59,477
07.03.2019

Always protecting me, even in death.

I read somewhere that if you’re going through Hell, keep going. It’s the only way past it.

You have to face your pain, your guilt, and your sorrow. But when the strong hands of grief capture you, it is overwhelming, and completely devastating.

I fear I’ll never get past the stage of Hell I’m in.

The only way past grief is to grieve. It’s the high price you pay for a love so sweet.

I don’t think I’m ready to move on just yet.

Last Sunday, I was sitting at my regular bench, when I felt someone’s eyes on me. For a second, a note of panic went through me. I pretended to keep reading. A minute passed, and although I still felt eyes on me, the panic faded to nothing. Taking a chance, I looked up right in time to see Rock and Boo walk away from me. Boo’s back shook in what I’m sure were silent sobs, and Rock wrapped his arm around her waist. His hand came up to wipe at his own fallen tears. And somehow this made me feel content. A watery smile spread across my face and I stood, taking two small steps closer to them. When they reached the black SUV I’d travelled in many times during my stay at the safe house, they turned to face me. Holding my eReader to my chest, I lifted my free hand slightly, and extended my fingers in a motionless farewell.

Rock smiled, lifted his hand to his mouth, kissed his forefinger and middle finger and placed them over his heart. Boo smiled a shaky smile, and mouthed love you. Then I watched as they drove away.

So, of course, today I’ve been sneaking peeks all over the place, but sadly, they haven’t come.

I’m not very social, still. I’ve made a few friends at work. People around my age-group with similar interests, but I’m not forcing myself to get out there just yet. I’m comfortable in my loneliness.

There is one girl I’ve formed a bond with. Her name is Hailey and she’s a lot like Boo.

Badass with a hint of lady.

The second I spotted her at work, I knew she’d be a good friend to me. Hailey is my age, with dark hair, dark makeup, a petite body, and a great attitude. I call her Goth-chic.

She’s the only person who knows how I spend my Sundays. She told me if I needed her to come with, that she would. I explained it was something I like to do on my own. For a second, I thought about keeping my mouth shut and letting her come, but the new independent part of me opted against it. I was seriously surprised when she shot me a smile and replied, “Alrighty then, babe. You just let me know if you need me to come, and I’ll be there.”

This morning, I uploaded my eReader with the latest smuttiness and I’ve found a good one. I read and read and read, and before I know it, four hours have passed. Just when I stand and stretch, I hear someone move to sit at the opposite end of the bench. From my peripheral vision, I can see it’s a man with a large build. He wears jeans, a black tee and white sneakers. He also walks with a cane.

For a moment, I tell myself to face him with a greeting. But this really isn’t the place for nice conversation. I assume the man is here to do exactly what I am here to do.

Mourn.

I let him be. Sitting back down on the bench, I lift my eReader and pick up where I left off. The book has some serious funnies in it, and I’m trying really hard to be respectful and curb the laughter that bubbles up my throat.

I make some odd choking, gurgling noises. The man turns his head to face me.

Avoiding his eyes, I turn my bright red face the opposite way and pretend to cough.

Lifting my eReader so high that I’m hiding behind it, from the corner of my eye, I see that man stifle his grin.

Busted.

The man clears his throat before he practically whispers, “Funny book?”

Clearly mortified, I don’t look up from my book when I whisper back, “I’m sorry. That was rude. It won’t happen again.”

He leans to the side, his body close to mine when he replies just as quietly, “Nothing wrong with laughter. Some people say laughter can heal anything.”

Shaking my head slightly, I scoff, “Well, those people have never experienced true pain.”

Leaning back away from me, he allows a moment before he whispers, “Sounds like you know a little something about it.”

My cheeks flush and my brow furrows.

Suddenly angry, I drop my eReader to my lap with a plop and point to a grave I see every week, I point. “Look there.” The man doesn’t say a thing, but from my peripheral vision, I see his head turn to where I point. I tell him, “That little old lady? She’s here every weekend.” Dropping my hand, I go on, “Now this is just a guess, but I’d say she’s in her seventies. She comes here every weekend and she cries at the grave of her husband. Her husband had been dead for twenty years, and I see her here every single week.” I allow a moment’s silence before telling the man quietly, “Death ends a life. Not a relationship.”

Rant over.

I pick up my eReader and resume reading.

The man shifts a little closer to me. Unconsciously, I breathe him in. He smells woodsy and fresh. He says quietly, “If you know she comes here every week, that would mean you come here every week, too.” I don’t answer. He asks softly, “Who are you mourning?”

Suddenly my nose is tingling. I read on, but reply through quivering lips, “Someone I knew better than to fall in love with.”

The man shifts even closer to me, leans down, and whispers in my ear, “Can’t help who you fall in love with, princess.”

I freeze.

No. No. No.

My stomach knots. My head spins. The man says softly, “Breathe.”

I hadn’t realized I’d stopped. I inhale loudly. Unable to bring myself to look into the man’s face, my chest heaves as I ask, “What’s your name?”

He responds immediately in regular volume, “Well, someone once told me I look like an Adam.”

I know that voice. I’ve dreamt of that voice for the last six months. Every night, that voice haunts my dreams. My eyes blur, and I whisper, “You sound more like a Nox to me.”

The man scoffs teasingly, “Nox? What the hell kind of name is that?”

I can’t help it. I chuckle.

My chuckle turns into a laugh.

My laughter turns into a sob. Before I know it, I’m sobbing loudly on a bench…in a cemetery…sitting next to the ghost of the love of my life.

Holy hell. I’ve gone nuts.

Warmth covers my hand. I look down to see a large, calloused, scarred hand on mine.

I sob harder.

He squeezes my hand before pulling me into his chest, and wraps his strong arms around me.

“Oh my God. It’s finally happened. I’ve gone batshit crazy.” I speak into the warmth of his chest, and I feel his body shake with silent laughter.

His breath warms my ear as he whispers into it. “Lily, look at me.” Shaking my head, I close my eyes tight and cry into him. He repeats himself, “Look at me, baby.”

“I’m afraid to.”

He strokes my hair. “Why, baby?”

I whisper, “If this is a dream, I’ll just die.” A tear trails down my cheek. “My heart just couldn’t take it.”

His lips touch the shell of my ear. “Show me those pretty, green eyes.”

Goosebumps break out all over my body. I really want to look, but I don’t want to wake up from this dream.

Remember what you said? Even if just for a moment…

Moving back from him, I keep my eyes closed. Holding out my hands, he takes them into his warm, large ones and holds them tight. Taking a deep breath, I mutter, “I told myself if I ever got the chance to see you again, that I’d tell you a few things. So here goes.” My eyes burn and I thank God I haven’t opened them. “I love you. And every single day I live with guilt. I wish I’d never left you.” Tears fall from the corners of my eyes. I squeeze his hands tighter. “I could’ve saved you if I’d begged hard enough. I know you wouldn’t have left me. Then you’d be alive, and I’d disappear with you. I hated the life I was living. And you changed me. All for the better. And I thank God for the day I met you.”

Letting go of my hand, he cups my cheek and gently caresses it with his thumb. His nose touches mine. He breathes me in, then places his lips on mine in a kiss so gentle it makes my heart ache. Reaching up, I grip his upper arms in a death hold and deepen the kiss, crying all the while.

I don’t want this to end.

He tastes just like I remember. His lips feel the same, too. Unable to stand this sweet torture any longer, I pull away, dip my head, and sob silently.

“Please look at me, Lily.”

So I do.

I open my eyes and look right into his deep blue gaze. I bark out a shocked laugh, reach over, and squeeze his hands. Laugh-crying, I look up to the sky. “Thank you. Thank you, God.”

My head swirls. Sounds fade. And blackness overcomes me.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Homecoming

Lily

My heavy head pounds.

And the yelling doesn’t help.

“You are out of your fucking mind! Do you know that? You couldn’t have waited like I asked? Nooo.” That sounds like Rock.

“You think you could wait if it were Boo?”

I know that voice.

My body breaks into goosebumps and I bury myself further into the covers of my bed, listening.

Silence, then, “Yeah. That’s what I thought. Been too long already. Couldn’t wait.” Pause, then, “Couldn’t.”

Rock barks out a humorless laugh, “Yeah, you did real good, buddy. Your girl just fainted in a cemetery!” He claps, “Bravo.”

Silence.

A long silence.

He says quietly, “I just couldn’t wait to see her, man. She’s all I think about.”

My heart pounds.

He sounds so dejected. There are so many things I need to ask. I need answers. I’m confused and still very much mourning him, even though he’s here.

My mind is elsewhere. Left the building. Gone.

Slowly, I get out of bed without making a noise and creep down the hall. When I get there, I hear Nox ask, “Where’s Boo?”

Rock replies on an exhale, “She didn’t want to come.”

Wow. That hurts.

I love Boo.

He adds, “Too hard, man. She couldn’t say goodbye again. Fucked her up last time. Cried for weeks.”

Shit. That hurts even more. But I get it. I was the same.

Nox calls out, “I know you’re there, baby.”

Busted.

My heart palpitates. I’m worried. And nervous.

He says softly, “You take your time, princess. I know this isn’t easy.”

Clutching at the corner of the wall, I close my eyes, and swallow hard. Giving myself an internal pep talk, I straighten and walk out into the kitchen-slash-lounge-room-slash-dining-room.

What? My apartment is small, okay?

My heart stops at the sight of him.

He’s real.

And hurt.

Sitting on my crappy secondhand sofa, he reaches to the right of him for his cane and stands, smiling softly.

My stomach flips.

I missed that smile. I saw that smile in my dreams every night for six months.

I thought that smile was dead.

My body trembles. Completely overwhelmed, I cover my face with my hands, and burst into tears. Nox moves to come to me, but Rock beats him to it with, “Don’t worry, man. I got her.”

Rock wraps an arm around my waist and holds me steady while I cry. Wiping at my tears with shaking hands, I look over at Nox. My breath hitches. “I thought I’d never see you again.”

Gripping his cane so tightly his knuckles turn white, his face pained, he shifts from foot-to-foot. And just like he used to, he says something so perfect that I shiver. “I promised I’d come for you.” Still standing, he asks quietly, “I’m sorry, babe. Do you mind if I sit?”

My head clears, and I notice his hand on his cane is shaking as if he can’t hold himself up any longer. I nod and he sits back, breathing heavily.

All that from standing a few minutes?

Placing my hand on Rock’s at my waist, I squeeze and he releases me. Suddenly stronger than I’ve been in an age, I walk over to sofa and stand in front of Nox. He whispers, “Hey, Maude.”

Biting my lip to hold back my smile, I whisper back, “Hi, Hank.”

It’s slightly awkward. It feels like I’m stuck in a dream. But my heart kick-starts after six months of hibernation.

He doesn’t move to touch me and I’m grateful. Too much is happening right now.

I take a moment to search him.

This Nox is not the same Nox I grew to love. There’s something missing from this Nox. I can’t tell what yet, but it almost looks as if he’s lost a part of himself. A part of his soul.

There is scarring all over his hands and some on his face and neck.

He looks tired. And defeated.

His hair is long now. So long, that he runs his hand through it to keep it out of his eyes.

Those eyes.

I remember those eyes.

As if he hears my mental thoughts, he looks up. His icy-blue eyes meet mine and I inhale quickly.

Stepping a little closer, I move between his legs, holding his gaze all the while. His eyes flash before they turn soft. Reaching up, he takes hold of my hand and mutters, “Hey baby.”

My heart beats faster. Warmth encases my entire body. It’s a feeling I haven’t felt in a long time. It feels strange and unfamiliar.

Letting go of his hand, I reach up and hold his face in my hands, and really search.

My hands cup his cheeks and he swallows hard, shutting his eyes tightly. He breathes deeply before exhaling softly. When he opens his eyes again, I see only one thing there.

Love.

The smile that forms on my face is huge. I utter quietly, “There you are.”

His eyes crinkle, and he says softly, “Baby.”

Oh my god.

It just hit me like a chair to the face.

This is real!

I’m not dreaming. I’m not crazy. Nox is here!

❮❯