Kelsey and I were supposed to go out for dinner that night even though it was Thursday. She was scheduled to work on Friday afternoon and night and then a twelve-hour shift on Saturday so neither of those days would work. Thursday nights are so much better to go out on than Sundays so we planned to go out then. With our weird and fluctuating schedules, we had to take advantage when possible.
But I just didn’t have the energy to do anything. We opted to just have a relaxing night at my house for a change, instead of hers. While her place felt like a home, mine felt like it was something built by the government. Fully functional but not much thought for comfort or decoration. It was furnished by a single police office raising a young son on his own and then by a grieving bachelor who didn’t know the first thing about how to do it.
The kitchen was fully stocked with all of the plates, glasses, cookware, and gadgets required to make any meal. The family room had a comfortable couch, cozy chairs, and a decent size television. The master and guest bedrooms had comfortable mattresses and soft linens. The yard and landscaping were all well maintained. It was clean, uncluttered, and well organized.
There had never been many personal belongings displayed, though. Generic prints adorned the walls. No knick-knacks from family trips or special occasions lined shelves, cabinets or fireplace mantels. Only a single family picture taken when I was born was hung. It was a good place to live. It just wasn’t a home.
Kelsey had once described the style as a cross between a house for sale and a generic food brand. It was hard to disagree with her. Growing up that’s just the way it was and perfectly described my dad. If it wasn’t functional for some reason, we didn’t need it. We never went on any family trips. As a result, he never bought anything to display. After he was gone and I inherited the house, there wasn’t the need or energy to make any changes. After Kelsey had been to my house and office, she asked why I didn’t display any pictures I took in the house. It was a great question and I didn’t have an answer. She gave me an ultimatum to add a few of my favorites or she would pick them herself.
Slowly over time, Kelsey had started to make some subtle changes. She bought a vase from Rookwood Pottery when we took a tour there and added some fake flowers and placed it over by the television. She also gave me a print I liked from an art show for my birthday earlier this year that is in the hallway. There are a few other things around the house. She had been gradually making progress.
We were relaxing on the couch in the family room. I had picked up some generic Chinese food on the way home as I wasn’t in the mood to make anything and didn’t want Kelsey to have to cook. I told her all about the last couple of days while we ate. Afterward, the mostly empty takeout containers and plates littered the kitchen table untouched. I didn’t have the strength or desire to clean it up. I was on one end of the couch with my feet on the coffee table. Kelsey was on the other end stretched out with her feet in my lap. I was massaging them absentmindedly. Her toes wiggled lightly whenever I stopped. The not so subtle reminder to continue. We were sharing a bottle of wine.
“You have had one heck of a roller coaster of a week,” she said. “Some really good news and some really bad news. You must be exhausted. You sure look it.” She was smiling, so I knew she was concerned about not making fun of me at all.
“I am exhausted. Sorry about not going out as we planned. I just didn’t have it in me. I know I am not good company right now. It’s just hard to deal with death since… Well, you know…” I trailed off, not finishing what I was thinking.
“Honestly, Alex. I don’t know.” She paused for a minute as if debating if she should say more. She waited until I looked her in the eyes. She sat up and grabbed my hands. “You have never really talked about what happened. Just bits here and there. I know your dad and fiancée were killed a number of years ago. I can tell it’s still with you and haunts you sometimes but you have never gone into any detail whatsoever on what actually happened.” She was then silent waiting for me to respond.
I let go of her hands and leaned my head back, looking straight ahead not knowing what to say. No one heard this story from me. No one. Anyone I knew back then had lived it with me. Since then the only person I had gotten close to was Kelsey. She had heard some very small parts of it from me, but it was painful to talk about. I kept quiet. Very quiet. Everyone knows you shouldn’t let it build up inside of you. Before Kelsey, there really wasn’t anyone to actually talk to about it. I stared straight ahead and started speaking.
“It was a day like this almost six years ago on a Friday night. A beautiful fall day. The area had lots of rain throughout the whole summer resulting in the trees keeping all their leaves. It was gorgeous everywhere you looked. I was planning on spending the weekend out taking photographs, working on building my stock. My dream job back then was the same as it is now. Being a professional nature photographer. I didn’t have a clue about how I was going to make it happen but I was trying.
“I had been engaged to Hannah for two months at that point in time. I had given her the ring my mom wore, originally bought by my dad when he proposed. We were planning a summer wedding the following year. Plans were just being formed for how we wanted it. Once a month we went out to dinner with my dad and her parents so we could all talk and keep each other up to speed on various plans and ideas. A standard family meeting is what we had planned for that night. Dinner for five at six.
“I was working in IT then, doing contract jobs all over the city for a few consecutive days in a row. It was full-time work from generally eight in the morning to five at night. The problem was I didn’t know what part of the city I was going to be in on any given day. That particular day I was way down in northern Kentucky across the river. My dad, Hannah and I had planned to meet at my dad’s place and drive to the restaurant together. I can’t remember the reason why anymore but it made perfect sense back then. My day ran long and there was no way I was going to make it back to my dad’s place and then to the restaurant by six PM, so I called and said I would just meet them there.
“I arrived at the restaurant a bit late. Hannah’s parents were already there waiting. We talked about some random subjects, just passing the time. The three of us waited for quite a while for my dad and Hannah to show up. We figured they hit some rush hour traffic or an accident causing them to be late. We sat at the bar and had a drink. We lost track of time. I remember because Hannah’s dad was asking me about a computer issue he was having. I got into my own world, as I can, talking about it.
“It was almost seven PM by then and we were starting to get a little worried. I had called and texted both of their cell phones, but no one answered or responded. I did get a call but it was from Bruno. He simply asked me where I was. I told him about the restaurant and asked if he knew where my dad was because we were waiting for him and Hannah to join us. He said no and hung up. I didn’t think anything of it. His phone etiquette is not the best. We waited longer, wondering what was going on.
“Less than ten minutes later I saw Bruno walk through the door of the restaurant and into the bar. He had no emotion on his face whatsoever. I had only seen that look on him or my dad when they were delivering bad news to family members. I knew. Right then. No question. No uncertainty whatsoever. My knees buckled. Holding on the edge of the bar was the only thing that prevented me from collapsing. Bruno took all of us to the station and told us what happened. The news was so devastating we were barely able to function. We just sat and listened to Bruno stoically tell us what happened. I found out much later Bruno broke down himself after telling us. You can still see the spot at the station where he punched a hole in the wall.
“About six months prior, my dad was involved in a very complex case. A high-level drug dealer had ordered a hit on a rival who was starting to encroach on his territory. My dad worked the case day and night. He finally had enough evidence to arrest the drug dealer. My dad and what seemed like half of the force went to arrest him. Things went south very quickly. Guns were drawn on both sides and shots fired. Two officers were hit but thankfully both in their vests so they had minimal injuries. Four gang members were killed, a few more wounded, and a ton of them arrested for the gun battle. My dad ended up shooting and killing one of the lower level gang members.
“The older brother of the guy my dad killed, who wasn’t at the incident or a member of the gang, never forgot what happened. He ended up tracking down where my dad lived and decided to take him out. He was waiting just up the block from this house. The brother drove up beside my dad’s car with a partner and started shooting. It was an assassination. A complete ambush. They tell me Hannah died instantly with one of the first shots. My dad was hit three times but managed to kill the brother and the other passenger. He tried calling for help but didn’t get very far. Other people in the neighborhood called the police. Both were dead by the time the cops and the ambulances showed up. Witnesses said my dad was gone by the time they tried to help. Just too much damage.
“I lost myself after the shooting. The funerals were the following week. Hannah’s parents never said anything to me other than asking to get some of her personal possessions back and to return some of mine. They completely shut me out. I don’t believe they thought it was my fault at all but their only daughter was murdered and they had to blame someone. They moved to Arizona a year later and I haven’t heard from them since.
“Most of my friends were our friends together. No one knew what to say or how to act around me so we slowly lost touch after a while. I ended up quitting my IT job and moving into my dad’s place and have never left. Any sort of work was virtually impossible. Concentrating on work wasn’t happening. Bruno was a big help. He never gave up on me. Checking in on me all of the time, making sure I was functioning and getting me back out in society. He was the one who worked with other officers to get my job taking pictures at crime scenes and suggested I do some freelance work. Said most private investigators are absolutely lousy photographers, so I could make a name for myself pretty easily if I worked at it. All of my dad’s friends on the force recommend me.
“So for the past six years, I mainly kept to myself and applied myself to become a professional photographer. I kept my head down and worked. Not much more. Until I met you. You changed my life. Pulled me out of a pit of despair. I finally have someone again in my life I care about. Someone who I think about constantly. Someone who makes me smile. Someone who has finally made me happy.”
I paused for a minute. Then another. Still looking straight ahead at nothing in particular. Kelsey was still completely motionless. She hadn’t moved or wiggled her toes the whole time I talked. Finally, I added, “Someone who I love.” That was the first time I had said those words.
I looked over at her. She was crying. Weeping. Tears were rushing down her cheeks. She sat up, wrapped both of her arms around me and buried her head in my chest while sobbing. All she said was, “I love you, too.”
Her words were all I needed or wanted to hear.