Authors: H.M. Ward
Laree Bailey Press
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by H.M. Ward
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form.
Laree Bailey Press
The sky is clear except for a few white glittering stars. They’re hung high out of reach, impossibly beautiful and distant. The air has that crisp fall scent, and I know there will be frost tonight. Dad would have covered his plants with plastic to get a few more weeks from their fragile lives. The
tarp is in the basement, still folded, where he kept it. The pansies will freeze and fade. This is their last night in this house, as it is mine.
Pushing the swing on the back porch with the tip of my foot, I start it swayin
g again. Life is so fleeting, so meaningless. The hole that’s swallowing me is relentless. I thought I’d cry more, but I haven’t even been able to do that. The tears won’t fall. Neil says it’s because my father’s death hasn’t hit me yet, but it has. The weight of his loss presses so hard on my shoulders that I can’t lift my face from the dirt. For all those years, it was just the two of us. He was always there for me. He saved me from incomprehensible misery and now that he’s gone, I find myself back in the shadows, unable to escape.
My eyes sweep over the wooden fence, taking in the rotten boards. Things were tight and I knew Dad
sacrificed for me, but I had no idea how much until now. My college bills, my car, and all the things I needed were paid for without a blink, but I never stopped to wonder where the money came from. Dad worked hard, so I assumed it was enough.
I was wrong.
There hadn’t been enough for a long time, and I had no idea. He never said anything. When I came home from classes at the end of the day, he’d hand me a twenty and tell me to be a kid and go have fun. He said stuff like that all the time. It makes me wonder if he knew what was coming, but there’s no way he foresaw this.
When I came home from class last week, I found him in the yard,
face-down in a pile of leaves. My throat tightens and I push away the memory. It’s not something that I ever want to see again, but the recollection lights up over and over again in my mind. My senses are overloaded. I can still feel Dad’s cold skin and the weight of his lifeless body as I rolled him over. The texture of his tattered flannel jacket is still on my fingertips. The sound of my strangled voice crying out his name over and over again still rings in my ears. It’s been a long time since I felt so afraid.
For the first time in a long time, I am
My phone is on the wooden swing and chirps next to me. I don’t feel like talking. Silence
has encased me in a tomb of misery since that day. Neil stood next to me and held my hand until hours blurred into days. He didn’t want to leave me here alone tonight, but I insisted. It’s my last night in this house. I’ll never step over the threshold again. I’ll never catch the scent of my father’s aftershave in his little bathroom. All the memories will be lost and it will be like he never existed.
grave in which to lay his body, no stone to mark his plot. Those were things I couldn’t afford. It kills me to leave him in the morgue, and let them have him, but I don’t know what to do. There’s not enough money to change anything, so when I found out the mortgage also needed to be brought up to date or they’d foreclose, I collapsed. It was too much. I understand Neil’s concern and he’s been a good friend, but there are some things a person has to face alone.
This last night in my house is one of them. It’s my only chance to reall
y know and hear that Dad’s gone. He won’t walk down the hall and I won’t hear his footfalls on the stairs. It’s just me now.
Neil’s text beeps
a second time and I finally flick the screen to life.
Are you all right?
No, of course not, but that doesn’t change my answer.
Yes, I’m fine.
That’s what people say when they’re in despair so deep that there are no words. They pretend to be all right and hope to God that one day, they will be. The fantasy that there is a day somewhere ahead of me where everything will be fine keeps me breathing.
Call me if you want me to come over. Love you, babe.
Neil is great, but I have to do this on my own. Saying goodbye isn’t something he can do. Besides, I can’t crumble into his arms and fall to pieces. For one, Neil is in graduate school working on his shrink degree. He won’t let me fall to pieces. Losing control is bad for the soul, he would say. I don’t know if I agree with him, but right now it feels safer to sit in my somber cocoon and stare at the ailing lawn. I want to soak in every last detail and say goodbye before I’m thrown out in the morning.
When the chill in the air bites through my
pajamas, I pad across the crunchy grass and head inside. My laptop is on the kitchen table where I left it. The screen glows dimly and I stare at my story. For the past few nights I poured my heart into this computer. I don’t really know what I wrote or why I wrote it. The things in this story aren’t recent. They’re from a former life where I was happy, loved, and safe. I relive those nights, the ones I spent in Bryan Ferro’s arms, doing things that Neil would never condone. As I write, I find that love has two faces, passion and companionship. The long lost days are filled with silly stories of things I remembered doing with my Dad—learning to drive and running over a Canadian goose. They’re the things that float to the top of my head, so I write them down without thought, without judgment.
It was my life, and now it’
The story floods and overflows from one page to the next, shifting between joy and agony, pain and pleasure. Sunlight and darkness mingle
, fracturing the foundation of my life. They spill out of me like a living thing that needs to escape. I can’t contain it. The words block the pain that pierces my heart and drowns out the sorrow that never ends. I find solace lost in a world of memories, in a world that’s no longer real.
I scroll to the
bottom of the document and start writing. This is the end. The daydream will shatter after tonight and the morning will bring the reality of my life. I’m homeless. Neil is the only person who’s offered me help, so I took him up on it. His face lit up when he asked me to move in with him and I said yes. But tonight, I’m lost in the past, writing about things that happened long ago. Grief pours from me in waves until I type the final word, but it isn’t enough. The gut-wrenching pain that is at the center of my chest doesn’t ease. I still feel it there, twisting and pulling like a demon is trying to suck my soul from my body.
My eyes can barely focus anymore.
I rub them with the back of my hand and pull up the website I was looking at the other day. Confession is good for the soul and since my spirit feels like it’s dying, I want to try it. Anything that will ease my agony is worth the risk. Every last part of me is drowning in pain and this little act could give me a handhold on reality. Maybe it’s living in the past, or maybe it’s because I know these things were real and it anchors me. The words do something, they mean something. The letters aren’t something static, stuck on a page. They live and breathe. I don’t know how to explain it and I can’t verbalize what compels me, but I want to do it.
Staring at the scre
en, I wonder if I do it—if I hit publish—what trouble will this bring? It’s silly to even think anyone will see my story. Odds are that it will fall into the vast wasteland of ebooks that no one ever finds, so what am I afraid of? There’s no one to pass judgment on me, and if one person reads it—isn’t that what I want? The confession? Maybe I should be talking to a priest and not pouring my tormented soul onto the internet. My finger hovers above the ENTER key. Neil would condemn me for this. I know he would, but this isn’t for him. It’s for me, and sometimes the only way to move forward is to take a good look back and see where you’ve been. God knows I’ve been through enough turbulence that I can endure this, but it doesn’t feel like it right now. When the Sheriff arrives in the morning, I don’t know how I’ll manage to walk away.
My throat tightens as I mash my lips together and the ache at the center of my chest throbs. Inhaling slowly, I close my eyes and picture my Dad’s face. I think about what he’d say. When I look at the screen again, I know what I’m going to do.
Tapping the button on the mouse, I click publish.
Pieces of my past tangle together inside my mind. Emotions, memories, and thoughts pass behind my eyes during the day and wait until night to unravel. Feeling frayed doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel. It’s as if a black hole opened up and swallowed my entire life. Suddenly, everything is uprooted and destroyed. There’s nothing I can do, there’s no way to change it. And the cruelest part is that I was spared. There’s no family to comfort me, no mother to hold me.
Until now, it was just me and Dad
, and I was fine with that. Actually, I loved it. I’d come home after class and talk about my day. He’d have dinner on the table and we’d laugh. Some people don’t get along with their father, but I got along with mine. Maybe because it was just the two of us for so long. His attention was always undivided, singularly focused on me.
There’s only been one other person
in my life who treated me like that, but I lost him. Bryan Ferro was every father’s nightmare, and every girl’s fantasy. He was a bad boy to the core with a soft spot for me. That’s another piece of my past that I’ll never get back. But that’s the past, and this is now.
Neil is my boyfriend and he cares about me. We’ve been together for a long time, long enough for him to know my quirks and not care that I’m a little bit nuts. The way I see it, we’re all a little bit crazy, and that’s what makes life interesting. Neil agrees, but it makes his life interesting because he wants to fix their broken brains. Me, I’m not like that. I see the things that he wants to fix as patina, a wonder
ful glaze of cray cray over an otherwise boring sculpture.
We’re at opposite ends of the spectrum, Neil and
I, but that’s okay because we both care about each other.
Neil opens a
container of my things and looks inside. There are small piles of boxes, stacked up like a fort in the bedroom. Considering it’s a lifetime of clothing and objects, there isn’t very much. Since I tried to keep the house, I sold off anything of value. It killed me, but the reward was worth it. I’d get to keep a roof over my head and my father’s house. The memories would still be there for me while I mourned my Dad’s loss. I’d have a chance to go through his things when I was ready, but that’s not how things played out. There was too much debt, too many people that he owed too much money to, and nearly every dime went to my education, which is on hold until I figure out what to do.
“Unpacking would be a good start
,” Neil offers and holds up one of my shirts. His sandy hair is brushed to the side and he’s wearing a polo shirt with a pair of khakis. He’s always dressed like an old guy. Think casual Friday at some firm, and that’s Neil’s go-to outfit. I thought he slept in those perfectly pressed pants until I moved in. It turns out that Neil is a jammies man.
You’ll get over this, Hallie.” Over is the wrong word. I’ll get through this, but I’ll never get over it. Neil doesn’t understand how I feel or what’s going through my head right now. Experiencing loss and reading about it are two different things.
I nod because my words will be too sharp and he’s trying to be kind to me. I see it in his eyes. “
I’ll unpack, Neil. I just don’t feel like it right now.” My butt has been glued to this recliner for the past seven days. I don’t watch television, play on my phone, tweet, or do anything except stare out the window. I need down time, away from everything and everyone. It makes my life more bearable.
Neil sighs and shakes his head. “I wish I could make you happy.”
“You do.” The lack of emotion in my voice is noticeable, even though I try to convey some. I just don’t have it in me right now.
his head, and walks over to the recliner where I’m sitting. He crouches before me and tilts his head to catch my eye. My gaze had been unfocused, staring at the wall, until he did that. “It’s been a week and you’ve barely moved from this chair.”
“I know.” But I haven’t cried or completely lost my mind. I want to tell him that, but I don’t because he’ll know that I’m a lot more banged up inside than he thinks.
“Hallie, I bought you something. I wasn’t going to say anything until we got there, but I know how much it matters to you.” Neil looks awkward as he says it, his dark eyes shifting away from mine.
What could he possibly buy me? I don’t want anything
that’s remotely attainable and Neil’s strapped, so it’s not like he could go throw around his millions and fix everything. He has enough to keep his head above water and that’s about it.
“Oh?” I try to be polite.
He nods and smiles up at me, taking both my hands in his. “Yes, it’s kind of an odd gift, but I know how much it matters to you, so I bought a plot at the cemetery. I know you wanted a grave for your father. They transferred the body already and finished the headstone today. He should be there now, if you want to go and look.”
“Is that why his ashes weren’t ready?” I sniff once, hard.
He nods. “Yeah, baby. I thought you needed a place to mourn.”
The corners of my lips pull up and
falter. “I don’t know how to react. I wanted…” my voice quivers and I snap my mouth shut. Neil nods like he knows. I lean forward and throw my arms around him.
He got me out of the chair.