Her weakened knees buckled unceremoniously under the weight of her grief, sending her waif-like frame into a crumpled heap on the floor next to his bedside. What should have still been his bedside, but never again would he rest in that spot on the mattress, next to her, holding her, loving her.
The anguish piercing her soul plummeted it to depths unimaginable. How could she go on after this? How could she continue to live in this newly empty world when she’d just buried her heart? How could she breathe without the only man she’d ever loved, especially after having just found him again? How could she do any of it without him by her side, holding her hand, holding her heart?
It was simple. She couldn’t. She didn’t want to. But how could she not?
The confliction in her heart was incomprehensible. She wanted to be with him, whether that be in life or in death, but she knew, deep down, he’d never forgive her if she forced their afterlife reunion to come before the fates decided it was time they’d meet again.
Abigail’s shoulders convulsed as sobs wracked through her petite body. The sound of her cries echoed in the empty room, and that was exactly how she felt. Empty. Barren. A desolate hollow shell of the happiness that once consumed her.
However long she remained there, on the ground, unfeeling, unmoving, she wasn’t aware. But eventually, the tears she’d shed had exhausted her into a sleepy daze. She slowly rose and pushed the covers back, crawling into the space he’d so recently slept, peaceful, even in the wake of his impending demise. Even knowing he would soon draw his last breath, he continued to smile, showering her in the magnitude of his love, his laughter, and not for a single second had she seen him shed a tear. That was her Trevor. Strong until the end, even when his body was weakened beyond repair.
The moment she rested her head on his pillow another surge of hot tears threatened behind the blues of her eyes as the scent of his favorite soap hit her senses. A fresh wave of grief crested and crashed all around her, just like her life had done in the past few days.
Abigail knew Trevor wouldn’t want this for her, and she knew, deep down, she had to get herself together. She blinked slowly, taking deep, slow and steady, breaths, trying to prevent herself from enduring another bout of hyperventilation that would likely bring on an unwanted panic attack. The last thing she wanted—and inversely, the only thing she wanted, was to spend another night medicated because she couldn’t get past the turmoil of her grief. Her throat tightened as she forced herself to admit that truth in her head. The more she did so, perhaps the easier it would be to accept.
Trevor was gone.
Her husband, the love of her life, her one true soulmate, was gone.
Easier? She was kidding herself. The finality of those words did little to alleviate her pain, no matter how many times she repeated them in her head. She knew he’d hate to see her like this. Heck, he’d as much as said so, time and time again. The one thing, perhaps the only thing, that would help were his final words.
Tired eyes swam with tears as memories of his last request hit her. His frail hand, once large and tanned from hours spent on the baseball field, had unexpectedly cradled hers. The sensation had shocked her; the realization that Trevor was fading fast suddenly became so much more real. His skin was cold, clammy, and instead of enveloping her delicate fingers like he used to, he’d simply rested his thinned ones on the top of her palm.
“Abigail.” Once booming and boisterous, his voice had now been a mere whisper, another devastating sign of the weakness due to his losing battle with cancer that had set upon him swiftly and cruelly.
Even though Abigail wanted nothing more than to burst into tears at the sight of her love wilting away, she’d swallowed them down and set her chin, not wishing to cause Trevor any more pain or regret. She knew he’d already blamed himself for all the time they’d lost when they’d been apart. There was no need for her to add to his guilt. So instead, she’d given him a tremulous smile and squeezed his hand reassuringly. “Yes, Trevor?”
“You know I love you?” he’d croaked. There was a finality in his voice she wasn’t prepared for, sinking her heart to depths she’d never experienced, but soon would.
She’d leaned forward to press a soft kiss to his mouth. “I love you, Trevor. Always,” she’d whispered against his cracked lips. When she pulled back, she’d gasped at the raw torment visible in his dulled blue eyes.
“It’s almost time,” he’d whispered.
“Trevor…” she’d trailed off. What could she say? He wasn’t wrong, even if she didn’t want to admit it.
“It’s okay, Abigail. I’m ready.” He’d let out a small laugh that quickly turned into a coughing fit. She’d helped him take a sip of water from a cup on his nightstand. When he’d calmed down, his eyes returned to her. “I mean, I’ll never be ready to leave you, but we both know this is inevitable, and I’m tired of fighting. Of hurting. And of hurting you.”
She’d opened her mouth to protest, but the slight shake of his head stopped her. “Abigail, I’m the luckiest man in the world for having the time with you that I did. I regret so many things, but I can die a happy man, knowing I loved you. That you loved me in return. I just need to know you’ll be okay. That you’ll go on. I can’t stand the thought of you spending your life grieving. Promise me, Abigail.”
She’d nodded, but he hadn’t bought it. He’d known she was just telling him what he wanted to hear. That was his Abigail. Which is why he’d had to insist. “Promise me you’ll still smile. Promise me you’ll still laugh. Promise me you’ll still live, Abigail. Live for you. Live for me. Live for the both of us.” She’d hesitated, and that’s when he’d pulled the trump card. He’d known it was unfair, probably cruel even, but he had no other choice. “Promise me, sweetheart. Because if I have to die without the reassurance that you’ll continue to be the beautiful, vibrant, full of life woman I fell in love with, then I can’t die a happy man. I need this. Please. Promise me.”
Their eyes were locked in on each other, and they’d held their gazes for long, excruciatingly silent moments before Abigail once again leaned forward to kiss him. Her pale blue irises had met his and she’d prayed her strength would hold, even when all she wanted was to curl up against him and sob. He was strong for her. She could do the same in return. So with a shaky smile, she agreed. “I promise, Trevor. I’ll still smile. I’ll still laugh. I’ll still live. If not for myself, I’ll do it for you. But I will do it knowing I was the luckiest woman in existence for having loved you. And I will continue to love you for all of my days. Time. Death. Nothing will ever change that. I lost you once before, and we found our way back to each other. I believe, with every beat of my heart, that we can do the same again.”
Satisfied, a small smile crossed Trevor’s lips. He’d laid his head back on the pillow, his eyes drooping closed with sleepiness. Without another word, Abigail curled up against his chest, listening to the sounds of his ragged breath. Both of them left silently wondering if she’d be able to keep the promise; both of them knowing they’d all too soon find out.
The memory burned like a raging, unbeatable, inferno in her mind. She hadn’t wanted to, but she’d made that promise to Trevor, and she intended to keep it. Starting now.
Gazing around their marital bedroom, her eyes landed on the book on her husband’s nightstand. Before his passing, Trevor had been re-reading his favorite classic, The Great Gatsby.
“One last time before I go,” he’d joked, not knowing any other way to deal with his illness than with humor.
She smiled, remembering when they’d met in college. She’d been sitting in the grass near the courtyard at school, leaned up against a tree reading A Separate Peace when he’d sat right next to her, wooing her entirely by tossing out a line from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous work. To many, it may have sounded like a line, but to Trevor, it was the truth. He wasn’t in love with her—he’d never even met her. But he’d definitely experienced a tender curiosity when it came to the beautiful blonde reading his second favorite American classic.
And on Abigail, it worked. She’d been utterly charmed.
As their romance blossomed, he’d like to compare himself to the titular character while Abigail knew he was more like the handsome, sweet Nick Carraway. Well, at least he’d finally become so once he’d matured.
Shaking her head as to not let unhappy memories seep in, she leaned over to pick up the book, knowing exactly where they’d left off. When she opened it, she realized that her usual bookmark was gone, and an envelope was in its place. Her heartbeat quickened and she held her breath as Trevor’s handwriting stared back at her.
The reminder of his nickname sent a tear spilling onto her cheek. How had she missed this before? How long had the letter been there, waiting for her to find it? What could it possibly say?
With trembling fingers, she retrieved the piece of paper that was tucked tenderly inside. She smiled tearfully as she unfolded the page. She should’ve known Trevor would have wanted to have the last word. Her head tilted back and she looked to the ceiling, sending her dearest thoughts to her husband, hoping, praying, wishing that somewhere in the heavens he could hear her.
After a few moments of reflection on their happy times together, she redirected her attention to the letter. She wasn’t sure if she could read those words, but Abigail knew she had to. It was obviously what Trevor wanted. Her heart was thumping wildly in her chest as her eyes rested on the top of the page.
As much as I hate writing this, I hate that you’re reading it. A goodbye letter? How cliché, right? But the thought of not leaving you one was even more unbearable, so here I am, the incomparable Trevor Sullivan has left the world with a cliché. I hope you don’t hold it against me.
First and foremost, I love you, Abigail. Death will not change that. Nothing could ever change that. From the moment I saw you, to the moment I close my eyes for the last time, know that I have always only ever loved you. You’re the woman my heart was made to love, and I will forever be in your debt for loving me back. Whatever I did in a past life to deserve you, I hope I continue to do so. Because our love will stand the test of time. In this life, and in every other, you’re my destiny. I know that now more than ever, and that’s why, even though I’m aware our time together is limited on this earth, I have faith that we’ll be together again sooner than you think.
When I was a selfish man, I almost lost you. Hell, for a while, I did lose you. The stubborn part of me let you go even though I knew I was making the biggest mistake of my life. I watched you walk away, and instead of chasing you, I was a coward and lost so much precious time with the love of my life. Our time apart did nothing but show me how much I needed you, how much I wanted you, and how life without you was dull. Devoid of any happiness. It wasn’t a life worth living, and I knew I couldn’t go on with my heart missing.
Life, however, brought you back to me, and when it did, I vowed I’d spend the rest of mine cherishing you. I’d win you back and hold on so tightly, never letting you get away again. I’d have followed you to the ends of the earth if I had to. Where you went, I went, and vice versa. That never changed.
Until now. As much as I want to be with you for every second of every day, I’m going to a place that isn’t quite ready for you yet. Tempting as it may be, I pray you don’t follow for a very long time. It’ll be hard, sweetheart, but remember your promise. Continue to smile. Continue to laugh. Continue to live your life for the both of us. For the both of you. Raise our son to be a better man than I was. Remind him of how much I love him; always remember how much I love you.
When you’re lost and lonely, look at our son and see that the best parts of me are still here. You may not be able to see me, but I will be with you. Always.
Loving you has been the greatest endeavor of my life. I leave this world a blessed, fulfilled, happy, happy man. I love you, Abby, and I can’t wait for the day when you’re in my arms again.
Until then… I’ll be waiting.
An endless stream of tears flowed down her cheeks as she read his words over and over again. When her reserves were empty, she set the page aside and wiped the moisture from her face, holding out her hand to stare at her wedding band in melancholy reflection.
Trevor was right. Even though most days she didn’t want to, she knew she still had so much to live for, even if half of her heart was now empty. The other half was still so incredibly full.
The sound of little feet pitter-pattering down the hall was the reminder she needed. She forced a smile to her lips when their son, the spitting image of his father, burst into the room and jumped on the bed. His innocence was like a barrier to the grief that death caused. One day, he’d fully understand and miss his father, but for now, his chubby smiles and cuddling hugs were the balms to her grieving soul.
Yes, she could keep her promise to Trevor.
Because even though she no longer had him, she had his son. She had his memories. She had his words.
It wouldn’t quite be enough, but that was okay. Nothing ever would.
The air around us was silent save for the crickets chirping off in the distance. The cool Cincinnati breeze nipped at my skin while I waited for his reaction. When I’d started writing this novel, it was an ode to my past love. My past life. But then it’d taken on a life of its own and had become so much more. Making it that much more poignant. That much harder to fathom the one word that’d been haunting me for years.
Finally, he turned to the last page and sucked in a breath. My stomach twisted in knots, knowing he was about to read the end. Not knowing how he’d interpret it. Half scared he’d tell me I’d lost my mind and no one would ever want to read this story, especially with that ending.
He didn’t make me wait long. I watched as his head slowly rose and was taken aback at the tears shining in his usually cheerful eyes. This man, who was always like a second father to me, had been reduced to tears by my words. My words. Words we both knew for whom they were meant. And instead of calling me a fool or trying to kill me, he watched me with tearful appreciate, switching between nodding and shaking his head as if trying to process it all.
I didn’t know how to react, so I just sat there, staring at him, waiting for him to say something. Anything.
He closed the manuscript and set it on the table in front of us before taking a long swig from his whiskey glass. I followed suit and enjoyed the smoky burn that did little to soothe my nerves.
“Jesus Christ,” he muttered, his eyes locking in on mine. “Tucker. You did it. You fucking did it,” he whispered, seemingly unashamed of his emotional display.
I nodded, the same emotion welling up inside me when I remember the ending of my first novel. So many love stories begin with the girl who got away. Mine wasn’t any different. Not just in my novel, but in real life as well. Ava Banks was, and always would be, that girl for me. But instead of just slipping through my fingers, she’d made the conscious decision to leave. And like most dumb ass men, I let her. Hell, I pushed her away. I’d regretted it ever since.
But now, I was hoping like hell I could get the second chance Trevor did. Hoping like hell my story would turn out differently than his. But either way, I was putting myself out there, as terrifying as that was. She finally, finally would hear the words I couldn’t say all those years ago.
Now I just had to wait to see what she’d do about it.