Selene loved seeing her parents, but she was relieved when they returned home after Christmas, her first Christmas with Ben.
She and Ben had a routine, and she liked it. And she wanted him to have him all to herself. And the next three weeks slipped by without incident.
She was surprised when he locked the office door after a staff meeting. He grabbed her around the waist and kissed her hair. “You distracted me that entire meeting.”
“I distracted you?”
“Yes. You had your pen between your teeth the entire time. Drove me to distraction.”
“I wrote three pages of notes. Were we in the same meeting?”
He grabbed a handful of her hair and pulled her head back. He pressed his lips to her exposed throat. “Are you arguing with me kitten?”
“Never.” A hint of laughter tinged her voice.
His phone rang. He sighed and let go of her. “We’ll take this up after work, Miss.”
“Yes, Sir.” They grinned at each other, but the shrill of the phone made him leave her.
He picked up the receiver. “Yes?”
“Your brother is on the line,” Lynn said.
In the middle of the day? That was unusual. Fear spiked in his chest. Someone was hurt. This type of call was only bad news. “Put him through.”
A moment later, the beep went through. “Hey Dan-o. What’s up?”
Selene’s cell phone rang and she answered it. “Hi Mom. What’s up?” she went to the door and exited the room.
Something bad. Kent? His heart picked up the pace. “It’s Mom,” Dan said.
“What? Did he kill her?”
“In a sense he did. They were in a car accident.”
“Is she…?” He pressed the phone harder to his ear.
“Yes. Both gone.”
“How did you learn?” Ben’s body chilled.
“His daughter called.”
“He had kids?” His lungs forced him to breathe in.
“I guess so.”
“Wow.” The information shocked him into silence. He had imagined this day, but he didn’t know what he’d feel. He couldn’t describe what he felt now. Stunned was all he managed, numb. He thought the moment would occur when he was older when they were older.
“Nothing planned. There’s a will, no one knows what is in it.” He could picture Dan pacing somewhere. His older brother’s voice and calm kept Ben grounded.
“I don’t know. I have to think about it. Are you going there?”
“Yes, someone has to represent us. I’m like you, a little stunned.”
He looked at the door. He needed Selene. “I take it Kim called Selene.”
“Yes. Is that okay?”
“It’s okay. I have to think about going.”
“Okay, you have time. You’ll bring Selene if you do?”
“Yes.” He would need her support. “You’ll text me the details. When you are going.”
She returned to the office looking grim. She wrapped her arms around him from behind and her lips pressed against the back of his neck.
“I’ll talk to you soon. When I figure it out,” Dan said.
“Okay man. Talk to you soon.” Ben put the phone back it’s cradle in slow motion.
“How are you doing?” Selene whispered.
“I don’t know. I’m still a little stunned. Should we go to the funeral?”
“If it were me, I would. I think you might get closure from it.”
He nodded. “I can’t decide now. I need to figure it out soon.”
“Whatever you need let me know. If you want to talk it out.”
Talking would be the Selene thing to do. She’d tell him everything she was thinking and feeling. He wasn’t used to being open. Even with her.
“Okay. Thank you.”
“I love you.” She kissed the back of his head.
“I love you too.”
She went back to her desk. She typed her notes. He stared at his computer without seeing his work. He watched her work, feeling a little removed from the room.
She got up, grabbed his mug and left the office. A few minutes later she returned with a mug of coffee and two cookies.
“Here. Eat and drink. We can go home early.”
He took the mug and sipped it. She took one cookie and stood behind him. With one hand she rubbed his shoulders.
A half hour later, he still couldn’t pay attention to anything. She went to his desk and closed his laptop. “We’re going home.”
“I can keep working.”
“You’ve been staring at your blank screen for twenty minutes. Let me take care of you.”
“You always take care of me.”
She knelt in front of him and framed his face with her hands. “I cannot imagine what you are going through. Let’s go home where you can feel safe to feel.”
He pulled his keys from his pocket. “You drive.” He knew he would be a danger on the road. She was right when they got home it would be better.
She stood and packed her bag with her papers then some stuff on his desk. He was numb to it as he watched her. Even his own body felt foreign as if he were outside of himself. Selene wrapped her arms around him and moved him toward the door. What would they tell Lynn? Should he tell her about his mother?
“Ben’s not feeling well. Going to take him home and put him in bed,” Selene told Lynn. He sucked in a breath of relief. He watched Selene weave his car through the city traffic for the first time.
“Damn you barely need to touch the gas pedal,” she muttered.
“You don’t. It’s amazing on the highway.” The conversation sounded surreal as if everything was normal.
“We’ll do that sometime.”
He put his hand on her thigh. “Thank you, kitten.”
“You don’t have to thank me. I’m glad I’m here.”
“I’m glad you are here every day.”
She parked and they took the elevator up to their apartment. He sat on the sofa and his heart sank and blended with his stomach. He was going to be sick. Selene sat next to him, and he laid his head on his lap. She stroked his hair. “What are you thinking?”
“Everything. I sometimes thought someday he would die and she could be my mother again. You know, she’d be proud of me for everything I accomplished. She’d apologize for choosing him over me.”
Stupid childhood fantasies, but he could never shake the wish that someday his mother might ask for his forgiveness or she could show him she loved him.
“I’m sorry, Ben.”
He was sorry too. He closed his eyes and Selene kept stroking his hair with her hand.
“She didn’t deserve you. I never met her, and I feel sad for her. I hope she knows she lost the best man in the universe. I hope she regretted it.” Anger radiated from her on his behalf. He loved her for it, but it was a waste.
“Don’t waste your anger on my behalf.” He turned to his back and looked at her.
“The anger is not new. I’ve been angry with her for a long time. She hurt you.”
“She did. It was a long time ago. I’m okay.”
“It’s okay if you aren’t, Ben.”
“I’m probably not, but I have to say it. I don’t know how to be anything other than okay.”
“You need your own products. A stuffed animal, for instance.”
“That’s what I have you for.” He sat up and rubbed his lips against hers.
“I’ll order pizza.”
“You already made food.”
“Fuck that. We need grease. We have ice cream right?”
“I think there is some left.”
She smiled and grabbed her phone. A few minutes later she had pizza and wings on the way. All his anger and hurt melted. There was no room for any pain in his heart when he loved Selene. He could face anything with her.
“What would I do without you?” He felt the tears press against his eyes. He couldn’t even recall the last time he cried. The pain overwhelmed him and he lunged for her, burying his face in her shoulder.
She rubbed his back when the feelings broke free. They spilled over into tears. She rocked him while he cried out the anger and sadness and how much he loved her. The tears and strong emotions faded quickly. He wanted to shower the weakness off. She released him when he pulled away, except his hand. “If you run, I will chase you.” The door sounded. “After I pay for the pizza.”
“I’m going to wash my face,” he said. “I’m not running.”
“Okay.” She disappeared down to the lobby.
He scrubbed his face with his hands, but the red tinge to his eyes and cheeks remained. “Dead,” he said aloud to his image in the mirror. “She’s gone.” Another wave of sadness came over him.
Closure, Selene had said. Maybe if he went to the funeral, to the house she lived in, he would find a clue, find something that answered his questions. Did she regret her choices? Did she know what he’d become? Did she know what he’d built? Did she feel anything for him?
He heard Selene return and he left the bathroom. She was putting the pizza on plates. She had poured them each a glass of cola. “Here you go. Tons of comfort food.”
“Thank you.” When they were seated, he brought up the funeral. “We will go.”
“Yeah. Like you said maybe it will bring closure. If I don’t go, I’ll never know. I don’t want to regret that.”
“Okay.” She blew out a breath. “I’ll call mom and dad and get details so I can book the tickets. Or I can tell Lynn the situation and let her deal with the tickets. She’s probably better at it than me.”
“We have to tell Lynn anyway, so I guess let her deal with the tickets.”
By the time his plate was empty he found peace.
When Selene finished, she curled up to him. “Do you have any good memories from your childhood?”
“Sure, I had good times with Dan. Mom was sober until I was in elementary school, or I don’t remember her drinking before then. My dad wasn’t a great dad, he was emotionally abusive, especially to Dan. We had normal meals and good Christmases and friends over for birthday parties. We were very poor though. Dad worked periodically. My grandma was amazing. She made cookies and gave us ugly sweaters for Christmas. She died a year before Mom married the asshole.”
Selene stroked his arm and shoulder while he talked. “I’m sorry.”
“Me too. She might have saved me.” He leaned his head against hers. “Maybe that’s just wishful thinking.”
“I think that’s normal. I mean I don’t know. Have you thought about therapy?”
“I did therapy, but it was little help. Work helps. You help.” He kissed her. “I don’t think I would have survived without you.”
“You would have.”
“I wouldn’t have. I was honestly suicidal when I met you. And you loved me and I couldn’t hurt myself knowing it would hurt you.”
“Oh Ben.” The pain in her voice was palpable. He saw her tears before she buried her face in his shoulder.
“Don’t be sorry. I am suddenly aware of how fragile life is. How close I came to losing you, I wouldn’t have known it. We might have never met. We might have never loved each other. I might never have been this happy. I can’t imagine that I’d be this happy with anyone else.”
“You might have.”
“No one is like you Ben. You keep yourself at arm’s length from people, but you care for them. You know every person who works for you. You know Lynn’s children’s birthdays. You are a brilliant designer, and business person. You have an intuition for knowing when to take chances.”
“I try to see myself through your eyes, but all I see is a broken boy who struggles to know if he’s making the right choices every day. Someone afraid to get close to anyone, even the woman he loves.” He brushed her cheek with his knuckles.
“You don’t have a corner on the market of inability to have a relationship. If you recall I have had one serious boyfriend, a couple dates, and I was untouched until a while ago.”
“I thought you were saving yourself for me.”
“Not on purpose.”
“It was a lot of pressure. Being someone’s first. Being with someone you love.”
“You made it good. I promise. Anyway, I know we aren’t perfect. Neither of us is. We’re complicated but we’ll make it through. We’ll go to your mother’s funeral.” She ran her fingers through his hair, the silky strands flowing through her fingers.
He had to find closure there. He needed answers. Like knowing if his mother ever thought of him again.