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The Beginning After by Kiersten Modglin (14)

Fifteen

PEIGHTON

Peighton sat at the laptop she’d only recently gotten back from the police. It came with the news that Todd’s death had been ruled an accident, no foul play involved. For some strange reason, that seemed to make this all worse for her. Her husband’s death was caused by something as simple as a bit of clumsiness. Her life, her son’s life, everything was ruined all because their house had too many stairs. She stared at the picture on his desktop, the three of them around the Christmas tree, as she moved the mouse around mindlessly, drawing boxes around their faces. They’d been happy that day. She wondered if she’d ever be that happy again.

She pulled her cellphone out of her pants pocket, dialing Frank’s number. He answered on the second ring.

“Yeah?” he said, the same way he’d always answered the phone.

“How is he?” she asked.

“He’s not here right now, but he’s fine. Taken care of, I mean, not fine. He will be though.”

“Where is he?”

“He’s out, Peight. It’s not even seven o’clock. He’s hanging out with his friends. He’ll come home.”

“Home?”

“He’ll come back to my place,” he corrected.

“You can’t let him stay out too late, Frank. He’s in a bad place. He’s vulnerable right now.”

“I know that.”

“I just don’t want him to get mixed up with the wrong crowd.”

“He’s a smart kid, Peighton. He’s going to be fine.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

“When do you think he’ll come home?”

“He just needs time. He’s lost his father and the perfect image he had of his mother. He needs something solid in his life right now. Something stable.”

“You’re stable?” She half-laughed.

“I’m the best we got, babe.” He chuckled. “We’re all in trouble.”

The line was silent for a moment before she spoke again. “Do you miss him?”

“He’s only been gone a few hours,” he joked. When she didn’t respond, he answered again. “Every day.”

“Me too,” she said softly, trying not to cry.

“I know,” he told her.

“I don’t know where I’m supposed to go from here, Frank.”

“I wish I had the answers, Peight. We’re all just figuring it out as we go, you know?”

“I miss having you here.”

“I just…I just can’t be there for you right now. Not like you need me to be. You know you can count on me for the big stuff, but in the day to day, I’m…” he stopped, and she heard him take a sharp breath. When he spoke again, she could hear the tears in his voice. “He was my best friend, Peighton. My best friend. More than that, Todd was family. He was all I had. I know you loved him, but I loved him too. And I’m trying to pick myself up right now, same as you.”

She let her tears fall again, staying on the line and listening to Frank’s distressed breathing. “You’re all the family I have left.”

“I just need time.”

When the line went dead, she placed her phone down. There was a knock on the door and she jumped up, hoping for just a second it would be the one person she knew it wasn’t. She rushed out of his office, into the living room, and swung open the door.

“Alexis?” she asked, staring at her friend. She held up a casserole, smiling wildly.

“Hi! How are you?” Alexis asked, allowing Peighton to wrap her in a hug as she held the casserole dish to her side.

“I’m okay. What are you doing here? It’s so good to see you.” Peighton shut the door behind her, taking the dish. “You didn’t have to do this.”

“I know,” Alexis said, “I meant to bring it by so much sooner, but it’s just been so crazy. I feel terrible I haven’t been to visit you since, well…since everything. I planned to come by, I really did.”

“Life happens,” Peighton dismissed her apology. “Come on in, sit down. I’m going to stick this in the fridge. It smells amazing.”

Alexis nodded. “It’s chicken, broccoli, and cheese casserole. I remembered you liked it when I brought it for the potluck.”

“Thank you so much,” Peighton said, disappearing into the kitchen for a moment. When she returned, Alexis had sat down on the couch. She patted the seat beside of her, inviting Peighton to sit down. Peighton did. “I’m just so happy to see you. It feels like it’s been a lifetime.”

“I know,” Alexis said. “How are things? How’s Kyle?”

“He’s okay. We’re…okay,” she said. “It’s been tough.” Alexis nodded, urging her to go on. “It’s just strange, you know? Not having him here. It’s the funniest things that get to me. Like, I can’t throw away his soap. It’s still sitting in the shower. Kyle hates the smell of it, so it’ll never get used, but I can’t bring myself to throw it out.”

“There’s no rush,” Alexis said. “You have to do it in your own time.”

“I just feel like it’s been so long and yet, I can’t believe it’s been almost a month since I heard his voice. How is that even possible?”

“Have you heard anything else from the police?”

“The investigation’s closed. It was ruled an accident.”

“That’s a good thing, right?” Alexis asked, reading the look on her friend’s face. “I mean, not a good thing, but better than the alternative.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I mean, I’m glad it’s nothing else. I feel safer knowing that. I don’t know, Lex, it just doesn’t feel finished, you know? I feel like there has to be something else, some other reason he died. Not just because…because he missed a step.” She tried to make her thoughts make sense, though she wasn’t sure if it was working.

“Sometimes there isn’t a reason, Peight. Sometimes…sometimes the world just sucks, you know?”

Peighton nodded. She wiped a stray tear from her cheek, thinking it seemed like she’d been crying for weeks on end. “Enough about me, how are things with you?”

“Actually, that’s part of the reason I’m here,” she said apprehensively.

“What? Are you pregnant again?”

Alexis let out a nervous laugh. “Oh my god, don’t you dare jinx me. No! I’m—” she suddenly looked very serious. “I’m starting a new job.”

Peighton’s face fell, though she hadn’t consciously meant it to. “Oh.”

“I didn’t know how to go about telling you. I mean, I wish I didn’t have to find something else, I know it must seem like this is too fast. I would’ve never left if it wasn’t for…all of this.”

“No,” Peighton assured her, “of course. You have to find something else. I expected it. You have to take care of your family. I couldn’t expect you to wait around with no money coming in. I’m happy for you,” she said.

“Thank you, but I know this has to be hard on you.”

“It is. I don’t want anything to change, but I know it has to.” Peighton smiled at her, refusing to let any more tears fall. “I really am happy for you though. I’m going to miss you.”

“It’s not like I’ll be far away, you know? We’ll still see each other. I hate it though. I really hate starting over. You and Todd, well, you were the best bosses I’ve ever had.”

“You’ll do great, Lex. Todd was so proud of everything you did with us.”

“Todd was very special to me.” She smiled, her voice cracking slightly. “I’ll never forget everything you guys did for me.”

“Here we go again.” Peighton laughed as they both began to cry. “Why are we sad? We should be celebrating. Would you like some wine?”

“Oh, that’s all right. I need to be heading home here soon. I just wanted to drop that off and tell you the news.”

Peighton hugged her friend again. “I’m so glad you came by. I forgot to ask where you’re going to be working.”

“Actually, I’ll be working at Channel 16.”

“The news station? Oh, that’s incredible!”

“I’m really excited about it,” she said. “It’ll mean good money and great experience for my resume.”

“I’m so proud of you. I wish you so much luck.”

Alexis stood up, walking toward the door. “Well, enjoy that casserole.”

“I will,” Peighton said. “Thank you again for bringing it by. Stop by again when you have more time. I want to hear all about the new job.”

“I will,” Alexis promised. “Take care of yourself, Peighton.”

She walked out the door, leaving Peighton alone to ponder just another piece of her life that was being torn from her.

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