TW: Mentions of death and grief.
This is not a story I would usually write, but it wanted to be told nonetheless.
To all of those who’ve lost someone they love, may you find love and happiness again.
Silence filled the house. The locked doors and closed windows kept the noise of the world at bay. Jason’s family left out early this morning for the long drive back, and the last of his friends left a few minutes ago, too afraid to leave him by himself but needing to get back their own lives. As much as he loved them, he was glad they were gone. He wanted to grieve alone.
Jason glanced around the silent house. Flowers and plants of all kinds and colors covered every available surface. Prepared meals filled the refrigerator until there was no room left, and the overflow spilled out onto the counter. Any dish one could imagine he probably had. It would all rot, though, his appetite gone long ago.
The beach house, a gift from Jason’s late grandmother, had been a blessing in their early life together when they struggled to make ends meet. Jason stared out the sliding glass doors beyond the lanai. Waves crashed on the shore as the tide rolled in. Their whitecaps left a foamy mess to be blown away by the gentle sea breeze. Seagulls circled overhead looking for a free meal to wash up on the sand or left behind by a beachgoer. The fin of an occasional dolphin popped up above the surface of the water before his tail chased behind.
Now, what should have been soothing and familiar only caused more pain.
The first tear trailed down Jason’s cheek. The second followed and landed on the tile floor. Soon the tears became a sob. Jason thought his tears had dried up at the memorial service held on the beach yesterday, but the sorrow returned unbidden.
He wanted to rail and rage against the gods. “Why? Why did this happen to me? To us?” He’d had it all. Friendship, happiness, a family. Love. And yet some higher power sought to take it away, to destroy him. Leave him nothing to live for.
A small cry in the back of the quiet house reminded him why he lived.
He wiped his face and trudged down the hall to the nursery. Jason stared at the now-hushed baby in the crib. She looked just like Adrian. Dark spikes of hair framed cherub cheeks. Sea-blue eyes stared back at him—the same eyes as his husband.
Their friend, Sarah, had excitedly agreed to be their surrogate. Jason and Adrian had argued over whose sperm they should use, but Jason had pleaded until Adrian gave in. Adrian had always given Jason everything he wanted. Until he couldn’t.
Adrian had named their daughter Cordelia, meaning goddess of the sea. He’d said she deserved a name worthy of waves that surrounded their home. At only nine months old, Cordelia had already taken her first steps. The pediatrician hadn’t believed them when they’d told her until she saw it for herself. Cordelia preferred to race around on her hands and knees since she could be anywhere in record time, but when she decided she wanted claps and praises, she pulled herself up and took steps to her daddy and papa. Jason suspected she’d be running soon enough. But her favorite pastime was swimming.
Adrian had insisted they sign her up for the Baby and Me swim classes at the local pool as soon as she was old enough. She got her love of the water from Adrian, and almost any time the two were left alone, one would find them in the pool or wading in the waves along the shore.
Who was going to take her swimming now?
Jason could swim but not like Adrian. Adrian had a natural talent for the water. He’d been on the swim team in high school and won several meets in college. The few times he’d lost, it was as if he held himself back instead of really trying. He’d said he did it to give someone else a chance. He always thought of others.
Jason and Adrian met in high school when they were both sixteen—the swim team star and the book nerd. Two very unlikely souls drawn together. Jason would never forget the moment their eyes met across the hall. They’d laughed later as Jason described it as a magical moment. And their love affair had been truly magical. Soulmates Jason’s sister had said, and it rang true.
Jason rubbed his chest. He wasn’t whole anymore; a piece of him ripped away like the current took unsuspecting swimmers out to sea. He choked on a sob. How did someone who’d swam his whole life, worked as a lifeguard, was strong and athletic drown?
Cordelia sensed Jason’s distress and whimpered. Her small tears left a trail down her cheek onto the crib sheet below. His own dropped beside hers.
He picked her up and cradled her against his chest. “It’s okay, Cordie. Papa’s here.” Jason rubbed her back and swayed side to side for comfort as much for himself as her. At least he had a piece of Adrian left.
As if Cordelia knew the gravity of the situation, she didn’t babble like she usually did—another trait she acquired from Adrian. The somber mood reflected on both the baby and the man, neither willing to break the silence for fear of shattering.
Jason couldn’t think about what came next. How would he care for Cordelia by himself? Who would help with chores and bills? How could he sleep in their bed alone?
He wanted to reverse time, go back to that day on the beach. Insist Adrian stay on shore with him and Cordelia. Let the other person drown! Jason wanted his husband back.
“You know it was the right thing to do,” Adrian’s phantom voice whispered in Jason’s ear. He could almost see the look of disapproval in Adrian’s eyes. The young girl was safe with her family, but a piece of Jason’s soul was lost at sea. The lifeguards had searched for miles and finally called it off, saying he couldn’t have survived that long in the water. They never found Adrian’s body.
As the sun spread its last rays over the water, Jason went about their normal routine as best he could. He placed Cordelia in her high chair and fixed her some vegetables from one of the many meals left behind. Neither of them ate much.
Bathtime was next. Normally, Cordelia would splash and laugh in the tub. They would have to tease her out with promises of one cookie and storytime, but tonight the ritual was almost perfunctory with no toys or songs, no water-soaked rugs or floors.
Jason dried and dressed Cordelia in her pajamas and prepared her nighttime bottle. He settled in the rocker in her room by the picture window overlooking the water. He tried to blank his mind. Tried to push all the sorrow and pain away and enjoy the few minutes with his daughter, but memories of the last twelve years played through his mind like a camera reel at a picture show.
Graduations. Birthdays. Holidays. Their wedding. Cordelia’s birth. The happiest of times as well as the lows. He would have given anything to experience even one of them again.
Cordelia pulled the bottle away and stared at Jason. “Dada?” Her sweet voice broke the quiet of the house. She expected Adrian to kiss her goodnight. She expected him to rub her back and sing her a lullaby. She expected him to be there in the morning.
“Dada’s not here, baby,” Jason whispered.
Cordelia sat up and pointed out the window. “Dada.”
The silver moon hung overhead, reflecting its light on the gentle waves rippling along the surface of the water. Another pang of sorrow stabbed at his heart. “Yes, baby girl. Dada loved the water.”
The only saving grace was she was too young to understand. In a few years, she’d forget every moment she spent with Adrian. It was a blessing and a curse. How could you miss what you didn’t remember? Jason vowed he’d make sure Adrian was always a part of Cordelia’s life, and she knew the kind of man he was, how much he wanted her and loved her.
Cordelia squirmed in his lap and reached for her bottle. She grasped it in her tiny hands and urgently sucked it down. Her eyelids drooped with each pull until they closed, and the nipple fell from her lips.
Jason placed her in the crib on her belly. He patted her little diapered bottom until she settled. He set the lights to dim and made his way back to the living room. The house was so quiet and still. Not even the hum of air conditioning or the refrigerator marred the silence. Where were the voices? The laughs? The arguments? Where were the moans in the throes of passion? The whispered words of love?
Jason sat on the couch with his head in his hands. How did he go on? He lay down and pulled a pillow to his face to muffle the scream. “Why? Why? Why?” he chanted.
Exhaustion overcame him, and he closed his eyes. He blocked out the silence and imagined Adrian’s voice.
“Jason, I’m here.”
He wished. He prayed. He pleaded.
“Jason, open your eyes.”
Jason shook his head. In his mind, he could hear Adrian’s gruff voice. Could feel him stroke his head.
“Love, open your eyes and look at me.”
Jason’s eyes fluttered open. He reached out with a shaky hand to rub along Adrian’s jaw. Adrian’s visage faded, and Jason’s hand clasped nothing but air. “I’m dreaming,” he whispered as the tears fell, leaving a hot trail down his cheek to the pillow.
Jason remembered. The pain, the anguish, the tear in his soul. It felt so real. It was real. He rubbed the ache in his chest. His life would never be the same. He thought he had nothing left to give. He closed his eyes and listened to the silence as it whispered his sorrow.
Jason closed the door behind his mother. Silence greeted him, a rarity nowadays with a soon-to-be six-year-old full of energy and life. His parents had taken her for the weekend to give him a much-needed break. Cordelia kept Jason busy between kindergarten, dance, and swimming, but she needed a way to release all that pent-up energy. Much like her daddy had.
Jason sighed and took a picture off the bookshelf. He and Adrian were crowded around a bassinet with huge smiles—and a few tears. It was one of the happiest days of his life. He picked up another one of Cordelia and Adrian. Adrian held out his arms to her as she took her first steps, grinning like she knew she’d done something amazing. Next, Cordelia’s first baby swim lesson, Adrian in the water with her. As many pictures that could fit on the shelves bore Jason’s life.
The next picture he picked up was a wedding photo. Two happy souls in tuxes kissing, one dipping the other back while guests held lit sparklers and cheered. Jason had thought he’d never be happy again, never pull himself out of the quagmire of pain and sorrow.
The door snicked open, breaking the silence and his reflection. “Jason? I’m home.” Seth’s voice washed over him.
Jason greeted Seth with a smile and set their wedding photo back on the shelf with all the others. He never thought he’d find love again, find someone to ease the pain in his soul. It wasn’t completely gone—Adrian would always be there. Jason saw him every day in Cordelia—but things were easier now. And in the quiet of the house where his sorrow lay, he also found hope and love for a new tomorrow.