Today was the day. It was the third time, the third year, and the third anniversary. Even though I knew this day would come next year and the next and the next one after that until I died it didn't ever seem to get any better.
In the corner of my living room lay one overnight bag packed and zipped neatly. Next to it on the white coffee table stood a stack of CDs that would accompany me on my trip. On top of it lay a single white rose.
It was time.
I set out on my trip before the sun had even risen. I stopped for doughnuts and coffee on the way and then I drove. Just me and the music all the way back. I went through the Beatles, The Kinks; I even got some David Bowie into my system on the trip. It wasn't enough, it was never enough.
By the time I got back into the familiar lanes of my hometown I began to feel my nervous. This was the one day out of the year that I had to see everybody. It was the day that my world seemed to freeze for a little while whenever his name was mentioned, the day I had to fight back the nausea every time I heard another "Remember when" story.
When I pulled into the driveway of my mother's house everybody was already inside. Delia and Kristy were unpacking the food in the kitchen, Bert was nowhere to be seen and my mom was in her office as usual. My sister stood in a corner with Wally. Monica carried in more plates from the van.
'Macy, I didn't even notice you were here yet!' Caroline called out when she turned around. I smiled gave her a quick hug. She held on longer than I did, and when I pulled away she looked at me the same way everybody else used to when my dad first died. Somehow it felt more infuriating coming from my own sister.
'I'm going to go see Mom.' I said softly. I didn't wait for a response from Caroline before walking into the familiar office. Nothing much had changed in here over the last five years. A photo of the beach house hung on the wall, next to it a photo of my dad in his fishing gear. A picture of me and Caroline hung beside it.
'Hey.' I murmured as I walked through the door. My mom looked up and smiled. She had grown happier over the years. She took breaks more often, hired new staff to help her out and even ventured out on a date every now and then. Nobody ever seemed to get past a third date.
'How have you been?' Mom asked as I sat down in one of the cosy office chairs opposite her desk for clients who happened to come over to the house, which was rare though.
'Good.' I said and forced a smile. She looked at me for a while, and then smiled.
'How's the bar doing?' she asked and picked up a file. She stood and placed it in her filing cabinet while she spoke.
'Great. The summer's bringing lots of customers with it.'
'I'm glad.' Her tone was friendly. I watched her tidy up her things. It was kind of relaxing to watch her follow the usual routine: capping the pens, turning off the computer, checking that every file was in its place, folding up the floor plans and heading to the door.
'I know its hard honey, but you just need to try.' She said softly and patted my shoulder. I got up and walked out behind her and shut the door. Some more people had arrived now and were nibbling on the food around them.
The rest of the morning I smiled and made small talk until the last guest had left. I heard about how time would heal over and over again. It was just like the first time all over again. Nothing had changed. Wes was still dead, I was still running and everybody around me still carried on. I didn't belong to their world anymore; there was no space in mine for them anymore.
My days were filled with school, stocktaking and listening to desperate bands trying to get a gig. My nights were filled with studying, loud music and making sure everybody was happy and doing their jobs with the occasional drunken fight to break up every now and then.
'Do you think we should say anything to her?' Kristy said softly in the kitchen. I had planned on going in to put the last of the dishes there. I stopped when I heard her voice.
'She's going through a rough time. She needs to get through it on her own terms.' Delia whispered.
'There's a difference between dealing with it and running away from the past. She's destroying herself more and more.'
'She lost the love of her life Kristy, what do you expect her to do?'
'She got through losing her dad perfectly fine!'
I made my entrance now. I placed the dishes neatly in the sink and began washing them without saying a word. Kristy and Delia carried on cleaning up behind me without saying a word either. I could feel the tension.
'Are you planning on staying the night, Macy?' Delia asked politely.
'I haven't decided yet; probably not.'
'That's a shame. I'm sure your mother would have liked to catch up with you.' Delia said.
I could tell Kristy was resisting saying something. I turned around.
'There's not much to catch up on. I call her every week. My life's not a secret to her.' I said.
'Is it really that bad? Do you need to run away from everybody because we remind you too much of him? Is that it or are you just too good for us now. You have your bar now, your school, your little town. Who needs us anyway?' Kristy snapped.
'I don't have time for this.' I muttered.
'Yeah, just go and run away! It's what you do best anyway!' Kristy yelled. I kissed Delia on the cheek and walked out the kitchen. I said my goodbyes to Monica, Mom, Caroline and Wally. Bert was still absent.
The roads were quiet this afternoon. The drive to the graveyard was quiet with no interruptions. The clouds were rolling in now and the wind grew colder as I made my way the grave I knew so well. The graveyard was empty today, a few people stood in front of the graves of their loved ones.
I placed the white rose carefully on top of the grave. Bert sat on the ground in front of the two joining graves. Wish's grave stood on the left of Wes's. My hand rested on Bert's shoulder. He had gotten buffer over the years, his old boyishness gone now replaced by the man he had become. I sometimes missed the old Bert.
'Did you go?' he asked. His voice was deeper now, stronger.
'Yeah,' I whispered softly.
'Did I miss a lot?' he asked.
'Not a thing.'
We paid our respects in silence. My hand remained on his shoulder until the rain began to fall. He got up and stood beside me now. He was dressed casually in jeans and a t-shirt; I felt more appropriately dressed for the occasion in the black dress I had felt compelled to wear.
'Do you want to grab a coffee?' he asked. I looked up at his face. His eyes had changed the most over the years. They were stern and more serious now. He had girls chasing him now instead of the other way around.
I nodded and we drove together in my car. It was a quiet drive again, but it felt fuller now with Bert next to me. We walked into the new coffee shop that had replaced an old pizzeria a few years back. The waitress was young and gazed at Bert adoringly, it was almost sickening.
'So, how's the year been?' he asked once we had placed our orders.
'Fine, I guess.' I murmured.
'Kristy has gone on an all out rampage. Apparently I am a senseless, useless human being that hasn't been happy in years and needs a therapist.' He said with a smile.
'She thinks I'm taking a ridiculous amount of time to grieve. Apparently I'm running away from the past.' I said jokingly.
'We are, aren't we?' he asked softly.
'We are what?' I asked.
'We're both running, aren't we?'
'Yeah, we are. I guess I'm running from the past and the future. It's like a race I just can't win.' I sounded sad. Even talking about this for such a short amount of time was more than I had discussed with anybody else in such a long time.
Grief had bonded me and Bert in a way I could never explain or understand. I guess if it bonded me and Bert it should have had some affect on Kristy, Monica and Delia too but it didn't. I couldn't relate to them anymore even though I should be able to. It made no sense to me anymore and I had given up trying to understand it lately.
Bert and I sat in the same coffee shop and spoke for two hours. We spoke about what we had done, what we wanted to do and our fondest memories of Wes. It was the only time I could ever manage to speak about Wes without feeling a giant ball form in my stomach and a lump rise up in my throat.
I drove him back to the graveyard where he got into his truck which he had bought once he had saved enough for it. He still kept the ambulance in his garage.
By the time I got home it was too dark and wet for me to drive back home so I was forced to stay the night. I didn't talk much to my mom and our shared dinner felt forced. Caroline and Wally had also stayed.
When the morning came I rose early and left a note for the others. It was still cold, but I didn't care.