That was where I felt her most—near the water. It was as if somehow she’d cheated death and landed within the waves.
On the day of the funeral, I walked by to see Camila forcing Dad out of bed. “There’s going to be a lot of days when you are down, Kevin,” she assured him, “but not today. Today you have to get up.”
Somehow, she convinced him to get out of the bed and to get dressed. I was thankful for that.
It wasn’t a big funeral, just the four of us. The service took place right there on the beach near the water.
It was what Mom had wanted, a celebration near the waves.
As I stood in the sand, my chest tightened when I saw a certain boy walking my way. The closer Greyson grew, the more confused I felt.
“Hi, Ellie,” he said with the saddest eyes ever.
“What are you…” I glanced over my shoulder toward Shay and she gave me a smile that was meant to reassure. I looked back to Greyson. “What are you doing here?”
He gave me that small smile I’d missed so much and shrugged a shoulder. “You would be shocked by how easy it is to book a plane ticket with your parents’ credit card. Sorry I’m late. My taxi driver got lost.”
I leaped into his arms without any thought. Without hesitation. Without words.
Luckily, he didn’t need words. He wrapped me in his arms and held me tight.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “She was the best.”
Yes, she was.
We walked over to the shore right as the ceremony was about to begin. In my left hand was Shay’s hand, and in my right, Greyson’s. Every time my body began to shake, they kept me steady. My stare stayed on Dad the whole time, but he didn’t look at me. He hadn’t looked at me in days. I tried not to think too much about it.
I knew he was hurting, and I knew I had Mom’s eyes. I could hardly look at myself in a mirror without tearing up.
Afterward, we were given Mom’s ashes, and we took the urn inside and set it on top of the mantel. That was where it’d stay until we figured out where to spread the ashes.
I snuck off to my bedroom to get a breath of air, and it didn’t take long for Greyson to find me.
“Are you okay?” he asked, standing in the doorway.
“No, not really.”
“Do you want to be alone?”
He walked over and sat on the edge of the bed with his hands gripping the side of the mattress. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I know I keep saying it, and I know it doesn’t do anything at all, but I am. I’m so sorry, Ellie.”
He placed his hand on top of mine, and so many feelings raced through me. I knew in my heart he’d always be one of the most important people in the world to me.
“Thanks, Grey. That means a lot.”
“I just wish I could do more.”
If only he knew how much just being there meant. That was enough.
We lay down in bed facing each other and didn’t really say much, because there wasn’t much that needed to be said. He was there, I was there, and we were us.
“He doesn’t plan to go back,” I whispered, my head resting on the pillow.
“My father. I heard him talking to Camila. He’s thinking about selling our house back home.”
“But I thought…I thought you guys would come back. I thought you’d be coming home.”
“Yeah…I thought that, too.”
The fairy tale part of me had thought I’d go back to Illinois, had thought Greyson and I could fall back together. I figured I’d be going to college up there, and even if we hadn’t gone to the same university, we’d be close enough to at least be with each other.
But, fairy tales aren’t real, and the reality of it was that I couldn’t leave my father, not when he was as broken as he was. If he was staying in Florida, I was going to stay right there with him. I’d made a promise to my mother, and I had no plans of breaking it.
“I just thought we’d have the summer, at least,” he said softly as he placed his hand on top of mine. “But it looks like we only have now.”
“I’m sorry,” I whispered.
“Don’t be. Now is enough.”
“You go home tomorrow?” I asked after Greyson yawned, which made me yawn, too.
“Yeah. Pretty early. Camila said she’ll take me to the airport,” he told me.
“How long will I be sad?”
He shrugged his shoulders before he combed my hair behind my ears. “For as long as it takes. There’s no rush to be happy, that will come when it’s ready.” I yawned again, and he smiled. “Get some sleep, Ellie.”
“You’ll stay with me?” I asked.
He moved in closer and wrapped his arms around me. “I’m not going anywhere.”
I slept awful that night. My sleep had been bad since Mom passed away. I’d randomly wake up from panics, in sweats, after twisting and turning nonstop.
When I awakened, Greyson was there to soothe me. He held me tight as I cried against his T-shirt. He told me it was fine to break, because he was there to pick up every broken piece of me.
“Still here, Ellie,” he whispered as my head lay against his chest.
He was still there.
When morning came and it was time for our goodbyes, I wasn’t ready for him to go. Truth was, I’d never be ready to say goodbye to him.
He held me in his arms, and I held him back. “Thank you for coming.”
“Thank you for everything,” he replied before whispering against my ear. “You have her smile. Did you know that? You have your mom’s smile.”
That made me hold him even tighter.
“What now?” he asked.
“I don’t know.” I didn’t have a clue what happened next.
“We’ll keep in touch, yeah? With email? Or you can call me? Or anything…”
“Of course, but also, I want you to live up college.”
“And you live up your life down here, too.”
“We’ll check in,” I swore. “On the good days and the bad.”
“Always. Especially on the bad. When the hard things happen, we lean on each other. Okay?”
“Pinky promise?” I held out my hand.
He linked his pinky with mine. “Pinky promise.” He slipped his hands into his pockets and swayed. “I don’t know how to say goodbye to you, Ellie. I don’t know how to let you go.”
“No need to let go. I’m always here.”
He moved in closer and enveloped his arms around me. I fell into him the same way I always did—effortlessly. Our foreheads touched, and we took our breaths together. In that moment, our timing was right. He was there, and I was there, and we were one.
“I love you, Ellie,” he whispered as his lips hovered ever so close to mine. “I know it’s bad timing, and I know I probably shouldn’t say it, but I love you. I love everything about you, even the parts you think are too sad to be loved. I think those parts are the most beautiful. I think all the parts of you are perfect, and I just wanted you to know that you are the first person I’ve ever loved, and it’s easy to do it. It’s so easy to love you.”
Tears rolled down my cheeks and I smiled because I knew. “I love you, too, Greyson. Every single part of you.”
How could I not? He was him, and I was me, and we were us.
“Would it make it harder to walk away if I kissed you?” he asked.
“Yes.” I moved in closer, so close that his lips were millimeters from mine, so close that his breaths out became my breaths in. We were so close that my mind had already decided it was going to be the best goodbye kiss of my life. “But do it anyway.”
And then he did.
FROM: [email protected]
DATE: September 24, 8:54 PM
Sorry it’s been a while. College is crazy, and there’s something going on every single day. Parties don’t only happen on the weekends. They’re on Tuesdays and Thursdays, too. Also on Mondays and Wednesdays. Every single day.
Classes are harder than high school. There are a lot of times I’m not even sure I can keep up with the work.
How are things going for you? And work? You started nannying for that new family, right?
You said you’re picking up a few night classes at a campus, right?
Did you hear about this new website called TheFacebook? It’s only for college students, but it’s kind of cool. It’s a new way to connect to people. You should get on it. I’ll make sure to be your first friendship over there.
I’m mostly on that now, instead of AOL instant messenger, but I still keep signing on to see if you’re around when I have free time. You never are. Night classes don’t help any. Let me know if you have any free time this week for a phone chat and maybe we can schedule it in?
FROM: [email protected]
DATE: September 26, 7:21am
SUBJECT: Re: College
No need for the apologies, really. I knew you’d be busy. Every time I get to hear from you is always good in my book.
Things are going well so far, but I have to admit it’s a little hard working full-time and going to school part-time. I feel like whenever I do get a break, all I want to do is go to bed and sleep until the new year.
On the plus side, the kids I’m nannying are very fun! They keep me on my toes, and it keeps me busy. If I’m not busy I have to be around my dad, and he’s way too sad to be around.
I wonder if he’ll ever get back to normal. The more time that passes, the more unlikely it seems.
I have my night class on Tuesday and Thursday, but maybe Friday night? Call me then?
FROM: [email protected]