Aimee dabbed at her eyes as she forced herself out of bed. The bed that was suddenly too big, too empty. This was her life now. Breathing in and out. Existing. That was what her life had come down to. Existing. One painful day after another.
She let her body fall back onto the bed convulsing with sobs. “Gene” she called out his name into the silence of the room. She took his pillow breathing deeply of the remnants of his scent that still lingered there. The same scent she remembered from the first time he held her in his arms. She had been his life-preserver than. The anchor he needed to keep his life from spiraling out of control. She had helped him through that rough time. He was up for elimination on Sim Star Idol. He was sure he was going home a failure. One drink down ready for the next when she stopped him. He had been so vulnerable. So ready to self destruct.
Tears flowed onto the pillow where Gene had once laid his head to sleep. How long had it been? It felt like yesterday her life had been turned upside down, altered forever. Other times it felt like forever since she had seen his smile. “Oh Gene,” she mumbled into his pillow “I don’t want to be here without you. I can’t live without you.”
Her sobs filled the room. She could no more hold them back then a beaver dam could hold back a raging flood. Gulping for air her body trembled with her sobs. She put a hand over her mouth to muffle the sound. To smother the pain of her shattered broken heart.
Ian stood outside his parent’s bedroom door. Mother’s bedroom door he corrected himself. He wondered how long it would take him to adjust to the loss of his father. He rested his forehead on the cool uncaring wooden door. Heart beating in rhythm to his mother’s sobs on the other side of the door. He flinched as if someone or something was physically beating him each time his mother’s sobs reached his ears. His legs buckled beneath him leaving sprawled on the floor blocking the door. How much of this was his fault? The added stress from his supposed death had to have touched off a series of heart attacks that lead up to this father’s death.
His dad had always been larger than life to his eyes. The invincible hero. Always ready to help. Even if it meant just lending a listening ear. His dad had always been there. Through thick and thin. Through good and bad times. He couldn’t imagine a world without him in it.
He felt rather than saw when Celia joined him on the floor. He pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her. Her fingers ran through his short blond hair comforting and reassuring. “What am I going to do?” he asked like a lost little boy needing help to find his way home.
“We’re going to grieve. We’re going to mourn” she said stroking his hair “then we’re going to pick up the pieces. Put our lives back together again. Not because we want to but because we have to. We have to go on whether we want to or not.”
“I know” he sniffed sitting up leaning his head against the door. The sounds of his mother’s grief tearing at his heart deepening his guilt.
“It’s not your fault” Celia said taking his hand “your dad would be the first one to tell you that.”
“I know” Ian closed his eyes. Knowing it and believing it were two totally different things.
“Come on” Celia said tugging on his hand as she stood up “let’s do something today.”
Reluctantly Ian allowed her to drag him to his feet. Every fiber in his body wanted to curl up in a corner somewhere and hide. He glanced back at the impassive door “we can’t just leave her like this. What if she needs us?”
“We won’t go far” Celia assured him not taking no for answer.
Sniffling Aimee sat up wiping her hands across her eyes. She saw the damp spots on the pillow case where her tears had soaked through the fabric. Faint mascara smudges could be seen. She knew she should wash it before the mascara set in the fabric staining it forever. She should do a lot of things she had no desire or energy to do.
With determination she stood up to make the bed. She put Gene’s pillow back on his side of the bed mascara stains and all. If she washed it now she would lose his lingering scent. She couldn’t bear the thought that she would never see his smile again other than the myriad of photos around the house. Never feel his arms slide comfortingly around her shoulders. Never hear his deep voice whispering things to her that he knew would make her laugh at inappropriate times. His scent was already starting to fade. She wasn’t ready to let him go.
She struggled out of her pajamas. Her joints ached despite the comfortable temperature in the room. Her fingers fumbled with the buttons of her blouse as she tried to dress herself. The zipper was near impossible to maneuver on her own. Tears of frustration pricked her eyes. Such simple tasks. Everyday mundane things. She missed Gene’s assistance as she painstakingly finished getting dressed for the day.
As her arthritis worsened she progressively lost the dexterity she once had in her youth. A couple of years ago she made the decision to put away her gaming equipment for good. With Gene’s help it had been carefully stored away for when Trober was old enough to enjoy it. A smiled flickered across her face easing the line of grief around her eyes.
Sitting on the edge of the bed she struggled to shove her feet inside her shoes. She wished Gene was there to help her. He always made the process bearable and somewhat sensual as he would rub her feet with his firm strong hands. Kissing her ankles the way she liked. He’d look up at her, eyes sparkling with mischief knowing what he was doing to her. Knowing it was driving her crazy with desire.
How long had it been since she had felt his hands stroking her desire? Too long. It had been years since they had been able to be intimate. Not from lack of desire. She couldn’t manage the pain. They had tried at first before the arthritis had gotten really bad. She regretted she just couldn’t hide the pain she was in. Gene didn’t force the issue just accepted the new circumstance and moved on.
Aimee smiled remembering the ways that Gene took to reassure her that he still found her desirable. Somehow he knew how afraid she was that he would lose interest in her. Afraid that he would find someone else. She should have known better. Their relationship had never been about sex. It was more than that. Sex had added to their bond. When that part of their bond together was gone they found other things that bound them together.
Opening her bedroom door she was relieved to see Celia had managed to get Ian away from his post guarding her door. She loved that he was concerned about her. She could see the pain he was in. Could see the guilt in his light blue eyes. He blamed himself for Gene’s bad heart and he didn’t have to.
The heart problems began soon after their honeymoon. A constant reminder of what that crazy woman had done to him. Gene had persevered despite the permanent limp he acquired from the injuries he had received. It was the heart murmur that was the most worrying. The culmination of stress over the years since then had done its damage.
She took one painful step down after another until she reached her favorite room in the house. The room where she and Gene had made their own. It used to have all her gaming equipment in it. She’d play while Gene watched. More times than not she’d find his eyes on her instead of the screen.
“What are you looking at?” she asked feeling self-conscious even after all the decades they had been together.
Grinning like the Cheshire cat Gene laughed saying “you”.
Blushing a deep scarlet Aimee tried not to smile. Almost always she’d find herself too distracted to play. “Look what you made me do” she complained pointing at the screen where her character would be dead or dying.
“I can’t help it if I’m irresistible” Gene grinned moving closer to her.
“Don’t you wish” she retorted giggling like a teenager.
“I know I am” Gene said pulling her close to him so he could tenderly kiss her lips careful not to cause her any pain “at least to you I am” he added coming up for air.
Shaking her head Aimee wiped a stray tear away. She remembered the day Gene handed her a tablet grinning in eager anticipation. His eyes sparkled as he watched her like a cat about to pounce.
“What’s this?” she asked running her fingers lightly across the flat smooth screen.
“It’s a tablet” he explained.
“I can see that” irritation making her voice rise “why?”
A look of uncertainty fluttered across Gene’s face than was gone. Taking her hand he lifted it to his lips “I love you.” The simple three word statement meant so much to both of them. They knew how much they had struggled to get to where they were. “I know how much you miss your games.” A wicked gleam came into his eyes “all those virtual men were getting lonely.”
“Gene” she admonished snatching her hand from him “you’re never going to let me live that down are you?”
Chuckling a little Gene shook his head “never”. He reached over turning the tablet on “our nephew Eddie suggested you might like reading virtual novels whatever those are. I had him download a few of them that he thought you might like.”
She stared at the screen then up into Gene’s deep brown eyes. She could feel all the conflicting emotions floating around her brain paralyzing her tongue “Gene I…” She stopped seeing the dejected slope of his shoulders and downcast eyes.
“You don’t like it” he mumbled staring at the floor “I just thought it’d be something you could do.”
“Gene I” she reached for his hand knocking the tablet from her lap onto the floor “I love it.”
Gene reached down to retrieve the tablet from the floor. Inspecting the device for damage not seeing any he handed it back to her. “You don’t have to say that. It was a stupid idea.”
“Don’t say that” she reached out to stroke his stubbly face “you know how much I’ve missed playing my games. This” she indicated the tablet on her lap “is a gift. I love it. I thought I’d never play again. I” she blinked back tears “now I can have all the virtual men I want.”
“You’re not just saying that” he asked searching her face “you really do like it?”
Sighing Aimee wiped the tears from her eyes. All the years they had been together Gene had never ceased to amaze her. He supported her gaming like no one ever had or would again. Even when she couldn’t game anymore he had found a way for her to enjoy what she loved. Gene never shared her love of games. She knew he’d rather be out doing something than stuck inside staring at screen.
She picked up the package that was delivered the day before. She sat for several minutes staring at the neat handwritten address. She ran her fingers over the writing wondering when Gene had sent the package. It was so typical of him. He must have given the package to someone to send if something happened to him. It touched her immensely how thoughtful he was of her and his family. She crossed her hands over the top of the box. She could feel the build up of tears behind her eyes again. A never-ending pool of tears resided inside her..
The package lay heavily on her lap. A silent testament to the secret Gene had kept from her. The certain knowledge he knew how short his time had been. Tears cascaded down her cheeks. She covered her face with trembling hands “why Gene why?” she wailed “why keep this from me?”
Silence was her only answer. She’d never know why he had to go before her, leaving her to drown in her own tears. Without her rock she had nothing to cling to. Somehow she had believed they’d go together in their sleep like something out of a movie she saw once. Her heart-felt like it would shatter into a million pieces yet it kept on beating. One painful beat after another.
Taking a deep fortifying breath she carefully tore open the package careful to keep from tearing the neat handwritten address. She didn’t think she could bear tearing his beautiful writing. It was one of the last things he ever did. As he wrote out the addresses he was thinking of her. It was her last link to him. To mar it in any way would break that tenuous link.
Reaching into the shredded paper lying inside the box she pulled out a game titled “Let’s Make A Memory.” She moved to get up wondering what was on it. Forgetting about the box on her lap she knocked it the floor. Paper scattered over the floor. With a groan Aimee carefully maneuvered to her knees to gather the loose papers together. A gasp escaped when she noticed that one of the pieces contained a handwritten message on it in Gene’s neat handwriting.
If she hadn’t knocked the box over she might have thrown all the papers away. With trembling fingers Aimee opened one folded paper smiling as she read:
“I thought my heart would melt the first time I saw you with my firstborn son in your arms.”
“I love the way your face lights up when you discover a new game.”
“No one has ever believed in me the way that you have.”
“Thank you for coming into my life and turning it upside down.”
“Mom what are you doing on the floor?” Ian’s concerned voice startled her.
“Oh” she cried as her hand clenched around the folded notes crumpling them in her hands.
“Here let me help you” Celia offered kneeling beside her mother-in-law gathering scattered slips of paper.
Ian grabbed a handful turned to toss them into a nearby waste basket.
“No don’t” Aimee pleaded putting a hand out as if she could stop him.
“What?” he asked oblivious of the messages written on them as he emptied the contents in the trash.
Silently Celia handed him a note she had been reading.
“Thank you being my support when I thought all was lost.”
Shaking Ian dropped to his knees to sift through the garbage to find the papers he had so casually discarded. He couldn’t keep from reading the loving sentiments his father had written to his mom. He felt arms pull him close. He cried like a baby on his mom’s shoulder while she cooed soothing words to him. How was he supposed to go on without him? Gene had been the one they all went to for advise. A shoulder to cry on. A rock to steady them. The backbone of the family. His presence strong and sure was no more.
“He loved you” Aimee said ruffling his hair “don’t ever doubt that.”
He tried to smile up at her. He wanted to believe her. Wanted to believe his absence hadn’t contributed to his father’s death. Hoped that in some small way he had made his father proud of him.
Celia sniffed beside him sounding like she had been crying too. For the first time Ian realized that she was as devastated as he was. Maybe even more. Gene had become the only father figure she had ever known. Gene had given her the same fatherly advice he had given the rest of them. “We’ll put these notes in a scrapbook” she sniffed “I’ll help you. That way you can keep them in one spot without fear of losing any of them.”
“Thank you dear” Aimee smiled warmly over at her “it’ll get better. Your father was a firm believer in that. I think” she looked around at the mass of papers on the coffee table “I think that’s why he sent this to us. To remind us of all the good times. So we can start looking back on his memory without tears but with fondness.”
Later that night when Aimee was alone again in her bedroom she could feel Gene’s presence. Gentle, strong, insistent as if he was urging her to do something. It was as if he was watching her with the same intensity he had when he was alive. The game. It had to be that. She hadn’t had time to play it yet.
Moving towards the lap top she seldom used anymore. She gasped covering her mouth with her hand as Gene’s voice filled the room. “Hey love” he smiled from the screen “I finally made it into the virtual world. I know how much you like your virtual men.”
Only Gene she thought would remember that long ago conversation decades in the past. A conversation that had instigated it all. She had what she thought was a school girls crush on him. It had grown into so much more than she could ever have imagined then.
His voice continued strong and sure the way she remembered it being in life. “Lets play a game” his eyes glinted with mischief “did you ever think you’d hear me say that? You know how much I like games.”
She laughed despite herself. Gene hated games. Once again he had found a way to surprise her.
“I know what you’re thinking. What’s a guy who hates games doing inside one? Simple. It’s the only way I could think of to be there holding your hand through, what I hope is a difficult time.”
“You hope” she cried indignantly shaking her head at him.
“I wrote down my memories. Yeah you heard that right. I actually wrote them down with pen and paper. Did you think I’d use a computer? Of course not. I’m old school all the way. We’re going to see how well you know me. You’re going to choose what I’d do or did rather.”
She paused the game blinking fast. Gene went and did it to her again. Even in death he was still finding ways to shock her. Her stomach churned in a way it hadn’t done in years. Not since the days of Sim Star Idol when she first saw Gene without his shirt on.
Gene’s voice filled the room as she unpaused the game “are you ready to play Let’s Make A Memory?” In the back ground she could hear Not Today playing softly as she began the game.
Not Today If you want to listen to the song.