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Gulab Jamun & Grief

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They didn’t know what had happened, but they were being released. Maggie had smiled and simply said “Kirsten”, as though that explained anything. It didn’t matter. He was free to go. The question was, where?

He lingered outside the building for a moment, torn between the loneliness of his empty apartment or going home to face his mother. Camille found him and nudged his shoulder, looking at the ground in front of them to give them an air of nonchalance. “Hey.” He nodded in response, a low hum in the back of his throat all he could say in greeting. “You can come back to my place if you want. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cameron’s going straight there to check on Kirsten. Maybe we can get the story out of her.” She met his eyes then, a soft smile on her face trying to lighten the mood. He wanted to give that to her - to smile back and go with her, spend the night hiding in the safety of what was essentially a second home for the Stitch team.

He couldn’t do it, though. He owed his mother better than that. “I’m sorry, I can’t. I’m gonna go see my mom…” His throat closed up, the sobs he’d been holding back for days trying once again to claw their way out.

Camille squeezed his arm, tears welling in her own eyes. “Give her my love. And if you need anything…”

He nodded - a bit too fast, reflexive rather than responsive. She elbowed him gently. “I mean it, don’t hesitate to call.” He met her eyes, holding her gaze for a long moment before nodding again, slower this time, deeper.

Camille nodded too, looking at him with a vulnerability that was so rare. Then she gently reached out a hand to the back of his neck, pulling him close, and pressed her lips to his temple. He closed his eyes, relaxing into her, feeling comfort flow from everywhere she was touching him. After a long moment, she pulled back, squeezing his hand one last time before walking away.

Camille woke up to the sound of her phone playing obnoxious dance music, and she groaned when she rolled over and noticed the sun was just starting to spread outside her window. She thought about letting it ring out - who calls this early anyway? - but then she recognized whose ringtone it was and reached blindly out for her phone, accidentally yanking the charger out of the wall in her haste.

“Hello?” she answers, trying to sound more awake than she is, and to keep the usual morning grump out of her tone.

“Hey,” Linus replies, and his voice is rough and raggedy. She can tell from his first word that he didn’t sleep, that he was up all night crying, finally getting a chance to grieve for his father. She’d barely slept herself - she was right, Cameron had been at the house when she’d gotten home, and Ivy too. Between catching up on how exactly Kirsten had mastermined their release and tossing and turning worrying about Linus, she’d drifted in and out of a fitful sleep. She wasn't sure what to say - she waited for him to continue, to set the tone of the conversation.

“Will you...come with me?” Her heart clenched at how much he sounded like a scared kid.

“Yeah,” she said, and she said it like of course. “I'll meet you at,” a pause - his parent's house was no longer accurate, but your mom's house just seemed to draw attention to the change - “home.”

“Thanks.” Camille knew he meant for more than just agreeing to come with.

She waited a moment, but the line stayed silent. “I’ll be over soon.” She hung up the phone when she heard him hmm in response. Tossing her phone on the bed, she went to her closet, rifling through for a few minutes before she realized she had nothing suitable for a cemetery. It’s not like she had any family of her own to mourn.

Shaking her head, she quickly crossed to Kirsten’s room, finding the door cracked and the room empty. She immediately began to rummage through the other woman’s closet, pulling out a long black dress, paired with her own black peacoat and leggings. She opted against makeup, choosing instead to head out and leave herself enough time to pick up coffee on the drive over.

She arrived at the Ahluwalia house half an hour later, smoothing out her dress and taking a deep breath before knocking on the door. Getti greeted her, bags under her eyes showing she’d barely slept since Camille last saw her, and Camille was setting the coffees down on the side table and wrapping Getti in a hug before the older woman even had a chance to greet her.

“I’m so sorry,” Camille said, her own voice breaking, holding on tighter when she felt the other woman start to shake in her arms. She rubbed her back, attempting to hold her own tears in, when Linus walked out from his room and spotted them. His lip was trembling, his eyes red and puffy, and Camille felt it like a punch to the gut. She was in love, and the man she was in love with was hurting. There could be no greater pain.

She pulled back from Getti, who turned around to see her son standing there, looking lost and adrift. Camille walked over to him, wrapping her arms around him now instead, her own tears wetting his shirt as he shook and sobbed into her shoulder. She held him tight, a safe harbour, a port of shore in his grief. She ran her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck, rubbed soothing circles on his back, and pressed kisses to his forehead and his temple and his hair as she waited for the sobs to subside. She felt more deeply loved than she ever could have imagined that she got to see him this vulnerable, this open.

He pulled himself together after a few minutes, meeting his mom's eyes with a watery smile. Camille gently brushed her thumb over his cheek, wiping away tears with a gentle touch. She leaned in then and kissed him, trying to say I love you with silent lips.

She stepped away, her hand trailing down his arm as she parted. “I brought coffee,” she said softly, something fragile in the muted quiet of the house. She picked up the coffee carrier, passing Getti and Linus each their drinks, downing the rest of hers as a way to calm her nerves.

“Thank you,” Getti said, holding the warm cup between her hands.

“Thank you. Let me just grab my jacket and we can go.” Linus ducked into his room, slipping on a suit jacket as he pulled the door shut behind him. She offered her hand and he took it, allowing her to lead them out to the Getti's car, the two of them settling in the back seat.

The drive to the cemetery was suffocatingly silent, the radio off and the engine too quiet to provide a soothing hum. Linus held Camille's hand in a death grip - like a lifeline, like a tether. She ran her thumb back and forth across the back of his hand, pressing herself in close to his side, eyes fixed on the window.

I should have brought flowers, she realized, but Linus and Getti didn’t have flowers, so she figured it was okay. She wasn’t good at this. She didn’t have any experience, but she was trying so hard to get the steps right, for Linus.

Getti navigated through the cemetery, stopping on the road a few rows over from a fresh grave, bouquets and wreaths covering the settled dirt. There was a temporary marker stuck near the head, a photo frame beside it. Time seemed to slow down around them, Camille keeping herself tucked into Linus’s side as he stared out the window at the grave, steeling himself to open the door and say goodbye to his father.

He took a deep breath, nodded to himself once, and then disentangled his arm from Camille, pulling open the door. He held it open for Camille before opening the driver’s door, offering his hand to his mom. Camille hung back by the car, watching them walk to the grave, giving them privacy. Linus had his arm wrapped around his mother, holding her steady, having a quiet conversation. She knew he’d be apologizing, for missing the service, for not being there; she wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to forgive himself, the guilt weighing heavy on his chest. The two of them stood there together in silence for Camille didn’t know how long, Camille leaning against the car in the heat of the jarringly bright day.

With one final hug to Linus and a kiss on his cheek, Getti turned to walk back to the car, eyes red and tears still gliding down her face. Camille greeted her again with a hug, whispering “I’m sorry,” again, all other words failing her. Getti pulled back and went to sit in the car to wait and to cry. Camille remained leaned against the outside, giving Linus a few minutes alone at the grave.

Camille could see the way he tried to hold himself taller, back straight and shoulders up. He was the man of the family now. He hadn’t even moved out a year ago, and now he had so much family responsibility to shoulder. It wasn’t fair. She’d learned a long time ago how cruel the world could be, but Linus didn’t deserve to have to face it like this, having everything go wrong at once.

Eventually, she walked over to stand beside him, hand brushing his as an offer. He laced their fingers together, squeezing her hand three times in gratitude. She stared at the temporary sign, Samir Ahluwalia and the dates written on it, and pondered what the headstone would say. She hoped it would include “Loving Father”, the strongest impression he’d made in her mind. He’d raised his son into a fine man, and that was a testament to the kind of man and the kind of father he was.

“He was a good man,” she said softly, breaking the silence.

Linus nodded, breathing slow and deliberate, trying to calm the shaking in his chest. “Thank you for coming with me,” he said after a long moment. “He would be grateful.”

“Of course,” she responded, turning her head to stare at him now, waiting for him to turn to her. He met her eyes, full of unreserved warmth, and she continued, “I love you.” She said it like it was simple, like it was easy. Loving him was simple, easy; admitting it was the hard part. But somewhere between losing Samir and nearly losing Kirsten, she realized life was too precarious to continue their back-and-forth. She wanted to be the one he came home to, when his heart shattered. She wanted someone to hold onto when everything fell apart around her. She wanted him.

His lips turned up, for just a moment, in that familiar smile she’d tried so hard not to fall for. “I love you too,” he said, and she knew for him, it was simple, knew he’d had those words waiting on his tongue for so long. He kissed her gently, the kind of kiss that felt familiar, undemanding, before wrapping his arm around her shoulders and walking them back to the car.