MASON

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Chapter 43

I feel nothing.

My mind blank. My heart was cold.

They said I was in shock. They said I shouldn't still be in shock. Two days. Two days were enough for me to accept and come back to reality, but I didn't. They didn't understand. None of them knew the kind of pain I was feeling, and it was the pain that could never be described.

Just two days ago, waking up in the arms of someone I loved and not being able to contain the happiness I had felt, it had been an instant in my life when I knew with absolute certainty that everything I knew, loved and counted on was about to change.

And it did.

My dad is dead.

While I was in another country enjoying my life, my father took his last breath. Alone. There had been no one close to him. I didn't know if it had hurt. I didn't know if he had called my name. If he had been wishing I was there with him. While he was dying, I was laughing. While he took his last breath, I was smiling.

So many things I wished I could have changed. I wished I could go back in time and stop my dad from dying, from hearing the words 'I'm so sorry for your loss'. Every time I close my eyes, all I see is dad dying with no one by his side.

I remembered coming home to Beth sobbing and apologizing for something I had no clue about. I remembered standing paralyzed when she told me how dad died and she would always be there for me. Not a word had left my mouth. I hadn't even felt Mason's arms wrapping around me as Beth continued to sob. I almost had wished I could find solace in that. There was nothing to comfort me, felt as though the end of the world had come. It seemed particularly offensive that the world kept going, that the sun was shining while my dad stayed dead. I couldn't imagine a world without him in it, a life that didn't include him.

Everyone had expected me to cry. I didn't. It was a lie, I had kept telling myself, it had to be, a cruel prank someone had played on me, and any minute now, my phone would ring and I would hear dad's voice.

When Athena came, she cried with Beth. I had laid in bed, just staring at the wall. They tried to get me to talk and to cry, but my body had a shutdown. I knew how important it was at a time like this to be surrounded by friends. But neither knew the death of a loved one felt like. It was unthinkable, unbearable, a shock and grief too great to bear. It was impossible to absorb what had happened. I couldn't even imagine saying the words.

The hardest part came; the funeral preparations. Because I was unable to do anything, Mason, with the help from Beth had made it his responsibility to see that everything for the funeral was arranged. I had never once stepped foot outside my room. A lot of people that knew dad had called, but I never picked up, and when they kept calling, Mason took the phone away with him.

And when Beth's mum, Leah came, she couldn't stop crying the whole time she was here. She kept saying how sorry she was, and how she knew I couldn't live without him. That she loved me, and other things I couldn't remember.

The day of the funeral had been even worse because, with each passing hour, it became real. I had never been in so much in my life. I knew the house would be filled with people, so I had locked the room and refused to come out. Refused to say goodbye. I wasn't crying yet, but my heart had been pounding so loud I thought it was going to explode. I couldn't even remember what happened afterward. All I could remember was the sound of the cars pulling in, the voices of my friends pleading me to open the door and come say goodbye. The entire time, I was sitting on the floor, clutching my legs, my eyes glazed.

The tears had not come, but the memories had. Every memory I had shared with dad since from the beginning had flashed through my mind like my life was a movie that played scene after scene. All the sacrifices he had made, I remembered. All the lessons and unconditional love. It had felt like the end of the world. And yet, I still couldn't bring myself to cry. I needed to. To ease the tightness in my heart. To lessen the pounding of my head.

Everywhere I looked in my room, there was nothing to comfort me, nothing to cling to, or bargain with. My dad had been taken away from me in the blink of an eye. Too fast, too soon, too hard and too painful. Too agonizing to bear. And while I sat on the floor, the funeral had been going on and I stared into space, thinking of the person who mattered to me that I lost, wrestling with the impossible concept that he was gone and would never return.

I never even got to say goodbye.

I couldn't even close my eyes and open them without feeling like my heart was wrenched out of me painfully. I would never get to see dad smile at me again or laugh, being able to hug him and kiss him, hold his hand and hear him say how much he loved me and proud of me he was. I knew, without a doubt that not attending his funeral would end up hurting me, but at that moment, that had been the last place on my mind.



Dad had been gone for two days, and I had cut myself off from everyone, even though Mason wouldn't leave my side. He slips into bed with me and holds me, and when I couldn't sleep at night, he would lay awake with me. He never tried to push me to talk, he only ever let me knew that he was right there with me. To hold on to him for support. I wished I could tell him how much that meant to me. But I didn't need to tell him for him to know that.

When Mason wasn't with me, Beth was. Even though I knew she was trying so hard to be brave for me, I would catch her wiping her tears when she thought I wasn't looking. Other times when she tried to get me to speak and wouldn't, she would get so mad and storm out, but she returns a few minutes later and cuddle with me. And when I was alone, I would look at dad's picture and it would make things so worse.

On the third day, when I looked drained and exhausted, when I finally admitted to Beth that I no longer slept at night. I fell asleep around nine in the morning every day and would be wake again an hour later. Sometimes, I would fall asleep in the bathroom and wake up in bed.

"You have to eat and get some sleep," Mason said as he hovered over me at night, rubbing my arm while I stared at the wall. Eating hadn't occurred to me, and truthfully, nothing that I ate stayed in my stomach.

"It hurts like hell. Will I always feel like this?" I asked, feeling panicked. It was hard to imagine spending the rest of my life in that much pain.

He brushed my hair back with his fingers and leaned to place a soft kiss on the side of my head. "It's not something you can forget, but eventually, you will start to feel better. The pain won't be so bad. You will learn to live with it."

"Do you know that I haven't spoken to him in days? The last time we had talked, I told him I would call him back. I said, 'Dad, I have to do something. I'll call you back later.' And I never did. What did I have to do that was more important than my dad?"

He turned me around so I could look him in the eye, and when I did, the pain I felt mirrored in his eyes.

"Lauren, don't do this," he pleaded, rubbing circles on my bare stomach.

I shook my head, closing my eyes when I wondered if dad had felt sad when I didn't have time to talk to him, or maybe he had thought ever since I got married, I didn't have time for him anymore, and the saddest thing was, it was partially true.

"If I had just talked to him, told him I loved him..." I trailed off, clutching my heart when I felt another stab of pain million times worse than before. "If I had just stayed back and seen him one last time."

"Listen to me," He rolled me on top of him as he circled his arm around my waist and caressed my hair. "you can't change what happened. Your dad knew that you loved him."

I could hear the soft beating of his heart, but it wasn't enough to calm me. But the warmth his body was offering to mine was making my heart race less.

"Does he? I left him alone, Mason. I left him to die alone. I can't get that thought out of my head." Couldn't stop thinking about it even if I could. It wasn't because I did not want to stop, it was because I couldn't get it out of my head. Guilt was like a parasite that slowly feeds from you.

"It is not your fault. You couldn't have changed what had happened. I will take care of you now, so you have to be here with me, sweetheart."





When I got tired of staying in the one place, I had crept out of the room and silently walked down the hallway. I heard noises like someone was crying. It was coming from downstairs. When I walked down the last step, I followed the noises to Mason's study. The door was slightly ajar, so it was easier to poke my head inside.

Beth was the one sniffing, and Mason had his brows drew together as he concentrated on her face, at the tears that were trailing down my best friend's face. He sighed and offered his handkerchief, which she collected to dry her tears.

"I can't take this anymore," she said with a hiccup. "She needs to cry. I'm scared that if she continues down this path, we might lose her too."

"Don't talk like that," he responded in a hard voice. It sounded more like a command than a response. "Nothing will happen to her as long as I'm here."

"She hasn't cried!" Beth's voice rose, and I was surprised that she was able to grow the courage to shout at him. "Do you understand how important it is for her to cry? She barely eats or comes out of her room. What am I supposed to do?"

"Give her time, Beth. I will make sure I take care of her, and you need to pull yourself together. It won't do Lauren any good if you're like this."

"I know. I'm sorry, it's just—"

I pulled back away from the door and turned around to leave, not wanting to listen to the rest of the conversation. It wasn't fair for Beth and Mason to worry about me like that. I wished I could give them what they wanted, but it had only been five days. The pain was still fresh. The guilt was glued to me. My dad was dead. The one person who took the role of a mother and had never judged me. The person who had believed in me more than anyone was dead.




Dad had been gone for a week now, and if anyone had taken a good look at me, they would know I looked worse than ever. A week later and nothing had changed. I was still grief-stricken as I had been in the first three days after his death, and I could barely do anything.

It was around that day that I started getting stomach pains. They were fierce and sharp, but I didn't tell Mason or anyone. I knew if I did, he would worry more and that was the last thing that I wanted, for me to add more to his worries. He was already worried about me.

But when I lay in bed that night, I tried not to shout out in pain. Mason had already suspected that something was wrong with me when I kept scrunching my face, but when I had waved it away, he didn't press. I didn't think I could hide it any longer. I was in so much agony I could hardly think, and just as he turned around to ask me what was wrong, I wrenched his arm from my body and leaped off the bed, rushing to the bathroom. I vomited into the toilet, and just as I did, I saw bright spots of blood.

"Lauren?"

I quickly flushed the toilet before he could see the blood, turning around to face him as I wiped my mouth. A smile tried to crack from mouth, but I ended up wincing.

"What was that?" he demanded with a panic look, striding over to take my arm in his. "Are you okay? Come, we're going to the hospital."

"No, please." I could barely stand up, much less argue with him, but I didn't want to go to the hospital. Being in a hospital didn't sound like a good idea to me considering my dad died in a hospital. "I'm fine. I think I ate something bad."

"Lauren, you look pale."

I smiled at him and pulled away to walk out of the bathroom. Away from his eyes that made me want to confess to him.

"Lauren?"

"I'm fine–" I doubled over with pain. I couldn't even walk five steps to the bed, and as I looked at him, the room whirled around and I began sliding slowly to the ground.

"Lauren!" The last thing I heard was a petrified scream before I passed out.



In my dream, I met dad. He told me he was alright and that he loved me, that whatever I was doing to myself was making him sad. He knew I was a brave girl and he wanted me to be brave and strong again. I didn't want him to leave, but he had to. He let go of my hand when I screamed at him to hold it again, and I watched him drift into a cloud of white smoke.

I woke screaming in the hospital bed, thrashing around and pulling at the IV in my arm. I didn't realize I was crying and yelling out for dad until I felt droplets of water on my skin. Two nurses rushed inside the room and sedated me before I could leave the bed.

The second time I woke up, I saw Beth. A gut-wrenching sob escaping in between gulps of air. It was more than crying, it was the kind of desolate sobbing that comes from a person drained of all hope and joy. The pain that flowed through me was palpable.

"He's dead, he's dead." When I stared at Beth, I was a picture of grief, loss, and devastations. I felt like it was today that I lost him. I was wracked with every sob that forced their way out, chest rising and falling unevenly as I gasped for breath, squeezing my eyes shut.

"It's okay, it's okay." Beth's loose shoulders shook, her hands hanging low, making no attempt to conceal or even wipe away her own tears. "Everything is going to be okay." She pulled me into her arms.

"I didn't even say goodbye to him." Emotional pain flowed out of my every pore. From my mouth came a cry from so raw and painful that had my shoulders shaking violently against her hold as if the sheer force of my grief could bring dad back.

I cried like there was too much raw pain inside me to be contained. I cried like my spirit needed to break loose from my skin. The soothing words from my best friend made no difference at all. I cried until no more tears came, but still, the emptiness and sorrow remained.

And when the door slowly opened, my eyes were drawn to the tall frame that had just walked in, looking as if he had stepped in to break hearts, dressed in familiar shades of black. His hair was untidy and his eyes were a little red around the edges, even more than mine must have looked.

But he was still the beautiful prick in my story.

After a heartbeat, my eyes blinked and then they blinked as something flashed through my mind, my vision adjusting to a scene that was playing.

"I spoke to a few of my doctors, and your father just might survive."

"With the best doctors in your father's hand, he will survive."

"If you agree to marry me, I'll pay for your father's treatment."

The world turned into a blur, and so did all the sounds. The taste. The smell. Everything was just gone. My throat went tight and I closed my eyes, attempting to shut out the world, but it only made it worse. When I closed my eyes, all I could see was Mason standing above me, ensuring my dad's survival, me signing the contract and dad dying alone in his bed.

Another sob began to build inside me. I was only dimly aware of my surroundings when he spoke again, with his beautiful voice that uttered nothing but lies.

"Lauren..."

It was as if his voice was a trigger when something cold washed over me and my eyes were fiery, my chest felt tight when I pushed Beth and jumped off the bed, yanking the IV from my wrist before I stormed up to him.

I didn't hesitate to grab his collar with my fists and hurled him to me, my eyes blazing and my body trembling. "You lied to me." Two tears traced down my cheeks, and just like that, the floodgates opened. So many tears burst like a dam, spilling down my face. All the pain that I felt before were tenfold now.

"You promised to help him. You said if I married you, that he would get better. He would survive," I stated with a shaky voice.

Mason, with his untamed locks of dark hair and red-rimmed eyes, stared down at me with a sullen look. He tried to reach my hand, but I wildly pushed him back before he could touch me.

"Lauren, please," he pleaded, his chest moving unevenly as his ragged breathing matched mine. I didn't stop to consider his own pain because mine was greater than his.

"He's dead now." I breathed heavier than I ever had before. I was gasping for air that wasn't there. A lifeline that couldn't be reached. My throat burned, forming a silent scream. "WHY DID YOU LIE TO ME? He's dead and he won't come back." I was whispering to myself now, letting it really sink that I lost my father.

My only remaining parent. I was an orphan.

Beth, standing behind tried to put a comforting hand on my shoulder. "Bethany, don't touch me," I snapped bitterly, never taking my eyes off Mason. "I need you to tell me why you failed to save my dad!"

Agony turned his eyes pale. I could see his emotions scattering all over his face. Pain. Desperation. Agony. The need to hold me. It was all there, but I wouldn't allow him to reach the surface to breathe. He needed to sink with my pain and drown with me.

"Please, calm down."

"Don't tell me to calm down! The only person who has ever loved me is dead!"

My eyes dripped with more tears. My walls, the walls that held me up, made me strong just...collapsed. Moment by moment, they fall with nothing to catch me.

"That's not true..." he trailed off with stiffed body. He refused to look away, even as his lips shake and his shoulders heaved with emotion, unwilling to back down.

"It's your fault. Everything is your fault. You couldn't keep your promise to me and I don't think I can keep mine. Please, go. Leave. I don't want to see you again."

If I could count the seconds it took for his face to shatter, I would. If there was anyone who had ever broken Mason Campbell, I was sure it was me.

I looked at him. And he looked at me.

And as we stared, my eyes on his, his eyes on mine, I could see him fighting against my wishes. I could see the moment he accepted defeat. When he realized that everything was over between us. Because I said it was.

With a silent nod, he turned and paused, not moving or doing anything. Maybe he was waiting for me to stop him. To hold him and tell him not to leave, and I wanted to. I desperately wanted to cling to him, but every time I opened my mouth or attempted to touch him, my dad would flash through my mind.

So I let him go.

I watched him walk away from me.

I used to be the one who walked away. But I got to watch him leave now.

Got to experience how he felt the times he had watched me walk away from him.

It was the hardest thing to do, but nothing felt right more than ever.

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