So many thoughts drift through my head, but regardless of how many there are, they always come back to Nox. A sob bursts out of me.
Terah coos, “I’m so sorry, kid. I love you so much. I’m so glad you’re safe.”
She rocks me as I cry openly and freely for well passed an hour. Finally calming, I ask, “Where’s Jett?”
Her body stiffens at his name. No doubt Jonathon told her about what his plan was. After a moment’s silence, she says, “Gone, sweetie. They both are.”
Taking a moment for that to sink in, I realize I’ll be mourning for more than one person today. “How?”
Terah’s voice hitches, “Jamie was found in the apartment. Two gunshot wounds to his chest. Jett got too close to the explosions at the safe house you were kept at. He bled out on the back lawn. Jon said he had glass shrapnel all over his body. A shard of glass pierced his stomach.”
Sounding a little too indifferent, she states, “Jon said it would’ve been a painful way to die.”
I simply nod.
I need to change the subject. I can’t stand to talk about this, or even listen to it. Sniffing, I ask, “You coming home or you staying with Jon?”
The mood in the air changes. She cuddles me to her. “No, kid. I’m staying with you. We’re going home.”
I love her for that, but explain quietly, “I don’t know how long home will be home for.”
And she gets me. Offering her support, she states, “As long as you stay, I’ll stay, too. If you move on, I’ll move on, too. We’ll do it at your pace, honey. There’s no rush.”
Twelve hours later with clearance from the doctor, we head for home.
I can’t eat.
I can’t sleep.
I want to die.
A new beginning
Today is the first day of the rest of my life.
Terah uses her knees to push the sofa to the right. Stepping back, we both tilt our heads and look. Both shaking our heads, we return to the sofa, and push further left.
Stepping back again, we survey our handy work. We smile at each other.
Okay, so that’s completely laughable. And if you saw my apartment, you’d understand why.
My father is devastated.
He begged me not to move. His begging turned into threats. I grew sick of the arguing, and decided silence was the better option. The day after I told him about the apartment, he sent me an email saying he’d added funds to my account to help me start my new life, and to please be safe.
Yep. An email.
We haven’t spoken much since I came home.
But I was glad he gave in. Not that I need his permission.
The thrill of victory I’d told myself I’d feel never actually came. There was a small part of me that felt guilty for taking that money, but the larger part of me said I needed to do this. I need to live my life. That’s the part I listened to.
Mom, on the other hand, decided she was going to spend every waking moment with me from the time I got home, until the time I was cured. Cured of my heartbreak.
My brain rolls its eyes.
And although I appreciate what she was doing, this was something I needed to do on my own. Being my mom, she wants me to have the best of everything.
I told her that the most content people didn’t have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything they’ve got.
I have a small, one-bedroom apartment in the city. It’s central to everything. I bought most of my furniture and housing accessories second-hand. I’ve learned to live on a budget, and got a job as a server at a steak house nearby.
My life is flawed. My job is hard. The wages are small. But I love it.
I am finally living.
I miss the days when things were simple.
Too much has happened. There are so many things that my mind will not let me forget. Constant reminders of the past few months haunt me.
My heart palpitates. I squeeze my eyes shut and breathe deeply. My therapist gave me breathing exercises and it surprised the shit out of me that they actually work.
In, two, three, four.
Out, two, three, four.
In, two, three, four.
My heart rate slows, and I take in a deep breath. I hold it for another four seconds, then exhale and go back to what I was doing.
Taking the box closest to me, I hand it to Terah with a smirk. She and Jon moved in together. Location unknown because of his hottie commando badassness. But I’m happy for her. And she made it clear that all I needed to do for her to come around was call.
So I called. And here she is.
“God, I hate moving. It sucks hairy balls,” she mutters, then quickly adds, “But it’s so exciting! The both of us out of Mom and Dad’s house, and actually doing things.” She pauses a moment. “Dad’s probably going to sell the mansion.”
He should. That house is more trouble than it’s worth. And to think he got it only for security. I chuckle to myself, thinking about how quickly Nox got in.
My heart sinks. Then palpitates. Hard.
I can almost feel it beating out of my chest.
Holy shit, will this ever get easier?
The bridge of my nose stings. I quickly start my breathing exercises. Terah, never one to miss anything, rubs my back. “Nice and deep, kid. I got you.”
And she does. Totally.
Terah has been my rock in this miserable time.
My heart returns to normal pace, and I check my watch. “You better go. Jon will be waiting on you.”
When she doesn’t reply, I look up at her clearly concerned face. She says with false excitement, “I was thinking I could stay here tonight. We can do a sleepover! Watch movies and eat popcorn. What do you think?”
Bless her. I love this woman. I really do.
But I know what she’s doing. So I lie right back to her. Stretching, I say cautiously, “Oh, honey. I’m sorry, I’d love to, but I am beat. As in beat. So I think I might just have a quiet one tonight. Besides, I have the morning shift at work tomorrow.”
Lies. Lies. All lies.
But this is the game we play of late.
Her face falls. And it actually looks genuine. Placing a hand on her shoulder, I squeeze. “Terah, I’m fine. Go home to your man. What are you doing tonight?”
She smiles dreamily, “It’s date night. We’re going to dinner, then out for a drink. Maybe some ice-cream or something.” She shrugs like it’s no big deal. But I know better.
Walking over to her, I open my arms, and she steps into my hug. “That’s great. I bet he spoils you.”
She chuckles into my hair. “He does. He’s the best.”
We leave it at that. Anymore talk about happy relationships turns my mood to shit.
Seeing her to the door, I wave her off, and halfway down the hall, she yells out, “We’re such shitty liars. We totally need lessons!”
And I burst into laughter, loving that we do this every single time.
My sister is the best.
Making my way back inside, I pause at the fridge, and peek inside.
Think I’m going to need a little more than a box of bi-carbonate soda for dinner.
Time to go to the store.
Exiting my local store, I carry my bag full of groceries. And seriously! How expensive are groceries? Yeesh! I almost swooned when the checkout lady gave me my total.
Balancing the full, brown paper bag on my thigh, I rearrange myself, then walk on. But the sight of something familiar stops me.
My heart skips a beat.
I see him.
His back is to me. He’s walking away from me.
I don’t think. I just run.
My bag of groceries weighs me down. I throw it to the side and keep running.
No matter how fast I go, I can’t seem to catch up with him.
My hands shake and my eyes blur. I must look like a crazy person running through the street sobbing. Wiping my watery eyes with my sleeve, I look again.
“Fuck!” My heart pounds and blood roars in my ears. I keep running. Through gasping and shuddering breaths, I mutter “No,” over and over again.
I search and search but there’s no sign of him. He’s gone. I kneel in the center of the sidewalk. My body slumps forward, I cover my face with my hands, and let go.
Crying in frustration.
Crying for my loss.
Arms come around my body. I’m lifted into a strong, warm bear-hug. A deep voice whispers reassuring words that I can’t hear. Or just don’t want to.
I look up into warm, brown eyes. I croak, “What the fuck, Rock?”
His eyes become sad, and he quietly says, “Lovely Lily.” He looks around and states, “I shouldn’t be here.”
Gripping his shirt, I ask in desperation, “Is he dead? As in, really dead?”
Rock doesn’t answer for a long moment. Using his thumb, he wipes away my tears and tucks my hair behind my ear. His face is clear. It answers for me.
My heart breaks a little more.
Rock whispers, “He’s gone, sweetie.”
I still can’t accept it. “How do you know? Did they find him?”
He shakes his head. “They found bone fragments matching his in the rubble.”
My lip trembles, but I simply nod. He holds me tightly and silently. Wordlessly, we mourn together. Pulling away from him, I ask softly, “When can I see you again?”
Rock’s face plummets further.
I dip my chin, cover my eyes with one shaking hand, and cry harder. My heart is breaking even more. I’m losing them. All of them.
My first love.
My first real friends.
All the people I love and care about.
I lift my face to his and choke out, “Why?”
A single tear escapes Rock as he explains, “Because we don’t exist, babe. You can’t have imaginary friends.”
We stare into one another’s eyes. Rock begins to walk backwards.
Hyperventilating, I put a hand to my heart. I feel it crack a little more with every step he takes away from me. When he gets far enough away, he yells out, “You’ll never be alone, Lily.” He kisses his fingertips and places them on his heart. “I’ll always be watching.” Rock smiles a watery smile, and attempts to wink that cheeky wink of his, then he turns and walks out of my life.
The best place to be
If you could go back in time, what would you change?
I would change a lot about the life I was living.
I would stand up to my father. I would talk more openly to my mother. I would make friends. I would tell my sister how much I appreciate her love and support. Every. Single. Day.
I would be more outgoing and less passive. I would stand up for myself, and fight for my right to live the way I wanted to. I would take the reins on my life.
I would be brave.
It has been six months since the explosion. Six months since Nox was killed. Since he was taken from me.
You know that saying ‘time heals all wounds’? Time seems to be working against me for unknown reasons, because my wounds are still raw, gaping, and tender. But no one can see them. My heart and head are no longer separate entities. They are joined. And they work together to bully me. They both tell me the same thing.
Tears fill my eyes, and I pick thin strands of dewy grass. Rolling them between my fingers, it’s a wonder I can feel the wetness on my fingertips. I don’t feel a thing anymore.
I’m numb. To my very core.
I haven’t seen my father in months. We talk on occasion, but a lot has changed. It’s not that I blame him for the position my family was put in, but I need space. I don’t really want to see anyone. I speak to Mom and Terah almost every day, but I haven’t seen Mom since I left the mansion.
My father begged me to come home, but now that the threat of being killed has been eliminated, I just want to be on my own.
I’m not a child. I’m a grownup, dammit.
There is a difference between living and existing. And mine was a dull existence.
But there is one dull and morbid thing I still like to do, and according to my therapist, it’s helping me a lot.
The cemetery seems to be a good place to go to mourn. I sit and watch other people visit the headstones of their loved ones. They must feel some form of connection, knowing they are close by.
Some chat. Some laugh. Some cry. Some remain silent.
I have nothing.
Nox…he was never found. I have no headstone to mourn at. People who don’t exist don’t get funerals or graves.
I read somewhere that some people are meant to fall in love but not be together. Anger surges through me. That’s just not fair. The bridge of my nose tingles and my eyes blur. I squeeze them shut and try to swallow past the lump in my throat.
I would give anything to see him again. Even for a moment.
I would tell him I love him once more. I would kiss his full lips again. I would put my heart and soul into our last meeting together.
If I had the ability to go back in time, I would not have left him. I wish I’d gone back for him and made him to come with me.
If I’d begged hard enough, would he have gone with me? Could I have saved his life somehow?
The uncertainty of what his answer might’ve been haunts me every day of my life.
So, here I sit, on a bench, under a tree in the middle of my local graveyard. I come every Sunday. I bring my eReader and I spend most of the day here. It does something to me. It makes me feel serene and respectful. I know I’m unlike the people who come to visit the graves of their loved ones, but I’m no longer a religious person, and if there were any place I could come to grieve, it would be a cemetery, right?
Mourning isn’t easy. The pain of grief doesn’t go away. You just find a place for it. Store it away somewhere only you have access to.
There are different stages of pain, all of which hurt like a hell. Mourning someone you love, though, is agony. I just wish the pain wasn’t so sharp and stabby.
Losing Nox has brought me so much clarity. I feel so ashamed that it took the loss of his life to make me see things I should’ve seen, what feels like a lifetime ago. He lifted the thick fog that was surrounding me, and sent it away.