The car gently slowed to a stop. Phyllis lifted her head to look through the window. Every motion seemed to take such effort as if she were wading through quicksand.
“Where are we?” she said quietly, her eyes darting over towards Nick for a moment.
“I had to stop for gas.” Phyllis hadn’t said a word since they left the morgue. At first, he’d tried to talk to her, but after a few minutes he’d decided to let her have her silence. He’d never seen her like this before and if quiet was what she needed to help her deal with these first few hours, he could respect that. “Do you want anything? Coffee? Water? Something to eat?”
She shook her head.
“Ok,” he sighed. “I’ll be right back.” Nick walked towards the brightly lit station, glancing back at the car before he entered. Her head had dropped back down, her chin now resting on her chest once again.
She jumped slightly as the door opened, having been lost in her thoughts for longer than she realized.
“Sorry,” he said quietly, holding out a bottle of water towards her. “Just in case you change your mind.”
“Look, Phyllis…I was thinking—where do you want me to take you?”
“Back to Sum…” She stopped herself, her eyes filling with tears almost immediately. It wasn’t Summer’s apartment any longer. “Back to my place,” she said softly.
“Maybe that’s not such a good idea.”
“Nick, I don’t want to stay at the Club…I want to be in my own place. I don’t want to be around all those people.” The last thing she wanted was a bunch of strangers whispering and staring. She’d been the subject of gossip long enough. She certainly didn’t want to be the object of their pity now.
“That’s not what I was suggesting. You shouldn’t be alone. What if you..”
“Don’t even suggest it,” she snapped. “Jack and I are finished. I’m not going back to that house. I’d rather be alone than be with him.”
“I wasn’t suggesting that either. I thought maybe you might want to come stay at my place..with me.”
“Look, Phyllis, I know what you’re going to say and I know it’s probably not the best idea in the world, but you don’t need to be in that apartment alone. Summer’s things are there and you’re going to be there thinking about her without anyone to talk to.”
“But Nick…me being with you at your place…your family will.”
“It’s not their call to make.”
She sat back in the seat, surprised by his sudden assertive nature. In the past, she’d seen Nick stand up to his family over some things, but to do something that would almost certainly send them into a tailspin was not his style.
“I just don’t want to deal with all that drama…I can’t…not right now. I can barely even think about putting one foot in front of the other and…” Her voice trailed off. Anytime she even attempted to think about going on with her life she became overwhelmed with the thoughts. Summer had been the best part of her. Since her separation, they’d become more than mother and daughter, they’d become friends and not having her in her life…
“There aren’t a lot of people who can say I know how you feel and really mean it,” Nick said quietly. “It’s the club no one wants to be a part of, but I do…I really do. I know what this feels like and I know there is another side. Right now, it’s hard to see it, but it exists. We’re always gonna miss her, but you can’t shut down. You can’t shut everyone out.”
The tears fell slowly down her cheeks and she didn’t move to wipe them away. There was something almost comforting about letting them fall—about knowing there was a physical symbol of her grief.
“Truthfully, me asking you to come stay with me is as much for me as it is for you. I’ve got Faith and Christian with me and I’m running on fumes most of the time. I could use another pair of hands and I’m betting you could help me out with that…not to mention the fact that we’re both going to need someone to talk to and who better to talk to than the one other person that really understands?”
She couldn’t argue with his logic. “Alright,” she relented. “But just for a while..until things calm down a bit. I’ll need to stop by Sum..” Her eyes closed almost immediately and she felt his hand warm on hers before she had a chance to correct herself.
“We’ll pick up your things,” he said quietly. “That’s not a problem.”
“Did you find everything you need?”
“Yeah.” Phyllis smiled as she walked down the steps. “You wouldn’t think a little girl could snore that loud.”
Nick laughed softly. “Yeah, you get used to it…it’s almost like a sound machine after awhile.”
“I look forward to that.” Phyllis walked over to the couch, taking a seat on the end as Nick bounced Christian up and down on his knees. “Trouble?”
Nick shot her a look. “This kid hates sleep. Literally hates it…I’ve never seen anything quite like it…and he’s pulling on his ear again which probably means another ear infection. I’ve got some drops upstairs. Could you hold him for a minute while I run up and grab them?”
Christian was already in her arms before she could nod. She glanced back to see Nick heading up the stairs. Phyllis smiled as she turned back, surprised to see the little boy’s heavy eyes looking up at her.
“You’re sleepy aren’t you?” she whispered. She drew in a deep breath as she gathered him in her arms and stood, swaying slowly as she hummed. Christian’s eyes dropped more and she smiled as she found herself singing the familiar words. “And you’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two…”
The sound of footsteps caused her stop and look behind her. Nick stood at the bottom of the steps holding the drops. “Told you we should patent the song,” he smiled, gesturing to a now sleeping Christian. “He’s out.”
The reality hit her like a slap in the face. “Take him,” she said, handing him over quickly as the tears burned her eyes. Phyllis hurried up the stairs and rushed into the guest room, closing the door and sliding down against it. She hit the floor just before the tears began to stream down her face.