Coren gets a shock delivering gerberas to his boyfriend on their anniversary.
Mr Lawson looked at his son standing before him, a crutch engaging one hand, a bunch of flowers the other. 'Are you sure about this, Coren?'
'It'll be fine, dad,' Coren replied. 'Here.' He released the crutch.
Mr Lawson took it, pursing his lips as he calculated the sloping gravel path in front of them.
'Dad, it'll be fine,' Coren repeated with heat in his tone. 'I'll meet you back in here half an hour, okay?'
As Coren topped the rise and spied the young grave he noted another visitor already stood there, back to him, gazing down at the flowers carpeting the plot's surface. Coren looked at the flowers he carried, moved to his right hand once he'd let go the crutch, and grimaced. A colourful riot of gerberas were going to look out of place among the wreaths, lillies and red roses. He'd never understood JR's fascination with the daisy-like flowers but he'd not thought to bring anything else today.
He halted, didn't want to disturb the other visitor - too small to be JR's brother. A friend perhaps?
Then the visitor turned and, when the smile lit up the gorgeous features, Coren felt his own go slack with shock.
'Coren,' JR beamed. 'I'd hoped you'd come today. When you didn't yesterday I really hoped you'd choose today, and you did.' He plucked suddenly at his sleeve, as he did when nerves assailed him, but his smile held steady and sure, as was his obvious pleasure. 'And you brought me gerberas.'
Coren could only stare. He blinked, looked down at the flowers, looked behind him and then back at JR. And it was JR - beautiful smile reaching his deep blue eyes, the dimple in his left cheek, the scruffy brown hair that always looked like he'd just run his fingers through it.
When he did just that, Coren choked on a breath. He back-stepped and turned.
'Please don't run, Coren,' JR cried. 'I can't leave here.'
'I can't run,' Coren returned, and stood still.
'Bit of a shock, I know.'
'You're dead,' Coren stated and then apologised at the hurt on his beloved's face.
JR looked at the grave covered with flowers, at the grey marble headstone.
'And I can't believe you never told me your real name.' Coren couldn't stop that coming out full of hurt and insult. He was hurt and insulted. He'd been supremely shocked at the funeral to hear them talking about Joseph-Reagan. He thought he'd missed something because of the drugs he'd taken just so he could spend a couple of hours outside of hospital. Two years they'd been together and he'd never had an inkling. Should have asked, he knew, but JR had always kept some things to himself.
JR smiled softly. 'Bit of a mouthful to yell out at certain times.'
'Thank you for the flowers,' JR said quietly.
Coren jerked, had forgotten the riot in his hand. 'You're dead,' he said, almost without sound, as he shifted forward and bent to place the flowers next to the headstone. They looked even brighter against the pale marble.
The third iteration of 'you're dead' broke down the barrier to his grief, and he spread his hands over his face as the tears fell. He let the sobs have voice too. He'd have slumped to his knees if the prosthetic had let him, but this one didn't give him the ability to kneel unless he had help. He'd cried on and off over the passed year, but the grief and guilt had never lessened in force. He'd hoped being here today - the day after the one-year anniversary of JR's death - might give him the space to stay calm. Except that today would have been the three-year anniversary of his and JR's relationship. Unable to face JR's family yesterday in any case, Coren had thought today might be easier for him to cope with.
A stupid thought really.
'Please stop crying, Coren,' he heard JR say. 'I can't help and it hurts.'
Coren gave a sob/laugh; didn't say something like "you're a ghost, how can it hurt?" because JR's tone had been pained. He sniffed and looked up. JR was right in front of him, expression sad. 'How is it I can see you and hear you?' Coren asked, amazingly calm for how he felt. Part of his brain reminded him that grief did funny things to people.
'I don't know.' JR shook his head. 'No one else could, though I could see and hear them.'
'You've... appeared before?'
'Well, yeah,' JR answered with a shrug. 'On and off. It just sort of happens.'
'But you said you'd hoped I'd come today. You knew what day it was and made sure you'd be here.'
JR bit at his lip. 'You don't want me here?' he asked softly.
'No, god, of course I do, I just...' Coren drew in a big breath. 'This is kinda major, JR. I don't know why I'm not bolting, shrieking my head off. Guess that'll come to me later.' Hopefully he'd have had a truckload of alcohol before that hit.
JR cocked his head. 'You said you couldn't run. Your leg... which one?'
Coren gaped. 'You know?'
'I've heard people mention it,' JR responded quietly.
'Oh kiddo, I am so, so sorry,' Coren cried. 'It was my fault that...'
'It wasn't,' his dead beloved cut in.
'It was,' Coren insisted. 'If I'd been taking better notice of the road ahead, I'd have...'
'You wouldn't have been able to miss it,' JR said. 'You know that. Please don't blame yourself. I don't.'
'Your family does.'
'Yeah, well, they weren't there,' JR retorted with a growl. 'I don't want to talk about them.' He took on a stubborn tone that Coren knew all too well, causing grief to rise again. 'So, you've got a fake leg then?'
Coren bit at his lip. He didn't know why JR was so fixated but he gave way. It didn't really take the conversation away from the crash, but at least away from JR's family. He lifted his right trouser leg to bring the grey limb into view. 'I can walk okay, though I tend to use a crutch when I can. It... aches sometimes.'
JR was biting his lip. 'Is it above the knee?' he whispered.
Coren shook his head. 'No, just below, but this thing' - he tapped the prosthetic - 'goes over my knee. Makes it really hard to bend.' He tried a smile, felt real concern at how upset JR looked. 'It's okay, kiddo.'
'I so hoped you'd come today,' JR said, voice still barely more than a whisper, as ghostly tears flooded his dark eyes.
'Oh no, don't you start,' Coren said. 'I can't help you either.' He wiped at his own weeping eyes. Then he apologised for not showing yesterday. 'I thought it best...' Best to let the family have the day to themselves.
'It's okay,' JR said, glancing at the headstone. 'I guess every year will get easier, won't it?'
He sounded like he was pleading with Coren to agree. 'So they say,' Coren said, because he hoped so too. Hoped both the guilt and the grief would settle. After a moment's silence, he said, 'so others can't see you?'
JR shook his head.
'Then why can I?' Guilt?
JR cracked one of his mischievous grins. 'We were lovers, Coren. We had a special attachment.'
Coren snorted. 'Not sure seeing each other naked counts.'
He was rewarded with a content smile.
'God, I miss you, JR,' he said with a sigh, and the smile wavered slightly.
'I miss you too,' JR responded. 'You'll come again, won't you? On this day? Our day?'
'Yes,' Coren agreed before he could really think about it. Then, 'how do you know the days? Do you remember everything?'
JR shrugged. 'Yeah, I guess. I don't know, but family en masse means either yesterday or my birthday.' Another shrug. 'They weren't singing to me yesterday.' He shook his tousled head. 'I don't know, Coren. This is just weird.'
'And you can't move far from here, you said.'
'No. I tried once when my brother was here. He couldn't see or hear me though I was yelling and jumping up and down.' He pointed to the other side of the path Coren stood on. 'I got to about there and couldn't go any further. It was like there was a wall. I felt like a mime!'
Coren swallowed the urge to chuckle, even as his eyes filled.
'Maybe you'll get a blade.'
'Huh?' Coren was totally off guard.
JR pointed at his leg. 'Instead of a prosthetic. A blade like those athletes get.'
Coren barely followed JR's massive change of tact. 'Um, yeah.' His doctors and specialists hadn't mentioned such a thing, and he'd never really thought about it. Right now he liked to pretend he was quite whole. He shifted, looked at his watch and then hurriedly up, hoping JR hadn't seen him do so. He didn't want him to think he didn't want to be here, especially since he actually did. Grief and guilt aside, it felt almost normal to be seeing and talking to his dead partner. You tell anyone about this, his common sense said, and they'll give you a cocktail of drugs to cure you.
JR had turned back to the grave, jerked when Coren murmured his full Christian name. He looked up to see Coren battling a grin. 'What?'
'I might have liked calling that out,' Coren said.
He received a poked-out tongue in response, and swallowed back another stab of grief. He nodded at the flowers. 'Pretty obvious which bunch the gay boy brought, right?'
JR snorted, and the dimple showed briefly in his left cheek. 'They're my favourite.'
'What's the fascination with them, JR?'
JR turned, look hurt for a second. 'You don't remember?'
Coren felt panicked a second. Crap, what had he forgotten?
'Well, maybe I should let you off,' JR said. 'You were nursing a black eye at the time.'
'Hunh,' Coren got out. 'You mean that time you elbowed me in the eye?'
'I mean that time you bowled me over on the footpath, ruined a whole bunch of flower bouquets and I accidentally elbowed you in the eye when we hit the ground,' JR expanded. 'The only bouquet not destroyed was the gerbera one.' He gave a funny little smile. 'I took it as a sign when you picked it up off the ground and handed it to me.'
Coren gave a shake of his head, tried to stifle the grin as he remembered the first time they'd met. He'd certainly made a spectacle of himself that day. 'Yeah, well,' he said.
'So they're my favourite,' JR said. 'You'll bring them again, right? The wreaths are quite depressing.'
Coren glanced down. The wreaths were beautifully made - ivy twisted around a wooden hoop, white lillies tucked in, a couple of white roses too. JR was right though, they did feel a bit depressing. 'Yeah, I'll keep bringing the crazy colours.'
'Alright there, kiddo?'
Coren jerked, spun on his good leg. His dad was just topping the hill, using the crutch like a trekking stick. 'Uh.' Coren swallowed, glanced at JR who stood looking a cross between scared and curious. He looked at his watch; the half hour was well passed. 'Sorry, dad, I was just talking to JR. I lost track of time.'
By his father's expression and actions, Coren knew he didn't see JR standing beside him. On the one hand that brought out his grief all the more, on the other he felt pleased he could keep JR to himself. He swallowed the lump. 'Lots to say, you know?'
'No doubt,' Mr Lawson said, with a brief smile.
He held out the crutch and Coren took it, glad to rest part of his weight on the crutch. He hadn't stood so long without it in ages and his right leg ached. He heard JR give a little cry - of shock or pain he couldn't quite decipher. When he looked at JR though the expression was clear - grief. 'I love you, JR,' he said, round a jagged lump.
He felt his father squeeze his elbow, a tiny glimmer of comfort.
'I love you,' JR responded.
'I think it's time to go, Coren,' Mr Lawson said quietly. 'I can feel you shaking.'
'I don't want to, dad,' Coren mumbled.
'I shouldn't have let you come today, I knew it'd be too much.'
'It's not too much,' Coren cried, but didn't pull from his father's grasp. 'Coming here will never be too much, not after what I did.'
'Coren, it wasn't your fault,' JR cried. 'Please, stop thinking it was.'
'But it was!' Coren told him hoarsely. 'I was driving, I was...'
'Don't make me try to elbow your eye,' JR growled.
'Coren, you're over-tired,' his father said, concerned. 'Let's go. You can come back another day, when you're stronger. JR won't mind if you don't show for a while.'
One look at JR told Coren that he'd mind terribly, even as he tried to look calm about it.
'You... you should go, Coren,' JR whispered, tried to keep his voice steady. 'Even I can see you're shaking. I couldn't stand for you to collapse here.' He drew himself up. 'Just promise you'll come back next year. I'll cope with that.'
'I'll be here next year,' Coren whispered. 'I'll bring more gerberas. Maybe I'll even have a blade.'
The dimple flashed into view for a second. 'I'd like to see it,' he said. 'But you should go now, before your father worries about your state of mind. He can't hear my side of our conversation.'
Coren's eyes filled as reality kicked back in. His beloved JR was simply a ghost, more likely just a figment of his grieving imagination. His father probably had right to look so concerned. JR shifted so he stood out of the way, behind his grave stone. He managed a smile, though it hurt. 'I'll see you again,' he said.
Coren nodded. 'I love you.'
JR responded with a blown kiss and then Coren jerked, almost fell as he stumbled. JR had disappeared. Coren nearly called out his name, just managed to stop himself.
'Come on, son,' Mr Lawson said softly, 'I think you could do with a wee dram of whiskey.'
Coren drew in a stabilising breath but 'y-yeah' still came out with a stammer. He didn't look back as he let his father guide him away from JR's grave and the riot of colour he'd delivered.
Written for "The LGBT Writing Contest - reopens 2021" , round two (16-31 May 2014), prompt 3: Flowers
Word Count: 2439
A related story is "After the Crash" .