Mickey always went twice a year every year. He’d done so in the parallel world after she’d passed and he continued to do so now that he was back.
The cemetery in the home world was different. Not as nice. Soon he’d want to start putting money away to get her a better stone since the dates were wearing down. But he didn’t think his Gran would’ve really cared one way or the other what the cemetery looked like. It was good a place as any.
The biggest difference was that this year, he wasn’t carrying out the trips alone. Martha walked along at his side, their matching gold rings glinting in the pale light of morning.
“So, geraniums this time, petunias the next,” she checked. Martha was always checking things. Nothing got by her.
“Yeah. Well, Gran on this Earth always had a little window box of geraniums, but on the other Earth she told me petunias were her favorite. Maybe they were both their favorites, but I never asked her the first time.” He hadn’t been all that interested in flowers back when his first Gran was still alive.
The medics who had come to the scene had mentioned things. Funeral preparations, burial, all that sort of stuff. Mickey hadn’t heard any of it. He hadn’t heard anything since he’d found his Gran at the bottom of the steps and they’d pronounced her dead.
He was sitting on a couch. He thought it was at the Tylers. Rose had drifted in for a moment and given his arm a squeeze. Then she was gone again. He was so alone. Not a person in the world there for him.
“Mickey?” Jackie was there, in a breath, in a blink. She took his hands and held them. “I’ve got all the papers. I can take care of those arrangements for you. God, you’re so young.”
“S’alright,” he tried. He had to pull one of his arms away so he could wipe his nose on his sleeve. “I can- I can help with it. You shouldn’t have to.”
“No, but I want to, love. I just need the key so I can get in for her address book. People to invite, you know.”
“I’ll come with you,” he said, standing up. Mickey did not want to go with Jackie. He never wanted to go back to 1 Waterton Street with its tear in the carpet and the dark stain of blood at the bottom of the steps again.
But it wouldn’t be right to send Jackie on her own. That’s not what a man did, borrowing someone else’s mum.
Being a man now hadn’t stopped him from crying as soon as they pulled up to the place. Jackie had shushed him and told him to wait in the car, that she’d sort everything, and he hadn’t fought it. Hadn't said a word.
He didn’t speak at the funeral, either, not even when the minister looked to him in expectation. What right did he have to speak about his Gran to all these people mourning, when the only reason they were doing that was because of him? How could he ever make that right?
They drew up to the stone and Mickey stepped forward, laying the bouquet in front. He drew back to Martha’s side.
“Well, Gran, this is Martha. We’ve just been married last month. Wish you could’ve been there.”
It had been a small thing. Mostly Martha’s family, since he had none of his own left. A few mutual friends they’d picked up together over the last couple years. Jack had stood in as best man and not made a complete fool of Mickey during the speech, which he’d been more touched by than he’d ever be willing to say.
“I don’t usually talk to her here,” he admitted to his wife. “Seems a bit daft talking to nothing.”
“Do whatever you’re comfortable with,” said Martha. “This is your tradition, Mister.”
He nodded and was quiet for a few moments. Mickey appreciated it, really, that Martha had come along. Even if she’d never met his Gran. It made it all feel a little closer.
“You would’ve liked her. She was a real straightforward woman, didn’t hold with any nonsense.”
“Well, she’d have to be like that with you around,” Martha said with a grin. He bumped her shoulder lightly.
“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. It’s you who’s stuck with me now.”
“And couldn’t be happier for it. I’m sure she’d be so proud of you,” she added, with a nod of her chin to the gravestone.
“Probably just relieved I’d moved on. She kept telling me to get out of the Tyler mansion and find a girlfriend.”
Jake had told him Ricky never got the chance to come out to his Gran, and Mickey had chosen to respect that silence. It wouldn’t have made any sense to her, anyway, not knowing she’d lost the grandson she’d had.
He still found himself wondering late some nights if that had been the right choice.
Jackie had offered again to make the arrangements, but he’d told her he could handle it this time. He was older now, much more a man than he’d thought he was at 19.
And it wasn’t so hard. He had his Gran’s address book. He even knew several of her friends from when they had come to visit her at the mansion. Mickey called each of them up in turn to give them the news, staying on the line for two, sometimes three hours. He laughed with them, cried with them. There wasn’t a bit of shame in it. His Gran deserved the tears.
He still couldn’t find any words for the eulogy. There was so much he would have wanted to say, and none of it would have made a lick of sense to people.
Long after everyone else had left, he stood at the stone. He stood there until the light started to fade, until it was nearly impossible to make out the name on the stone. Rita-Anne Smith. Even knowing it had been coming in those final days, he still wasn’t ready to see that name on that stone again.
Jackie had been sitting up in the kitchen with a fresh pot of tea when he made it back to the mansion. “I’m so sorry, love.”
Mickey shrugged. “Yeah, well, everything has its time, right? Even when we put it off.”
He wondered if Jackie ever thought about it. About the day she might have to bury her husband again.
She nodded quietly and sipped at her tea. And that was likely all the answer he’d ever get.
“It’s probably selfish, wishing I’d got more time with her. I already got more time. I got more than most people would think to ask for.” He shrugged his shoulders. “But that’s the thing about losing people, I guess. You always want more.”
Martha looped her arm through his and took his hand.
“Nothing selfish about it.”
It was more than that, though. When Mickey had come back to this Earth, he’d had nothing. People had thought him dead for years; all his old friends had moved on; Jackie and the rest were on the other side of the Void. But this grave was proof that he’d been here before, at some point. He’d had family, roots.
Now he was putting down new ones with Martha. A better way of living, probably. But he never wanted to forget his Gran. Either of them. He was where he was because of them.
Mickey drew in a breath, then let it out. “Right, I’m ready. Let’s go home.”
They turned and walked through the grass to the lane leading out of the cemetery.
“Till next time,” said Martha.
Mickey smiled and squeezed her hand. “Yeah.”