The flight to New Orleans was short, yet it felt like a lifetime has passed. Nick swapped places with the old lady that was seated next to me, using the excuse that I wasn’t feeling well. My face might have been painted green because she trotted away faster than a Spanish Fighting Bull. Not that Nick was lying; it wasn’t unusual for me to experience air sickness on the minimum amount of times I was forced to board a plane. Nick held my hand as we ascended and my green face was absent as he held my hand, comforting me in a way that was sweet - too sweet - and it made my frozen heart turn into melted butter. I contemplated removing my hand from his strong grasp, but I couldn’t make myself do it, especially with all the thoughts wearing out my brain. It would be absolutely humiliating for Nick to meet my small family and learn all the dark secrets, but I’d rather it be him than anyone else.
The drive from the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport to my Aunt Hilda’s place was quiet. Nick sat silently beside me, glancing at me a few times as I mindlessly stared out the window. Aunt Hilda greeted us at the door, wrapping her arms around me as she wept endlessly. The tears I was trying so hard to hold back found an escape route and flowed down my reddened cheeks. It was hard to admit, but I missed my Aunt. I missed my mother too, no matter what we had gone through and I wanted to see her so badly. Nick was right. I would have regretted not saying a final goodbye to my mother.
Nick, Hilda, and I sat in the living room with cups of hot chocolate that warmed my insides. I took in her small, quaint house that felt more like home than my mother’s place, not like I could bring myself to go there yet. The abstract paintings were new, but everything else was just the same as ten years ago, yet nothing was faded or broken like how I was when I had left here all those years ago. “The funeral is the day after tomorrow. I know it’s late, but organising a funeral isn’t my forte.”, aunt Hilda says with a woeful smile. Aunt Hilda excelled at everything and anything she set her mind to, that’s what made her perfect. Maybe this time she was out of sorts, or maybe it was what I knew to be the real reason for the delay - her unsurety of my arrival. “It had been hard doing all this alone. Tom hasn’t been any help being distraught as he is.” I tense at the mention of his name and if had Hilda noticed, she sure as hell ignored it as she went on. “Tom was beside her through it all, and I really hate that I couldn’t be there when she left. He told me she asked for you during her last days.” Sudden anger overtook my sorrow at the thought of my mother bringing up my name in front of Tom. Aunt Hilda looked at me with sorrowful eyes, while I was on the brink of a breakdown. Just the mention of his name made my blood boil. How the hell was I going to manage seeing him?
The day of the funeral took longer to dawn upon us than I had thought it would. Time in New Orleans seemed slower than New York or maybe it was the dense tension in the air - Mia’s sudden anger and her aunt’s overwhelming sorrow - that caused the clock to go tick at a snail’s pace. I didn’t dare ask Mia what was wrong. It wasn’t my place; after all we were going to go our separate ways after this so it didn’t matter. I kept telling myself that I needed to be selfish to protect my already shattered heart, but looking at Mia, biting her nails to her skin as she looked at the coffin in front of us made me want to protect her, to shield her from whatever is making her experience so much of pain. Everyone who had attended was in tears, while Mia and I sat just sat there. It was understandable for me, but I couldn’t understand her reaction. Maybe it was a different way of coping, but with Mia being in tears for every little cut or any slight pain she experienced, it was highly odd to see her like this at her mother’s funeral and it made me wonder if I ever knew her at all.
A young man, around Mia’s and my age took the podium on the stage in the little church we were in. Mia grabbed and squeezed my hand so tight, I had a hard time holding in a groan. The young man continued, “My Lisa was well known for her eccentric and loving personality…” Mia scoffed under her breath, while I looked on in confusion. His Lisa? “She loved her little family and her friends with all of her heart and I know she would be grateful to every one of you for being here…”, he continued, staring at Mia while she stared at the back of the chair in front of her. He continued a little while longer as I felt Mia’s body shake beside me and her quiet sobs were only heard by me. I wrapped an arm around her shoulder as the funeral proceeded.
Mia decided, against everyone’s insistence, not to attend the burial, so we both made our way to her mother’s home which was much further away from her aunt’s than I had expected. She unlocked the door and we both silently helped the caterers to set up. An hour and a half later, people all dressed in black started filing in through the front door. Soon the house was filled with hushed chatter as everyone conversed with one another while I helped set up chairs for seating. “Where’s Mia?”, aunt Hilda asks as she places her hand on my shoulder. Being engulfed in my work, I didn’t realise that Mia was missing from the crowd. I shrug, stating that I would look for her.
I found Mia in her old bedroom. I knew this because it screamed her name with novel after novel lining the shelves on the wall. Her own bedroom looked similar. She was nursing a glass of wine, the half empty bottle next to her. “Mind if I have some?”, I ask. She nods her approval and I make quick work of filling the glass I already held in my hand and refilled hers. “Hilda is looking for you.” I say as I take a sip of the blood-red liquid. “I’m sure she will survive without me for a few more hours, after all she did survive ten years.” Mia shrugged and I nodded as if I understood her behaviour. A knock sounded on the door and I saw the young man, whom I’ve come to know as Tom, entered the room and I watched everything unfold. Mia’s chest rose and fell rapidly and her hand squeezed the glass in her hand, willing it to shatter. “You have no right to be in here.” she seethed. ’Mia, I’m sorry about everything that happened. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Hurt her? My hands were in fists instantly. “Hurt me? You and my mother broke me.”, she screamed and flung her glass in his direction, missing his head as he ducked. Toms face contorted in anger. “Look Mia. Your mother and I were in love. We couldn’t help it. I loved her and I will still do so no matter how much of time passes.”, he says sternly. Mia’s mother was dating a guy that was more than half her age, no wonder Mia felt humiliated to bring me here. She thought I’d ridicule her mother’s choices. “Oh, so you were in love with her while you told me you loved me? While you were fucking me?” she screamed louder this time. What. The. Fuck? Aunt Hilda popped her head through the door and took in the scene before her. “Tom, I told you to stay away from her.”, aunt Hilda chastised, grabbing Tom by his arm. He roughly jerked her hand away. “No, she ran away before we could actually talk this out. I made a promise to Lisa to help her understand and I will carry out her last wish.” “Well I guess she will turn in her grave then and I’ll happily let her do it.”, Mia spat before grabbing my hand and her bag, leading me out of the room. I followed her steps, dumbfounded. Tom blocked our path. “Mia let’s just calm down and sort this out. Please.”, Tom begged. “Sort this out? Really? When my mother forced me to abort our baby, where were you then? You didn’t want to discuss it. You didn’t want to talk to me then, so what changed now?” Holy Fuck, this was messed up. “Mia, you were young, we both were. Being in a relationship with your mother while you gave birth to my child would have been all kinds of messed up.”, he said and in some way I agreed with him. “True enough Tom, but I wanted that child. Neither you, nor my selfish cougar of a mother wanted to know what I wanted or cared about my feelings. Heck you both didn’t even care that I caught both of you fucking in my bedroom. Probably carried on after I ran out, sobbing like a maniac.” Tom let out an exasperated sigh and all I wanted to do was punch him in his face. No wonder Mia pushed love away. She experienced so much of heartache at such a young age. My protective instincts surfaced stronger than ever. “Look Tom. Mia and you all have been through a lot today. I should take Mia back to Hilda’s right now.” I say sternly, making it known that was it was not a request. Tom seemed to have realised my presence, even though I was beside Mia the entire time and he nodded, defeated, before leaving the room. “Here are my keys”, aunt Hilda says as she leaves the room after him. Mia shook violently as she stared at the ground, covering her mouth with her hand as she cried. I held onto her tightly, my own tears wanting to be set free at the knowledge of the pain she had to face. The pain she had hidden all these years under her happy facade. A type of pain that I could never fully understand, yet still hurt me because she had experienced it. I wanted it to go away and fuck it if she doesn’t love me back; I will love her because she fucking deserves it.