“Gone” by Lauren Hampton

The door slammed, and Anna fell to the floor. Hot tears streaked down her cheeks as she desperately tried to catch her breath. Heather had gone; she was never coming back, and it was all Anna’s fault. Bringing her knees to her chest, Anna sobbed into the fabric of her jeans. Laying on the floor in front of her was the engagement ring that Heather had thrown at her before storming out of the apartment.

Two months. They were supposed to get married in two months. Now the wedding was off. Rocking back and forth on the floor, Anna’s mind ran through the past few weeks, replaying all of her mistakes like bad movies. The drinking, the lies, her, Heather yelling, bags packing, more yelling, the door slamming. It was all Anna’s fault.

After Anna had sobbed all she thought she could, she curled up on the floor and wrapped her arms around herself. Her eyes were swollen and her throat was hoarse. She needed a drink. Carefully, she stood and walked into the kitchen. Heather had found most of Anna’s hiding spots, but not all of them. She opened the freezer and grabbed the box of fish sticks. Since Heather was allergic, she wouldn’t even bother to check here. Pulling a small bottle of vodka out from the box, Anna didn’t even bother to grab a glass. She unscrewed the lid and pressed the opening of the bottle against her lips. The clear liquid rushed into her mouth as she took a quick swig, the alcohol burning slightly as it went down her throat.

Lowering the bottle just enough, Anna took a deep breath before taking another swig, a much longer one this time. She was thirsty. God was she thirsty. Anna couldn’t go long without a drink. The addiction was stronger than she remembered. She kept drinking until the bottle was almost empty. Anna had tried to be better for Heather, but it was so hard, and Heather was gone now, so there was no point.

Anna set the bottle down on the kitchen counter and looked at one of the picture frames that lined the wall. Heather stared back at her with a sunny smile. It made Anna’s stomach churn. With a sob, Anna picked the bottle up and hurled it at the picture. Glass shattered everywhere and vodka sprayed across the walls as it hit. The frame clattered to the ground and turned the picture upside down. No more smiling Heather.

There were other pictures in the house. Anna had wished that Heather would have packed them in her bags when she packed everything else. The tears returned in a steady stream as Anna stumbled out of the kitchen and back into the living room. She slowly made her way over to where the engagement ring lay on the floor. Kneeling down, she carefully picked it up and watched as the diamond sparkled even in the dim lighting.

Heather had meant everything to Anna. Everything. She had been a lighthouse in the middle of the storm that was Anna’s life. They had first met in an AA meeting. Anna’s mother had sent her, hoping that it would get her daughter on the right track. The meeting itself was a blur for Anna, having been not entirely sober for it. She had refused to share her story with the group, instead she listened to the beautiful blonde who sat across from her. Heather.

She was drawn to her instantly. After the meeting had ended, Anna carefully stood from her seat and made her way towards the door, ready to leave. She had almost made it when she stumbled.

Cursing under her breath, Anna knew that she had been caught when she looked up and saw several people staring at her. She was just about to make up an excuse about being unnaturally clumsy when Heather walked up beside her and gently smiled. Her smile was warm and didn’t show any signs of judgment as she asked if Anna would like to grab a cup of coffee. Anna nodded, unsure if she would be able to form words.

Still beaming at Anna, Heather offered her hand. Anna’s only response was to blink at the gesture. Without any hesitation, Heather took her hand and lead Anna out of the meeting place. They walked in silence, Anna’s heart aflutter, all the way to the café across the street. Once inside the brightly lit shop, Anna gently pulled her hand from Heather’s grasp. Heather didn’t seem to mind as she walked up to the counter and ordered. Anna watched the blonde. Part of her wanted to run away from the embarrassment of being caught tipsy at an AA meeting, while the other part of her, the stronger part, was drawn to the kindness of the woman who was now approaching with two steaming cups.

Anna picked a seat by the window, Heather setting the cups down before she sat down across from Anna. She watched as Heather’s ring clad hand, reached for the sugar packets. As she added two packets to her mug, she hummed to herself. Stirring slowly, Heather raised her eyes from the mug and met Anna’s gaze. She asked for her name, which Anna gave in a quiet voice. Heather smiled softly. “I’ve always loved that name,” she explained.

A faint blush crept into Anna’s cheeks, and Heather’s smile only grew. Endless chatter left her pink lips as she talked about this and that. Anna could have listened to Heather talk for hours and after a while, and a little encouraging from Heather, she began to open up. Laughter rang through the café as they shared stories and drank coffee. They spent hours in the café and when Anna took notice of the time, she realized that they had been sitting there for more than four hours. She thanked Heather for the coffee, and just as she was about to leave, Heather stopped her.

She told Anna that she had enjoyed talking to her and that she would like to meet up again. Anna was a bit shocked to say the least, but she agreed. Every Saturday afternoon, after the meetings, they would go to the café and have coffee. The barista used to joke around with the two of them, always saying that they made a great couple. At first, they would brush off these comments, but after some time, Anna began to think that maybe he was right. Soon the coffee after the meetings turned to dates, and the dates blossomed into a relationship.

With Heather’s help, Anna had been sober for two years, but then that third year. The third year was when her life fell apart. Anna had been at work when she received a phone call from the hospital. Her mother had become ill, and Anna spiraled. She began drinking again. Heavily. Heather had caught her on more than one occasion, laying on the bathroom floor. There had been many threats of leaving, but Heather always stayed.

She nursed Anna when she was sick from having too much to drink. She got Anna back into AA meetings. One night it became too much for Heather. The night before, Anna had gone out with a friend from college. They went out dancing and Anna drank. She didn’t remember much of anything that night, but what she did remember would haunt her for the rest of her life.

It was all a blur. Plastic cup in hand. Danny getting closer as they moved to the music. Lips pressing together in a drunken state. The call to the cab. The front door. Bodies pressed together. Clothes on the floor. Fingers in hair and heavy breathing. Heather walking in. Screaming.

Anna had been pulled out of her memories by the sound of her phone ringing on the coffee table. Stumbling over, she answered the phone, not even bothering to look at the caller id. “Heather?” Anna’s voice broke as her words came out of her mouth.

“No. Miss Malone, I am calling on behalf of your mother, Nancy Malone. My name is Carol and I am a nurse here at St. Luke’s Hospital. I am sorry to inform you that your mother has passed…” Anna didn’t hear the rest of what the nurse said. The phone slipped from her hand and fell to the floor.

This couldn’t be happening. Anna couldn’t lose two people in one night. She wasn’t sure how it had happened, but the next thing that Anna knew, she was back on the floor. Her fingers tore at her hair, and screams tore from her throat as she writhed on the floor. Anna was alone. Completely and utterly alone.

The tears began to flow freely again as she shut her eyes tightly. Anna tried to block out the pain that ripped through her body. For as much as she and her mother argued, she really did love her. Anna wanted to call Heather. She wanted to cry into her arms and have her whisper that everything would be all right. The need to hear Heather’s voice gave Anna the strength to reach out for her phone. She dialed the number and pressed the phone to her ear and did her best to quiet her sobs as she listened to the dialing tone.

The phone rang once. Twice. Three times. Then the all too familiar recording of Heather’s voice mail began to play. She had hung up on Anna. This never happened, no matter how mad Heather had been. Anna had fucked up. She had finally found something good in her life and she had tossed it aside like last week’s newspaper.

Anna took a deep breath before she began to speak, her voice shaking as she did. “Mom died…Heather please, I need you.” Hanging up her phone. Anna pushed herself off the floor and ran to the bathroom. She didn’t know if it was the vodka or the stress, but as soon as she knelt down in front of the toilet, Anna heaved violently.

She remained in front of the bowl until everything was emptied from her stomach. Anna’s body shook as she carefully lowered herself onto the cool tiles. The room was spinning, so she closed her eyes. Death. Anna prayed for death to claim her. At least she wouldn’t be alone anymore.

As she lay on the floor, she heard footsteps coming up the stairs. Anna wanted so badly to believe that it was Heather, but it couldn’t be. Heather hated her and she had left. Heather wasn’t coming back. Not now. Not ever.

The footsteps got closer and closer until whoever it was was standing over Anna’s weak form. “Oh Anna,” a whisper escaped the woman’s lips as she knelt down beside her. Carefully, Anna rolled on her side and looked up at the person in front of her. Her heart squeezed as Heather looked back at her with tear-filled eyes. “You drank again…I can smell it.” The disappointment in Heather’s voice was heartbreaking. Anna nodded once. “Come on, let’s get you to bed.”

Heather carefully helped Anna off the floor and towards the bedroom. She was silent, just like every other time she helped Anna when she had been drinking. And just like every other time, Anna apologized over and over.

Once Anna was tucked into bed, she turned on her side and grabbed Heather’s wrist. “Stay, please?”

Heather sighed and shook her head, “I shouldn’t.”

“Please?”

Another sigh escaped her lips, as Heather climbed into bed beside Anna and pulled her into her arms. “I hate that I love you, Anna.”

“I know.”

“Everything’s going to be okay… Now get some sleep.” Anna curled up to Heather and shut her eyes. She was afraid that Heather wouldn’t be there in the morning. But right now? In Heather’s arms, she could almost believe that everything was going to be okay.

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