When we got back to Brandt’s house, my family caused a flurry of activity. It seemed everyone flew in to be there for me. My parents, Brandt’s parents, and even Tom. My brothers and sisters made it at some point today with some of their kids in tow. Brandt’s sister and brother were even there. Ami was in from her vacation in Mexico, and although she didn’t see eye to eye with my father, they were cordial.
Each one was startled by the bruising and wounds to my face and body. At least the ones they could see. A forced smile accompanied their faces, but it did nothing to disguise the pity in their eyes. Ami had it too, but she didn’t look at me like I couldn’t handle it like the rest, and for that, I silently thanked her.
Ami had been crucial in helping to get everyone there and I appreciated her helping Brandt as much as she did. When I told her about Phillip’s involvement, she seemed like she already knew. I had a feeling they already talked on the phone at least, and if they did get back together, well, it would be nice to have something good come of all of this.
All but the kids had the same look of sadness on their faces I had come to expect. Later, I found out they were told I was in a car accident and I appreciated the ruse. There was no need to shatter their innocence with the horrific way the world could turn on them. They came up and hugged me, not understanding the weight of the situation, just happy I was doing better. That was why I loved the kids. So resilient.
We didn’t return to the house until after lunch, and they were already preparing for supper. The women off to the kitchen to make the meal while the men congregated in the family room. When I went to the kitchen to ask if they needed any help, I was frozen in place.
My brother, Mike, and Brandt’s father, Jon, were working on putting in the new patio door. It all came rushing back to me. The glass hitting the back of my leg. His crazed look as he made his way in through the broken glass. Running through the hallway and not getting nearly far enough as he pulled me back by my hair. The gun. Pointed right at me. Him calling me a frigid little bitch. I shuddered, wondering if I could ever come back into this room without reliving it.
Brandt walked in just then and saw me standing still, staring at them. We exchanged a look so brief I couldn’t be certain of its meaning. Pain, sorrow, longing for a different ending? Judy beat him to my side, and put her arm around me, leading me back into the family room placing me on the couch next to my father. He folded me into his arms as I sat there, stunned, cowering into his side and watching the expressions of my nearby family members. They were already treating me with kid gloves. Fragile little Chelsea was hurt once again. Poor Chelsea couldn’t get her life straight.
The pain may never go away but how long would it take for the fear to dissipate? I had come to terms with it but I really just wanted to stop seeing his face every time I closed my eyes. My mother came to tell me that Brandt left to get my prescription of pain medication filled, but I knew I wouldn’t be using it, anyway. My physical pain seemed to be the only thing to ground me to the earth right now.
When my mother announced supper in the dining room we herded inside but I doubted that much of it would be eaten. The sun fell low in the sky, and to my relief, the lingering heat made eating outside difficult. I didn’t want to be reminded of what happened starring at the patio furniture.
Brandt sat down at the other end of the table with some of his family. Our eyes met briefly as I came into the room. I took a seat over by Ami as I walked in, knowing my parents expected my presence in the room regardless of my appetite.
Everyone talked and carried on as if it had been any other family gathering. Looking around the table, it almost looked like a regular Sunday at Moltke’s farmhouse. People talking about their jobs or the price of milk. The meal had been enough to feed a small country, but that was what the Moltkes did best. In a large farm family, no one went hungry.
I poked at my food, my mom encouraging me to eat every once in a while. I brought the food to my lips, but I didn’t taste it. My nausea had passed, but food didn’t have any flavor. I ate because she told me but when they offered to get me pain pills, I refused. Weirdly enough, I had come to like the pain. I never want it to go away. It prevented me from feeling hollow.
Looking around the table, I was surrounded by those I loved. Those that loved me. This was my family but I still felt alone. The kids ran in and out asking for more food or dessert, oblivious to the sad occasion. Their simple, unpretentious ways made me smile. They were the only bright light on my dim soul.
The knowledge of what surrounded me and what it meant came down on me like a crescendo. I wanted this for my child. Playing with their cousins, getting to know their grandparents, running around without a care in the world. I could have had it too. It had been within my reach.
Tears formed in my eyes and my water glass slipped out of my hand and crashed to the floor, shattering. A cry escaped my lips, and my hand went up to my mouth. Pain, pure emotional pain, gripped at my heart tearing it open once again.
Brandt stood up to come to my side, but I couldn’t stand to look at the concern in his eyes. Instead of turning to him like I wanted, I turned to my sister Judy, and she placed her arm around me and brought me upstairs to the bedroom. Just as well. I couldn’t bear to have Brandt be so nice to me. Not when I didn’t deserve it.
After I cried on her shoulder, she tried to talk me into going to sleep. I refused, thinking of her and the rest of my family and the sacrifices they made to come to California to be here with me. It made me think of what I needed to do next. Returning downstairs, most of the people were on the deck now with the afternoon heat dissipating. I watched the tide come in behind them mesmerized by the repetition of movement until Judy went to get Brandt. When he returned, I let him bring me in towards him, wanting a connection with him I knew I broke.
“Brandt, when will we get our daughter here?”
He looked down at me and sighed. “Tomorrow morning. I asked Louis if he would bring the ashes here.” I nodded and turned back to everyone who stared at us.
“We will have the funeral tomorrow.” Brandt stiffened by my side but we needed closure. Not for me. There would never be closure, but I should think of my family and Brandt’s family. Dad had asked my frail uncle Marvin to milk the cows, and he could only handle it for so long. All the other family present had jobs to get back to. Lives that they needed to return to.
“Nate, will you officiate?” Judy’s husband was a pastor in the twin cities area and no one else I would rather have to do it.
“I would feel honored.” I nodded my head, grateful.
“There is a church in Océano del Cielo that I attend. I am sure they will let us have the service there. Nothing formal. No hymns, just a goodbye ceremony. Her ashes will come back here to her home.” Taking another breath, I looked at my mom. “Can you help with the meal? I don’t expect many people to come other than the people who are here now and maybe some friends.”
It gave her something to do. Lord knew the women in my family either cooked or cleaned to take their minds off stuff. That should help. With tears in her eyes, she said, “Of course.”
Feeling more weak and tired than before, I at least put a plan into motion. I knew the rest would be taken care of by my family. With that started, I excused myself to go rest. Brandt helped me up the stairs. We went slow as the pain came back full force, but I didn’t want him to know.
“Chelsea, maybe you should take something. Another pain pill maybe? It will help you sleep.” I shook my head. It made me nervous to have him by me. Not because I didn’t want him, it was because I wanted him to comfort me and felt I didn’t deserve it.
“Brandt, I am so tired I will be out for the rest of the night. Really, I am fine.” When we reached the bedroom, he went to help me out of my clothes, but I stopped him. The French doors were open, and I could hear the family discussing the agenda for tomorrow. My father’s booming voice could be heard above all the rest. It made my old religious guilt creep in.
“Brandt? Would it be all right to have Ami sleep with me tonight?” He saw me look out the French doors and could also hear my father. He understood without it having it said out loud and wouldn’t deny me this. I could tell. He loved me so much he would do anything for me.
“Please,” I pleaded. I couldn’t have him hold me all night. It wasn’t entirely the fact that my father would be sleeping in the same house but with him being so tender, touching would be torture with how I had let him down.
He nodded and relented. “I’ll go get her.” He went to kiss me, and I winced at the pain. My bruised lips were not ready for the pressure, and it only caused another look of sorrow on his face as he turned to leave.
Amilyn entered the bedroom and convinced me I would feel better after a shower. She offered to help with my clothes, but I didn’t let her. I knew it would hurt, but I couldn’t let her see the bruises. She was the one with the least amount of pity for me, and I didn’t want to change that. She never coddled me and it was something I desperately needed right now. I didn’t want pity, I didn’t want understanding, I wanted to feel the pain I deserved since I caused all this.
The water made me feel almost human, and when I got done, I was exhausted. Even with the continued commotion outside, I climbed into bed with Ami and let her quell my pain. Even with the surrounding activity, I fell into a restless sleep, depleted. I hoped the time away from my thoughts would replenish me.
The dream. The reoccurring dream came but this time it did not feel sexual. Brandt and I were running through the fields but without any sense of loss or mourning. Just the two of us as usual. He grabbed me by the waist and brought me to him, locking our lips together in a heated kiss. As I pulled away from his loving embrace, I saw Dan’s face and recoiled in horror. Mortified, I woke up screaming.
Ami was there in an instant, soothing and quieting me, always there for me when I needed her, and it was a relief that I could rely on her now. She held me and comforted me, rocking me back to sleep, telling me everything would be all right. I knew it was a lie, but I let it linger between us.
Night came, and I couldn’t form a cohesive thought, much less give her any words of comfort. Not that she sought out any comfort from me. Instead of looking at me like her Superman, she turned to her sister or Amilyn instead. Even her father got to hold her. Everyone except me.
My mind kept going back to the fact that Dan found her because of me. I kept thinking: how long? How long did I have before she left me? How long did I have to make it up to her? Could I ever?
She was in pain and wouldn’t use any pain pills. At least none from me. I only hoped her mom could talk her into it. Her mom or one of the fifty thousand other people currently inhabiting our house. Right from the start, people bombarded her all at once. Brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews. Where did they all come from? This must have been so overwhelming for her. I saw the look on their faces. A mixture of pity and shock. Shock at the way she looked. The bruised and swollen face that I couldn’t even say I was used to yet.
My parents and Tom had been here from the beginning, but I was surprised to see Rebecca and Dean. I hadn’t seen my brother and sister since celebrating Christmas with them in New Hampshire. Although we weren’t close in the past, I noticed them start to look at me differently, and I knew why. Chelsea. Before, I had thought of myself as more of an outside member of the family. Chelsea showed me they were always my family. When one family member was hurting, we all did, and I should remember that with Chelsea’s family. It would do her no good for me to throw them out, so as hard as it was, I backed off.
It bothered me to see all the people in my house taking over. I shouldn’t feel that way. They were all trying to help, but it caused an unsettling feeling to surface. Her family took over while my family quietly waited. Her family had gone grocery shopping for Christ’s sake and were cleaning and cooking at my house. I realized it was their nature but shouldn’t they at least have asked first?
The kids seem to be the only thing that made her smile, and they were always coming up to give her a hug, almost knowing how much she needed it right now. They asked the difficult questions, but Chelsea took it in stride, answering them and telling them about a nonexistent accident as to not worry them. The kids accepted it without question, as they thought of their presence here as a vacation even now with getting ready for the funeral today.
Dressed in a plain shirt and pants, I went out on the deck and found Ami standing outside, having a cigarette. The breeze coming off the ocean helped to ease my claustrophobia. “Brandt.” she hugged me, and I couldn’t help but appreciate all she did for us.
“Thanks for all the help. It would have been impossible for me to coordinate everyone’s travel if it wasn’t for you. And all the help from Phillip...” My voice cracked. I couldn’t say any more. Without Phillip, Chelsea would be dead.
“I am sure he was glad to help.” Her eyes held a polite smile as they lowered to her hands. They broke up not that long ago, the reason none of my business, but it appeared she still had strong feelings for him.
“Well, he went above and beyond. I am glad for his help.”
“How are things between you and Chelsea... really? Don’t sugar coat it for me. I have known her for too long.” She had. She was there for her for the first miscarriage and knew the pain this one would cause for her.
“Still in shock, I guess. The police report was hard on her yesterday and today with the funeral...”
Ami just nodded. “And, how are you?” Her green eyes bore into me challenging me to lie to her. I could give a fluff answer, but she would see through it.
“Hurting, but I will get through it too.”
“I know how bad you both wanted this child. You guys will get through this. It will just take time.” I nodded and looked over at the landscape behind my house.
Chelsea loved our ocean view. She loved watching the tide come in, and we would spend hours just sitting and breathing in the salty air. How I wished I could have just five minutes of that time back. Before all of this. “I’ll be glad when everyone leaves.”
She gave a small chuckle, “Yeah, the Moltke clan can be a little overwhelming.” Just then, Ed came out on the deck turning in out direction. “Speak of the devil.” She said it low enough for me to hear.
He didn’t like me, and I had enough to deal with right now. Before he had a chance to come over, I left to go down to the beach, in no mood to deal with him, especially on the day of my daughter’s funeral. I sat on one of the rocks jutting off the side of my property, staring at the tide rolling out, wishing briefly I could join it and go back out to sea with it. Joey came over, standing by my side quietly, watching but not saying anything. Mike’s son, the one she taught little league to back in Wisconsin, appeared to have something on his mind.
“Brandt... ah. Chelsea wasn’t in a car accident, was she?” I didn’t want the intrusion right now, but I couldn’t blame him for asking his question. I didn’t enjoy getting lied to either.
“No, she wasn’t.”
“Then what happened to her?” They seemed close when she still lived in Wisconsin, and I guessed he had a right to know.
“A man kidnapped and hurt her.”
He swallowed, and I could tell his curiosity went deeper. “Did they catch the guy?”
I nodded my head. “Yeah, they caught him.”
“Where is he?” Squinting in the sun to see me, his curiosity couldn’t be tamed regardless if I wanted to have the conversation.
“He is dead.” No reason to beat around the bush. If he was old enough to make his way over to me and ask the hard questions, then he was old enough to hear the answers.
His expression changed, and he nodded his head briefly. What he said next was an ominous remark but one that I couldn’t hold against him. “Good.”
I watched him leave me while I noticed Judy motion to me to come back with him to the house. Looking on the deck, I saw Chelsea standing up there, appearing pale and drained. Anger rose again as I witnessed all the commotion. She needed rest, damnit. She didn’t need a fucking family reunion. As soon as this funeral was over, I would see to it myself that she got her respite.
The first time I entered the church I witnessed her sing with the choir. The way my schedule worked, I never made it back here with her. Formalized religion wasn’t high on my list of priorities, and of course, Chelsea never pushed me.
Standing in the aisle next to her, I concentrated on the small urn with our child’s remains, sitting up in front, and trying not to think of my little girl. The grief overwhelmed me, not at all calmed by the sanctuary of the church and I didn’t think I would ever want to come back to this place of pain.
It must have been a cliché. Something bad happens to a person, and they lose faith in God. Why would a God let someone as good as Chelsea suffer? Why would he take away a dream of hers, not once, but twice, leaving a hole in her heart? Miracles didn’t happen. I silently dared him in his own house. Bring a miracle to me. Make this pain go away, and let the old Chelsea come back to me. Then I will believe in you.
We were standing in a receiving line. What an odd thing. Line up all the people who felt shitty and make other people who feel shitty talk to you. What do they say? Sorry, something shitty happened to you? It could have been worse. How exactly could it have been worse? That monster took the best part of my life and destroyed it. Not exactly a fucking holiday for any of us.
Big John showed up first. Ryder must have called him because I’d mentioned it to so few people. He didn’t leave my side for the entire time we were at the church. Chelsea called him a gentle giant and I wouldn’t admit how much his support meant to me now.
The guys from the band showed up. Quade looked a little guilty, walking in with a very pregnant wife, but Chelsea just took him in her arms and gave him a big hug, thanking him for thinking of us. The roadies showed up. The sound crew and even people from the record company. Not the stuffy big wigs, but it didn’t matter much.
Austin showed and I watched as he hugged Chelsea. She didn’t look like she wanted to let go and I felt jealous. Not because they were hugging but because I wanted Chelsea to touch me like that. Sleeping alone on our couch last night was not the right thing to do, but to make this easier on her, I would have slept on the roof.
Hailey showed up too and even managed a hug for me, making me reconsider if she were actually a decent human being.
What surprised me the most was the people I didn’t know. The ones from the department store shoot that employed Chelsea, the people from town, and even some from this same congregation. All had a story about Chelsea that I had no clue about. Stories such as the one from an older woman whose husband had a heart attack and Chelsea drove her to the hospital every day and stayed with her until her husband left could be discharged home. A mother who told me she needed emergency childcare for her three children when she lost her job and had to find a new nanny quickly. Not only did Chelsea help to watch her children but helped get her an interview and a job with an on-site daycare.
There was even a local church council member who said he could count on her to be a last-minute fill-in Sunday school teacher only wished her schedule would allow her to work it full time.
All these things I didn’t know. All these things Chelsea kept from me. Why?
When it came time for the service, we were placed in the front pew. My parents sat on my left while Chelsea’s parents were on her right. When her brother-in-law started to talk, my hand sought hers. Entwining our fingers, I wasn’t entirely sure what I would do if she rejected me at that moment, but when I felt her soft skin, she responded by grasping onto my hand fully. It gave me comfort just to feel her.
She sat next to me with tears falling freely from her eyes, looking just as numb as I did, and listened to the words of a pastor who had never even known of Chelsea’s pregnancy. He used the name, Holly. With each mention of her name, I squeezed Chelsea’s hand. I still envisioned a little girl with blonde ringlets and eyes the exact color of Chelsea’s. Against my better judgment, I prayed for my birth mother to look after her, just in case.
Louis and his fleet of limousines helped transport the family to and from the church. Returning to the house, a flutter of people scurried about preparing a meal no one felt hungry to eat. I was getting so sick of people, considering my livelihood depended on them. Ryder caught up to me and told me he and the band agreed to hold off on the tour indefinitely. When I asked if JJ agreed he nodded, but I wasn’t convinced. Quade had the upcoming delivery of his first child and Ryder would be home to oversee the renovations of the new nightclub he was opening, but JJ had nothing besides the music. This could cause a rift, and when I protested, Ryder just said that he would meet with the PR firm and work it out making me grateful. Chelsea needed me here. I would be of no benefit to the band on the road either. Not with my mind elsewhere.
Chelsea resembled a worn-out dishrag after the pandemonium of the day’s events. The only time I saw any spark to her eyes was when the kids came around her. She even insisted that they were let in the pool to play when their parents told them no.
The day ended with more of the same. The kids ran around and entertained themselves while the women cleaned, and the men talked sports. My only caveat ending the day I’d put my child to rest was that people should be leaving tomorrow, and then I would finally find out where I stood with Chelsea.