Chapter 1- Monty
TONIGHT was the night, the night he’d ask her, the night he’d finally lay it all on the line. Monty felt sick and nervous, thrilled and excited, like a thousand butterflies were fluttering against his ribs. But, he had to do it. He had to go through with it. He’d been through too much already to just chicken out now. He’d get up on that stage and deliver his one-year speech at the podium then propose to Vicky in front of everyone at AA. If she said yes, then everything would be perfect—everything would be the way it was supposed to be.
He took a deep breath and felt the outside of his jeans pocket to make sure the little felt box holding the ring was still there. It was; pressed against his thigh, nestled in his pocket, a modest, one-carat diamond that he’d gotten from his mom.
As he picked up his pace, he made a left onto Thirteenth Street, being careful not to slip on the icy asphalt. It was a beautiful night. The moon was out and the stars were shining, like diamonds impregnated in a coal-black sky. What a wonderful night to be clean and sober. What a wonderful night to be alive. To think, all he had to do was quit drinking and he could’ve felt like this his entire life—no more shaking, no more seizing, no more getting up to puke in the middle of the night. If he’d just listened to his parents and stopped a little sooner, he could’ve avoided all those years of suffering and pain. All those nights of lying face down in a puddle of his own blood and urine, praying for God to come and take him away, his hands around a bottle, his head above the porcelain, and that sick, vile poison bubbling inside his veins. Those trips to the emergency room in some random state hospital just so he could get pumped full of fluids and strapped down to a bed, while nurses with bad breath, bad hair, and bad makeup stuck a tube down his dick just so he could pee. Christ, what a fucking nightmare. Thank god it was finally all over. Thank god he finally found a way to stay clean.
As he rounded the corner, the AA house appeared before him, all lit up and decorated like some grand, old hotel. It was a redbrick, renovated, four-story school building that the city had bought and transformed into an AA meeting hall. It was tucked inside the corner of York and Thirteenth Street, a few blocks off of Colfax, between the zoo and the park. And tonight it looked absolutely majestic covered with hundreds of twinkling, red, blue, and green Christmas lights. There were lights on the trees and wreaths on the doorway and a sign on the overhang that said, Happy New Year!
It was only seven-thirty, but the place was already busy, packed with people milling around on the front porch. They were laughing, talking, and slurping down cups of coffee, embers of cigarettes glowing red between their lips. Jesus, look at them all. In less than an hour, he was going to be up in front of them, standing at that podium, pouring out his guts. The very thought of it made him feel queasy and he wondered if maybe he should just take off and run. He could grab Vicky and get the hell out of here and take her some place where they could be alone. Some place quiet, like a candlelit restaurant or maybe that cute lodge up in Nederland—the one with the Jacuzzi and the view of the mountains, right there at the entrance of the Rocky Mountain National Park. If they started now, they could be up there in an hour, under the stars, alone in the dark—no meetings, no prayers, no counselors, no sponsors, just the two of them naked in each other’s arms.
He smiled as he pictured the image of Vicky’s naked body curled in his arms—her lips, her eyes, her soft, wet kisses, her face in his hands, her legs coiled tightly around his hips. Unfortunately, he knew that it was only wishful thinking, because there was no way in hell Vicky would let him back out now. She’d probably kick his ass just for even mentioning it. This AA crap was more serious to her than life itself. In fact, to her, it was life. She believed that if she missed even one measly meeting, then she’d be risking the chance of relapsing again. Monty, on the other hand, didn’t take any of this crap seriously, and the only reason he went was because of her. He knew that if he didn’t at least try, he might lose her, and that was something he couldn’t risk.
He pushed open the iron gate and started up the porch staircase, one hand on the railing, the other over the ring. When he got to the top, he stood on his tiptoes, searching for Vicky through the busy crowd. But, he couldn’t see her. There were too many people, and the haze of the cigarette smoke seemed to blur his sight. He leveled his heels and took a step backward then reached in his pocket and pulled out his phone. He scrolled to Vicky’s name at the bottom of the directory then typed in a message that said, “Where are you?”
Just as he hit the send button, he could feel someone watching him, like the current of a riptide pulling him out to sea. He looked up and there he saw her, smiling like an angel from underneath the garland of a brightly lit Christmas wreath. She was dressed in jeans and a fuzzy, white sweater, her face blushed with winter, her smile so damn sweet. He put away his phone and moved towards her quickly, the snow on the porch crunching beneath his feet. When he got to her, he threw his arms around her, then kissed her lips and kissed her cheeks. She tasted sweet like cinnamon candy or one of those red and white striped peppermints.
“I missed you,” he said, as he pulled her in close, her face in his hands, her arms around his neck.
“I missed you too, baby.”
“Of course, I did.”
Monty smiled and squeezed her tighter, feeling his face against the warmth of her skin. “Did you have a good Christmas?” he asked, looking down at her, at the thick, black curls falling over her forehead.
She nodded and smiled up at him, her chin resting against the base of his neck. “I sure did. I’ve been busy. Getting everything ready for next week.”
“Oh yeah? You getting excited?”
“Oh Monty, I can’t wait. I’ve been getting the house all set up. I’ve probably been to Bed, Bath, and Beyond like four times in the last week, just buying all sorts of stuff—stuff I didn’t even know I needed. I got Tommy a new bed with cute blue and white, bear-imprinted bed sheets, matching pajamas and fuzzy bear slippers. It’s going to be so great. I can’t tell you how excited I am to be a mommy again.”
“I’m happy for you, Vicky. I really am. That’s so awesome.”
“Thanks, baby. Only one more week and he’s all mine—no grandparents, no supervisors, nothing—just me and him, like old times.”
Monty leaned forward and gave her a deep kiss on the forehead, while caressing her cheek with his hand. “You’re a good mom,” he said. “I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks baby, you’re sweet. You’ve been a good friend to us. You’re a big part of Tommy’s life. He loves you, you know?”
“I love him too. He’s a good kid.”
They smiled at each other for a while as the Christmas lights twinkled all around them on the porch. Then Vicky took his hand and pulled it towards her and held it against the crease of her neck. “Hey, wait a minute,” she said, as if she suddenly remembered something, her eyes widening to the size of two silver dollar coins. “What about you? We haven’t even talked about you yet. How was your trip?”
Monty hesitated and looked away from her. Damn. He was hoping he wouldn’t have to get into this just yet. “It was okay, I guess.”
“Just okay? Didn’t you get to spend some quality time with your parents?”
Monty snickered. “I don’t know if I’d call it quality time.”
“Aw, why not? Weren’t they happy to see you?”
“Oh…I don’t know. It’s weird now. Different.”
Monty sighed and turned away from her, moving his eyes out across the snow-covered park. He didn’t want to think about it tonight, but all he could see was his mother and the look on her face when he first asked for the ring. She didn’t laugh or cry or throw her arms around him. She didn’t even break a smile as she handed over the ring. It was as if she was holding her breath, waiting for something bad to happen, waiting for the walls to crumble in again. And at that moment, he knew that things would never be better. He knew that he’d probably never get to hug her again. She’d always look at him like he was some kind of monster who could snap at any moment and hit her in the face again.
He shut his eyes and took a deep breath inward, rubbing his hands against the bridge of his nose.
“Monty?” Vicky whispered, moving in towards him, her hand rubbing against the back of his neck. “Are you okay?”
“No, not really.”
“It’s just—” He shook his head and looked away from her. The words were like pieces of hot metal lodged in his throat.
“What is it, baby? Come on, you can tell me.”
“It’s my mom.”
“What about her?”
“I don’t know, it’s like she’s afraid of me or something—afraid I’m going to start drinking again. I mean, she couldn’t even bring herself to hug me. She couldn’t even look at me without bursting into tears. And anytime my dad got up and left us together, she’d always find an excuse to leave the room. She either had to do the dishes or fold the laundry—it was like she was afraid to be alone in the same room with me. I just wish I knew what I could do to make her trust me—what I could say to prove to her that I’m going to be okay.”
“Well, I guess it’s just going to take some time. I mean, it’s only been a year. It’s going to take some time to build up that trust again.”
“Yeah, I guess. I just wish I knew how to make it go faster.”
“Well, just keep working your program and going to your meetings and everything will eventually work itself out.”
Monty scoffed. “You really believe that?”
“Of course, I do. It’s the only thing that keeps me going. If I didn’t believe that then what would be the point? You know?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Hey, come on, baby. Cheer up. It’ll get better. I promise. You remember what it says in the Big Book about promises, don’t you?”
Monty just looked away and shrugged his shoulders. He really didn’t want to hear this AA crap right now. “I don’t know,” he said.
“Yeah, you do. Come on, you remember.” She started reciting the words slow and easy, as if she actually expected Monty to join in: “No matter how far down the scale we’ve gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows, and our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Are these extravagant promises?” Vicky paused and looked up at Monty, waiting for him to say the verse.
“We think not,” he said halfheartedly, not really believing it himself.
“They are being fulfilled among us, sometimes quickly, sometimes…”
“And they will always materialize if we…what?”
“Work for them.”
“That’s it! You got it, baby!” Vicky squealed and wrapped her arms around him then leaned forward and gave him a big, wet kiss on the cheek. “See. Now, doesn’t that make you feel better?”
“No. Not really.”
“Uh! And just why not?”
“I don’t know. I guess I just don’t get it.”
“Well, what don’t you get?”
“I don’t get how God is supposed to keep me sober.”
“Well, it doesn’t have to be God, Monty. You know that. It can be whatever you want it to be.”
“Can it be you?”
“Can it be you? Can you be my higher power?”
“No. Absolutely not.”
“Because it just doesn’t work that way.”
“It’s worked pretty good so far. I mean, you’re the only reason I quit drinking. You’re probably the only reason I didn’t kill myself.”
“Please don’t say that, Monty.”
“Well it’s true.”
“I know, but—”
“But you just can’t say that to me.”
“Because it’s not fair.”
“To me! Look Monty, I don’t want to be your only reason for living. I don’t want to be your only hope of surviving this thing.”
“Well, what do you want?”
“I want you to be happy. I want you to stop punishing yourself and start living your life again.”
“That’s a little easier said than done, don’t you think?”
“No Monty. It’s not. You just have to want it. You have to want it for yourself. Look, no one but you is going to keep you sober, and the quicker you realize that, the easier it’s going to be. I mean, you say you want to speed things up and have a better relationship with your parents, right?”
“So, what are you doing about it?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, it’s already been a year and you’re still on your fourth step, right?”
“So, I’m already on step twelve.”
“Well, I like to take my time, I guess.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Hey, come on, don’t be nasty. I’m trying, aren’t I? I mean, I’m doing this silly one-year speech tonight. Hell, if it was up to me, I’d skip the whole damn thing.”
“You know I’d never let you get away with that.”
“Yeah, I know. Why do you think I’m still here? Like I said, if it wasn’t for you, I would’ve never gotten sober. I wouldn’t have even made it through that first week. You may not want to hear it, but you saved me, Vicky. You’re the only reason I didn’t end up killing myself.”
“I know, but I just wish you’d take this program a little more seriously. I wish you’d do it for yourself instead of for me. I mean, what would you do if something were to happen? What would you do if you were to lose me?”
“Oh come on. Don’t talk like that. Nothing bad is going to happen. We’ve been through too much already to have some bullshit happen again. Besides, I’d never let anything bad happen to you. You’re too damn important to me. I love you, Vicky.”
“I love you too, Monty.”
Monty smiled and stared at her for a while in the haze of the cigarette smoke as the snow floated off the overhang of the porch. Then, he leaned forward and kissed her forehead, kissed her nose, and kissed her lips. “Come on,” he said, as he took her hand and pulled it forward, motioning towards the front of the house. “We better get going. We don’t want to be late.”
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Genre – Literary Fiction
Rating – R
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