[I...I have no words for this. I'm actually almost in tears at this point. This is the last chapter of the first draft of Murphy and Me: Sophomore Fall. Thank you so much for sticking with me in what went from a smartass beginning to make my sister snort a banana through her nose to a full semester's worth of a love story between a science geek soccer player and a history buff football boy. Thank you.]
I stood on my tiptoes, balanced by Murph's hands on my hips to kiss him goodbye. The Honda was packed, Liam in the driver seat with Dev talking to him through the open window, the pair of them graciously giving us as much privacy as we could get in a public parking lot.
"You'll do fine tonight," Murph said, one hand coming up to cradle my face.
"Thanks." I looked over at the Honda. It wasn't fair to hold Liam up much longer. Not with such a ride ahead of them. Leaned up and kissed the underside of Murph's jaw, discovering he hadn't shaved when he'd gone back down the fishbowl. "Love you."
"Love you, too, Ollie." He gave me one last rib-breaking hug and a kiss, and headed for the passenger side of the Honda, bumping Dev's fist as he came around the trunk.
Dev and I stood on the sidewalk to watch the Honda pull out toward St. Claire, the twins waving from their respective sides of the vehicle. Dev gave me a short, one-armed hug before we headed back inside, him to pack and me to study for physics.
And to look up exactly how long winter was, almost down to the minute.
Physics was a train wreck. Not a HAZMAT-size train wreck, but more than train meets car kind of deal. I'd somehow pulled it out though, managing two C's - orgo and physics - an A- in acting, and pulled a B+ out of a random body orifice for T-S Britain. My GPA wasn't the greatest, but it would work, and there were more requirements for my degree done, which was kind of the point. And once grades came out - about a day before Christmas, which was about the best present ever - it felt like I could breathe properly again. Which was a welcome feeling.
Christmas passed in a bit of a blur. We had a full house, as usual - even the ones from Michigan this year - and the sheer amount of food was almost unreal. I could practically see Murph's eyes bug out of his head when I told him we'd had thirty-five people in the kitchen and, even more wondrous, was the fact we'd managed to eat at the same time and not in shifts. El had wanted to know about "Morephy" and my heart nearly burst, simply for the fact she remembered him.
A few days after New Year's the restlessness set in. Not so much to see Murph - he'd convinced me to sign up for Skype, and we had less-than-romantic, slightly awkward internet dates at least once a week - but to be busy again. In short, I was ready for the fresh start a new semester brought and more than ready to go back to class. That's just how I was.
As for being home and in my own bed, there were some nights when it felt too small. It was hard not to try to imagine a larger, furnace-warm body curled behind me, one huge hand splayed open against my belly. The way he'd snuffle in his sleep sometimes, other times murmur words - English or Gaelic, they were usually too low and garbled to tell exactly which language - into the back of my neck. The way good morning was said with a hug, a shift of a leg between mine, and the trail of kisses along the top-most knobs of my spine. Sometimes beard stubble, too, when he hadn't shaved in a while.
All of it was Murph, his presence, his comfortable-ness, and his love. And it was mine.
And it was good.
I jerked further awake, rolling over to stare at the stars on the ceiling. Sounded an awful lot like dad.
What did he want at - good Lord - eight-ten in the morning? "Yeah?" I shouted back, not inclined to get out of the warmth yet.
Damn it. I rolled - literally - out of bed and jogged down the hall toward the stairs. Dad was at the bottom, looking at me with an expression of absolute grief that made my lungs forget to function for a second. "Dad?"
In this instance I saw my father - the strongest, most collected man I know - do something I hope to never see again.
"Dad?" It was barely more than whisper, and about the only volume I could manage at the moment.
He rubbed a hand over his mouth. "Harris died."
My knees gave out and I slid to the floor at the top of the stairs, head resting against the wall with a thump with my knuckles against my mouth, not sure whether to sob or puke.
Harris, my grandfather in all but blood, was dead. It was then the tears came.