The voice startled me and I blearily blinked at the steaming mug in front of my face before lifting my gaze to see the man behind it. My face was a stiff mask, I hadn’t been able to sleep at all, and I couldn’t even manage to muster a smile. But Cal still looked at me like I was the most beautiful thing in the world. Even if his deep brown eyes showed sadness. And a bit of helplessness. He didn’t know what to do with me right now. He didn’t know how to help. All that mattered to me was that he was here. And apparently bringing me tea. I took the mug and cradled it my hands. The heat soothed my stiff fingers. But I couldn’t make myself drink. She’d taught me to love tea.
“Thanks,” I whispered.
I had curled up in the arm chair by the bay window right after I’d gotten the call last night. I hadn’t moved. Despite Cal’s coaxing, I couldn’t get up. She’d given me this chair. And now she was gone, in the blink of an eye, and I hadn’t seen it coming. I’m sure she hadn’t either. And even knowing that was the way she would have wanted it didn’t help to assuage the sadness suffusing my entire being.
Cal sat on the ottoman at my feet, tugging it just a bit closer until his knees bumped against mine. His hands went to my thighs, just holding on, a reassuring touch in the miasma of despair. I never wanted him to let go.
“What can I do, Justin?”
I shook my head. There was nothing he could do to make this better. My vivacious, beautiful, accepting, rainbow-flag waving grandmother was gone. There was absolutely nothing that could ease the ache. She had been the first person I had told that I was gay, and the only person who accepted it without question. She’d simply given me a hug, enveloping me in her familiar scent of chamomile and honeysuckle, and told me she loved me. When my parents kicked me out, she’d taken me in and refused to speak to them until they changed their ways. She’d always been my rock, my confidant, my safe harbor. When I had met Cal, she was the one who told me he was my forever man. She’d been right. I didn’t know what I was going to do without her. The sorrow threatened to overwhelm again, filling up my chest until I felt like I was choking on it.
“Get up,” Cal suddenly snapped, his voice a harsh imitation of his usual genial tone.
I blinked at him. Then gasped in surprise as he grabbed the mug from my hand, the cooling liquid splashing over our fingers. He slammed the cup down on the end table and stood up fast. His face was hard, angry, and I just stared.
“Get up. Right now,” he demanded.
“What?” I couldn’t contain my shock. I didn’t even try. He’d always been so gentle with me, and now of all times, he was getting angry. I couldn’t understand.
His hands wrapped around my biceps and tugged until I had no choice but to move or fall right out of the chair. He was stronger than I was and he used that strength to haul me into his arms. I couldn’t believe he was acting like this. I struggled against him, but he held me fast, his arms wrapping tight around me. One big hand came up to cup the back of my head, pushing my face down into the crook of his neck. Being held immobile, the fight went out of me, and I sagged limply against him, letting him support my weight.
“It’s going to be all right,” he said, his voice still rough but a lot more tender. “It hurts and it probably always will. But she loved you more than anything else on this planet. And that’s not going to go away just because she’s gone. Every time you sit in that chair or drink a cup of tea or read Jane Austen, you’re going to think of her. And you’ll be reminded of that love. You’ll always have the lessons she taught you to carry you through.”
The dam broke. The sob started in my chest, my entire body shaking as it worked its way out. Tears flowed from my eyes, and I did nothing to stop them. letting them soak Cal’s shirt. He held me, letting me cry, rocking us gently from side to side.
“That’s it, babe. Let it out. It’s good to cry. You haven’t done that yet, and you need to.” Cal’s voice was soothing in my ear.
Eventually, the sobs quieted, the tears stopped, and I took a deep, shuddery breath. Cal didn’t release his hold, but he eased back a bit so he could see my face. His voice was firm but gentle when he said, “We’re going to get through this.”
I nodded, and took another breath. I needed a tissue.
He gave me a soft smile. “Think you can sleep now?”
I nodded again, and let him lead me to the bedroom. He stripped off my clothes, then his own, before tucking me under the covers. He disappeared for a moment, but came back to hand me a washcloth to wipe my face. When I was done, he got into bed behind me, pulling me close, wrapping me up in his solid, warm body. I let out another shaky breath, and closed my eyes.
I drifted to sleep knowing that Cal was right. We would get through this, and my grandmother’s love would always be a part of me.