Sequel: Right Here
Status: active;;

Tomorrow

chapter fifteen;;

The birds I’d grown accustomed to hearing when I woke up were oddly silent when my eyes opened. Niall was sprawled across the far side of my bed, but one of his hands was curled into a loose fist and pressed against my back. His soft snores brought a smile to my face, and I gingerly rolled over to watch him as he slept. His jaw was dotted with stubble; his eyelashes fluttered against his cheekbones while his dreams played out behind his eyes. I laced my fingers with his and said a silent thanks to him. I hadn’t had nightmares last night, and it was because of him. His phone rested on the pillow by his head ー he must have checked his messages after I fell asleep. I pressed the Home button to light up the screen so I could see the time. 6:32a.m. It wasn’t a wonder there was no annoying chirping outside. Hell, the sun hadn’t even peeked over the horizon yet. So why was I already awake?

Then reality hit me with the force of a tidal wave: Today is Jem’s funeral. I sighed. Of course. How could I have forgotten? Carefully, I slipped out of the bed and padded on quiet footsteps out of the room. The rest of the house was just as silent as I tiptoed down the stairs. I looked into the living room and saw a dark form sleeping on the couch; judging from the length, it was Brett. I continued my trek into the kitchen. The carafe was already full of coffee. The machine must have still been set for my mother’s usual schedule. I didn’t question it, though, just poured myself a large mug and carried it out to the back patio. There was a slight chill to the air, peace and tranquility spreading over the yard. The flowers in the garden had yet to open up to the rising sun. I sat on the deck chair and closed my eyes.

I knew today was going to be the most difficult day of my life. Burying Jem, saying goodbye as his casket was lowered into the ground, would make it all so much more final. According to my mother, autopsy reports revealed the other driver’s blood alcohol levels had been nearly three and a half times the legal limit. My only question had been Who the Hell drinks that much before five o’clock? Thankfully, his four-year-old daughter and infant son, both strapped haphazardly in the backseat, had survived the wreck with minor injuries. The drunken bastard’s actions had taken his life, leaving his children fatherless and his wife a widow, and killed one of the best friends I’d ever had.

I sighed and swallowed down the last of my coffee. The sun had risen enough that the serenity of the backyard was broken. Brett and Amber were at the kitchen table when I went back inside. They instantly stopped talking as I pulled the sliding door closed behind me. I raised an eyebrow at them but didn’t say anything. It wasn’t my business. The clock on the stove told me it was just after eight; Jem’s funeral was scheduled to start at noon. I rinsed my mug out and placed it upside down in the sink, then headed upstairs to my room. 

Niall was still asleep. I made sure my movements were careful as I reached for his phone, slid my finger across the screen to get to his camera, and snapped a quick photo. Unfortunately, I couldn’t send it to myself without unlocking his phone. I frowned but decided I’d do it later, setting his phone on the nightstand before rounding the bed and sliding onto the bed beside him. He stirred, opened his eyes and blinked away the sleep. My lips turned up into a smile when he turned his head to look at me.

“Morning.”

“Mornin’, love. Wha’ time is it?”

I avoided thinking about the way my heartbeat quickened, beat against my ribs, at the husky rasp to his voice. “Quarter after eight. Sleep well?”

“Amazing. You seemed to be sleeping well.”

“I did. Better than I have in… well, in a long time.”

“That’s great to hear.” He yawned, stretched, and my gaze skimmed over the lines of his body then snapped back up to his face when he collapsed back into the mattress. “Don’t tell me you’ve been awake for hours.”

“Only a couple,” I admitted, rolling my eyes at his exaggerated sigh.

I let myself be dragged against his side, and I cuddled into him and rested my head on his chest. The steady thump, thump, thump of his heart was soothing, and it was all I could focus on. All thoughts left my mind until the only ones that remained were about him. Neither of us spoke, just enjoyed the peaceful stillness of the morning. Suddenly, the quiet was shattered by his phone vibrating on the nightstand before “Count on Me” blared through the room. I rolled over and fumbled for his phone, silencing the sound quickly. He laughed as he took the device away from me. While he spoke to whoever had called, I wandered over to my closet to look for something to wear to the service. Alan had told us all to wear little to no black ー “Jem wouldn’t have wanted us to look like the Addams family, as much as he loved that freaky family” ー but still keep our attire classy.

By the time half past eleven came around, I had showered, partially dressed, and began doing my makeup. Niall sat on the bed behind me, playing with the ends of my hair, and watched as I struggled to get my eyeliner even. It took a few minutes and a dozen tries, but I finally succeeded. Niall handed me my gauzy, pale gold blouse and pretended to look away while I pulled it over my head, never mind the fact I was already wearing a black tank-top and he’d been staring at me for the last thirty minutes. I tucked both shirts into the waistband of the plum pleated skirt I’d chosen to wear. After slipping on a pair of black pumps, I linked my hand with his, and we walked together down to the foyer. Brett sat on the bottom step; he stood so we could pass, and I took in his khakis and sky blue button-down. Amber kissed my cheek then stepped back to smooth out her peach-coloured dress. My mother embraced me tightly. I ignored the way I could feel her fighting tears.

“All right, guys,” I mumbled as I untangled myself from her grip. “Let’s get going.”

Brett, Amber, Liam, and Zayn went in Brett’s car, while Niall, Harry, and I piled into my mom’s. Niall’s hand never left mine during the ride to Mitchell Funeral Home or the walk into the large building. Natalie sat on a bench a few feet away from the entrance; I didn’t blame her. I knew she hated funerals, because I felt the same way. There was something about a corpse being only a few feet away that creeped us both out. My gaze found Alan and Donna standing at the front of the room, talking to the man who would lead the service. Alan disengaged himself from the other two and went outside. 

As everyone began to take their seats, I glanced at the casket. A beautiful mahogany, it reflected the soft lights overhead. The lid was closed, which was a relief until the second I remembered what that meant: Jem wasn’t fit to be seen any more. Bile rose in my throat as memories flooded the forefront of my mind ー blood, shattered glass, tangled metal, lifeless body… 

A firm squeeze on my hand brought me away from the images in my mind, and I turned my head to stare at Niall. His eyes were dark, full of sympathy and worry, and he led me to a pair of empty chairs with the rest of our group of friends. It was amazing, the way we all reached for the people sitting next to us, fingers intertwining as if choreographed. Silence reigned until the man stood at the lectern and started to speak.

As much as I wanted to say I hung on to every word Mister Castillo said, I barely paid attention. My memories and the slideshow of photographs on the projector screen kept my full focus. Jem, throughout the years, had changed a lot physically, but in each and every picture was the same, sweet, beautiful smile I’d grown to know, love, and rely on. Even Alan’s words couldn’t reach me ー I was lost in my thoughts of any millisecond of time I’d spent with Jem. My heart ached, burned, and my lungs were fire, flames eating away the cavern beneath my rib cage. The world went blurry at the edges, spun as if to fly off its axis.

Hot sunshine beat down on the back of my neck, and I came back to myself with a gasp to find I was staring at my feet from between my knees. A warm, solid hand rubbed circles on my back. I turned my head.

“What happened?”

Niall tore his gaze from the birds singing in the trees, flitting from branch to branch. “You started having a panic attack, so Louis and I brought you out here. Don’t worry, you didn’t pass out.”

I nodded slowly and put my head back between my knees until my world levelled out more. The door to the building opened with a muffled clunk, and I twisted around to see Amber stepping outside. She looked around the grounds until her gaze landed on me.

“Oh, there you are. Service is almost over. It’s… it’s time.”

Niall’s arm felt like a shield as we walked from the cars to the burial plot. Once everyone was gathered around, I knew we looked out of place in such a sombre setting; only flashes of black could be seen amongst the large amount of bright colours. I leaned heavily against Niall and listened to Mister Castillo’s final words; Donna took the first turn at tossing a handful of dirt on top of the coffin after it was lowered. The others followed suit. Niall sniffed to my left, and I exhaled shakily once the soil left my hand. This was it. The end of a beautiful chapter with an even more amazing young man.

Jeremy Brent Rhodes was dead, buried, and gone.

I collapsed in on myself.