To be honest, it had kind of always been like that. Growing up, Lori was Daddy’s little girl. I was a mama’s girl. Lori and I always took sides—in going to restaurants, to the zoo or amusement parks. She went off with Dad. I hung close to Mom. Dad and I just never really connected, and it wasn’t all his fault. I could’ve answered the phone when he called, especially after Mom told me why he’d left. And he probably could’ve been a better dad to me and refused to back down when I was being a brat.
His eyes, the same as mine, held my gaze. “I’ve been worried about you.”
“I’m doing better. I’m not...a hundred percent, but I’m doing better.”
He smiled faintly, but the sadness lingered in his eyes. “I know you are. You’re so strong and I don’t think you give yourself enough credit.”
“I don’t know about that.” I sat in the chair, placing the blanket in my lap. “If I was stronger, I probably wouldn’t have ended up in the situation I did.”
He seemed to consider that. “Maybe that part is true, but you had to be strong to get through this.”
Pressing my lips together, I nodded.
“You’re stronger than me,” he said, and I jerked in my seat, surprised. Dad wasn’t looking at me. He placed his hands on the railing and looked out over the yard. “You know something your grandfather used to say all the time that I hated? He’d always say ‘Tomorrow will be better.’ Every time I was mad about something or something bad happened, he’d say that. ‘Tomorrow will be better.’ I didn’t hate it at first. Not at all. I lived that way for a very long time.” Turning around slowly, he faced me. “Do you understand what I mean about that?”
I shifted my gaze to his sneakers again, silent.
“Every time something got hard or was broken or not what I wanted, I told myself it would be better tomorrow. It didn’t make whatever it was easier. It didn’t fix whatever was broken. If I was uncomfortable with something, or if I just didn’t want to do it, tomorrow always came and I still didn’t do it.”
Closing my eyes against the sudden sting, I exhaled roughly.
“It’s a nice sentiment, though, isn’t it? Living life saying tomorrow will be better whenever something bad happens. Whenever we’re filled with disappointment. But tomorrow is never guaranteed.” He stopped to take a deep breath. “Baby girl, you learned that lesson far too young.”
The four of us will always be the four of us.
No matter what.
We would no longer be four of us. Ever. Dad was right. I knew tomorrow was never guaranteed.
“We don’t always get tomorrow. Sometimes it’s not because of death. Sometimes it’s the decisions we make for ourselves.” He lifted his hand and scrubbed it over his face, a habit I realized just then that I’d picked up from him. “I hate that saying because that’s how I handled things with you. Tomorrow I’d fix what’s broken between us. But when tomorrow came, I never did.”
My eyes started to sting. “I...I don’t think I exactly made it easy for you.”
“Doesn’t matter.” Tone gruff, he went on to say, “I’m your father. It’s on me. Not you. So I want... I want today to be the tomorrow I kept putting off. What do you say?”
Dad extended a hand and for a long moment all I could do was stare, and then I let go of the blanket and laced my hand in his.
Sitting in my room, I held my phone to my chest as I stared at the map above my desk. The circles Sebastian and I had drawn all over blurred and each breath I drew in felt shaky and raw.
I’d finally done it.
I’d read Megan’s texts.
There were a lot of them, since my phone was set to keep messages until I was forced to delete them.
The tears that had welled up and fallen had mingled with laughter as I read through some of her most random, nonsensical messages. I wanted to reach into the phone and see her one last time. The real her. Not a picture. Not a set of letters and sentences.
But I knew I couldn’t.
Memories would have to be enough.
Exhaling heavily, I placed my phone on my desk and plugged it into the charger. I wheeled back, turning the chair toward my closet door. It was cracked open, overflowing with clothes and books.
When I left school the day before, I had taken a big step. One not outlined by Dr. Perry but that I felt was one of the best ways I could honor Megan’s memory, or at least do right by her.
And do right by myself.
I left the chair and padded over to the closet, my thick socks whispering along the floor. I opened the door and knelt down to push aside the crumpled jeans. Carefully, I shoved the stack of books against the wall and then leaned in. I reached blindly, knowing I found what I was looking for the moment my fingers brushed over them. With my prize in hand, I sat back and looked down.
My knee pads were scuffed from sliding across the gym floor, but they’d lasted me almost four years of playing volleyball. They’d last at least another year.
I’d visited Coach Rogers after class yesterday.
The season was over, but he knew of the different rec leagues that played throughout the year in the county. One was going to be starting up in February, and I was planning to go to tryouts, which meant I needed to get my butt back in gear, and Coach had set me up with a plan to make it happen.
I wouldn’t land a scholarship, but I fully intended to do tryouts at whatever college I got accepted to. I was still hoping for UVA, and I still had a bit of waiting before I would find out if I got early admittance.
Tomorrow I would hit the gym at school, and I would willingly run the bleachers with these knee pads. And I would do it thinking Megan would be...would be proud of me.
But today wasn’t over.
Today was just starting.
* * *
I sat in the Jeep, staring over the rolling hills, over the tombs and stone wings. Bare-limbed trees dotted the landscape. A faint dusting of snow carpeted the ground.
Winter had come fast and hard, spreading frost over the grass and icing the roadways. It was December 19, exactly four months from the day everything changed.
I hadn’t planned it that way. Coming to the cemetery today was more of an accident. But now, as I sat in the warm Jeep staring out the window, I guessed it was kind of fitting that I ended up here on this date.
I swallowed hard as I stared out over the cemetery. “I found my knee pads today.”
“I can’t believe you can find anything in that closet,” he teased, and a small grin cracked my lips. “I’m going with you tomorrow.”
As I glanced over at him, my gaze immediately connected with his bright blue eyes. “You don’t have to. I’m sure sitting in the gym or running up and down bleachers is the very last thing you want to do.”
“If I didn’t want to do it, I wouldn’t offer,” he returned. “Plus I’m not just there for moral support. It’s very possible you’ll fall and hurt yourself.”
“Whatever.” I rolled my eyes, my grin spreading an inch and then fading again as I focused on the silent tombs. I still struggled with accepting an offer of help, because that was what Sebastian was doing. He was offering to be there with me, for me, because he knew it would be hard, both physically and emotionally. Just like he knew what I was doing right now wouldn’t be easy.
And I wasn’t going to shut him out. One of the things I’d learned was that when someone offered you a hand, you took it. And sometimes it was hard to see that offer or accept it, but life was easier when you did.
“Okay,” I whispered. Then silence fell between us.
Sebastian curved his hand over my knee. “You ready to do this?”
Dragging my gaze from the window, I nodded.
He was watching me closely. “We don’t have to do this today. We can come back—”
“No. If I don’t do this today, then I’ll keep pushing it off till tomorrow and I’ll never do it.” I thought of my dad, of the once-a-week phone calls we now had and held each other to, even when neither of us had a thing to say to one another. Our relationship was truly a work in progress. “I have to do this.”