The funeral was over. Most of the people who had gathered afterward had already left. This allowed Taylor Steele to finally get busy cleaning the house. She was done talking to people. She did not want to hear anymore platitudes from well-meaning people expressing condolences. Taylor really did appreciate those people and their thoughts and prayers, but in the four days since Mason’s death, she had heard all she could stand.
By this time, only three of her and Mason’s closest friends remained in her home. A part of her wished that they, too, would leave. A bigger part wanted them to stay forever. Taylor was unsure if she was ready to face a night alone in the house she had shared with her husband for the last two years. But she did not want to think about it. So she got busy. She swept through the living room like a purposeful breeze, picking up stray plates and napkins and plastic cups half full of punch and iced tea.
“Let me give you a hand with those,” said Leslie as she walked up behind Taylor, reaching for the stack of plates in Taylor’s hand.
Taylor shook her head. “You really don’t have to,” she said, but put up no fight, handing over the plates willingly.
“Yeah, I think I do,” Leslie said. “Sit down. You’ve been on your feet all day. Take five.”
Taylor considered her friend’s words. Leslie was right. She had been up since six, unable to sleep any later than that. This had been the norm for months; Mason’s passing had not changed that. Before the 2:00 funeral, there had been a hundred tiny things that needed to be done; a hundred things that she hardly considered important. But they kept her busy.
“That’s not true,” said Taylor as she fell to the sofa, “I sat down during the funeral. And again at the graveside.”
“Well, you’ve got me there.”
For a long moment, the only sound in the room was the sound of Leslie picking up leftovers. Taylor could hear Leslie’s husband in the foyer talking to Daniel, Taylor’s brother. Rob was telling the story of his and Mason’s legendary trip to the Grand Canyon when they were freshmen in college. When she realized what the guys were talking about, Taylor had to stifle a laugh. Mason had told her about that road trip a dozen times and it was never the same twice. Every telling seemed to become a little more exaggerated.
“What?” Leslie looked at Taylor, hearing her slight snort.
She laughed again. “Nothing. I’m just listening to your husband tell his tale.”
“Oh, yeah.” Leslie carried an armful of garbage into the kitchen and returned a few seconds later. “Do you want to stay with us again tonight?” she asked as she took a seat next to Taylor.
Again, Taylor shook her head. “I really need to stay here tonight. It’s got to happen sometime” she said, leaning forward to hold her head in her hands. “I appreciate you guys letting me stay with you since Mason…” She started to break down, but took a breath.
“You know, you’re allowed to cry,” Leslie said as she placed her arm around her friend’s shoulders.
“I know.” Taylor wiped her cheeks of the few tears that managed to slip out of her eyes. “I don’t want to, though. I was ready. We were ready. We said our goodbyes a long time ago. Well, relatively speaking.”
“That doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to miss him.”
“I know that, too. I do miss him. More than I can say. But I’m not ready to break down yet. I’ve still got a lot to do and I can’t get things done if I’m an emotional wreck,” Taylor said. She stood up and walked to the kitchen.
A lot of people would have looked at the mess and felt overwhelmed. Taylor was just glad that she still had so much to keep her occupied. She began dumping leftover food into plastic storage containers and placed them in the refrigerator. “I’m not gonna have to cook for two weeks,” she said as Leslie entered the room.
Leslie made herself useful by taking the newly emptied casserole dishes and dipping them in the hot, soapy water in the sink. “I’m serious, Taylor. You can come back and stay with us for as long as you want.”
“And I appreciate that,” she said as she scraped cheesy broccoli into a Tupperware bowl, “but I’m gonna bit the bullet.”
At that point, Rob and Daniel walked in. Rob joined Leslie at the sink, drying while his wife washed. Daniel approached Taylor. “Hey, sis, I’m gonna take off.”
Taylor stopped what she was doing and gave her big brother a hug. “Do you need anything?” he asked while she pulled away.
“No,” she said as she returned to her chore, “I’m gonna let these two do some more cleaning, then I’ll kick them out. I’ll be fine for the night. Gonna sleep. A lot.” She smiled up at her brother, but he had a look of concern on his face. “Don’t look at me like that,” she said.
“All right, but call me if you need to.”
“I will. Thanks.”
Daniel looked over at Rob and Leslie, bid them goodbye, then left through the back door. Rob leaned over and kissed his wife on the cheek. “You okay here?” he asked, referring to the mountain of dishes still in need of washing
“I could do this in my sleep,” said Leslie.
“I’ll be right back.” Rob then walked toward Taylor, “Hey, can we talk for a minute?”
She nodded and followed him into the living room. Taylor was a little confused. What could Rob have to say to her that he could not have said in front of Leslie? She wondered this, but then she saw the look on his face. She saw the tears filling his eyes. Taylor knew that Rob hated to cry in front of Leslie. But she also knew that Leslie loved knowing that Rob was capable of crying. But Taylor said nothing.
“Mason asked me to give something to you,” Rob said as he pulled something out of his pocket. It was a flash drive. “He gave it to me a couple months back and instructed me to give it to you after he…” Rob had to take a breath to compose himself. “Well… here you go.”
Taylor was puzzled. “Do you know what’s on it?”
“Yeah, it’s a video message that he made for you. I didn’t watch it, but he did tell me the gist of what he said in it.”
“Well, what’s it about?” she asked.
Taylor, you know I’m not gonna tell you that. You have to watch it. Just know that Mason had something important he wanted to say to you,” said Rob as he put the flash drive into Taylor’s hand.
“Hey, sweetie.” Leslie walked into the room and saw Taylor scrutinizing the little blue flash drive.
“Yeah?” both Taylor and Rob said at the same time.
Leslie laughed a little at their mutual reaction. “The dishes are done,” she said, looking to Taylor. “Do you need me to do anything else?”
Taylor closed her hand around the flash drive. “No, I think I can handle things from here. Actually, I’m probably not gonna do anything else tonight. The bed is calling out to me,” she lied. “You guys have done more than enough. Go home. Get some rest yourselves.”
Rob nodded his head, looking at Leslie. “All right, if you’re sure,” she said. She hugged Taylor tight and then traded off with Rob, who hugged her tighter.
“If you need anything…” he began.
“I’ll call,” said Taylor. She walked her friends to the door and saw them out. As Rob and Leslie walked to their car, she called out to them. “I’ll talk to you guys tomorrow.”
Leslie turned back and said good night before walking around to the passenger door. Taylor stood under the light of her front porch until her friends drove out of sight. Then she turned to go inside. This is when the reality of the empty house sank in. She closed and locked the front door, then began turning off lights throughout the ground floor.
Taylor made her way up the stairs. Stopping by the office, she dropped the flash drive onto the desk. Whatever message Mason had could surely wait until morning. She then walked slowly, but was determined to make it to her bedroom before allowing her tears to flow. She knew they were coming and there would be no stopping them this time. When she got to the bedroom, she stood in the doorway for about 30 seconds, though it felt much longer. She stared at the bed that she had shared with Mason up until four nights ago. She thought for sure that this would be what started her sobs, but it did not.
She went into her closet and undressed. Taylor had been wearing her black dress all day and it felt good to finally be out of it. She crossed the room to the dresser and began rummaging through the drawers. After a few moments of searching, she found what she was looking for. It was Mason’s old football jersey from college. She held it close to her face. It could have been her imagination, but she swore it still smelled like him. Taylor slipped it on over her head and turned back toward her bed. She stared at it again, for longer this time.
Without a thought, she turned out the light in the bedroom and walked back down the stairs. She had no plan. She just did not think she could handle climbing into that empty bed, not feeling the warmth or the weight of her husband beside her. So she went to the living room. She turned on the TV and popped a disc into the DVD player before lying on the couch.
As Taylor lay there, hoping that sleep would take her sooner than later, she watched her wedding video. She felt it was a nice way to end one of the saddest days of her life, by reminding herself of one of the happiest. She watched herself say “I do” and knew that she would do it all over again.
Taylor saw Mason’s smiling face. And that was her trigger. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, her tears came. Her body heaved with sobs that she could no longer hold back. Suddenly, the pain she felt from losing the love of her life was so immense that she could feel nothing else. Gone was the joy felt by the girl on the DVD. Now there was only grief and sadness and misery. She buried her face in a throw pillow and allowed a wave of depression to wash over her. She felt as if a part of her had been removed somehow; like there was a hole in her chest that could not be repaired.
Taylor cried herself to sleep that night, in spite of the happy images shining down at her from the television.