CHAPTER NINETEEN - SHE WAS LIGHT
True to their word, Tony was out of jail the next morning with no charges laid. The man regained consciousness, but with the amount of drugs and alcohol in his system, he had no memory of the events of the night before. And so everything just... went away.
I was told the man left town, but a part of me suspects that's not the case at all. Truth is, I'll probably never know and I'm not sure I want to. I'm just glad Natalie is ok and we can put the whole ordeal behind us.
It's the beginning of June and we have celebrated Natalie's 21st birthday as well. She didn't want to go out. I think the incident shook her more than she cared to admit. Instead we had a family dinner with a lot of wine and movies. It was the perfect night full of love and laughter.
2 days later Natalie left to visit her parents in Lockhart. Luca would usually go with her but this time the business needs kept him in Griffith. She's staying there for a week and I can tell he misses her. It's only a 2 hour drive so I wondered why he didn't make the trip out to her for the night. But then with the long days he's pulling, she probably didn't want him to drive tired.
Luca and I are sparring in the gym. After the whole Marco ordeal I took to working out and retraining in martial arts. It helped with my anger and my passion for it returned. Luca joined me every morning this week to distract himself from missing Natalie. We would spar for an hour and then head off to work.
Luca's mood was lighter this morning, happier, and I knew it had to do with Natalie's return tonight. As I connected a light jab to his jaw, he still kept the smile on his face. I couldn't help but laugh.
“Damn, you really do have it bad.” I tease. He simply shrugs.
“I'm going to marry her.” He says seriously. My jaw dropped and I gasped, he quickly shook his head. “No no, I'm not planning on proposing just yet. But I will. She's it for me.” He clarifies. A massive smile crosses my face as I look up at my lovesick brother. He deserves this. He deserves Natalie and Natalie deserves him. Luca's eyes are full of so much love, so much life that it takes my breath away. Had I known that was the last time I would ever see him like that, I would have stayed a little longer.
But life had other plans for us. Sometimes when you least expect it, a rug is pulled from under you and your world comes crashing down around you.
My shift is flying by as I move from room to room, patient to patient as the emergency room fills up. I enjoy my job, there's never a dull moment. From hypochondriacs with their latest non-existent affliction to serious trauma, you never know what you will face at any given shift.
I'm preparing the room for a single vehicle accident that's coming in soon. The solo occupant hit a kangaroo and has extensive injuries. I heard it was a red kangaroo and I cringe at the thought. Eastern greys are more common around here, they can get quite large and can do serious damage, but they are nothing compared to the reds. It happened just outside of Darlington point and they are about twenty minutes out from the hospital.
Once the room is prepared I make my way to the triage desk to get the details of the next patient, making room for the trauma team. My next patient isn't much, just redressing a wound from a skin cancer extraction. I have him in and out within half an hour then head back to the desk. I can hear a commotion in the trauma room, the code blue call and I race to assist. As I get to the door, I'm stopped by one of the nurses. Confused, I look over her shoulder and my heart stops.
I see that familiar silky blonde hair. I see those laughing blue eyes now closed shut. I see the jerk of her body as the paddles run a current if electricity through her chest. I see one of the nurses assaulting her chest with precise compressions, another pushing oxygen into her lungs. I watch as they quickly step away and the paddles return. Her body jerks. And the compressions start again.
I'm stuck in place, watching the doctors and nurses working, my eyes glued to the occupant of the bed. I see the doctor peel open her eyelid and flick his penlight into her eye, then does the same on the other. I see him look at the clock, his mouth move, but I don't hear the call. I watch as they remove the bag from her mouth, leaving the tube in place I watch as they pull the gloves from their hands and dispose of them in the bin. But I don't move.
I watch as they walk out of the room and someone stops in front of me. I think they speak but I don't hear. I feel arms around my shoulders as I'm pulled away from the door. My legs finally move, guided by the actions of my colleague beside me. Arms around my shoulders provide comfort that I don't feel. While my body moves away my mind is still in that room, watching as my best friend dies. It isn't until I'm pushed down into the soft cushions of a couch that I realize I've made it to the staff room. I stare at the coffee table in front of me, but I don't see it.
The world is silent, my mind is numb.
I have no idea how long I sit there, my mind blank saved for the images of that room, when I feel comforting strong arms around my shoulders. I look up into Rafael's solemn eyes. He wipes tears I didn't know I'd shed from my cheeks and I hear a loud sob escape my lips. Rafael says nothing, just picks me up in his arms like I was a little girl and carries me away from the hospital. I sob into his neck, allowing the shock to make way for grief in the comfort and safety of a fathers love.
I don't remember the drive home or the walk to the front door. I don't remember entering the house, who was there, the hugs and comfort I received from my family. My only memory of returning home is seeing Luca sitting on the floor in the lounge room. Broken. Shattered. His love. His light. His life. Was gone.
I moved straight to him and sunk down beside him. We wrapped our arms around each other and hung on for dear life. Each lost in our own grief, our own disbelief, trying to comfort the other. But the only comfort came from knowing we weren't alone. We both loved her, in different ways, but she was our person, and now she's gone. Through the sobs Luca asks the one question I will never know the answer to. The one question I will never understand.
The hardest part of grief is that the world keeps moving. People go about their day, laughing with their friends, hugging their loved ones all the while you want to scream at them. Scream that the world lost someone, that they shouldn't be happy, and that they don't understand. And they don't. They never knew her laughter, they never knew her positive attitude and her love of life. They don't understand that a little bit of light in the world is gone. Never to return.
Angelina and Rafael offered to help Natalie's parents with her funeral. They graciously accepted, too lost in their grief for pride to get in their way. It was to be held in Lockhart, with Natalie to be buried in the small cemetery on the outskirts of the town. They asked both me and Luca to speak at the funeral, Luca was in no position to do so, so I agreed to speak for the both of us. I didn't know where I would get the strength, but for Natalie I would find away.
Not a shred of black was worn by those in attendance, instead a sea of yellow walked into the small Lockhart church. Natalie's favourite colour. A symbol of the light she carried within. Sunflowers covered her coffin and brightened the aisles and a small smile played on my lips for the first time in the week leading up to the funeral.
Natalie's family sat in the front row with myself and Luca, the Valentino's directly behind us. The priest spoke his words as I gripped Luca's hand in mine. The light in his eyes I'd seen that morning, was nowhere to be found, and I doubt I'd ever see it again.
I'm called forward to speak and on shaky legs I walk towards the podium. I stand in front of the microphone and look out at the full church, all clad in yellow. I take a deep breath and begin reading from the paper in front of me.
“When asked to speak about Natalie, I wasn't sure what to say. How do you sum up a person’s life, what they mean to you, in only a few short minutes?” I say as my voice shakes. “But I will do my best. When I first met Natalie, she was like a whirlwind of energy. Her bubbly persona and outgoing attitude drew me in. I knew instantly we would be good friends.” I smile slightly at the memory.
“In a matter of weeks she became my best friend. She never judged me, accepting me for who I was without prejudice. She never failed to make me smile even on the darkest of days.” A small sob escapes my lips as images of Natalie flitter through my mind. “She lived life to the fullest, loved whole heartedly and was always the light that graced our presence. I'm honoured that I got to know her, got to love her. She was my sister from another mister as Natalie would say.” There are quiet chuckles throughout the church and I take a deep breath and continue.
“I'm not the best with words, so I'd like to share with you a poem that is fitting for Natalie.” I continue. I recite The Dash by Linda Ellis, as I try my hardest not to break down in front of the sea of yellow. But no matter how hard I try, I find myself sobbing by the end of the poem. Strong arms wrap around my shoulders and I look up into Tony's eyes, finding the strength from my brother to continue. With tear filled eyes I read the last of my message. “Natalie's dash may be short, but it is full of love, full of laughter, she touched the hearts of everyone in this room and her memory will live on in all of us. We are all a little better just for knowing her and I promise to make her proud in everything I do, to smile and see the positives in everything just how she did.” I step away from the podium and lay my head on Tony's chest as sobs wrack my body. I don't know how I'm supposed to move forward, I don't know how life goes on for me when it can't for Natalie.