Carl is dead. If ever there were a day I wished there was some god to comfort me, to welcome Carl's soul to paradise, today is it.
I lie in bed, sure the last few hours have been a cruel dream. After all, young, successful attorneys aren’t supposed to die of undiagnosed heart defects. They aren’t supposed to die two months before their wedding, three months after buying a house with their fiancée. If they’re going to die in the middle of the court room, it’s supposed to be sensational: the result of a crazed defendant or disgruntled victim taking justice into their own hands. Especially Carl, who always had to do the best and be the best, who had to make a name for himself everywhere he went. He’s probably looking down on the whole thing now, pissed that he hadn’t been able to deliver his brilliant closing arguments before fate ripped a hole in his heart and sent him falling to the floor of Judge Aberman’s court room. He probably wouldn’t have thought of me on the way down—of how he was making a widow of me even before I became a wife—only how he’d never get to make partner now.
Our bed seems much bigger than it used to. The edges stretch farther and farther away from me, drowning me in expensive organic cotton. Taunting me. Telling me with all the softness and compassion of an automaton that no matter how many times I roll over, I’ll never again feel Carl beside me.
Still, I heave myself over, and over again, searching for a warmth that isn’t there. Or, at the very least, a cool empty space just over the edge that might tell me our bed hasn’t really grown to infinite proportions I can never escape. I find the latter, in the form of a three foot fall onto the hardwood floor. I hardly try to brace myself, my hip thudding gracelessly against the golden pine, my elbow cracking against the nightstand on the way down.
I swallow the metallic taste that has sprouted from the tip of my tongue, curl my knees up to my chest, stare at the dust bunnies that have collected under the bed. I should get up, I think. Should wipe the stream of unladylike snot sliding across my upper lip. Instead, I let my forehead drop to the floor and continue scanning the shadowy void under the bed as if my fiancé might magically appear there.
Every time I try to imagine his face, I see him as I saw him in the hospital.
When he left the house this morning, he was wearing a dark grey three-button suit. Pale blue shirt. Grey and blue striped tie. But when I pushed through the hospital doors, the only grey was the ashen color of his face; he was wearing only a white sheet.
I’ll have to change the sheets on our bed—my bed now. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to sleep on plain white sheets again.
My cell phone rings from somewhere unseen. I roll over onto my back with every intention of getting up and answering it, but by the time the white ceiling comes into view, the ringing has stopped. So I stop trying to get up.
Minutes later, it starts again. I don’t know how long it rings, only that it keeps on ringing. And ringing. When it finally does stop, for good, it’s replaced by a loud knocking at the door.
“Bree!” The deep voice is somewhere outside my bedroom, but in the house. Apparently I didn’t lock the front door. “Brianne!” My brother-in-law calls to me again. At least he would’ve been my brother-in-law. Not anymore.
“Luke.” I mean to call out, but my voice fails me, emanating as only a cracked whisper. The bedroom door bursts open anyway, and Luke is suddenly on his knees with me.
“Jesus, Bree, why didn’t you pick up?”
“It’s not real, right?” Arms encircle me. I find my face pressed against his neck, a day’s worth of stubble scratching at my forehead. Definitely real.
“You should’ve called me first. I would’ve gone with you to the hospital.”
I hadn’t thought to call. When someone told me my fiancé had collapsed in court, I wasn’t thinking about who I should call to meet me at the hospital. I was thinking about the designer gown that would be arriving at a local wedding boutique in a week for a fitting. I was thinking about the nearly 200 guests we were expecting at the wedding in 8 weeks.
“Gloria,” I said. I was thinking about her, too, on the way to the hospital. Carl and Luke’s mother. Somehow, she would make this out to be my fault.
Luke squeezes me tighter and for a moment I imagine I might feel better if he would just squeeze all the breath from my lungs.
“I called. They’re trying to get a flight out.”
I hadn’t called anyone at all. The drive home is a blur. Someone at the firm must have called Luke.
“I have to call Father Granger.” He was supposed to marry us. Now he’ll have to perform another ceremony. I try to scramble to my feet; Luke scrambles with me. His arms are the only thing that keep me steady when my knees turn to jelly.
“Bree, stop it.”
“I have to call.”
“You can do it tomorrow.”
“I have to—”
“You don’t.” His grip is firm. I try to push him away.
“There’s so much I have—”
“Bree, just stop. It can wait.”
“He’s dead!” I scream, saying it out loud for the first time. “What am I supposed to do, huh?” I pound my fists against his chest. “He was supposed to marry me, and love me, and be with me forever, and now he’s dead!”
Luke sits on the couch all night and watches me make phone calls. Sometimes he protests, tells me it can wait, I should sit down. Eat. Something. Anything.
But I can’t, because every time I slow down, I can feel the world spinning beneath my feet. It’s always been turning, changing, buzzing with the hum of millions of busy lives. But before now, my life always hummed right along with the rest, one ballerina in a carefully choreographed dance. Now I’ve lost my place and can only mimic the movements of the other dancers, frighteningly aware of how fast everything is going by, until I can find my way again.
I call my parents back home in Seattle and they promise to get on the first plane they can catch. Mom tells me to hang in there, not to stay the night alone, to surround myself with friends. She, like Luke, tries to convince me that all my phone calls—to cancel wedding plans and make funeral arrangements—can wait until morning. But I keep dialing. Wedding’s off. Carl’s dead. No other reason, and why should there be?
Call the caterer. The florist. Maybe the florist can…no, don’t think about that. Keep dialing. The reception hall. Should’ve started cancelling things yesterday, or the day before, but my lips couldn’t form the embarrassed excuse then. It’s more difficult now to spit out this tragic news instead. This isn’t what I wanted when we decided… How was I to know?
Call the ceremony site. And the guests. So many guests. I can at least start calling my side of the list tonight. The rest will wait.
Can’t stop to listen to the silence or look at Luke’s expressionless face. I haven’t seen him cry. He sits there and watches me pace across the living room, cell phone pressed to my ear. When my fingers run out of numbers to dial, when my lips can no longer bear to form any words, Luke watches me cry.
I stand in the middle of the living room, sniffling, wiping at the tears as fast as they come. I don’t even have the luxury of denial because I saw him, covered from toes to neck. I felt his skin, not yet cold, but not as warm as mine. I can’t delude myself that he might come walking through the door. I cry because he won’t.
And I cry because a selfish part of me is relieved he can’t.