She lost him at 7pm. 7:06, to be exact, by the time the news found its way to her. On a Tuesday evening; on the darkest night of her life. The weather had turned earlier that day in anticipation of the inevitable, shrill ringing of her phone. At 7:06pm. And the wind outside howled louder than the pained voice through the phone, but she heard all she needed to.
… his heart just stopped.
… did all they could.
He’s gone, Sarah.
With a shaking hand, she had ended the call. Gripped the phone tight in her palm. Stared at the black screen. Wondered where the drops of water smearing across the screen had come from.
When she realised she was crying, she wondered if she might ever stop again.
In the lab, the next morning, it was Jesse’s arms that she folded herself into first. She had to work while she waited to fly out to his hometown. She had to work. No matter what Joe said.
Jesse didn’t say much. Rare for him. He just held her, let her cry quietly into his shoulder. The person she needed most not there.
Toronto. The bite of Autumn in the air. His favourite season. She was surrounded by friends and family. Feeling alone. He had been so young. Too young. She had thought they would have many years left yet. None of it made any sense. Nothing.
Three days of arrangements. Of doing what she could. Of struggling to keep it together. Of missing him.
Of missing him so much.
She wore black, despite others around her in colours she wasn’t feeling.
Blue. She felt that one.
But none of the others.
Just Black. Blue.
She handled death every day. She couldn’t handle this one.
I’m sorry for your loss.
He was a good man.
Excusing herself, Sarah pushed through the people, pushed through the large wooden door, pushed through air that felt like water, felt like she was drowning, felt like she couldn’t breathe.
Outside, down the steps, catching a heel in the cobbled path, sinking down, ripping the damn things from her feet. Fresh tears trailed down her cheeks, through the remains of make-up she never should have bothered putting on. Her shoes dangled from her fingers, and she thought of how he would have admonished her for that.
His voice rang loud, clear in her head, like he was standing behind her. Like he was with her. Like he wasn’t gone.
She could sink to her knees and ruin her dress too.
Like she was six.
Just to hear him speak some more. Never forget his voice.
“I came as soon as I could.”
But this was a different voice now. In front of her. She looked up, met his cerulean eyes, and lost what remained of her composure.
His arms opened to her and she fell into them.
“I’m so sorry about your father.” Charlie held her tight, rubbing a palm between her shoulders while he spoke. “I’m so sorry, Sarah.”
She gripped tight to him, her cheek at his shoulder, her tears staining his skin. “How?” she managed to ask. How was he here? But the rest of the question refused to be asked out loud.
“Joe ended the undercover operation early so I could be here.” He pressed his lips to her temple, breathed his next words against her skin. “He thought you might need a friend right now.”
“But…” She looked up, met his eyes, so close to hers. “Did you get him?”
“Had more than enough evidence. Don’t worry about that. You’re all I’m worried about now.”
Sarah dropped her face back into the crook of his neck. “My dad, Charlie,” she said, words as broken as her heart. “I lost him.”
“What do you need?” he asked, his arms wrapped fully around her, protecting her from it all.
“To get out of here.” Her mother had left earlier. Gone back to the home she had made with her husband, to be surrounded by those memories. This small church, beside the cemetery, where he had fixed many little things over the decades for them free of charge, was a solace after the burial. But not for Sarah’s mother. And not for her.
Her solace would be to speak to her father one more time. For the last few days to just be a dream. To wake up. To have him back.
“Where do you want to go?” he murmured the question into her hair.
“The Bluffs," she whispered back.
Charlie nodded against her. Gently released her. Kept a hand brushing the small of her back as they walked to his rental car. And took her away from it all.
Her shoulder grazed his and she leaned into it. Just them. Sitting on the sand, side-by-side, cliffs rising around them, water lapping gently at the shore. Feeling less alone now. She hugged her knees, shoes left in the back of his car, toes in the sand. Cold. But she didn't care.
He cared though.
“Come here,” Charlie said, reaching for her, an arm around her shoulders, drawing her close to him. “You’re freezing.”
“You’re not,” he countered. “I wouldn’t expect you to be.”
Moulding her body to his, she inhaled a shaky breath, inhaled that familiar Charlie scent that mixed now with the old worn leather jacket he wore. His hand rubbed against the thick material of her black coat, like the friction might warm her. And it did. He did. Just him being here, how he came all this way for her, kept the chill of the evening at bay. And she spoke the next words, because she was curious, but in her grief she forgot the question, and left it too vague. “You didn’t have to come out here.”
“You would do the same for any of us.” His lips found her temple again. Like they had done this before this night. Like they belonged on her skin. “Your dad liked this place?”
“He loved it.” She let her hand drift across to where his rested on his thigh. She hesitated. He reached for her, laced their fingers together, so that one curled at her shoulder, and one held hers.
Grateful for his presence, his warmth, his friendship, she cried against his chest. Silent tears left a damp trail down her cheeks. Her voice still broken as she repeated, “You didn’t have to come."
“Yes, I did.” His lips pressed harder to her temple, lingered.
“Because that’s what I do when someone I love is in pain.”