She pushed open the door slowly, her lips so dry she could hardly stand it. Her trembling fingertips gripped the banister tight, feeling somehow her legs might literally give out underneath her without the support. The lights were out in the living room, save a small overhead light in the kitchen. That seemed appropriate—the world should be dark.
Each step felt incredibly weighted and difficult and she headed to the cabinet to grab a glass.
She jumped, nearly throwing the glass across the darkened room. He was beside her before she could even process his presence.
“Sorry,” he said quickly. “I didn’t mean to scare you.” His hand rested on her shoulder in an attempt to steady her. Gently he took the glass from her hand. “We’ve got bottled water in the fridge.” He opened the door, the soft glow casting more light on the kitchen.
Just enough light…
“Here.” Nick turned to hand the bottle to her, noticing then that she was no longer looking at him. He followed her gaze to the wall, his heart sinking as he closed the door and moved to stand behind her. “Come on.” His hands were gentle as he led her into the living room, stopping to turn a lamp on before sitting beside her on the couch.
“I didn’t realize she was that tall when we were here.” She almost sounded far away, as if her words were coming from a place deep within her.
“Phyllis.” There weren’t words for this. He knew firsthand that nothing took this kind of pain away. There was nothing anyone could say or do to make this better. You simply had to go through it. If you were lucky, you had someone to go through it with you—and even then, it was hell…a hell he wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy.
“I used to rock her right over there. Do you remember?” Her eyes were wide as she looked at him. She was desperate to hold on to something, anything of her.
“Yeah. Of course I remember. You were a great Mom, Phyllis. Summer loved you.”
“I made so many mistakes…so many stupid mistakes.”
“We all made mistakes, but that doesn’t change the fact that we loved her and we would have done anything for her and she knew that. You have to know that.”
“I know she adored you. She thought the sun rose and set with you. From the moment she was born she had you wrapped and she knew it.” Phyllis smiled through her tears as she looked at him. “There wasn’t a child on the face of the earth that had a more devoted father.”
“Hey, she adored you too. In fact she was just over here the other day telling me how much she loved having you stay with her…how it was giving you two a chance to spend some time together. These last few months of you living with her really meant a lot to her, you getting to be there to help her with her business classes, the two of you hanging out at night—that was really special to her.”
“It was to me too, but now…I…” The tears rushed down her cheeks and she couldn’t find the words.
“I know.” Nick pulled her close to him, her head falling against his chest as he felt her body shake with sobs. There was a part of him that wanted to fall apart with her, but he knew right now she needed him and somehow that was helping him keep it together. “About earlier…”
She pulled back. “I’m sorry I ran off like that. It’s just I didn’t realize I was singing that song. It was her song and..” She felt the tears welling up again.
Nick nodded. “That’s just it,” he whispered. “That’s how you get through it.” He brought his hand to her face as he carefully wiped away the tears. “You get through it by loving other children. You get through it by loving other people. You get through it by not shutting yourself off and by not shutting down and by sharing the love that you have with people who need it.”
“I don’t think I can do that. I don’t even think I want to do that, Nick. I just want my little girl back. There are so many things we were supposed to do. There are so many memories that we didn’t get to make.” Her mind reeled as she thought of all the moments that would forever be left as dreams. “I was supposed to hold her graduate from college. I was supposed to see her get married. I was supposed to hold her babies.”
It was all too much to handle. “What if..What if this is my fault? What if this is my punishment for doing the things I’ve done? For living the life I have?” Her voice was becoming manic and she felt herself quickly becoming unspooled. “What if my daughter was taken to show me what a horrible person I am?”
“Phyllis, stop. Phyllis!” His hands gripped her shoulders with more force now and she saw the seriousness in his eyes as he stared at her. “I want you to listen to me.” Nick took a deep breath, loosening his grip on her slightly as he saw her face relax a bit. “You did not cause this to happen. Nothing you did had anything to do with this. This was a horrible, tragic accident. Everyone knows how much you love Summer. No one blames you for this and no one would want you to blame yourself.”
“I don’t know…I..”
“Stop it. Summer was beautiful and smart and strong and she learned that from you. You taught her how to be independent and brave. You taught her to love without fear or boundaries. You taught her to demand respect from people and to respect herself. You taught her to be confident. You taught her those things because you’re all those things, because you do all those things. You can’t quit on me now.”
He could see the question in her eyes and he knew the thoughts that scrolled through her mind. Everything in her wanted to quit, wanted to curl up in a ball and die right along with Summer, but he couldn’t let that happen.
“I know you want to quit. I know you don’t want to move on. I know the last thing in the world you want to think about is getting on with your life right now, but I need you….and the one thing I know about you for sure is that you show up for the people that need you. I’m asking you to be here for me now. I can’t go through this alone again.”
It was like a slap in the face as the realization hit. She’d been so wrapped up in her own grief that she hadn’t even considered his. Her eyes softened as she felt warmth poor into her again. “Nick,” she whispered. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t even thinking about you..”
“Don’t be sorry.” For a moment he said nothing, letting the room sit still around them. He felt her hand move to touch his and felt tears rush to his eyes. Until now, he wasn’t certain that he’d allowed himself to think, to truly process the reality of it all, but now, in the silence, it all seemed very real. He turned, to look at her, her eyes reflecting the same pain he felt. “I’m glad you’re here,” he whispered, squeezing her hand tighter in his.
She nodded, letting her head drop to his shoulder. “Me too.”