and I took in a deep breath. “I don’t deserve it, but thank you,” I whispered.
“Hang up, pack, and get downstairs. The car will be there soon. When you get home, go straight to bed and I’ll pick you up for work first thing in the morning. Got it?”
I took a deep breath, simultaneously standing and pressing END. It didn’t take long to pack the few things I’d laid out, and then I was out the door, taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Darby dropped the marker she was using for her newest doodle masterpiece, and stood up. “Ellie? Are you okay?”
I paused at her desk, placing my key card in front of her. “Yeah. I have to leave.”
“I screwed up. I’m being sent home.”
Darby shook her head in disbelief even when she’d heard it from me. “Screwed up how? Just because you were drinking?”
“It’s a long story,” I said. “Trex can explain it to you.”
“If you ever come back … be sure to stop by and say hi.”
A man older than my father, who dressed like a Baptist preacher and smelled like cheap aftershave, offered a contrived smile before taking my backpack. The cowlick on the top of his white hair was misbehaving, despite what looked like a quarter cup of gel he’d combed through it.
I waited for him to open the door, but he opened the trunk and threw in my bag. I opened the door myself, thinking the sticky carpet and trash tucked in the back of the passenger seat was the perfect ride for a woman who’d just left county jail.
The two and half hours to Estes Park seemed especially long when having to breathe in the smell of mothballs and possibly a fart or two. When we reached city limits, the driver turned his head while still keeping his eyes on the road.
“Do you have an address?”
He sighed. “Do you have an address?”
“Hang on,” I said, looking through my phone. “Thirteen-ten Manford Avenue.”
The driver poked at his GPS and then sat back, resuming his mission to ignore me.
We passed through a part of town I was unfamiliar with, and then turned onto a side road, driving for another two minutes. The Lone Tree Village sign made me feel excited for half a second, but then I remembered most of the things I’d taken from my parents were still at the Alpine barracks, and all that I had was inside my backpack.
The driver drove straight to the back where Tyler’s building sat. He rounded the back and then pulled into the first free parking space he found.
I stepped out onto the asphalt and waited for the driver to fetch my backpack. He handed it to me and turned for his door.
“Excuse me?” I said, following him.
He turned, annoyed. “It’s been taken care of.”
“Oh,” I said, watching him open the door and sit behind the wheel. I took a step back when he reversed, watching him drive away and then looking up at building F.
111 was upstairs, so I climbed the first set, turned at the landing, and climbed another. Some of the clay-colored slats of the vinyl siding were missing, but it was in a nice neighborhood and the outside lawn was manicured—not that I was in any position to be fussy.
I pulled Tyler’s key from my pocket and twisted it in the bolt lock. The mechanism clicked, and my heart began to pound. Standing in front of Tyler’s apartment, preparing to enter his personal space for the first time without him there, felt wrong.
The knob felt cold and unwelcoming in my hand, but I twisted it anyway, pushing through the beige door to a living room full of furniture and boxes. Tyler had warned me that the apartment was serving as a storage unit, but there were several stacks, leaving a walkway to a kitchen on the left and a hallway straight ahead.
I followed the path to the hall, feeling along the wall for a light switch. When my fingertips touched the toggle, I pressed up, illuminating a twenty-foot-long hall with eggshell walls and beige carpet—two doors on the right, and one on the left. I pushed through the closest to find a bathroom. I dropped my backpack and quickly unbuttoned my jeans, shoving them down to my knees, sitting on the cold toilet seat and moaning as I relieved myself for the first time in almost twelve hours.
The faucet took a while to offer warm water. I looked around before resorting to drying my hands on my jeans. I gripped the edge of the sink as I tried to wait out the nausea and dizziness overwhelming me. I breathed in and was instantly comforted—the apartment smelled like Tyler.
With my bag in hand, I stopped at the end of the hall between two doors. I pushed the one on the right, seeing a room with more stacks of boxes, a stripped bed, and a nightstand. The door Tyler said was his was closed, so I twisted the knob and walked through, the door hitting a stack of boxes and knocking all but two of them to the ground.
“Shit,” I hissed, dropping my bag to reassemble them.
I wiped my brow, and then walked across the room to open a window. A fresh breeze blew into my face, and I closed my eyes, taking in a deep breath. I had been banished from the only place I’d felt at home, cast away from the only people who felt like family. I was alone inside a dusty storage house of a man whose dick I was more familiar with than his hopes and dreams.
I rested my elbow on the windowsill, unable to fight the fluttering of my eyes. From that vantage point, I could see the mountains that huddled around the barracks. My eyes filled with tears, and they spilled out and over my cheeks, unrelenting until my entire body began to shake. I wanted to be in that rickety building with cold showers and uncomfortable beds so bad it hurt. I sniffed a few times and wiped my nose with my wrist, licking my lips, wishing for another five or six rounds of vodka tonic—hell, I’d have been happy with a twelve-pack of cheap beer, anything to make the pain go away.
I leaned against the wall, trying to keep the landscape in sight, but the only thing to do was to thirst for what I couldn’t have, and close my eyes.
Jojo clicked her seat belt and pulled away from the curb, mostly silent as she drove me to the MountainEar. Just a block away, she finally sighed and began to speak, but thought better of it. Her silence was welcomed. I knew what she was going to say, and she knew that I knew what she was going to say. People spoke too much and said nothing, which was the only conversation Jojo and I would have if she hadn’t closed her mouth.
She parked and gestured for me to follow her in. “Desk is still there. You remember how to do this?”
“He’ll be in later. He has a meeting with some vendors.”
“For Turk’s?” I asked, swallowing. My throat begged for the burn of whiskey—anything to quiet the craving I’d had since my eyes opened that morning.