The Brokenverse, Part V: Cuimhne (7)
(Warning for moderate violence, mentions of violence, mentions of death, mentions of suicide. All fandom references belong to their respective owners. NOTE: V will be in more than two halves, due to SL post length restrictions.)
She decided to visit Erin's grave before she left for camp, by herself. She wanted to pay her respects privately, just her and Erin in the soft late afternoon light, though this time she would be the talkative one.
So as her parents waited at the gates of the cemetery, she walked the path to his grave alone.
Halfway down the path she thought about how she should've brought flowers-but no, she had something Erin might appreciate even more than that; a little bag filled with sparkling white sand and small colorful shells she had found on the beach. Lord knows the boy loved his ocean more than land.
When she finally reached Erin's grave, however, she found that she wouldn't be alone.
Grant was hunched over Erin's grave. He had not changed out of the black suit that Rudy had lent to him for the funeral, and she could see that it was a wrinkly misfitted disaster. His hair, too, could've auditioned quite well for the role of 'world catastrophe.'
This was not the Grant she knew.
Grant was the type of person who would've cleaned an entire house in order to cope with his feelings. The type of person who noticed every hole that needed to be patched in all their clothing, the type of person who practically stitched clothes out of rags and darned socks in order to feel better. At his some of his most nervous and irritated moments, he'd give her a look over, get out his emergency sewing kit and say, Ginger, there's a bunch of threading out of place on your dress and if I don't put it back the whole spam thing will unravel, my God, do you even take care of your clothes?
But here, in the face of Erin's death, Grant couldn't even bring himself to stitch anything together. He had just...completely fallen apart.
Her heart seized in her throat. There was a crumpled boquet of what looked to be yellow roses in one of his hand, the other hand being used to vigorously gesture in the air as he yelled, tears running down his face;
"Do you look and see what you've done to me, you absolute dillhole?! You freaking dipstick! I can't even sew your grandmother's old panties together like this! And I've ruined Rudy's suit like this! Spammit Flynn! You can't even give me a break here and you're dead! How the hell am I suposed to keep up here, Erin?! You freaking-fricking-seaweed!"
Deep down, Ginger thought some part of her found this inappropriately but exceedingly funny. The rest of her was begging for her to rip her heart out of her chest to make the pain stop.
"Grant," she said softly. He looked up at her, red in the face, tear and snot streams intermingling.
"Well," he choked out. "Looks like the whole spaming trio showed up. Purple, Blue," he shoved the boquet at her, "and Pink." he flicked it at Erin's grave. "The whole bi-trio, huh? Except we had to meet in the cemetery today because someone," he pointedly glared at Erin's grave, "couldn't get his crap enough together to stay alive."
Ginger couldn't help it. An ugly cluster of giggles burst their way out her throat, and she immediately covered her mouth with her hand. Along with the burning and boiling of her skin, she felt the heat of shame. He was in pain, and here she was laughing at him for it. Great job, Ginny, you really know how to cheer up your friends.
Grant was still staring at Erin's grave, his glare gone but his expression still...intense.
"Did you know," he said, slowly, "That Erin Flynn really hated yellow roses? He thought that they were a sign of wilting or posioned love-what kind of rose was yellow, anyways?" He suddenly reached and ripped off a handful of petals from the roses, taking them and throwing them in the air like confetti. They drifted softly onto Erin's grave. "Little did he know, yellow roses are a sign of platonic love. Of Friendship. Of Joy."
"Grant," Ginger said again, fighting to stay calm despite that everything felt horrible and bubbling and on fire. "What are you doing?"
"You know what Erin said to me one time, Ginny?" Grant ripped out another handful of petals and stared at them in his hand. "We were talking, and he said to me, 'I'll haunt the jerk who has the nerve to lay yellow roses onto my grave.' So I asked him, 'Erin, how would you haunt them?' and-and he said, he said, Ginger, 'I'd probably freak them out so much that they'd pee themselves, and then I'd laugh in their face. And then give them a ghostly high-five, just to be a good sport about it.'" He turned his hand downward, and the yellow petals joined their brethren on the ground. "So I thought-I thought to myself, well maybe-maybe...he'd come back," Grant's voice cracked. He lifted his head and yelled into the emptiness, "Erin! You can stop scaring me now! Come out! I'm throwing yellow roses onto your grave, Erin!" His voice grew hoarse as it increased in volume and he threw even more petals onto Erin's grave. "Come out, come out, Erin! Erin! ERIN!" He was starting to cry again. "Erin...Erin, please come back..." Grant stood there shaking, like at any moment he was about to just completely crumble into nothing.
Ginger thought she'd quite like to die now, thank you very much.
She forced herself to swallow the lump in her throat and breathe. She clenched her fists, as if that would somehow help her endure the special hell she was put in, liquid flames coursing through her whole body, bolts of pain dancing across her skin, taunting her so that she could almost here crackling. Calm thoughts, calm thoughts calm thoughts, Ah am clam, clam, calm as a clam, spammit, keep it together. She was not about to be sent into a spiral of reliving the 'worst of' of Grant's existence with him, sure as hell not now.
She moved her tongue around her mouth, trying to feel how to make words even though she had no idea what to say. She closed her eyes and tried to think of something, anything, that might comfort him.
She took a deep breath and said, "He coulda forgot about the conversation, Grant. Erin was kinda an idiot."
Silence. She opened her eyes. Grant was staring at her with an unreadable expression, and the back of her mind whispered, oh no, Ah've flagged up now, haven't Ah.
But then he slowly started to nod with a weird sort of seriousness. "You're right, Ginger. You're spamming right on there. Always getting himself into trouble, never thinking about any of the consequences!" He threw his hands up into the air. "What an idiot!"
Ginger nodded, just as serious. "Frankly, Ah'm surprised he remembered to alert the authorities first and didn't run into danger in his birthday suit. The poor feller was an absolute imbecile."
"A complete ignoramus."
"Stupid as stupid can be."
"Dumber than a doorknob."
"The Lord couldn't have been bothered to give him even a rock for a brain, bless his sweet heart."
"His cranial cavity was definitely deficient in grey matter." Grant blinked, suddenly. "Are we...are we trash talking Erin while standing right next to his grave?"
"It's what Erin would've wanted," Ginger told him, before she could stop herself.
Grant stared at her for a moment before saying, "Don't do that to me when I'm dead."
"Then don't die."
Grant shrugged. And then paused. And then said, "Maybe he called emergency services first because he realized that...that this was, this was serious, that this wasn't something he could just fix with a trick, that...this would be the last time-"
"Grant," Ginger said, as firmly as she could manage without her voice wavering. "Don't." She paused for a breath before adding, "Erin did what he did 'cause he loved life, an'-an' he didn't want it to be taken away from anyone else. Even..." she took another breath as her whole body shuddered, "Even if it cost him his own."
Ginger could here her gulp beside him, hearing him mutter stupid, stupid, stupid, as he ripped out another few petals. And then, bravest man I've ever known.
The boiling was getting too much again, and her fingernails were digging into her palms. She tried a different approach. One that might make them both feel better. "Remember all the silly stuff he used to pull?" she asked him. "Like the time he thought it'd be a good idea to cheer Emer up by-"
"By sneaking up on her out of nowhere dressed up as Darth Vader with Billie as Obi Wan, and scaring her half to death?" Grant finished for her. "Yeah. And then when he climbed onto the roof of the theatre building and managed to get away with pouring a bucket full of egg yolk onto that one jerk actor who was giving me a hard time."
"Didn't he also climb on top of the theatre building and start horribly recitin' Hamlet or whatever to get people to come watch the plays?" she asked him. "Ah think Ah was there for that..."
"Yeah. I can't believe the manager let him get away with that! In his grandparents' old clothes!" Grant shook his head. "What was with Erin and roofs, I shall never know."
"Especially that time he climbed on top of the roof of my house in the middle of the night 'cause he thought Ah didn't exist," she added, making him groan.
"Why do you have to bring that up every time," he grumbled, though there was a hint of mirth in his tone.
"Because ya two dipsticks somehow thought that Ah wouldn't notice him climbing my roof," she said, almost sweetly.
"I never wanted him to climb your roof!" Grant exclaimed, gesturing wildly. "I was a helpless spectator to the antics of Erin Flynn! I was an innocent man caught in the whims of the idiot fool who had dragged me along to witness insanity unfold!"
"This is why ya in drama," was all she replied.
He rolled his eyes. "At least you weren't the one watching in horror as he walked around on your roof and whispered 'Giiiiinger, hey, hey! Hey giiiinger, come out whereeeevvverrr you arrreeee.' I could've boxed his ears!" He facepalmed as he noticed her snort with laughter. "It wasn't funny!"
"It was sure as hell funny ta watch ya face through the window when ya realized Ah could hear y'all."
"Such friends I have, that delight in my misery," he said, and she stifled another snort by shaking her head and saying, "Silly boy, not realizing I was inside the whole time. All he had to do was knock."
"What? At 3 AM?"
"Precisely," she said, and he groaned again.
"Right, as if your parents would've approached of some teenage boy knocking at their door at some godawful hour and asking 'Hello, Mr & Mrs Couture? Is your daughter, in fact, a real person?'"
"Ya got me there," she replied. "My parents would've gone out of their minds."
"Yeah, that sounds like a pretty logical reaction."
Ginger nodded. The boiling seemed to have become less, like it had been transformed into something uncomoftably warm but...softer. Flower petals, dancing on her skin instead of thorns, petals like the ones that had drifted onto the top of Erin's grave.
Grant was staring at Erin's grave again. His face was draining any of the color or life she had managed to coax back into it. She noticed, and whatever relief she had managed was gone. The petals were gone. There was a fleeting panic as she was suddenly launched back into to the horrible boiling, bolting pain, memories trying to dig back in and burrow under her skin like parasites-
Dear God, it's not even ma own grief that's gonna to kill me. It's his.
"Grant," she whispered in a hoarse voice, and he looked over at her. She must've been showing some type of obvious distress on her face because he took a step back, eyes wide, and whispered, "Sparkitors, Ginger are you alright? Have I-?"
She tried to manage a smile, her lips twitching with discomfort. "'S alright. Ah'm fine."
"You're a terrible liar." He said. He took a step forward, hesitant. "Do you...can I help? I've..." He gulped. "I've done it again, haven't I? I'm so sorry, Ginny, I don't know-I..." He looked practically helpless. "Is it me? I mean, can I just...if I just focus on something, something happy, or-?"
Ginger closed her eyes again, and tried to breathe. Panic. He was panicked now, and it was cold. Panic was so, so cold. She still burned from what she was pulling but now the strong memories from Grant that were latching onto her weren't hot with pain, but cold with fear. She gasped for air. Her fists might've been clenched but she couldn't feel them. She couldn't feel anything. Just the hot, just the cold.
Calm....down....calm, down...calm down. Calm down. Calm, calm, calm, please, just be, a little calmer...please...
Grant was still here. Gary. She took another breath, tried to speak again. "Let's...Let's think of somethin' happy, alright? Ah just...let's go back to the way we were, okay? Talkin' 'bout Erin but not...not..." Her stomach lurched. She knew she couldn't look at him or she'd see his panicked face and she'd plunge further than ever into some kind of garying agony.
"Hey, Ginny?" Grant's voice was quivering. "Do you remember that summer? When we had all the fireworks?"
She swallowed. "Y-ye-yeah?"
"That was another dumb thing Erin did," Grant said. His voice was gaining more strength as he spoke. "Well, what he and Billie did. They lit them all up on his boat at the same spammin' time. We could've all gone down in flames!"
"There was an entire ocean in case anyone caught on fire," Ginger reminded him. Everything was slowly but surely dialing back down in intensity. She could breathe again, talk again, maybe. "The-the fireworks were worth it, Grant-they were right pretty."
"Yeah, they were," he agreed. "Dangerous to light all at the same time on a boat, but at least they looked nice."
"Ya know, ya could've stopped them if ya really wanted," Ginger said.
"They probably would've sent all the fireworks after me," Grant replied.
Her lips twitched again. "They wouldn't be that mean to ya."
He snorted. "Right. Sure." A pause. Then he said, "Do you remember what Erin said...? To describe the way the fireworks were. He said something like, 'They crack and sparkle across the night sky, colors of light dancing across the darkness-'"
"'-and for a moment they were forever, like the stars above them, burning into eternity before falling into ash,'" Ginger finished for him, whispering, and suddenly, amidst all the pain and the suffering there was a pinprick of light that was slowly flooding her with a feeling she could only describe as the pale yellow of sunlight, as she held onto the memory as he relayed it to her and suddenly it was all so clearly in her mind-
And she was there, almost.
She was there.
In the soft silver moonlight and under a canopy of stars and darkness, the fireworks of others on the shore bursting with dazzling light and loud noise. The salty ocean breeze was a cool touch, a comforting smell of something like home.
She was there.
Ginger had stood on the deck of Erin's boat, watching as he set up the fireworks. Her friends had been their usual selves. Billie, of course, was helping Erin with firework set up, while Grant chastized them both, wringing his hands, yelling, 'The fireworks could explode in all our faces for all you know, dingbats!'
'Well,' Bille shrugged, 'at least we'll go out with a bang, then, wouldn't you say?'
To this response Grant scowled silently, as Erin laughed and Prancer smiled.
'Don't worry Grant,' the voice of Prancer's tablet spoke as he typed, 'My helpful advice will surely guide these two dingbats into having the fireworks go shooting the right way up.'
'Yeah, Grant,' Erin flashed a wide grin, 'Prancer here is actually being helpful instead of hopelessly attempting to stop us!'
'That firework you're holding isn't the right way up,' Prancer replied.
Grant smacked his palms against his forehead and groaned, 'We're all going to die!'
'It's not about the destination, Grant, it's about the journey!' Billie said with a smile.
'That doesn't even make sense!'
'You can't prevent the heat death of the universe, sweetie!' Billie informed him a bit too cheerfully.
From her place next to Ginger, Emer snorted. 'I'll be the heat death of his universe if he screws this up.'
'You could still try to stop them from setting up the fireworks,' Nettles told her.
Emer shook her head. 'Nah, this is too funny. Besides, I kind of want to see if they can pull of the fireworks.' Then she resumed the sci fi novel she had brought along with her on the trip.
'Yeah, I really want to see what fireworks they picked out,' Nettles said. 'It's nice that we can have our own little thing here on the ocean, even if it *is* a bit risky.' Then she turned and said, 'What about you, Ginger?'
'What-? Oh. Yeah, Ah suppose Ah'm lookin' forward to it,' Ginger had replied, 'As long as they don't set fire ta Erin's dang boat.'
'That might just be a mood killer, yeah.'
The first firework had went off shortly after that, loud and sudden. Of course, Erin and Billie had thought to give no warning as to when they would set be setting it off, so all they heard was a whistling noise before the firework boomed across the sky, sizzling bright orange. Grant made the sound of a dying cat in his throat, and Nettles had whooped, clapped and cheered along with the rest of them as more had been set off and shot into the sky, exploding right on top of each other, creating a shower of rainbow sparks against the night sky.
And for a moment, they were forever.
She was not there.
Ginger returned to the present.
Her eyes fluttered open and she swayed over the top of Erin's grave, knowing that as soon as she fell she wouldn't have the strength to get back up, that she would lie there forever until the worms came and the flowers grew over her composted corpse.
Grant gently grabbed her shoulder. She looked into his eyes. He was experiencing a whole different type of turbulence than the one he was dealing with before. The soft, deep moving sorrow of the oceans was reflected in his gaze.
She fell into him.
He fell into her.
They caught each other.
Ginger and Grant clung to each other like they were stuck in the middle of the ocean, using each other to keep them afloat. She could feel the tides of the ocean, the rolling waves and undercurrents pushing and pulling at her body, at her heart, rocking them both back and forth. She could feel the waves washing over her, her head bobbing up and down, going under and surfacing, going under and surfacing, going under and surfacing. She felt a drop of water on her shoulder like rain and looked up at Grant starting straight ahead, tears rolling down his cheeks. He gazed into a faraway horizon, and then looked down at her.
"Ginger," he said. His voice was cracked. "What are we going to do?"
"Ah don't know," she whispered. "By golly, Ah don't know."
The memories were the heavy waters they were half-floating, half-sinking in. They weren't hot, or cold. Soft yet forceful.
She touched her forehead to his suit jacket and sighed. "We're all messed up, aren't we?"
He nodded. "Yep."
"Ah love you," she whispered.
"I love you too, Ginny."
"Ah..." she closed her eyes. The blur of tears had obscured her vision once more, but she felt as though she wouldn't be able to break into any more sobs. She had no more to give.
"Ginger," Grant said quietly. "You were the reason I was able to see that memory, right? Like-like I was actually there, on that boat, in that summer."
"Yeah." She looked up, then away, in something like shame. "Ah'm-Ah'm sorry."
"No, no, it's fine. I'm...glad that happened. I..." he swallowed hard, glanced away. "I'm sorry that I yelled at you about...you know. I shouldn't have done that."
"Nah, Ah understand." She sighed. "Ah probably woulda done the same. Ah practically did, didn't Ah?"
"No, that's different. You didn't mean to...I was just...I hurt you, and I...I should've done things differently."
"Shouldn't we have all?"
"I suppose," he took a breath. "Sure wish we had a time machine around here or something."
"Certainly would be right helpful," she agreed.
"Ya remember what Billie said?" she asked him.
Grant quirked an eyebrow. "About going out with a bang? Are you going to-?"
She looked away. "At least he went out with a bang."
"Ah mean, not like that, well, actually like that, but what Ah mean is..." she bit her lip. "Erin wanted to die doing something important. He wanted to die doing something good. And...that's what he did, right? He died saving a bunch of people." She swallowed. "So Ah guess...he got what he wanted."
"Ginger." He looked away again, for what felt like a long time. "I...honestly would've prefered if he was...snorting seaweed in a ditch with a bunch of hula girls giving it to him than...this."
"Yeah," she said. "Me too."
She paused before saying, "You know if I could've traded places with him, he'd be standing right here, right?"
"Don't talk like that."
"Then don't you think it either."
Soft silence fell between them like petals on a grave. They stood there, gently swaying to only a current they could feel, a nonexistent breeze in the still air.
"Grant," Ginger said.
"Where you've been sleeping, lately?" she asked.
"Oh, you know...around."
"You know what I meant," he rolled his eyes. "At different people's houses."
"So Erin's grandparents never really knew that you were...?"
He titled his head. "Oh, they suspected, I'm sure. Especially when I came to collect my stuff from 'staying the night before' and I came out with a bloody duffel bag. But it's not like they said anything about it."
"Can you not afford a place to...? Even a hotel room?" She asked.
"I've been...looking into it," he said, chewing his cheek. "I...I do have money saved in my account. I should be able to afford...something. Maybe, I...I need to look more into it. I've just...God, Sparkitors, I haven't even...haven't been showing up to work." He groaned, rubbing his forehead. "Dirk's shady enough to pay an eleven year old clean theatre toilets but even he couldn't scold me for not going in after my best friend died. Or maybe that's because Rudy called. His family are patrons, after all. I..." He sighed, a long, heavy, grey sigh. "I've just been...spending time with Rudy, mostly. He's...By Perilous' Dice, I don't know how I got so lucky. He's been treating me gentler than a lamb while I've just been this ugly crying mess. I could barely send my apologises to you, let alone hold a consistent conversation with Emer, or anyone in the group chat..." He swallowed hard. "I've been a terrible friend..."
"Ya ain't a terrible friend," Ginger said. "Ah couldn't even reply to any of y'all, let alone some kind of conversation. Ah couldn't even manage to write down ma own thoughts ta myself. D'ya know how ridiculous that is? Ah couldn't even have-do you know what Ah did to Nettles at the-at the visitation? Ah-ah-Ah practically snapped her up like a crocodile!" She gulped, shuddering. "Ah...No. Y'all...y'all'ven't done nothing wrong. Y'all've at least...at least you-you tried. At least ya sent something to me. Ah haven't...Ah haven't managed spam. Ah..." her fingers curled tight against his suit jacket. "Ah'm practically the walking dead."
Grant was quiet for a long pause. Then he said, "If you were the walking dead, I'd expect you to smell less 'haven't showered' and more 'rotting corpse'."
She snorted, faintly amused, and he continued. "Ginny...you're not...Sparkitors, you're not terrible. You're not terrible for being a mess. You're not terrible for not being able to talk to anyone of us. You're not being terrible for being depressed about your boyfriend's death. You're...how could anyone expect you to come out of this perfect? It hasn't even been...it hasn't even been a few weeks. You've been through so much through so little time, of course you wouldn't want to talk to anyone! Of course you're unable to drag yourself out of bed or take a shower or even change your socks. You've experienced some kind of-some kind of flagging traumatic tragedy. How the hell could you call yourself a terrible friend when you're trying to drag yourself out of Gary? How could you-" Grant looked away, scowling, conflicted. "Ginny, you're not terrible. None of us think that you're terrible. We're worried, sure, but we don't...we don't think you're terrible. Ever."
"That's a big claim to make," she replied.
"Well, I meant it!"
"Ah know," she said. "An' Ah wish ya could apply it to yaself."
"I...I guess I do, too." He rubbed her back in a reassuring way. "I suppose I just can't help hold myself to a different set of standards."
"Ya not the only one," Ginger mumbled.
"And maybe we should both stop holding ourselves accountable for things that aren't crimes," he added.
"Ah'd like that," she whispered. She waited a moment before adding, "Ya can stay at my house."
"Ah'll talk to my parents about it," she said. "If ya can't afford anything...ya can stay at my house. It'd be better than ya constantly having to be tossed up between houses. Or the streets...especially with me gone, there'll be more than enough room-"
She looked up at him, frowning. "An' why not? They already worry about ya, ya my friend after all...one of my best friends. All Ah'd have to do is ask."
"I appreciate the offer," he said. "But Ginny...Ginny, I'm fine with just alternating between our friends while I look for something else-"
"So the others can make offers, but Ah can't?"
Grant glanced away, looking uncomfortable. "No. Ginny, no. It's not like that. It's...like you said. You're going away soon. With the others, I can pass it off as a sleepover, and they have places to hide me. But with your parents...they already have one child to worry about. Their child. I don't think they need to worry about another one who's camping in their cupboard."
Ginger's frowned deepened. "Ah wouldn't let ya be put in ma cupboard."
"Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Yeah, yeah, Ah get it, ya don't want ma and pa ta haveta be worried 'bout another kid besides me, since they're pretty worried already," she rolled her eyes. "It's fine. Ah just...just..."
"What?" he asked her.
She tried to put as much emphasis into her words as possible. "Be safe, okay?"
The corner of his lip upturned, ever so slightly. "As long as you be safe."
"Grant Ah will become a garyspam eagle scout in safety if it means ya'll stay healthy and whole 'till Ah come back."
"Alright, alright then, I'll definitely try my best to stay safe," he said. "I'm not planning on doing anything 'risky'-especially not after...The only 'risky' thing I've ever done so far is help send that box full of glitter infused cow patties and dog dung Billie purchased online to Erin's mother. And I really doubt that if that woman couldn't have been bothered to attend her own son's funeral that she'll come all the way from Auztrailie to get us." He spat the last few words out.
Ginger raised an eyebrow. "Y'all got her a little present and sent it without me?"
"It was encouraged that we send it as soon as possible," Grant said.
Grant's lips curled into a small smirk. "Everyone."
"Ah can't really blame 'em," Ginger told him. "That lady came straight outta Gary's left armpit."
"I wouldn't be surprised if most of his family had, from what he's told me about them all..."
"Did ya manage to find his sister?" Ginger asked.
"Thalassa?" Grant shook his head slightly. "We-well, Nettles in all her tracking powers, really-were able to send a message to her via what seemed like a social media profile, and also her email...? Or at least, what we think is her social media and email. But....other than that, I haven't a clue. Erin really kept her contact information under wraps, even from his grandparents. For all I know, she could've attended the funeral in secret."
"Didya notice anyone who might've been her?"
Grant chuckled cynically. "Ginger, I don't think I was in a very...observational mood then. I don't think any one of us were. No one's said anything of the like...What about you? Memory wise, I mean-?"
Ginger shook her head. "Grant, if ya ask me to try and recall what in Buckets' good name happened at that funeral with ma power, ya gonna give me a migraine worse than Gary. There was too much...Ah, Ah tried to weave them together, but Ah didn't notice anything that might've pointed towards her bein' there..." She sighed. "Ah don't think she knows. Or if she does, maybe she didn't want to get caught up in all the family hoopla and pay her respects in private. Or maybe she got held up. Erin's mother was one thing...Ah don't think his sister would've skipped."
Grant nodded. "Yeah, you're right. Erin always spoke fondly of her."
Then he said, "Just like he always spoke fondly of you."
"Yep." Pain hit her like an arrow in the chest.
"Wouldn't shut up about you for hours," Grant continued. "Sparkitors, what I would've given for some ear plugs then. Always, Ginger's so strong and Ginger's so funny and Ginger smiled me the other day and it was cuter than a thousand puppies."
Ginger puffed her chest out, despite the pain. "Well, Grant, Ah am pretty darn great. It was only right he should honor my greatlyness."
"It'sa word, theatre boy."
He rolled his eyes, a slight smile on his face. "Right."
Ginger swatted him. "It's a word. And he loved my greatlyness as much as he loved yours."
Grant raised an eyebrow. "I thought greatlyness was something that could be ascribed to Ginger Muirgen Couture."
"Nah, silly boy. You've got greatlyness too. An' Erin absolutely adored you for it."
Grant snorted. "He better have, considering how many times I was practically his nurse maid."
Ginger smiled, sadly. She could still feel the movements of the ocean currents psuhing against her body, and bristles on her hands. But there was something soft and sad, like wilting flowers, like fabric scraps that used to make up a beloved quilt, that she could feel in the waters of the memories, too.
There was happiness, happiness that was left in the past, happiness that flickered like candlelight through them when they remembered what was such a short time ago but felt like an age. Then there was the pain, sudden and hard hitting, and the grief, so very heavy, pouring out into the abyss of loss.
Ginger looked down and noticed how long their shadows were getting, the horizon becoming more and more orange-red.
"Grant, it's...we should get goin', it's gettin' dark out."
"Is it bad that...strangely enough, I don't want to leave?"
"No," Ginger said. "Ah...It's the closest to Erin we're ever gonna get. Ah suppose."
He barked out a bitter laugh. "Yeah. Yeah, you're right on there."
"I talked to Nihil recently," she said, suddenly.
"Yeah? And how did that go?"
She stiffened up. "He...he told me not to kill myself."
"Were you thinking about killing yourself?"
She stared at her shadow. "Mm...Maybe."
Grant bit his lip. "As a man of practicality, I would suggest not doing that."
"Ah...Ah just don't wanna be left all alone." Ah need you. All of y'all. Ya the reason Ah keep attempting to resist Gary. Ya my family.
"Ginny," Grant said softly. He ran his fingers through her hair. "Come hell or high water, life or death...you will never be alone."
Ginger sniffed. "Ah don't know whether ta take that as a threat or as a comfort."
"Whichever you feel suits the moment," he said.
She wrapped her arms tighter around him. "Comfort, then."
"That's what I meant it as." He hugged her back just as tight.
She waited a few more minutes, enjoying the tightness of his embrace, before saying again, "We should get goin.' It's really startin' to get dark out, an' ma parents might get worried."
"Where do you want to go?" He asked her.
Ginger looked up at him, frowning. He seemed to be gazing off into some far off place. "Uh...ya know. Home."
"What's a home?"
"....Don't you try to go Nihil on me now. Please, Ah've had about just enough of the philosophical."
"This is just coming from someone who doesn't really have much of a permanent place to stay," he said. "Because you have a physical place, but I consider you and everyone else to be home."
"Yeah, silly," she said, "that's why Ah think of my home as home. Cause that's where my ma and pa are. And where y'all come over to visit...it's not home just because of the countertops and the floral decorations."
"Well, I mean, those floral decorations are what I'd consider to be very much home material."
She rolled her eyes. "Grant...please."
Ginger sighed. "Home is someplace nice and warm, where everyone you love is, and it's...it's more than just nice and warm, it's safe. Home is safe."
"Ginger," he said slowly, "Do you...do you think that there's a safe place in this world?"
Her heart pounded at the idea that there wasn't a safe place anywhere, and she tried to ignore the whispering in her head, begging her to hide. "Ah...Ah thought Hollyvand was a place safe from trouble until Erin...died. And Hollyvand is where ma home is at...Ah don't rightly know. But if there is a safe place, somewhere in all the realms...Ah intend to find it." And bring y'all there with me, she added silently to herself.
Grant smiled at her words, but the smile didn't fully reach his eyes. "Alright...let's get out of here. It is getting really late, and I wouldn't want to freak out your parents." They let go of each other, and Grant offered to her the yellow roses he had left over. "Want one?"
"Uh...yeah. Sure." She took a single yellow rose from the bunch, careful to avoid the thorns. "Thanks."
"No problem. I'm sure Erin won't mind," Grant said, as he placed the rest of the flowers down at the foot or Erin's grave stone. In the memory of Erin Lindsay Thomas Flynn, the grave stone read. Too bright of a Sparkler for his time. R.I.P.
Grant and Ginger walked past Erin's grave and the others in silence, going up the path to the cemetery gates, where Ginger's parents were waiting for her. They looked relieved to see her, though a bit confused to see Grant.
"I assume you were there to pay your respects as well?" Ginger's mother asked him.
Grant nodded, before turning to face Ginger. "Uh, Ginger?"
He opened his arms wide. "Would you like to...hug goodbye?"
She felt a smile creep up her face. "'Course." They hugged tightly, and she whispered into his ear, "Take care of yourself. Please."
"I will if you will," was his reply.
They embraced each other a few moments longer before finally letting go.
"So, where are you off to, Grant?" Ginger's father asked him.
"Oh, to a friend of Ginger's house," Grant said. He looked at Ginger. "Rudy." She nodded.
"Well, Grant, you beter not be getting into any trouble now," Ginger's mother said, sternly. "My daughter and all of you have suffered enough at the hands of trouble."
"I assure you, ma'am, I shall refrain from any sorts of trouble," Grant said politely.
"Alright. Goodnight, Grant."
"Goodnight, Grant!" Ginger's father said.
"Goodnight, Mrs. and Mr. Couture," Grant said. "Till next morrow, Ginger."
"Till next morrow," Ginger repeated, the words dry and hollow in her mouth.
They parted there at the cemetery gates, Grant walking one direction, Ginger and her parents going the other. Her parents were oddly quiet, simply giving each other concerned looks, though she couldn't blame them for it. What were they supposed to do? Say, 'hi, honey, so was your visit to your dead boyfriend's grave any fun?' She snorted aloud at the thought, causing her parents to direct their gazes towards her.
"Everything alright there, Ginny?" Her father asked her.
"Yeah, pa," she said. "Ah just...had a weird thought."
"Okay," he smiled at her, though she couldn't help but notice the fear in his eyes.
"Ya alright, pa?" She asked him.
"Yeah, yeah," he replied, his smile widening but the rest of his expression just as nervous.
"Your pa and I are just a bit stressed right now," her mother said. "We can talk about it when we get home, okay?"
"Okay, ma," Ginger replied.
Her mother smiled, a tired, thankful smile. "Good."
Ginger grabbed both her parents hands to hold as they all walked home.
"Well, everythin's all packed up. We've got your usual dresses and shorts, and a pair of overalls just in case, your jacket, your pjs, extra socks and underwear, even a couple of bras even though I know you hate them like they're the devil-"
"Ginny, honey, I haven't seen a bra in the hamper since the times of Archai. Don't take your mother for a fool."
"Anyways," her mother continued, "your charger's packed up, along with your notebook in case you want to write, and a couple of your favorite books, and your knitting supplies if you want to knit pa and me some leg warmers, now that'd be a real trip to Archai-oh, and we've got a couple of your stuffed animals. The smaller ones. Lord knows we can't exactly ship you off with a horse the size of one."
"And some pads, and bandaids, and pepper spray in case you need to teach someone a lesson-"
Ginger's eyes widened. "-Sparkitors, ma, really?"
"Yes, really." Her mother nodded sternly. "I don't want no daughter of mine going out into the world unprotected, even at camp."
"Ya should've got her a mace," Ginger's father said.
"Ya'll'd've really done well with that if you'd taught me kung fu or somethin'," Ginger said.
"I think karate is an elective there, if you want to take it," her mother replied. "You should take it. I heard it helps with stress relief."
"The only stress relief Ah'm havin' these days is when Ah take a trip down to the commode," she muttered, causing her father to chuckle.
"Well then Ah'm sure you'll be glad that there'll be other ways for you to, ah, relieve yourself, emotionally," Ginger's mother replied dryly.
"I know you have money in your purse-or you should-but I also decided to hide some money in the lining or your bag," she continued. "Just in case."
"You should also wear your cowboy boots," her father said. "I don't think the wilds is best fared with mary janes."
"But we can pack them for you, if you want," Ginger's mother added.
"Well, Ah...Ah guess."
"Good, because I already did."
Ginger smiled. "Thanks, Ma. Again."
"I don't want my baby girl goin' anywhere unprepared," she replied. "Now, you'll text us everyday when you can, won't you?"
"Yeah, ma." Ginger said. Even if Ah can barely get a word edgewise, Ah'll miss ya too much not to make an attempt.
"And it's arranged that Dr.Windsor'll be calling you weekly for your weekly session. They have counselors there, but I know you'd feel more comfortable with her than any of theirs."
Ginger nodded. Windsor had been in her life for so long that she'd gotten somewhat used to spilling her guts to her. To spill them to some random person was not only terrifying, but also just felt...unnatural.
"Dr.Windsor said you can call her more than once a week if you like," her father added. "Her schedule might be tight, but she doesn't want you to hesitate if you need to talk to her 'bout somethin'."
"Don't hesitate to call us if you need anything, either," her father said. "We're always available, any time. Or you can call your friends, if you really feel they'll relate more, like Grant, or Nihil. Just...don't hesitate to call someone. Please."
Ginger nodded again, feeling a lump in her throat. Her father looked just a little too desperate when he had said please. Like he was afraid she'd...
Her therapist. Her friends. Her parents. She wasn't exactly the best at hiding her feelings, especially as of late but...looking into her parents' weary, nervous faces made her feel fresh fear and guilt spread through her chest. It was cold and sticky on her fingertips, causing her to rub her fingertips together in an attempt to rid them of the feeling.
Her mother must've caught onto what she was feeling, because she said, "Ginny, please don't feel guilty if you have to call us. Please. You should never feel guilty about needing to talk to us about anything. I know we might seem a bit tired-"
"Just a bit?" Ginger asked, with more than a touch of disbelief.
"Honey," her father cut in, "We might look like shriveled human racoons, but that's besides the point."
Her mother nodded. "Whatever worry we might feel...Ginger, sweetie, you're our child. We're supposed to be worried about you. Especially with what you've experienced...something you should never have had to go through. But nevermind us. It's our job to look like, well, 'shriveled human racoons.'"
"Ah don't want you to look like shriveled human racoons," Ginger whispered like a terrified child.
"Ginger, I know you might not want us to." Her mother took her hand and squeezed it, reassuring. "But trust me when I say your father and I would rather be as shrively and racoon-like as a person could be, than have you feel too guilty too tell us how you feel."
Ginger swallowed hard. The room seemed just a little bit blurrier than before. "Oh...ok..."
"We love you," her father said. He moved to hold her other hand. "Very, very, much."
"Ah know," she whispered. Then she pulled them both closer into a hug. "Ah know. Ah know! Ah..." water was spilling onto her cheeks, it was on her hands, unsettling and cold, "why...why can't ya'll just come with me instead of...instead of just being left here?"
"Ginny, honey, your mother's got work," her father said. "The hospital isn't very willing to let their employees take time off. And someone's got to hold down the fort here while your ma's at work."
"Besides," Ginger's mother said. "The camp you'll be going to has a great program. Windsor herself looked into it, and you know she'd bring the wrath of Gary upon them if they seemed the slightest bit fishy. You'll be safe there."
Safe there, she thought, instead of safe in Hollyvand, because Hollyvand and Dilly Dally weren't safe anymore. Safe there, she thought, and if it was so safe there, why couldn't Ah bring y'all, and everyone Ah love there, so Ah could keep them all safe? Why me? Why me? Safe like there was safety anywhere.
The back of her mind echoed with haunting refrain; hide, hide. Like it'll save you or anyone from the pain and suffering of the world's catastrophes.
She shuddered, pulling her parents closer, trying to ignore the cold wetness on her hands, crawling down her spine.
"Ah just don't want to be alone," she whispered.
"You won't be." Her mother held her closer. "We'll be just a phone call away."
"An' well be in here too," her father patted the spot where his heart was. "Ya know, metaphorically speaking. If that helps."
"Like I said," her mother repeated, "call us, anytime. Anytime. And...and I'll try to arrange for some time off work in the next few weeks. Maybe your pa and I can drive up there and visit."
Ginger looked up at her. "R-really?"
Her mother smiled, lovingly. "Yes. Of course. And, hey...maybe your father can have a try at that karate elective."
"You can count on me, Ginny and May!" her father replied, cheerily. "I will become the one true karate master!"
"I don't doubt it," her mother said, quite amused, and Ginger giggled.
"Ya'll be better than me at it fo' sure, pa."
"I'd be more likely to knock my back out of whack," her father said, shrugging and smiling. "But hey, 'lanyard making master' is the next best thing, ain't it, Ginny?"
Ginger smiled. "It sure is, pa. It sure is."