by David Brown
I was never good at keeping secrets. In fact, being so bad at it has gotten me in trouble so many times before that I've completely given up trying. So when I walked in and saw what she was doing, I knew there was no way out of this without ruining things for somebody.
"Regina, what are you doing?"
I didn't even need to ask; it was obvious. But I like to hear how people react to obvious questions, especially Regina. Regina was standing at the kitchen counter at Jeremy's place, Jeremy's pills spilled out on the fake marble, carefully counting them one at a time. In her left hand was a most innocent-looking box. In any other scenario, it was just a silly gag gift: a box of sugar pills, marketed to "Make children and adults alike happy!" Some tourist trap from a medieval apothecary gift shop. But Regina wasn't using it as a gag gift; she was using them as placebos.
It also didn't matter what question I asked, because she couldn't hear me. Earbuds in both ears, likely trying to drown out the guilt. And an extra layer of insulation from the rebellious bundles of brown hair that had slipped out from her ponytail. Maybe they were in on it too. This was also likely why she didn't hear me come in.
Her face said everything that needed to be said. Her typically focused eyes widened, and her mouth opened in subtle shock when she saw me. A fraction of a second later, her resolve clicked in. Jaw tight, eyes glared. She took her right earbud out.
"What the fuck are you doing here?" she snapped.
"Jeremy asked me to stop by to pick up his rackets, he left them this morning."
We were both silent for a moment. Who would speak first, accuser or accused?
It was Regina. Her voice became innocent; saddened, almost.
"I'm just trying an experiment. I don't know what to do anymore, David. You know things haven't been going well for him."
"You really think it's the pills that are causing the problems?"
"How long?" I demanded.
"What do you mean?" she asked, seemingly confused.
"You know what I mean. How many times have you done this?"
"Wha… what do you mean? I haven't done…"
"Regina, stop lying. This explains everything, and you know it. You can't talk yourself out of it. The only thing I'm not sure of, is whether you've been doing it for 4 months, or 5, or 6. So just tell me."
"I dunno. Maybe 5, 6. Sometime in January."
"Jesus, Regina. I can't fucking believe this. You're supposed to be the one helping him through this, and you think it's a good idea to play doctor and experiment on him? You know it's probably your fault, right? The accident?"
"And you're still doing it?"
"Look, I don't expect you to understand, but I stand by what I did! Jeremy hasn't been himself for years, David. Years! It's not the same as when you're with the person. You barely even knew him back then, and you don't see him in his outbursts nearly every evening, so don't talk to me like you know what's best for him."
"And you do?"
"No! I don't either, okay! But I'm trying, I'm trying whatever I can come up with, and yes, it's fucked up, and yes, it probably won't work, but I'm trying shit. Which is more than his fucking psychiatrists do."
"You don't know that. They were doing some new stuff with ECT, but it was supposed to be in conjunction with the pills, Regina."
"That shit is barbaric, David. It's ridiculous."
"Oh, shut up about your studies. I don't want to hear this again."
I took a seat at the sofa and leaned my head back, looking up at the speckled drywall patterns on the ceiling. My safe place. Just follow the lines, see where they go. Where do they stop? I will know.
Regina came up and sat on the old chair next to me. It was obviously a gesture because no one in their right mind ever chooses to sit in Jeremy's moldy-smelling, itchy plaid recliner. He should have thrown it away years ago.
Regina stared out the window.
For all its dirtiness, Jeremy's apartment had a nice view out the back. Some trees, speckled with a bit of green life. No concrete. And it was the early hint of a stormy day, with a gentle wind rustling the leaves. Morbid. Fitting. Fuck Seattle.
For all her wrongdoings, Regina had a strength of character that was admirable. A lot of fire, speckled with a bit of purpose. No bullshit. And this was starting to break her character, with subtle cracks in her sanity, coloring her actions. Draining. Unacceptable. Fuck Jeremy.
"Are you going to tell him?" she finally asked.
"I don't know. I can't lie to him."
"But you don't have to say anything."
I snorted. "I'm not on your side, here, philosophically speaking, Regina, so you can't use that tactic."
Strangely, or perhaps exactly as I hoped, a small smile. She knew I knew she knew. Understanding.
It felt like forever that we just sat there, staring out at our respective safe places. I poured through my head the events of the last few months. January… yeah January made sense. Jeremy had a huge outburst after Christmas. I only knew bits and pieces, but from what I gathered he had attacked her, thinking she was some Nazi spy trying to get into his head to dig out the secrets he had picked up from his missions abroad. Or something like that. The kind of details that made it into movies didn't really matter. What mattered is that Jeremy was feeling afraid, and he didn't know where it was coming from, and his mind thought she was somehow involved. And what matters is that he hit her. She didn't get the police involved, of course, but she told the psychiatrists. And their response? Up the dosage.
But January wasn't the worst of it. Things had been doing nothing but getting worse since then. Jeremy got fired from his job in February for losing his shit during an office meeting. He accused the marketing team of Nazi propaganda. And in April was the accident. Jeremy thought it was a good idea to take his car and chase down some unsuspecting vehicle passing by, for who knows what reason. Jeremy didn't stop until he rammed into the back of their car. Miraculously, they were fine, but Jeremy busted his head and his back up pretty good. The doctors had assumed the medicine wasn't working. Turns out they were right. Sort of.
I wondered what Regina was thinking about. Were the same events playing through her head, or was she playing out the future? Or was she scheming how to get around this situation? She looked melancholic.
She broke the silence again. "David, can I sit next to you?"
"Of course. Everyone hates that recliner."
She got up and sat next to me on the sofa. Right next to me. There was some comfort here, shared between us. We were at a stalemate. Jeremy was my best friend. Jeremy was her partner. But we were friends, too. And despite her questionable ethics, part of me agreed with her. Maybe medicine wasn't the way to cure him. Maybe he needed to feel what it was like to be alive. Maybe he needed to play out his delusions, see where they take him. Maybe there was some truth to them.
I looked over at Regina; she had softened up. Whether it was because she felt relieved to be found out, or because she too felt some comfort here, I wasn't sure. Probably both. It's usually both of everything.
And then, Regina cuddled up next to me and put her head in the nook between my shoulder and my face. I didn't stop her. I felt it, it was right.
And then, a soft sob. "I just don't know much longer I can do this, David. It's so… heavy. I'm tired."
"Shh, it's okay. I know. Believe me, I know."
We were in this together, had been for years. Jeremy was more than a one person job.
And then, I looked at her there, looked at the two of us, there on the couch, struggling together, snuggling together, and I understood.
She looked up at me, a few tears still running down her cheek. "Yeah?"
I smiled. "Hey"
She smiled. "Hey"
And then, I leaned forward, and placed my lips on her cheek. I tasted the sweet salt of her tear, and gave her a kiss.
She pulled herself closer to me and wrapped her arms around me.
I kissed her other cheek. Another tear.
I placed my hands on her back and tightened.
And then, a kiss. My lips on hers. Soft.
Why had we waited so long? I'll never know. Jeremy knew. In all his delusion, he attacked her with reason. He thought she was a traitor.
And, in some way, his mind was right, before we even knew.