I stood at my father’s grave alongside my son, my sisters and my step-mother. It felt unreal, like I was floating along in a horrible dream, because there was no way this could be real. There was no way my dad could be gone. A heart attack? How could that have even happened? He was invincible, indestructible, the pillar of the family… he was my dad.
I watched my sisters and my step-mom cry, heartbroken, but for once I couldn’t bring myself to comfort any of them. I was in too much pain myself. In the distance, I could hear reporters, paparazzi, and crazed fans all trying to get inside the cemetery to see a glimpse of Alton Sword’s final resting place and to exploit our family’s grief for as much money as they could but I had expected that. I hired security to keep them out.
“Seb? I think I’m going to take Monica home. She doesn’t want to be here any longer,” Ariel sniffed. “I think Rayne wants to go home, too. Do you want us to watch Leander for you until you’re ready to go?” My gut didn’t feel right letting my little sister take over and be the strong one when that was supposed to be my job but I couldn’t bring myself to be strong right now so I just nodded.
“Sure. Thanks…” I mumbled. Ariel reached for Leander’s hand to lead him back to the car but Leander tugged on my sleeve.
“… Everyone’s really sad, aren’t they?” he commented to me. I knelt down to be at his level and nodded.
“Yes. We all miss your grandpa a lot,” I admitted. Leander frowned and looked down at his feet.
“But… I’m not really sad. Does that mean I’m bad?” he asked me. His question reminded me of something my father said to me many years ago when I wasn’t much older than Leander. Dad had started seeing Monica and I was upset because I felt like I was the only one who missed my mom and saw Monica as an intruder. My father’s words came back to me
‘It’s hard to miss someone you can’t remember… Everyone’s different, Sebastian. Some people feel close to their parents, even if they never knew them, and other people don’t. Sometimes, people just miss the idea of having that person around more than the person herself. Do you understand?’
At the time, I didn’t, but I did now. Even after his death, my father was helping me raise my own child. I told Leander the same thing my dad told me. “No. You’re not bad, Leander. You just didn’t know him as well as we did. It’s hard to miss someone you never really knew. I’m just sorry you never got a chance to get to know him. I wish you had. Your grandpa was a really amazing person,” I stopped and checked myself before I started crying in front of him.
“Come on Leander. Let’s go home. I’ll make you those sandwiches you like,” Ariel coaxed Leander into following her and I was left alone with my father, mother and Vixen. There was an empty spot on the other side of Dad’s grave for Monica when she passed, just like she and Dad both wanted but I tried not to look at it. I didn’t want to think about losing Monica, too.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here, Dad…” I whispered, my voice falling to pieces despite my best efforts to keep everything bottled up inside. I collapsed onto the platform beneath my mom’s statue and put my head in my hands. I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I started crying harder than I could ever remember crying in my life. “I might have been able to save you if I had been here… my job is to save people… I’m sorry I didn’t save you, Dad…”
“Sebastian, you’re too intelligent to allow yourself to think like that,” a familiar voice distracted me from my grief for a moment. I looked up to see Ruby at my father’s grave. “The guilt you’re feeling is rooted in grief, not fact. You have my sympathies, but that way of thinking is entirely self-destructive.” I’m sure anyone else would have gotten angry at her bluntness, but honestly, I was just glad to see her. She was just being Ruby and for Ruby, that was probably one of the kindest, most comforting things she could have possibly said.
“Ruby…” I was suddenly very aware of my tears and started trying to wipe them away, embarrassed. “I thought you were staying in Germany another couple of weeks.”
“I made some scheduling adjustments,” she explained vaguely, walking up to me. “I’m sorry to hear about your father. I did try to attend the funeral but it took longer than expected to convince security I wasn’t an undercover reporter. I’m late as a result of that.” I shook my head. I didn’t care what time it was. I was just glad she was here. I didn’t expect her at all.
“No, it’s uh… it’s fine. I’m glad you came at all. You… you didn’t have to, you know.”
“I know, but I desired to. That seems to be how friends are supposed to act with each other… if we are friends. I’ll admit I’m not exactly familiar with what the socially accepted requirements are for friendship. Maybe too much time has elapsed by this point. You were always more socially adept than I was,” she admitted in a crisp tone.
“I’m not that socially adept, trust me… and yeah, we’re friends. Of course we are,” I assured her, feeling a pang of sympathy. Had Ruby been alone since I left university? Why hadn’t I tried harder to stay in touch with her?
“Good. My hypothesis was correct, then,” she stated. I could detect some relief in her voice that she was apparently trying to hide.
“Your hypotheses are always correct,” I chuckled faintly. “You still up for that dinner?” I asked her.
“I am still interested, yes, provided you feel emotionally prepared given the current circumstances,” she answered. I nodded with a shaky sigh.
“Yeah. I mean… I don’t know. Maybe not, but I know I don’t want to shut myself away from everything and everyone. Dad wouldn’t want me to do that… and… I did miss you,” I admitted to her. I did consider my sisters my best friends but there was something really nice about having a best friend who wasn’t related to you and didn’t have to put up with you 24/7 whether they liked it or not. Ruby looked away from me, her lips twitching. Was she… holding back a smile? Geeze, I didn’t think I could ever remember Ruby actually smiling.
“In that case, yes. I’m still… ‘up for dinner’ to use the colloquial expression.” She looked at me quizzically for a moment, hesitating about something before stepping forward and giving me a very tentative hug. If her arms weren’t around me, I would have fallen over from shock. It was a very weird day when Ruby was showing affection. “I apologise if that wasn’t considered an appropriate gesture. I often misread social cues,” she told me when she let go. I shook my head, swallowing a lump in my throat.
“No… it was completely appropriate. I uh… guess I needed that more than I thought I did,” I admitted awkwardly, trying desperately to clear my throat and blink away the moisture building up in the corners of my eyes. Trying to save face a little, I shoved my hands in my pockets with a deep breath, changing the subject. “The Broad Street Business Tower and Grill this weekend sound okay? It’s kind of a ritzy place for important business people to chat each other up. Dad liked it. I bought the place a couple years ago.” Ruby nodded.
“That sounds agreeable.”
We picked a time and headed our separate ways. I was still in mourning over losing my dad but Ruby being there calmed me for some inexplicable reason. I felt more at ease and tranquil about the whole thing after seeing her at the cemetery, even though I was still sad and missed him. I resolved to not let my friendship with her dwindle and slip away again like last time. I had a gut feeling telling me that she came back into my life for an important reason. I just didn’t know what that reason was, yet.