His sister’s death weighed heavily on him. Josh wasn’t sure if things would ever feel normal again. At work, he felt slow and distracted. He wasn’t getting his tasks done. He was behind schedule.
Elizabeth had seemed down too. She didn’t talk much and spent most of her free time either reading quietly in their room or sleeping too much.
Josh stood at his sister’s grave. He set down a bouquet of a dozen brightly-colored tulips down in front of the gravestone. “Hey, Sis,” he said.
He bent down, resting on one knee. Emily was really gone. Tears welled up in his eyes and he covered his face with his hand. Gone. If only he had gotten her the help she needed sooner. If only he had been able to keep her from doing this to herself.
It was late. Almost midnight. He had driven to the supermarket after work and picked up the flowers. Elizabeth was waiting for him in the car. She hadn’t wanted to come out. “Scared of the dark,” she said.
He had made it a habit to come visit Emily’s grave after work, which ended at 11:30. It wouldn’t surprise him if someone mistook him for a ghost himself, the way he haunted the place so late at night.
Emily was gone. He felt empty at the realization. His sister was really dead. He straightened himself up, wiping at his face one last time. Elizabeth hated having to wait too long by herself. He better hurry back.
Turning around, he headed back to his car at a brisk pace. He went to the door on the driver’s side, pulling it open.
“How’d it go?” Elizabeth asked.
“It went good,” Josh replied curtly. His voice came out colder than he meant it to. “You should’ve come out with me.”
“It’s too dark out.”
“No one’s there.”
“Maybe tomorrow,” she said.
He began driving home. The visits felt necessary though they usually ended up making him feel worse than better. Yet, seeing her grave felt like something he had to do, no matter how painful it was.
Lifting a hand, he began tugging at the stifling tie around his neck. It felt like it was choking him. The top of his hand brushed against the light stubble growing over his chin and neck, reminding him that he hadn’t remembered to shave in days.
“Do you want to stop for food?” Elizabeth asked.
“You’re not hungry?”
He shook his head. He hadn’t eaten a real meal all week. Nothing agreed with his stomach. The stress had all been too much for him.
“You should really try and eat something.”
“I don’t feel like eating right now,” he replied.
She sighed. “All right.”
He parked in their driveway. Elizabeth knew he was acting different. He hadn’t been himself all week. For some reason, he ended up blaming Elizabeth for it. He felt like she was right there, so close to him, and yet he still felt like he had no one he could talk to about how much his sister’s death had traumatized him. He felt like nothing Elizabeth could say would alleviate the pain. Her words didn’t have the strength to bring him comfort. When she said something, he just ended up more agitated than he had been before he talked to her. Sometimes, he felt like they were nothing more than strangers that happened to live together.
They went into the house. He watched as she went upstairs. Pursing his lips together, he pulled out his cell phone. What if he called Alison? Would it help? She always seemed so understanding about Emily. Could she help him? Would she be willing to listen?
It was too late at night to call her though. Wasn’t it rude? Would she even be up? She had told him that she tended to stay up late but still… that didn’t mean it was all right to call her past twelve.
He gave in and dialed her number anyway. Letting out a breath, he brought the phone to his ear. There was no answer. Finally, the voicemail came on and he hung up without leaving a message. So much for that. Alison was either sleeping or ignoring him. He set the phone down on the coffee table and headed upstairs.
He found Elizabeth already in bed, changed out of her work clothes and reading a book. She didn’t look up or acknowledge him. Was it his imagination or had she been ignoring him a lot lately? Two people ignoring each other at the same time. What a concept. Pulling off his jacket, he stepped into the bedroom and headed for his closet. He reached for a wide wooden hanger and hung his jacket from it.
“Could you get me a glass of water?” Elizabeth asked finally, lowering the book to her lap.
“You can’t get it yourself?” What was his problem these days? He never used to be like this.
“I’m sure I can,” she muttered. Setting the book down, she climbed up from the bed, pushing a strand of hair from her face. He watched as she left the room. When she was gone, he began unbuttoning hiswhite shirt.
Throwing the shirt in the hamper, he finished changing into boxers and a t-shirt. He headed for the bathroom and began to brush his teeth.
Elizabeth came up the stairs again, but instead of holding a glass of water, she was holding his cell phone. She lifted it accusingly. “What’s this?” she asked, her voice shrill and irritated. It was the worst, most grating sound he had ever heard in his life. It stung in his ears.
“What’s what?” he snapped.
“You called her again? At midnight? What the hell’s wrong with you?”
Shit. So Elizabeth was spying on his cell phone now? “It’s nothing like that. She didn’t even pick up.”
“I don’t care if she picked up or not!” she shrieked. “Alison was Emily’s friend. Not yours! Why are you still calling that woman?”
“Don’t you fucking bring Emily into this!”
Elizabeth stared at him. She shook her head. “I knew it. I fucking knew it.”
“You don’t know anything.”
“You like her, don’t you? I saw it. At Emily’s funeral, you completely ignored me but you were best friends with her. You even stood by her instead of me during the service. Are you crazy? Are you a complete idiot? Did you think I wasn’t going to notice that?”
He didn’t know what to say. Josh turned his head, his toothbrush still in his hand. Had he been caught? Was that what this was? Elizabeth was right. He did like Alison. He should feel bad about it. He should feel guilty for noticing another woman but he didn’t. Instead, he felt angry. He blamed Elizabeth for everything and he was mad at her. “Don’t you ever use Emily’s funeral as an excuse to get jealous. You cold-hearted bitch. My sister’s dead and you have the nerve to complain about trivial shit like this?”
“Trivial? How the hell is this trivial? You’re having an affair, aren’t you!”
“It’s not an affair!”
“Fuck you!” She turned away.
He let out a frustrated breath of air. Moving toward her, he grabbed her arm to keep her from leaving. “I’m not having an affair, all right? I’m sorry I called her. I am. I’m sorry. It was just to talk and she didn’t pick up.”
“But out of everyone, why’d it have to be Alison?”
“I don’t know. I’m sorry. It’s not going to happen again.”
She nodded, tears springing in her eyes. “I’m sorry I brought up, Emily. Josh, you know how sad I am she’s gone. We’re both sad. You have to give me a break. I’m trying as hard as I can here. I’m not perfect. I don’t know what to do when you’re like this to me.”
“I know,” he sighed. Pulling her toward him, he wrapped his arm around her in a tight hug. “I know that, okay?” What was he doing? Elizabeth was his girlfriend. He couldn’t keep treating her like this. He had to forget about Alison once and for all. This pathetic infatuation of his was going to end up ruining his life.