Rich can’t stop thinking about the past. That’s where Grace lives, in the lovely sanctuary of his mind where memories are played on repeat. Grace lives in the past, and he longs for the time when the past was the present and she was there with him.
If he thinks too much, he starts to feel guilty. He remembers the beginning, when it all started. He’s embarrassed and angry at his former self for how mean he was. He never would have thought that Grace would mean so much to him. Grace changed everything.
He was so rude to her, refusing her help, yelling at her because he was frustrated with himself. Taking it out on her when she wasn’t to blame. He would do anything to go back to the beginning. He hates himself for not appreciating her when she was there. Now she’s gone, and there’s nothing he can do about it.
He can’t stop longing. Longing for the better times, when he was in love despite himself, in love with a sweet girl who wasn’t metal and didn’t like Naplam Death that much but loved him with all her heart and he loved her too and he wanted to spend forever with her and everything was full of love, love, love.
His mind is a mess when he thinks of her. He wants to go back. He’d do anything to go back. He wants to live in that perfect yesterday, instead of all of the horrible todays and tomorrows. Every day is full of bad feelings he can’t shake. He has an achy feeling in his chest that started when he noticed she was gone from the party on the beach, and it hasn’t gone away since.
He wants to jump on tables and sing with her metal alter-ego, Subrosa. He wants to have picnics with her even though he always complained about them. He wants to cuddle with her, getting lost in a sea of blankets and hazy dreams. He wants to kiss her and hug her and make love to her and hold her and hear her voice and her laugh and see her smile and lace his fingers between hers when they hold hands, feeling her soft skin, knowing that she is safe.
He hates that he didn’t keep her safe.
She’s not dead. She had too much going for her. She was so smart. She got straight As in every class and every teacher loved her. She was the best dancer and singer and writer and actor he’d ever met, all of these talents bundled into a little package. She was a gift to the world, complete with a ribbon in her hair. She always put everyone else first, she gave him hope, gave people joy in this sick, sad, miserable world. Grace couldn’t die. The world needed her.
They were supposed to be together forever, complete college, go to uni, live together, get married, have children. They were supposed to spend the rest of their lives with each other because they had a love that’s hard to find. She can’t be dead. He won’t believe it.
He thinks those things, over and over. That’s she’s not, won’t be, can’t be dead. It’s not possible. And then one day he wakes up in the middle of the night, can’t get back to sleep, and he realizes.
Their love was so strong, only death could come between them.
That’s when it hit him, that she really was gone, and he cried like a baby without even caring.
He visited her grave. He’d wanted to go to her funeral, but Blood chose not to have a service. He wanted only family there to keep things private. Rich wanted to fight, but he was too emotionally exhausted and besides, he didn’t think he would be able to watch them lower her into the ground. He wondered if the casket would be open or not. He didn’t want to see her dead. Did he see her dead? They say she was near dead when he broke into the hospital. They keep telling him he broke into the hospital. He can’t remember. He doesn’t remember anything from that day.
Rich wanted to go to her grave, though. Blood didn’t want him to know where it was. He didn’t want any of Grace’s friends there, he still didn’t trust them. But then Rich said something Blood couldn’t argue with.
“Grace would want me to visit her.”
So he was allowed. He got flowers, lillies and roses and carnations of all different colors. He left them near her grave. She had the most beautiful grave in the cemetery, which was an eerie thought. But she would have loved it.
He talked to her for hours, in between fits of tears, and didn’t leave until Kevin and Anita started bombarding him with messages on his phone asking him to come home. So he did. He had to take each day one step at a time. He’d sleep exceptionally late, to waste the days as fast as he could. He would get through a meal, a shower, coursework, just get through it so everyone would leave him alone. Once a week, he would get flowers from the florist for Grace’s grave. He would visit her there, talk until he was forced to go home. Get through a meal, a shower, go to sleep. Repeat, repeat.
He hated the thought of her being there. One day, just to torture himself, he read about dead people. How the body deteriorates so quickly, until you’re unidentifiable, skin and bones, then just bones. He couldn’t stand it.
He wishes he had married her, so when he died, their graves could be together. As it should be. But he wishes he’d done a lot of things for Grace that he never got the chance to do. The only thing he could do now was his best, for her.
Rich felt that he hadn’t done enough for Grace. He wanted to do what she would have wanted. So he laid in his bed and asked himself, what would she want for him to do right now? Stop being miserable, probably. And shower, he had to shower too. What else?
She would want him to do the best he could, he decided. She would want him to go to uni and do good there, and then find a job and do good there, too. He had to take it one step at a time, so he tried to get his grades up. Except he had missed so much, being on holiday and all, plus his grades weren’t exactly perfect before all of this happened either, so he had to get a tutor. And work his ass off. It was easy for him to do. Open the book. Study. Take notes. Review notes. Listen to the lecture. Ace the test. Step by step, all for Gracie.
He’ll never stop loving Grace. He will never forget her. He won’t ever try to replace her. Everyone says he’ll find love again, but he doesn’t think he will and doesn’t want to anyway.
But he knows Grace wouldn’t want him to be miserable. She would let him be sad for awhile, and then she would want him to be happy again. He knew that she knew he loved her. And being happy didn’t mean he didn’t love her. He loved her so much, that was why he was happy. He got something no one else could touch. They had a perfect love story with a perfect ending.
It was perfect because their love didn’t end when Grace’s life did. Not at all. Their love would go on forever, as it was meant to. He would always love her. Their story didn’t end yet, because he would continue loving her even after she was gone.
He saw her one last time. He knew it was the last time. He knew that they both had to move forward, him with his life, her with her heaven (he didn’t believe in a religion, but he liked to think that Grace was an angel living her dream, somehow, somewhere). He held her close under the water, savoring their final kiss, and then he opened his eyes and then she was gone but it was okay because he knew she would always be with him, no matter what.
And he swam to the surface and smiled.