Conrad heads straight for my house to my slight disappointment. I had been hoping we’d go to his place for a little bit of quality time alone. He parks the bike on my driveway, and we hop off the bike.
“I thought we were going to go to your house?” I ask, not hiding my displeasure.
Conrad smirks and shakes his head.
“Not today,” he says as he starts towards my front door, but stops when he realizes I’m not following.
“I’m just...” he murmurs.
“Just what?” I press, curious about his strange behavior.
“Today’s not a good day, okay?”
“Just because I want to spend some time alone with you doesn’t mean we have to have sex,” I say.
Conrad sighs loudly.
“I know that Syd.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
Conrad turns around and walks back towards me. He takes my hand and directs me towards the patch of grass that lines my driveway and gestures for me to sit. I do, and Conrad sits down next to me. He pulls his long legs up to his chest and wraps his arms around them, then rests his forehead against his knees for a minute before turning his face to look at me.
“What’s going on, Conrad?” I ask, growing increasingly worried.
“I got a call from Doris today. She said my dad had taken a turn for the worse. I mean, I know I’ve been preparing myself for this because he’s lasted longer than they said he would, but now that it’s close, I’m not ready to lose him. We’ve come so far since I came back and now…”
He trails off, and his eyes go glassy. My heart goes instantly heavy, and I feel the pressure of tears behind my eyes at his heartbreak. I put my arms around him and hold him tight.
“Oh, Conrad. I’m sorry,” I whisper.
“He’s pretty much the only family I have now. I barely know my extended family, and they’ve never made any effort to reach out to me. Once he’s gone, that’s it; it’s just me again. I wish we hadn’t lost all those years when I took off in the first place.”
“You didn’t know this would happen.”
“I know, but all the same. So, I thought I’d rather spend some more time with your family today, okay? ” He says, looking at me again. I nod in understanding.
I see that his eyes are slightly red, and his cheeks are damp. Conrad quickly swipes his hand over his face and then runs them through his hair before standing up.
“So, what’s going to happen now?” I ask him as I get to my feet as well.
“I’m going to go to my dad's tonight, and most likely stay there for a few days.”
“Are you still going to New York on Thursday, then?”
“I don’t know. I have a gut feeling that the trip will need to be postponed for at least a week or two. The guys will understand, and anybody who doesn’t will have to get over it.”
“Okay. Do you want me to come with you?”
Conrad shakes his head.
“I think I’d better go on my own. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love nothing more to have you there with me, but I feel like this is something you don’t need to experience.”
“Don’t worry about me, Conrad. I just want to help you through this in any way that I can.”
“I know you do Syd, but I think I’d better just go on my own for now. If anything changes, I’ll let you know. Thank you, though.”
“Are you sure you even feel like hanging out with my family tonight? If you need to go to your father sooner…”
“No, I want to hang out here tonight. I need something upbeat right now, and I could go for the hilarity that is family game night at the Chase house.”
“Okay,” I say, “well tonight is charades followed by some random cheesy board game.”
“Sounds like the perfect thing to cheer a guy up.”
“Okay, but I’m warning you, I suck at charades,” I say with a light laugh, trying to be positive for him.
“Thanks for the warning, but I think we’ll do just fine.”
Conrad smiles and then grabs my hand before we head into the house.
On Wednesday evening, around seven, I get the heartbreaking news when Conrad texts me.
That’s it? That’s all he writes? I press dial, but he doesn’t pick up. I try a few more times and still nothing. I understand that he’s upset, so maybe right now he doesn’t want to talk to anybody, but I wish he would speak to me. I reply to him by text instead, even though I feel like this would be a better conversation in person.
*I’m so sorry, Conrad. What can I do? I wish I could hug you and kiss you right now. Can we please talk?
*It happened this morning. I’m just at his house right now, filling out some paperwork. Trip to New York postponed until next Thursday. Most of the funeral arrangements have already been made. It’s on Saturday. I’m pretty tired, so I’ll call you tomorrow. Goodnight xoxo.
I frown at his message. He must be a wreck. I think he’s trying to be strong and hold it together, but he doesn’t need to do it for my benefit. I wish I could go to him right now — an idea forms. Maybe I should just go. I think if I told him, he’d tell me not to, but only because he believes that I couldn’t handle it. Well he’s wrong, and I want to show him that I am there for him no matter what, whether he tells me he needs me or not. Decided, I grab my small duffle from my closet, pack a few things, and head downstairs.
After telling my parents what was going on, they whole-heartedly agreed with my going. They asked about going to the funeral, telling me they’d like to be there for Conrad as well. I told them I’d let them know the details by Friday. After grabbing my dad's GPS, I set the address and prepare for the drive to Conrad’s father's house.
I drive slowly and carefully, as I’ve never done the drive because Conrad always did. I make it there in a just over an hour, pulling onto the long and dark driveway leading up to the mansion. Once I reach the house, I pull up in front of the multi-car garage and kill the engine. I step out of my car and look around. The house looks mostly dark except for one room lit up downstairs. Not sure if anyone else is here with Conrad, I climb the stairs and stand on the front porch before I pull out my phone to text him since it’s kind of late, and I don’t want to disturb anyone by ringing the doorbell.
*I’m here. Can you come outside?
I press send and wait. One minute later, the door opens. Conrad stands before me, appearing bewildered by my presence.
“What are you doing here?” he gasps, his eyes wide.
“You don’t have to go through this alone,” I say.
Conrad steps towards me and takes me by surprise by wrapping his arms around me and lifting me, hugging me tightly and burying his face into my neck. I hear him sniffle, and his chest shakes. I wrap my arms around his neck and stroke his hair. Without lifting his face from my neck, he steps into the house and closes the door behind us. When Conrad pulls his face away, I’m about to speak but am cut off by his lips on mine. His kiss is almost desperate. I kiss him back fervently, knowing I made the right decision to come here to him.
Conrad shifts me so that I’m cradled in his arms, he reaches for my bag on the floor, which I dropped when he grabbed me, and he heads towards the stairs, climbing them with purpose while still not removing his lips from mine. We eventually reach his old bedroom, where he sets me, and my bag down.
“I can’t believe you are here,” he murmurs, grabbing my hand and pulling me towards his bed.
“I had a feeling that you needed me more than you were letting on.”
“I did, but I didn’t want to pull you into all this.”
“Conrad, I want to be here for you. It’s okay to admit when you need help.”
“I guess I thought I was protecting you.”
“You don’t have to do that. I can handle this. Tell me what’s going on?”
Conrad sits down heavily on his bed, and I sit down next to him. I examine him then. He’s wearing a pair of baggy, well-worn sweat pants and an old, wrinkled white t-shirt. He looks drained and sad.
“Well, luckily, he had his funeral arrangements all taken care of since he knew this was coming. All I had to do was make the calls to the family and send out a notice. Doris helped me with most of that since she knew what to do. Dad’s lawyer will be here in the morning to discuss the Will.”
“Were you there with him when he passed?”
“Yes. It was just Doris and I. He went pretty peacefully, thank god.”
“Is there anything I can help with?”
Conrad smiles slightly.
“You’re doing it by just being here. Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”
“Because I knew you would tell me not to.”
Conrad swallows hard.
“I love you, Sydney. Thank you for this.”
“I love you too, Conrad, that’s why I’m here. Now, I think you need to get into that bed and get some sleep.”
“That might be possible with you here,” he says as he shuffles up the bed and crawls underneath the covers.
I stand and head over to my bag and pick it up.
“Are you getting in here?” he asks me, holding the blankets open.
“I will, I just want to have a quick shower,” I gesture to the en-suite, “I feel kind of gross after the car ride.”
“I’ll only be ten minutes,” I assure him before ducking into the bathroom.
I quickly strip and hop into the shower. Just as I’m about to wash my hair, I hear the bathroom door open and see Conrad walk into the bathroom. Without a word, I watch as he strips his clothes off. My heart pounds in my chest as he climbs into the shower with me. I move so that he can join me under the hot water. Conrad steps under the water, and I watch the water stream down over his naked body. He closes his eyes and just stands there. I take this as the first opportunity to take care of him. I reach for the bottle of body wash and squeeze a big dollop onto my hand and lather it up until it's nice and foamy, then I start washing him, starting with his chest. Conrad opens his eyes slightly and peers down at me. He doesn’t say anything, but he smiles and lets out a contented sigh. I continue my task, making sure not to turn it into something else.
“Turn around,” I order softly, and he does.
I wash his back, massaging his shoulders even though I have to reach up because he’s so tall. I then grab some shampoo and reach up again to reach the top of his head. Conrad realizes what I’m doing and drops to his knees so that I have complete access. I take pleasure in meticulously massaging his scalp, eager to help him relax. After a rinse, I repeat the action with the conditioner.
“You have no idea how good that feels,” he murmurs.
“I’m glad,” I say.
Suddenly, Conrad is on his feet, and I’m pinned against the tile by Conrad’s body. His skin feels hot and wet and wonderful against mine. He bends and kisses me before turning me around so that my chest is pressed against the tile. I realize what is about to happen- in the shower! Surprisingly, we’ve never done it in the shower before.
Before I can think about it any further, it’s happening, Conrad is lost in me, and I’m happy to have been able to distract him from his sadness for even a minute.
Afterward, we are lying in his bed. Conrad is wrapped around me, passed out hard, and snoring softly near my ear. I smile at his peaceful face and snuggle in even closer to him. I can’t imagine how he must feel right now, what he’s going through. It’s then that I’m hit with a heavy dose of realization. All the doubts and fears I’ve ever had about him leaving me are ridiculous. Right here, right now, as I lay here in his arms, I realize just how much he does love me and even needs me? I know he’s said as much, but now I’ve seen it. In the way he was so happy to see me. In the uplift in his mood at my being near him in his time of sorrow. I know we will make it. We have to.