It rang twice before she picked up. “Ellison? My God, it’s so good to hear from you.”
“Sally,” I began. “I’m in the bathroom of a convenience store. I think it’s the only open one in town.”
“Estes Park. I’m going to need a car to the nearest rehabilitation center. I’ve tried to stop drinking … I’ve…” I took a deep breath. “I can’t do it on my own. I’m drunk right now.”
“Someone will be there in fifteen minutes. Sit tight, Ellison. We’re going to get you well.”
I set the alarm on my phone and waited on the dirty floor. Before the chime went off, the clerk knocked on the door.
“Hey, lady? You all right in there?”
“I’m okay,” I said, sniffing. I crawled over to the far wall and pulled some toilet paper off the roll, wiping my eyes between sobs.
“There’s a guy out here. Says he’s picking you up.”
I scrambled to my feet, stunned by my reflection in the mirror. Twin thick black streaks of mascara stained my cheeks from my eyes to my jaw line. My hair was in rats, my eyes dull and glassed over. I yanked open the door to see Tyler standing next the clerk, looking very large next to the short, scrawny boy.
He sighed, relieved. “Ellison … I’ve been looking everywhere.”
I wiped my hands on my jeans and tried to walk out without stumbling. Tyler followed me outside, ready to catch me if I fell. He draped his army jacket over my shoulders and fidgeted.
“I’m so fucking sorry,” he blurted out. “I didn’t mean it. I didn’t mean anything I said.”
“No,” he said, reaching for me. “No, you don’t know. You don’t have a fucking clue how much I love you. I’m just … I’m out of ideas. Things were so good before my birthday. I just want to get back there somehow.”
I swayed backward, but he pulled me against his side.
“How much have you had to drink?” he asked.
“A lot,” I said, my bottom lip trembling. “I saw Sterling.”
Tyler’s expression changed from worry to rage. “Where? Did he say something to you? How did you get here? Him?”
I shook my head and crossed my arms. “I walked.”
“I don’t want to be like him.”
“Sterling?” he asked, caught off guard. “You’re not. You’re nothing like him.”
“I’m exactly like him. I’m a drunk, selfish asshole who cares about no one.” I turned to Tyler. “I can’t love you. I don’t even love myself.”
Tyler looked like the air had been knocked out of him. He shrugged. “What am I supposed to say to that? You keep knocking me down and I keep getting back up, thinking one of these times you’ll stop throwing punches. I love you. And I know you love me, but … I’m not a punching bag. I don’t know how much more I can take.”
“It’s not up to you to save me. I have to do it myself. Somewhere else.”
He blanched. “What are you talking about?”
A black car pulled up, and the driver stepped out. “Miss Edson?”
“I can take you. Where are you going?”
“Who is he? Does he work for your parents?”
“Not exactly,” I said. Sally knew as well as I did that my parents would pay for any ride taking me to rehab.
I pulled off his jacket, but he held out his hand. “Keep it. Bring it back to me when you come home.”
I reached for his face, leaning up on the balls of my feet to kiss him, and he threw his arms around me, closing his eyes tight and holding me like it was the last time.
“Come back,” he said against my lips, keeping his eyes closed.
“What if I come back different? What if it takes a long time?”
He shook his head. “I’ve loved every version of you there’s ever been. I’ll love whoever comes back.”
The driver stood next to his car, opening the door when he saw me heading toward him. He shut the door as I slid into the backseat. The leather and new car smell reminded me of my other life, of the old Ellison who wouldn’t have noticed that she was dirty while the car was so clean. I didn’t belong in that car, or that life, but there I sat, willing to submit so that I could fully heal.
“Buckle up, Miss Edson,” the driver said. “We have a long drive.”
I nodded, reaching for the shoulder strap and pulling it across. I wasn’t sure where the driver was taking me, but I cried the whole way there.
The cold stone railing felt good against my palms as I steadied myself on the balcony of my private room. The ocean was calm that day, finally settled after a week of storms. The waves calmed me at night, and the salt in the air made me feel safe, but I was leaving. I still had to face my sister, and Tyler, and the boys. I had apologies to make, and a lot more work to do.
A soft knock prompted me to walk across the marble floor. I tightened the belt of my cream silk robe and reached for the brass handle. My stay at Passages was like a luxury vacation. When I first arrived, I thought it was another attempt for my family to buy my sobriety, but I had learned so much, and changed even more. My heart was healed and my soul was at ease—at least in the confines of the walls of the most luxurious rehabilitation center in the world.
Sally walked in with my counselor, Barb, holding a cupcake and a certificate. Sally winked at me, aware of how lame the certificate was, but it meant that I was going home. She hugged me, her genuine pride evident in her embrace. We had spent a lot of late nights in private talks during my sixty-day stay, and she had somehow convinced my parents to respect my boundaries while supporting my rehabilitation with grace and money, even though their demands to see me were repeatedly refused.
Barb had already filled out the discharge papers, and handed me a pen. I read over the large print and small print, and then signed. Sally patted my right hand as I scribbled with my left, and then I said my goodbyes to Barb.
When my counselor left the room, Sally shot me her signature lips-pressed-together smile, pride practically radiating from her hooded eyes. Sally wasn’t at all the snake in the grass I had thought her to be. Now that I was sober, it was easier to see people for who they really were. A clear head helped to distinguish who wanted the best for me and would fight me to reach that goal, and those who had good intentions but would be the first to enable me—like my parents. I wasn’t strong enough to see them yet, and even though it was hard to take anything from them knowing the damage I’d caused our family, I was committed to my sobriety, and their support would mean the difference between success and a relapse. I had to swallow my pride and accept any helpful support those who loved me would give.
Sally rode with me to the airport, and then hugged me goodbye with a promise to check in often. I fought my resentment about riding in first-class, wearing new clothes and the expensive perfume Finley had sent me. I was so far from the sloppy drunk I had been just two months before, and even the ash-covered, smelly adventure photographer I loved to be, but everything looked different sober, even me.