In the Stillness
Author:Andrea Randall

“I wish you hadn’t died, you know.” I sit cross-legged six feet above his body. “I haven’t been here in a long time, and I’m sorry. I just . . . you know . . . well, you don’t because you weren’t here.” A sound just above a mew leaves my throat as tears roll down my neck. “Ryker lost it when you died, Lucas. Anyone else, it could have been anyone else and none of this would have happened! Why’d he have to see it all?” I slam my palms into the warm grass and dig my nails into the dirt.

 

Ryker watched as Lucas’s Humvee exploded under firefight right before his eyes in Afghanistan. By the time Ryker got to him, it was too late; the boy I loved held the charred body of his best friend—then got shot in the back. That was his ticket home. His body came home, but his soul had been devoured in the firefight of a godless desert.

 

I sigh and run my hand over the information on Lucas’s headstone. His name, his rank, and the dates he laughed and lived are all there.

 

Loving Son.

 

Best Friend.

 

My eyes focus on the date of his death, causing me to check my cell phone.

 

“You’re kidding,” I half-yell into the grass. “Ten years? Yesterday? You died ten years ago yesterday?”

 

A chill shoots up my spine as the wind picks up, an answer from Lucas perhaps. I can’t believe it’s been ten years since Ryker’s mom called me for the first time.

 

I’ve gotta get out of here.

 

I carefully time my return home for after I know the boys are in bed. The apartment is in shambles, as to be expected when Eric’s at the helm. My eyes survey the mess, and I decide to start picking up the toys off the living room floor while Eric stands with his back to the counter.

 

“Don’t worry about it, hon. Just go read or take a bath or something; I’ll clean up.”

 

“K.” I sigh.

 

As I walk past Eric, he sticks out his arms for a hug. He does this a lot, just opens up and expects me to fall into him. When I look up at him, about to blow him off, I suddenly see the twenty-three-year-old on the sidewalk wearing a tattered Redskins hat. I walk into his hug and he seems to sigh in relief.

 

He rests his chin on my head. “You look like you’ve been crying.”

 

I can’t lie to the boy on the sidewalk. “I went to Lucas’s grave today.”

 

Eric’s muscles tighten as he pulls away and holds me at arms-length. I swear I see his eyes dart to my left arm for a split second, but I don’t pull it away in defense, just in case. There’s no way he made that connection.

 

“Why?” His eyebrows sink in question.

 

I clear my throat. “I haven’t been since before I met you. It’s been too long . . . he died ten years ago yesterday.” Fresh tears cloud my vision.

 

“I’m sorry.” He pulls me back into a hug and I cry some more.

 

It’s not for Lucas that I’m crying right now—as awful as that seems. It’s for every fucking thing that happened after. Eric knows. And that’s why he’s squeezing me so tightly; he doesn’t want me to go back down the path. The one where I alone control how I feel. At all times.

 

As we crawl into bed and Eric wraps his arm around my waist, I realize I’ve made a fatal error. I don’t cry—not anymore—but I did just now in front of Eric. He knows those tears belong to the girl I was on September 10, 2001. The girl who never knew what a panic attack was, or what true fear felt like.

 

I’ll have to be more careful, now. I feel like I’m crawling out of my skin and wish I could make just a small cut to release some of the pressure, some of the pain. My heart races as I realize I’ve opened Pandora’s Jar. I have to cut, now. That’s all there is to it. I’ll feel better tomorrow when I do, because the adrenaline high numbs the pain. It will help me from making stupid mistakes like visiting Lucas’s grave, or crying in front of Eric. Soon I fall asleep, playing over the look on Eric’s face the first time I told him about the scars.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

 

 

 

 

“Morning,” Eric whispers as he kisses my forehead. He places coffee on the table next to my bed.

 

“Hey.” I sit up and immediately panic at the brightness outside my window. “Shit! I overslept! I’m sorry. Where are the boys?”

 

Eric laughs and sits at the foot of the bed. “I took them to school. My mom’s going to pick them up and they’re going to stay over at her house tonight.”

 

Wait, what?

 

“Wait, what? She’s had them overnight, like, two times, Eric, why now?”

 

What did you tell her?

 

“I told her we needed a night out to celebrate my almost finishing up my Ph.D. and she happily agreed.”

 

“Of course. Anything for you.” I roll my eyes and sit up.

 

“Jesus, Natalie, don’t be happy that I planned for you to have another day—” he stops and winces a little as my jaw drops, “God, this is frustrating!” He stands and runs his hands through his hair, tucking it behind his ears when he’s done. “What is it, Natalie, huh? What is it? We haven’t had sex in three weeks, you’re moody as hell, and yesterday you go to the grave of someone you barely knew who died ten years ago? What’s going on?” He closes his eyes and takes a careful breath. That’s Eric, always trying to regain control.