It was exhausting to love him. Each conversation felt like pieces moving on a chessboard. Who was to take the king this time? Was it her move or his? Could she hold his attention? Keep him hanging on her words? Could she convince him that she really did love him—that he was all she ever wanted?
He was a beast, a brat. But he was her brat. And she was wise to his game. After all of this time, she’d had no choice but to get clever or to cave. So she smiled when he got that restless look in his eye and she pulled a new trick from her arsenal. She’d wondered at times if he was truly worth the effort. But then he’d give her that smile, you know the one, the sexy smile brimming with mischief? She’d do anything for that smile.
But it was more than that. It was a million little things; the way he said her name, or the way he laughed, the way he was so sure he was always right—even when he wasn’t. It was everything about him. He excited her; awakened things in her that she hadn’t known existed. He challenged her and didn’t let her get away with anything. He nagged her, teased her, and made her laugh. He was the sun she readily soaked up.
She stroked his hair away from his brow, fighting back the tears as he lay weak and dying in the hospital bed. The room stunk of sterile metal. The stroke had been devastating—it ravaged his body taking his voice, taking his strength, taking all but the twinkle in his eyes. She leaned forward and kissed his brow. Sweet Jesus, she loved him. It was killing her to watch him wither away like this. She wanted him to stay—to live forever—or at least out live herself. But he was her elder; it made sense that he’d go first.
She watched the light dim each day she came to see him, until one day she simply refused to leave. He’d point angrily at the letter chart, insisting she go. But she wouldn’t budge. She sat next to him, defiantly holding his hand, her gray hair swept up because she knew he’d hate it. Then just before he closed his eyes she’d taunt him with a secret. She’d give him a hint, but refuse to explain until the morning.
It was her way of ensuring he’d be there when she awoke the next day. It worked for awhile, his curiosity giving him the will to endure. But eventually even that didn’t help. He kept fading. He told her she was selfish and should just let him go. Fresh tears would fall, because she knew he was right. He was all she loved in the world and when he went there’d be a crater where he’d been. Besides, he owed her for all those years of mental gymnastics. He could hang on just a bit longer, couldn’t he?
But he couldn’t. Everybody dies sometime. He died at 3am on a Friday. She raised a bottle of smooth Southern Comfort to her lips in his honor. And then she poured it down the drain. He drank too much anyway. She cried. She collapsed on his chest and sobbed. He wouldn’t drink too much anymore. There’d be no more rotten Sundays while he worked the booze out of his system. Still…she’d give anything for one last crappy Sunday.
She kissed his forehead again, stroked his cheek, and then she whispered her greatest secret in his ear. It was a secret she’d kept from him for thirty years. But it was too late. He’d never hear it. He’d never be able to obsess and over-analyze it. She wiped away the tears and laughed. She wouldn’t live forever. She’d hear all about it soon enough.