I woke before the sun broke the horizon. I snuck out of bed, but not before sneaking a kiss onto Ryann’s cheek. She looked so serene with her dark auburn hair sprawled out across her pillow. Her face peaceful, almost as if everything is finally right in this crazy world of ours.
I managed to find a dirty pair of athletic shorts and a tee from the floor and dashed out of the room without waking Ryann. Normally, during this time of year, I’d still be black-out passed out drunk. Only to wake up and search for a bottle of alcohol hidden someplace inside the house. Instead, I ate a protein bar and worked out in the garage, taking my frustrations out on the punching bag until I’m gasping for air.
I know what this day will hold. I know I have work to do later today, and I know the only place I want to be is isolated and locked away. I want to deny the past and the truth with the circumstances I was dealt with. But if I have Ryann with me, I think I can make it.
But is it selfish of me to ask her to stay at my side all damn day? I know she will if I ask.
After my morning workout and once the sun breaks, I call Travis telling him it’s time. I don’t need to elaborate because he knows where to take me. What he doesn’t know is that Ryann will be coming with us too.
Walking back into our bedroom, I find Ryann walking out of the bathroom and pulling her beautiful hair up into a high and messy ponytail. She’s in a pair of black capris-style yoga pants and a loose-fitted lilac workout tee. I know she’s about to go out into the backyard to do her daily yoga workout, something she and Val will do together from time to time or go out to a class.
“Good morning,” She says with a smile.
Walking up to her, I wrap an arm around her waist and pull her into my front, “Good morning, gorgeous.” I say before placing a longing kiss to her lips.
When she pulls away, I can tell she’s searching me out. She can already sense something is up. “What’s wrong?”
Shaking my head, “Will you come with me?”
“Where?” Again, I just shake my head. I don’t think I can tell her without showing her. “Okay, do I need to change?”
“No, I’d maybe grab a jacket. Travis should be here soon to pick us up.” She nods her head as she heads into our closet. “I’m going to meet you out front, okay?”
“Oh, okay,” She gives me a tight smile before disappearing into the closet.
Heading back out of the bedroom, I find myself outside breathing in the fresh morning air. And like every single eighteenth day of December, it’s going to be a bright and beautiful day. A complete contrast to the turmoil I’m feeling inside. Everything is dark, and I’m starting to feel trapped all over again.
At the sound of the front door opening, I see Ryann closing the door behind her as she zips her black jacket midway. Ryann gives me a bright smile and bringing some kind of light into the darkness I was feeling.
“This isn’t some trick to get me to run with you again, is it?”
I let out a soft laugh. The last time I asked Ryann to accompany me on a morning run, she had to tap out after two miles. Even for someone who barely rarely runs, she kept up with me for two miles, and I was impressed. “No, no morning run today.”
And without any prompting, Ryann walks into me, wrapping her arms up my back and holding me tight. I wrap my arms around her midsection and rest my head on the top of her head as I hold her close. She doesn’t say a word, and neither do I. It feels like she’s able to read the chaos in my head right now and all of the emotions I’m feeling. It’s a relief and a comfort to be connected to someone on such a deep emotional and physical level I didn’t know even existed.
As soon as Travis pulls up, I open up the back door for Ryann to slide into the car before sliding in beside her and closing the car door behind me. As soon as Travis throws the car into drive, my focus is out the window. I feel Ryann’s hand slide into mine, and she gives my hand a slight squeeze. Turning to look at her, I give, at what is an attempt of a small smile, but I’m not sure if my frown ever turned upside down.
The drive to the cemetery is longer than I recall. And I swear, it’s like the weather and atmosphere shifts into something deary. But I know it’s all in my mind. The day is still bright and welcoming, but I see it as a permanent grey cloud. As soon as Travis parks the car, I’m out of the vehicle and walking around to Ryann’s side to help her out. She takes my hand, and I can already see she’s questioning where we are.
“Thomas...” She trails off as I watch her scan her surroundings.
Even though we’re out in public, I intertwined our fingers and lead the way into the mortuary. The building is made out of limestone and has both vaults inside and outside of the limestone building. As soon as we walked in, we are blasted with a rush of cold air, and a permanent chill washes over me like it does each year I come here.
The open space is dimly lit, and with each step you take, your footsteps echo back to you. It doesn’t matter if you were a mouse in this place; you could probably hear the little feet scurrying across the pristine dark grey marble flooring.
I guide Ryann through the halls of mazed vaults as I lead us down into a tri-level style memorial. The walls are filled with floor-to-ceiling display cases with crystal-clear glass that takes up the entirety of the lower level. In the center of the large, open room are chairs and pew-style benches for people to sit and honor those lost. I take Ryann out of the main viewing room and down a small hall with a single display case that runs the entirety of one wall. The pew-style benches are anchored into the floor against the opposite wall.
Stopping abruptly, I guide Ryann to a bench opposite a case and sit down. My sights on the glass case that holds my mother’s ashes. A large photo of me and her laughing and hugging is positioned beside her urn. It was the last photo of us taken before the car crash. The photo was taken on the same day, right before we loaded our fake happy family into the car for a holiday road trip up the coast.
“Thomas,” Ryann says softly. Almost like she’s encouraging me to talk, but she’s not pressuring me to open up if I don’t want to. A quality that makes talking to her all that more easier.
Doing a quick scan of the area we’re in, I make sure I can’t hear or see any potential people who could interrupt or steal a moment away from us. I wrap an arm around Ryann and pull her into my side, needing her to be as physically close as possible. Ryann rests her head against my pec as a hand lays across my stomach. We sit in silence. My focus on the memorial that holds my mother’s urn and the little trinkets me, my grandma, and grandpa placed inside. The photo of me and my mom, her favorite keychain that she swore brought her good luck. It’s a simple amethyst hoop with an aged silver ring. She stumbled across it at a county fair when we were visiting my grandparents one year. And draped around Mom’s urn is her golden cross necklace. She was wearing it the day of the car crash.
“I lied,” the words come easy. Easier than I thought. I can feel Ryann shift slightly in my hold, and I know she’s craned her head up to look up at me. But I can’t meet her eyes, not yet. “I remember the crash. More than I claimed. I know what happened. And I lied to the authorities when I was questioned.”
Ryann’s hand flexes against the material of my shirt, and I crave the skin-on-skin connection with her. A part of me wishes that we’re back home and snuggled up on the sofa or in our bed, and I’m just holding her in the comfort of our sanctuary.
“We were heading up the coast. It was a holiday tradition in our family. We used to drive up the coast and stop at random points along lookouts, or we’d find ourselves out on the beach. The older I got, the more it was only Mom and I adventuring out during those stops. My father stayed behind.” I pause as I force myself to take a deep breath in to calm my sudden anger. “Dad and Pearl’s relationship started to take off the older I got, and the more I was forced into acting. Mom hated it as a career option for me and wanted me to make the decision when I turned eighteen and was out of school. She didn’t like the idea of me being in this industry.”
My mom hated the idea of me acting. I wholeheartedly believe that if I did decide to go into the show business on my own, she’d voiced her concern even then.
“The day the car accident happened. I’d fallen asleep in the backseat. Everything was normal. I don’t know what was said after I fell asleep or what words were exchanged that started the fight. But it was my father yelling that woke me. He was screaming at my mom. Telling her that he’d be damned if she took off from him again and that she could not keep me from him. He kept using the line that I’m his father. Repeating it over and over.” I closed my eyes, trying to keep the memories from flooding my mind, but it’s a useless task. The only way I could keep the memories away was with alcohol.
And now, I’m forced to face what I’ve been running from myself. Maybe Ryann and I aren’t so different after all.
“Mom kept telling him to keep his voice down, but that her decision was final. Dad slammed his fist to the steering wheel, and the car swerved. Mom told him to pull over, but all he did was laugh. He started yelling again. Telling Mom he wouldn’t sign any papers and that all he’ll do is come out to Tennessee again to come and get us.” Mom also told Dad that he could live a new life with Pearl, and they would never have to hide their affair after we left. That he’d be able to live his life happily ever after because all he seemed bent on doing was tearing apart the family he had.
Mom was done and didn’t want to hear any more from Dad. She wanted her family back, and Mom knew she and I would both be happy if we left California behind; and moved in with her parents, my grandparents.
“Mom knew Dad was having an affair. I don’t know if she caught him or what, but it was no secret in our house. Even if Dad thought he was hiding it well because he wasn’t. I even knew something was up before shit broke between him and Mom.” Pausing, I take in a deep breath in an attempt to calm my nerves. This is where the story changes from what I told the first responders and detectives. I was trying to protect my family. Or maybe I didn’t want to come to terms with what the hell just happened.
“My father told my mom that if she was going to leave, he’d make sure that we couldn’t. That’s when my dad jerked the car off the road. My mom let out a horrid scream, and I watched her pull against the steering wheel trying to get the car back on the road. I remember the sound of the car crashing and shattering against the pole.” My voice is breaking, and I’m having to fight every emotion threatening to spill out. Emotions I’ve hidden from for so fucking long.
“I blacked out with the impact. When I came to, my ears were ringing. But at the same time, there was this defining silence. Everything was blurry, and once I was able to focus, I could see my dad had been thrown through the front windshield, and my mom.....she – she was calling out my name. Screaming for me.” And I felt useless. I should have reacted sooner, quicker. If I’d made it known that I was awake, none of this would have happened.
Ryann suddenly pulls from my hold and turns to face me. Her hazel eyes are wide with horror and a pang of sadness I have yet to see towards me. It’s a look that doesn’t make me feel judge or a force sympathy. It’s a look of understanding. One that makes me feel like she’s been where I’ve been in some form.
“I couldn’t get to her,” my voice shakes as memories flash across my mind once again. “My seatbelt was locked, and I was practically tapped where I sat. I told her I was fine, and I tried to keep her talking, but she kept coming in and out of consciousness. And at one point, she went silent. Leaving me alone in the car. I kept screaming for her. I kept fighting against my restraints to get to her, but with each move, my seatbelt kept getting tighter. After what felt like hours, the first responders came. Their concerns started with me, but I told them to help my mom first.”
I feel a tear fall down my face, and Ryann reaches up to my cheek to wipe it away. Her hand cupping my cheek, and the warmth from her hand is welcoming as I lean into her touch. Giving me the courage to continue on.
“I don’t remember much after. I blacked out, and when I came to, there was a loud sawing noise. The first responders were trying to cut me out of the car. I looked to where my mom was supposed to be in the seat in front of me, and there was a sheet between me and the front of the car. I tried to scream for my mom, and the next thing I knew, I was in a hospital bed. As soon as I woke, I demanded to see my mom, but no one would take me to her. Or tell me where she was or how she was.” I run a hand through my hair and pull on the ends in an attempt to keep myself under control. When I woke in the hospital, I was angry, I was confused, and I only wanted to know where my mom was. I didn’t care about my dad, he tried to drive the car off the fucking road. I knew he was on a cold slab in the hospital morgue. But my mom was alive. She had to be alright.
But with the doctors and nurses avoiding to answer my questions, or make any type of eye contact with me, I knew deep down that she wasn’t. And the more I demanded to know, the more I was told to relax and that my grandparents were on their way.
“The accident happened December 15th. My grandparents arrived later that evening, and we were told the news. Mom was on life support and declared brain dead. I spent three days sitting next to her in her room. Holding her hand and talking to her. Hoping by some miracle that she’d wake up. That the doctors were wrong. But they weren’t. Three days later, we as a family decided to take her off life support, knowing that was not the way she would want to live her life.” Tears fall freely from my eyes, and with each word coming from my lips, I can feel my heart breaking all over as my stomach threatens to spill out onto the floor.
“That day, a part of me died with her.”
When I finally return my gaze back to Ryann, she’s crying with me. I can feel her heartbreaking with mine. She reaches for me, and like the first time in the car when we were bombarded by the paps, she urges me to her, and I lean into her protective embrace. Her fingers stroke and entangles into my hair as she holds me close. No words are exchanged, but we sit in a somber silence as the weight of what I shared falls around us.
“I’m sooo sorry, Thomas,” Ryann whimpers as she places a kiss to the top of my head.
Hearing her condolence would have been the only one I needed to hear fifteen years ago because it’s the only one I need to hear now.
When Ryann waltzed back into my life, the part of me that died, came back to life.