Authors Note: Thank Ninja-Gnome for the update.
The days were getting easier. Not better, not any less lonely. But easier. Manageable. Now, Leon could simply stand to get through a day. That was a victory in of itself.
After Leon and Grace moved back into their apartment, Leon decided to tighten up security on the entire flat. There was no way that Grace was going to get any more scares. That also meant no more scarey stories, movies, or any of that bullshit. He wondered briefly what Grace would do if she ever found out about hist past. What she would do if she knew how her father and mother met. How sometimes at night, he still could still hear soft scratching at his window, echoing faintly in his room.
Later that night, Leon told Grace that she could sleep with him. He knew that Grace didn't want to be around her room anymore, and that last thought meant that perhaps he might have to find a new place to live.
As he lay in his warm bed, he had almost forgotten how nice it was to have another body in the same bed with him. After almost seven years of sharing a bed with Claire, it was a hard habit to break, and Leon was reminded of the comfort he had once had.
"Dad?" Grace's small voice said to his back after he was just about to drift off to sleep.
"What, Grace? Are you still scared?" he had mumbled into his pillow.
"Do you still think about mom?"
The question, to him, seem ludicrous. When did he not think about Claire? Was there a moment in the day where he would see something exciting, hear something funny, and make a mental note to tell Claire about it, only to remember that she wasn't around anymore? When things like that happened, Leon couldn't help but slowly feel the depression sink slowly into his skin.
"Yeah, baby, I do," he said rolling over to face his daughter.
"Then how come you never talk about her?" She sounded so sad. Too sad for a carefree little girl.
"I – I'm not. . ." He wasn't really sure what to say. How do you explain deep emotions like this to a child?
Fuck off, Kennedy. It's not like she doesn't know loss.
"I guess it just hurts," he finally managed weakly. He knew it was a shitty answer, but he honestly did not know how to address Grace's question.
Grace, however, seem to stare thoughtfully at him. The look she gave him made him uneasy. Kids who were almost past their fifth birthday weren't supposed to look like that, like they knew more than adults. The idea quickly came to Leon as he realized that his daughter would probably be way more mature than most kids. That thought made him both proud and sad. Mature kids don't make lots of friends.
But still, she was staring at him, and Leon was starting to become uneasy.
"Sometimes. . .it's like. . .mom's here," she said softly. Leon raised his eyebrows.
"What do you mean?" Grace shrugged at his question.
"I don't know. . .I just feel like mom's here. It's like she never left. It's like. . ." she paused, " it's like it was before."
Leon thought about that time in the living room, when he stared at their wedding pictures, and for a small moment, he was almost positive that Claire was in the same room with him.
"I know what you mean, baby. I feel it, too."
Suddenly, Grace lifted her head off her pillow. Surprise and excitement washed over her beautiful features, and for a moment, her eyes sparkled with hope that Leon hadn't seen in months.
"You hear her, too?" she whispered excitedly. What the hell? Leon shook his head as if to clean out his ears.
"What?" he asked, confused. Grace rolled over on her stomach and propped herself up on her elbows.
"You can hear her?" Grace repeated as if he were the child. Then it hit him. She was messing with him. Oh, she was so much like her mother, but right now, he really didn't want to hear it.
"What? Grace – no – come on," he said flatly and rolled onto his back. It was silent for a moment, and then she spoke again, only this time she sounded indignant.
"I'm not lying!" There, now she sounded like a little kid. "I've heard her speak. I've heard her footsteps!"
With that, Leon pressed his mouth into a fine line and ran his hands over his face. What if she wasn't making it up? Not that she actually heard her mother. . .but what if she thought she had? She had lost her mom, maybe she was taking it harder than he had realized. He was sure that she probably wouldn't remember much about Claire because Grace was so young when she died. What if he was wrong?
"Sammy from across the hall called me a liar because I said I saw Mrs. Jones in the hall," Grace rattled on, "He said that she got taken to a place where they take care of fogies, but I saw her! I'm not lying! I'm not! I swear I saw her! And I hear mom sometimes!"
"Okay!" Leon rolled back toward his daughter and grabbed her hands. "Okay," he said, and she relaxed. "You're not lying."
"That's right," Grace replied as if to tell him to never doubt her again.
The two were quiet for quite some time. For a moment, he wondered if Grace had fallen back asleep, but then he looked over, and saw in the darkness that she was playing with her fingers as she pretended that they were little people. He smiled, and wondered if Claire had done that when she was a girl. Pain filled his heart as he knew he would never get a chance to ask her.
He missed her. He missed her so much. He missed her face. . .he missed her smile. He missed her temper. . .the way she scrunched her nose when she got angry. And he wasn't going to lie. . . he missed her body. But he mostly missed her. Her sense of humor, her witty comments as she made fun of terrible movies. He missed how cocky she could be in sports, but how shy she was when he told her loved her. He missed watching her play with Grace. He even missed her fucking snoring. But she was gone. . .and she was never coming back. It was an ache, and he now knew it would never go away.
Maybe. . .if he could just pretend. . .
"Grace?" he asked.
"Yeah?" she mumbled. He could tell she was still pissed off at him for doubting her earlier.
"When – when you hear mom, what does she say?"
"We don't really talk." At her words, Leon's heart fell. He was hoping that she'd have a better imagination than that. "I mostly hear her voice and certain words."
"Well, one time I was in my room wearing my pinky dress," Leon smiled, it was Grace's breakfast dress that Claire made her wear when they went out to breakfast with Jill and Chris. The dress was actually a bright, sunny yellow, but Grace called it her pinky dress. He wasn't really sure why, but he was sure that Claire knew. "I was standing in the mirror looking at myself, and I heard mom say: 'So pretty' but there was no one in the room."
Hmm, that was more like it.
"What else does she say?" he questioned.
"She calls you 'baby' a lot." Grace turned her head to look at her father. "Like, that time you fell asleep on the couch. You were. . .tossing and turning in your sleep, and suddenly I heard mom's voice. She said: 'baby' and then you stopped like you heard her, too."
Leon gazed at his daughter. He couldn't help the feeling like Grace wasn't pretending anymore. Various times. . .more than he liked to remember. . .he would have dreams about that night in Raccoon. Dreams about rotting flesh and splattered blood. Dreams that made him sweat through his shirt and wake up moaning. And always – always – he would feel Claire's hand on his back, rubbing softly, and she'd whisper: "Baby, it's okay. It was just a dream, baby."
Just then, Leon's eyes began to sting and he closed them tightly. He didn't want to play this game anymore. Turning over, he brushed the hair away from Grace's forehead.
"You," he smiled, "need to go to sleep."
"'kay," she snuggled further down into the sheets and closed her eyes. "But I do hear mom."
Then I envy you, kid.
Leon closed his eyes and tried not to think about Claire for the rest of the night. Licking his dry lips, he knew he was in for another long night. And just before he drifted off to sleep, he heard Grace mumble:
"And I saw Mrs. Jones."
I I I
There was another reason Leon didn't like to think about Claire. His thoughts would suddenly turn into something different. His mind would wonder from thinking about the funny things she had said during the day to the dirty things that she would whisper in his ear at night. Most recently, he couldn't stop thinking about her tongue . . . the things she had done with it had been enough to send him over the edge. Now, he could only imagine, which lead him to want to smack his head against a wall.
The other day he had seen a woman who looked remarkably like Claire eating an ice-cream cone with her boyfriend. He had watched her lips taste the ice-cream when, without warning, his belly had tightened and memories of the wild nights he had spent with his wife flashed before his eyes. The girl had noticed that he was staring at her, which earned him a hateful glare from her boyfriend. Before, those thoughts of Claire would have excited him, now, they made him feel like a pervert.
Of course, with Claire gone, he had to resort to his old high school tactics of releasing his frustration. Alone. After he would sit in bed and wonder how he had gotten by with only him and his hand when he was a teenager. Claire had spoiled him. It wasn't like they always had mind-blowing sex (although many times it was mind-blowing), or even good sex. But it was the comfort, the sharing of each other's skin that sometimes got Leon through the day.
Years and years of repressed sexual frustration and caused him to often act like an animal when they were together. But Claire's death had put a stop to that. Now it was just him. . .and his hand.
But it's not enough. No one will ever be enough.
I I I
Claire found it extremely odd that she could still have almost all of her emotions: Fear, love, anger, hate, happiness, confusion, sorrow, pride, and many, many more. Only two things had disappeared: Her love of food, and her love of sex.
I don't care about sex? Shit, I am in hell.
Well, at least she still had a sense of humor.
Yes, she wasn't stupid. She would often watch Leon as he slept, wondering if he was dreaming about her. And on many occasions, which recently were increasing more and more, she had caught him. . .doing things to himself. The action that had once aroused her now felt – embarrassing, like she was a little kid again, watching something dirty on TV. Every time he would mumble her name, which should've made her feel happy, but instead made her feel depressed. She knew how difficult her absence was on him. Not just emotionally, but physically as well.
She used to joke – but it wasn't really a joke – that if she ever died, and he remarried, she come back from the grave and haunt him, and then swore that when they met again in the after life, she'd kill him again.
But now, watching him, seeing how lonely he was, how he ached for a companion, and yearned for some physical contact, she'd changed her mind. After her death, he had had to quit sex cold turkey. He was faithful, and she knew that he would wait as long as he could, but he needed a wife. Someone to take care of him, to be there for him, to please him. And if it couldn't be her anymore, then so be it.
Because even though she was a jealous woman, she loved him. She wanted him to be happy, and she really, really loved him.
Now, she stood there, right next to him, and watch him talk to one of the tenants of their building as he held Grace's hand to keep her from running off.
"How's the job search, Kennedy?" said Ron Johnson. A short, but attractive older man who people often called Don Johnson.
"Eh," Leon shrugged. "Could be better."
"You're a cop, right?" asked Ron.
"Ex-cop," Leon corrected.
"So, are you lookin' for something to get your heart rate up? Something as exciting?" Ron leaned against the building and folded his arms across his chest.
"No, not really," Leon admitted. "I'm all Grace has now, and I need to take care of myself. If something were to happen to me, she'd be an orph. . .um, well, I'm NOT leaving her with my parents, anyway."
"Ya know, I have a friend who works for the government, I could look into some job openings for you. I think there's some secret service openings available."
Leon's eyes widened. "Working for the government? No thanks. I need to be a father, not a hero."
At that Ron threw his head back, but he didn't laugh. Grace was tugging his arm as if she wanted to run away from their boring conversation.
"Well, it's not as hard as most people think it is. For one, you don't always have to look out for the powerful assholes. I mean, those guys have service agents for their families. Even their damn dogs get secret service agents. There's a good chance that you'd pretty much get paid to sit around, and feed some guys cat all day. Make sure that no one kidnaps it."
"That sounds too good to be true. And. . I'm pretty sure you're full of shit." Leon suddenly snapped his mouth shut as he remembered that Grace was standing right next to him.
"No! Look, you'll have intense training at the O.R.E. but after that, unless you get assigned to the fucking President – oops sorry, Grace – you're pretty much safe."
Claire could tell that Leon was contemplating it now. A cushy, powerful job. She knew that Leon was worried about money. Right now he was living off of their savings, but that wasn't going to last forever.
"Yeah, okay. I'll check it out. But I'm not making any promises," Leon told Ron.
"A guy like you couldn't find a better suited job. Leon, do you really want to end up working as an orderly at a nursing home? Taking care of old people like Mrs. Jones?" Ron scratched his beard and looked pointedly at Leon.
"Yeah, but Mrs. Jones is back, so –" Leon was cut off by Ron's laughing.
"Nah, she died," Ron said as he stared at Leon.
"Really? So she died at here?"
"No! She died in the nursing home, in her own filth. You're telling me you want to do that for a living?" Ron then moved forward as if to walk Leon inside the building.
"Wait, Grace said she saw Mrs. Jones in the building, but after she had been taken to the nursing home," Leon said as he walked with Ron up the stairs to the next floor.
"Look," Ron stopped walking, "most people don't go to a nursing home, and come back to their real home. They go to a nursing home because they can't take care of themselves anymore. They're pretty much their to be babysat until they die. Mrs. Jones apartment doesn't even belong to her anymore, it belongs to some college kid, who I swear is selling weed."
"But Grace – "
"Unless Grace saw a ghost, she was mistaken – or lying."
"Grace isn't a liar. . .she practically kept me awake trying to convince me that she wasn't lying," Leon retorted defensively.
"Well, then she was probably mistaken," Ron concluded. "Or maybe this apartment building is haunted." At that last comment, Ron laughed and walked the rest of the way up the stares alone.
"That guy is weird," he heard Grace say as they stood in the main entrance of their building.
But Leon wasn't listen, and Claire watched him. Thinking, thinking. Putting things together. Wondering.
To be Continued within the next five years. . . Hopefully sooner than that.