She stood up carefully, shut her eyes, and let out a slow breath through pursed lips. She imagined for a second that all her insides were steel. That’s what she had to be. For ten minutes, she had to be strong as steel. All she could think of was being strong for those ten minutes. After that—well, she wasn’t sure what existed past those ten minutes. For all she knew, she’d have to fight a dragon after those ten minutes, and strangely, that sounded like a breath of fresh air. She let out another slow breath, trying not to think of how much he would have appreciated that little joke. She stood up and headed towards the doors. A man in a dark suit was waiting there to escort her down the path. With a small nod, he walked just a half step behind her.
The walk only took eight minutes, a fact for which she was truly grateful. Two men in suits joined their little party as they exited the building, and escorted her down the walk, which kept the onlookers at bay. She kept her face as emotionless as possible. She started continuously at the ground about four feet in front of her, watching the men out of the corner of her eyes to see if anything changed in the people watching. But her lack of expression didn’t stop the cameras from rolling or the flashes going off or the people yelling from the crowds. She tried not to think about what the headlines over her face would read tomorrow. If she had her way, if she acted on impulse, she would turn and swear at them all, curse them for stepping on her grief, ask what kind of scum thought it was alright to pray on mourners—but that would just be playing into their hands. Already, they were enjoying vilifying her, she didn’t need to throw any more fuel on that fire.
But they finally made it to the Mausoleum. The crowds were held back as she entered. The door swung shut muffling the shouts. His wife, Shauna, that poor woman, came over and pulled Bess into a hug. “Thank you, for taking that, Bess. They all followed you. I got in unwatched.”
Bess gave her the best smile she could muster. “You’re welcome. And—thank you. For not believing a word those rags said about me and Tay.”
“No—I know,” Shauna started to tear up again, but she kept her smile, “You loved Taylor and he loved you. But it wasn’t like that. I know.” Shauna put a hand over her mouth for a second, and then let her arms drop back down to her sides. “Excuse me, for a moment, I’ve got—“ She made a vague gesture to some of the other mourners. Bess gave her a little encouraging nod, and Shauna headed back towards Taylor’s family.
And for a moment, Bess was adrift. She’d done everything she’d been asked to do—and now—well, now she didn’t know what to do. She took a very shaky breath glancing around to see if there was somewhere to hide if she started to fall apart at the seams. That’s when she saw him. Dean.
He made this whole thing seem truly and properly real, Dean did. He was Taylor’s best friend. The two of them almost spent more time together than Taylor and his wife. Dean had been the first to visit Bess in the hospital after the accident. He’d been the one to warn her that the tabloids were claiming that she and Taylor had been holding some torrid affair, which was why she was there during the accident that took his life. Dean was the first to say that he didn’t believe them, without a hint of hesitation. He’d been the one to suggest that Bess act as a decoy to get the press off Shauna’s back, and he’d told her again and again, he was here if she needs him-if she started to feel weak.
She’d always meant to never take him up on that. After all, didn’t he have his own grief to deal with without adding her grief on top of it? But he stood there watching her, in his suit instead of a t-shirt and jeans made all the more jarring by a complete lack of a smile on his face. She couldn’t remember the last time if ever, she’d seen him without a smile on his face.
Without realizing what she was doing, she stepped towards him, and at the same moment, he took a step towards her. They met somewhere in the middle. She crashed into his chest, her arms trapped between them, his arms tightening around her in a hug that she had a feeling was supposed to be equal parts comforting her and holding himself together. They didn’t cry. They didn’t say a word. They just stood there for a while, clinging to each other like the world would fall apart if they let go. So they didn’t let go.