“It is, though. I honestly didn’t know you were serious about calling you Mr. East until you replied to my next email. Therefore, my response was meant to be comical, but obviously it didn’t come off that way. I crossed a line I shouldn’t have crossed, and I apologize for that. I feel like you’re giving me a huge opportunity with this job, and it means a lot to me. I don’t want to blow it, and I’m sorry if I was rude or snappy. I take this position seriously, and I hope you know that.”
I nodded once because I didn’t really have anything else to say.
“And Mr. East?” she said as she combed one hand through her hair.
“I am sorry, you know.”
“Yes, Eleanor. You’ve already stated that.”
“No, I mean…for your loss. I don’t think I’ve said that to you yet, and I just wanted you to know. Everything I’ve heard about Nicole shows she was a wonderful woman, an amazing mother, and I am so unbelievably sorry for your loss. I know it doesn’t do anything, but I am, you know. I am sorry.”
I took a moment to look at her, to really see her. I hadn’t done so since she arrived for the job interview. Her hair was light brown with gentle waves. It was much lighter than I remembered. Not that it mattered, I just happened to notice. And her eyes… Her eyes were still those dark brown tunnels they’d been when we were children. They were still shaped like a doe’s. They were still beautiful. And now they were staring at me as if I were the saddest man alive. She made me so uncomfortable with her pitiful stare.
Deep in those eyes was a level of care and concern I didn’t think I deserved. I was rude to her, cold for reasons I couldn’t even untangle in my own head, but still, she looked at me as if she’d forgiven me for a harshness I hadn’t found the courage to apologize for.
After all this time, Eleanor still cared, and her apology was the sincerest thing I’d ever heard.
“Thank you, Eleanor.”
I started to walk away then paused my footsteps as stupid grief began to fill me up inside once more. I hated how it showed up whenever it wished to. I hated how it swallowed me whole, and then spat me out.
Everything in life was harder without Nicole.
Every breath I took stung a little more.
I didn’t know how to explain that to Eleanor.
I didn’t know if she’d even care.
I brushed my fingers against the back of my neck and cleared my throat. “We were young,” I told her, making those brown eyes look my way again. “When we had Karla, we were young, and I didn’t fall into the father role easily, but Nicole…” I paused, feeling her name on my lips. Even after all this time, it was hard to say it without feeling as if the sky was falling. I took a deep breath in. “She did everything so effortlessly. It was as if motherhood was something she was made for. So, what you’ve heard from others is true. She was a wonderful woman, and the most amazing mother in the whole world.”
Eleanor’s eyes watered over and she nodded, understanding how hard those words were for me to speak.
I wondered if she could see it: the crumbling pieces of my soul.
“If you ever need someone to talk to…” she started, but I shook my head quickly.
I had crossed a line by sharing that small bit about Nicole, but I just hadn’t been able to help it.
I just needed her to know.
The whole world deserved to know what an exceptional woman my wife had been, and the whole world needed to know that we’d lost something so damn special the day she went away.
I’d made a mistake thinking Greyson was the same playful boy he was when I used to know him. Ever since our email exchange, I did my best to keep conversations with him professional—not that we were engaging in many chats.
Over the next few weeks, I learned so much about the Easts as individuals.
Lorelai’s bedroom walls were covered with artwork she’d created. There wasn’t a day where she wasn’t lying on her stomach, kicking her legs in the air, drawing her next masterpiece—with her butterfly wings on her back, of course. She had an imagination bigger than the whole world. With just our minds, we’d be in South Africa, running with lions, and then the next moment we were in Hawaii eating fresh pineapples.
Lorelai also wasn’t afraid to hold full-blown conversations with her mother. They happened every single day. Sometimes I’d walk in on her having talks with her mom like she was right there beside her. She also put a placement at the dining room table for Nicole on Mondays, because Mondays was always spaghetti day. Spaghetti had been Nicole’s favorite meal.
I loved that about her little heart, how she kept her mom close to her.
We had that in common—our daily conversations with our mothers.
Then there was Karla, my new best friend in a Go away, Eleanor kind of way. I couldn’t even learn about her based on her room, because she didn’t have anything in there other than the computer that sat on her desk. The walls were empty, and the shelves didn’t hold anything on them. The only spark of personality was the Do Not Enter tape plastered all over her closet door, with signs written in sharpie warning STAY AWAY.
In a way, that summed her up completely.
Lastly, there was Greyson, though I hardly saw him.
He was never really around long enough for me to read him. I only had my past memories of who he used to be to go by, and truthfully, I hardly saw those sides of him come through. Even when they did, they were so few and far between. It was as if he tried so hard to not show any emotion, and when it slipped out, he was quick to pull it back in.
Not only did he keep his distance from me, he kept it from the girls. Even when he was around, it was as if he wasn’t truly there. He seemed so checked out from reality, I was surprised he was able to even complete his daily work tasks. Yet, that seemed to be the one thing he excelled at doing. Greyson was a professional workaholic, and he took that role seriously.
If he wasn’t on the phone talking business, there was a very good chance he wasn’t talking at all.
He and Karla were so similar in many ways, so cold and distant, but the difference was that Karla was mean while Greyson was not. He was just insanely lost.
Whenever Lorelai and I had dinner in the dining room, I swore Greyson and Karla went out of their way to avoid coming anywhere near us. They simply grabbed their food and went to their own personal spaces.
Like father, like daughter.
I didn’t think too much on it. They wanted their space, so I gave it to them. Most of my focus went toward Lorelai.
She was the blessing at the end of hard days. There wasn’t anything that could keep that young girl from laughing. In a house full of darkness, she was the light that flooded each room.
Each evening after dinner, Lorelai and I would pretend we were dragons flying into a new world where our only job was to make people realize that dragons were friendly creatures. It involved a lot of jumping up and down and roaring, of course, something we both were fans of.
One night as the two of us played in Lorelai’s room, our volumes reached a new height as we laughed and laughed at Lorelai’s new, deep guttural roar. Tears rolled down her cheeks from laughing so hard, and every time she tried to catch her breath, she laughed harder.
Those were my favorite moments with children—the wild ones.
As the two of us lost ourselves, we were interrupted by a loud bang on the bedroom door. We all looked up to see Greyson standing in the doorway with a stern look on his face. The laughter faded away as we all noticed the seriousness in his eyes.
“Hi, Daddy,” Lorelai said, her voice lower than before.
“What’s with all the noise?” he scolded, his brows knitted together.
I cleared my throat and smoothed out my clothing. “Oh, sorry. We didn’t know you were home. We were just having a great round of—”
“A word, Eleanor,” he hissed, cutting me off. “In my office.”
I stood taller, chills racing over me.
“I would like a word with you in my office,” he repeated, not waiting for me to reply before he walked away. I took a deep breath before turning toward Lorelai. Her eyes were widened and she appeared shaken by her father’s aggressive arrival.
“Is he mad because we were loud?” she asked, her voice quivering. Her shoulders slouched forward, and I could see the worry in her eyes. It was as though she’d let her father down in some way.
The shame of it all was that if anyone was letting someone down, it was her father who wasn’t showing up for his daughters.
“No, honey. Your father and I had a meeting scheduled, I just forgot about it.” I pulled her into a hug, and she hugged me back tightly. I savored the sweet embrace. “Now go get ready for bed, alright? I’ll come check on you soon.”
She nodded and hurried off to pick out her pajamas. I headed to Greyson’s office, where the door was wide open.
“No offense, but did you really need to barge in with such a tone? You scared Lorelai half to death,” I stated as I walked in. He was pacing the length of the room, clasping his fingers together as his chest repeatedly rose and fell heavily.
“Where do you take her?” he snapped, completely ignoring my comment.
“Where do you take her?” he barked once more, this time his voice louder, scarier.
I took a step backward, unsure of what he meant.
“I don’t know what you’re asking me, Grey—”
“Mr. East!” he hollered, making me take more steps backward.
He was fuming, and I had no clue why. I’d never seen him so upset. For the most part he just coasted on a nice wave of detachment. In this moment, though, he was mad—livid, even.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, trying hard to not take his temper personally.
“I received an email this afternoon asking for an update on Karla. It turns out she hasn’t been to school in weeks, specifically since you’ve been driving her. So tell me, where have you been taking her?”