Home By Lynn Rider
Austin Harris wanted two things in life. His band, Silver Knight, to reach success and his girlfriend, Amber West, by his side when it did. Amber wanted one thing in life; Austin. Sounded simple, right? Wrong.
When Silver Knight got its chance to tour, Austin and Amber had no idea how quickly their lives would change. Caught up in the pursuit of stardom, the pressures of his new life tested their trust and bent their relationship in ways they never imagined. With Austin on the road and Amber left behind, it didn’t take long for temptation to surface, jealousy to form and promises to be broken.
But Austin is determined to have it all as he promises Amber the life they always dreamed of. But eventually, the long distance breaks them. And him. Years later, Austin and Amber’s paths cross again. Fresh from rehab, Austin’s prepared more than ever to reclaim the life he was meant to live and this includes a life with Amber.
Soon they find themselves battling between following the love that’s still in their hearts and the repeated failures of a life together.
Will the lingering blame and doubt from years of broken promises be enough to break them once and for all?
The nervous flutter that has taken residence in my stomach turns into a raging swarm of motion as I sit in my car and reread Austin’s text. I've tortured myself, reading his vague words at least a hundred times since first receiving them two days ago. I haven't heard from him in weeks and I miss him. I don't want to, but I do.
I fell in love with Austin Harris in the tenth grade. He’s the love of my life, I know that, but we can’t be together. We’ve proven that repeatedly. Regardless, life continues to carve a path back to one another. It's like a sick experiment by a higher power to see how many times a heart can break until it just stops beating.
A shiver vibrates through my body when I open my car door to step onto the busy sidewalk. I’d like to think it’s the chill of another fall day in New York, but I know it’s not. It’s my nerves causing the tremble in my steps. As my unsteady feet take me further from the safety of my car, my stomach threatens its upheaval and I swallow hard.
“One foot in front of the other. Breathe, Amber,” I mumble to myself like a crazy person as I walk the two blocks to the community center.
When my company transferred me from St. Louis to New York just two months ago, I never dreamed our paths would cross the same week. I’d spent the first month in New York living with my best friend, Kelly. When Austin was released from rehab, he became her second houseguest since he’s best friends with her husband, Kyle.
During those short two weeks when we both lived under one roof, I made sure my job kept me busy and out of their house for long hours each day. I avoided him, at least in person, but never in thought.
He’s always with me, regardless of distance and time.
I’m powerless and I know it.
I glance up to the bold black numbers above the glass door, checking the address once more. With a deep breath, I step inside the dingy hall of the community center. Worn black and white linoleum square tiles color the floor in a checkerboard pattern while billboards litter the walls. My gaze is drawn to the different sized colored flyers that hang from the cork with equally bright colored thumbtacks. They advertise everything from trade schools to substance abuse meetings.
“Can I help you?” an older man asks, slowing his pace as he rounds the corner.
“I-I have a friend who has asked me to come here today,” I stutter, not really knowing why I’m here, only that Austin’s text said it was important to him.
The man’s chocolate eyes soften as his smile claims his face. “Ah, yes. Come this way. I’ll show you.” He turns and leads the way down the hall. I follow him silently, no less nervous than I was when walking in.
“Right in here. We should begin in just a couple of minutes.” He motions toward the open door.
“Thank you.” I offer a meek smile before stepping over the threshold.
Several sets of unfamiliar eyes land on me as I narrow my sights on an open area in the front corner of the room. I keep my head down, avoiding eye contact with those in the room, trying to hide my unease as I step carefully between the rows of metal chairs and settle into the last seat near the wall. I focus on the one lonely plastic chair sitting front and center of the small makeshift stage and concentrate on breathing, trying to forget the buzzing nervousness that has taken control of my stomach.
A large, African American man dressed in all black draws my attention as he finds a seat across the room. I’d recognize Dave Smith anywhere. He’s hard to forget at six foot eight and all muscle. Last I knew, he was a bodyguard for Ashton Harris, Austin’s older brother and lead guitarist to Silver Knight.
Silver Knight wasn’t Ashton’s dream; it was Austin’s. He and Kyle started it when we were in high school. Ashton only stepped in when Austin was sent to rehab and the label threatened to cut Silver Knight weeks before their first tour. He saved the band for Austin and the others, but it was never supposed to be his forever. Austin was to return when he beat his addiction, only that day hasn’t come.
My breath catches and my heart stutters as Ashton and his girlfriend, Meagan, walk in and take seats in the back row. I’m certain he blames me for Austin’s addiction and wouldn’t be happy if he knew I was here, but I have a hard time pulling my eyes away. With the exception of a little size—and a whole lot of confidence—he and Austin look identical. Ashton commands the room’s attention when he enters and makes no apologies for it. Austin doesn’t possess that quality now because his addiction took it—or maybe it was rehab. He turns heads for his good looks, but that attention comes from women. Even straight men notice Ashton.
The same man who showed me the room walks up the center aisle, steps onto the small platform, and clears his throat. “Thank you for coming, ladies and gentlemen. Most of you know how this works, but I see a few new faces, so I’ll explain briefly. This is a no judge zone. What is said in this room is not to be taken for granted. The words spoken by anyone who wishes to speak are the feelings, the regrets, and the hopes of the individual speaking them. We will be respectful of those words at all times. We don’t follow scripts or take assigned turns. If you want to speak and the floor is open, you take it. If you don’t want to speak, you don’t have to. With that, I’ll open the floor.”
Austin appears out of nowhere, stepping up on the stage and sliding onto the lone chair. His dark brown hair is longer than the buzzed cut he’d sported directly after rehab. His leg begins bouncing up and down; this is the first time I can recall him nervous on a stage. He leans forward and rests his elbows on his thighs as he studies the floor. Lifting his focus, he looks toward the back and I know without following his line of sight that he’s looking at Ashton. He takes a deep breath with a long exhale before he speaks.
“I didn’t have anything growing up, but I never recognized that because of my older brother. He provided love, support, an ass beating every now and then.” Austin laughs lightly. “I had great friends. No, I have great friends,” he corrects. “We had dreams of being the best rock band in the world and we were on our way. I was on my way until I thought I was unbeatable. My life was on the fast track and there was no stopping me.” He pauses, taking his attention from the back of the room and landing it directly on me.
“I had the love of my life by my side, a bright career ahead of me and lots of money being pushed my way. There was nothing I couldn’t conquer, until the most important piece of my perfect world stepped out of it. I couldn’t cope without her, so to soothe myself I drank and drank, until that wasn’t enough. Eventually, I added drugs to my cocktail. I took them by any means to feel the high. Swallowing them, snorting them, injecting them … I stopped at nothing to stop the pain of losing her.”
His eyes hold mine captive until I can no longer focus through my tears. I look down, not wanting him to see my carefully constructed walls crumbling. Those walls protect me from Austin; I need them. And more importantly, I need him to think they exist.
“I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to clean up my life during that dark period, but I was powerless. The once unbeatable kid from the ghetto of St. Louis was beaten by it all. My brother swooped to my rescue, and to the rescue of my friends. He gave up his dreams for mine and for theirs. I vowed to him and all of them that I would get clean, and I did, but I didn’t stay that way. And again, I got clean and didn’t stay that way. Letting down my brother, my friends, losing the only woman I’ve ever loved and coming close to death by way of overdose … none of it rattled me enough to stay straight.”
His pause causes me to look up again. His gaze is on the ominous-looking Dave. Tears spill when I close my eyes, holding them shut briefly, saying a silent thank you to Dave for saving Austin’s life from overdose.
“My brother is still rescuing me, but he’s changed and I can’t help but think it’s because of the love of the incredible woman he has by his side. Together they’ve inspired me to want to be better, to give back for all the wrongs I’ve done. Recently he allowed me to step into what my former life would have been and let me tell you, it was a hell of a lot sweeter than anything I lived while high. I plan on renewing my promise to him and to my friends because even if I can’t live that life with them, another door will open. And I know there is something just as good waiting for me there.”
Austin stands from the chair and within a few long steps, he’s down the center walkway and in his brother’s open arms. Their quiet, inaudible mumbles fill the room before walking out. Dave’s large body rises from his seat, his expression is strained with tension, visibly choked up by Austin’s comments and exits the room.
I stay in my seat, stunned motionless by his words. I replay them on repeat and one thing stands out that I hadn’t heard before.