The Five Stages of Falling in Love

The Five Stages of Falling in Love

By Rachel Higginson





The references made to the five stages of grief were inspired by the Kubler-Ross Model on death and dying.



To Zach, please don’t die.

Ever.




Prologue


“Hey, there she is,” Grady looked up at me from his bed, his eyes smiling even while his mouth barely mimicked the emotion.

“Hey, you,” I called back. The lights had been dimmed after the last nurse checked his vitals and the TV was on, but muted. “Where are the kiddos? I was only in the cafeteria for ten minutes.”

Grady winked at me playfully, “My mother took them.” I melted a little at his roguish expression. It was the same look that made me agree to a date with him our junior year of college, it was the same look that made me fall in love with him-the same one that made me agree to have our second baby boy when I would have been just fine to stop after Blake, Abby and Lucy.

“Oh, yeah?” I walked over to the hospital bed and sat down next to him. He immediately reached for me, pulling me against him with weak arms. I snuggled back into his chest, so that my head rested on his thin shoulder and our bodies fit side by side on the narrow bed. One of my legs didn’t make it and hung off awkwardly. But I didn’t mind. It was just perfect to lie next to the love of my life, my husband.

“Oh, yeah,” he growled suggestively. “You know what that means?” He walked his free hand up my arm and gave my breast a wicked squeeze. “When the kids are away, the grownups get to play…”

“You are so bad,” I swatted him-or at least made the motion of swatting at him, since I was too afraid to hurt him.

“God, I don’t remember the last time I got laid,” he groaned next to me and I felt the rumble of his words against my side.

“Tell me about it, sport,” I sighed. “I could use a nice, hard-”

“Elizabeth Carlson,” he cut in on a surprised laugh. “When did you get such a dirty mouth?”

“I think you’ve known about my dirty mouth for quite some time, Grady,” I flirted back. We’d been serious for so long it was nice to flirt with him, to remember that we didn’t just love each other, but we liked each other too.

He grunted in satisfaction. “That I have. I think your dirty mouth had something to do with Lucy’s conception.”

I blushed. Even after all these years, he knew exactly what to say to me. “Maybe,” I conceded.

“Probably,” he chuckled, his breath hot on my ear.

We lay there in silence for a while, enjoying the feel of each other, watching the silent TV screen flicker in front of our eyes. It was perfect-or as close to perfect as we had felt in a long time.

“Dance with me, Lizzy,” Grady whispered after a while. I’d thought maybe he fell asleep; the drugs were so hard on his system that he was usually in and out of consciousness. This was actually the most coherent he’d been in a month.

“Okay,” I agreed. “It’s the first thing we’ll do when you get out. We’ll have your mom come over and babysit, you can take me to dinner at Pazio’s and we’ll go dancing after.”

“Mmm, that sounds nice,” he agreed. “You love Pazio’s. That’s a guaranteed get-lucky night for me.”

“Baby,” I crooned. “As soon as I get you back home, you’re going to have guaranteed get-lucky nights for at least a month, maybe two.”

“I don’t want to wait. I’m tired of waiting. Dance with me now, Lizzy,” Grady pressed, this time sounding serious.

“Babe, after your treatment this morning, you can barely stand up right now. Honestly, how are you going to put all those sweet moves on me?” I wondered where this sudden urge to dance, of all things, was coming from.

“Lizzy, I am a sick man. I haven’t slept in my own bed in four months, I haven’t seen my wife naked in just as long, and I am tired of lying in this bed. I want to dance with you. Will you please, pretty please, dance with me?”

I nodded at first because I was incapable of speech. He was right. I hated that he was right, but I hated that he was sick even more.

“Alright, Grady, I’ll dance with you,” I finally whispered.

“I knew I’d get my way,” he croaked smugly.

I slipped off the bed and turned around to face my husband and help him to his feet. His once full head of auburn hair was now bald, reflecting the pallid color of his skin. His face was haggard showing dark black circles under his eyes, chapped lips and pale cheeks. He was still as tall as he’d ever been, but instead of the toned muscles and thick frame he once boasted, he was depressingly skinny and weak, his shoulders perpetually slumped.

The only thing that remained the same were his eyes; they were the same dark green eyes I’d fallen in love with ten years ago. They were still full of life, still full of mischief even when his body wasn’t. They held life while the rest of him drowned in exhaustion from fighting this stupid sickness.

“You always get your way,” I grumbled while I helped him up from the bed.

“Only with you,” he shot back on a pant after successfully standing. “And only because you love me.”

“That I do,” I agreed. Grady’s hands slipped around my waist and he clutched my sides in an effort to stay standing.

I wrapped my arms around his neck, but didn’t allow any weight to press down on him. We maneuvered our bodies around his IV and monitors. It was awkward, but we managed.

“What should we listen to?” I asked, while I pulled out my cell phone and turned it to my iTunes app.

“You know what song. There is no other song when we’re dancing,” he reminded me on a faint smile.

“You must be horny,” I laughed. “You’re getting awfully romantic.”

“Just trying to keep this fire alive, Babe,” he pulled me closer and I held back the flood of tears that threatened to spill over.

I turned on The Way You Look Tonight- the Frank Sinatra version-and we swayed slowly back and forth. Frank sang the soft, beautiful lyrics with the help of a full band, while the music drifted around us over the constant beeping and whirring of medical machines. This was the song we thought of as ours, the first song we’d danced to at our wedding, the song he still made the band at Pazio’s play on our anniversary each year.

“This fire is very much alive,” I informed him sternly. I lay my forehead against his shoulder and inhaled him. He didn’t smell like himself anymore, he was full of chemo drugs and smelled like hospital soap and detergent, but he was still Grady. And even though he barely resembled the man I had fallen so irrevocably in love with, he still felt like Grady.

He was still my Grady.

“It is, isn’t it?” He whispered. I could feel how weak he was growing, how tired this was making him, but still he clung to me and held me close. When my favorite verse came on, he leaned his head down and whispered in a broken voice along with Frank, “There is nothing for me, but to love you. And the way you look tonight.”

Silent tears streamed down my face with truths I wasn’t ready to admit to myself and fears that were too horrifying to even think. This was the man I loved with every fiber of my being-the only man I’d ever loved. The only man I’d ever love.

He’d made me fall in love with him before I was old enough to drink legally, then he’d convinced me to marry him before I even graduated from college. He knocked me up a year later, and didn’t stop until we had four wild rug rats that all had his red hair and his emerald green eyes. He’d encouraged me to finish my undergrad degree, and then to continue on to grad school while I was pregnant, nursing and then pregnant again. He went to bed every night with socks on and then took them off sometime in the middle of the night, leaving them obnoxiously tucked in between our sheets. He could never find his wallet, or his keys, and when there was hair to grow he always forgot to shave.

And he drove me crazy most of the time.

But he was mine.

He was my husband.

And now he was sick.

“I do love you, Lizzy,” he murmured against my hair. “I’ll always love you, even when I’m dead and gone.”

“Which won’t be for at least fifty more years,” I reminded him on a sob.

He ignored me, “You love me back, don’t you?”

“Yes, I love you back,” I whispered with so much emotion the words stuck in my throat. “But you already knew that.”

“Maybe,” he conceded gently. “But I will never, ever get tired of hearing it.”

I sniffled against him, staining his hospital gown with my mascara and eye liner. “That’s a good thing, because you’re going to be hearing it for a very long time.”

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