This chapter turned me into a mess. A sobbing mess more so than any other chapter I’ve ever written. So just be prepared when you read this, it may be bad for you as well. Also, again, I used google translate for the French.
It had been a long evening. After gettin’ to the hospital, the staff tried to stabilize Henri but nothing they could do was working. Dr. Laroche (and myself though I had no say in it) wanted them to keep tryin’ but Henri said no, if he was going out then he wasn’t going to go all hooked up to the machines. I texted my family to let them know what was going on and they showed up at one point, as well as some of the staff that knew Henri. But eventually Henri started driftin’ in and out of sleep so it was just him, Dr. Laroche, and me.
Hen’s breathing was a bit labored but other than that, he seemed to be sleeping decently. I wanted to hold his hand but didn’t want to wake him up. What if he doesn’t wake up at all…? Theoretically we still had time… he wasn’t quite nineteen… I still had to hold onto that tiny shred of hope.
“Thank you for staying with us.” Dr. Laroche’s voice broke the silence that had stretched on for ten minutes. I looked across the bed at him but he was just looking at Henri.
“Thank you for letting me stay,” I replied, twisting my hands in my lap.
“Not many would be willing to go through with this. When Christelle–my wife–revealed her illness many of her… ah, colleagues… ah… friends abandoned her side. Henri did not have many friends when we lived there. I am grateful… for you. Mon fils, je suis désolé.” He reached down and very gently touched Hen’s arm under the blanket.
Hen stirred at that and slowly opened his eyes. “Ce…. n’est pas grave, papa….” He stirred some more and carefully pulled his arm out from under the blanket to put his hand on Dr. Laroche’s hand. “Je sais… que vous avez… essayé… de votre mieux…. Je… vous… remercie… pour avoir travaillé si dur.”
“Je–” Dr. Laroche began but Henri grunted.
“Non, ne… le font pas. Serenity… Sen…” Henri looked over at me. I had been crying so much already that there were just no more tears left. He pulled his other hand out from under the blanket and I quickly took it. “Mon amour… ne pleure pas… no tears… no crying…” His hand shifted and I figured he was trying to squeeze it. He had no strength left. “Remember… what I said when… you asked me to… marry you…?”
Dr. Laroche finally looked at me, and I bowed my head. It had been just after my eighteenth birthday. I proposed to him, telling him I’d take care of the rings and we could just get someone to marry us in his room so he wouldn’t have to spend any energy. And I wasn’t expecting a honeymoon. “I remember,” I mumbled, going red now. He had said no. That he didn’t want to make me a widow before I was twenty. That the love we had for each other was as good as any ring or official paper. But if there was a ring, he was worried it would make it harder for me to ease out of the grief.
“And the… promise… ages ago… about… Titanic…”
I snorted and managed a smile. “Yeah, you promised.”
“I did. No Jack.” He moved his thumb a bit. “And you… promised too…”
“I promise.” I nodded my head and put my other hand on his. “I will do my b-best to keep it, Hen. I… I’ll try…”
“Please… please do…” He broke off into some coughs and then whimpered in pain. “Papa…” He turned his head again. “Papa, p… promets-moi, vous… serez heureux… aussi… un jour. Ne… ne vous perdez pas dans la tristesse.”
“Vous êtes comme votre mère,” Dr. Laroche said with a small smile. “I promised her, I will do… I will try for you both…”
“Good.” Henri closed his eyes and for a moment I thought he was asleep again, but he opened his eyes and moved the hand that was holding mine. “My life… would have… sucked… without you… Thank you… for giving me… so much happiness… with what I had… left…”
I could barely speak. I wasn’t sure if he could hear me as I said, “Thank you for the same, Henri… I love you…”
“Toujours être le vôtre…” he whispered. “Mère… Mère…. Papa… Elle est belle… aussi belle que… Sen…” He gasped in some air and then stared at the foot of his bed with wide eyes. “Mama… bonjour…”
Henri fell back into sleep. Dr. Laroche and I held his hands as the minutes ticked away. Six passed, and then his breathing stopped.
“Je n’ai pas réussi…” Dr. Laroche choked and then clutched the blanket, sobbing. “Je n’ai pas réussi!”
Hen is gone…
“Je suis perdu! J’ai tout perdu!”
How can he be gone…?
“Il ne reste plus rien!”
I slid out of my seat and went over, putting my arms around Dr. Laroche. He twisted and put his arms around me, clinging, crying into my shoulder. I clutched him tightly, my own tears soaking into his shirt.
“I couldn’t save him,” Dr. Laroche croaked into my shoulder. “I’m sorry, Serenity. Christelle. Henri. Henri… mon fils… je… mon fils… mon fils…”
He couldn’t speak any longer, and just cried. My body shook once, twice, and then I was crying harder. Then someone was screaming, a high-pitched wailing that hurt my ears even after I realized it was me. Dr. Laroche kept holding onto me tightly, repeating ‘mon fils’ over and over, while I started screeching ‘no’ over and over. We just kept holding each other as a nurse showed up to see what was going on then went to get someone.
By the time anyone else had shown up, the Grim Reaper had come and then gone. I wanted to scream and beg but I knew the specter paid no heed to the living. There was nothing to do, as now Henri was with him. My Henri was gone.
For two days I barely slept and barely ate. I had no appetite, but managed to get down some food when Mom made me. I felt sick afterwards and twice threw up. What little sleep I did get was spent in horror, full of nightmares and full of the grief that plagued me during the waking hours. I often just sat on my bed, hugging my pillow and tryin’ to just remember the good times I had with Henri but it was hard, it was so hard. It just kept remindin’ me he was gone, we’d never have another happy moment again. We were eighteen, and it was over.
After the two days of living hell, Dr. Laroche showed up at our house. He was takin’ Henri’s remains back to France and said he would pay for a round-trip ticket for me and one of my parents, as well as paying for a place for us to stay when we got there. After he said this, I felt panicked that my daddies would say no. I broke down in tears, begging them to let me go, to let me say goodbye one more time.
Both my dads put their arms tightly around me. “Of course you can go,” Dad whispered, and Mom said he’d go along as well.
You always said we should go to France one day, I thought as I sat back in the plane seat. My first real trip, my first trip in a plane… and it was to bury my boyfriend. My lover. Mon amour. You remember what you said when we talked about this? I stared out the window, my fingers curling. I wanted so bad for Hen to be sitting next to me, smilin’ and laughing, assuring me everything was fine. When we had talked about this trip I always said I’d be too scared to fly. There’s just no room for fear right now, I thought, looking away from the window. There’s no room for anything but the overwhelming grief.
I did sleep on and off during the flight and when we got to the hotel, I fell asleep right away and slept for a long time. Mom said he was glad to see me finally sleeping but I just complained. I didn’t want to sleep, I wanted to see France. I wanted to see the places of Henri’s childhood. He had lived a lot longer in Sunset Valley than he did here, but this was still his birth place.
“It’s so beautiful here,” Mom said as we walked through the marketplace. “Maybe we should all come back here for a visit, with your brothers and sisters.”
“I don’t want to come back here,” I said, looking into the window of an old bookshop. “Not without Henri. So this can only ever be the only time.”
Henri had been cremated which threw me into more depression, the thought of his body being… But I respected Dr. Laroche’s decision and when the day for the memorial came, I found it easier to deal with having an urn instead of a coffin to think about. I met the rest of Henri’s family and they all gave me hugs and kisses on the cheek, and they all thanked me for being so good to Henri. I just smiled tightly back and stammered in bad French that it was good to finally meet them all even if it was under such sad circumstances. I think I actually said something about delicate goat legs, but I’m not sure. They were able to figure out what I was trying to say.
Henri was put next to his mother’s remains in the family mausoleum. I had brought two bunches of flowers and place one on Henri’s grave, and the other on Christelle’s grave. I tried to say goodbye to Henri but couldn’t, I just broke down and fell into my maternal daddy’s arms, cryin’ into his chest.
The last day in France was spent looking around. Mom wanted to stay in the room so I didn’t have to deal with anything but I wanted to go out. I had to see one more thing. The Petit Nectary. I had already met Edouard Petit, his mother’s father and from whom he got his hair color from, and Mr. (or would it be mons…our…?) Petit gave us a tour and even gave us a couple bottles of his best nectar, as a gift. That night I slept soundly, as I tried alcohol for the first time and went through most of one of the bottles. Mom had a couple glasses but let me drink what I wanted.
In the morning, we met up with Dr. Laroche for breakfast even though none of us really ate. I wasn’t hungry, Dr. Laroche didn’t seem to be hungry, so Mom didn’t order much since he didn’t want to be the only one eating. Afterwards, we walked through the marketplace and chatted a bit.
“I won’t be returning to Sunset Valley,” he said distantly. “I’ve sent for all my things. I am going to stay here, and continue studying the illness. Maybe one day I can save someone else’s son or wife, or husband, or daughter. But if you ever come to France again, please contact me and we can go out to dinner or… or something…”
“Thank you for letting us be here for the memorial,” Mom said.
“You’re as good as family,” Laroche answered. “I’m sure if my son hadn’t been so stubborn, we would have been in-laws.”
The conversation went on, but I stayed silent. Mom and Dr. Laroche talked a while and then it was time for us to go. I hugged Dr. Laroche tightly and promised to look him up if I ever visited again, though I knew I wouldn’t be coming back. After he and Mom said their goodbyes, Mom and I started to head to the airport but then I begged him to make a quick trip to the cemetery.
The taxi waited for us as I ran to the Laroche mausoleum. I fell to my knees by Henri’s urn and put my hands on the floor, near the flowers still fresh.
“This isn’t goodbye, you know,” I said, closing my eyes. “One day… we’ll see each other again. I do so love you, Henri. I don’t want to keep my promise… I can’t imagine ever loving another, I don’t want to. But even… even if I find another like you want me to, you’ll always be my one true love. I’ll never forget you, Henri. I love you.”
After a few tears hit the floor, I pushed myself to my feet and went over to Mom. “Let’s go,” I said shakily. We got back into the taxi and I just stared back at the mausoleum until it disappeared from view. Then I sank down in my seat, and I cried.