The next morning, Sean is gone. He slipped out without waking me. There’s a note on his pillow. I open it, and think of that crumpled piece of paper in his pocket. My heart clenches. I can’t breathe. Pressing my eyes closed, I chase away the pain. Inhaling slowly, I open his note.
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I’m sorry about last night. I didn’t mean for things to go that way. I hope you’ll take this morning off and return tonight in time for dinner. There are some more things I’ll show you later. See you then.
I dress quickly and call Miss Black to tell her that Sean set me free for daylight hours. She wants me to stay put, but Sean wanted me to go out. Eventually, Miss Black folds and I leave the hotel When I finally get back to the dorm, I can’t think straight. I want to scream I want to bury my face ii my pillow and cry. The thoughts rise up and choke me so hard that I can’t swallow. It’s been months since I felt this crazy.
I shove the key into my door and kick it open. The door slams open wide. When I glance up, I see Amber’s brain-dead boyfriend—the exhibitionist—carving a turkey on my make-up counter. Turkey juices puddle around my blushes and drip onto the floor. He smiles broadly.
“Put some pants on!” I yell at him as I run into the room.
I left the door to the hallway open. The naked jackass waves to people as they pass by. Amber isn’t even here and this idiot is eating turkey on my make-up counter. I can’t deal with it. I feel my heart dying inside of me. I grab a pair of sweats and change in the bathroom
When I emerge, naked guy mutters something about joining him, but I flip him off and run out the door.
I need to get out of here. As I run down the hall, Mel sticks her head out the door. “Hey bitch! Where you running off to? I thought you were…” When I don’t stop, Mel steps out into the hallway “Avery!” She calls after me, but I don’t stop. I can’t stop.
It takes a minute to start my car and I’m off. I don’t plan to go there. I just go wherever this crushing feeling in my chest leads me. Staring through the grime on the windshield, I drive further east. A few turns and I pull up at the black iron gates that surround the cemetery. I managed to get here without stalling. It’s still early. No one is here. I drive past the rows of tombstones towards the newer plots in the back. There’s an open grave, the mound of dirt is covered with green plastic grass. I drive
past it and turn off the main road in the cemetery and drive to the end. I pull over. The car shudders and lurches before it stalls.
My hair hangs limp around my face. I shove open the door and walk swiftly toward them There’s a knot in my throat that I can’t swallow no matter how hard I try. Tears prick my eyes, but they won’t fall. My parent’s plot is behind a massive oak tree. Its ancient base hides me from onlookers. I fall to my knees at the foot of my parent’s grave and double over to stop the pain. My forehead rests against the cold hard ground. My teeth catch my lips and I bite and hold them between my teeth. Sucking in a rush of cold air, I sit up suddenly. My hair flies back, tossing some twigs with it. My heart hammers inside of me. It’s the only thing that tells me that this hell is real. Everything else seems too wrong. I stare straight ahead, seeing their names chiseled in stone, but seeing nothing at all.
The wind lifts the ends of my hair off my shoulders. I have no idea how long I kneel here, but my legs have pins and needles. I shift my weight and sit on the ground and pull my knees into my chest. I breathe, because that’s all I can do. My anger has faded over the months. I no longer come here to yell at them for abandoning me. This time I don’t know why I’m here. I got in my car and this is where I ended up.
I reach for something I stashed in my pocket before running out of my dorm room. The metal feels cold against my skin. It’s a little silver cross. My mother gave it to me when I turned sixteen. She said it was to remind me of what’s important when things get rough. Things are worse than rough. I clutch the cross so tightly that the ends bite into my palm Still, it doesn’t stop me. Pain is something I understand. The rest of this, the senselessness of it all, eludes me.
I speak into the air. Somehow it feels normal. “What do I do, now? I didn’t think my heart coulc break any more than it already has. The pieces still inside of me feel like broken glass. Every time I take a breath, they stab into me. It never ends…” I press my lips together and breathe.
I look down at the cross in my hand. That cross meant something to her. I wish it meant something to me, but it doesn’t. All I see is a necklace. I have no faith. It died along with my parents. I string the cross around my neck and fasten the clasp. It lies against my heart. This is the closest thing I’ll ever have to the comfort of hearing my Mom’s voice and feeling her arms around me again. My fingers press the cross closer. I sit there, looking at nothing, barely thinking, and slowly rock myself.
Time passes. I have no idea how much, but my body has become still and cold. When a sharp breeze cuts past my cheek, I lift my face. The vacant gaze that I’ve had since I passed the iron gates comes into focus as I see a man in a long black coat. He stands with his shoulders hunched, looking at the roses in his hand. He stands there frozen for a long time. When he moves, he bends over and places the flowers on the ground on the grave in front of him When he stands, he throws his head back and looks up at the sky.
I see his face. It’s Sean. I don’t know what I’m doing or what I want from him I just see his paii and react. Weaving my way around countless graves, I come up behind him. My fingers clutch the cross around my neck like it can save me. My entire body has gone numb from the cold. I have no jacket. I want to feel the sting of the wind. I desperately need something to make sense.
Sean must feel my eyes on his back. He turns slowly. At first I think he’s going to be mad, but his gaze sinks to the ground and he turns back to the tombstone at his feet. I walk up next to him and he asks, “What are you doing here?”
My voice comes out gravely when I speak, “Same reason as you, I suppose.”
“Your parents?” he asks. His voice sounds deep and strained.
I nod, but Sean doesn’t see me. I’m not sure if he sees anything. He stares straight ahead at the grave with such intensity that I can’t look. “Yeah, I needed to talk to them. I have no idea if they can hear me, but I just needed to be here. I can’t explain it.” I’m quiet for a second and then add, “Bu talking to the dead seems to be a one-sided conversation. I ask them for help, but they can’t help me anymore. I’m on my own.”
Sean turns his grief-stricken face toward me. Our eyes lock and I see my own pain mirrored ir his eyes, but there’s something else there too—something more. The wind rustles his dark hair. Sean looks so lost, so vulnerable. After a moment, my eyes fall on the tombstone. I see the name. I stare at it like I don’t understand. I expected this to be his parents, but it’s not.
The name carved into the headstone is Amanda Ferro.
Sean turns back to the grave. I stare at the roses he’s placed on the ground. “Amanda was my wife,” he says. His voice sticks to the back of his throat, barely audible. Sean doesn’t say anything else.
I stare, unblinking. He was married and now Amanda is gone. The woman who wrote the note in his pocket is dead. The grave is old. There’s no freshly turned soil, no indications of a recent funeral. Her death must have been years ago. Sean was much younger then, barely twenty by the look of him I glance at the headstone again. There’s only one name. Where’s the baby? The lump in my throat grows as I think about what might have happened to them, about what horrors Sean had to have seen to render him the person standing next to me.
Every time I think I know what’s going on, everything falls apart. I feel the anger and disappointment fracture. That wall I forced up around my heart shatters as it falls away. I reach for Sean’s gloved hand and weave our fingers together. Sean lets me. We both stand there, staring, saying nothing.
Sometimes there is nothing to say.
After a few moments, he turns to me glassy-eyed. Sean’s jaw is tense, like he’s ready to bite someone’s head off. His eyes move over my sweats and then return to my face. The wind picks up my hair and throws it over my eyes and mouth. Before I can move my hand to push it back, Sean does it for me. His eyes meet mine and he stares. I can feel him struggling to come back from the dark places in the back of his mind. I see it in his eyes and I know he can see the darkness in mine.
Part of me wants to shut down and push him out. I can’t take what life is throwing at me. The sick part of the whole thing is that there’s a squeaky voice in the back of my head that won’t let me just lie down and die. She never gives up, even when she’s had her ass handed to her time and time again.
Sean looks down at my hand and then back at my face. His voice is soft, careful. “Take me to meet them.” There’s a question in his words, like I have the option to say no. We watch each other carefully. Finally, I nod. I pull him onto the path and we walk back to my parent’s grave in silence.
When I stop in front of them, I say, “This is Sean.” I smile sadly and squeeze his hand. Sea squeezes back. We both stare at the head stone for a moment and say nothing. Finally, I say, “My mom would have liked you. She would have said you were too skinny and tried to stuff an unreasonable about of food down your throat.” The thought makes me smile. She was like that, always trying to fatten my friends up.
A ghost of a smile passes over his lips. “What about your Dad?”
I smile. “Oh, he’d hate your guts. I’m sure of it.”
Sean looks surprised and seriously amused. “And why is that?”
“Because you have heartbreaker written all over you. Daddy would see you coming from a mile away. He would have told you that he’d break every bone in your body if you hurt me.” I smile thinking about it. Daddy always said it teasingly when I brought a guy home, but there was a current of truth there. He wanted to keep me safe and that meant keeping my heart in one piece. Right now my heart has broken so badly that all that is remains is dust.
The smile slips off my lips. Sean watches me. He knows what I’m thinking. It’s almost like he feels the weight of the memory the same way I do. I flick my eyes to the headstone. “They got blindsided that night. So did I.”
“I know what you mean.” His voice is somber, deep. He adds, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Sean says my words back to me, but they seem to have new meaning, like the old adage is a lie and we’re the only ones who know the truth.
I nod slowly. “The thing is—I’m not stronger. I feel like I’m half dead, barely hanging on. Most days, I go through the motions, hoping the next day will be better. Then, some days bitch-slap me so hard that it feels like that night all over again.” As I speak, I stare at nothing. I see nothing. The memories from that night flash through my mind. I shiver and shake it away, refusing to relive the horror again.
“And today was one of those days?” Sean says it so casually, but it’s as if he knows the turmoil that he caused me. I feel his eyes on the side of my face, but I don’t look up. I just stare straight ahead. He sighs and looks past the tree toward his wife’s grave. “Last night, something you did stirred up a memory. I couldn’t repress it. That’s why I left. I didn’t mean to be cruel to you. I’d take it back if I could, Avery.”
Sean’s words should make me feel elated, but the heaviness is too great. His remorse, the pain in his voice strums through me and resonates. I know that feeling. Anything can conjure a memory—a song, a scent, a touch. I glance over at him “I know you would.”
There are more words to say, but neither of us says them Death has fucked us both up to the point
that we’re barely functioning.