Nick pulled the car to a stop, letting the breath leave his body in long sigh before moving to get out of the car. This was the last place he wanted to be and it was certainly the last place she needed to be. When he’d returned from taking Christian to playgroup, he’d thought it was odd that she wasn’t home, but he hadn’t gotten worried—at least not really worried—until it started to get dark. That’s when he’d started to call her phone. Again and again it went to voicemail. He’d sent her texts with no response. He’d called Jack, Billy, Michael, Lauren, and everyone else he could think of that might have any reason to know where she was. Then it hit him. He knew where she was.
He stood at the doorway. Part of him would be relieved to see her here, to know that she was safe, but part of him was terrified to see how he would find her. He slowly slid his hand into his pocket to retrieve the key.
“Phyllis,” he said softly, his eyes surveying the room. He rushed over to her, afraid from his immediate impression that she might be hurt. “Phyllis,” he repeated, the urgency in his voice eliciting a slight response from her.
“Just go, Nick.” It was desperation, almost pleading. She had crawled into the dark hole he knew so very well and now she just wanted to stay there. She wasn’t interested in being pulled out. He knew that feeling too, that instinct.
He looked down around her. “What is all this?” He asked the question even though he didn’t need to. He knew exactly what it was. Summer’s face stared up at him from every age. Phyllis had always been diligent about taking pictures, believing that capturing the memories of her childhood would give them happy things to look back on in years to come. No one could have guessed they would become memories so soon.
“Pictures,” she breathed, her voice slurred and shaky. “It’s all I have left now…is pictures.” She reached down, her hand clutching one.
Nick closed his eyes, his heart paining as he saw the image. He remembered that day. It wasn’t anything extraordinary—just a random day in their life. Summer was sitting on the floor, playing with blocks and Phyllis was working on the computer. For whatever reason, Summer suddenly crawled up on the sofa and snuggled in beside her mother. It was at that moment, Nick sat down beside them and snapped an impromptu family photograph.
“You remember this?” she asked, tears streaming down her face.
He nodded. “Yeah. Those were good days. Really good days.”
“We didn’t have enough.”
“I know.” He reached out to try and comfort her. “I know…it’s never long enough.”
“No,” she yelped, jerking away from his touch. “We didn’t have enough good days. We didn’t give her the life she deserved. We were so damn selfish. We couldn’t even stay a family…we couldn’t even give her that.”
“Don’t do that.” Nick looked over, the sight of two bottles beside her. “Phyllis,” he began. “How much have you had to drink?”
“What does it matter?” she huffed.
“It matters because it isn’t going to help anything. It won’t make anything better. Trust me. I’ve tried it all and it doesn’t make the pain go away.”
“Something has to.”
“Nothing will. I promise you. The only way you get through it is to go through it. You can’t drink your way through it. You can’t blame your way through it. You just have to deal with it. It sucks, but it’s the way it is.”
“I’m not strong enough.” The words came out in broken sobs now. “I can’t.” Her eyes rose to meet his, the anger that he saw present mere moments ago now turning to fear and desperation. “I can’t go through it. I won’t be able to stand it. I feel like someone is literally ripping my heart out.” She raised her body up to her knees, moving towards him, reaching out to him. “Please tell me how to make it stop.”
He shook his head, pulling her close to him, feeling her body shake with sobs as he finally relented and let his own tears fall. “I can’t make it stop,” he whispered. “I’m sorry.”
It could have been minutes or even hours, he honestly had no idea. Time no longer had any meaning in grief like this. She had been the one to pull away.
Phyllis sat back down, her hand reaching for the bottle closest to her. She took off the cap with shaky hands, not bothering with a glass, simply taking a long drink straight from the bottle.
Nick shook his head. “You feel better?”
“Not yet,” she sighed.
“You won’t. That’s not going to help.”
“I just need to not think about it. Just for a little while. I need this aching to stop. I can’t go through every moment of every day missing her. I can’t play this over and over and over in my mind because if I do…if that’s what I have to do, it’s going to make me crazy.”
“Hey,” he touched her arm softly, his eyes still burning with the possibility of tears. “I’m here. I’ll help you.”
“You’re not in here,” she sobbed, pointing to her head. “I hear her voice all the time. I dream about her. I think of all the things I should have done…all the things I should have said…all the things I did wrong..all the horrible things…and now I’ll never have the chance to fix anything. I’ll never have the chance to say anything else to her.”
“Don’t do that to yourself, Phyllis. Summer knew you loved her. Everyone knew that.”
She was quiet for a moment. “I know,” she sighed. “I know she knew I loved her…I just…it doesn’t make the pain stop.” Her eyes met his again. “What does, Nick?”
His hand touched her face softly, wiping away the tears that seemed to be in unending supply. She leaned against him, her body trembling. He didn’t answer. He had no answers.
“You’re shaking,” he said quietly. “Have you eaten anything?”
“I’m not hungry.”
“That doesn’t matter. You’ve got to eat something. I’m gonna..” He stopped as he felt her hand tighten around his. He looked down, surprised to see her eyes staring directly into his.
“Please don’t go,” she said softly.
Nick nodded, swallowing hard as he sat down on the couch and gently pulled her up to sit beside him. “Alright,” he said quietly. “I’ll stay….but no more drinking.”
“Ok.” Phyllis stared at him intently, her eyes barely blinking as they weighed heavy on his. “I think you’re right,” she whispered. “I don’t think that’s going to help. I don’t think that’s going to make me feel better, but I think you can help me.” She didn’t wait for him to ask, she simply leaned forward, her lips pressing against his.
“Phyllis, Phyllis stop.” His hands gripped her shoulders, firm but gentle—“This isn’t going to help. This isn’t even what you want.”
“I want to feel something—anything other than the pain I’m feeling right now.” Her eyes stared into his again.
The pain he saw there was so familiar. She knew him so well. They could talk. They could cry. They could scream, but it wouldn’t change anything. They’d still feel the pain—but for a moment, they could forget—they could be what used to exist—even if only for a moment. He let his hands fall, his body relaxing, his eyes closing as he felt her lips fall on his again.