Song - Something Corporate, Down
When I woke up on Sunday, I realized that I had been asleep for probably twelve hours. Even so, I was still tired. I drowsily rolled out of bed and untangled myself from the sheets and comforter. Voices echoed from downstairs, so I buttoned up Sid's dress shirt and pulled on a pair of sweatpants before joining everyone.
Half the team was in the kitchen, demolishing boxes of pizza. I shimmied my way up to Sidney, who had his back to the room. Grabbing his arm, I pulled him closer down to my level so I could kiss his cheek. "Good morning, Sid," I said quietly, feeling like an intruder.
"Good afternoon," he returned, a slight smile playing on his lips. "Sorry I didn't tell you about this yesterday, but it's kind of like an informal team meeting to figure some stuff out."
"Oh," I sighed. "It's fine. You can hang out with the boys, because I just need to relax today and recoup from the week. I'm just sorry about... last night," I apologized with a blush.
"It's fine," he replied, mirroring me. "But... maybe later?" he asked with a wide grin and raised, imploring eyebrows.
I winked at him. "We'll see. I'm feeling rather rested, so chances are in your favor, I'd say."
Sidney leaned down and kissed me on the mouth, which garnered the attention of all the guys. Some catcalled, some hooted, and some yelled for us to get a room.
"This is a room. My room. In my house," Sid said, giving me a squeeze. "By the way, Nelly," he added with a whisper just for my benefit, "your phone's been beeping all morning."
I left the guys to talk and carry on with their discussions, finding my purse in the living room and digging around for my cell. Five missed calls and a voicemail, all from my mother. I rolled my eyes. I told her I was going to be gone all weekend, so I wondered what the big to-do was. Pressing and holding the number one button, I keyed in my code and waited to hear the message. Her voice droned on, but I only heard the first four words. "Noelle? It's Grandpa George...."
Everything stopped, like someone pushed pause on my life. I couldn't hear the rest of what she was saying; I could hear her voice, but I couldn't distinguish any coherent words.
Sid popped his head into the living room. "Hey, do you want any pizza before the guys finish it? Otherwise.... What's wrong?" I looked up at him. My eyes trained on his face, but his features were blurry. My mouth opened to speak, but I closed it when no words came out. I did this a few times, unable to speak. "Nelly," he said, rushing to my side and guiding me to the couch. "What is it?"
I held out my phone, and with shaking fingers I punched the correct number to replay the message. I needed Sid to hear it, to listen to what my mother was saying, so he could tell me what happened, so I would know. He held my hand, which was still clutching the phone, and pressed both my hand and the phone to the side of his face. I waited for him to listen and tell me what was going on. Eons passed before he spoke, and the entire time I felt like a vice was crushing my heart, preventing it from beating. My chest was tight, and my lungs weren't working either. I wasn't getting any oxygen. My head was spinning, reeling, unable to focus on anything, until he spoke.
"I'm sorry, Nelly. He's... gone." He licked his lips, mouth dry. "Heart attack this morning. He never even made it to the hospital. Nelly, I'm so, so sorry."
I thought once I heard the news, this feeling, or lack of feeling I should say, would go away. It would either dissipate into relief or grief. But I was still stuck in this limbo of numbness. My grandfather was seventy-six, but he was no old man. He golfed several times a week in the summer, belonged to a gym, and still lived an active lifestyle. This was so sudden, out of the blue. No one would have been prepared for his death, least of all me. "Gone?"
"I'm so sorry," he whispered, repeating the same words, but even that elicited no response from me. "Please, Nell, say something, do something. Please."
I tried to say something, do something, like Sidney asked me to. But I just couldn't. It was like my brain stem disconnected and nothing worked like it should. I couldn't process the information; I couldn't wrap my brain around it and I couldn't make sense of it. Not my grandfather. Not Grandpa George. It wasn't possible—he couldn't be dead. "Gone?"
He pulled me into his lap and just held me; that was the catalyst I needed to react. The tears formed in my eyes and poured forth without restraint. I pressed myself into his chest, trying to get closer to him. My hands clutched the cotton fabric of his Reebok tee shirt and held on for dear life, as if Sidney were my anchor keeping me in this world. If I let go, I would float out to sea in the deep abyss of pain and sorrow. I had to stay tethered to him.
"Hey, Sid, we were thinking..." Max strode into the living room and looked at us. He trailed off, hesitating between coming into the room with us and backing away. "Um, is everything okay?"
I felt the movement of his body as Sid shook his head and then nodded in quick succession. "Maybe you guys should go," he quietly suggested.
"No, it's okay," I said, finally regaining some sense of autonomy. I pulled away and let go of Sidney, wiping the errant tears from my cheeks. "I don't want to interrupt. I have to go home. My family needs me." Max was still a little clueless, and I felt bad for leaving him out to dry. "My grandfather," I said, looking at the floor.
Intuitively, he knew. "I'm sorry, Noelle." The sympathy in his voice unleashed another fierce set of tears, and both Sid and Max tried to comfort me.
"Nelly, you can't go. I mean, you can't drive. I'll take you home." I felt as Sid left my side and Max took over, rubbing my back just like he did the night he took me home with him after the psycho bitch kissed Sid at Diesel.
"If you need anything, let me know, okay?" he said, doing his best to soothe me but not knowing how to help.
I nodded and pulled away. It just felt wrong to have Max there to comfort me; he didn't have that soothing effect on me like my boyfriend did. Sidney returned with my heavy coat and my things. "You guys don't have to leave, just lock up on your way out when you're done," he said, guiding me to the door and helping me walk. I couldn't do it on my own.
"You don't have to do this," I started. "You've got an obligation to the team—"
"Some things are more important than hockey," he said. Then he cracked a smile, trying to lighten the mood. "I never thought that would come out of my mouth."
I curled up the corner of my mouth slightly, the only happy expression I could offer. The ride back to my house was both excruciatingly slow and lightning-speed fast. Sid gripped the steering wheel with his left hand and my hand with his right. I leaned against the window and pressed my forehead against the glass, eyes closed, overwhelmed in thought.
A thousand memories flashed on the screen of my shut eyelids. Five years old, at Shawnee State Park by the lake. There were ducks swimming out on the water. "Grandpa, I want one," I told him, pointing to the mallards floating effortlessly on the glossy sheen of the lake. "If you can catch one, you can keep it," he said. I spent the rest of that summer chasing after waterfowl and pursuing the ducks, hoping I could keep one for a pet.
Nine years old. My first band concert. I really, really wanted to play percussion, but my mother said I could only participate in the band if I played the flute. "You played perfectly, Red," he told me after the concert. "Grandpa George, you couldn't even hear me over everyone else," I said back to him with a laugh. "Are you kidding? You're the only one I could hear."
Fourteen. I was going through my goth phase, wearing nothing but black and spouting forth doom and gloom. "What's wrong with your toenails?" he asked me. "Nothing. It's black nail polish," I replied with an eye roll. "Where did my granddaughter go? The lovely girl who smiles and hugs me when she sees me?" "She's gone forever," I told him, thinking I knew everything when I was really so stupid and immature.
Twenty-four. Thanksgiving. Introducing him to my boyfriend. The last time I'd ever see him alive. The last time I would hug him and take in the scent of his Old Spice. The last time I'd kiss his scruffy cheek. The last time I'd hear him call me Red. The last time.
One happy thought crept in amongst the sadness. At least he had met Sidney. And even better, he liked him. Somehow, I found comfort in that. Minimal reassurance, but it was better than nothing.
I opened my eyes and looked out the window to see a gibbous, waning moon staring back at me. Suddenly, I wished I were a more religious person. "Sid?"
"Yeah, babe?" He squeezed my hand, happy to hear me say something. I didn't even care that he called me that.
"Where do you think heaven is?" He didn't respond. It wasn't an easy question. I continued, "I don't know where it is. But I just know he's there."
"Of course he is. Of course."
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