His Burden

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Chapter Fourteen

Coming home with dad had been the right decision. Being alone seemed like a sure way to guarantee a meltdown and right now, I needed to keep my wits about me. Spencer couldn’t find out about Mum’s passing, even if the thought of keeping it from him sounded bizarre and completely irrational.

“I’ve made you a tea, petal,” smiled Dad, passing me some herbal concoction.

Steam rolled off the top like layers of clouds and I watched as each one disappeared into thin air. It was captivating for a while but–like everything–novelty wore off.

“Thanks.”

I took a tentative sip and sighed through the initial burn. It caressed my throat in tantalising tickles and warmed me from the inside out. Just what I needed.

“Sam tells me you want to keep things about Mum under wraps,” he began, cautiously broaching the topic. “Are you sure that’s what you want? To keep Spencer away?”

“No but it’s what’s needed,” I replied, drinking more from my mug. “If he finds out, he’ll want to see me.”

“Is that such a bad thing?”

I nodded. “It is if it puts our plan in jeopardy.”

His expression hardened and I took that to mean one thing. He disagreed.

“You’ve just lost your mum, sweetheart. You need him here with you.”

I felt like a broken record having to repeat myself.

“What we want and what we need aren’t always the same thing,” I shared, feeling every inch exhausted.

He didn’t seem too pleased but proceeded to let it go. Being backed into a corner was shit enough as it was without having a lecture added on top. He knew my options were limited and seemingly sympathised with my situation. Not that his approval mattered. No amount of persuasion could sway my decision. I was remaining quiet about Mum as a means of keeping things as they were. Our six months separation was integral to the overall plan and I’d be damned if I let anything interfere with that. Yes, Spencer deserved to know and yes, I wanted him here. But this was needed to happen.

“She squeezed my hand the other day,” I admitted, lowering my voice to a gentle whisper. “How can she go from squeezing my hand one minute to dead the next?”

Dad simply sighed. “I’ve no clue, petal. I can hardly believe it myself.”

We both succumbed to the silence with no choice but to throw ourselves into our thoughts, agonisingly so. I didn’t particularly want to think and eventually took to the tactic of distraction instead.

“Does Karen know?” I asked, staring at an old family photo Dad had of us on his living room wall.

I remembered the moment well. We were holidaying in Spain when a waiter offered to take our picture when dining out one night. Sam and I were both messing around whilst Mum and Dad smiled like the sophisticated upper class couple they weren’t. I couldn’t have been more than eleven-years-old and envied such innocence. Back then, my only concerns were beating Sam at our next game of chess and keeping up with homework. I’d give anything to go back to simpler times.

“Not yet. I’ve not had the chance to call her.”

I sipped more of my sweet tea.

“What do we do, Dad? How do we move on from something like this?” I asked, desperate for some insight.

He offered nothing but a weak smile in response. I knew he couldn’t possibly have the answers to my question but I required at least some guidance. I liked being in control of my life and often prided myself on preparing for every eventuality. This, however, was not expected. I wasn’t equipped to deal with such loss. Mum may have been unresponsive for the best part of ten years but she was essentially the glue that held this family together. Without her, I feared the worst.

“Do you think she wanted this?” I asked, rather randomly. “To die.”

“What makes you think that?”

I took pause for a moment, gathering my thoughts.

“When she squeezed my hand the other day, she was with me. For those two seconds, she was aware of everything and then suddenly, she wasn’t. What if she felt trapped?”

Dad moved from his usual seat to join me of the sofa, wrapping a protective arm around my waist whilst doing so. Then, like the protector he was, he landed brief kisses to my head, each one loving in their own way.

“I think your mum held on for as long as she could. She was ready.”

He proceeded to pull my body closer to his where an inevitable hug took place. I hadn’t realised how much I needed his embrace until it was happening. Dad was always so reserved when it came to physical interaction but it seemed even he needed to be held. Tight and frantic, we squeezed each other until there was nothing else to give and even then, we continued to cuddle. A daughter’s love for he dad was strong and no matter her age, she’d always need him.

“I love you, Dad. And I’m so sorry you lost her.”

Tears, though a welcoming addition, never came, nor did they for Dad. We didn’t need to cry to express how deeply we were both hurting. It was written all over our faces.

“I love you, petal. And I’m sorry you lost her too.”

Together, we continued to hug and only when I suggested turning in for the night did we finally pull away.

“Should we try and get some sleep? We’ve got a lot on tomorrow,” I asked, mindful of our many jobs.

One of us would need to contact a funeral director whilst the other took on the dreaded task of letting family know. Mum was an only child and both her parents were dead but Dad had a few brothers who would want to offer their support.

“You’re probably right, petal. Will you be okay in the spare room?”

A sly glance to the clock told me it was five O’clock in the morning and the likelihood of sleep was FAT CHANCE! Still, I offered him my most convincing smile and shot him a nod. “Yeah, the spare room will be great.”

Dad placed a small kiss on my cheek and left me alone to fester in my thoughts. I tried not to think too much, though it was energy wasted. I was scared that if I allowed myself to feel anything even remotely similar to grief, I’d call a certain someone and I couldn’t let that happen. I wanted Spencer’s voice in my ear more than anything but knew I was being selfish for even considering it. Keeping mum’s death from him was going to be hard. Not only that, but keeping it from everyone else too. I had no choice but to suffer alone.

Six months, Jessica. It’s just six months…

Six months of hell.

~~~~

The funeral director was a slim man in his late forties who prided himself on the finer details. He spoke for twenty minutes regarding the different materials used for coffins and in the end, we took his word for it. Dad chose a fine looking structure made from oak wood, insisting Mum deserved the finest of send offs. Deciding on an order of service was easy. We stuck to Mum’s favourite songs and kept the religious spiel to a minimum. Overall, it took less than two hours to organise everything and with the wake taking place in Dad’s local pub, we had very little to orchestrate ourselves. The buffet was being handled by the landlord and announcements were being done privately (per my orders) by Dad’s brother, uncle Matt. Sam had called him earlier to break the news and had asked if he could pass the message along to everyone else. Since then, all of our phones had been inundated with kind words. Even sweater-vest-Roger sent me a private message on Facebook, offering his condolences. Much to my relief, Spencer involvement remained non-existent. Bethany assured me she hadn’t told a soul and I was extremely relieved. In all honesty, I felt terrible for making demands but kept telling myself I had reasons. Good reasons.

“Another coffee, Jessica?” asked Karen, poking her head around Dad’s kitchen door.

“No thanks. I won’t sleep tonight if I have any more caffeine.”

She offered me a kind smile and threw in a small wink. “You do right, love.”

Bethany shuffled in her position to my right and declined Karen’s offer of more juice. The pair had arrived with Sam shortly after eleven O’clock this morning to support their significant others and although kind, it made me feel even more alone. I didn’t have my significant other because his ex-wife was engaged to a total nut job who was hellbent on ruining our lives.

Dramatic?

Maybe.

Justifiable?

HELL YEAH!

“How you holding up?” asked Bethany, nudging my knee. “And none of that, “I’m fine” nonsense. How are you really?”

“I’ll live. Although, I must admit, I’d feel better with him here,” I shared, keeping my tone purposely low.

The last thing I wanted was for Dad and Sam to hear me admit such a thing.

“Him being Spencer?” she assumed.

I nodded.

“When did you last speak?”

I had to think hard before I answered. “It’s been over a week,” I admitted, stopping to laugh. “Christ, that’s pathetic!”

“I bet it feels like months.”

“Years,” I revealed, exaggerating just a little.

She gifted my knee a light squeeze and shook it vigorously, as if doing so would initiate some life into me. Unfortunately, it didn’t work but I appreciated the effort.

“If you ever want to get away, you know where I am. I can tell you’re feeling overwhelmed,” she soothed, glancing briefly towards Sam.

“He means well,” I defended.

“But he can be overbearing at times.”

“You’re not wrong there,” I smiled, nudging her leg right back. “Thanks. You’re the only non-family member I have to talk to right now. I really appreciate you being here.”

“Don’t mention it. I may be Sam’s girlfriend but I’m also your friend too. Don’t you forget that,” she stated, firm and direct.

Sam suddenly entered with a fresh coffee in hand, sipping cautiously from his mug. He blew loose curls from his face and tugged lightly on the ends, frustrated by their ever-growing length.

“Are you girls feeling okay?”

Bethany and I shared an amused smile, simultaneously nodding.

Always the protector!

“Fine thanks, are you alright?” I asked, moving up so that he could squeeze himself in between us.

He flung a loving arm around Bethany’s frame and pulled my head down onto his shoulder, caressing my back thereafter. He landed a brief kiss to my hairline and did the same to his girlfriend, only hers was far more affectionate.

“I’m good.”

His bid to convince us fell flat, lingering in the air like thick fog. Eye contact was non-existent as he struggled to maintain concentration and long gone was his ability to crack jokes. I’d never seen him so far removed from his usual self and worried a great deal for his well-being. I wanted to offer him space. Everyone had a right to grieve on their own terms but part of me also wanted to reach out. To comfort him. I longed to make everything better for all of us and hated how yet again, I was helpless to the situation. Nothing I said or did would make any of this better and the sooner I accepted that, the better.

Our grief was inevitable, all-consuming and painfully heart-breaking. During which, my mind was consumed by one man and one man only.

Spencer.

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