It's been a while. And yes, they're back. Once again, this is for my lovely sister, Heather, and hope that Ollie and Murph will make you smile as much in their Sophomore Spring as they did during the Fall.
An hour car ride can go a few different ways, one of them being a fantastic chance to wrap a frayed mind around an almost unrealistic last week and a half. Wrap a frayed mind around the fact that the only grandfather I'd known was gone.
Piano music floated from the speaker on the passenger side. One of my favorite songs.
I heard there was a secret chord/that David played and it pleased the Lord/but you don't really care for music, do ya
Frickin' tears. Felt like this was all I'd been doing for days, and it was partially true. It was all most of us had been doing. Hard not to. Just kept wiping them away.
And I've seen your flag on the marble arch/love is not a victory march/it's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah
Don't keep seeing his smile. The big red van going around the corner. Him feeding the chickens. Learning to drive the riding lawn mower around the upper field. Leaving corn on the salt blocks for the deer. The smile on his face after successfully tying his ragged shoelaces and his equally ragged work boots. Don't remember he's the one who taught you..
Don't remember, and don't forget.
And the holy dark was moving to and every breath we drew was hallelujah
Don't see his smile coming down the hill the first time on a bicycle - no training wheels.
It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah.
I smeared hot tears across my cheeks, not sure how the car stayed in its lane, and really not sure how the sign reading twenty-two miles to Geneva was comprehensible.
The room was cold. First order of business was heat, then Henry on his stand and...more or less getting all the stuff from the hallway into the corner single. Then back in the car and back home and...
Breathe. Breathe. Deep in. Deep out.
I sniffled, swallowing hard. Turned, looked, and froze, my ability to get a handle compromised by the body leaning against the door frame.
"Shit," I muttered, pushing back the too-long sleeves on my borrowed flannel shirt. Murph looked at me, hazel eyes unreadable.
"You gonna be around for a little while or is this a dump and run?" he asked.
I stuffed my hands in my pockets. "A - A dump and run."
"When's calling hours?" His voice was soft. Like he knew it wouldn't take much to break the cracks already there.
"Six to eight. Funeral's at eight." Son of a bitch. Don't poke me too hard, Murph. Not entirely sure I can handle it.
"Let me help you." He pushed off the door frame to stand in my personal space, one of his boots in either side of mine. "We'll make your bed before you go, yeah?"
"I'm not sleeping in it until tomorrow night," I snorted, hands out of my pockets to do that damn self-hug around my middle. Touching Murph right now meant losing it epically. "I'm staying at the house tonight and driving up tomorrow morning."
He nodded. "Okay."
"I hate this," I whispered.
Murph moved first, pulling me to him to engulf me, holding me tight because he knew - he had to - that he was the only thing keeping me together right then. I wrapped my arms around his middle, fisting his t-shirt at the small of his back to ground myself.
If there was a way for me to crawl up into him and the love and safety and Murphy-ness of him, I would have done it. But this? Me grinding my forehead into his sternum in an effort not to soak his shirt with tears was working, too.
I don't know how long we stayed like that, but we had to separate because I had to get going. Murph helped me make my bed, and when we had that done we sat on it and just looked at the stuff I was going to - eventually - have to unpack. But it didn't matter. What did matter was his large hand, warm and safe, around my own cold one.
It was the way he'd said I love you loud and clear. And exactly what I needed.
"You look so pretty, Ollie," Grandma Boyd said, her old wrinkled fingers touching my cheek.
"Thanks, Gramma." My face had to be red and splotchy, considering I burst into tears even looking in the direction of the casket. So it was safer in the secluded area by the doorway to color with El. She was a little subdued, of course, who was happy in a freakin' funeral home?
Gramma Boyd tottered over to my cousins - Kip and Joe - who sat watching the memory slide show.
I opened the clear plastic bag with the crayons, thinking she was going to ask for another color. "Yeah, little one?"
"Why are there two Morephy's?"
O-kay. This was unexpected. And kind of like a punch to the gut. Murphy the cat was at El's house, and Murphy the boyfriend was in Geneva.
"There - Murph's at college, hunny." I looked at her serious blue eyes and turned to follow when she pointed. The two fairly large men in the doorway - in dark suits, too - looked an awful lot like Murph and Liam.
Holy shit. That was actually my boyfriend and his twin. In the doorway.
"Morephy?" El asked, looking between me and the boys.
"Yeah. Murphy." Great time for more waterworks as Murph came over, knelt to be level with El, and set about explaining that Liam was his brother. Liam sat next to me, watching his twin, and it was best for me to just process at my own pace the fact that they were even here.
"So, he's your brother?" El asked, looking between Liam and Murph.
"Yup. Just like your Aunt Ollie and your mom are sisters," Murph said, holding his hands out.
El nodded like a bobblehead.
If Izzy felt unnerved about having two identical stares leveled at her, she didn't show it. She looked between the twins - much the same way El had - and settled on the warm body next to me being the right one. "Murphy?"
Liam chuckled, standing and holding his hand out. "Liam. William, actually, but Liam. Please."
Pretty sure my brain had stopped all higher functions. Quite possibly fallen into an alternate dimension. Maybe the Doctor's Tardis was parked out back.
"Well, I feel like an idiot," Izzy muttered.
"Everybody does it," Liam said with a smile. "We do it intentionally with our new teammates."
"Makes me feel a little better." Izzy sat down on the bench across the small space. "If you want to check in with mom and dad..."
Murph looked at me. "Probably should hi to your parents and thank them for the card." He smiled gently at El. "And thank you, El, for your card when I was sick."
He stood; I got to my feet and straightened my pant legs. It had been a while since I'd had to wear my dress pants - and heels - but it was a small inconvenience, all things considered.
Murph had found my parents, Izzy and Dean were with El and still coloring, Kip and Joe were sitting already, an empty chair between them for me, and Liam had just been waylaid by Gramma Boyd -
I beat feet over, meeting Liam's eyes over the top of my grandmother's head.
"Olivia," Gramma Boyd said, "your boyfriend is a very handsome young man."
"Yes, yes he is." Murph was indeed adorable. "But this isn't Murphy. This is his brother, Liam."
"Oh." She seemed taken aback. "You're still a very handsome young man."
Liam went pink in the cheeks. "Thank you, ma'am."
I scrubbed my forehead. That's my grandmother. "Gramma, I think we should go sit down."
Liam looked for his brother while I led Gramma Boyd to her seat next to Aunt Janelle. The twins were somewhere in the third row, and I was between Joe and Kip with a death grip on a hand on either side of me. The open casket was in front of me, and a lifetime of memories lay behind it.
Drained. Funeral services were draining. I adjusted my gray sweater before slinging my pea coat on. Pretty sure I'd cried more in the past hour than in the past year.
Gloved fingers slipped between mine. Didn't need to look to know it was Murph.
"You okay?" Murph as asked as we stood on the sidewalk looking across the street at the park. The Christmas decorations were still up, lights reflecting off the snow.
"I"m gettin' there." It was the truth.
He squeezed my fingers.
"We're thinkin' about goin' to Dunkin. You wanna come?" Murph glanced at his brother, who nodded. "We can take you home after."
"Let me tell my parents."
In the span of roughly two minutes to find my mother, hammer out the details, and go clomping back across the tiny parking lot, Kip and Joe had not only met the MacRiley twins but arranged a happy family-esque trip to Dunkin Donuts. And also explained how I was going to get home without making Murph and Liam drive up the hill in the middle of January in he opposite direction they needed to go.
Neither Kip nor Joe said anything about me climbing into the back of the Honda with Murph. The ride to the other end of my painfully small town was in silence. Thankfully, Murph and Liam understood my need to decompress.
Pretty sure the Dunkin night crew didn't know what to do with the five of us arriving en masse. Murph's hand was a steady presence at the small of my back. A medium hot chocolate, vanilla frosted donut, and four offers of chivalry later, I was at a high table by the window with my cousins across from me and Murph next to me.
"When do classes start?" Kip asked.
"Tomorrow," Liam and I said together.
"Are you going back tonight?" Joe asked me, sipping his coffee. If possible, he drank more caffeine on a regular basis than me.
It was luck we hadn't had heart attacks.
"No, I'm driving up tomorrow morning in time for class." Which, maybe not one of my brighter ideas, was certainly the current master plan. Happy sophomore spring.
"What are you two majoring in?" Kip asked.
"History," Murph supplied, and a beat later Liam chimed in with, "Sociology."
My cousins' expressions were priceless.
"Pre-season," Murph and I said together. "I whacked my head off a Ford when the football team was moving in. And Murphy and I just kept running into each other."
Murph nodded with a what-can-ya-do kind of shrug.
"And I met Ollie when Murph wound up in the ER after taking a picture frame to the back of the head at Colby's house."
"I had to call him for a ride back to campus." Which, to be honest, was probably the one night permanently burnt into my head. "But Mama and Dad don't know that," I added casually.
Kip and Joe saluted with their cups.
We passed some more time trading a few stories, simply decompressing. Until someone caught sight of the clock and we knew we had to go. It would take the twins at least forty-five minutes to get back. And God only knew what was going on up on the hill.
Filing out of DD and across the parking lot, Murph pulled me into a hug, kissing the top of my head.
"How about we go out to dinner tomorrow night? You and me?" Murph said.
"Ice cream. I don't care where we go as long as it's got ice cream." My hands fisted the back of his coat. Damn, the tail end of break had been rough. "Call me when you get back."
"Call me if you need me." He stepped back slightly, dropping a kiss to my forehead. "Love you."
"Love you, too." I had to make myself walk away and get int the back of Kip's car.
And to think, this was only the beginning of the semester.