That was crazy to me. I didn’t know if she was still the girl she had been back then, but I was so far from the boy she’d once known.
Life has a way of changing us, some for the better, most for the worse.
I was the latter.
Claire came back into the library, a bit out of breath but smiling. She was always smiling, even on the hard days. I looked away from her and turned back to the windowsill. The hardest thing in the world was looking at Claire’s smile, because it matched her daughter’s so much.
“I have a great feeling about this, Greyson. I think Eleanor is going to be a really good match for the girls,” she commented. “Did you know she lost her mother at a young age? That could be helpful for the girls.”
I didn’t reply. There wasn’t much to say, and I wasn’t one to engage in conversations that didn’t matter. Eleanor was the nanny. It was a done deal. There was no need to rehash it over and over again.
“She seems wonderful,” Claire commented, because she never got the hint when I wanted to be left alone. Or, perhaps she did, but she worried too much about what I went through when I was left with only my thoughts.
“She mentioned you knew each other? When you were younger?”
My body tensed up, and I fiddled with the cuffs on my suit. “Long time ago.”
“Yes, but it’s always nice to be reintroduced to someone from your past.”
I had no comment about that either. I didn’t know what it meant that Eleanor Gable had been the woman to walk into my library that afternoon. I hadn’t even allowed myself to really think about the concept of her reentering my life. All I knew was that she had the best resume out of everyone I’d seen that day, and I had more important work to get to back at my actual office.
I cleared my throat. “I have to get to work. I’ll probably be late heading home, too. After you pick up the girls, can you call in the babysitter to come over and watch them?”
Claire frowned, and I hated it.
She had her daughter’s frown, too.
I hadn’t known it was possible to miss a person’s frown until hers had been ripped away from me.
“Grey…” Her breathy voice spoke my way.
I turned to my right, and Nicole’s forehead lay on the exploded airbag.
I blinked my eyes shut as Nicole came rushing back to me. It felt more and more like drowning every time it happened.
Grief was strange, how it snuck up on you, how it showed up even when you tried your hardest to avoid it. I’d kept busy because I didn’t want to mourn. I didn’t want to face a world where she no longer lived, but the grief appeared quietly, at random moments, even though I tried my best to drown it out. It came at me sharply with the realization of what had happened. My chest tightened as pain flooded every part of my soul.
“Greyson,” Claire said, her voice soft and filled with concern as she placed a hand on my forearm, shaking me away from my darkness.
“Are you okay, son?” she asked, knowing very well that I wasn’t.
But I lied.
I always lied.
“I’m fine. I’ll check in later, and make sure Allison emails Eleanor with all the details about the position. Thank you, Claire, for showing up today.”
“Of course, sweetheart. I’ll always show up,” she promised.
She didn’t lie.
She never lied.
I inhaled deeply and pushed away the emotions trying to slip out from within me.
I wouldn’t allow the tears.
I didn’t want to mourn.
I didn’t want to feel.
I didn’t want to face the fact that she was gone.
So, I did the only thing I knew how to do. I went to work, and I drowned out the wildness of my mind that tried to swallow me whole every second of every day.
“You got the job?!” Shay exclaimed that afternoon as I stood in our apartment doorway fiddling with my fingers. “Oh, my gosh, we have to celebrate!”
“Um, yeah. I got the job.” I hadn’t really come to terms with it, actually. For the most part, I had walked around dazed and confused since I’d left Greyson’s house, wondering if what had happened had actually happened or if I was having some kind of psychotic break.
“I’m sorry, are you not happy about this?” she asked, raising an eyebrow. “Before the interview you were ecstatic at just the idea of it! What changed?”
“Oh, a lot,” I muttered as I walked into our place and shut the front door behind me. We’d been living together for the past two years now, and I couldn’t imagine living with anyone else. Shay was the yin to my yang.
I headed straight for the fridge and pulled out a cake. I could always count on my cousin stocking us up with the best sweets.
She did work at a bakery, after all. Even though it wasn’t her dream job, she loved it there. During the day, she was at the bakery, and at night, she was on her laptop writing screenplays. Shay was beyond gifted with the written word. She could spin words in a way that made one want to laugh out loud and sob all at once. She was just looking for her big break, and she truly deserved it more than anyone. Shay was talented beyond compare. I knew for certain someday she’d make it big in the film industry. One day, her name would be at the end credits of a blockbuster film.
I plopped down on the couch with a slice of cake and two forks. Shay sat down beside me, and eagerly accepted her utensil.
“A lot as in…?” she questioned.
“Well, I found out who my employer is,” I said.
“Oh, my gosh, is it Beyoncé?!” she squeaked. “I was just telling my mom how it has to be someone famous with the amount of money they offered up.”
“It’s not Beyoncé.” I laughed, thinking it was funny how my cousin and I had the same thought process. In many ways, it was almost as if we were twins. Our minds were always on the same page. “But it is someone we know…or, well, knew.”
“Shut up. What?! I’m freaking out now. Who do we know that has that kind of money?”
“Greyson, Greyson. Greyson East.”
Her mouth dropped open, and she gasped. “No. Way!”
“Thank you! That was my reaction, too. I guess he’s the CEO of his father’s whiskey company.”
“That’s insane. That is beyond insane,” Shay remarked. “Holy crap. So, how was it? What did he say when he saw you?”
“Um, nothing, really. He hardly spoke. It was weird, Shay. He was so…different, the complete opposite of the boy we used to know.” The Greyson I knew was so open and willing to express himself in every way possible. He spoke with such hope in his voice, and dreamed of a bright future.
The Greyson I’d seen in the library of a mansion was different.
He was someone completely new, and I didn’t have a clue how to feel about it.
“That’s so crazy. You guys were so close for a while, up until you moved to Florida with your dad.”
“Yeah. Honestly, he had such a big impact on me, but today he acted as if he didn’t even know who I was.”
“But he hired you. That has to count for something, right?”
“Maybe… I just wish you could’ve seen him. He was so…cold.”
“Cold like mean? Or rude?”
“No, not exactly...”
Greyson hadn’t exactly been rude or mean toward me. He’d just…been. It was hard to explain his whole demeanor. Calling Greyson mean felt disrespectful, yet calling him kind felt absurd. He’d just felt quietly intriguing, as if there were a million thoughts shooting through his mind, but he never let anyone else in on them.
“He’s just not the person I knew, that’s all. I’ll just have to get used to it, I guess. Either way, it’s going to be weird working for him.”
“Oh, gosh, working for your first love—I couldn’t even imagine that.”
“I’m still trying to picture it myself.”
Shay and I sat on the couch and settled in to watch some bad reality TV together. Once a week we cancelled all plans to binge terrible shows we DVRed. Our favorites were the dating competitions because they were so ridiculously over-the-top. Give us marathons of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, and we’d be happy for days. Yet, that afternoon it was a bit hard to let go of my thoughts. A big part of my mind couldn’t stop thinking about the new Greyson East. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like working for a man who’d defined such a big part of my life.
It had been over fifteen years since we said goodbye, a decade and a half of growth and change, ups and downs, and moving on. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about the boy that cold man used to be. I couldn’t help but think back to our first hellos and final goodbyes.
I wondered if he was thinking about them, too.
After Shay and I finished our TV binge, I headed to my bedroom to call my father. I sat on the edge of the bed with my cell phone in my left hand and a glass of wine in my right.
“Hello?” the deep voice said before he coughed a bit and cleared his throat.
“Hey, Dad, it’s Ellie,” I said, shutting my eyes. “I was just calling to check in on you.”
“Oh yeah, Ellie. I was going to call you, but I figured you were busy. How’s everything been?”
I grabbed a pillow and hugged it close to me as I bit my bottom lip. “Well, yeah. I mean, everything is good. How are you feeling? Did the stomach bug pass?”
“Oh, yeah. It was weird, but I’m feeling a bit better. My head was in the toilet all day and night, but I’m good now.”
“I’m glad to hear that. Have you been taking your insulin each day? I know you forget sometimes.” He’d been living with type two diabetes for quite some time now, and he was the worst at dealing with it properly. I used to get into screaming matches with him to try to get him to eat healthier. It got so bad that I would find soda cans hidden under the bathroom sink. I tried everything to get him to eat better, to lose weight, but it was a useless effort.