Leo stared down at the coffee cup set in front of him on the table. No steam was frothing up from the black liquid inside. His hands reached to touch it, finding it cool. He did not remember pouring it. It could have been left by one of the mourners that they had invited back to the apartment for coffee after the service.
All those people... not one of them knew how he and Julia felt.
At the service everyone was filled with tears, even those among them who tried to keep their face as still as stone would crack, he was sure of it. But not them: they had gone through this all before. They sat side by side, but did not hold hands, or lean against each other for support. Neither did they tear up. All they did was face forward and stare at the dying flowers laid out in tribute.
He did not know that there was a point in grief where you feel nothing. Maybe it was shock; one of losing not one but two children to accidents. Ryan, his golden boy: great at sports and a math whiz just like his father who was hit by a car and killed because of a childish mistake before he could become a man. And now Rosemary... Rosemary, who always made him coffee on long nights of grading, who would light up whenever she received a new book just for her rather than a shabby loan out from the library on her birthday, who would call her mother whenever she got home to say that she had made it back safely. His bright, considerate daughter who had kept him grounded.
Now she was... gone. Leo could not bring himself to say "dead."
Eventually his wife found him. Julia was still wearing a black dress, her dark hair curled across her neck and shoulders, staring at him with a face that brought back images of his dead son and eyes of his lost daughter. They had joked, many years before with others how thankful they were their children took after their mother in looks. Now all that did was produce a hollow feeling in his chest. He turned his eyes back down to the cup.
"...We should have never let her go on that trip alone." Julia started.
Leo moved his hand up to rub the side of his face where stubble was starting to grow and sighed. "Julia..."
"If she wasn't on that godforsaken plane, she would still be home with us. Safe."
"Neither of us knew what was going to happen."
"Just like we didn't know Ryan was riding his bike without a helmet."
His eyes shot back up to face her, moving his mouth to disagree with her words, but Julia pressed on.
"I consider it the worst failure a parent can make is when they are unable to protect their children. We have done that twice now. I've lost two children, two lives that came from me... and I was powerless to stop it."
"What the hell are you saying?" Leo questioned, color returning to his voice.
"What I'm saying Leo is... I'm tired." Julia replied, her voice never raising or lowering. "I'm tired of failing, of losing what I hold dear. Right now, it is taking so much out of me to keep going. I don't have enough left in me for you too. Maybe you do, but I don't."
Leo felt his anger and shock growing. This felt like a cruel rerun of history, of a night where they had argued and he had stormed off into the night, not coming back until morning to find Julia and Rosemary gone. He had sworn to himself it would never happen again. That he would do better...
"That's bullshit, that's bullshit and you know it." He replied in a low tone.
"It is not, Leo." Julia replied. "The fact is, this conversation has been coming for sometime now. Maybe I tried to keep pushing it down, keep telling myself that things would get better. And for a while, it felt like they were. But with losing Rosemary... I realized she was the one that was keeping us from falling apart."
"BULLSHIT!" He roared, the chair screeching against the floor as he got to his feet, pacing back and forth. He tried grasping for something, something he could say that would let him at least have his wife, a partner in all this madness. He couldn't lose her too.
Julia remained maddeningly quiet, just as she had been on that night.
"...What if she isn't dead?"
"They never found bodies. Her, her classmates, hell maybe even the pilots- they could be still alive! They still haven't found any bodies!" He announced with triumph while still turned away from his wife.
Leo turned around at the small click the bedroom door made as it closed shut. He stood, staring down the hall for a few moments, before taking the cold cup of coffee and smashing it against the floor, collapsing into the pieces and calling out for Julia to come out.
He woke up the next morning with an envelope placed on the kitchen table with a wedding band inside.
"Leo? Leo I know you're there... come on, man. Please pick up."
Leo did not pick up, just like he had not picked up the phone of his cell for any other call for the past week. He had already disconnected the home phone, but his cell kept struggling and he listened to every response. Just in case.
I... I- ugh, how do I put this... Leanne told me she talked to Julia, about what happened after the service. -I don't think you should be alone right now. Nobody should have to go through something like this alone- why don't you spend a few weeks with us? School's out, I remember you telling me that you didn't have to teach summer school this year since Rose-"
Leo heard the catch in his voice, and her could not help the dry chuckle that issued from his mouth. Even at a time like this, is best friend Sam was still putting his foot in his mouth.
Like I said- why don't you come back down to relax a while? Get away from the gloom of the city."
"Go away, Sam." He said out loud, but not putting himself on the line.
"...You remember when we were kids and we'd light those fire crackers out in the street on the fourth of July?"
The man rolled his eyes, facing away from the phone and scratching at his hairy face, having not shaved in days by this point. He was not to far gone to go along with his friend's ploy though. God, he hoped so.
"We'd save up our money and order them behind our parents backs? Almost burned our eyebrows off that one time- remember? We could still do it you know- laws an regulations be damned as long as we don't hurt anyone."
But hope should have been lost at this point, right?
He pressed "talk" on the screen.
"...Only if I get to light the match."
The past few days had been alright. He was forced into showing up at the kitchen table for breakfast and dinner by Sam's wife Corinne to make sure he ate, but the rest of the time he was free to do as he pleased. Whether read, take walks with the couple's dogs, and even took the chance to surf early in the morning before the beaches got crowded with other tourists. His body was feeling lighter, but his head and heart were otherwise.
This all changed when on the day when the television began to run special reports one every station. He came down for breakfast that morning where Corinne was crying in front of the screen, and Sam ran and hugged him.
"They're alive...! They're alive!"
Leo did not understand until he saw the screen title: Class found.
But then he read the next title screen: New victims of Survival of the Fittest.
They were abducted by terrorists. Rosemary was alive, but for how long?
Now Leo was in the guest bedroom with Sam's laptop: he had to know. He had to know.
There he clicked on the footage marked with his daughter's name.
Girl 006: Rosemary Michaels- START