My knees hit the ground in front of my husband’s grave.
I clutched a bouquet of white flowers in my hands. Their blooms were bright and full of life, destined to shrivel and die long before their time. Just like my Maverick.
A tear slipped down my face even though I’d sworn I wouldn’t cry. Not today. Not any more days.
A year of crying was enough for me. An endless year of tears brought on by memories, certain smells, the look on my son’s young face, or sometimes from nothing. Just sitting in the car, waiting for the light to change. Not a thing running through my mind. And then the tears would hit.
How cruel could this world be that it would take my husband from me after only a year and a half of being married? Only a year with his son? Only twenty-four short years on this earth?
I placed the bouquet in front of his gravestone and traced my fingers over the engraved lettering.
Maverick Wright. A good husband and father. Gone too soon.
I couldn’t recall if I’d chosen those words. The days and weeks after Maverick had died on the Fourth of July were a blur. My family in and out, Mav’s family hovering, casserole dishes and church services and so much therapy. All I really remembered was holding Jason, crushed to my chest, as we’d buried his father and the love of my life six feet under the earth. Exactly where I was now.
A sob escaped my throat. My hand flew to cover the sound.
“A year,” I whispered. “A whole year without you, Mav.”
It seemed impossible.
Totally impossible to be here today and think that I’d made it that long.
When I’d first found out I was pregnant, everyone had assumed that I’d get rid of it. I had money. I hadn’t needed to be shackled to my college boyfriend because of one little hiccup. But I never considered it. I loved Maverick with all my heart, and the baby had felt inevitable.
Sure, I had been scared as fuck. Terrified that we weren’t ready. Worried about what other people would think. Upset by everyone’s reactions. But I never doubted Maverick. Everyone had spouted bullshit about him knocking me up on purpose for my money, for that bold Wright name that came with so much respect in my hometown of Lubbock, Texas. I’d just known it wasn’t true. Not only had Maverick been completely devoted to me, but I’d also utterly belonged to him. Our nerves had morphed into excitement, and when Jason was born, it was the best day of our lives.
Thirteen months later, Maverick was gone, and suddenly, I was a widow and a single mom.
My life couldn’t have changed more.
“I survived,” I told Maverick, sinking back on my heels. “That’s about as much as I can say. I survived, and Jason survived. I never thought I could do it without you, but…but I did.”
I felt guilty, saying it.
He was gone, and somehow, I was still functioning. Not the same. Not by a long shot. The Sutton Wright who had first married Maverick no more. Yet I was still making it day to day.
“I know you’d want me to be happy. But, God, I miss you every day. Being happy seems like such a stretch. Like, what is happy without you? I want to be able to get back to the good, Mav, but everything hurts. Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night to check on Jason, and I think I hear your voice downstairs. I rush down the hall, my heart in my throat, and all I find is an empty living room. And it hits me all over again that you’re…you’re never coming back.”
I pressed my forehead into the grass that had grown over the empty pit where they’d put the casket. My tears stained the earth. I hoped that they reached him down there.
“No one understands,” I told him, confessing my truth. “People don’t get what I feel. All my friends are happy and young and living this beautiful life that we had, and they can’t comprehend what I’m going through. That I’m a shattered mess inside. That just because I can manage a fake smile doesn’t mean I’m okay. Christ, even when I manage a real smile, I’m not okay.
“Annie is still around, of course, and my family. And I made a new friend in the nanny, Jenny. I know we weren’t close in high school, but I’m a different person now. All our friends from Tech,” I said, my chest aching as I remembered the wonderful years we’d spent together at Texas Tech University, “they’re gone. I was too much for them. Eventually, they got tired of my grief. It was easier to avoid me than anything else. They couldn’t comfort me, but it was nice to have people nearby. And, sometimes…it’s easier to have no one. To sit at home alone and feel numb. But I try not to, Mav. I know you’d want me to live. You always said I was so full of life. I don’t know what you’d think of me now.”
I rolled over and lay on back on the grave. I didn’t care who stumbled across me lying there in my black sundress. The stifling hot July sun was streaming down onto my pale skin, which hadn’t seen the sunlight in months. One look at me would probably be enough to convince someone to stay away.
“But I can’t move on. That’s what people say in so many words. God wouldn’t give me more than I could handle. Everything happens for a reason. You’ll find love again.” I pressed my hands into my eyes. I’d been smart enough not to wear mascara to this. “None of those things are comforting. What kind of God would take you from me? What the hell kind of reason could there have been? And do I ever want to find love again?”
I lay there and spilled my heart to him. That was one of the best parts about Maverick; he had always been a great listener. I’d never shut up before, so that had been a great trait. I needed it now more than ever. Who knew that finding my own silence would only make me appreciate him more?
“I want to feel more than this again,” I confessed.
Slowly, I sat up, keeping my back to his grave. I hated saying these words to him, but I needed to. I needed him to know. I needed him to understand. I wasn’t abandoning him. This wouldn’t change how I felt about him. But I needed this.
“You’ll always be a part of me, Maverick. You’ll always hold a piece of my heart. I could never replace you, and I don’t want to. But I think…I think I need more. I’m only twenty-four years old. I can’t stay in this place forever. Moving on is the wrong phrase. All moving on means to me is a plea to stop talking about it. My grief makes others uncomfortable, and they can’t handle it. That’s not my problem. It’s theirs. What I want is…” I choked on finding the right words.
Silently, I slid back around to face him. I couldn’t hide. Not from him. “What I want is to open a new place in my heart. To carry you with me and find a way to keep living. Because, right now, I’m barely making it.”
I wiped a tear from my eye and waited for divine intervention. Something to tell me I was making the right choice. I could already hear all the people judging me for moving on with my life after being a widow for only a year. That wasn’t long enough. Not by a long shot.
But they’d be wrong.
I was still in mourning for Maverick.
I could mourn him and grieve for him and find a way to do more than just survive this cruel fucking world.
I wanted to find a tiny piece of the butterfly inside myself that had once been so joyous. The wings were broken. It couldn’t fly anymore. But, somewhere deep down inside, it needed to heal so that I could spread my wings once more.
“I love you.” I placed a kiss on his tombstone. “I’ll always love you.”
Then, I gingerly got to my feet.
My fingers clenched the heated stone. I wished more than anything that I could hear his voice one more time. Just once.
I didn’t even remember the last thing that he’d said to me a year ago. I’d gotten to the Fourth of July parade early to secure a spot. I’d kissed him good luck, and he’d disappeared for the marathon with my best friend, Annie. A few hours later, he was gone. Heart failure. Undetected heart condition. Nothing could be done.
As if that was a comfort.
“I know what we had was beyond compare. I’ll never have that again. But…maybe I can have something else.” I closed my eyes against the onslaught of emotions. “I’m sorry, Mav. I’m so sorry.”
With a heavy heart, I glanced once more at his gravestone, hoping to see some sign that he understood. But nothing came. He was silent.
If I wanted to find a way to live, I’d have to do it myself.
Just as I’d done everything during the last year.
Without my husband.