November is always a hard month for me to get through. Maybe that's why the bleak story. This one broke my heart to write, proofread and post. But, when a story grabs on and won't let go, I have to put finger to keyboard and get it out of my system.
He felt like he was suffocating, but it hurt to draw in air. Despite the fact that he was surrounded by people who cared about him and wanted to help, he felt absolutely alone. All he wanted to do was curl up in a ball and fade away. Instead he forced himself to acknowledge everyone who approached and pretend he was actually listening to their words. He shook his head in all the right places and allowed them to wander off feeling as if they had helped.
How could they? None of them really understood. They had never suffered like he was now. They hadn't lost everything to the sound of a shattered vial. They hadn't had their heart ripped from their chest, bloody and broken, by something so small, it was invisible to the naked eye. They hadn't been left to rattle around an empty apartment filled with useless toys, games and magic tricks because of an accident.
A gentle hand reached out to cup his cheek, forcing his eyes upward. Soft moss green eyes held his gaze firmly. He tried to nod or smile or something, anything, to break contact. Without a word she linked an arm through his and drew him away. He was no match for her strength, not that he had the will to try very hard. She pulled him down the aisle and out the door.
He felt the first stirrings of curiosity fill his mind as she continued to walk them across the parking lot to a small park. He was shocked that he was feeling something other than heart wrenching grief for the first time in a week. He was both angry and grateful for that. When they reached a trio of swings she gave him a gentle push toward one. She settled in the one beside him and allowed her feet to swing slightly.
He waited for the platitudes of sympathy. And waited. And waited.
Finally he looked over at her. Tears glistened in her eyes as she looked up at the cloudy sky. Silently she reached out a hand between them. He placed his in hers hesitantly and waited. Still, she stayed silent. After a moment he faced forward again. It was a couple of minutes before he realized he was finding it easier to breath. He still hurt. A hurt so intense, he felt like he was one second away from shattering, but at least he could breath. Almost an hour passed before she stood. She waited patiently for him to rise as well. They walked back across the parking lot and re-entered to church.
It was getting late, and he was unable to sleep. He couldn't bear to go into their bedroom, much less sleep in their bed. He was pouring his third cup of coffee when there was a knock on the door. He considered ignoring it, certain it was some well-meaning friend with yet another casserole or the offer of a shoulder to cry on. Better to get it over with, he decided.
He walked over and opened the door. He intended to thank whoever it was, and send them away. Once again he found himself frozen in place by soft green eyes. Wordlessly he stepped back and she stepped inside. She looked around the apartment and nodded to herself. He watched her take off her jacket and hang it up. Then she walked over to the closet and pulled out a crate of cleaning supplies. Before long he was washing dishes and she was cleaning the windows.
They worked in silence for hours. At some point he sat down on the couch to rest a moment. When he woke up it was almost noon. A blanket was tucked around him and a plate of bear claws sat on the kitchen counter. The coffee pot was set up and just needed to be turned on. It brewed while he showered. He was on his third bear claw when he realized they hadn't spoken a word all night.
He couldn't pinpoint the moment. No matter how hard he tried, he had no idea when he started to heal. He still hurt. Some days were worse than others, but there were moments when he could face the world without anger.
Every day she came by, even if it was only to drag him outside to collect his mail. Sometimes she forced him to eat. Sometimes they simply sat on the couch and watched TV. They rarely spoke beyond a hello or goodbye. As the weeks passed, he grew to appreciate her company.
Then came the day he spent an hour working on a satellite communication array without feeling the need to throw up. A few days later he joined the others for lunch. He cringed when he saw the concern in their eyes. Talk turned to the upcoming university fund raiser and he left as soon as he had eaten. But it was progress, right?
That evening she showed up, dressed not in her usual jeans and tee, but in a dress. She pulled him into the bedroom and picked out some clothes for him. He knew better than to argue. She drove them to a pizza place near the university. Amy and the guys were already there. He gave her a small smile when he saw relief in their eyes.
Beloved wife, daughter and friend.
The world is a little bit dimmer without her light.
Howard placed the bouquet of roses in the small vase, then ran his hand over the inscription carefully. He sighed and stepped back a little. "God, I miss you," he whispered. "Five years wasn't nearly enough, Bernie. I know you worry, but I'm…dealing." He smiled slightly.
"Believe it or not, I owe it all to Penny. I don't think… No. I know I wouldn't have made it through without her. She has been my rock. Losing you…" he cringed as pain washed over him again, "it hurt us all. Even Sheldon, if you can believe that. But Penny was there. She kept me going when I had no idea what to do. I don't know if I'll ever stop hurting so bad, but I can get out of bed. I can go to work. I can go see the guys."
Howard squatted down and pressed his palm over her name. "You are my heart and soul. I will love you until I take my last breath."
He squared his shoulders and opened the door without knocking. He almost grinned at the surprise on her face. He stepped in really close and wrapped his arms around her tight. "Hi," he whispered into her hair as she hugged him just as tight. He released her and she stepped back, inviting him in. He took a seat on the far end of the couch and ran a hand through him hair.
"I don't know where to start," he said softly.
"Then don't," Penny said simply.
He bit his bottom lip, knowing he couldn't just leave it as it was. "How did you know?" he asked in a voice barely above a whisper. "How did you know I needed the quiet? Of all our friends, how did you know what would help me most?"
Before Penny could answer a door opened in the hallway. They both looked over as Amy and Sheldon came into view. They were debating where to go for their date and didn't notice Penny's open door or the two people inside. Howard started to repeat his question until he noticed the look in Penny's eyes as she watched Sheldon and Amy go down the steps.
With a soft, pain-filled sigh Penny turned back to him. "I know what it's like to lose the love of your life."
The last year had been a living hell. He was nowhere near normal. He doubted he ever would be. But he had his friends. He had his work. He looked around 4A and met those moss green eyes again. They watched him steadily, with just a hint of the grief she felt. He couldn't resist offering her a silent salute. She smiled gently before turning back around to listen to something Amy was saying.
Most of all, he had Penny. She understood his pain, because she felt her own. Some days he had trouble deciding which of them was worse off. Him, never able to see or hold Bernie again, or her, confronted each and every day with her heart's desire and seeing him hold someone else.