So I’m a little early for Valentine’s day, but the post you’ll read on Monday got me inspired, so here’s a little FF treat for you. It’s the same characters as from the romance chapter from last Friday, just at a different point in their lives. I’m a sucker for an HEA, so I doubt this is spoilers, but…just so you know…at least for this piece, they’re together. Do with that information what you will. Enjoy!
“I don’t want to be morbid.”
“It’s not morbid!” I looked over at her, and somehow she managed to look sincere. “I know how important she is to you. I’m not going to expect her to just vanish from your brain.”
“Staci, it’s our first Valentine’s Day. Why are you pushing so hard for me to spend a day I should be using to lavish my lovely girlfriend with love and gifts…and instead, go sit in a cemetery with my dead wife?”
She leaned over and kissed my cheek. “Because it is our first one, and it’s your first one with someone who isn’t Melody, and she was your wife.” I opened my mouth to argue, but she didn’t give me the chance. “I don’t think it’s rude, Nathan; you’re not going to offend me. I think it’s sweet and touching, and a lovely gesture to her memory. Like I said, if you like, I’ll come with you and she’ll be able to see you happy and healing.” Staci took my hands in hers. “Nathan, I don’t want you to ever feel like I’m trying to replace her, or be who she was for you. I can’t be that. I’m never going to be her, and I don’t want to be. I know I’m sharing your heart, and I’m okay with it.”
My voice was weak. “I feel bad. I should be able to give you more. You shouldn’t have to come second to a woman who’s not even here anymore.”
She shrugged, and my heart twisted. “It doesn’t feel like coming in second. It…” She thought about it for a moment. “It feels like I’m being entrusted with something. Like I’m carrying on her will, and I like to believe it’s with her blessing.”
My throat was choked, and all I could do was nod. The truth was, I knew Melody would have loved Staci. I could easily see them being fast friends, and with Mel gone…yes, she’d want me to be happy, first and foremost. It’s how I’d ever convinced myself to get involved with Staci in the first place–and it was still one of the best decisions I think I’ve ever made. The fact that I’d found happiness and solace in someone like Staci…it was all Mel would have wanted.
But it didn’t stop me from feeling guilty.
“If you’re really sure…” I sighed. “Will you at least let me treat you to a fancy dinner or something after? Have something nice just for the two of us?”
She giggled and kissed me again. “I guess, if you insist.”
“I do,” I grumbled. “Then let’s go now, before I lose my nerve.”
It was a bit of a drive to the cemetery where Mel was buried, since we’d grown up in a different city and thus her family’s plot was back there. Luckily, Staci didn’t try to keep up much conversation with me while we drove; I think she could tell that I needed the quiet. I’d never taken anyone else to see Mel’s grave, outside of a few very close friends and my family. It seemed…wrong, somehow. Uncomfortable. I’m not sure why; I wasn’t trying to hide her or keep others away from her. I guess it was just that when I was there…it seemed strange to have anyone with me. It had always just been me and her.
The parking lot was sparsely populated, as usual, and while I knew I could drive back to her plot, I didn’t want to. It was too easy. Maybe I really did have a thing for self-punishment, but I didn’t want any of this to be easy. I never wanted it to be easy. It felt like her memory would lessen if I got used to it. There was a small building just by the gates of the cemetery, and an older man stepped out as we walked toward it. He waved; I recognized him as one of the primary caretakers of the grounds. Almost everyone who worked here knew who I was by now. “Afternoon, Nathaniel,” he said, shaking my hand once we reached each other.
“Don’t usually have company with you.” He looked over at Staci. “Certainly not ladies.”
“Someone Miss Melody needs to meet.” I fought to keep my voice level. “This is Staci Fiore. Stace, this is George Wensley, one of the caretakers here.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Staci said softly, shaking George’s hand as well.
“Pleasure’s all mine, lovely lady. You go on ahead, Nathaniel. You know the way.”
I nodded, took Staci’s hand, and walked into the cemetery. She never said a word, just followed alongside me and looked around at the headstones and statues. It was a small place but gorgeous, a subset of one of the larger cemeteries in the nearby city. And tucked away in a back corner was Melody’s whole family, and spaces for several more still among the living. I’d always thought buying plots in advance was kinda morbid, but…well, sometimes it came in handy.
The Strides hadn’t quite been the level of well-off my family was, but they were pretty close, so the headstones were all fairly ornate. Mel’s wasn’t quite as extravagant; I think we’d all agreed that she wouldn’t have wanted anything quite so flashy, and I managed to vote down the one member of her extended family who wanted to argue the fact. It was still probably flashier than she might have chosen for herself, but…well. I was biased. I loved it.
I heard Staci gasp in a short breath when she picked out which one was Melody’s. It was a relatively simple marble headstone, wide enough to be a seat for one person to sit…and sitting on the other edge was a life-size marble angel, in Melody’s likeness. She was wearing a simple long gown, and holding a bouquet of tiger lilies–her favorite flower. The statue’s gaze drifted off to the side, in the direction of the seat the rest of the stone made…and if I thought hard enough, I could almost believe she was looking at me when I sat there.
Like I said. I was biased.
“It’s so beautiful, Nathan…” Staci’s voice was barely a whisper. “It looks just like her.”
I nodded, and gestured that she could sit–and after a hesitation, she did. As I knelt in front of the stone and sat back on my feet, I let out a slow breath. “Hey Mel, it’s me. I brought a friend.”
“It feels weird to be sitting on a gravestone,” Staci said.
I managed a small smile. “Just pretend it’s a bench. After all, you’re sitting next to her.” I nodded to the angel, and that seemed to please her. I cleared my throat. “I know it’s been a while since I came by. I’m sorry about that. You know not a day’s gone by that you haven’t been on my mind though.” My voice was getting choked; I needed to try and keep composure for at least a little while longer. “But uh…I wanted you to meet Staci. I wish you two could have gotten to know each other, Mel. You would have loved her.” Now the smile was easier, if still sad. “And…she’s done a lot for me. She’s really supported me lately…helped me get through some things. And I think…” I couldn’t look up, not at the angel, not at Staci. My voice dropped. “I think she’s finally helping it not hurt so much. We’ve both got pain in our pasts, and we’re helping each other. You always said I was good at that.”
I felt fingers on my shoulder and looked up, seeing Staci reaching over to me. Her fingers slid down my arm until I raised my hand to let her catch it, and she held it softly. “Nathan’s an amazing man, Melody.” Her voice was shaky too, and suddenly I didn’t feel so bad that I was as affected as I was. “I’m so lucky to have met him, and I know you were just as lucky to have him while you were here. From the way he talks about you…I wish I could have met you, too. You must have been such a spectacular young lady.” She swallowed, still looking down at her knees, and I gave her hand a soft squeeze. “I’m sure you’re not surprised that I fell for him, are you? You know how he is.” She chanced an amused glance up at me, and I just winked in response. “I’m going to do my best to take care of him for you, for as long as he’ll keep me around. And he’s taking good care of me.”
“I know you wouldn’t let me get away with anything less.” I wasn’t sure if I was saying that to Staci or Melody, if I was honest. “Staci’s something else, Mel. She’s got a heart the size of yours and a smile to light up the whole county. I…” My voice died on me, and I just swallowed, trying to keep myself looking up. “I really like her, Mel. For the first time since I met you…I think I could be falling in love.” Staci’s eyes locked to mine; I’d never said that before. We’d hinted at it and it had been assumed, but…I’d never really said it. They were hard words to say. “I’m going to do right by you…and by her. And I just wanted…to come by, so you could see her. Meet her.”
“We’ll be back again, Melody.” Staci’s voice was soft, but sure. “We’ll come back and visit.”
“We will.” My voice was finally steady again, and I reached out to set my hand against the cold marble hand against the flowers. “I love you, Mel. I miss you so much. But…I think I might be okay, now. I’m going to be okay.” The smile that traced onto my lips was evidence of that. “Happy Valentine’s Day, beautiful.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Melody,” Staci faintly echoed.
I stood back up, brushing the dirt from my knees, and Staci stood along with me, tucking herself against my side and letting go of my hand so she could put an arm around my waist. “I feel so peaceful.”
“Yeah…me too.” It was surprising, but she was right; I felt very calm about all of this. I was sad, of course. My heart was aching, but…there was a peace there too. I knew she’d like Staci. It had to be Mel.
“Maybe that’s her saying Happy Valentine’s Day back to us.” She tilted her head to look up at me.
I looked back at her, and with a finger tucked under her chin, I pressed a very soft kiss to her lips. “Happy Valentine’s to you too, lovely.”
And I swear, I could hear Melody’s laughter on the wind.