Grief Observed, Overheard
The phone call came in the early hours of the morning.
It hadn’t been the best of nights, anyway, to be honest. Kristen was currently faced away from him in their bed, clutching the comforter close to herself and he was pretty sure she wouldn’t react well to being woken up by the sound of his cell phone ringing (and she would wake up; he’d never met anyone who slept as his lightly as his wife). They’d had a spectacular argument at the dinner table when Will had started talking about bringing home a girl he was dating and she’d barely spoken to him since. Apparently, he had no right to act morally superior where his son was concerned… He’d retorted with a bitter ‘well, when can I be morally superior then?’ and had gotten a glare and an eye-roll for his trouble.
Groaning, Lindsey rolled over and reached for his cell, his eyes squinting blearily into the darkness of the bedroom. It took a few moments for the caller’s name to register in his sleep-addled mind but when he realized who it was and, therefore, the probable reason for the call, he wanted to ignore it, go back to sleep and pretend the past eight hours had just been some horrible nightmare.
Instead, he answered the phone with a whispered, “Darling, give me a minute to get to another room and then we can talk, okay?” The only response he heard to that was a choked sob and then silence. “Okay?”
Of course it wasn’t okay.
Stealing a blanket from a nearby chair, he sat on a sofa in the downstairs living room, phone pressed so closely to his ear that he could make out someone’s muffled voice in the background. “Stevie?”
"Yeah, it’s me."
"Usually I would say it’s lovely to hear from you but…"
A choked laugh followed by a deep breath on the other end of the line. “But it’s not.”
"Well, no. I assume…"
"It wasn’t as horrible as I thought it might be."
"Mmm, I mean, it was horrible but at least I was there. God, Lindsey, what if I had still been on tour or…?"
"You weren’t, though."
"I never would’ve forgiven myself."
"She would have." Lindsey tugged the blanket closer, shivering as the cold air hit his bare chest. "I’m so sorry, Stevie."
"Chris and Jessi are asleep now. Exhausted."
"I’m glad they were there with you."
"I couldn’t have done it otherwise, I don’t think. I don’t think it was too painful for her, those last few moments. She held my hand so tight, though, Linds, so tight. And kissed it."
As a child, Lindsey had sometimes dreamed of owning a real teleportation device, a machine to take him anywhere in the whole entire universe. For the first time in a long time, he wished for that device again. He wanted, needed to see Stevie’s face, to hold her hand, to cradle her in his arms, comfort her…
"Lindsey, I don’t know - " Her voice broke and, once again, he could hear her crying, this time jaggered, uncontrolled emotion spilling out. God.
He pressed his fingertips to his forehead, trying to relieve the pressure building there, the tears he could feel trying to escape. Barbara was gone, sweet, lovely, kind Barbara… He’d never see her at one of his concerts again, never hug her, never tell her he loved her, never hear those words in return. Fuck death a thousand times.
"I need to call family members but it’s late and I don’t want to wake them up…" she said, hesitant and too calm for Lindsey’s liking. He wanted to reach out and punch a wall. He had a mother-in-law, a nice one, but Barbara, Barbara was (had been, he corrected in his mind, his heart clenching inside) a mom to him.
"Do what you need to, Stevie. In the morning. You need to sleep. When did you last sleep?"
"I’m so tired…" she sighed.
"I know, angel, I know. Do you want me to hang up so you can get some rest?"
"No!" Her voice was suddenly stronger than he’d heard all night, decisive and wonderfully so. He hated that he needed her to need him as much as he needed her. Even after all these years. A mutual dependence that never went away no matter how hard he sometimes willed it to do so.
"I’ll be there as soon as I can, okay? I’ll book my flight and be there in the afternoon."
"Lindsey, you can’t… It’s nearly New Year’s Eve and your family and weren’t you meant to be going to some meeting and…"
"I’ll be there. You know I will."
"Stevie," he insisted, firmly. "I need to be there. Please. To say goodbye."
"She loved you."
"I loved her."
"What am I going to do, Linds?" she asked, heartbreakingly vulnerable.
"You carry on as you always do, with a brave face and with a smile. And you hold your family tight."
"I need you to hold me."
"And I will. As long as you need me."
He stared blankly at the wall, waiting for Stevie’s response, anything to help him know what would help her.
"Stevie? I mean it. Anything you need. For as long as you need it."
"Your arms, your heart. Forever," she said, softly, almost under her breath.
But he heard it. He always heard her, the spoken and unspoken. “You have them. You know that,” he replied quietly, sincerely.
"Go to bed, Lindsey," Stevie entreated warmly. "Sleep. You’re going to need all the rest you can get."
"I know. Coping with you? Ugh," he teased gently. "I’ll sleep like the dead for a week on my return. Kristen and the kids won’t be able to rouse me for anything."
"And be deprived of your handsome face? They’ll wake you up."
"Just in tune with your ego, honey."
He switched the iPhone to his other hand and yawned, watching as the clock changed. 4.57am. “Stevie, I need to go book that flight, okay? Stay safe, and I’ll see you as soon as I can. Again, I’m so sorry. Tell Chris too, okay?”
"I love you."
"Love you too. Bye."
He crept back into bed at 5.20am, ticket booked for early the following afternoon. Kristen turned curiously to him as he pulled the comforter back over his body, her slender fingers tracing a few drying tears on his cheeks that he hadn’t even realized were there.
"Baby, what’s wrong?"
"Barbara passed away."
"Barba- Oh. Stevie’s mom?"
She touched his shoulder gently. “I’m sorry.”
He turned away from his wife and buried his head into the large, soft pillow. Childish, yes, but he was not going to break now. Not in front of Kristen.
Stevie met him with a long hug at the front door, gesturing for Chris to take his suitcase upstairs while she pulled him by the hand to her own room. He sat on the edge of the bed, waiting for his partner to break the silence which was quickly becoming more and more strained by the minute.
Closing the door, she moved to stand before him, looking at a picture on the wall that he couldn’t see, her eyes almost blank. Her voice, when she finally spoke, was quiet, somber, sad. “Thank you,” she said, still not meeting his eyes.
Lindsey reached for her immediately, opening his arms for her. Clinging to him almost like a child, she gripped his collar tightly with one hand, her other soft on the nape of his neck. He could feel her tears soaking through his shirt and felt a heavy weight on his heart as he continued to hold her, murmuring nonsense into her hair, occasionally pressing a kiss to her head, her cheek, even her lips. Stevie was almost shaking and he tightened his grip, trying to calm her. His words became a flood of love and warmth and he could feel her shuddering breaths start to become more regular as she relaxed in his familiar arms.
I love you. It’s okay. I’ve got you. I’ll always be here for you. Whatever you need. Forever. Always, love. Hush. I’ m here.
She pressed a soft kiss to his neck and looked up at him, her eyes bloodshot and her mascara running. Smiling gently, Lindsey asked her a silent question, one Stevie answered with a slow nod.
Jessi opened the door several hours later. Laying curled up on their sides spooning on the still-made bed, heads sharing space on a pillow, Lindsey’s arm rested protectively around her aunt, holding her close to him, his head resting on her shoulder. They seemed at peace, still and secure in the knowledge of each other’s warm presence. No one else knew what they needed right now better than they did and so she left the room.
They needed tonight. Just one night.