Dear life, p.8
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       Dear Life, p.8

           Meghan Quinn
 

  “You’ll love it.” Pausing for a second, I bite my bottom lip and say, “I also joined this program down at the church.”

  “Program? Like volunteering?”

  “No.” I shake my head, unsure how to approach this topic.

  Why do I feel nervous telling her about Dear Life? Maybe because she’s one of the reasons I’m taking it. How do I tell her that I need to learn how to live in the real world without insulting her?

  “Then what is it, dearie? It’s not some druggie thing, is it?”

  “No.” I chuckle. “Believe me, I would never do anything like that. It’s a program called Dear Life.”

  “Dear life? Sounds interesting. What’s it about?”

  Taking a deep breath, I say, “It’s a program to help you learn how to live.”

  Her brow furrows. “What do you mean?”

  Nervously, I twist my hands on my lap, trying to find the right words. “Well, since I’ve been living with Amanda, I’ve realized there is a lot I don’t know. It’s kind of a culture shock since they live so differently from the way I did. I’m sure you experienced the same shock when you moved into community living.”

  Her face lightens, understanding crosses her features. “Yes, it was quite startling at first, but I’ve adjusted.”

  “So you understand where I’m coming from. There is so much going on in the world I had no idea about. It’s quite overwhelming. And to be honest, I’m not as outgoing as you. I would never be able to walk up to a group of women and ask to be in their book club, let alone discuss an erotic romance with others. I wish I was as brave as you.”

  I don’t notice my face is cast down until Grams grips my chin and forces me to look her in the eyes. “You’re brave, dearie. You just have to find that bravery within you. So, is this program helping you find the new you?”

  Slightly relieved, I nod. “Yeah, you could put it that way. So far I’ve attended one meeting, and I have the second tonight. That’s where I’m heading once I leave here.”

  “That’s wonderful. Have you met anyone yet at these meetings? Made any friends?”

  “Not really.” My lips quirk to the side in disappointment. “I actually think I’m in a dud group.”

  “Why?”

  Sitting back, I recollect my first meeting. “We were sectioned off into groups, based on where we were sitting. I happened to be sitting next to the guy who doesn’t want to be there, his archenemy who is a girl, and a man who barely looks like he’s surviving. I know we’re all at the meeting for a reason but none of them really want to share. It’s a little upsetting. I was hoping to be in a group who was jazzed about the program.”

  “So it’s you, another girl, and two boys?” I confirm with a nod. “Are the boys cute?”

  Instantly my face heats from her question. Are the boys cute? Well, they aren’t Donald O’Connor and Danny Kaye tapping their way into my heart, but they aren’t bad to look at either. Actually, they are very attractive. Jace, with his blond hair and built body has the all-American-boy look. A tortured all-American boy, but an all-American boy nonetheless. As for Carter, he is almost scary attractive. Dangerous with his jet-black hair, tattooed arms, and don’t mess with me attitude. He intimidates me on every level. I wouldn’t want to be on his bad side.

  “By your silence, I’m going to assume they’re attractive.”

  Blushing feverously, I answer, “Well, they aren’t bad looking.” That gets a laugh out of Grams. “Let’s not talk about how they look.” I try to change the subject quickly. “That’s besides the point. They don’t seem like the friendly type, any of them. And I don’t have enough confidence to force myself upon them and make them be my friend, so it’s slightly disappointing.” Would anyone in the meeting be on my wavelength? Am I too different to not fit in at all? It actually terrifies me to think that might be the case.

  “Maybe they’re all going through something rough, something that’s tickling their soul with dread and worry. You never want to judge someone based on outward appearance. Give them time, dearie, you might just find true friendship in those damaged souls.”

  That’s why I love my grams; she always knows how to say the right thing.

  Exhaling a sigh of relief, I say, “I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Thanks, Grams.”

  She waves her hand in front of her face, passing off my appreciation. “Anytime, dearie. Now,” she rubs her hands together and leans forward, like we are about to talk about something top secret, “tell me about the boys again.”

  “Grams, what has gotten into you?” I giggle.

  “Christian Grey, that’s who.” She winks and then shivers from the mere mention of his name.

  Maybe I should pick up these books. They may help me find that same sparkle in my life, too.

  HOLLYN

  “Grief is hard, exposing yourself to it and therefore experiencing it even harder. I hope it helped you prepare to resolve what you are truly trying to free yourself from. It’s not easy, you know, to just let something go when there is no closure, when you have it looming over you, eating you alive with every breath you take. It’s not a light switch, something you can turn on and off anytime you want. Anyone experience that? How impossible it is to just stop thinking about it?”

  From a show of hands, everyone in the room had a hard time grieving. Welcome to my world. Over a year and a half later and I’m still grieving the loss of Eric. I don’t think it will ever be something I will get over, maybe someday I might be able to breathe a little easier. So far, no such luck.

  Marleen, our fearless yet slightly irritating leader, nods at the amount of hands raised. I glance over at Carter who is slouched in his seat, chewing on a piece of gum, popping bubbles, and looking less interested every minute. The conversation I had to sit through with his uncle, uh yeah, that was awkward.

  Like really awkward.

  Like, I’m still sweating over what happened between them. That was some heavy family drama, some serious airing out of their dirty laundry. No wonder Carter is such a bastard most of the time.

  And to make it even worse, once Carter stormed out, Chuck asked me to keep an eye on him at the meetings to make sure he’s actually taking it seriously. Apparently I have to report back to him. Yeah, that’s not something I want to do.

  What would I say about today’s meeting? Carter sat in his chair with an I don’t give a shit look on his face, stared up at the ceiling for a good ten minutes, and popped his gum a grand total of twenty-five times.

  I’m sure Chuck would thoroughly enjoy that report.

  Not going to happen.

  But not because I have some bond with Carter. There is zero bond there, absolutely nothing. But because I really don’t want to get in the middle of everything between them. Not going to lie, that is a real mess.

  Focusing back in on what Marleen is saying, I try to attach myself to her words. Despite my reluctance to grieve Eric, I still want to try to start feeling again, to see if I still have a heart or if I lost it when I lost him. People don’t seem to comprehend that even though we had so little time together, my heart still shattered in a million pieces. I’ve simply lost my footing, and I’m not really sure I’ll ever get it back.

  A hollow chest is something I’ve gotten used to, but it’s not something I want to die with.

  “Today, you will try to take what you’ve been grieving and release it from your body, letting go. The first step in letting go of your grief is to admit it.” Thoughtfully, she continues, “Treat it as if you were in a group like AA, instead of harboring your sorrow, release it. Today, you will stand before your peer group, gathering strength from one another, and in one sentence, release to them what you’ve been grieving. The first way to let go is saying it out loud, accepting your sorrow and in return, creating happiness and proving your existence. This won’t be easy.” She sits down on the table behind her, propping one leg up on the side while her other steadies her firmly on the ground. “When I went through this
program, week two was the hardest for me. Having to look others in the eye, tell them what I’d sheltered inside, what was eating me up and spitting me out, it’s not for the faint-hearted. You have to be strong because facing those demons head-on, with onlookers, that’s what’s going to get you over that hump.”

  After looking over the room, she stands, raises her finger in the air. “Don’t be afraid to engage and ask questions but be respectful of everyone’s space. Once your group is finished, take some time to write your letter. You are welcome to scatter around the room, please don’t feel the need to stay in your chair.” With her hands folded in front of her, she looks around the group. “As always, if you have any questions, I will be around. Be kind, be courageous, and keep moving forward. Keep proving your existence, day by day. Prove it.”

  My lips press tightly together in thought. Shit, have I been proving my existence? Do I even understand what that is? I think back over the time between meetings and realize I truly took advantage of the grieving process. Long nights on the couch, my face buried in a pillow covered by one of Eric’s old T-shirts, and listening to his Voxer messages on repeat. In other words, I continued doing the same thing as every night before.

  Images of my lonely nights vanish when the squeak of metal chairs across the lacquered floor resonate through the cold walls of the church hall. Looking to my group, I see Daisy moving her chair closer to Carter to make some room for me to maneuver into the circle. Jace, looking more sullen than ever, has his head bent, his hands clasped in front of him, and a bouncing beneath him, shaking his entire body. He appears to be in no mood to share. Despite his morose aura, I can’t help but notice the strong chiseled jaw that rests beneath the brim of his hat, or the obvious corded muscles that flex under his long-sleeve shirt, or his broad build with his long legs and large feet. You would have to be living under a rock to not know who he is. So, why is he here?

  Guess I’ll be finding out soon enough.

  “Who wants to get started?” Daisy, our silently designated group leader asks, looking annoyingly vivacious in her quilted vest that she’s constantly smoothing her hands over. Must be a nervous tick of hers. Last meeting, she was incessantly pulling on her overall straps.

  “Why don’t you, Snowflake?” Carter suggests, picking at his jeans, not even caring to look up.

  “Snowflake?” Daisy looks around, oblivious to the nickname Carter is clearly calling her. “Who are you referring to?”

  Carter lifts his brow and barely makes eye contact with Daisy. “You.”

  “Oh.” She points to her chest, looking more confused than ever but then proceeds forward. Her nerves seem to be rattling her confidence. “Do we have to stand when we say our sentence?”

  “I’m not fucking standing,” Carter answers, popping a bubble.

  How long has that piece of gum been in his mouth? It has to taste like rubber cement by now.

  “Well I guess that settles it, no standing.” Daisy swallows hard. “Are you sure you want me to go first?”

  Carter nods his head, Jace makes no movement, and I feeling bad for the girl say, “No, I can go first.”

  “Really?” There is hope and relief in her eyes. She may be simpler than all of us but it’s obvious in the way she fidgets and the way her voice wavers with every word she speaks that she is way out of her comfort zone, so I will give her a break.

  “Yeah, so we uh, just say our name, our sentence, and we’re done?”

  “That’s correct,” Marleen agrees from behind, startling me in my chair. Tension coils in my back from her eavesdropping and I pray that she continues to circulate so I don’t have to admit my sorrow in front of her. “Remember to take a deep breath, find your demons, and with one final push, let them out, let them go and start creating and surrounding yourself with happiness. Before we leave, when everyone is writing their letters, we will go over our next step in the program.”

  “Okay,” I say, my voice raising higher, trying to be nice to Marleen. It can’t be an easy volunteer job for her, having to force people to talk about what’s been troubling them.

  “Go ahead, continue.”

  Luckily, when I clear my throat, Marleen walks over to the next group, giving me a little more privacy to make my announcement. “Hi, uh, you know my name is Hollyn—”

  “Hi Hollyn,” Carter deadpans, acting like a total dick. It takes everything in me not to flip him off. Instead, I tilt my head and give him my best fuck you smile.

  “As I was saying, I’m Hollyn and,” I take a deep breath, “I’m a twenty-two-year-old widow.” The words feel bitter, leaving my tongue. Branding myself in such a way it stings, like little needles prickling me all over, turning me into a blanket of numb.

  A widow.

  That’s what I am. There is no skirting around it.

  “Oh gosh, I’m so sorry,” Daisy says, reaching over to pat my hand but then second-guesses her instincts and pulls back.

  “I’m sorry too, Hollyn,” Jace says, a deep, timber-filled voice carrying out of him as he lifts his head slightly to make eye contact.

  Glancing at Carter, expecting to see a smartass look on his face, he actually seems apologetic, the atmosphere amongst us growing serious.

  “I feel bad now, saying my sentence. It’s nothing compared to yours,” Daisy says.

  Shifting in his seat, pulling on his jeans that cling to his thighs, Jace says, “You can’t do that, Daisy. You can’t devalue what you’re going through because you’re comparing it to someone else. We’re all going through this program for a reason despite how big or small it is. This is not a competition, it’s a fellowship.”

  That’s the most I’ve ever heard Jace talk and hell, it shoots me directly in the chest.

  “Okay.” Considering her words, Daisy sits on the edge of her chair, preparing what she wants to say. “I’m Daisy, and I’ve been sheltered my entire life, leaving me with terrible social anxiety, no friends, and little life experience.”

  Well, hell, I want to reach over to her and give her a hug.

  Swallowing hard, she looks at me and says, “And I now live with my half-sister who is actually your best friend, Amanda.”

  This comes as a surprise to me. I wonder why Amanda never said anything to me. Now I feel even more inclined to reach over and give her a hug.

  “You have no friends?” Daisy’s face turns bright red while she shakes her head. “Well, you at least have one in me.” Unlike her reluctance to pat my hand, I reach over and comfort her. A bright smile touches her lips, lighting up her embarrassed face.

  “Sheltered how?” Carter asks, looking a little more interested. “And you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”

  “I don’t mind. It’s all about letting go, right?” With her hands twisting on her lap, she answers Carter’s question. “My parents weren’t in a position to raise me so I went to live with my grandma. She homeschooled me, taught me everything I know, and made me the woman I am today, a very closed-in, naïve girl with no clue how to function in real society. I’m hoping to leave my past behind, and learn how to be free, to live.”

  Carter nods his head in appreciation. “I feel ya on that, Snowflake.”

  “Oh yeah, then share with us, Carter,” I state, wanting him to actually try to take this program seriously. After hearing what he’s gone through with his uncle, being here might be a pretty good outlet for him.

  “No problem.” Still slouching in his chair, he passes as nonchalant, but I can detect heaviness in his voice. “I’m Carter, and life emasculated me in every which way.” He stops there, not even hinting at wanting to elaborate.

  I push. “Care to explain?”

  A resounding pop comes from his gum. He shakes his head. “Nah, I’m good.”

  Daisy, who once looked hopeful over having a connection with someone in the group, immediately falls flat from Carter’s dismissal.

  Despite the black tar coating his heart, he must notice the way Daisy’s shoulders slump becaus
e before Jace can start telling us about why he’s here, Carter adds, “I lost the one thing that was going to change my life and put me on the right track, that was going to set me free. I know how you feel, Snowflake, wanting that freedom.” A little more quietly, looking down at his hands, he adds, “I know all too well.”

  Taking a cue from me, Daisy reaches over and awkwardly pats Carter on the shoulder, patting him a little too hard. “You’ll get that freedom. Just stick with us.” Daisy fist-pumps the air, her quilted vest rising with her movements. Oh sweet, sweet girl. I’m going to have to talk to Amanda about helping her half-sister update her wardrobe.

  I’m also going to have to talk to Amanda about having a half-sister.

  Whatty what?

  Our attention is pulled to Jace as he clears his throat and lifts his head. The intensity of his eyes . . .

  “I guess it’s my turn.”

  “It is,” I answer with a sincere smile.

  “Not to be a dick, but I kind of want to remind you all of the NDAs.”

  “Dude, you’re safe with us,” Carter says. Is that compassion in his voice? Where the hell is this coming from? I don’t think I’ve ever seen this side of Carter. He usually spends his time acting like a complete dick, strutting around the restaurant like the world owes him something. And maybe it does, maybe he deserves a break.

  Still, it’s going to take some time for me to feel that way about him.

  Jace nods and takes a deep breath. The way he fidgets with his hat, lifting it off his head so he can quickly run his hand through his hair, leads me to believe that what he’s about to say is truly eating away at him. He clears his throat and says the one thing I never expected to hear.

  “I’m Jace and uh, life gave me a daughter when I wasn’t ready, and I had to give her up for adoption.”

  Just like that, our group falls silent, our mouths drop open in shock, and I can’t speak for everyone else, but my heart is beating in my throat.

  He had to give up his daughter for adoption? How is that a decision someone can make without mentally breaking down every day? I can’t even imagine the pain he’s going through.

 
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