For the next week we are constantly with each other. Going to the store, going to the college, staying home. Eventually we are able to be apart for at least the nights only to rejoin again as soon as we wake up. I still cry myself to sleep frequently and manage to drag myself out of bed everyday. It’s like being a lifeless shell. You do the things you normally do, only now they feel purposeless, and everything seems to lead you back to the one you lost. Every picture, every piece of clothing, every freaking thing reminds you of who you lost and it tears you apart over and over again. It’s a vicious cycle and I’m not sure it ever ends. Since Milo is gone I feel like a piece of me has been torn away. A very large piece. I feel like I’m in shambles but Piers seems to be doing alright. He even makes a joke occasionally. I don’t know how he does it.
After what seems like ages we are allowed back into Milo’s Shop but I never want to be there. It’s no longer the warm and fuzzy atmosphere I used to frolic to anymore. It’s not my prized job or my place to burn time. It’s become a dark hole with lots of dusty books with an eerie shadow of murder hanging over it. A crime seen still drenched in injustice and innocent blood.
One day I actually gain the courage to go in for the first time in at least a month. Piers actually decides he’ll go with me and I’m glad to have some support. I pull out my pink key to the shop. The one Milo gave me despite knowing I hate the color pink. “It’s pink! Girls love pink.” He would say as he nudged my arm. My hand starts to shake as the memory begins to sit in my brain. Suddenly the key becomes an intense treasure and I love the color pink but I hate it and I’m beginning to feel overpowered by the intense instinct to run away. Then I feel my anxiety subdue as I feel Piers’ hand guide mine to the door lock and turn it to the right. I remove the key myself and open the door with a shaky arm. This door weighs a million pounds and I hear a familiar sound. I look above my head and see the little golden bells jingle as they bob back and forth. I let out a loud sigh and like always Piers’ strength causes me to move foreword. I’m clutching onto his hand as I walk in and I see my old desk that I shared with Milo. All of the schedules and receipts and other minuscule things are still in their places from what seems like eons ago. I catch my breath and continue on through the shop. I wander through every room, every aisle, and every inch of the shop. I haven’t cried yet and not a single tear has threatened to break through my wall of resistance. Finally I make my way to the back room. My hand starts to shake violently and I grab onto the door, but it’s a long time before I can open the door. I’m so scared to find him there again, lying helplessly on the floor. I’m afraid I won’t be able to do anything again and that I’ll watch him breathe his last breath. My heart starts to race and I feel like I’m going to pass out and I feel my face break out into an automatic cold sweat. My mouth has dried up and it’s getting hard to breathe yet somehow the door opens itself to reveal the empty backroom. A simple book case to the right and an empty table to the left, both items pressed up against their walls, and there’s that stupid painting. The one I couldn’t get out of my mind since that horrible day.
An unknown noise catches my attention and my whole body is tensed. It’s crying. I whip around to see Piers leaned up against the backroom’s doorway. I hadn’t realized but I had wandered into the room. Piers had no intention of holding back
now. Every second of this past month that he had been internalizing came pouring out. I rushed to him holding him in my arms and he naturally clings to me like a child who’s had a nightmare. My heart breaks for him. His fake strength he had put on for so long finally started to crumble, this was the final straw. He started to collapse and naturally not being able to hold him up I managed to slowly slide us down to the floor. Now I’m huddled with a broken man in my arms that I’ve not even known for a year and yet it doesn’t matter. I cradle him whispering soft things into his ear hoping to soothe him. After a few minutes tears begin to build up but I hold them back knowing that this is my turn to be strong for us. His head is resting on my shoulder and I can feel his tears soaking through my shirt.
“Shh, shh, it’s ok. Everything is going to be ok.” I say stroking his hair and gently rocking him back and forth.
“He’s gone!…..He’s gone and I couldn’t save him! I couldn’t do ANYTHING!” His hoarse voice screams the last word. “He took care of me!…..But I-I-I….. I couldn’t take care of him.” He’s managing to spit words out between sobs. Piers is clinging on to me so tightly now as if I’ll leave him at a moments notice. I still stroke his hair and continue to wrap my arms around him.
“It’s ok Riley… It wasn’t your fault. You couldn’t have known. No one could.” I say quietly hoping to speak logically to him. He sobs some more into my shoulder. “No…” He whispers “It’s all my fault. I’m so sorry Uncle… I’m so sorry.” He’s still whisper and managing to hold back his hyperventilating fit that’s threatening him so terribly. I try my best and after a bit of time his loud cries turn to soft moans muffled by my shirt.
Eventually these heartbreaking minutes turn into hours and after awhile I realize he’s fallen asleep in my arms. He’s so heavy but I don’t mind and now his breathing has fallen in sync with mine. A continuous cycle. His heartbeat slowing to an almost relaxed rhythm I start to realize mine is unnaturally fast. This is the first time I have been like this with a boy, or actually with a man. It’s odd feeling like this. My stomach is swirling and my heart feels like it’s going to explode and I want to run away but I want to hug him at the same time and for a moment I don’t think about the despair eating away at me. I take in a deep breath to try and calm myself over this new feeling and close my eyes. I open them when I feel Piers stirring in my arms. His eyes open and he’s confused for a second but suddenly his memory snaps him back to what has happened. His body tenses like he’s going to run away and he turns his face away from me, his eyes unable to meet mine. I brush the hair out of his face and put my hand on his face and guide it to look towards me. He still won’t look at me in the eye.
“Hey, it’s ok to cry you know.” I say trying my best to mimic his voice. He manages a half smile.
“Just shut it will ya?” He says wrapping his arms around me and returns to a comfortable state. I know what he’s trying to say: Thank you.