The next day, she went to the pier, expecting to see him there, but he wasn’t. She realized that it might’ve just been a coincidence that he’d been at the pier the day before, that maybe he didn’t frequent the place, that maybe it wasn’t a guarantee to find him there. She sat at the table where she’d been planning to sit when he’d tried to steal her bagel and wallet. She was there almost two hours, but Nick never showed.
Mally wasn't entirely certain what she'd expected. She'd only just met the guy, it wasn't like she'd known him forever. She'd helped him the best she could, offered to help further, and if he didn't want to accept that help... well, she couldn't change that. She couldn't understand why she felt so empty in the heart as she made her way home. She hadn't lost him - he wasn't hers to lose.
When she got home, though, he was sitting on her stoop.
“There you are,” she said, getting out of her car and slamming the door shut. “I went to the pier… Why did you leave last night?”
“I didn’t want to be a burden,” he explained. “I dunno why I’m here…” he paused, “I’m just as much a burden now as I was last night, I just…” He stopped talking and shrugged.
“You aren’t a burden,” she said, shaking her head. “Jesus, why would you be a burden?”
“Because I was taking up space and making messes and eating all your stuff,” he said.
“I wanted to help you,” Mally said slowly, “Because I cared. I got was really worried when you left last night…”
“No Nick, I really did,” she said. When he shook his head in disbelief, she said, “I can’t imagine what your friends must be going through. I went through a few hours of wondering where you were and I only just met you yesterday. Three years… I’d go crazy if I was your friends.”
“Brian and AJ,” she said.
Nick thought of AJ, jogging by him, seeing him, but not recognizing him. “I don’t think they care.”
Mally shook her head, “I’m sure they care.”
“They really don’t.”
“Why wouldn’t they care?”
Nick stared at the ground.
“Nick, why wouldn’t they care?” she asked again, “Did you have a fight?”
Tears leaked from his eyes, tears he was desperately trying to hold back.
“Nick, why?” Mally persisted.
“Because I killed Howie,” he bellowed out, the sob that had been encaged in his lungs bursting from him like a hurricane force gale.
Mally stared at him in disbelief.
“I thought Howie died in the accident?” she asked.
“He did,” Nick said, trying to regain his composure, taking deep, thick, throaty breaths. He could feel his vocal chord straining, the air passages locking up in his throat. He’d struggled with taking deep breaths or breathing when he was emotional ever since... “Howie died in an accident that I was at fault for, I was to blame, I killed Howie.”
Mally moved swiftly to him, unsure what was happening to his voice, but the wheezing/hoarse sound coming out of the back of his throat couldn’t be good. She squatted before him and rubbed his knees and thighs. “Hey, shhh,” she whispered, looking up into his face. “Shhh. You didn’t kill Howie.”
“AJ believes I did,” he answered, rubbing his throat.
Mally shook her head, “Then AJ doesn’t understand the meaning of the word accident,” she said, “Don’t listen to him.”
“He couldn’t even look at me,” Nick sobbed, thinking of the way AJ had slowed... had almost stopped... then kept going. He did recognize me, Nick thought, He just didn't stop. His cries broke into coughs as the air constricted inside his throat.
“What about Brian? I’m sure Brian doesn’t blame you.”
Brian, Nick thought, his heart shattering. He wanted so badly to see Brian, to hear Brian’s reassurance, to know everything would be okay because Brian, in his magical Brian way, would make it so.
“I miss Brian so fuckin’ bad,” Nick said.
Mally's hands clasped Nick's knees, "So why don't you go see him?" she asked in a pleading voice.
Nick closed his eyes, the tears were hot and wet on his cheeks. "Because," he said, "I'm afraid."
"Afraid?" Mally asked.
"When I left, I didn't really say good bye well, I didn't tell him. I wasn't planning on saying anything at all. I just left. I called him, and he probably thinks I'm dead..." Nick's voice couldn't rise any higher than a broken whisper as his vocal chords struggled to operate at all. He looked at her and ran his hand across his throat, trying to calm down to allow the chords to work right. "I'm afraid he'll hate me for what I've done, for what I've put him through. Or worse..."
Mally frowned, "Nick..."
He looked up, eyes blood shot. "I'm afraid he forgot me."
"You need to go to him, Nick," she said.