I couldn’t remember the last time I’d cried as much as I did when I got back home.
I finally crawled out from under my duvet to go to the bathroom and was then thrown into another wave of tears when I caught sight of my sorry self in the mirror. I looked like a mess. My black curls looked wild and tattered, my mascara was halfway down my cheeks, and my nose was so red it could’ve rivalled Rudolf.
After I cried the second time, I went back to the bathroom mirror and attempted to make myself look human again. I’d like to think that when Mum and Nick got home, they couldn’t tell I’d been crying for the past hour. The minute they walked back through the door, my defences were up again and I was back to being the cold-hearted Lily I’d been for the past few years.
Nick didn’t even say anything to me for the rest of the evening. He went upstairs, slamming his bedroom door shut. I sat on the sofa with Mum for a while, but the awkward silence that hung between us was too deafening. I got up and walked out of the room, heading to bed.
I was blissfully unaware of anything in the few moments after I awoke on Christmas Eve. Then it all came rushing back. December 24th. The anniversary of my dad’s death. The events of the night before also came flooding back to me, making me want to bury my face into the pillow and not leave my bedroom. But of course, I couldn’t do that, not today. There was no avoiding the trip to the cemetery that I would have to face.
I finally got up and checked my phone. There were no messages from Noah. Not that I had any right to expect him to message me. I hadn’t exactly been a basket of roses yesterday. Letting out a defeated sigh, I pulled on some clothes and made my way downstairs.
Straight away, I could tell that Mum had been crying. Her eyes were rimmed red. I was used to it on Christmas Eve by now. She still managed to put a smile on her face when I walked into the kitchen. I saw Nick making coffee; he didn’t even look at me when I walked into the room. I could smell the huge bunch of flowers on the kitchen table.
We ate breakfast in silence, the flowers a grim reminder of what today meant for us. Children everywhere would wake up feeling nothing but excitement. I got to wake up filled with dread.
I hid in my room for the majority of the day. I kept checking my phone and then dialling Noah’s number. I never once actually called him. He was always here for me on Christmas Eve, always waiting for me when I got back from the cemetery. I had a feeling that wouldn’t be the case this time, and I couldn’t blame him.
When 4pm rolled around, I dragged myself downstairs and climbed into the car. Nick sat in the front with Mum, holding the flowers. We parked outside the gates and weaved our way through the graves until we reached the looming tree at the back of the grounds. I looked at the gold lettering of the headstone in front of me. Daniel Peters, loving father and husband.
I always hoped it would hurt a little less every time I saw it, but it never did. The hurt always felt as fresh as it did the day he died. It had been the worst day of my life. Imagine having to wake up on Christmas morning, knowing that you were never going to see your father again. That was my Christmas, and had been ever since. A Christmas gone very, very wrong.
Nick handed the flowers to Mum and she placed them down on the ground. Instead of saying something to the grave, like she normally did, she turned to me.
“I’m sorry you feel like you can’t remember the happy times,” she said. “I hope one day you can remember the good things about his life, instead of just the end of it.”
I knew that this was supposed to be the time to fling myself into Mum’s arms and apologise for my attitude, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead, the three of us stood in silence, looking at Dad’s name.
As we walked back to the car, I slowed down to walk in step with Mum. “I’ll try harder next year,” I promised her. “I really will.”
She gave me a weak smile. She didn’t believe I would. I didn’t even believe I would. Next year was going to be just as hard as this one.
We drove back to the house in silence. I looked across the road at Noah’s house as I got out of the car. The lights were on in the dining room. He was probably eating dinner with his family by now.
I saw Mum walk towards our front door and go inside. Then I realised that Nick was still standing by the car, watching me.
“Noah really cares about you,” he said, crossing his arms and leaning against the car. “He’s tried his best to make this Christmas a little less unhappy for you.”
I put my head down, staring at the floor. “I know he has,” I mumbled.
“You should be grateful to have someone like him. You’re not exactly the easiest person to get along with.”
“I’m not,” I agreed. “You know that better than anyone.”
“Dad dying shouldn’t have pulled us apart as a family, Lily,” said Nick sternly. “It should have brought us closer together and made us realise that we shouldn’t take each other for granted. You never know what the future is going to hold, so you need to make the most of everything you have right now. You know, Dad would hate the idea that we couldn’t ever be happy without him here.”
I looked up at him. He was right, of course. He was my older brother, always looking out for me, and I repay him by acting like a brat.
“I’m sorry, Nick,” I said, trying to swallow down the lump that I could feel forming in my throat. “I don’t mean to act the way I do, but I just miss him so much. I don’t know how to live a life that doesn’t include him.”
Nick came over to hug me and that’s when I started crying again. It felt like I wouldn’t ever stop. I don’t know how long we stood there in the cold whilst I cried, but Nick eventually stepped back.
“I think we need some of Mum’s famous hot chocolate round about now,” he said.
I nodded in agreement and we walked up the driveway together. I glanced back at Noah’s house one last time before I closed the door behind me.