She stepped out of the car and out into the frigid, evening air. It was December 21st- the first day of winter. It was a dark, dismal, and dying day in the Midwest.
The sky was beginning to blacken. She was all alone, walking in the cemetery. While most folks she knew were out Christmas shopping, having fun, spending time with family and friends, or attending holiday parties, she wasn't. Her steps lead her to the grave of her beloved child.
Her hands trembled as she reached out with a gloved hand, tracing the letters upon the granite stone. "It shouldn't be this way," she whispered as she knelt on the cold and fragile grass of her child's grave. "You shouldn't have died."
Red roses dropped from her hand, falling before the stone onto the earth, just as the tears fell from her sorrowed eyes. So many tears shed, but they wouldn't bring her child back. "I'd do anything... ANYTHING to have you back," the woman murmured.
But she knew it wouldn't happen. She'd never see her child again. And deep down, she knew it was all her fault. "We shouldn't have had that fight. We shouldn't have argued. I shouldn't have let you go to that party," she quietly sobbed. "I'm sorry. So sorry. Please forgive me."
She was begging as her finger traced the letters, engraved into the stone.
CHELSEA. Her daughter was gone.
A chilling wind rushed through the cemetery, sending icy shivers down her spine. The tears seemed to have hardened into bits of ice upon her face. She let out a long tortured sob. It was wrong... SO wrong that that she had to spend so much time at her daughter's grave. She should have Chelsea for Christmas. She wanted her daughter back.
Leaning against the headstone, Billie continued to cry. The cold didn't matter anymore. It was nothing compared to the empty, frozen space in her shattered heart. She'd stay here forever if necessary. She'd beg God to bring her little girl back.
"You don't need her, God. I do," Billie whispered fiercely. "I can't lose her. Not again."
She was putting the final touches on the Christmas tree when the doorbell rang. For days she had put off the decorating knowing her husband was in mourning. Their marriage was floundering and it was breaking her heart. He'd already suffered so much... why did he have to lose his daughter?
She pulled the door open, seeing her husband's cousin standing on the front porch. "Justin," she said in surprise. "What brings you out on this cold December night?"
"You," he said as he stepped inside the house. "I have been worried about you, Hope."
"Me? Why would you be worried about me?"
"Because I know you. You're my best friend. Ever since Chelsea died, things haven't been the same between you and Bo. It's killing you," Justin said knowingly. "I came to talk. You need to get it off your chest-."
"I don't want to talk," Hope said as she crossed her arms and turned away.
"What's going on?" Justin asked. He wouldn't back down. He wanted to help Hope through her pent-up emotions. "You need to tell me. You need to let it out."
Hope turned back to Justin, her beautiful face contorted in pain. "I've lost my husband. I've lost Bo," Hope replied.
She hated that Justin knew her so well. She couldn't conceal anything from him. He knew her moods, the good ones and the bad. He knew that their current situation was causing her great distress.
"Bo's been through loss before. He's going to be okay," Justin said gently.
"Not this time. He's- he's not the same and I can't reach him."
"Where is he now?"
"At the 'Heart, I presume, getting drunk. That's all he does anymore. He drinks too much. He seldom comes home to me and Ciara. He's hurting... he's hurting so much."
A single tear leaked from Hope's eye, wetting her cheek. Justin's gaze filled with tenderness as he drew her into his arms. "It's going to be alright," he said as he held her, caressing her hair.
"No, it won't."
In her heart, she knew it. She'd lost Bo. Their marriage was dead. It perished the minute his daughter died. They'd lost Zach. They had suffered. But this was different and she knew it. This was the kind of pain in which Bo could not recover. He was spiraling down into his doom. Who would save him? He wouldn't let it be her. Her husband had cast her aside.
Snuggling in Justin's embrace, Hope's tears dried. "Do you want me to find him?" Justin asked.
"No. I want you to stay with me. I want you to hold me," she whispered.
He brushed his lips across her forehead. "Done," he replied.
Swiftly, he was becoming drunk. He was at the Cheat'n Heart, downing a glass of whiskey. It was like fire, moving through his blood. It would seem it was the only thing keeping him warm on that December night.
*I should go home,* he thought. *To Hope and Ciara.* But he couldn't. He didn't want to get cold. It was freezing outside, but in truth, the ice was in his heart. Once it melted, he would crash. He'd have to face the truth- His daughter Chelsea was dead. She had been only eighteen years old. Far too young to go.
To drown out the pain and the cold emptiness, Bo reached for another drink, letting the liquid slide like fire down his throat. It burned, but the heat was good. It meant he was alive. His daughter was dead, but he had survived. Just barely.
"What do you think you're doing?" a gruff voice said.
Bo looked up from his glass of alcohol to see his brother-in-law, Steve Johnson. Steve was scowling as he saw Bo's condition. His family was worried about him. Lately it seemed he spent all his nights at the bar. He'd been drinking what remained of his life away.
Bo gave Steve a dirty look. It quickly faded to be replaced by a quirky smile. "Haven't you ever seen a guy have a few drinks before?"
"Hell yeah, but lately I have seen you have far too many drinks. You need to lay off the whiskey, dude. You have a wife and kid to think about."
"Why aren't you home with your wife and kid?" Bo countered.
"Because she sent me here to talk to you. Let's talk."
Bo set his glass of whiskey down on the bar. He stood up from his stool to leave, but his steps were slightly uneven. He turned away from Steve and headed out of the Cheat'n Heart.
"Where do you think you're going?" Steve asked as he followed after him.
They were standing outside in the evening's chilly air. "I am going home to Hope now," Bo said as his keys jangled in his hand.
"I won't let you drive in this condition," Steve said firmly. "Give me the keys."
Steve reached out to swipe the keys out of Bo's hand, but Bo was too fast. "Why? Because you don't want me drunk and dead, at the side of the road like my daughter?" he asked in a snarl.
The two men stared at each other and Bo realized suddenly that they had gotten down to the heart of the matter. Chelsea. Chelsea's death was the reason for Bo's drunken state.
"Yeah, that's exactly why," Steve said, letting out a heavy sigh. "We loved Chelsea; all of us did. She was young and beautiful... and she left this world far too soon. We don't want anything to happen to you."
They ended up at the dock near the Fish Market, staring out at the river. The wind brought crashing waves to the shore. As the icy air touched his face, the warmth of the booze wasn't enough to heat his tortured heart.
"I can't do this," Bo said in a pain-filled whisper. "I can't do this again."
"I am here for you, man. You have family. Everyone cares about you. We won't let you go through this alone. But you gotta talk to me. You can't keep it in. Come on. Talk to me... Tell me what it is that drives you to drink every single night."
Bo couldn't stop himself. He blurted out the words.
"It's Billie," he stated. "I can't do this. Can't see her pain. Whenever I see her, I want to get drunk... I want to drown out the pain. I can't take this anymore. We just need her back. We need Chelsea. We need our daughter."
Bo dissolved into painful sobs as his brother-in-law tried to comfort him. "I'm here to help," Steve said. "We'll get you through this. I promise."
Bo tried to believe him, but he couldn't. All he could see was Billie in his mind's eye- Billie breaking down at their daughter's grave after the burial, Billie with dark circles under her eyes, Billie with all the life gone from her expression, and Billie packing up all of Chelsea's belongings while crying her heart out. When Chelsea died, she took Billie with her. Nothing Bo ever said or did would take away Billie's pain; not even an ounce of it. He'd lost her. He'd lost Billie.
"I have to help her," Bo said to Steve. "But it's going to take something drastic."
Steve stared at Bo with a strange expression. "What the hell are you talking about?" he asked.
Only the wailing wind answered him back. Bo was looking out at the water with the expression of a man condemned. He knew he was going to have to take the jump. He better sober up and get ready.