The initial reports said three people were dead but as the updates came in the numbers were amended: twenty-six dead, including twenty children in one of the worse school shootings in US history.
Ryan turned off the radio in his office and tried to concentrate on his work but it was hard to focus and he found his mind wandering. He left work early, stopped at the Bullpen Tavern on the way home for a couple of stiff drinks, and then barricaded himself in his townhouse with the television off and a bottle of rum on the coffee table in front of him.
The phone rang and he picked it up after the fourteenth ring.
He smiled into the phone. "You know, you're the only one who ever calls," he said.
"Well?" She asked.
"I'm okay," he sighed.
"You drunk yet?"
"Petty much," he admitted.
"Do you want me to drive up?"
"No, I'm okay, thanks," he said with a half smile.
"Did Lynn call?"
"No, she never does anymore."
"That's too bad."
"I think she'd just rather leave it alone."
"But you can't?"
"Twenty kids, Bisby. Can you imagine?"
"No," she admitted. "I know there are plenty of people like you who have lost children and are feeling pretty terrible tonight."
"Yeah," he sighed. "I usually manage my grief pretty well but when something like this happens it's like that first day all over again."
"I can imagine."
"I got the same sick feeling in my stomach," he sighed.
"I understand," she said softly. "You sure you don't want me to come up?"
"You have what's his name to be concerned with," he said.
"What's his name left me a couple of months ago," she informed him.
"If I leave now I could be there before midnight."
"I wouldn't be much company," he said.
"It's okay," she said.
"Thanks anyway," he said. "I'll be okay."
"You sure?" She asked.
"Yeah," he said. "I got through all the rest of them. I'll get through this one too."
"This one's different," she warned.
"It doesn't matter how old they are," Ryan told her. "Whenever gun violence makes the news the memories of him come rushing back."
"Don't go out," she said. "Just sit there and drink yourself unconscious."
"Sounds like a plan," he said.
"Good night, Ryan. Take care of yourself."
"Thanks for calling, Bisby. Goodnight."
He was lying on the couch passed out when the doorbell echoed through his throbbing head. It was dark as he stumbled to the door and he was surprised to find Bisby standing on the stoop when he opened the door.
"You drove up anyway?" He deduced.
"Why not?" She said.
"What time is it?" He asked, rubbing his eyes and stepping back to let her in.
"After midnight," she said as she entered the townhouse with an overnight bag in her hand. "You still drunk?"
"I think so."
"Better start drinking water," she advised as she put the bag down by the staircase and went into the kitchenette to pour him a glass.
He turned on some lights and sat on the couch, rubbing his face and brushing his hand through his graying hair.
"Here, drink this," Bisby ordered, handing him the tall glass of water as she stood in front of him.
"Still the Cosmopolitan Girl," Ryan smirked as he took the glass from her while appreciating her appearance.
She wore a fancy pants suit with jewelry, a well styled hair perm with frosted blonde edges and just enough make up to hide her middle aged lines.
"How's the Big Apple?" He asked.
"Still recovering from Sandy," she replied, kicking her shoes off and folding her legs under her rear where she sat on the couch. "But it's always the place to be!"
"How are things at People Magazine?"
"Loving it," she smiled.
"I see you on television sometimes," he said.
"I've managed to fashion a new career as an entertainment consultant," she laughed. "You want to know about celebrity sex lives, I'm the one to call!" She studied him for a moment. "And how are things at the company?
"We're doing well," he said without much enthusiasm.
"But you're not," Bisby sighed.
"Not today," he admitted.
She leaned her head on his shoulder. "You're back then," she guessed.
"Remembering the exact moment," he acknowledged.
"The new normal," she said sadly.
"The memories come back so quick sometimes I don't think I'll be able to breathe" he said. "One second my kid is alive and the next he's not."
"I know," Bisby sighed.
"And now there are twenty six families in Newtown suddenly victimized into my sad world," he groaned. "I feel their anguish. It's so damned unfair. But then, the death of a child always is."
"I can't imagine…" Bisby sighed.
"I can," Ryan remarked. "People who've buried a child are affected on such a deeply personal level that we have the capacity for profound insight and empathy for those who lose a child. Accidents happen. Sickness happens. Random acts of nonsensical violence happen. It's so damned unfair."
Bisby took his hand in hers. "I know."
"I've learned to stop asking questions that have no answers," Ryan said. "So I won't ask why twenty six people had to die today, twenty of them children. We place value judgments on death to make ourselves feel better comparing our situation with one that seems worse. We trivialize death and our compassion for the grieving process is cheated because of it. Suicide – the person didn't want to live. Murder's bad but maybe they deserved it! Accident? Well, these things happen. How shallow such insensitive judgments can be. Can't we just open our minds and our hearts to the gut-wrenching sorrow shared by those poor people?"
"People don't like to think about it if they're not directly related," Bisby explained. "They're just relieved it didn't happen to them."
"I'm sure it's already been said today that guns didn't kill those kids," Ryan sighed. "People did."
"Bloomberg's on the warpath," Bisby said. "The whole debate has started anew."
"Yeah, but only when there's a mass shooting," Ryan complained. "Nobody outside of those who knew us seemed to care when Alan got his head blown off. For me, he'll always be the one. The only one. The 1 no matter how many other people die."
"I'm sorry you have to feel your grief all over again," Bisby offered.
"I'll always be the bereaved," Ryan remarked. He pointed to the photo of his son, a school photo portrait from when he was about fourteen hanging on the wall above the television set. "His face never ages."
"Are you going to do Christmas this year?" Bisby asked, noticing the lack of decorations in the townhouse.
"Not now," he revealed. "Not with twenty more dead children."
"I'm so terribly sorry for all of this," Bisby sighed. "Are you going to get involved in the gun violence issue again?"
"It's going to be re-ignited all over again but I don't have the stomach for it this time," Ryan confessed. "I can't handle the pro-gun people telling me I don't know what I'm talking about. I'm afraid I'm going to physically assault the next person who tells me 'I feel your pain' in the same sentence they're defending the second amendment. If I hear 'guns don't kills people, people kill people' one more time I'm going to throw up. Unless you've put your kid in a box with half his head missing from a bullet you just don't know what you're talking about when it comes to this issue."
"I'm sure we'll hear all the same excuses, reasoning, justifications and 'don't take my guns mantra' all over again," Bisby agreed. "They'll argue that more gun-control laws wouldn't have stopped this. That we can't have the government taking away guns from law-abiding citizens who have the right to keep and bear arms and we can't leve people defenseless against violence, crime and tyranny even though taking away guns will reduce a huge number of gun-related violence."
"All the crap just trivializes Alan's death," Ryan said angrily. "It will be all over the television for days and people will debate gun control and everybody will have their opinion but Alan will still be dead and those poor parents will still be burying their kids and not having a Christmas in Newtown."
"I know," Bisby sighed.
"Did Lynn call you?" Ryan asked.
"No, I texted her and e-mailed her but I'm sure Gilbert has got her distracted to keep her from dealing with any of this," Bisby said.
"It's times like this when I miss her the most," Ryan admitted.
"Times like this ruined your marriage, Ry," Bisby reminded him. "She couldn't deal with it. She found someone who was so detached and removed from any of it that she could hide and deny and pretend, living her new storybook little life without feeling anything."
"She must think about Alan," Ryan remarked.
"I'm sure she does," Bisby agreed. "She just doesn't deal with it."
"What happened to what's his name?" He asked.
Bisby smiled sadly. "He didn't like me being on TV," she said with a shrug. "The male ego thing, I guess."
"How long have we known each other?" Ryan wondered as he stared at her.
She ran it through her head. "Almost twenty-five years now," she said.
"You were Lynn's friend first."
"I was both your friends," she smiled. "It was college. Everybody was friends."
"I could have picked either of you," Ryan realized.
"You picked Lynn," Bisby reminded him. "And that gave you Alan."
"The best sixteen years of my life," Ryan said sadly.
"And these last five years have been your worse," Bisby guessed.
"My son died. My marriage ended. We sold the house we loved. And today I got drunk again."
"You had a reason today," Bisby assured him. She noticed the scrapbook lying on the floor and she leaned over and picked it up, closing the cover. "You shouldn't be torturing yourself," she told him.
It was the 'death' scrapbook full of all the newspaper articles about Alan's death along with all the condolence notes and cards and the trial that followed but Bisby didn't need to see it again. The story was engraved into her memory with a blow torch. She could still hear Lynn's hysterical voice screaming into the phone at two o'clock in the morning when Bisby picked up the phone and learned of the shooting.
Alan and his friends had gone to a classmate's party. Some kid came to the party drunk and uninvited wanting to avenge his girlfriend who had dumped him for one of Alan's friends. The kid knew that the host's father kept a loaded gun in a desk drawer so he grabbed it and confronted the new boyfriend by waving the gun and when a bystander tried to wrestle the gun from the kid's hand, the weapon discharged, struck Alan in the eye, traveled through his brain and out the side of his head just above his right ear. He was dead before he hit the floor.
Bisby shuddered at the memory as she put the scrapbook away. Ryan sat on the couch blankly staring at the wall and she smiled sadly as she looked at him. He tried to be there for his wife in the aftermath but the grief, bereavement, loss, depression and pain was too much for Lynn who withdrew from the marriage and found solace in another man who was about as far removed from Alan's death as could be.
Bisby tried to counsel Lynn that an affair was not the answer but Lynn wouldn't listen. Gilbert was fifteen years Lynn's senior, a successful business man, divorced with no children and he provided an escape for the grieving Lynn, taking her on exotic trips and removing her from the sad life she had become marred in.
Ryan, meanwhile, tried to honor Alan's life by involving himself in teen drinking issues and gun violence reform. The gun owner had not properly secured the weapon or the bullets and he had allowed the underage drinking party to take place at his house but he denied any responsibility for the incident.
The shooter served a year in jail for involuntary manslaughter and Lynn was incensed when Ryan wrote a victim impact statement asking for leniency for the kid. Ryan felt it was the gun owner who should have been held accountable but it was a losing fight as the grieving father was ridiculed, placated, stymied, debated, and confronted when he tried to address the issue of stricter gun laws and an examination of gun violence in the community.
With his marriage over, his son dead, and his life ruined, a defeated Ryan went through the motions of his life, concentrating on his career as a senior manager at a local plastics company but Bisby knew he was unhappy and miserable. He lost everything important to him because of one bullet and Bisby tried to be a good and supportive friend. Lynn had all but ended their friendship while Ryan relied on it more than ever and Bisby was always sure to call on Ryan and Alan's birthday, the death day, and on other milestone dates of Alan's life. She also checked in whenever there was a national story about gun violence or another unexplainable mass shooting that brought the gun issue to the forefront once again. Ryan appreciated Bisby's compassion, concern and support and while they were close, it had remained a platonic relationship for all these years.
Bisby knew Alan well. She had been his mother's Maid of Honor at the wedding, she was in the birthing room at his birth, she was his Godmother, she came for most birthday and Christmas celebrations, and Alan and his parents visited her often in New York City. His death was a traumatic loss for her too but she quickly understood that her new role was to try to be there for Alan's parents on his behalf. Lynn had all but rejected her but Ryan embraced and needed Bisby's friendship which is why she decided to drive to Hillsboro following the tragedy in Newtown.
Ryan hadn't moved in nearly ten minutes. Bisby tidied up and she got rid of the booze. It was nearly two in the morning now and Bisby was tired from the drive and the emotions of the day. She had listened to the radio during the trek with nonstop coverage and discussion of the unfolding Newtown tragedy and the renewed gun control debate, all of which made her head spin. She didn't want to think of any of it.
"Why don't we go to bed?" She suggested to Ryan.
"I don't know if I can sleep," he sighed.
"You can try," she said.
He reluctantly picked himself off the couch and she escorted him to the stairs. Always the gentleman (even when drunk), Ryan picked up her overnight bag and carried it up the stairs for her. He started to head for the small guest bedroom but she bumped into him, steering him toward the master bedroom.
"It can go in there this time," she said.
He arched his eyebrows and looked at her. "Really?" He asked with surprise. "After all these years?"
"Don't you think we're both ready for some grief sex, Ryan?" She wanted to know.
"What better way to cope with our grief?" She reasoned. "Especially now that what's his name is no longer in the picture."
"We can't use sex as a means to feel through our pain and loss," Ryan warned.
"All this crap has impacted my emotional, intellectual, and physical aspect of sexual attraction and expression," Bisby complained as she took him by the arm and led him into his room.
"I've been completely numb inside too," Ryan admitted. "I have no ability to feel anything let alone an emotional bond with someone." He set the overnight bag on the hope chest at the foot of the bed.
"I learned how to separate sex from love a long time ago, Ry," Bisby said as she took a seat on the bed. "I learned to disconnect emotions and feelings from the physical. Sex is a physical reaction and love is an emotional reaction. We've known each other long enough now to know the difference. Don't you think it's time?"
"What about Lynn? Ryan worried.
"Gee, I don't know," she said sarcastically. "Why don't you call Gilbert's and ask her?"
"I haven't had sex in nearly three years," Ryan revealed as he stood by the hope chest staring at her. "I wasn't interested in even being touched once Lynn rejected me. I just stopped caring about sex once it was over between us."
"I grieved when you two broke up," Bisby told him. "It wasn't the same type of grief like when someone you love dies like Alan but I still grieved over the loss of your marriage. I grieved for the shared future that I envisioned between you and Lynn."
"Thanks," he said, finally sitting on the bed next to her.
"How come you didn't turn to sex for relief after Lynn left?" Bisby asked.
"I just wasn't emotionally able to develop feelings for anything," he said. "Alan's death affected me so deeply and the grief killed my sexual desires. I've had no interest in sex."
"Don't you think at this point in your life you would want some sexual desire again?" Bisby asked.
"I suppose I'm glad I still have the ability to feel," he admitted, glancing at her with a half smile.
"I've gone years not getting enough sex and then through periods of not wanting it," Bisby sighed.
"Even with what's his name?" Ryan asked.
"I think he was having an affair to tell you the truth," Bisby grumbled. "But I know I still enjoy sex. I know I like having it. I know I'm really good at it. But my desire for it evaporated lately."
"Me too," Ryan confessed.
"But I think I'm over it," Bisby revealed after a long pause.
They stared at each other for a long time without saying anything.
Their lovemaking took place without words. Bisby initiated it by kissing Ryan as they sat on the bed and he felt the taste of her saltly tears on his lips when he kissed her back.
She stood and undressed and he saw her naked for the first time.
"You're just as beautiful as you were that first day we met at Green College," he told her when she sat on the bed and let him touch her naked breasts.
Bisby helped him get out of his clothes and then she fell back on the bed with her legs spread wide ready to receive him. Silently, he covered her with his body and when he penetrated her she began to cry louder. The feel of him in her after so long was comforting and he brought her to orgasm rather easily with her soft whimpering as she climaxed and cried at the same time. She was crying for herself and for Ryan and for Alan and for Lynn and for the past that had been lost because of one bullet.
Ryan ejaculated inside of Bisby with a quiet moan and she cried even more. Even after they were finished, he stayed on top of her with his penis still in her, not wanting to pull out for fear that it would be over between them. Being naked together on the bed was different after so many years of friendship. Ryan had kissed her passionately and even desperately and he had lingered long while sucking her nipples and caressing her genitals with his fingers before they made love. Bisby welcomed their lovemaking because it enabled her to finally release her orgasmic ecstasy, screaming and sobbing as he poured his seed into her.
Ryan finally withdrew from her, rolling off and holding her tight until he finally fell sleep. When she knew he was asleep, Bisby sat up with her elbow propping up her head while she looked at him. It had finally happened between them and she could still feel him inside her as his sperm slowly dripped out of her opening. She reached out and touched his graying hair as if to reassure herself that he really was there. Then she touched his penis, still warm, wet and sticky with their mingled fluids.
Bisby reluctantly rose from the bed and made her way to the shower where she washed his sperm from her vagina, smiling sadly at the memories of their lovemaking for the first time twenty-five years after they first met. She dried herself and made her way back to the bed, looking at Ryan with warmth, affection, and happiness. Had she eased his pain at all? Had he finally felt something positive after so many years of pain? What would he say to her when they awoke in the morning? She was forty-seven years old and her body no longer had the smoothness and firmness of youth. Her breasts drooped and her rear end had begun to sag years ago but she hoped he still found her attractive after all these years.
It had been an emotional day of renewed grief followed by sexual passion and how strange that it had taken all these years for one emotion to translate into the other. The world faded as Bisby finally fell asleep.
She awoke in the morning to find Ryan looking down at her much in the same position that she had watched him the night before. His hand was slipped under the cover and resting on her breast
"Good morning," he greeted with a warm smile.
Bisby silently pushed back the covers to reveal her nakedness once again, this time in the morning light, her legs spread wide open to receive him again but Ryan performed foreplay first by kissing her mouth, sucking her nipples, rubbing her rear, and raising her rump with his hands and licking her sensitive inner lips causing her to scream and sob as she came. Then he made love to her and when it was over Ryan lay on her long afterwards still inside her.
"What do you want with me?" She whispered finally.
"I love you," he said simply.
"Love me?" She said with surprise.
"Yes," he admitted. "I think I loved you from the start. But Lynn seemed more interested and you were with Holmes…"
"So it was there, even then?"
"Yes," he revealed.
"I knew it would be special," she smiled.
"Me too," he said, kissing her cheek.
"I've never felt anything like this before," she told him.
"Better late than never huh?" She giggled.
"Not at all," he agreed.
"Listen, I have no illusion about our future…"
"Shhhh," he pleaded, putting his finger to her lips.
"But I'm in New York and you're here in Hillsboro," she said.
"It will be okay," he assured her.
"Can we stay in bed all day?" She asked hopefully.
"Can we talk about Alan?"
"I'd like that," Ryan said quietly.
"Me too," she sighed, reaching over and kissing him.