The beach was empty. It was the middle of the day in August and the beach was empty. Almost forty-eight hours had passed since Jace drowned. Tourists had already gone back to their lives. It was the locals who were left to mourn. Woods hadn’t wanted to leave the house yet. I was going to have to make him eventually but I didn’t want to push him.
I thought I should call Tripp but I didn’t know what to say. He was probably with family. I would see him tomorrow at the funeral. I knew that. I just felt like I should call. Say something. He would mourn this just as hard as Woods. Jace was his cousin. He was like his little brother.
Then there was Bethy. I hadn’t called Bethy. I wasn’t sure how Woods would react to that. He obviously blamed her for Jace’s death. I was afraid he always would. I wasn’t sure if forgiveness could be granted to her for this. Not from Woods.
Rush had dropped by that morning to check on Woods. He had still been sleeping. I’d told him I’d let Woods know he came by. Grant had stopped by an hour later. His red-rimmed eyes reminded me of Woods’s hollow look.
Woods hadn’t been awake then, either. He had slept until eleven. When he realized I wasn’t in bed with him he had jumped up and come after me. He hadn’t said anything but pulled me into his lap. We had sat there for an hour in silence.
Finally, I had told him about Rush and Grant stopping by. Then I’d convinced him to get dressed and eat something. I turned from my view of the gulf and walked back into the kitchen to check on the chicken Parmesan I had put in the oven.
Woods walked out of the bedroom freshly showered and dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. “I need to go to the office today,” he said.
“Lunch is almost ready. Can you eat first?” I really wanted him to eat.
“After we eat I want us both to go. I want you with me.”
I didn’t ask why, I just nodded. Right now he seemed to need me. I would be whatever he needed me to be. It was my turn to be the strong one. This time I would be his shoulder to lean on.
“It smells good,” he said as he walked around the counter to kiss me. He was doing that a lot lately too. More than normal. Sometimes they were desperate, hungry kisses that led to more, but most of the time they were kisses that held words he couldn’t say.
“I need to go to the store. I worked with what we had,” I explained as I pulled the chicken out of the oven. I kept myself busy fixing us each a plate and toasting some bread and buttering it.
“Soda?” I asked him.
“Do we have sweet tea?” he asked.
We did. I had made it that morning. I fixed him a glass while he carried our food to the table.
“Thank you,” he said as I set the drink down in front of him.
He reached up and grabbed my hand. “No. Thank you for being exactly what I needed and knowing when I wanted to speak and when I didn’t.” That was one of the longest sentences he’d said since we’d come home from the beach.
“I will always be whatever you need me to be,” I said simply before taking my seat.
We ate for a few minutes in silence.
“I need to see his parents . . . and Tripp. He’s called my phone twice. I should see him too.”
“I want you to go with me.”
“Okay,” I agreed.
Woods looked out at the water. “Do you know when the funeral is?”
“Yes. Rush said it was tomorrow at two.”
His jaw worked as he stared out the window. “Will Bethy be there?”
“Yes. I’m sure she will be,” I replied.
His jaw continued to shift like he was clenching his teeth.
I reached over and took his hand. “Woods. She loved him too. She made a mistake that she’ll have to live with for the rest of her life, but she did love him. You know that.”
“I can’t forgive her,” he said.
“I understand that. But remember, he loved her. He loved her enough to die for her. She’s suffering. Don’t doubt that. She’s suffering because she knows why this happened. You can hate her but try to remind yourself of the pain she has to be going through. And that Jace loved her more than he loved himself.”
Woods didn’t say anything; he just sat there, letting me hold his hand while he stared out the window.
Everyone in Rosemary was at the funeral. There were more people there than I’d ever seen at any event in town. Bethy was lifeless. Her face was pale and her cheeks were hollowed. She stood beside her aunt Darla and a man I assumed was her father. Jace’s parents I had seen a few times at the club. His mother’s eyes were red and swollen as she clung to his father’s arm. Tripp stood to the side of them. He was dressed in a dark suit. You couldn’t see his tattoos and he looked nothing like a biker bartender but more like the Ivy League graduate that he would have been if he hadn’t run from his parents’ plans for him.
Woods held on to my hand like it was his lifeline. He hadn’t let it go since we arrived. Rush also held Blaire’s hand just as tightly. Nate wasn’t with them today.
Grant stood on the other side of Rush, his hands tucked in his front pockets and his face pinched in a permanent frown. It looked like he was trying not to cry.
The others were there, too, but I couldn’t see them from where we were standing.
Each one of them had had an impact on the others’ lives.
They all had stories.
They had all loved, and many had lost.
They had expected to grow up and become adults together. Get married and let their kids play together.
They’d planned on being the next generation in Rosemary.
What they hadn’t planned on was losing one of their own. Losing a member of their tight group. They hadn’t seen their future minus one. Death hadn’t touched them before. Not like this. Not one of them.
Everything was about to change.