After every apology, I tell her it’s all right, because truly it is. I only ever wanted her back. This doesn’t happen in real life. You don’t get to wish for your loved ones to come back and then they do.
“I’m just happy you’re here.” This time when I tell her, I reach my hand forward, palm upturned and she takes it.
“Me too,” she tries to say, but her words are choked.
I struggle to find something else to talk about. Something to distract her, to make her feel better. Life has slowed down since she’s left. Slowed down and sped up, a whirlwind of nothing but Jase Cross for me. And I’m not ready to share that story with her yet. It’s too closely tied to me mourning her.
“Did you read the book?” she asks in the quiet air. Nothing else can be heard but the owls from outside the windows and far off in the forest. They’re relentless as the sky turns dark and the end of winter makes its exit known.
“I did,” I answer her and before I can tell her what I thought, she speaks.
“I hated the ending. I’m sorry, I ripped it out.” I almost tell her I know. I almost say the words as she does. “I wanted them to have a happily ever after.”
My blood turns to ice as the memory of her sobbing on the floor while she ripped out the pages comes back to me. It was only a dream, I remind myself. Only a dream. It didn’t really happen. But yet, the question, the question asking her if she did that is right there, waiting to be spoken.
A different one creeps out in its place. There was a line I could never forget. “Why did you cross out ‘I hate you for giving me hope?’”
“It wasn’t me,” she answers me and the chill seeps deeper into my bones. “It was Mom. Mom left it for you. I don’t know why she pulled off the cover, but I hated the ending, so I ripped out the pages.”
Goosebumps don’t appear then vanish, instead they come and stay as I remember the dream. My sister and Mom did always look so alike.
“When she died there was that stack of books. This one had a post-it on it instead of a cover. She left it for you, but I took it.”
“Why?” I don’t know how I can speak when as we sit here, all I can see is the woman in my terrors.
“She said, ‘Only you would understand, Bethany.’ It pissed me off,” my sister admits. “I took it and wanted to read it. I had to know why… why it was always you.”
The eerie feeling that’s been coming and going comes over me again, clawing for attention and I can barely stand not to react to it.
Bringing my knees into my chest, I try to avoid it, to shake it off. “What was the ending?” I ask her although I already know. It was some kind of tragedy.
“She died,” Jenny says and her voice is choked. “That night, their first and only night, she died because she was really sick and there was no way to save her.” My sister’s shoulders heave as she sobs.
“It’s okay.” I try to reassure her that it’s only a book, but both of us know it’s so much more. It’s the last words our mother left us.
“Her mother killed herself. The last ten pages is the mother facing Miss Caroline and telling her she hated her for giving her any hope and making her wait longer to end it all.”
“That’s awful,” I comment.
Jenny sucks in a deep steadying breath and says, “The book is awful. It’s all about how the ones you love aren’t supposed to die before you.”
Chills play down my shoulders, like a gentle touch. “What?”
I hear my mother’s voice. Everyone you love will die before you.
“That was the point, that the greatest tragedy is watching everyone you love die before you do,” my sister tells me with disgust. “I hate the book. I hate that Mom left it. I hate even more that she said you’d understand. You don’t, do you?” Her eyes beg me to agree with her and I do.
“I hate it too. Mom wasn’t well.” I use the excuse, but her words keep coming back to me. She thought my life was a tragedy. She hadn’t met Jase though. She couldn’t have known my life would take this turn. “She’s wrong,” I say more to myself than to Jenny, but she nods in agreement.
“Even if they die,” she whispers before staring out of the window, “you still got to love them.”
“Do you ever feel like she’s with us?” I ask my sister, feeling the eyes of someone watching us, but not daring to look to my left, toward the bathroom. No one’s there, I already know that. But still, something inside of me doesn’t want me to look.