So I sit and stare at nothing, day after day, waiting to understand a divine joke that I cannot possibly perceive, because no matter what the truth is, it’s too hard to accept. There’s no way that Dad would have left me like this, not after everything I’d been through before he adopted me. Ghosts from that time of my life had fallen silent, but now they’re stretching their claws and crawling out from between every mental crevice in my mind. The past and the present blur together in a wash of apathy and agony. Numbness consumes me until I don’t feel anything at all.
So it surprises me that my nose registers the crisp air and that my skin feels the slick wet drops that fall from the frozen heavens and splatter on my cheeks. As I step toward the fresh grave, I wish that we could have given him a burial, that I could have saved him from being abandoned and forgotten. But I couldn’t. And if it weren’t for Neil, Dad wouldn’t be here at all.
Reaching for Neil’s hand, I tangle our fingers together and swallow the lump in my throat. “I’ll pay you back for this.” I know how much it cost, how much he spent. Before this happened, I thought funerals were a part of life, that everyone had one. It wasn’t until I was the only surviving heir that I learned the reality of the situation.
Neil squeezes my hand. I feel his eyes on the side of my face. “Don’t even think about that, Hallie. I wish I could have done more, but this wiped me out. We’re going to be eating hot dogs for a while.”
“I’d eat dirt if I had to.”
“Well that’s good, because there’s probably a lot of dirt in the cheap wieners.” He leans in and kisses me on the cheek. “I’ll give you a minute. Come back to the car when you’re ready.” Neil walks away, leaving me staring at my father’s new home.
The wind picks up and blows the little jagged crystals of precipitation harder. Each drop feels like a tiny razor as it hits my skin. I have no idea how long I stand there. It feels too long, but not hardly long enough. I stare at Dad’s headstone and try to accept that this is where he’ll be from now on. I’ve not given much thought to an afterlife, but even if there is one, it still means that I’m here by myself for a while. I shudder and hold my arms around my middle, hoping that Dad isn’t really in the cold ground, all alone. I couldn’t bear that, and yet, I have to.
His voice echoes in my ears like a distant song. He’d tell me not to stand here and weep. He’d tell me things that would make me smile and tell me that we could get through anything. And that’s the problem—the eradication of ‘we.’ With him, nothing could stop me. I planned to take the world by storm and achieve awesome things. But on my own, I have no idea how weak I am or how fast I will fade into nothing.
At that moment, I have no future. There’s no picture of the life ahead of me or what I will become. My future has been wiped clean and I have to begin again.
I lay next to Neil, facing away from him. We haven’t been together since before the funeral. Sex doesn’t sound appealing right now, and I don’t really care why I feel that way. My assumption has been that I’ll feel like it when I’m ready.
Neil hasn’t pressured me, but I know things can’t stay like this. He scoots up behind me in the bed, pressing his body against mine, and whispers in my ear, “It’s Friday.”
Friday is our sex day. Neither of us has to be anywhere in the morning and so it was dubbed as the most logical day of the week to be together. It’s not romantic, but I don’t mind. Actually, I had liked that it was time for just the two of us, no matter what was going on. Since Neil likes to plan everything, it’s a double bonus for him. Sometimes he plans things, little romantic gestures, and I can tell that he’s been thinking about being with me for days. It’s sweet, really. Maybe it’s a little OCD, but since I tend to fly by the seat of my pants, it works. Neil brings order to my chaos.
His breath hits my ear in a warm wave. “I don’t want to pressure you, but sometimes the best way to get on with life is to resume your regular activities. We could try it, Hallie.” He strokes the hair away from my face so he can see me better.
I don’t feel like being with him right now, but I don’t really feel anything. Maybe it’s not a bad idea. Relationships are give and take, and besides, I can’t leave Neil alone forever. He was there for me and I need to be there for him.
Saying nothing, I roll over to face him. It’s nonverbal permission for him to proceed. Neil strips me silently, but I feel more like a patient than his lover. He says sweet things as his hands rove over my body and he covers me in kisses, before settling between my legs. Rocking slowly, Neil does what he always does.
My body responds, I’m wet, but I don’t feel anything. I know he’s there and touching me. The sensation of his hands on my bare skin registers, but that’s all it does. So, I stare blankly and look away, wishing that I could lose myself and become so overrun with lusty thoughts that my mind would pull out of this eternal nosedive.
Although Neil does the right things, and touches the right places, my body doesn’t flare to life. It’s not enough to pull my mind back from the dark places that consume my soul. Neil’s body is slick as he develops a rhythm, slamming into me over and over again, finally tensing as he comes. I hold onto him tight and stare into the darkness, wondering if he can pull me back from the abyss.
I’m sinking, I can’t feel anything, and I know that it’s getting worse. Apathy is taking hold and I can’t shake it off. Neil kisses my cheek and gets up from the bed. A second later the shower turns on. He’ll expect me to join him, but I don’t move.
I lay there feeling the same as before—nothing.
Sleep doesn’t come easily, but when it does I’m sucked into the past. Bryan’s strong arms are around me, his voice whispers sweetly in my ear as he does things to me that make me forget myself. Those hot lips press a trail of kisses down the back of my neck. His voice isn’t an echo, it’s real. For a few hours I’m lost in the past, doing things that I haven’t done since. Bryan’s mouth is hot and moist, making my body rage with lust.
“Tell me what you want, Hallie. Say it.” Bryan’s breaths are hot and heavy in my ear. He has me pinned to my bed with his hands holding down my wrists. He presses his mouth to the spot on my back that makes my hips move on their own. Gasping, I moan his name, and tell him. I say words that I’ve never said since.
I feel Bryan’s smile on my skin, as he holds me down, pressing my breasts into the mattress. Releasing my wrists, he uses his body to hold me still and reaches around and touches between my legs, stroking me until my bottom is writhing wildly on the bed, demanding more. I’m a mess of nerves and lust, wanting to be touched, wanting him inside of me. I beg him, saying his name over and over again.
I wake up gasping and clutching the sheets in my fists. My body is covered in sweat and for a second, I’m horrified. I press my eyes shut and cover my face with my arm. It was only a dream. My mind is stuck in the past, even Neil couldn’t fault me for that, but it doesn’t make me feel better. These dreams resurface at the strangest times, and they’re making me feel guilty.
Sitting up, I rub my face and reach for my phone. There’re a ton of missed calls and messages. I’ve gotten into the habit of not answering my phone. Most are from Maggie, but there’s one from a number that I don’t recognize. Pulling my knees into my chest, I listen to the message.
“Hello, this is Cecily Varden from Varden Agency in New York. I’d like to speak with you about representation. Please call me at your earliest convenience.”
I pull the phone away from my head and stare at it. What the hell was that about? She must have gotten the wrong number. I don’t think twice about it. No New York City agent would be calling me. The thought is laughable. I roll out of bed and pad to the bathroom. I have to face the day sometime and I refuse to sit in the recliner again. Maggie’s texts about big-ass-itis made me laugh, but in the back of my mind, I wonder if it’s true. Either way, I’ll switch to some form of mourning that won’t increase my jean size. Like running, or walking a little faster than leisurely. That sounds better.