Best Thing In Town, chapter 41

It was yet another June 1st. And again, it was bright and sunny. There was barely a trace of a breeze in the air as birds in nearby trees chirped away happily, a random butterfly fluttered around in the air a few feet above the ground, and a man in his early 50s quietly made his annual trek through the cemetery to visit his wife's grave. He saw a young man in his mid thirties doing the same a few rows over.

The younger man seemed very deep in his grief. Losing a loved one is never easy. Holding a red rose in his hand, the older man watched sadly as the younger man walked away with his shoulders hunched. His heart went out to the guy. He wished he could call out to him and tell him time would heal his pain, but it would be a lie. Time didn't heal the pain, just dulled it. The loss wasn't ever gonna change. It would always be there. Like a scar.

Sighing, the older man continued on his way, weaving in and out between headstones until he found his wife's. Kneeling down, he set the rose down on top of her head stone and kissed the cold marble, letting his fingers linger over the indentation of the words carved the stone.

"Audrey..." he whispered.

Yes, the aging man was Mike Dirnt, his hair was graying, but thanks to hair dye, no one had to know. After all, fifty-two wasn't that old anymore.

Bringing his hand up to cover his mouth then drag it down his face, he stared at the headstone and sat back on his bent legs. "Time for another update," he began slowly. He scratched his ear and then placed his hands in his lap. "Um...well, you've been missing from my life for seventeen years now. I can't believe it happened that way. Why the doctors never told us about the dangers of you having a brain aneurysm after coming out of your coma, I'll never know. Maybe we should've checked into the serious side effects on our own."

He dipped his head, gathering his thoughts. Almost twenty years after becoming a widower had certainly aged his face. He had creases in his forehead from raising his daughters who certainly gave him hell over the years. Not that he expected anything less from his offspring.

"Anyway...Estelle's 27 now and engaged to a pretty nice guy. He's some sort of entertainment lawyer who went to Stanford or whatever. She's gorgeous. Looks a lot like Anastacia," he smirked. "It's almost creepy. But, uh, what's more creepy is looking at Katarina. She graduated from UC Berkeley last year and she's living with Frankito now. They're dating. And...God, Audrey. She looks like your twin."

Shaking his head, Mike looked up over the headstone and took a deep breath.

"She runs this independent music newspaper now called The Berkeley Beat. Covers all the local bands on the independent scene. She dyed her hair platinum back in high school and hasn't changed that. Except for how she wears it. She goes from short to long, from pigtails to ponytails, from curls to straight. Kat definitely keeps ya guessing."

He licked his upper lip, smiling faintly at their only child they had together. "Lorelei..." he trailed, with a laugh. "She looks like you, too, with the exception of my eye color though. She's graduating from high school in two weeks. Says she doesn't wanna go to college. I don't know if I mentioned this last time, but she's in a band. Plays guitar and sings. And I think she's following in Kat's footsteps because she's been hanging out with Jakob a lot lately."

Mike grinned. "Seems our girls really like Tre and Billie's sons. Though I'm a little wary on Jakob. I mean, Lorelei still has a couple of weeks until she turns eighteen. Jakob's 25. But I guess I really can't stop her. And, yeah. So...she's playing in a band. Frankito might be joining I think...to play what else but the drums. Heh...like father, like son, y'know? Oh, the band's called The Californians. Kind of a catchy. Their sound's kinda like me and the guys', but more melodic and slightly more emo and alternative. But they rock pretty hard. I've sat in on their rehearsals."

When he dipped his head again, he became quiet; closing his eyes and hunching forward to place his head in his hands.

"I've never remarried," he blurted. "I've dated a few times, but not much. I just can't replace you. Every time I went out with a woman, all I pictured was you sitting across from me. I even tried therapy for a while, but I had to come to my own conclusion that if I don't want to be with another woman, then I don't have to be. If monks and nuns can do it, I can be celibate too. You were the only one who just seemed to get me...emotionally, physically, mentally...hell, even spiritually, and we weren't even spiritual people. I just miss you so fucking much, Audrey."

He blinked back tears, his chest constricting with the need to cry.

"Remember how I said I wanted to be cremated someday? Well, I changed my mind. I wanna be buried. Right next to you. That way I can lie beside you for the rest of time. For all eternity."

He caved in. Mike let out a sob to end all sobs as he hunched further over and grabbed at the grass and clung to it. His chest was wracked with sobs, tears running down his face as he forced himself to sit up and calm down. He wiped his tears away with the back of his hand and looked over to his left when he noticed an elderly couple walking by, heading to a grave not far off. They locked eyes with him for a moment and then continued on their way.

Mike turned back to Audrey's headstone and bit his bottom lip. "The guys are doing pretty good. Or, they're doing 'well,' as Kat would correct me. We were just inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. What do you think about that? Thirty years in the spotlight and we finally get inducted. Just in time for us to go on tour for the album we released two months ago. It's been a few years since we last went on tour. About...shit...eight years. And, you wanna know something strange?" he asked rhetorically. "Tre's a grandpa. Ramona has a baby daughter. She's almost a year old. I swear, Tre's offspring look just like him. It's eerie."

Mike resituated himself on the grave so that he was sitting Indian style. He fell silent again, wondering what Audrey would look like if she had been alive, what there lives would've been like together if they'd been given the chance to grow old together. It killed him how much he still missed her. Every holiday, every birthday, every day...he thought about her. Every chance he got, he would sit back and pretty much stare off into space and think about her. About her laugh, her smile, her eyes...the way she made him feel whole.

Almost two decades later and he hadn't been the same. He'd been able to more or less accept Audrey's death and find his reason to go on, for his girls. Watching them reach their teens, having to deal with them getting their periods -- thank God for Adrienne, bringing home their first boyfriends, having the bird & the bees talk, high school dances, proms...

Even though Audrey had been gone, she'd been with him. In the lives of their children, in pictures around the house, in his heart and memory. But, for the first time in the seventeen years she'd been physically gone, this was the first time, he'd be alone. Physically. Estelle was engaged and living with her fiancé in Los Angeles, Kat was living with Frankito in downtown Berkeley, and Lorelei was planning on moving out after graduation to live with some friends near Kat's place. Mike would have the house to himself. It would be quiet with no one but himself there.

It was unnerving. When he'd first married Audrey, he imagined this day when the kids moved out and it was just the two of them together, being able to have sex anywhere in the house without worrying about the kids coming in or walking in on them.

But he was denied that.

Because the girls were so young when Audrey died, it was easier for them to go about their lives. Lorelei more so. She wasn't even a year old when her mother died. She would never know Audrey other than from home videos, photographs and other people's stories and recollections. The closest thing she'd ever had to a mother figure in her life was her great grandma who'd died eight years prior, her grandmother - Audrey's mother - who visited from time to time, and Adrienne.

But time passed. The scar of loss didn't heal, just faded. It was still there. Always would be. And Mike didn't want it any other way. He didn't want to get over it. He didn't want to forget or move on. How do you turn away from the best thing to happen in your life and pretend it didn't happen just so it doesn't hurt because it's not there anymore?

Mike stood up and touched the top of the headstone, his fingers trailing across the stem of the rose.

"I promise to come back and visit more often. With more tales about the girls and how they're doing. Of how I'm doing, too." He blinked back some faint tears and forced a smile. "I miss you. I love you." He took a deep breath, controlling the urge to break down again. "I love you so much, babe."

Tapping the top of the headstone with the tips of his fingers, Mike turned his back and began to head down the small hill, weaving in and out of the other headstones. The moment he was in his car, he turned on the radio and heard a song he hadn't listened to in a very long time. 'Helena' by My Chemical Romance. Audrey had liked the song. It had been the song that was playing in his old BMW when they had their accident.

As the song played on and he drove away from the cemetery, he visualized the words on Audrey's headstone:

Audrey Elizabeth Pritchard
September 1979 - June 2007
Beloved Mother & Wife
'She was a candle in the wind...'

He visualized the words on the dedication page of her first and only novel:

'Mike, my love...'

He then let the lyrics of 'Helena' seep in as he turn onto the main road, taking a deep breath as he felt as if a part of him had decided to stay behind at the cemetery.

'What's the worst thing I could say? / Things are better if I stay / So long and goodnight / So long not goodnight...'
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