by slodwick

Thanks to my loving betas! Y'all rock!

        "They say that promises sweeten the blow
        But I don't need them, 
        No, I don't need them

        I've been treated so wrong,
        I've been treated so long
        As if I'm becoming untouchable

        I'm a slow-dying flower
        In the frost-killing hour
        Sweet turning sour, and untouchable

        I need the darkness, the sweetness,
        the sadness, the weakness
        Oh I need this 

        I need a lullaby, a kiss goodnight, 
        angel, sweet love of my life
        Oh I need this
                - Natalie Merchant
        We deceive ourselves when we fancy that only weakness needs support.  Strength needs    it far more.
        - Madame Swetchine

I wake up earlier than usual. I don't know why. Or maybe I do.

I stay in bed and stare at the ceiling for something like an hour. My eyes are sore, raw from strain and tears I haven't cried. I listen as the rain falls against the window of my room. Just thinking about you. Feeling both sad and angry.

And trying not to be either.

It's funny how the even the air in the house feels different now that you're gone. It's heavier, thicker somehow. The colors are dimmed, duskier than I remember.

It's harder than it should be just pulling myself out of bed. It's warm and quiet in here. Safe. Cocooned in this shelter, I can pretend nothing is different. That nothing has changed.

But that's not an option. Not today. Today is all about facing reality.

Pulling on a t-shirt, I can hear water running. The shower. So, Mom's awake, too. Soon she'll be heading down to make breakfast, fixing way too much food, like always. Far too much, especially now that it's just us.

Just us.

How can I do this? How could you do this?

Slipping out the door into the hall, I can see into your room, like any other morning. On this morning, though, I stop.

Really look.

The bed is made, meaning Mom either made it before her shower, or she slept in the guest room. Probably the latter. Your reading glasses are on the nightstand, on top of that book Mom got you for your birthday that you could never quite finish.

I can see your shirt draped over a chair. It's the one with the blue stripes and the tear in the sleeve. You were wearing it the last time I saw you at the store, I think. The last time I saw you in public. The last time I saw you standing.

So many last times.

Now I wonder if I ever really saw you.

It feels like I'm moving in slow motion.

My suit is new.

Bought it for today, in fact. It fits me, but not like it should. The jacket's too big.

Before, I would have just worn one of your suits, but now that doesn't seem right. The closet in the hall still smells like your cologne, and Mom seems afraid to go near it. Can't blame her for that. I'd avoid it, too, but we forgot to buy new dress shoes.

Looking in the mirror, I can see how much I look like you. I thought we were so different.

I hear Lana arrive. She waits patiently downstairs with Mom. I can hear their subdued conversation drifting up the staircase. Mom always liked Lana. I'm not sure I can talk to either of them right now, but I'm grateful she's here.

Maybe Lana can give Mom something I can't. Maybe she has answers I don't have. Maybe she has insight into this.

You left her here alone. Both of us.

How are we supposed to go on without you? Where do we go from here?

The rain is still falling.

The service is filled with so many people. So many familiar faces.

Several of the store employees speak to the congregation. They share memories and stories of you. They admired your honesty and hard work, as do I, but also your humor and warmth. A side of you I never got to see.

None of them have spoken to me directly. They seem uneasy and unsettled around me.

Am I in charge now?

Lana sits quietly beside me, her fingers intertwined with mine. It's a comfort. Her hand is warm and solid. Real. Here.

She offers a tissue to Mom as we rise to follow the casket. She tilts her head to my shoulder, and places her hand on my arm as we walk. She prepares to open the umbrella as we approach the door.

She's so strong, and so calm. She grounds me. A part of me loves her for it.

And a part of me hates her for it, too.

I have no idea who is standing around the plot. I don't hear the priest. His voice blends into the softly falling rain, a subtle peaceful cadence. None of them matter, really. This isn't for them.

It's for Mom. And me.

I can't force my eyes to look anywhere but your grave. Your coffin is all I can see, filling my vision and mind. I saw it. You're in there.

In a coffin.

Hovering over that hole in the earth. Floating. Suspended. Like you're somehow lingering between worlds. Not here anymore, not yet really gone.

The lilies are sharply stark against the dark wood. I can see the rain running off the sides like tiny rivers.

Mom holds my free hand, and squeezes hard enough to hurt when the priest turns to her. She's close enough that I can hear the sobs catching in her throat, but she's so strong. Nothing less than the most courageous woman I can imagine.

This isn't fair.

You should be here for her. It should be you comforting her, not me. She steps forward, placing her small bouquet of white roses and some other flower I don't know on the casket. So gently, like they might bruise.

Lana brought them for her. I knew she would help. This is something she knows. She understands this. Loss. Grief. Mourning.

Maybe it seems more real up close, because Mom's eyes are filled with the worst kind of pain when she turns to look at me. That hits me hard. I've pushed it down, but now can feel the sorrow eating at me. Something a hundred times worse than tightness wraps around my chest, and I can feel my face twisting.

Oh, God. Mom.

She pulls me into an embrace, and I press a gentle kiss to the top of her head. I can feel her shiver as she cries, and I pull her closer. She's always been so strong for you, and for me. It's only fair that I do this for her. Let her cry, let her say goodbye to you.

Then maybe I can, too.

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