Mark sat on the floor next to the bed in his black tuxedo, covering his face with his hands. Carly didn’t say anything as she watched him, her heart breaking with his. She leaned over the side of the bed and put her arms around him, and he rested his head against her. She held him tight as her tears began to fall. She couldn’t make him stop hurting, no matter how hard she tried. She could only be there for him, and keep her arms around him as long as he’d let her.
He had been shunned again by his family, his friends. They smelled alcohol on his breath and they turned him away from his brother’s wedding, as she knew they would. He wanted to make amends to them. He wanted to tell them how sorry he was, that he’d never hurt them again. But they hadn’t forgotten that night so long ago, the night he lost control. It was the night they lost their little girl, and he was to blame.
Sometimes, he wished he had been prosecuted for his crime. After all, he had been driving that night. He had had a few shots before Sadie called and begged him to pick her up from her boyfriend’s house. He heard the desperation in her voice as she told him what was happening and begged him not to call their mom and dad. So he went to her, and he found her shivering on the corner a few blocks away from Nathan’s house in a short red dress and silver high heels. He turned the heat up all the way when she got into the car.
She was crying as she told him what had happened. He held her hand, as he had done so many times over the years. He got angry as she spoke, and he thought about going back to Nathan’s house after he took Sadie home. He would beat the little fucker into submission for hurting his baby sister.
He heard Sadie scream, and he was snapped out of his thoughts. The car was already in the middle of the intersection when he finally noticed that the light was red, and a horn blared beside them. Glass shattered all around Sadie, and he saw her body twist and jolt as the metal around her gave in to the pickup truck. His head bounced off the steering wheel, and blackness followed the blinding pain.
When he awoke again, he was still inside the car. Sadie was next to him, and her face was covered in blood. He reached for her, whispered her name. She didn’t move. He yelled for help. Soon he heard the wail of sirens, and he pleaded with his baby sister to hold on until someone came to help.
They pulled him out of the car first. He told them over and over again that he was fine, that Sadie was the one who needed help. He heard a paramedic say that they were too late, that she had died on impact. Mark tried to get up from the stretcher, but they held him down. They inserted a thin needle into his arm as they loaded him into the ambulance, and everything went black again.
It had been 8 years since that night, and it still haunted him each and every day. He turned to liquor to kill the memories, but each drink only reminded him that he was responsible for his sister’s death. She would be 24 now, and she would have been a bridesmaid in Tyler’s wedding. Things should have turned out so differently.
Now, Mark had no family. His parents didn’t press charges against him– sometimes, he wished they had. If he had gone to jail for manslaughter, at least they could have gotten the retribution they deserved for losing their little girl. He wished that he had died instead. Sadie would have done so much more with her life. He couldn’t even hold a job, and he spent most of his waking hours in a drunken haze.
Carly loved him, though. She had loved him before that awful night, and she would spend the rest of her life loving him. She tried so hard to convince him to stop drinking, but reality was just too much for him to handle. Guilt weighed heavily upon him. He missed Sadie so much, and his family’s scorn, however deserved it might be, only added to his burden. They had made it clear that they would never be able to forgive him as long as he was still drinking. Each time he emptied a bottle, he promised it would be his last one. For them. For himself. For the woman who, despite how much he told her to leave him, wouldn’t let him be alone.
But tonight, he would sober up. Tonight, he would face his demons. He would remember that night again in his dreams, and he would hear Sadie’s last scream. He would never forgive himself for what he had done, but he could atone for it. He could stop drinking now and live the life he stole from Sadie. He held Carly tight and whispered to her:
Tears rolled down her cheeks and landed on his jacket. She had waited so long to hear those words, and for the changes that would inevitably follow. This was the man she had fallen in love with, not the drunk she had been taking care of for the last 8 years. She held him tighter, and he took her hands in his.
“I love you. And I forgive you,” she said.
A long road lay ahead of them both. There would be sleepless nights, bottomless depression, and ghosts of the past to draw him back towards the bottle. But for now, they had this moment. They had the promise that somehow, the future would be brighter.