Thirty-Eight

Jaime was silent as Steve drove down the long, winding driveway and headed toward the center of town. Rudy sat in the back – on Steve's side so he could watch Jaime without being too obvious. Both men knew they couldn't begin to understand what Jaime was feeling about this unique experience.

"I need to stop at the florist's on the way," Jaime requested. "I wanna visit my parents before...you know." If she noticed the look that passed in the rearview between the driver and the backseat passenger, she didn't remark on it.

"Want me to go in for you?" Steve offered, pulling up to the curb. Jaime nodded gratefully. He knew without having to ask that she needed two bouquets of yellow roses. While Steve was in the store, Rudy used the time to try and counsel his frightened (but very determined) patient.

"You don't have to do this, Honey," he said gently.

"Yes...I do. I need to do this," Jaime insisted.

"Maybe eventually, but no one would fault you if you didn't feel up to it just yet. Maybe it would be easier in a few more days...or even a week or two."

Jaime shook her head. "It's only gonna get harder! People talk, Rudy – and I can't expect them not to! I mean, how many times do you run into someone on the street six months after attending their funeral? I can't deal with their questions unless I've dealt with my own first. Besides, the more upfront I can be about all of this, the less likely people are to think about it harder, do the math and figure out that Uncle Sam got a little creative with the dates." Jaime took a deep breath and shivered. "I had a nightmare about this last night," she finally admitted, "and that's why I didn't sleep much. But I think nightmares are issues we're too afraid to face in 'normal' life...so I have to deal with this. And I'm as ready as I'm gonna get."

"If you change your mind..."

"I'll wave a white flag and go running for the car."

* * *

When Steve parked the car just outside the cemetery gates, Jaime remained frozen in the passenger's seat, clutching a bouquet in each hand, for a few minutes while she gathered herself and tried to find her courage.

"Sweetheart," Steve began, "there's something you need to know about...the grave." (If she planned to visit her parents' graves first, she should at least be warned.)

"Tell me after I see my parents," Jaime insisted, pulling on the door handle and stepping out of the car. Steve followed, giving Jaime a little space, and Rudy walked a few steps behind him. Jaime walked straight through the rows and up to her parents' graves. Steve and Rudy exchanged an anxious glance. (Did she notice...?)

Yes, she did. Jaime walked to the foot of the graves, moving toward the spot where she usually stood – directly between them – and her foot froze in mid-air. She took one horrified little hop backward and Steve held his arms out because it seemed for a moment like she might faint or fall. Jaime wobbled but stood her ground, staring at what had always been unused space between her mother and her father. The grass had been so carefully sodded over that it was hard to tell it had ever been disturbed, but the difference was glaring to Jaime. The very slight indentation in the ground at the head of the space (where a heavy stone would've been placed) looked to her like the start of the abyss. She felt herself teeter and stepped forward involuntarily, as though reclaiming the space.

"This...is it..." she whispered. (It wasn't a question.) While she couldn't really feel the earth beneath her feet, Jaime felt like a million tiny electric needles were stabbing her all at once. For a few moments, she couldn't see. This is it, she thought wildly, the abyss has won. It's over. She staggered forward again, nearly dropping the flowers. It would be so easy to just let go and lose control...but she struggled to stay focused. If she lost it, there might be no coming back.

I can do this! she insisted to herself, one more time. Her head spun and her mind swirled with confusion. In her mind's eye, her toes were already over the edge...

Steve's gentle touch on her arm drew her back to reality. Suddenly, her head cleared and Jaime could see again. "I'm...alright," she said softly. She pulled one flower out of each bouquet, then laid the bouquets in front of her parents' headstones. The two single roses, she let fall gently from her hands onto the soil as she took Steve's hand and stepped away from the abyss...and into her brand-new life.

END