Phyllis sat at the bar, her hand clenched tight around the glass. Scotch. At some point, wine seemed pointless and the scotch, as silly as it might sound, reminded her of him. She closed her eyes as she took a drink, relishing the burn at the back of the back of her throat—the physical pain a welcome distraction from the gut wrenching sorrow that threatened to swallow her whole.
This had become the pattern. She’d go to the grave site, and talk to him as if he’d somehow hear her. She’d swear that this time it would bring her some closure—that this visit would make it seem real, that she’d feel him leave her in her soul, but it never happened. She still waited to see his name on her phone when it rang, still expected to see his face when she opened a door, still reached out her arm to his empty side of the bed.
The crying jags were fewer and farther between now—the tears never brought her any real relief—only puffy eyes. She sighed, finishing her drink. One was her limit—a rule she’d set for herself months ago. She had responsibilities. Pulling a bill from her purse, she laid it flat on the bar, smiling sadly at the bartender as she headed towards the elevator.
“Sorry I’m late.” Phyllis stepped into the room, hanging her jacket on the hook by the door as she stepped into the room. She smiled at the young woman who sat across the room lazily thumbing through a magazine.
“It’s no problem,” she smiled. “She went down about an hour ago. A dream as always.”
Phyllis smiled, taking a step closer to stare down over the edge of the bassinet. “She really is.” She paused for a moment, marveling at the sheer perfection of her sleeping daughter. “Thanks again for coming by on such short notice.” She pressed the money into her hand. “I wouldn’t trust just anyone with her, so I really appreciate you being available.”
“It’s no problem. I wish all my nights were this easy. Call me anytime.”
The room was quiet save the sound of the door closing as she sat down in the chair beside her sleeping little girl. There was a time she wasn’t sure how any of this would end, a time she was terrified at the concept of having a child—especially one with a man no longer here. She’d found out she was pregnant two weeks almost to the day after Billy’s accident. To say it was a surprise would be an understatement. She’d long since given up the idea of having a child, especially after all the difficult she’d had trying to conceive with Jack and the issues she’d experienced with Nick.
To some, it was a miracle. To her, it was a cosmic slap in the face. How could she be happy about this? How could she be happy about anything in the face of the most overwhelming, all consuming pain she’d ever experienced. Her own life was still in shambles. She still woke up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, screaming in anguished terror. It still seemed as real as it had the night it happened.
She could still smell the smoke, feel the heat of the flames, hear the sounds of glass shattering. She could hear the shouts of the emergency workers as they warned everyone to get back. She could feel the arms on her, holding her back, keeping her from running towards the car like she wanted to. “He’s in there!” she’d screamed—over and over—louder and louder, but they still refused to let her go. And then it didn’t matter. Her ears rang for hours after the explosion. They’d taken her away, to a small diner near the scene.
Time was no longer a concept she recognized and it could have been minutes or hours or even days –but she sat there, staring at the cup of coffee in front of her—and waited. The officer that came to speak to her was short, she remembered that, and he had a scar above his right eye—she wondered how, but she didn’t ask. It was strange—the things you remembered.
He’d placed a clear bag on the table before turning to her and opening his mouth to ask her the question, but he didn’t need to ask. One look at her face was the only answer he needed.
Michael had been the one to take her to the doctor, though she’d resisted. Finally, after he promised he wouldn’t leave her to be drugged into oblivion, she relented and agreed to go in conceding she hadn’t been feeling well and could use something to help her sleep.
It had also been Michael to drive her home and sit with her in her apartment as she cried for hours. “How, Michael? How am I supposed to do this?”
“I can’t answer that,” he said softly, “but if you think about it, you did want another baby, right? God works in mysterious ways…maybe this is what you need right now. Something good to focus on.”
“I wanted another baby to raise with the baby’s father. Jack and I were going to have a baby. Nick and I were going to have a baby. I never planned to have a baby on my own and I certainly never planned to have a baby that would remind me every single day of a man I….” Her voice broke, tears streaming down her cheek. It was her worst fear realized. The thought of looking into a child’s face and seeing Billy every day. “God-Michael—What if I resent this baby? What if looking at this child never brings me anything but pain?”
Phyllis took a deep breath, the warmth of the hotel room relaxing her body. She stood slowly, taking another quick peek at her daughter. “Goodnight, sweet Grace,” she whispered, stroking her arm gently.
“Could I get a cup of coffee please?”
“Sure, regular or decaf?” Esther called out, back to the counter, as she feverishly worked to fill orders at the back counter.
“Regular,” he said gruffly..”Don’t get the point of decaf,” he mumbled.
Esther smiled, giggling a little as she filled the cup and turned around. “Well, caffeine really does a number on…” The glass slipped from her hand and crashed to the floor.
“Esther?” he said, his eyes widening as he looked at her. “What are you doing here?”
She stammered. “I…I…I could ask you the same question, but I’ve got to get this cleaned up first.” She looked back up at him, pointing her finger at him accusingly. “Don’t you go anywhere until I get back.”
He nodded, leaning back a bit on the bar stool. Though he might have been a way for a while, it was comforting to know that some things never change.