Steel Journeys Origins, Part 3:
Dr. O’Reilly got up from his desk and came over to her once again.
“Where do I sign for the autopsy?” She asked.
“Are you sure you want to do this now? It can wait if necessary.”
Abby shook her head. “You think I want to come back here? No. I’ll sign now.”
The doctor inclined his head to one of the nurses, who went and gathered the necessary paperwork. He offered Abby a seat on his rolling chair but she refused.
“Is there anything I can do for you or your family?” He seemed sincere, and yet the words felt hollow. There was nothing that could be done and they both knew it. Those were just the words people say when they want to seem caring, but they don’t know how. It was a stupid, obligatory dance, choreographed over time by helpless humans looking for a way to cope with grief.
Once again, Abby shook her head. He explained the process and that the bodies wouldn’t be released to the funeral home until the autopsies were done, probably in a few days, so there would be time to make the arrangements. She listened carefully, squinting, forcing her mind to focus on his words, which were likely to be forgotten as soon as she walked out of the emergency room.
She signed the papers and one of the nurses offered to take her back to the conference room where Jake and Lauren were waiting.
When the door opened Lauren looked up at her, hope brimming through her tears, but one look at Abby’s red, swollen eyes and she buried her face back in Jake’s chest.
“Where are the kids?” Abby asked Jake.
“They’re with my sister. She’s going to keep them overnight.”
Grace spoke softly. “I’m going to give you all some time, but my office is just across the hall if you have any questions. You can use this room for as long as you need.”
Lauren continued to cry and Jake did the best he could for her, but clearly, this wasn’t the place to calm her down.
“I signed the autopsy consent. It will be a few days before we know anything. I think we can go now.” Abby looked at Jake and he nodded his understanding.
Grace had a folder in her hands that she handed to Abby. “All the information you need is in this folder, including my card. Please let me know if there’s anything at all I can do for you.”
“Come on sweetie. Let’s go home.” Abby knelt down to Lauren’s level and reached out her hand. Lauren held onto it and allowed Jake to help her up. Abby pulled her sister into her arms and held her. They were suddenly all each other had left, and the weight of it was like a heavy, rain-soaked blanket.
Lauren rode with Jake and Abby followed. Her brain was processing multiple realities at once, and for the first time in a long time, she was glad to be sitting in a car instead of on her bike. She was barely aware of the other cars on the road. Luckily it was a short drive. They arrived at Lauren and Jake’s house about twenty minutes later. Kids were laughing and playing in the lawn next door as if the world hadn’t just crumbled around them. It felt more like floating than walking as they made their way inside. No one spoke a word, and Lauren immediately curled up into a ball on the couch, her head tucked into Abby’s lap. Jake covered her with a cozy throw blanket and went to make them both some tea.
He knew her well, and Abby was thankful that Lauren had someone in her life who was so caring and good to her. During the many times that Abby had gone traveling through North America, it was Jake who kept Lauren from coming out of her skin with worry. The kids kept them both busy and in a routine, and she knew that Lauren would eventually throw herself back into being a mom in order to cope with this loss. It wasn’t a bad thing. Her family needed her and she needed them. But today wasn’t that day. Lauren’s quiet sobs shook her delicate shoulders, and Abby just kept stroking her head absently, staring at the fireplace.
It was one thing to lose a parent. It was another thing altogether to lose them both at the same time. Nothing can prepare you for that kind of shock. It just hits you like a cannonball to the gut and leaves an enormous hole in the center of your being. Abby’s mind raced from thing to thing. Arrangements to be made, relatives to be contacted, a funeral to plan, a house to sell.
Did they even have a will? They must have. Their mother was entirely too organized to have it any other way. Her mind looped back to their lifeless bodies draped in white sheets in the Emergency Room. It didn’t make sense. How could they just drift off the road and not even try to avoid that tree? The grief began to settle deep into her bones and she laid her head back against the couch.
Just then her cell phone vibrated in her pocket. She let it go a couple of times but then thought better of it. Maybe it was the hospital again. She let go of Lauren’s head and pulled the phone out of her pocket, staring blankly at the screen.
“Who is it?” Lauren asked.
Lauren sat up. “Go ahead. Answer it. He should be here.”
Abby answered the phone, but immediately stood up and walked outside, sitting down on Lauren’s front steps in the late afternoon sunshine.
“Hey, babe! Just calling to say hi before the dinner rush.” He went on to talk non-stop about the new dish he was debuting on the menu and the arguments he’d had at the farmer’s market that morning with his favorite vendors (who were also his poker buddies).
She couldn’t blame him exactly. This was their normal way of communicating in the afternoons. He would get hyped up on coffee and adrenaline throughout the day and that was what carried him through the dinner rush.
She never even got to say hello. She just sat there, listening to him talk until he finally ran out of things to say. “You’re awfully quiet. Are you ok?”
There it was. Finally. An opportunity to speak, although she didn’t know what to say or how to explain. How did you give someone this kind of news? She didn’t know what to say, so she just blurted out the facts. “My parents. They’re dead.”
The phone was completely silent on the other end of the line. She waited for his heart to start pumping again. “What? Oh my God! What happened? Where are you?” The adrenaline kicked back in and he started talking fast again.
“I’m at Lauren’s, but—”
“I’ll be there in ten minutes. Just let me get things settled here.” He hung up the phone without giving her a chance to say more than ten words during the entire conversation.
She shook her head, setting her phone down on the porch, knowing then that she wouldn’t be moving in with him. That they wouldn’t be staying together. He was a good friend, and they cared deeply for one another, but something triggered in her. Something that brought her back to the last time overwhelming grief had come crashing down onto her life without warning. She sat there, absently rubbing the scar on her knee, reliving the night she found Trevor in the arms of her best friend. The gash had needed several stitches after she fell on a rock trying to run away from the horrifying scene. It was burned into her memory in the same way that her parents’ bodies now were. Maybe she hadn’t been right to insist on seeing them because now she could never unsee them.
She was still sitting there, staring at the grass, about ten minutes later, when Eric’s jeep pulled up. He jumped out of the driver’s seat, then stopped, realizing he was still wearing his chef’s hat and apron. He ripped them off his body, tossing them back in through the car window, and his long legs reached her in just a few strides. He slid in next to her, wrapping her in his strong arms in one smooth motion.
She let him hold her but felt limp inside. To his credit, he didn’t talk a blue streak. In fact, he didn’t say a word. He just waited until she was ready to tell him the story. Eventually, the words began to flow through the silence that stretched between them, and she told him as much of the story as she knew.
“I’m sorry babe. I’m so, so sorry.”
He rocked her and stroked her head the way she did for Lauren, and it felt nice, being cared for like that. She cried a little and he soothed her and kissed the top of her head, giving her time and space to sort through her feelings. Eric was good like that. He had truckloads of compassion, and never hesitated to put aside his own needs for hers.
“What can I do?” He asked.
“I don’t even know.”
“Ok. It’s ok. We’ll work through it together.” He grasped her hand firmly as if this new information had undoubtedly solidified the previous night’s conversation about moving in together. He was the kind of guy that would be there for anyone. Through anything. What exactly was wrong with that anyway?
They walked back inside hand-in-hand and found Jake sitting with Lauren on the couch. They were both sipping tea and Lauren still had tears in her eyes, but she watched them walk in and looked back and forth between them suspiciously. Jake stood and the two men shook hands as Abby settled back down into the couch next to Lauren.
“I’m not sure what to do next” Eric admitted. “Can I at least make us all something to eat?” Feeding people was what he did best. It was his way of showing love and support.
“That would be great” Jake replied. “Why don’t I help you?”
The two men disappeared into the kitchen and Lauren looked up at Abby, lowering her voice. “You’re really not in love with him, are you? I can see it all over your face.”
Abby just shook her head. “That’s not a conversation for now. I’ll deal with that part later.”
“He’s solid Abby. You need someone to take care of you.” Lauren always assumed everyone needed someone else to take care of them.
“Let it go. Please.”
Lauren nodded, then tears filled her eyes again. “I can’t believe this is happening. What am I going to tell the girls? How do we even plan a double funeral?” Her hand went to her mouth as the sobs came pouring out all over again and Abby pulled her close.