He left their room the same after. Started sleeping in one of the many guest rooms the house had to offer, sometimes opting to get out of the house altogether and staying at Lori’s for the night. Kept the door shut tight and refused to go in for even the most basic necessities, opting to go to the store and buy everything he could possibly need instead, and then camp out in his bed unless Bella needed a walk, or someone had come to see him and drag him out of bed. Bella slept at his feet and pawed at their old door when he was awake. She whined for Mike, missed him like the ache that sat in Liam’s teeth from the loss of him. There were days when he wanted to just give her away, sell the house, get away from every last trace of him that still clung to Liam’s bones like dust, gathering and settling in the hollow of his chest. He walked the house like a ghost, praying for some sign of Mike, something to tell Liam that he was okay, that he was better, that he wasn’t suffering anymore. Anything to tell him that it had turned out alright.
It took months before Liam opened the door to their old room.
The sheets were still the same, messy and pulled away from the bed. It still smelled like Mike, the deep notes of his cologne clinging to his pillow, and Liam felt the dam break as he pulled it close to him and squeezed it with all he had. He sat there, in their bed, surrounded by their things, smothered by Mike’s scent, and took it all in. Every day he still woke up wondering why he’d fallen asleep in the guest bed. Every day he still looked to his right first thing for Mike, reaching out with his eyes closed first, before cracking one open when his hand hit bed instead of solid body. Every day it still hurt upon realization that Mike wasn’t there because Mike was six feet in the ground fifteen miles away, it still tore something new open in Liam’s chest when he thought of it.
The last crossword they had worked together on was flipped open with a pen tucked into the page on Mike’s bedside table. Liam ran his fingers over the indents of the words, his handwriting because at that point Mike couldn’t hold anything with a firm enough grasp to actually create legible lines on a paper, so Liam had taken over. He opened up the book and flipped to earlier ones, ones where he could still spot Mike’s shaky handwriting filling the spots in careful and clear, despite the slight wobble. Liam was careful to keep his tears from dripping onto the pages.
He shifted so he was fully sitting on Mike’s side of the bed now, rummaging through the drawer attached to the table until his fingers bumped against something soft and velvet. He withdrew a small, black velvet box that had been tucked into the back corner of the drawer, something Liam had never seen before. He put the pillow aside before opening the box, where a letter was folded and tucked against the top portion of the box.
Liam pressed the tears from his eyes with the hem of his shirt before easing the letter out of where it had been crammed and unfolding it to read.
To be honest, I don’t know when I’m going to give you this. I don’t know if I’m going to give you this. But it’s here, I guess. Something real and solid. Nothing much really, nothing fancy, but something. Marriage freaks me out. It’s not something I’ve ever really seen work out before between two people, it’s not something I wanted to try and just have fail because that would mean going back to what things were like before and
Listen, I’m not here to tell you my fucked up beliefs about marriage and commitment or whatever, but
I know I don’t say it, but I love you, kid. I really do. And if there was anyone I’d spend the rest of my, admittedly short, life with, it would be you.
I have a feeling I’m going to be doing it anyway, but I wanted to get this out before the shakes make it too hard to write anything anymore.
I guess what I’m really saying is,
Liam, will you marry me?
By the end of it, Liam could no longer see, the tears were streaming so thickly they clung to his eyelashes and blurred his vision. The ring was a simple band, gold and thin, and when Liam ran his fingers through the inside he could tell there was an engraving. He plucked it from the box and held it up to his eyes, furiously wiping his eyes with the back of his hand before squinting at the writing on the inside. To my stubborn idiot he reads, and barks out a laugh, before slipping it onto the ring finger of his left hand and feeling like it belonged here. He looked at it for a while, alternating between watching how it glinted in the light and rereading the letter he suspects Mike never had any intention of giving to him in the first place. Life was funny like that. He fell asleep on Mike’s side of the bed, curled up on Mike’s pillow, hand tucked against his neck where the warm metal felt like coming home.
When he woke up, he pulled up his laptop and opened a new file he titled “Knock Yourself Out”.
When Lori notices a few days later, Liam manages a choked smile and a strained “Mike” before the both of them are crying.
“Leave it to Mike, to figure out new ways to make people cry six months after he’s–” She doesn’t finish her sentence.
Liam lets out a watery laugh, and takes a long drag of his beer.
“Leave it to Mike.” He echos.