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The Words That Broke Me
by Tyde

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I did regret what I'd said to you. I wanted to kick myself in the head repeatedly for the opportunity lost, I thought about it all week. But still I trod carefully around the community that week, afraid that I'd accidentally run into you before you'd left to head back to Sydney. I wanted the opportunity to talk to you but I didn't think emotionally I was ready. I still had your number in my address book; I would call you when you returned from your holiday.

Emily sensed the change in me and she sensed that although I had admitted I knew you that it was far more than that. I didn't realise that a five year old could be so perceptive, but I suppose all those years of it just being the two of us she had tuned to my frequency.

I left it a few days, assuming you would have had the chance to settle back into work and other things by Tuesday. My hands were shaking as I lifted the receiver to dial your number. The dial tone reassured me though and my fingers did not slip as I punched in your number.

There was a weird click on the end of the phone...I assume it was to transfer a house call to a mobile phone. I sat and twined the phone cord around my hand when suddenly a voice blared down the line "The mobile phone you have called has been disconnected or is not in a service area. Please check the number before calling again". I couldn't believe it. I'd had to have a few bourbons before I'd even picked up the phone for liquid courage and the number didn't even work. I couldn't believe you'd disconnected your phone, I wanted to rant and rave but I think I'd already done enough of that on the beach. I tried to recall everything I'd said and my memories served up something far worse than what actually transpired.

I had just replaced the phone in it's cradle and it rang, shocking me and making me jump slightly. My muscles jingled for a second longer and then I took a deep breath as I picked up the receiver.

"Hello?"

"Eanie it's me" My mum is on the other end of the phone, using the nickname that only she and my dad use. I remember that she hasn't used it in years, normally only when she has something really important to say or if she wants a favour.

I relax and hold the receiver with both hands, as if I'm trying to hug her down the line. "Hey Mum. How are you?" I'm smiling and you can hear it in my voice. It's a shame Emily has already gone to bed, she would have liked to talk to Grammy.

"I'm fine," her voice is soft. "Have you read the paper today?" My mother reads the paper every day. She likes to call me and discuss articles like we used to do on the train on the way to work when I lived in Sydney. She reads the Australian now as it's countrywide and we both can get copies.

"No, haven't had the chance. Why, what's up?" I usually take a quick skim each morning when I have a cup of tea at my desk so I can get the general gist of it in case she rings. It's like a little game we play to see who knows more than the other. She reads it from cover to cover though so I never win. Even the job opportunities and the obituaries. My mother reads them like they are going out of fashion. I don't know if it's a morbid fascination or that she expects to find someone there one day and give herself a nasty shock. I don't understand it...I stay away from the depressing things because I feel my depression is already high enough by itself.

"What was George's last name?"

I frown, she has never mentioned George before, not since the time she saw the tour kick off, I never brought him up in conversation either. It's been years and years since then. She knew we were close, but she doesn't know how close. I find it odd that she would mention him now and I still feel a little raw from our encounter the week before. "Karadimas. Why?"

"Are you sitting down?" My mother is using the same voice she used when her and dad had to tell me that our dog had died. I hadn't been privy to the tone at the time but I sure as hell knew it now.

I put a hand over my mouth to try and stifle the gasp. "W-w-what is it?" I manage to get out, speaking through my fingers and feeling the first dripping tears hit my cheeks.

"I'm sorry Eanie, he died in a car accident last Sunday night. The funeral is on Thursday, I wasn't sure if you knew"

I have a huge intake of breath and I can feel my nose dripping now too. The words died and funeral are swimming through my head but it's being interrupted by my own harsh words "Maybe you should walk away from this one". I knew I would live to regret those words, I just didn't know you wouldn't.

I hadn't been sitting down and I find my legs give way, forcing me to crash to the floor, landing painfully on my ankle and twisting it. I cry out with the pain and Mum isn't sure what's going on.

"Eanie? Are you okay?"

"Yeah I ah...fell over. Hurt my ankle. I'll be okay" For a split second I forget the horrible news my mother has graced me with and as I hobble to a chair, the phone cord stretching, I allow myself a little smile. "I still haven't grown out of my clumsiness" Then the words she said hit me again and I start to sob uncontrollably.

My Mum doesn't know what to do. She expresses that she wishes she could be here to hold me, to stroke my hair and make me feel better. I manage to get a jumble of words out that amounted to you and I seeing each other recently and saying we'd catch up. I think Mum understands now that I thought we could be more than friends. She says for me to pack a bag and turn up at the airport tomorrow, there will be plane tickets waiting for Emily and me. I try to refuse the offer but she placates me. "I can't stand you being so far away, it was time you came back for a visit anyway".

I don't think I should take Emily with me, but I can't leave her here. Thankfully by morning I have managed to pull myself together a bit. The constant sobbing has subsided and I am instead taking charge, anything to keep my mind off it. The kitchen and the bathroom have never sparkled so much before.

"How come the surprise trip, Mum" she asks in her all too mature voice as she pulls on her shoes.

"Grammy and Granpa wanted to see you and I needed a break from work" I don't look at her when I say this so she knows something is up. As I place underwear and socks into the canvas bag I feel her come up behind me and loop her arms around my waist, hugging me tightly.

"I love you Mummy," she says, whispering it into my back. I turn around and sit down on a kitchen chair and pull her into my lap. I hug her tightly too as I smooth down her hair.

"I love you too baby" I look into her eyes and all I can see is you. I used to kid myself into thinking she'd grown out of taking after you, but her deep brown eyes speak volumes.

I thought our flight would last forever but it was quick. I wanted to cry as soon as it touched down in Sydney. It had seemed surreal being so far away but now that I had arrived 'home' the reality hit me further. Emily gripped my hand tightly and led me through the crowd to where my parents stood. Mum hugged me first while Dad patted me on the back. The car trip back to their place was fairly silent. As soon as I was back in my childhood room I pulled out the White Pages and began to search for the numbers of the others from the tour. I managed to get a hold of Marie and Sarah. Marie had been close to him; their families had been close like cousins. She was able to tell me more.

When you were returning from your trip up north you'd tried to make it home all in one day. Sometime around 10 in the evening you'd fallen asleep and veered off the road, slammed straight into a tree at 100km an hour. You'd been killed instantly and so had little Nicky in the seat behind you. I felt numb and lay on my bed for hours before I could finally get some semblance of sleep.

The day of the funeral was bitterly cold. The wind had whipped up and the clouds threatened rain. Far on the horizon lightning flashed and thunder rolled. The distance cawing of a crow was the only sound as the congregation gathered. I had not taken Emily with me. I had left her with her grandparents because she wouldn't understand what was going on.

I arrived late and stood as far away from the crowd as I could while still being able to hear. I could see Mitchell and Sarah standing towards the back, James stood with Marie and Bernard towards the front. Gai was dabbing her eyes with a hankie, I'd never seen her like that before. She was the tough one, the one that held us all together and here she was just falling apart. I heard Liz was overseas and couldn't make it back, Simone and Lorrae had disappeared into the wilderness known as not keeping in touch. The priest said his words and delivered his decrees and I stood there, half hidden by a tree and not wanting to be noticed. My eyes were dry and I felt like I wasn't really there. I felt as if the wind would take me away if only it blew a little harder. I wanted it to.

Your surviving children Sebastian and Karla were clinging to their mother Megan who in turn was leaning into who I assumed must be her new husband. I don't know why but I hadn't expected her to be there. For some reason I was happy to paint her as the evil one in all of this. The priest now was talking about Nicky and how in his short life he'd brought so much happiness to those around him. I remembered him and Emily playing together on the beach, I thought of the missed opportunities for them to bond. They lowered the obscenely small coffin into the plot next to yours and there was a general mumbling of the Lord's prayer as people walked past to add a flower or a handful of dirt to the gaping hole that had swallowed you both.

And that's when I saw them, the words that broke me. As your ex-wife straightened up from placing a rose atop the grave I could see what had been engraved on the tombstone.

I fell to my knees in the soft dirt and grabbed a hold of the tree trunk to steady me, tracing the letters over and over as the rain started to fall, joining the tears that are streaming down my cheeks and the sobs that are wracking my body. Your epitaph reads: "Loving husband and father" And you would have been for Emily too, if only I'd given you the chance.

Mitchell looks over at the noise I was so desperately trying not to make and our eyes meet for a fleeting second before I look away, shaking my head, wanting him to pretend he doesn't see me. I see him, out of the corner of my eye, steering Sarah off towards the cars before she can notice me as I slowly start to drown in my sorrow. I manage to get to my feet and slowly make my way closer to your place of resting.

I can't help thinking that it's my fault. If I hadn't come in for coffee, if I hadn't gone to the park that day, if I'd stayed away from the beach, you'd still be alive. And I wouldn't be here, kneeling at your grave and cursing God for taking away the only man I ever loved...and the man I so foolishly pushed away.

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THE END

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Author's note: That is the end. Definitely. No more, although I did enjoy the challenge of continuing it because of the reviews. Thank you to moonstrucken and Mikagirl for their reviews since I last updated.