I sat in numb shock. I didn’t need to hear the words the doctor said. His face, the set of his shoulders, told me everything. If that wasn’t enough to drive the message home, Mom’s plaintive cries would’ve been. Or Carter’s squeezed-shut eyes and his tight mouth, trying to hold it together. Hadley’s horrified expression and her hands on Carter’s shoulders, attempting to soothe the pain that can’t be soothed.
It was too soon. All this evidence was in front of me, but I didn’t want to believe it. My father…
My father couldn’t be dead.
The doctor kept talking, but I couldn’t hear him over the roaring in my ears. The roaring was deafening. How? How could this have happened? Dad’s heart hadn’t been the best, but he wasn’t even sixty yet. No, my mind rebelled. They’re wrong. They have to be. It can’t be true. It can’t be –
“Alison?” Josh’s gentle voice broke through the roaring. When had he gotten there? It must’ve been just before the doctor came out.
“He’s gone,” I choked. Great, heaving sobs wrenched their way out of my chest. “How can he be gone, Josh?” He didn’t say anything. He just sank down on the bench next to me and opened his arms; I collapsed against his chest, sobbing into his shirt.
I don’t know how long we sat like that. Around me, I was vaguely aware of things happening. Carter took charge because Mom couldn’t stop crying. Paperwork. There were things that had to be taken care of. Hadley did her best to console both of them. All of it on my periphery. All I was really aware of, besides this hole that had been ripped into my heart, were Josh’s arms around me as he let me cry.
After a while, I heard him say, “I’m going to take her home.” Then he gently pulled me to my feet and guided me outside.
The fresh air helped a little. I stood in the cool autumn evening and sucked in big gasps of air while Josh hailed a cab. I felt like there wasn’t enough air in the world. The roaring in my ears came back, drowning out the sounds of cars and the steps of passers-by. Only Josh’s voice broke through it, gently urging me into the cab. I rolled the window down as soon as I was inside. I needed all the air I could get, and if it had a little bite to it, all the better.
At my house, I balked. I stood on the sidewalk and looked up at it. This was the home where Carter and I had grown up. My parents had bought it right after they got married. There were so many memories within those walls. I didn’t want to go inside. Not now, knowing that my father would never sit at his desk again, watch the game on TV.
Frantically, I looked up at Josh. “I don’t want to go in there. Don’t make me, Josh, I can’t.”
“Hey, okay, you don’t have to,” he said soothingly. “You want to go to Mom’s? Or Aunt Shirley’s?”
I shook my head. “Can I just stay at your place tonight?”
There was the briefest hesitation before he said, “Sure, Alison. Anything you need.” We got back into the cab and drove away.
When we got to Josh’s place, I went into the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face. It helped, a tiny bit, to clear away some of the fog in my head. The roaring in my ears had dissipated, too. I didn’t feel like myself, but at least I wasn’t as numb. If you can be numb and gripped with crushing pain at the same time.
Josh knocked quietly on the door before opening it. He held out a bundle of clothes. “I brought you something to sleep in.”
I took them, setting the pile on the counter. “Looks a little girly for you,” I said dully.
“They’re Maggie’s. She won’t mind if you borrow them.”
“I figured. Thanks, Josh.” After he shut the door, I took a long, long shower before getting dressed in the borrowed clothes
In my bare feet, I padded into the bedroom. Josh had changed too – or was in the process of. He was wearing a pair of sweats and had a shirt still in his hands when I came in. I looked at his bare chest. I’d seen him shirtless before, of course. Countless times between all the times I’d stayed over at his house when I was a kid and when we’d go swimming together. But it was different this time. We were in his bedroom. We were both adults; I was nineteen now. And, suddenly, I remembered the kiss we’d shared two years ago. I remembered enjoying it before my brain had kicked in.
Josh interrupted my thoughts, pulling on his shirt and saying, “I figured I’d sleep on the couch. You can have the bed.”
I nodded and sat down on the edge. “Would you sit with me a while? I’m not – I’m not ready to be alone yet.”
“Of course, Allie.” He sat down next to me. I could feel the heat from his body. Somehow, I was hyper aware of him tonight.
I just looked over at him. Had my head been standing in my way for years? Josh was my best friend. He was always there for me. Even those months we’d been estranged – I knew he would’ve come if I needed him. He was the best friend anyone could ask for. Perhaps he would be the best boyfriend for me, too? He loved me. Or he had. Had I crushed that out of him? Was that spark still there? The one that I’d felt when he kissed me? I’d like to see if it was. I’d like to feel something besides pain.
He turned to me to say something, but I leaned in and pressed my lips to his. That spark, I felt it. It was dull, not fully realized under the weight of my grief, but there was a spark. I wanted to explore it, but Josh pulled away.
“Whoa, Alison, no. I know you’re distressed, but this isn’t the answer. You’re not thinking clearly.”
“I’m not afraid anymore, Josh. Of what this could be. I don’t have room for it inside me.”
Josh looked at me compassionately. “Take it from me; just because it feels right now doesn’t mean that it is.”
“You have always been there for me. And I know that you always will,” I asserted. I’d never felt more clear about this, despite the pain-filled hole I had inside me. “I’ve been so stupid about this.” Tears leaked from my eyes, and I dashed them away. “You’re my best friend.” Mom had always said Dad was her best friend, that friendship was the best and truest basis for a relationship.
“I wasn’t always there,” he said softly.
“You would’ve been. If I’d really needed you.” His silence told me I was right.
I leaned in and kissed him again.
It was late in the morning when I woke up. I sat up and sat on the edge of the bed. Behind me, I could hear Alison’s even breaths.
We’d slept together but we hadn’t slept together. It would’ve been unfair to us both. She was responding to the loss of her father, not to me. Two years ago, I might not have seen the difference, but I did now.
As quietly as I could, I got up and padded downstairs to make breakfast. As I stood over the stove, I couldn’t stop replaying in my mind the way she’d kissed me. I hadn’t let it progress far, but she’d been very adamant about the kissing, so it had taken a little while to convince her it was a bad idea. I’d never thought I’d kiss her again. This wasn’t the way I wanted it to be, though. I wanted her to want – to love – me, not just want to drown out her grief. I wasn’t angry at her; I couldn’t blame her for thinking irrationally right now. But still, this wasn’t the way I wanted it.
The smell of food must’ve woken her up because about the time I had finished cooking, Alison came into the kitchen.
“I woke up and you were gone,” she said quietly.
“Just making breakfast.”
She sat down at the bar. “I’m not hungry.”
I put a plate in front of her and sat down with my own. “Eat anyway. You still need to eat even if you don’t feel it.”
She picked at her eggs, but I made sure she ate most of it. When we were finished, I cleaned up the dishes.
“Allie, let’s talk.” I walked into the living room and sat down with her. “About last night…”
“I still feel the same. I want to explore this, Josh. I’m not afraid anymore.”
As much as I wanted to hear that sentiment from her, this wasn’t the time. “I hope you mean that. But I think you need time. You need to grieve, not jump into a relationship. I’ll be there for you every step of the way but as a friend.”
She squeezed her eyes shut. When she opened them again, they shone with unshed tears. “How long will it take for you to trust that I know what I want?”
I had to smile, just a little, at her persistence. “Give it a month, Alison. If this is still what you want, we’ll talk about it then.”
“Is it still what you want, Josh? I know you’re dating Maggie…”
Watcher, Maggie. We were happy together, but I knew by the hope I had in my heart that our relationship was over. Even if she could forgive me for kissing Alison and sharing my bed with her, it was over. “It’s still what I want, Alison. It always has been.”
“I don’t want to wait a month.” She paused and sniffed softly, wiping her eyes. “But I will.”
A/N: This chapter was so incredibly hard to write and screenshot. RIP Phil Harrison. You will live on in my library, the libraries of other simmers (if they want you), and as an altered version of yourself as Chase Harris in the More the Wilder.