Author’s Note: Maybe you won’t use all three boxes, but just in case…there is one sad passage. After this we should be dry again….So sorry….
Leroy and Kaitlin stayed after Grace’s funeral and helped take care of Cole. It had already been two weeks. Time meant little to Ben. Everyday ran into the next. Seeing Lillie May was the last thing he remembered clearly until after the funeral.
Ben laid on his bed in the darkness and stared at the ceiling, trying to understand why Grace had been taken from him. Her loss was like a weight on his chest anchoring him to the bed. Every breath was like a stake through his heart reminding him he was here and Grace wasn’t. He wished he could stop breathing. Nothing seemed to matter if he couldn’t share it with Grace.
He couldn’t even bring himself to take care of Cole. It was simply too painful. So he let his mom and stepfather do it. She had even taken him to see Lillie May in his place.
Ben had barely acknowledged his parents, other than to tell them his room was off limits. He told his mother he wasn’t ready to touch Grace’s things. That was true. He wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Grace. Not yet. The smell of her perfume still lingered on her clothing, allowing him to keep her close for just a little while longer. When he held her nightgown, he could almost imagine that she was in the room with him, lying beside him, giving him sweet kisses and whispering I love you as they drifted off to sleep. He could almost hear her. Being closed off in his room was the one place where he could keep her alive and escape the pain of living.
He often sat on the balcony and cried, wondering why life just went on. He began to hate the people that walked the sidewalks everyday, like nothing was wrong. And the cars that zoomed up and down the streets seemingly without a care in the world.
His Mom & Leroy settled in the nursery. They moved Cole’s crib from the front room in there with them so they could tend to the baby and not disturb Ben.
The doctors said there was nothing that could have prevented what happened, still Ben blamed himself. The ‘what ifs’ constantly swirled around and around in his head…..If I hadn’t left her alone she wouldn’t have picked up the baby….I should have called the doctor when I noticed how pale she was the day before….If I had paid closer attention, I may have noticed the blood sooner…..I should have made her go to the ER when she had such a hard time getting off the couch. They never, ever ended.
Grace was the only person that he had ever loved. And she loved him back. Their wedding day was truly the happiest day of his life. And now she was gone. He didn’t know how to move forward without her. She was his other half. She had made him so much better in the short time they had together. It’s not fair, he thought.
Ben heard Cole crying in the other room and felt a fresh stab of pain wash through him. He wanted to go to him, but holding their son made his heart ache so much he could barely breathe.
He heard his mother talking to the baby, soothing him. He knew, in the back of his mind, that he needed to be there for him, but he just didn’t know how. So he went into his closet and tended the plants. He couldn’t hear anything in there. That was the only thing that stopped the pain, if only for a few minutes.
His mother knocked on the door interrupting his miserable thoughts. “Ben, I made lunch. Why don’t you get up and come eat?”
“Maybe later,” he called out, not yet ready to talk to anyone.
“Ben, sweetheart, you need to eat. Cole needs you to be strong.”
She wasn’t going to give up. And as much as he didn’t want to admit it, she had a point. Cole was his life now.
His mom’s words made him think about Lillie May. She said the same thing to him on that day. The day he told her the news that crushed her. She said he needed to be strong. She had held his hand, twin tears running down her cheeks and told him.
‘It’s up to you now Ben,’ she had said, ‘This little baby will get you through the pain, just like Grace got me through losing my whole family. You have to stay strong so you can raise him to be a strong and loving young man. Don’t let this define his life – or yours. Grace loved you so much. I never saw her happier than she was the day she married you. You made her happy Ben. Remember that. I know that God saved Grace that rainy night for me, and for you too. She gave us both something to live for. She was my reason. This sweet child she gave you is yours. Do right by her love and her gift to you.’
He had promised her he would. But he hadn’t done one damn thing towards that promise. He couldn’t let her down, let Grace down, or Cole. Especially Cole. He took a deep breath and swung his feet off the edge of the bed. It was time. He had to take the first step. “Okay Mom, give me a minute,” he called through the door.
“Thank you Ben,” she replied sounding relieved.
As Ben was getting dressed, he received a text message.
Ben’s felt a shiver go down his spine. Even though he had been working in his ‘closet greenhouse’ he hadn’t really thought about making deliveries nor had he been able to harvest the buds. He remembered acutely the feel of the cold steel stuck in his chest. The text was just one more wake-up call that Ben needed to figure out how to move forward.
He desperately needed to harvest what was ready before they were wasted or he wouldn’t have enough in two weeks. Ben needed money worse than ever because now he couldn’t work. There was no way he was letting Cole out of his sight or allowing anyone else to care for him. Cole was all he had. And sadly, he was all Cole had.
Ben knew the time had come to tell his mom and stepdad to leave. For Grace and for Lillie May, he would make sure Cole was loved and well cared for. But, he had to convince his mother he could care for him so she would leave.
* * * * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Over the next week, no matter how hard it was, Ben got out of bed at a regular time, showered and ate with his parents.
He even began working out on the treadmill again, which gave him an outlet for his stress and anger.
The most important thing Ben did was to take over the primary care of Cole. His beautiful little blue-eyed baby. Holding and caring for his son actually turned out to be good for him. Lillie May was right. That little baby gave him the strength he needed to go on. He easily lost himself in his gurgles. He knew he could do this when he felt himself smiling for the first time in three weeks. It actually felt good.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
When Ben got up that morning, he decided, today was the day. It was time to start his and Cole’s journey. To make a new life for him and his son. A new beginning. Plus, he only had a week left to get everything ready for the next drop, and it was a big one. He couldn’t risk the dealers coming to his apartment again.
His mom was cuddling her grandson and Leroy was watching TV when Ben walked out of the bedroom.
Kaitlin looked up at Ben smiling. “Hi Honey,” she said brightly. Then she turned and walked into the nursery cum guestroom carrying Cole. Ben followed her. He needed to tell her she could leave.
“How are you feeling this morning?” she asked after she laid the sleepy baby in his crib.
Ben sat on the bed. “Really Mom?” he asked infuriated at her question, “My life sucks except for Cole. So, yeah, I’m great.” Shit Ben, he thought to himself, not exactly the best way to get them to leave. He had no filter when it came to his mother.
Her smile quickly vanished and she joined him on the bed. “I’m sorry Ben. It’s going to take time, but I can stay here a little longer and help. Leroy needs to get back and take care of the girls. You know, Christmas is in four days.”
He hated her condescending attitude. His words just seemed to spew out of their own accord. “Time…that’s all I fucking have now. And I don’t give a goddamn fuck about Christmas!” At the horrified look on his mother’s face, he stopped and took a deep breath to calm himself.
He did his best to temper his tone. “I’m sorry. You were just being concerned. It is hard, but each day is a tiny bit less hard than the day before. You and Leroy should go home. Enjoy Christmas with the girls. I can take care of Cole just fine by myself. Grace….,” he stopped and took a ragged breath, “she would want me to take care of him and love him enough….for both of us.”
Kaitlin began to tear up at his mention of Grace. “Oh Ben…you don’t have to do this alone.”
He swallowed hard to keep his composure. “I said I’m okay.” He couldn’t sit there any longer so he got up and picked up the baby to help calm himself. Holding Cole seemed to somehow ground him. He began talking softly to the baby.
Little Cole made sweet baby sounds and then smiled up at him. Ben laughed through the tears that were welling in his eyes and smiled back at the baby. “Hey Buddy, you laughing at your old man?” Ben looked up at his mother. “Did you see him? He’s smiling. Look, he did it again.”
Kaitlin walked over to look at her grandson. “Awe, he is smiling, you should take a picture.”
Ben’s joy at his son’s first smile quickly turned into overwhelming sadness. His stomach twisted in knots at his mother’s innocent suggestion. This was just one of the ‘first’s’ that Cole would have without his mother. Grace would have been so happy. He couldn’t breathe and had to take quick short breaths to maintain control.
Ben put the baby back in the crib and turned to face his own mother trying his best to keep it together. She backed up ever so slightly which made it worse. He was hurting again. He wanted…he didn’t know what…maybe for her to hold him…to make the pain go away. But she didn’t, she backed away. That old feeling of being unworthy hit him hard.
Ben swallowed hard. “Grace should be here to see his first smile,” he whispered, tears burning behind his eyes. “She was all light and goodness. It’s not fair.”
Kaitlin began to cry at his words but kept her distance. “Ben,” she said softly, “Why don’t you talk to a counselor. They can help you. Do it for Cole. He needs his father whole, not broken.”
That pissed him off. He needed her to take the pain away, not to tell him to talk to a fucking counselor. She never understood what he needed. He felt the anger rolling through him, just like it had when he was living at home. “Don’t tell me what I need to do!” he yelled and then walked out of the room.
Kaitlin followed him. “Ben…please don’t do this.”
Her turned around and glared at her. “Don’t do what Mother? Take care of my son. No. What I don’t need to do is have a shrink to tell me how to love my kid or that it’s not my fault Grace died! But know this, what I will do is to never allow my child to be ignored, abused or homeless, ever. He will know he is loved!”
Kaitlin gasped. “Ben…”
“Ben. That’s enough!” said Leroy in his deep booming voice. At the same time he wrapped his arms around Kaitlin and pulled her close. Just like he always does. Nothing has changed, thought Ben.
Cole began crying. “I’ll get him,” said Kaitlin softly, leaving the two men in a standoff.
Leroy’s demeanor changed the instant Kaitlin left the room. He seemed almost apologetic. “Look Ben, I know you are hurting. More than I can even begin to imagine. I just really hope that, maybe, one day, as Cole grows up and you have to make difficult decisions about his upbringing, that you will come to realize your mother made the hard choices she did solely because of how much she loves you.”
The last thing Ben needed was a lecture from Leroy. It just fueled his anger. But he needed them to leave more than he needed to argue. He clenched his teeth, took a deep breath and calmed himself. “Look, I’m sorry. I think I just need some time alone with Cole. You and Mom should leave. Honestly, I’ve got it from here.”
Then he said something that surprised himself. “Thank you for being here and helping with Cole. I really do appreciate it. I – I don’t think I could have done this without you and Mom.”
Ben turned away quickly not giving Leroy a chance to respond or he wouldn’t have been able to maintain his composure. He walked the few short steps into the kitchen. He grabbed the cold breakfast from the tray his mom had left on the counter to busy himself.
As he ate, his thoughts drifted back to Lillie May. He needed to take Cole to see her. And more importantly, he needed to see her. To apologize for not coming himself. Maybe, as a peace offering he would ask his Mom and Leroy to go with him. Damn.
Kaitlin walked back in and sat down at the table with him, Leroy hovering close like a giant guard dog. “He just needed a diaper change,” she explained.
Ben looked up at his mother and forced himself to give her a smile. “Mom….before you leave, can you do me a favor?”