never be happy
Nodus Tollens [no-dus to-ll-en-s]
noun : the realization that the plot of your life does not make sense to you anymore.
There’s nothing special about that Tuesday.
It goes much the same:
- Healy wakes up at 6 sharp,
- slaps his watch onto his wrist,
- slips into those white-laced beauties March hates so much,
- pulls a shirt from the pile (do you wear anything besides Hawaiian shirts? Or T-shirts in general? Do you, like actually have other clothes? Oh my God, I need to take you shopping. We need to go sho- shut up, March),
- brushes his teeth/ feeds Othello and Machiavelli (not his idea) – not necessarily in that order,
- reads the word of the day,
- calls the March Residence to remind his partner they have a March answers, begrudgingly, voice heavy with sleep – the hell you callin’ me at the ass-crack of dawn, Healy? Jesus – even after a year. Except, he doesn’t.
Today, he rings, and rings again, and he’s still left unanswered with the irritating buzz that only comes from the silence of an unanswered phone. He hears March’s (professional, Healy, that’s what we call professional) voice twice, ignores it both times, and rings a third.
Healy has called March every morning for the past thirteen months. March has answered the past eleven months. He’s answered after two calls for the past nine. It’s been seven months and March hasn’t failed to answer the phone that rings before 7am (8 if Healy is being kind) – with his sleepy voice and bed-mussed hair and yawn that makes him sound about sixteen years old.
Something heavy gnaws at his insides, settling uncomfortably at the pit of his stomach. He’s not worried. He’s not. Holland March is a grown ass man that can take care of himself -thankyouverymuch. He’s probably just passed out, a discount star-fish in the lounge somewhere, that’s it.
March has been cutting down, Healy knows, sees it in the shakes-the trembling-the circles under his eyes because it’s fucking hard, Healy. you know how hard it is? (yes) so fucking hard. For Holly, for their Nice Guys Agency, for the house he’s rebuilding so, so slowly.
So, yes. Healy is worried. Healy is worried, but Healy is also rational. Yes. He remembers the word-of-the-day from another time: Equanimity. noun: the quality of being calm and even-tempered; composure.
“He accepted March’s tardiness with equanimity,” he says aloud, breathes in, glances at the man he’s become in the mirror.
The door swings shut behind him, a hollow echo left in wallow in his apartment.
The drive to the Marchs’ second rental is twenty minutes and twenty hours and twenty days for all the anxiety bubbling in the hollow of Healy’s ribs. The wind howls outside, distressed in the cold it wafts through the cracked car window. It sends shivers up his arms and he drums his fingers against the wheel to a faster beat.
He pulls over in a haste, wheels grating over the wet slopes in the asphalt. He crumbles his worries into a fuzzing ball- could they be threatened? is Holly okay? has someone broken in? is March okay? is it the Amelie or the Murder or the Drugs- or the- fredrick-husband-cheating-missingparentsmaryjaneboyfriend- case? They’ve dealt with their fair share of ‘crazies’. This does nothing to soothe his mind.
Breathe. He exerts the energy as he steps out into the wet road, shoes darkening. He feels the tips of his toes vibrate and sticks his hands in his pockets.
He hops over the shallow puddles in his jog to the front door, rapping his knuckles quickly against the wood.
Knock, knock, knock.
“March, you in there?” silence. Both Holland and Holly are heavy sleepers, but it’s almost seven. That means dad-March should be in the kitchen nursing a coffee and a headache, and kid-March should be hastily stuffing books in her bag before Jessica’s (slut) sister speeds into their drive way to drop the girls at school.
Six fifty-five. He knocks again, more insistent, louder. Where the hell could they be? Damn it, Healy, use that brain of yours. Tuesday – November, the eleventh of the eleventh. 1979. Was there an appointment? Was there-
How had he not realised? Of course March never spoke about her, not really, not ever. Healy had taken Holly’s slip about her mother a year ago- does it look rebuilt to you? and placed it somewhere at the back of his mind, smothered it in bubble-wrap and packed it away in a duct-taped cardboard box, labelling it FRAGILE in large bold letters. Dad barely comes here. Feels guilty I guess.
He lifts his knuckles from the wood. Oh- the fire. Mom kept on complaining about a leak in the furnace.
Healy leaves. Somehow, he knows exactly where Holland is.
The large, green block of land is as large and green any block of land has a right to be. He knows March’s been talking to the construction guys, getting a plan going. He knows why it’s still the same large, green block of land it was years ago.
He parks, killing the engine on the other side of the street. He squints in the feint sunlight, and there- sure enough, two figures huddled in the distance. A sense of incredible relief floods his veins, thawing the ice frozen around his joints. His anxieties reside, and for a moment he allows himself to sigh. Thank God. He doesn’t think about what he would’ve done if they weren’t there.
He makes them out before he even crosses the road. Holland has his back to him, arms straightened at an angle behind him to hold himself up. Holly curled in on herself, knees bent to her chest, her head laying heavily against Holland’s splayed legs. Under the woollen blanket cocooning her, Healy sees blue pin-striped pyjamas.
He’s maybe a few metres behind them when he stops. His shoes are sinking into the mud, eyes fixated on the sunrise as it spills onto the grass, fractured onto a million golden shards. He looks at the yellow-pink-orange painting a vague sunset against a pale blue canvas, a panorama shrouded in the thinning wind. Holland’s shirt is rolled up to his elbows, and in the distance his skin looks almost translucent. Even from here the scars on his wrist criss-cross in angry-reddish pink lines. It had taken Healy two months to get that particular story from him.
Except this is different. This is Holland March’s life pre-Jackson Healy. Healy doesn’t know if that’s how his partner looks at it. He knows he’s categorised his own life into vague pre-Juvie, pre-Cat, pre-Holland March. Except he spent two years in juvie and six married to Cat and feels like he met Holland yesterday and a lifetime ago. The only absolute here, he decides, is that his life with-Holland March is pretty much better than the other alternatives.
So, pre-Jackson Healy: Holland March is married. He has a family. His wife had a family. He has had a daughter for fourteen years. Does Jackson really have a right to intrude? He looks at them, Holland and Holly and all the love of a Father Jackson hadn’t had till he met Holly, and all the unwavering trust and affection he hadn’t had till he sucker-punched Holland in the jaw a lifetime ago.
He considers leaving; they’re here, they’re safe. There’s no need to intrude. None at all. Except-
“You just gonna stand there all day like a creepy stalker man or you gonna come watch the sunset with me?”
Holland’s voice is soft, carried on wind like a leaf. Jackson smiles, even though March can’t see it.
“That’s not cheesy at all,” he replies even as he sits beside the pair. Holland’s eyes are fixated on the sunset, Holly cuddled in a deep sleep, her even breaths a calming melody for Healy’s nerves.
The grass is slightly damp. He splays his feet in front of him and his hands behind. For the next few seconds a silence stretches between them, languid, easy, fragile. Healy mentally unpacks the duct-taped cardboard box. But – Dad, you know, he’s got his nose thing, so- he couldn’t smell the gas. The silence is fragile, and Healy knows he has to handle his next words with caution.
“This is the living room.” Holland breaks it with all the quiet, proud cockiness only he can muster.
Healy nods, turning his head to look at March.
He’s pale, that’s not entirely unusual. There are permanent circles around his eyes, blurred purple bruises. His hair is messier than unusual, ruffled by the wind, eyes unfocused, like he’s looking at a sunset from a different time, a different place. The laugh lines around his mouth are barely noticeable. The top button of his shirt is undone, and the chain around his neck glitters in the sunlight, ring resting by his collarbone.
He goes with it. “I like the table,” he says, nodding to the empty space ahead of them, “old timber?”
That draws a smile from Holland, “Mahogany, actually.” A pause. “It was her favourite.” Healy unpacks the cardboard box. “She said it went with everything, you know. It didn’t though, not really.”
Healy doesn’t know what the appropriate words are. He thinks about his list of words-of-the-day. Nothing quite fits. Instead, “Must’ve been quite the lady.”
“I know Holly told you,” Holland turns to face him, his mouth turned downwards.
“It wasn’t your fault-”
“You don’t know that.”
“I do.” It goes quickly. “I do. For fuck’s sake March, you have no sense of smell. It was tragic, and terrible and I’m so sorry,” he speaks, before he can stumble, “you feel guilty, and that’s okay-”
“It’s not-” there’s a hint of frustration in the younger man’s voice that makes Healy stop. March glances at the golden halo in his lap. “It’s not that. I mean, it’s not, not just that. It’s-” he takes a deep breath and speaks in a way only he can make endearing.
“It’s what?” Healy speaks slowly as the air dries up between them. Tension begins to eat the comfortable silence.
“Before…” Holland clears his throat, as if the words are physically trapped between his teeth, “before us,” something warm settles in Healy’s chest- us- “and after the fire...” another breath, “someone said something to me. Well, she wrote it on my hand but it-”
“What?” Nothing. “What’d she write?”
Holland hesitates, because of course he does. His hand is in Holly’s hair, gently combing through the gold. Healy notices the fine Sherlock-Holmesque pattern on her pyjamas; magnifying glasses and English hats.
They’re both looking at Holly when he replies, “You will never be happy.”
It’s in that moment, that very moment sitting in an empty field of would-be’s and should-be’s and could-be’s, that Healy sees it. It sits ugly and comfortable in the lines between Holland’s brow, in the tooth sunk into his bottom lip, on the hollow of his neck where the chain lays. Dark and imminent and inevitable, doubt.
But doubt, doubt is common enough. But this isn’t Holland’s usual anxieties. It doesn’t just leave him breathless. These aren’t the panic attacks he ignores until they become so much of an issue Healy’s hands are hard on his shoulders and his voice firm, b r e a t h e. This is a terrible weigh on his shoulders. It’s self-loathing and failure and disappointment and it’s worthlessness. And it’s crushing him. And it’s crushing Healy because Holland doesn’t realise how much he’s worth. Doesn’t understand. This is when Healy finds out March isn’t invincible, not really.
“I was fine with that.” Healy’s throat is tight and the words on his tongue are glued together. “I could live with that, you know? I didn’t have to be happy,” Holland spits out the word like it’s dirty, his eyes glistening. “and then I had to go fuck that up, didn’t I?”
The words drift between them, hot to the touch. Healy says nothing for a moment. “You’re guilty because you’re happy?” Holland laughs, and it’s a sharp, brittle sound he never wants to hear again.
“I’m guilty because I should have called someone to check the God-damn furnace. I’m guilty because Holly has to grow up without a mom. Because she’s stuck with me, for fuck’s sake, Healy. The hell should I be happy fo-”
“Shut up, shut up.” Holland’s mouth slaps shut, and he turns to Healy with wide eyes. Opia. “Don’t you dare March, don’t you fucking dare.” He turns to face the younger man completely. “Don’t give me the self-pity bullshit. Your life isn’t perfect, I get that. The person you love dies and you feel heavy and alone and you have no God-damn regard for your health, I get it okay? But you’ve done good. Real good, March.” He breathes, focusing on Holland’s misty eyes. “Your daughter loves you and you’re rebuilding and your sober. Fuck. Don’t you dare start on the self-pity Holland, or I swear to Christ-”
March giggles. Healy’s entire speech and the man has the fucking audacity to fucking giggle.
“Thanks for the pep talk, coach,” though the humour in his voice is lacking. “I didn’t know your feelings for me were so strong-”
“The feeling’s mutual, buddy. Although, Valentine’s Day is only a couple of months away…”
“God-damn it March-”
“Thanks.” Healy stills. Holland looks the same, as uncomfortable in his own skin as usual. “Thank you, for, you know.” Listening. Not judging. For worrying.
Healy leans back on his palms, diverting his attention to the rising sun. “Pick up your phone next time.”
“Yeah. Yeah, okay Jackson.”
He steals a glance, and finds Holland back looking at him.
When did March become Holland?
“I need a drink.” Healy stifles a laugh because of course.
The hour passes in a blur, until Holly rises and leans up against her Dad, and Healy thinks about those blue, blue eyes and that brittle laugh and doesn’t mention a thing.
Maybe they can get used to being happy together.
noun : the bittersweetness of having arrived in the future, seeing how things turn out, but not being able to tell your past self.