Survivor Guilt (PG)
Kesa ducked into Donovan's Department Store to pick up some underwear during her lunch break. It would be cheaper to drive to the box store but who had time for that? Having made her purchase, she was making her way to the exit hoping she still had time to grab a hot dog from the outside vendor when her eye caught a guy standing in the small book section glancing at titles.
At first, she didn't give it much thought as she continued walking toward the front entrance but then her mind started going through its mental roll-a-dex and she found herself slowing her pace as her mind raced to connect the dots. Her brain was telling her that there was something familiar about that guy and all sorts of internal warnings were flashing telling her to go back.
She was at the door now and she stopped and glanced back. Why was this suddenly important to her? Who was that guy? Why did it matter? For some reason, Kesa found herself drifting slowly back toward the book section while trying to rack her brain and figure out who he was.
She stopped at the end of the aisle the guy was standing in and peered at him as he flipped through the pages of a book. He glanced up at her and politely smiled before returning his attention to the book. Now Kesa was gawking at him because she was pretty sure that quite possibly just maybe she kind of knew who it might be.
The guy slowly looked up again and gave her a questioning look. "Is something wrong?" He asked.
Rats. She was hoping he would have recognized her too but it had been five years and she definitely looked different than she had back then. She had lopped off her long hair and had frosted it into a blonde shade from her previous brown and that definitely gave her a different appearance. She was also wearing a business suit instead of the jeans and tee shirts of the old days.
"Are you Hammy Smith?" She asked.
He methodically returned the book to the shelf without taking his eyes off of her. "I haven't been called Hammy in a long time," he revealed.
"Don't you still like it better than Henry?" She wondered.
He smiled. "Most people call me Smitty now," he said.
"Don't you think that's kind of predictable?" She asked.
He stepped closer and she could tell he knew exactly who she was. He had only been fourteen when it happened, a young innocent. Kesa could see how much he had grown and matured since then and she definitely could see the Smith look in his features and the ghost of his sister in his deep blue eyes. He looked casual and relaxed in a pair of jeans, a tee shirt, and some sneakers, which wasn't all that much different from the way he dressed when he was fourteen!
"Hello, Kesa," he said when he reached her. "How are you?"
Kesa smiled, tickled that he had figured it out on his own. She gave him a powerful hug, hoping to sense the essence of Millie through his pores as she held on tight.
"I haven't seen you in forever!" She exclaimed when she finally pulled away to give him another look over.
"I'm back in town for Mr. Addison's funeral," Henry explained. "He was pretty good to us back then."
"Yeah, he was a great guy," Kesa agreed, remembering the Hillsboro High School Counselor with fondness. "How are you!?" She needed to know.
"I'm doing okay," Henry replied with a forced smile. "What about you?"
"I'm doing okay too," she said with a forlorn sigh. She glanced at her watch. "Hey, I really gotta get back to work," she said. "Could we get together later?"
"I really don't have any plans other than the funeral," he told her.
"Where are you staying?"
"Super 8 over by the Rotary," he answered.
"I'll either call you or I'll stop by," she promised.
"Okay," he agreed, smiling at her.
She nodded, sucked in her breath and headed for the door, still hoping to grab that hot dog. Henry stood transfixed in the aisle watching her hurry off and he sighed with sentimental sadness as he remembered Millie all over again.
Henry worried about his return to Blue County. Would the familiar surroundings trigger old painful memories? Would he slip back into the scary depression he spent years trying to recover from? He wondered what might happen if he bumped into somebody who might remember him but it didn't feel as bad as he feared when he recognized Kesa Kane just now.
He arrived in Greenville late the previous night and his venture to Donovan's Department Store had been his only outing since checking into the motel. He had fond memories of the historic old department store and he wanted to check it out again. Was it ironic that Kesa Kane would be the first person he bumped into?
He returned to the motel soon after Kesa left him standing there in Donovan's. He grabbed a sandwich to go from the Greenville Diner on his way and then held up in his motel room with the shades pulled as if he was some criminal on the lam hiding out for the rest of the afternoon. He wasn't ready to venture across the Blue River to Hillsboro yet and after bumping into Kesa Kane he decided that he didn't want to take the chance of bumping into anybody else so he held up in his motel room which was the safest way to avoid people.
There was a knock on his door a little after five and Henry slipped off the bed to answer it. He wasn't exactly surprised to see Kesa Kane standing in the hallway.
"You okay?" She asked, noticing the darkened room behind him.
"Yeah, just thinking," he said, standing back to let her in.
Kesa stepped into the room and Henry followed, turning on a light and opening the shades.
"You don't look okay," Kesa remarked as she watched him move around the room.
"Some of the old stuff is coming back," he admitted as he sat on the edge of the bed.
"Yeah, for me too," Kesa revealed with a sigh.
She put her purse on the dresser and took a seat on the bed next to him.
"We never even really talked about it," she remarked.
He nodded in agreement. "Everything happened so fast," he acknowledged. "Everybody was so stunned, numbed and in shock. It was so surreal I didn't even know how to act."
"I was a basket case," Kesa said.
"I remember," Henry replied with a sad smile.
He reached out and held her hand as he saw her eyes fill with tears.
"You never told me anything about that day," Kesa said.
"I couldn't talk about it for a long time," Henry replied.
"Me either," Kesa sighed.
"Do you want to talk about it now?" Henry asked.
"Yes," Kesa said and he could see the relief pouring out of her.
"Why don't we sit back on the bed and talk?" Henry suggested.
He kicked off his sneakers and scampered back so his shoulders were pressed against the headboard. Kesa took off her shoes and joined him at the head of the bed, nestling close to him for comfort. They hadn't seen each other for five years and there was a four year age difference between them but suddenly it felt like it had only been yesterday when all of this happened.
"I saw her that morning," Kesa revealed. "In school, in front of her locker. She seemed fine."
"She gave me a ride to school," Henry said. "Last time I saw her alive she was zipping off into the parking lot after dumping me off out front. She didn't like being seen with her little squirt Freshman brother."
Kesa laughed. "I remember."
Henry sighed and glanced out the motel room sliding glass door window. "As a survivor, I never really figured out the grieving process," he said. "My parents were in reactionary panic mode from the moment it happened, pulling me out of school, leaving town, selling the house, all of that."
"You guys disappeared like the day after Millie was buried," Kesa recalled.
"They sent me to my grandparents outside of Buffalo," Henry explained. "They were afraid I'd be victimized by the stigma and silenced by the shame. And for them, there were just too many painful memories here. She was everywhere in the house. And as parents they just didn't want to face their peers and co-workers. Their attitude was start new somewhere else."
"Did it work?" Kesa asked.
"She was still dead no matter where we were," Henry said with a shrug. "But I guess it helped not having to answer so many questions. Or miss her at Johnny C's or Beano Field."
"Did you go to therapy?"
"It saved my life," Henry replied.
"Me too," Kesa revealed. "I'm not sure if I would have functioned without it."
"You felt guilty," Henry guessed.
"Most survivors do," she acknowledged.
"I felt isolated and afraid," Henry revealed.
"That you'd do it too?"
"Oh, Hammy," she said, giving him a squeeze.
"My parents were suspicious, fearful, and unreasonable about everything," he groaned. "It took them a long time to trust that I wasn't going to off myself too."
"Diane told me that the healing process takes its own time to complete itself," Kesa said.
"My therapist," Kesa explained.
"My therapist encouraged me to talk about it but it took me a long time to break the silence and openly admit that my sister committed suicide," Henry said.
"Who'd you tell?" Kesa asked.
"I dated this girl for a couple of years and we got to be pretty close," he explained.
"You still with her?"
"No, we broke up," he sighed. "She went off to college and all that."
"Diane said it helps the bereavement process to talk about it because that helps us to better understand instead of maintaining the myths that come from silence and denial," Kesa said.
"Yeah, I learned all that stuff," Henry said. "Like the myth that suicide is the result of a single precipitating factor as opposed to being a complex psychosocial issue."
"Or is caused by mental illness only," Kesa added.
"Millie wasn't mental," Henry resolved.
"Or a single spectacular dramatic event like a breakup, loss of employment, school failure, and stuff like that," Kesa said.
"Or maybe unresolved childhood traumas or other secrets," Henry sighed. "Believe me, I heard it all."
"I struggled for a long time trying to find reasons why she did it," Kesa sighed. "And of course I wondered if I missed any signs. If I could have done anything differently to help her. I tried to rationalize it so it wouldn't hurt so much."
"I know, I know," Henry told her with felling. "But we both know it wasn't our fault, right?"
"Yes," she whispered, brushing away a tear.
"I was obsessed with finding out why she did it," Henry confessed. "I couldn't believe she didn't leave a note. I kept waiting for someone to find a letter or an e-mail or some sort of message she left somewhere. I was so concerned about her despair that I ignored my own grief."
"Did you ever come up with a reason why she did do it?" Kesa needed to ask.
"I think she just felt the pressure of it all and that overwhelmed her in the end," Henry theorized. "The pressure of being pretty. The pressure of being smart. The pressure of being popular. The pressure of being a daughter and a girlfriend. The pressure of getting into the right college."
"Did you know that Kevin got married last year?" Kesa asked.
"He detached himself from the situation almost from the start," Henry remarked with an edge of bitterness in his voice. "It was like they broke up and she never died. He just moved on as if never happened."
"I guess that's how he chose to deal with it," Kesa reasoned.
"Or didn't deal with it," Henry challenged.
"It doesn't matter now," Kesa said.
"I wanted to think that Kevin actually murdered her or something and tried to make it look like suicide," Henry revealed.
"Really!?" Kesa asked with surprise.
"It would have been a lot easier to deal with her being murdered instead of killing herself," Henry said. "But he was at some conference in Miller City that day so he had an alibi."
"You know, you and me truly know the depth of despair we experienced, Hammy," Kesa said. "Don't let Kevin bother you. I identified with you even though you moved away. I knew the fear of being judged, shamed, blamed, shunned and embarrassed because of what happened."
"If you ask me, Kevin used Millie's death to be the hero and romantic," Henry complained. "As if being the sports star and class president wasn't enough. He did a good job getting the sympathy vote and having everybody feel sorry for him like he was the victim or something. What an asshole."
"Nobody cares about him anymore," Kesa said. "I agree that there was a lot of drama going on around the whole thing. Suicide fascinates and attracts people. Kids I never spoke to in my life were coming up to me in the hall saying how devastated and upset they were. All those kids showed up for the candlelight vigil on the football field, many of the same kids who just days before were calling Millie a bitch behind her back and a week after the burial couldn't even remember her name. I know all the BS that comes with a public and sensationalized death. They wanted to be a part of it, for better or worse. And then they move on to the next drama."
"It scared the shit out of every parent in Hillsboro," Henry said. "They knew their kid could be next."
"Guilt combined with incomprehension is what makes suicide different from other deaths," Kesa theorized. "It's very hard to make any sense of it. All the whys and what ifs."
"Yeah," Henry agreed. "A permanent solution to a temporary problem. I often wonder what Millie would be doing if she was alive today."
"God, I miss her," Kesa sighed.
Suddenly, she burst into tears and Henry wrapped his arm around her shoulder and pulled her tight into him.
"I try to keep her alive in my thoughts, memories, attitudes, and behaviors," he said after a few quiet moments of her sobbing. "I've tried to forgive her for leaving us the way she did."
"I remember the call that day," Kesa said. "My mother sobbing into the phone. My heart just broke for all of us. I was crying before she even hung up the phone. I knew something terrible had happened."
"It was unimaginable," Henry clarified.
"My mother could find no words to express her sorrow at my loss and pain," Kesa said. "I cried for hours that night. My best friend had committed suicide. How do you put your mind around that? It broke my heart and I couldn't get her out of my mind and it really 'got' to me. I wanted to go over to your house and be with your parents but my mother wouldn't let me. And then when I found out that you were the one that found her, I felt so traumatized and sad."
"She was supposed to give me a ride home," Henry revealed, scratching his forehead with the palm of his hand. "When she wasn't in the parking lot, I figured she didn't want to be seen with her squirt Freshman brother again. I swore the whole time I walked home in the rain that day and I was so pissed by the time I got there that I was ready to explode. I saw her car in the driveway so I charged right up the stairs and into her room. Her stereo was playing and there were a couple of candles lit. At first I thought maybe she and Kevin were having sex or something. Her bathroom door was open a crack and I heard a funny noise."
"What kind of noise?" Kesa asked.
"It was the pipe bending from her weight although I didn't know it at the time," Henry sighed, rubbing his eyes. "I stepped into the bathroom and saw her hanging from the shower head. She was already blue and there was white foam on the side of her mouth."
Kesa buried her face in her hands and started crying all over again.
"She was cool to the touch when I grabbed her," Henry continued. "She was very heavy with dead weight. I knew she was dead. I called 911. The rest is a blur."
"Oh Hammy, I'm so sorry you had to be the one to find her," Kesa sobbed.
"Better me than my mother," Henry reasoned. "I have to admit a part of me resented Millie for a long time for doing it at home. Why didn't she do it in Kevin's closet or something? Let him deal with the gruesome part."
"You know she wasn't thinking about that," Kesa said. "She wasn't thinking about anything but the task at hand."
"I started having nightmares right away," Henry said. "Always finding her. Sometimes she was laughing at me. Sometimes she was begging me to save her. I'd wake up with cold chills or sweaty heart palpitations."
"Oh, Hammy," Kesa sighed.
"The depressive bouts followed," Henry told her. "They put me on antidepressants and my life became 'abnormal' because I just couldn't get over the sense of helplessness and despair I felt."
"I know exactly what you're saying," Kesa let him know. "I was in a lot of pain too. I had to somehow get through my senior year but everywhere I looked there was Millie. We were supposed to go to the prom together and graduate together and do all those special things together. I didn't care about any of it and some of the teachers had to carry me through the year to make sure I got my diploma."
"You doing okay now?" Henry asked.
"Yeah," she said, sucking in her breath. "I guess. I graduated from Green College last year and now I got a fairly decent job with Zalaman Insurance," she reported. "But I carried so much shame and guilt about what happened to Millie. Why I was still here and she wasn't? There was self loathing and shame and guilt and hurt and pain and loneliness and the senselessness of what happened."
"A part of me went with her but I've tried to be strong for my parents," Henry said. "You know, the whole Saving Private Ryan thing when Tom Hanks tells Private Ryan to live a good life for him? I try to do that for Millie but there's still a lot of pain inside and I'm still angry at her for what she did."
"It wasn't her fault either, Hammy," Kesa said.
"Sometimes it feels as if it was just yesterday," he sighed.
"My biggest fear is that these feelings of sadness I have will last forever," Kesa revealed. "That my heart will always be broken and I'll never be the same again."
"We both get stronger every day," Henry said with resolve. "We know we'll never forget her because we remember the good times but we also know that we have to go on with our lives because that's the only choice we have."
"But there's such a huge hole in my heart with so many unanswered questions," Kesa complained. "I'll never understand why she never confided in me about how she was feeling."
"You can't beat yourself up about that," Henry advised. "There were no signs. Everything at home was seemingly fine. She had a flare for the dramatics and melodrama sometimes but that was just who she was. She made her choices and her decisions."
"But we're the ones who have to live with it," Kesa growled.
"You can't let it rip your guts out," Henry told her.
"She seemed so happy the night before," Kesa recalled. "We were singing, dancing and having a good time in my bedroom. She was being herself! I never thought I'd get a phone call telling me that she was dead."
All the `if onlys' in the world aren't going to change what happened and bring her back," Henry remarked. "But the hardest thing is always wondering why she did it."
"Diane says suicide is the most selfish act anybody can do," Kesa stated. "Because of what's left in the aftermath of the decision and how much hurt and pain the act causes."
"But that's what we have to live with," Henry sighed.
"She was such a beautiful, loving, happy, caring person," Kesa said, her voice breaking. "Her smile and laughter brightened any room she was in. The sadness I feel about her loss is as immense now as it was the day it happened. I still cry so much and ache from the pain in my heart. I miss her, I love her, and I would give the world to see her one more time. But I know that she is with me in everything I do."
Kesa's cell phone rang from her purse on the dresser. "Shit," she said, jumping off the bed and going to answer it. She glanced at the screen as she opened the cell and she glanced at Henry, rolling her eyes.
"Yeah?" She answered. "Well, where are you? For how long? I'm with a friend…..I don't know…..don't worry about it…..yeah….sure….whatever…look, just do what you want to do and I'll see you whenever…..fine…..bye."
She flipped the phone shut. "Asshole," she remarked, turning the phone off and tossing it back into her bag. She glanced at Henry and shrugged with some embarrassment.
"That was my boyfriend," she announced. "I have no idea what I'm doing with him."
Henry frowned. "That doesn't sound good."
"I know, I know," Kesa groaned, returning to the bed and assuming her position next to Henry. "But I was very needy after Millie died," she explained. "I didn't like being alone. I didn't want to be alone. I thought Brad could fix me or at least fill the void I was feeling."
"But he doesn't?"
"We shouldn't be together," Kesa sighed. "We have nothing in common, really. He doesn't like me talking about Millie. He doesn't understand anything about it."
"Why do you stay with him?"
"I don't know," she confessed. "I guess I just don't want to be alone."
"Sounds like you are anyway,' he observed.
Kesa looked away. "Oh, wow, look at the time!" She remarked when she noticed the clock on the nearby table. "Hey, are you hungry? Do you want to go out?"
"I don't feel up to going out," Henry said sadly.
"Okay," she said with understanding. "Do you want to order in?"
"If you want to," he answered, glancing at her. "You want to stay for a while?"
"Sure," she said warmly. "This is nice. I've so desperately wanted to see you again, Hammy, and talk about this."
"Yeah," he agreed.
She leaned over and dug the phone book out from the bottom of the bedside table. She found the number for the Greenville Pizza House and ordered a pizza and some sodas for delivery. Hanging up the motel phone, she turned and glanced at Henry who was staring blankly at the wall.
"I've bummed you out, haven't I?" she sighed. "Talking about Millie and everything. Maybe we shouldn't have gotten together."
"It's okay," he replied, slipping down on the bed and turning onto his side with his back to her, burying his head into the pillow.
"How are your folks doing?" Kesa asked, placing her hand on his shoulder.
"They're divorced," he sighed.
"Oh, Hammy, I'm so sorry," she said with sympathetic understanding.
"They just couldn't survive the aftermath," he said quietly. "Moving away, new jobs, all of it didn't help," he said. "My mother drinks and never leaves the house. My father is a work-aholic who pretends everything is fine. Nobody really talks about anything. We struggled to move on but we couldn't get beyond the pain and grief and emptiness. They couldn't move beyond the 'why'."
"I'm so sorry, Hammy," Kesa repeated.
"They just grew apart and had nothing to stay together for," Henry said. "They tried to last until I graduated from high school but my father moved out the summer after my junior year. I was pretty much on my own."
"You had your girlfriend though," Kesa said.
"Now she's gone too," he sighed.
"What are you doing?"
"Community College. Working at a local quarry part time. Still at home with my mother, keeping an eye out on her."
"I'm not sure if that's the best thing for you, Ham," Kesa remarked.
"But it's probably the best thing for her," he replied.
Kesa put her chin on his shoulder and brushed the bangs of his hair with her hand. 'Oh, Millie, look what you've done," she sighed.
He reached up and took her hand in his. "We're probably the only two who really understand."
"I guess I actually knew her longer than you," Kesa realized. "We met in kindergarten."
"I don't think I was born yet," he confirmed. "Maybe later that year."
"I was crying because I didn't want my mom to leave so the teacher assigned Millie to be my companion and we were best friends from that day on," Kesa smiled.
"She adored you," Henry replied.
"I've never had another friend like her," Kesa sighed.
"It's harder making those sorts of friends when you get older," Henry said.
"I just know I can never replace her," Kesa said. "She was my everything. I wanted her to be my maid of honor when I got married. I wanted to be her maid of honor. I wanted us to raise our kids together. I wanted us to be friends forever."
Henry felt her tears dripping onto his cheek from above like rain drops.
"Of course, you two were a couple of dorks when you were younger," Henry said, hoping to lighten the mood.
"We were!" Kesa laughed. "But when you know you're a dork, you don't feel like you have to impress the non-dorks as long as you have a best friend who is a dork too! That's the kind of friendship that lasts!"
"You both grew out of it anyway," Henry said.
"And because we lived around the corner from each other we spent a lot of time together growing up," Kesa recalled. "She was always at my house and vice versa. We spent a lot of time smack dab in the middle of the neighborhood between our houses shooting the shit on the street corner for hours at a time too."
"I remember," Henry commented.
"I always felt at ease when I was with Millie," Kesa said warmly. "I could be myself- my true self – when I was with her."
"I think she felt the same way about you," Henry said.
"We shared lots of post-breakups with Ben and Jerry and sleepovers with stupid movies," Kesa said. "We survived high school cliques, boyfriends, arguments, fights, and her being more popular than me. We were there for each other when we needed to vent out the little frustrations of our stupid little lives and we were present for the really big moments too. God, I miss that."
"It was special," Henry said. "You two were great together."
"Coming of age together meant so much shared history because we 'got' each other in ways nobody else could," Kesa said. "We bonded over our fantasies of love and the kids we loathed!" She laughed.
"I think your friendship was born out of commonality and emotional intimacy," Henry remarked. "You would do anything for each other."
"This is true," Kesa agreed. "We had a kindred spirit."
There was a knock on the door and Kesa hopped off the bed as if it was her mother about to catch her in her bedroom with a boy when she was fifteen. Henry laughed as he rolled over and stood too, digging his wallet out of his back pocket as Kesa headed for the door and opened it.
The Greenville Pizza House Delivery guy was standing there with a box in his hand and a two liter bottle of coke.
"Kane?" he asked.
"That's us," Kesa replied, taking the pizza from the guy.
Henry paid and tipped the guy and took the soda from him. "Thanks," he said.
"No problem," the pizza guy replied before disappearing down the hall.
Henry closed the door and put the soda bottle on the counter outside the bathroom that had the cups and ice pail.
"Do you want some ice?" He asked Kesa who had put the pizza box on the round sitting table by the sliding glass door.
"Is the soda cold?" She wanted to know.
"Then we don't need ice," she said.
He poured to glasses of soda and joined her at the table for the pizza.
"The Greenville Pizza House isn't quite the same as the Hillsboro Pizza House but I still like it," Kesa said.
"I used to live at the Hillsboro Pizza House!" Henry laughed.
"When you weren't at Johnny C's!" Kesa replied.
They ate their pizza while talking about their memories of growing up in Hillsboro. Even though Kesa was four years older than Henry, they shared the same experiences and memories of people and events.
"Of course, every memory I have of Hillsboro involves Millie in some way," Kesa sighed sadly.
"I know," Henry acknowledged. "I've been putting off going over there for that reason."
"Maybe we could go together," Kesa suggested.
"That might work," he agreed.
She sat back in her chair and smiled at him. "It was awful nice of you to come back for Mr. Addison's funeral," she said.
"He was the one guy who talked to me like a person after it happened," Henry said. "He didn't treat me like I was this fragile breakable head case. He was real. He was honest. He was normal. He came over to the house the morning of the funeral and took me for a ride. We really didn't talk about anything specific to what was going on and I think that was sort of his point. It was just another day in Hillsboro."
"How'd you hear about him?" Kesa wondered.
"I kept in contact with Tom Flynn," Henry revealed.
"Really?" Kesa asked with surprise. "Geez, I wish I had known that. I would have written to you too."
"I wasn't sure if you wanted to forget like I did," he said.
"Would you have looked me up if we hadn't run into each other at Donovan's?" She wanted to know.
"I don't know," Henry admitted.
"Oh." She sounded disappointed.
"I guess I thought maybe you'd be at Mr. Addison's funeral."
"I don't do funerals well," she said. "Not since Millie."
"I'm kind of the opposite," Henry replied. "I remember how nice some people were and how much it meant to me when people came and were supportive so I try to return the favor."
"You're a lot stronger than me," she said.
"No, I'm not," he assured her.
They were done with the pizza. They picked up and washed their hands in the bathroom sink. Kesa was peering at him in the large mirror.
"Can I stay?" She asked softly.
"What about your boyfriend?" Henry wondered.
"Don't worry about him," she replied.
"You really want to stay?" He asked, surprised.
"For the night?" He asked nervously.
"Yes," she laughed. "I need to be with someone who really understands," she added seriously. "You're the only one who knows how I'm feeling."
"Okay," he agreed.
"I'm going to take a shower," she informed him. "Is that okay?"
He slipped out of the bathroom and she closed the door behind him. He took a seat on the bed and turned on the ball game while listening to the shower water running and imagining what Kesa looked like under the spray. He sighed and tried to focus on the game.
The water turned off after a while and Kesa emerged from the bathroom wrapped in a towel. Henry was surprised to see her looking so vulnerable yet sexy. She knelt on the bed and glanced at the television.
"Red Sox losing?"
"Some things never change," he quipped.
She took the remote from his hand and turned the sound down. The flashes from the television screen and the light from the bathroom were the only light in the room. Henry reached up and loosened towel above her breasts until it felt open. Kesa grabbed the towel and threw it to the floor as she collapsed on top of him.
She cried while they made love, knowing it was Millie's brother she was with and knowing it was the closest she could ever be to her missing friend now. When they were done, they held each other under the sheets and although neither said anything, they were both thinking of Millie.
In the morning, they were still wrapped around each other when they awoke. Kesa rolled away and sat up on the bed with her back to Henry who rubbed his hand up and down her naked spine.
"Do you think Millie would have approved?" Kesa asked, glancing over her shoulder at Millie's kid brother.
"Yes," Henry replied.
Kesa stood from the bed and walked naked to the closed curtain, peeking out. "It looks like a nice day," she said.
"That's good," Henry said.
She turned and looked at him. "Do you want to have breakfast at Johnny C's?"
"Okay," he agreed, unable to take his eyes off her.
"I'm going to call in sick," she said, walking to the bedside table and picking up the phone.
"Okay," he said.
"Can we go to Millie's grave?" Kesa asked softly as she waited for the line on the other end of the phone to pick up.
He reached out and took her hand, pulling her to the bed. She nestled against him with the phone in her hand and he kissed the top of her head.
"We'll have to stop and get flowers," he said.