I heard him swallow hard in the silence of the bedroom. The tears were just pushing behind my eyes until it hurt. Why wasn’t he leaving?
“I’m losing my wife,” he said, his voice thick with emotion. “There aren’t many people who understand what that feels like.”
My heart lurched in my chest and I rolled over to face him. “I’m so sorry…”
“Is it true? That you never get over something like this?” His eyes were pleading with me to tell him otherwise.
I sighed. “Some days are better than others, I suppose. You see, my husband died unexpectedly. I never got to tell him goodbye and I think there has just been no closure for me. I holed up for a long time, living on what we had left. I found it hard to function and think straight. I stopped taking pictures because that magic had left and the world was just ordinary and ugly. But it’s funny how life happens. I came up here to capture some shots to pay my mortgage and I have spent my time so far revisiting places I had gone with him and reliving memories that I could never experience again. The loneliness I have felt at times here is crushing. But you know, spending the little bit of time with you has shown me that life is still here, but it isn’t waiting for me to make up my mind.” I paused. ” So if she’s dying, why are you here without her?”
He looked like he was trying to gather himself up. “We are here at her request. To live life for her in her final days. I wanted to be there to hold her hand when she slips away, but that was my wish…not hers. I chose a place that was small and remote, where I had less of a chance of paparazzi showing up, and where it would be relaxed and low-key. And then I met you. The fire in you has shown me there is more to life than this blackness I feel. But I can’t seem to escape it.”
My dream flooded my head as he mentioned escaping the darkness. I remembered how no matter where we went, it always found us and destroyed everything in our path. I heard a laugh come out of me before I meant for it to. Jack’s head snapped up, sending me a rude look.
“I’m sorry, Jack. I didn’t mean to laugh out loud…and I wasn’t laughing at you. It’s just that I have been running from the darkness too. For a long time. It-well, it always finds me and I don’t know how to make it leave me alone. I don’t have any answers for you, but it seems we are more alike than we ever knew,” I smiled, reaching out my hand to pat his.
I thought he would cry or let go of even one tear, but he didn’t. He merely got up from the chair beside the bed and left the room. I was so emotionally spent at that point that the tears had subsided and I felt fast asleep.
I couldn’t tell where I was. The ground was cold, it was dark out, and all I could do was feel my way along a brick wall. A voice came to me. It was shouting for help. I kept inching my way along the wall in the dark hearing the voice grow louder. I recognized the voice and I stopped to listen more intently. I shouted back, “Jack!” There were more pleas for help that came through that wall. I felt the panic and I felt like jelly, as though I couldn’t move very well. I asked him where the door was. It was like he couldn’t hear me.
Suddenly, a bright light seared my eyes and there was my husband, standing before me. His face held such adoration and love in it for me. I tried to hold him, to feel him again but I couldn’t move at all.
“Live for me, Ruby. I want us to sit and talk of your adventures one day. You are breaking my heart as I watch you give up. For me, please live your life!” he said and pointed to something behind me. “When you need me, I will show you the way.”
I turned my head to see a door in the wall. Then it all went dark again but I knew my destination. I had to see if that door led me to Jack.
Commotion woke me and I heard many different voices beyond the bedroom. Tidbits of my dream still floated in my mind. He had come to see me! It had been the first time since his death that I had seen him and he looked so handsome and youthful. I closed my eyes, willing the dream to continue, but it did not. But I could still hear him tell me to live life for him. That was the wish of Jack’s wife too, that he lived life for her. Was it the way of it then? That they will live on through us? If we sulk about in the darkness and always try to run from it, they can’t live on. But if we make it full and happy, they can still feel that energy and it makes them happy.
I groaned, disgusted with myself a little. It was just a dream.
There was laughter in the other room. Jack’s laughter. It sounded different somehow. Maybe a little less burdened?
I gasped when the door opened and he stepped inside.
“Did you sleep well?” he asked.
“Good. I’m going to step out for a bit with the kids. They have missed me and are tired of Davis,” he chuckled, his dark eyes alight with mischief.
“Okay…” I said and it came out a garbled mess of sounds. Clearing my throat and plastering a smile on my face I added, “Good.”
“Are you okay?” he asked casting me a sideways glance.
“If you need anything, here is my cell number. Call me right away,” he ordered and dropped the paper to the bedside table. Then, he was gone.
It was a crazy few seconds while I computed to myself that I was once again alone. Where I had begun feeling comfortable, I realized that I was still going at this all by myself. I had a sudden yearn to see my kids. I missed them. Seeing Jack with his kids and hearing them laughing made me jealous, just a little. I had left mine behind while I went out to take photos for a week. Granted, they were plenty old enough to take care of themselves, but I never should have left them.
And then I had another thought…since I lost him, I don’t really think I had been present with my kids. I was always hiding behind sorrow and living in the shadows. My actions had robbed them of a mother and I suddenly felt very guilty. I needed to go home.
I sat up slowly and climbed out of bed, a slight feeling of vertigo washing over me as I moved. After poking around briefly, I found my bag. The one that had been in my apartment. Puzzled, I bent to grab it when Jack blew back in the door. I froze and just stared at him.
“What are you doing?” he asked, breathless.
“Well, I decided I’m going home,” I replied standing up again. My palms began to sweat and I started feeling rather green in the gills. “What are you doing here? I thought you were headed out?”
I feared my voice sounded needy in a way, but he just blinked his eyes in disbelief. “I- My sunglasses. I left them on the table just there,” he said. “You can’t go yet. You are not fit to drive at all, Ruby. Let’s go tuck you back in so you can rest.”
I turned around again to take my bag and the lousy floor started to tilt beneath my feet, the room swirled about me and I fell to my knees, my hands bracing me against the movement.
Jack was by my side in a flash. “You okay?” he was asking me.
It sounded like he was talking to me through a door. And then it happened. I threw up all over the floor. I wished the floor would open up and swallow me whole. I wished at that moment that I would disappear and he would never see me again.
“Oh snap,” I groaned and the tears just fell. Tears of shame and embarrassment, not tears of grief or sorrow. “I’m so sorry.”
Jack just lifted me in his arms and carried me back to the bed. He brought me some water to wash away the taste of vomit from my mouth and handed me a pill from a bottle by the bed.
“This should make you feel a little better,” he smiled and smoothed the sweaty hair from my forehead. “It is I that am sorry, Ruby. But I think the clouds are coming on and we will just move our festivities inside for the day. Make it a movie day.”
I shook my head to the negative and my stomach began to lurch again. “You have fun things to go do, Jack. Take those kids out there and enjoy it!”
“We have all the time in the world. A few more days won’t hurt.”
“Don’t shut yourselves in because of me. Go! Have fun!” I tried to shout.
“But you are a part of our lives right now. I can’t just leave you when it was my car that brought you here…and not in a good way. You are more important than that.”
“I am just baggage. You have plenty already on your plate. You don’t need more,” I said slurring my words as the pill began to work.
“Good night, Ruby,” I heard him say before I succumbed.