8 years ago
“I’m sorry...Elizabeth died...”
At that point, Michael couldn’t listen anymore. He walked away, stomach churning and nausea whipping through him. His eyes burned. His vision blurred. He didn’t get far, turning around in disbelief. But Caden and Tom, the village bobby, were still there.
Staggering, he dropped onto the couch.
“I’m sorry...Elizabeth died...”
Over and over and over again. Unable to unhear the words that just shattered his heart. His world. It just kept on repeating. Over and over and over and over, getting louder and louder and louder. He slapped his hands over his ears in a juvenile attempt to stop the cacophony of voices, all shrieking the same unbelievable truth “...Elizabeth died...” It didn’t. Threading them through his hair and pulling didn’t stop it either.
His Elizabeth, his Lizzy.
Upon hearing those fatal words, the world muted.
Caden’s repeated shouted denial with tears flowing in his voice, desperate and disbelieving, brought him back to the living room. But it couldn’t be true. Michael had just seen her. Just held her. Hell, he had just bought an engagement ring because he was going to marry her.
The pain was too intense, it was all-consuming. Michael left the room and collapsed by the door, the words ringing in his ears, unable to fully process the fact that his beautiful, soulful Lizzy... was gone.
He grabbed his head in an effort to make the pounding stop when he caught sight of the bed. The last place he had seen her before watching her leave for work that morning. Dragging himself along the floor and with his last vestige of strength, he snatched the pillow upon which she had slept and held it to his face and did the impossible.
He inhaled and embraced her scent.
Lavender and jasmine.
The knot that had formed in his chest started to ease. Maybe, just maybe they were wrong. Maybe it was just a car that looked like Lizzy’s. Maybe... Yes, that’s it. She’s alive. Of course she’s alive, why wouldn’t she be? They were going to get married, have kids. A herd of kids that all looked just like her, with her flaming locks of auburn hair, eyes of molten chocolate and a smile that, God help him, could convince him to walk across burning coals barefoot if it meant being with her. Of course she’s...
Caden’s disbelieving rage morphed into a heart-wrenching wail. The noise – pain made audible – shattered his illusion. This was real. Lizzy was dead. His life was gone, and this was hell.
In a last ditch effort to prolong the foreboding emptiness Michael reached for his phone and hit her name on speed-dial. Hey, this is Lizzy, if you’re hearing this then I am unavailable, but you know what to do!
But he didn’t. Never had there been a time in his life where he had been more lost. Redial after redial after redial, clinging to the rabid belief that maybe on the next call, she’d answer. Finally, hope gave way to exhaustion, and, giving into it, he blessedly passed out.
The bleary weather couldn’t have been more fitting. The skies were as bleak as his heart and the rain pouring down was all the confirmation that he needed. Even the angels were weeping in regret over the loss of Lizzy’s beautiful soul from this earth. Having donned a black suit that he would never be able to look at again, he drove on autopilot to Caden’s and Elizabeth’s... Caden’s house. Because Elizabeth was no longer going to live there, the thought of it had him reeling.
Never again would he go to that house and be greeted by the brightest, most beautiful smile he had ever seen. A smile that made him feel like he was ten feet tall because it was him who caused her to smile that wide. Like seeing him had made her day when she was his miracle. The memory of her smiling face gave him the strength he needed to pull into the driveway and get out of the car instead of just driving straight to the church.
Never having had to knock before, he did not do so now. However, he was brought up short upon seeing the family photos along the entryway corridor walls. Walking along, his heart chipped at each photo until coming along to one particular memory that nearly brought him to his knees. Lizzy’s prom night.
Caden was going to take her despite her protests, but he had come down with a nasty case of gastro, so he had tasked Michael with the honour. As though it had been a great favour to ask him to escort the most beautiful girl, the girl he had been in love with, to prom. She had been absolutely beautiful that night, wearing an elegant peach coloured gown that accentuated her gorgeous curves, but more than that was the beauty of her smile as she held onto his arm.
Before the sight of a smiling Elizabeth caused him to break down, as if by magic, her mother appeared. Madeleine, with her hand on his shoulder looked at him with tears in her eyes, and then pulled him into a warm embrace.
Stretching, she whispered,
“She really loved you, you know.”
What she thought was comforting, was what nearly caused him to break, and he couldn’t afford to, not now. Elizabeth deserved better than to have him breaking down now. So, unable to speak without threat of a break in the dam, he simply nodded and let her go.
“Are you going to come with us?” He knew that she hoped to have him drive with them, but he knew that he had to get his act together and he wouldn’t be able to do that if he was sitting in a car with the woman who looked so damned much like Lizzy. And knowing that he had to be the strong one, he shook his head and said,
“No, I’m going to drive myself down.” Although he knew that he had disappointed her, he also knew that she understood.
“You do know that you are family, don’t you?” He knew that that was also an invitation. That he didn’t have to grieve alone. But right now, he couldn’t. He had to find the strength to bury Elizabeth, which just the thought of caused his lungs to nearly cease functioning. It was never meant to be this way. They were supposed to get married and grow old together.
Knowing that his train of thought was not going to help him, or Madeleine, get through the day, he nodded, told her he would see her there and got back into his truck. As he drove to the chapel, he tried to settle himself, to convince himself that, for Elizabeth, he had to get through this.
Driving to the church seemed to drag on, and upon arriving he was inundated with swarms of people, whom he, and Lizzy he was sure, hadn’t thought of, much less seen, in years that were offering condolences and trite phrases of apology, saying that it must be so terrible to lose someone so close to you so horribly. So, in a desperate act of self-preservation, Mike went to the back of the church.
“I’m sorry… Elizabeth died…”
Now that he had escaped the crowds, he found that he was finally able to breathe. Why couldn’t they see that she meant so much more, was so much more than they could ever hope to understand? That she had stopped being just his best friends’ little sister a long time ago? Why couldn’t they understand that he was grieving, that he was breaking apart? That losing Lizzy, his beautiful, wonderful Lizzy, the brightest and best spark of his life was so much more than grieving? That he was pulling apart at the seams, his heart and soul were fragmenting? That he was in complete and utter agony over the loss of his Lizzy and didn’t want his pain to become their new source of entertainment and small-town gossip? That he was dying with every second that she wasn’t with him and that he just wanted to be left ALONE!
“I’m sorry...Elizabeth died...”
“I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry…”
Quickly reaching the point of needing to tell everyone to take their fake sympathy and empty platitudes, and to get the hell out of the church and not to let the doors hit their arses on the way out, the sight of his mother slipping into the church calmed him down.
Shuffling his way to his grieving mother, he wrapped her in his arms and held her to his chest, trying with all of his might to be the strong person that his and Lizzy’s folks needed and not break down sobbing like a five-year-old at the sight of her in a black gown.
“It’s alright to cry, mum. I’ve got you.” He said with a voice scratchy from lack of use and too much Jack Daniels when he felt a hand upon his shoulder. Dad. His own quiet way of offering comfort and strength.
Pulling away from his mother he looked down at her and was almost overwhelmed by the fresh wave of grief that crashed into him. Her eyes, the colour of chocolate and forest green swirling together like moss over fertile soil, were bloodshot and swollen by sorrow. There were deep blue bags sagging under her eyes, her blonde hair seemed streaked with grey. She looked as though she had aged ten years in the last week.
How could he not have noticed his own mother’s pain? Yes, he was also in pain but that was no excuse. However, when he glanced up, he saw Matthew and his guilt lessened. Even though most of the time Matthew was a pompous, supercilious ass-hat, Michael knew that when push came to shove, he was also a caring brother and son. It meant so much to Michael that Matthew and Marcus were there for their mum and dad when he went AWOL and more than a little bit crazy.
Knowing that the time had come for the service to start, he wrapped his mother’s arm through the crook of his elbow and in their own march of grief, the Morgan’s filed into the second row. However, when he went to sit at the end of the row, his mother grabbed his hand, shook her head and nudged him to Lizzy’s mom and he somehow found himself sitting in the front row between Madeleine and Cade, staring at the closed casket.
According to the ME’s on site, the car had caught fire and that Elizabeth was almost beyond recognition. Michael sat there hoping to God that Lizzy never woke up because the thought that she had been awake and trapped and afraid, feeling the flames searing her flesh, burning alive, was almost enough for the dam to break, but somehow found the strength to hold on for just a little while longer.
He found that he couldn’t really pay attention to the service. Michael knew that Elizabeth would have wanted everyone to be happy for the time that she had, that she wouldn’t have wanted anyone to cry, and it shamed him to no end that that is the one thing that he cannot give her. He may love and cherish every single moment that he had with her, but he was supposed to have so much more time.
Besides, what could these people have to say about her that he didn’t already know? That her smile was as lovely and delicate and enthralling as the moon? That her laughter twinkled like the stars on a cloudless night? That her heart was as pure and warm as molten gold? Everyone here already knows that she was good and kind and wonderful and brilliant and anyone who was so fortunate as to be counted as one of her family knows that being kept in her heart was the safest, most loving place to be. So, what was the point of all of this talking?
After the service, the congregation all stood up and the church sang. This was their cue. Caden and his father Henry, Matthew, Marcus, and Michael and his father Joseph, all stood up and stood on opposite sides of the casket and lifted in sync. Walking down the aisle of the church that he had planned on, dreamed about, marrying Lizzy in whilst carrying her casket caused his control to waiver and tears began to make their trek down his cheeks.
The journey to the cemetery was long, painful and caused all hope that this was somehow a mistake to die. Placing the woman that he had dreamed of marrying for most of his life into the ground was the last that his battered heart could stand. With no shame he allowed his pain and anguish to manifest themselves down his cheeks. He had heard all his life that it was all right to cry, that it could cleanse the soul and all sorts of other ‘useful’ information for when you’re grieving. But they had it wrong. Crying, pulling the plug on that dam, did nothing to cleanse him of his agony, of the knowledge that the love of his life, his best friend’s little sister, was dead. That her last resting place, the resting place of a woman who had been so full of life and joy and warmth would be here.
How could a place be so full and yet so empty at the same time? All around them were the tombstones with faded etchings, a roll call for the people who cannot answer. For when their bodies became still and cold, they became a cadaver, not a person. Their soul, their living being, had moved on to God long ago.
He stood within the watery light of the early morning, living, breathing, and his life stretching out ahead. But what a dull existence it seemed now, without his Lizzy. He was in a place of neither living nor dead. His blood still pumping throughout his body, but his heart had ceased to beat from the moment he heard those fatal words.
“I’m sorry...Elizabeth died...”
As everyone made their way back to the solace of their home and family, Michael found himself frozen, unable to leave her.
Suddenly the reality hit him hard.
He was alone.
He fell to his knees in agony, his breaking heart unaware that its mate stood on the hill behind him, crumbling at the sight of the strongest man she had ever known, on his knees. Even knowing that her decision would keep him safe, would keep all of them safe regret damn near broke her. Seeing the only man that she had ever loved, and would ever love, falling apart made her want to race down that hill, wrap her arms around him and reassure him that she was fine, she was safe and that she was so sorry for ever causing him even a second of pain. But she knew that in order for her family to be safe, she had to hurt them. But it was so hard, and regret filled her as she was forced to turn around and walk away from the life she had dreamed of since Michael had first smiled at her.