“When you love a person and they become a memory, that memory becomes one of your greatest treasures” – Author Unknown
SHATTERED. THAT IS the only word I can use to describe my current state. The weight and pressure residing on my chest can only be described as a broken heart. Losing my Gigi, the only living relative I know of, has left me feeling fractured. Gutted. Alone. I am essentially an orphan, with no family to speak of, and at thirty-two years old, that is a tough pill to swallow. I had always enjoyed being an only child, but I am wishing—now more than ever—I had some siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, anyone really to help me deal with the gravity of this loss. As I stare down at the woman who raised me, I feel a sense of dread wash over me. How am I supposed to live the rest of my life alone? It is a morbidly sad thought, and I am not quite sure I can truly even comprehend what it means at the moment.
After hours of greeting guests who came to pay tribute to my Gigi, I asked the funeral director for a few minutes alone to say goodbye to the very best person I have ever known. He granted me the time and I feel like I have been standing here over her casket for an eternity. Today was her wake and then she will be taken to be cremated. Instructions were in place for me to add her ashes to the urn at home with my gramps and then bury them together. She planned this all out and I am following her instructions to the letter. She wanted a wake, and then a huge party to celebrate her life. This request doesn’t surprise me as she was always a social butterfly. However, the person lying within this casket doesn’t even resemble my beloved Gigi, the only mother I have ever known. Her body withered away to nothing as the cancer overtook her. Cancer. Fuck that evil word. God, how I hate that fucking word and everything it stands for. Death. Destruction. Ripping families apart. Taking loved ones too soon. It took my sweet, loving grandmother and made her unrecognizable. Just bones and skin.
I hate funeral homes. Always have. They all look the same and all have a very distinct scent to them. The pungent smell of flowers, especially the lilies, brings on an instant headache for me, and today is no different. Looking around the viewing room, there are so many flowers, and I am thankful for the shades of color making the pale pinks and creams marking the walls and floor a little brighter. The bright reds, vibrant pinks, stark whites, striking purples, and brilliant blues bring a small smile to my face. As much as the scent bothers me, the simplistic beauty of the hordes of flowers sent by people from all over town really reminds me how much the woman lying before me was loved, and not just by me. She was a staple in this town and the immense pride I feel for all those who loved and appreciated her is overwhelming.
Holding her cold, withered hand in mine, I speak to her as if she can actually hear my words. “Gigi, I don’t know how I am supposed to do this. I am so sorry I left you for so long. God, how I wish I’d come home after college and spent as much time with you as possible. But I couldn’t be close to Trystan after what he did. Time heals all wounds is bullshit. You always encouraged me to chase my dreams, live my life, and find my happy. Sadly, you were part of my happy, and he was part of my misery, so I stayed away.” Sniffling I wipe my nose. My face and eyes feel puffy from crying.
Reflecting on the last several months, I have no regrets. But oh do the years prior weigh heavy on my mind and heart. Six months ago, I packed up my life in Las Vegas and moved back home to Savannah, Georgia to take care of my ill grandmother. She fought me tooth and nail on that one, but in the end I won. When I got the phone call that she had stage four pancreatic cancer and was given a short time to live, there was no other option for me. My Gigi raised me from the time I was born to drug addicted parents. Eventually she and my gramps adopted me as their own. They were the best people and truly gave me the greatest life a girl could ask for. We lost Gramps a few years back, and my Gigi insisted I continue living my life in Vegas. She always pushed me and cheered me on to live my life to fullest and do whatever I could to be happy. Las Vegas was my destination of choice for college, and I quickly settled into life there as a nurse afterward. Naturally, when my gram fell ill, there was no one else beside myself who could possibly care for her in my eyes. I packed up my life, quit the job I loved, left, and moved back home.
The last six months have been the most difficult of my life, but I wouldn’t trade having those six months with her. I feel like we had come full circle. She cared for and nurtured me from the day I was born, and I have done the same for her until her death. The pain of her loss is nothing like I have ever felt before. Losing my gramps was a tough pill to swallow, but this is like cutting off a limb. It has been only a few days, and I know this will get easier, but right now I just feel lost. Empty. The physical ache in my chest makes it difficult to breathe. My stomach is in knots. Feeling lightheaded and dizzy has become the norm for me, because I just can’t seem to keep food down.
As my tears continue to fall, I feel a presence behind me, and without even hearing the person speak, I know it is my best friend, Hunter. We have such a deep connection, I can feel him around me before I see or hear him.
“Camryn, I needed to come and check on you. Do you need some more time? I will let the funeral director know either way. Most people have cleared out and are heading over to Simmer for the reception.” His voice and simple touch soothe me. Simmer is a local restaurant in town, which also serves as a place for receptions and banquets. It was my Gigi’s favorite place, and one of mine also, so we naturally decided to have her celebration of life there.
“I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to live without the one person who has never caused me to doubt her love for me. Unwavering. In all my life, I have never felt so alone.” Sobbing, I fall into Hunter’s arms. He wraps me in his embrace and comforts me, petting my hair, and allowing me to cling to him like a lifeline.
“Cam, you will never be alone as long as I am here. And I am not going anywhere. You are the apple to my pie. The sprinkles on my sundae. The mac to my cheese. You get the picture. Let’s go do this party thing, and then we can drown our sorrows in wine, chocolate, and some chick flicks. Gigi wanted a party and a party she will have”.
“How did I get so lucky to have you in my life? My gusband. If only you were straight, my life would be that much easier.”
That earns me a smile and a wink. Whenever I refer to him as my gusband—gay husband—he gets a kick out it. Hunter is one of the most beautiful men I have ever laid eyes on, inside and out. With his dirty blond, messy hair, piercing blue eyes, and perfectly toned body, he is a walking billboard. Think Jesse Pavelka but with eyes the colors of sapphires. Top those looks with boyish charm, a killer sense of humor, a caring and compassionate soul, and he is hands down the perfect man. His life has been challenging, to say the least, but you would never know it. His family didn’t respond too well when he finally ‘came out’ to them and essentially cut him off completely. He is the best person I have ever known, and we instantly became best friends when we met in college years ago. When I decided to move back home to care for my Gigi, he begged me to come. His family situation being less than ideal, and getting laid off from work recently left him feeling like he had no reason to stay out West. Who was I to say no? Selfishly, I would have hated leaving him in Vegas, so together we made the move. He has been a godsend, helping me over the last six months, and brought some much needed humor and lightheartedness to both my gram and me. She adored him almost as much as I do.
“I just need a few more minutes, please, and then I will be out. I don’t know how to say goodbye, but I know I’m not quite done yet. I must look a mess. You know my skin gets red and splotchy when I cry.”
He wipes the tears from my face as he has done several times over the last few months. “First of all, you’re beautiful, but you may want to touch up your makeup a bit. Take your time, Cam. I will let them know we need a few more minutes before we head out,” he says, while giving his signature kiss on my forehead.
His honesty is refreshing and I am sure he was being kind regarding a touch up of my makeup. Placing my hands on my grandmother’s small, fragile hands, the sobs come back in full force. I know if she were here, she would tell me to stand tall, stop crying, and commence to celebrating her and her life. But she isn’t and I feel so lost and unsure.
“God, Gi, I hope you know how much you mean to me. I tried to tell you and show you often, but what you and Gramps did for me—without ever questioning it—means the absolute world to me. You played so many roles in my life, and I can only hope I continue to make you proud. Please look in on me from time to time. Give me signs, please. I need to know, even though you aren’t here physically, you are always with me. I will talk to you often and ask you for guidance. You are and will always be my person.” Dabbing my eyes with tissues, I realize they are drenched, falling apart in my hands.
The hollowness I feel in my chest is like nothing I have ever felt before. It is a physical ache that doesn’t seem to be leaving anytime soon. Knowing I need to pull myself together, I kiss my Gigi for the last time. As I turn to leave, I barrel into someone. Not knowing anyone was with me after Hunter left, I am a bit shocked and look up into the eyes of the first person to ever break my heart, Trystan Harrison. I stumble and his strong arms grab hold of me and make sure to secure me. He presses my body tight to his, and I hate how his arms make me feel safe. In this moment, I want to remember the pain he caused me, but his arms feel like home. They are strong and secure, and I can’t help but allow myself to fall apart in his embrace. As much as it pains me for him to see me weak like this, I can’t be bothered to care much at this point. My emotions have caused a chill to come over my body, and he provides the warmth I need in this moment.
“I can’t even imagine what you are feeling right now, and I needed to know you were okay,” Trystan says to me in his raspy, deep voice. It is melodic and calms me. He has always had that power over me, no matter how much I try over and over to deny it. His hand rubs circles on my back as he holds me close to him. My tears are soaking his shirt, but he doesn’t seem fazed by this. “Sunshine, I hope you know you are never alone. You have me, Avery, my family, the Stones.”
Pushing my hands against his chest defensively, I cut him off, “Wait, you were listening to me. How long were you behind me? That was a private moment, and there you were being an eavesdropper. You were never one to keep your nose out of my business, were you, Trystan?” I bite out.
That gets him to laugh, which only incenses me more. I try to pull myself from his grip, which he only tightens up. My size and frame is no match for his, and as much as I used to love that, I am not a fan in this moment. My five four height seems so small when he has almost a foot on me.
“I mean, seriously. A little privacy goes a long way. You had no right to listen to me. You are infuriating.”
Looking up I see that signature smirk and I want to slap it off his face. He finds my ranting funny, and it makes me want to junk punch him. That smirk was once my favorite, but not anymore. Everything about him was my favorite. His dark brown hair is tousled and constantly looks like someone’s fingers were just in it. Jade eyes, complete with long full eyelashes any girl would be jealous of, are easy to get lost in. Of course, he has perfect dimples gracing his impeccable face, flawlessly kissable lips that are the start of a picture-perfect smile. Add his six four frame, and his muscularly sculpted body, and you pretty much have the perfect looking guy. It is a shame the looks don’t make me feel better about him being a cheating asshole.
“You are my business. Always have been. Always will be, Sunshine,” he retorts.
Typical alpha dick response from him. And it doesn’t surprise me. He has been this way with me since I was a child. At one point, I was very much his business. Not so much now. Cheating on your girlfriend, and getting someone pregnant is never a good look, and is they very reason I am no longer his business. He destroyed me, and being this close to him, I realize I am still not over it. After that happened, I decided Savanah wasn’t where I wanted to be. Transferring to a college in Vegas, and ultimately making a life there, was a direct result of his actions.
Getting myself free from his grasp, my anger comes out. “Let me fucking make something clear, Trystan. I am not your business. I haven’t been for many years. The quicker you get that through that thick head of yours, the better off we will be. The audacity you have to even insinuate I am your business is infuriating. But you are really good at doing that, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Now let’s go back to pretending like we can tolerate each other, and go get this over with. My Gigi wanted a party celebrating her life, so a party she shall have. Oh, and don’t call me Sunshine. I hate it and you have no right to call me that any longer.”
On a huff, I make my way away from the person who once owned my heart and crushed it. I have too much going on to deal with him today. Ironically, my Gigi would find this situation with Trystan and me comical. She was always convinced we were soul mates. She insisted our hearts were made up of halves, only together would we be whole, and that we would end up together someday. While I once thought that to be truth, that ship sailed many years ago and it is never coming back. She adored the man and I can’t blame her, as he was very good to her. After I left and my gramps passed away, he helped her around the house often. He and Caleb, his son, would often have dinner with her while I was living across the country. They were there for her when I was off living my life. For that I am appreciative, but the pain he caused me isn’t something I can forget. It has been twelve years, and I still have not forgiven him. I am not sure I ever can.
James, the funeral director, sees me approaching and makes his way over to me. He has been amazing through this whole process. I don’t know how one gets into this line of work, especially at his age, but this job and role suits him. He is full of compassion and empathy and has certainly helped me more than I can ever thank him for. My best friend, Avery, insists he is crushing on me, but I am confident he’s just doing his job.
“Thank you for that extra alone time. I could have stayed with her for hours, but I know people are likely waiting for me. Please call me when everything is done, and we can set up the private burial for them both. Oh, and I hope you will join us at Simmer for the celebration of life. Gigi would want you there also.”
“I have a ton to do here, so it will likely be a very late night. I will call you when everything is all set, and we can go from there. After I am finished, I will drive by, and if there are still people at Simmer, I may pop in. If you need anything you have my number and should use it.”
With that last statement, he walks away. I head off to find Hunter, so we can make our way to the celebration and hopefully to some much needed wine. You can get drunk at a celebration of life, right? Lord knows I need it after the last several hours.