Home > The Proposition: The Ferro Family(2)

The Proposition: The Ferro Family(2)
Author: H.M. Ward

I nod because my words will be too sharp and he’s trying to be kind to me. I see it in his eyes. “I’ll unpack, Neil. I just don’t feel like it right now.” My butt has been glued to this recliner for the past seven days. I don’t watch television, play on my phone, tweet, or do anything except stare out the window. I need down time, away from everything and everyone. It makes my life more bearable.

Neil sighs and shakes his head. “I wish I could make you happy.”

“You do.” The lack of emotion in my voice is noticeable, even though I try to convey some. I just don’t have it in me right now.

Neil shakes his head, and walks over to the recliner where I’m sitting. He crouches before me and tilts his head to catch my eye. My gaze had been unfocused, staring at the wall, until he did that. “It’s been a week and you’ve barely moved from this chair.”

“I know.” But I haven’t cried or completely lost my mind. I want to tell him that, but I don’t because he’ll know that I’m a lot more banged up inside than he thinks.

“Hallie, I bought you something. I wasn’t going to say anything until we got there, but I know how much it matters to you.” Neil looks awkward as he says it, his dark eyes shifting away from mine.

What could he possibly buy me? I don’t want anything that’s remotely attainable and Neil’s strapped, so it’s not like he could go throw around his millions and fix everything. He has enough to keep his head above water and that’s about it.

“Oh?” I try to be polite.

He nods and smiles up at me, taking both my hands in his. “Yes, it’s kind of an odd gift, but I know how much it matters to you, so I bought a plot at the cemetery. I know you wanted a grave for your father. They transferred the body already and finished the headstone today. He should be there now, if you want to go and look.”

“Is that why his ashes weren’t ready?” I sniff once, hard.

He nods. “Yeah, baby. I thought you needed a place to mourn.”

The corners of my lips pull up and falter. “I don’t know how to react. I wanted…” my voice quivers and I snap my mouth shut. Neil nods like he knows. I lean forward and throw my arms around him.

He got me out of the chair.


On the way to the cemetery, Neil turns on talk radio. He listens to weird stuff—well, stations that I think are weird (nonstop POTUS anyone?)—and right then it’s women’s programming. They’re discussing some new book that they couldn’t get enough of. It’s evocative and filled with steamy sex, enough to curl the announcer’s toes, or so she says.

Neil reaches forward and turns it off. “Great. More literary trash. Just what the world needs.”

I nod absentmindedly and draw lines on the steamy window, which is probably driving Neil nuts, but he doesn’t say anything. The sky looks like it’s about to open up. Big gray clouds completely block the sun and there are no blue scraps of sky showing. It’s getting dark, fast. Neil leans forward toward the windshield. “This trip might have to be a quick one, Hallie.”

I nod slowly as the car turns into the cemetery. The grass is bright green and seems to go on forever. There are too many perfectly straight rows to count. Alphanumeric codes are nailed onto trees on little plastic squares, directing us through the mass of graves and around to the newer section in the back.

Neil stops next to a headstone with my last name spelled out in large letters: RAYMOND.

My stomach sinks. Seeing your last name on a tombstone does things to a person. Normal people don’t think about their mortality or death, but seeing something like that makes you ponder it. Add in the freshly turned earth and I feel sick. Mentally, I scold myself. This is what I wanted for Dad. I wanted to lay him to rest here, but I couldn’t afford it. Neil has given the most generous gift imaginable and I’m afraid to get out of the car. I take a deep breath, worried that Neil is going to rush me, but he says nothing. After turning off the engine, he pockets his keys and waits for me.

My phone chimes with Maggie’s ringtone. Maggie Chichilad is my best friend, and has been trying to get a hold of me all day. For the past week, she’s tried to take me out every night and every night I’ve declined. I can’t bear to talk to her now, so I get out and slam the door behind me to seal in the sound.

One thing at a time Hallie. You can do this.

Although I walk next to Neil, I feel alone. It doesn’t matter that we’ve been dating for years or that he knows me inside out. Everyone handles death alone. A shoulder to cry on is nice once I accept the inevitable, but I don’t want to accept this. I can’t believe Dad is gone. Every day passes like the one before, with me sitting on that chair, hoping that this whole thing was just some horrible mistake. No, Hallie, that wasn’t your dad on the lawn, he’s fine. We all laugh and go inside the house that he still owns. I still have a place to rest my head. My memories still echo in the halls of that house, loud and clear, because I have a home if only in my mind.

So I sit and stare at nothing, day after day, waiting to understand a divine joke that I cannot possibly perceive, because no matter what the truth is, it’s too hard to accept. There’s no way that Dad would have left me like this, not after everything I’d been through before he adopted me. Ghosts from that time of my life had fallen silent, but now they’re stretching their claws and crawling out from between every mental crevice in my mind. The past and the present blur together in a wash of apathy and agony. Numbness consumes me until I don’t feel anything at all.

So it surprises me that my nose registers the crisp air and that my skin feels the slick wet drops that fall from the frozen heavens and splatter on my cheeks. As I step toward the fresh grave, I wish that we could have given him a burial, that I could have saved him from being abandoned and forgotten. But I couldn’t. And if it weren’t for Neil, Dad wouldn’t be here at all.

Reaching for Neil’s hand, I tangle our fingers together and swallow the lump in my throat. “I’ll pay you back for this.” I know how much it cost, how much he spent. Before this happened, I thought funerals were a part of life, that everyone had one. It wasn’t until I was the only surviving heir that I learned the reality of the situation.

Neil squeezes my hand. I feel his eyes on the side of my face. “Don’t even think about that, Hallie. I wish I could have done more, but this wiped me out. We’re going to be eating hot dogs for a while.”

“I’d eat dirt if I had to.”

“Well that’s good, because there’s probably a lot of dirt in the cheap wieners.” He leans in and kisses me on the cheek. “I’ll give you a minute. Come back to the car when you’re ready.” Neil walks away, leaving me staring at my father’s new home.

The wind picks up and blows the little jagged crystals of precipitation harder. Each drop feels like a tiny razor as it hits my skin. I have no idea how long I stand there. It feels too long, but not hardly long enough. I stare at Dad’s headstone and try to accept that this is where he’ll be from now on. I’ve not given much thought to an afterlife, but even if there is one, it still means that I’m here by myself for a while. I shudder and hold my arms around my middle, hoping that Dad isn’t really in the cold ground, all alone. I couldn’t bear that, and yet, I have to.

His voice echoes in my ears like a distant song. He’d tell me not to stand here and weep. He’d tell me things that would make me smile and tell me that we could get through anything. And that’s the problem—the eradication of ‘we.’ With him, nothing could stop me. I planned to take the world by storm and achieve awesome things. But on my own, I have no idea how weak I am or how fast I will fade into nothing.

At that moment, I have no future. There’s no picture of the life ahead of me or what I will become. My future has been wiped clean and I have to begin again.


I lay next to Neil, facing away from him. We haven’t been together since before the funeral. Sex doesn’t sound appealing right now, and I don’t really care why I feel that way. My assumption has been that I’ll feel like it when I’m ready.

Neil hasn’t pressured me, but I know things can’t stay like this. He scoots up behind me in the bed, pressing his body against mine, and whispers in my ear, “It’s Friday.”

Friday is our sex day. Neither of us has to be anywhere in the morning and so it was dubbed as the most logical day of the week to be together. It’s not romantic, but I don’t mind. Actually, I had liked that it was time for just the two of us, no matter what was going on. Since Neil likes to plan everything, it’s a double bonus for him. Sometimes he plans things, little romantic gestures, and I can tell that he’s been thinking about being with me for days. It’s sweet, really. Maybe it’s a little OCD, but since I tend to fly by the seat of my pants, it works. Neil brings order to my chaos.

His breath hits my ear in a warm wave. “I don’t want to pressure you, but sometimes the best way to get on with life is to resume your regular activities. We could try it, Hallie.” He strokes the hair away from my face so he can see me better.

I don’t feel like being with him right now, but I don’t really feel anything. Maybe it’s not a bad idea. Relationships are give and take, and besides, I can’t leave Neil alone forever. He was there for me and I need to be there for him.

Saying nothing, I roll over to face him. It’s nonverbal permission for him to proceed. Neil strips me silently, but I feel more like a patient than his lover. He says sweet things as his hands rove over my body and he covers me in kisses, before settling between my legs. Rocking slowly, Neil does what he always does.

My body responds, I’m wet, but I don’t feel anything. I know he’s there and touching me. The sensation of his hands on my bare skin registers, but that’s all it does. So, I stare blankly and look away, wishing that I could lose myself and become so overrun with lusty thoughts that my mind would pull out of this eternal nosedive.

Although Neil does the right things, and touches the right places, my body doesn’t flare to life. It’s not enough to pull my mind back from the dark places that consume my soul. Neil’s body is slick as he develops a rhythm, slamming into me over and over again, finally tensing as he comes. I hold onto him tight and stare into the darkness, wondering if he can pull me back from the abyss.

I’m sinking, I can’t feel anything, and I know that it’s getting worse. Apathy is taking hold and I can’t shake it off. Neil kisses my cheek and gets up from the bed. A second later the shower turns on. He’ll expect me to join him, but I don’t move.

I lay there feeling the same as before—nothing.


Sleep doesn’t come easily, but when it does I’m sucked into the past. Bryan’s strong arms are around me, his voice whispers sweetly in my ear as he does things to me that make me forget myself. Those hot lips press a trail of kisses down the back of my neck. His voice isn’t an echo, it’s real. For a few hours I’m lost in the past, doing things that I haven’t done since. Bryan’s mouth is hot and moist, making my body rage with lust.

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