[Don’t] Make Me Say Goodbye

a short story

The whispered words echoed in the trembling space as my whole being fought against itself to cling to the complete perfection of the fading world around me.  The damp summer night air crackled and sharpened, clashing with the bitter cold of the past, the future.  It belonged here, I belonged here, and my heart and mind screamed and threatened to shatter as I pushed with everything I had to peel myself out and away from the warmth, my skin and lips and unshed tears freezing as I began to leave my seventeen year old self behind for good.  The chilled air intruded through my nose and mouth, into my lungs, wiping out the last of the memory I ached to never leave.

My fourteen-year-old mind put up no fight and I slipped inside.  Everything was skating to her and the sudden influx of unknown emotions locked her down as the rush of icy air past my ears mixed with the surge of the music and Kelly’s coaching.

This was it, the moment everything I had done had been building up to.  Everything from here on out balanced on this one shot like my blade on the ice.  I couldn’t go through this again.

They would be getting here soon, and I had to be gone before that happened.  It was watch day on rink three, which meant that the Watsons would all be here to watch the Kinzie’s first figure skating performance.

I couldn’t see them.

I’d break.

Kinzie’s in a class with all the other kindergarteners.  She was in third grade when I saw her only hours ago.

 ***

This was one birthday party that no one should have to attend.  Matt was Paul and Jeannie Watson’s pride and joy.  Insanely smart and extremely goal oriented, he was Berkeley bound.  He wanted to be a lawyer, to work with scientists to protect their findings and doctors to protect their practice. But this visit had nothing to do with the bright future of our boy, and yet, for me, it had everything to do with it.  I needed to know for sure that what I was doing was right.  I mean, I did know, but I needed that push, and I needed to say goodbye to what had become my second family.

Pop dropped me off in front of their house.  He had wanted to come in with me, but I begged him to understand that this was something I had to do on my own.

“You don’t have to do this, kiddo, if you’re not ready.  They’ll understand.”  I shook my head no, my blond curls sweeping over my face like a closing curtain as I looked down at the glove compartment, trying to hide the fear and sadness I was sure my face showed.  Pop had no idea what I was really doing.  To the eyes of everyone else, I was facing the family of my boyfriend for the first time after being the last person to see him alive almost a month ago.  I was; but what lay behind it was way too big for them to understand.  “Alright, well, I’ll let you do what you gotta do.  I’ll be out here waiting for you when you’re ready to go.”  He drew me into his side over the gear shift, and I took a moment to calm myself, breathing in his warm comforting scent – mowed grass and saddle leather – before he slipped out of the truck and met me around, helping me out and on to my crutches.

Slowly, I picked my way up the familiar cobblestone path, keeping my eyes on the pebbles beneath my feet.  Every move I made sent jolts of pain through my ruined knee, but I clung to the pain.  The sharpness of it momentarily overrode the constant ache in my heart, keeping me from drowning in the waves of sadness, guilt, fear.  It kept me on task.  I raised my gaze when I reached the step up and saw Matt’s mom there waiting for me, quickly trying to hide a wrinkled, withered tissue in her sweater pocket.  She leaned back to hold the door open as she reached out to me.  I inched towards her, unsure of what to do or how to do it.  I didn’t want to hurt them any more than they already were, even if in the end I was going to fix it all.  When I was close enough, she cupped my cheek in her trembling hand and blinked back tears.

“How are you doing, honey?  Are you in any pain?”

I wanted to answer, but no words came.  I shrugged and let her move to circle my shoulders and draw me into the house.

“My goodness, you must be freezing. Come in, come in.  The last thing we need is for you to get fall ill.”

Their small but clean brownstone home looked the same as it always had.  I’m sure a month ago it had been filled to the brim with flowers and cards and memorials.  I had waited until I could be sure that it was all cleared out.  Mr. and Mrs. Watson and their younger daughter, Kinzie, were the only ones there, and I was glad of it.  I couldn’t come here with so many people dropping in and out: cousins, friends, unknown acquaintances.  I needed it to be like it always was when I was there, just us; even if the most important part of us wasn’t there, even if there wasn’t even an us anymore.

She led me into the living room, where the birthday celebrations were always held.  I stopped in front of the worn checked couch, softly slipping, for just a moment I promised myself, into the memory of Matt’s seventeenth birthday.  We had sat there that afternoon, curled up together watching Kinzie’s latest favorite movie, laughing softly as she sang and danced along.  Earlier that day,  his baby sister and I had absolutely wrecked Jeannie’s kitchen making a double chocolate mud cake for after dinner, complete with rainbow gummy bears (we couldn’t find worms), while Matt was out with his dad picking up the car he had saved up for since he turned sixteen.  I wanted to stay there wrapped up in the warmth of his arms and the fuzziness of the fleece tie blanket Jeannie had helped Kinzie make as her gift to Matt.

But I couldn’t.  I had a purpose here today and staying in my happy memories would only make it harder in the end.

Coming back to the present, I saw Matt’s dad slumped into the couch cushions, motionless, staring at Matt’s senior photo collage, which hung over the mantle alongside Mr. and Mrs. Watson’s wedding portrait and Kinzie’s third grade yearbook picture.  I couldn’t bring myself to look at it, even though I knew every single picture in the dark stained frame.  He had begged me to come with him for both the shoot and the proof selection, and had even convinced me to take a few pictures with him.  “We have to document our forever,” he had joked.

Instead, I watched Mr. Watson’s face as his eyes drifted from image to image.  I heard the smallest hint of a laugh, even though his eyes and the line of his mouth remained unchanged.  I was sure that he had moved to the picture of the two of us alone, against the shadowed white background, looking slightly at each other, laughing as we made the Vulcan sign at the camera.  My boyfriend was such a Star Trek nerd.  He spent the whole of our relationship trying to convert me into a Trekkie.  I secretly kinda liked it, though I never would have admitted that to Matt.  Maybe I should have.  Maybe he secretly knew.

Any light that had been in Mr. Watson’s eyes died as I heard a rustling near the fireplace.  I turned to see that Mrs. Watson had left my side and was cleaning and straightening the already perfectly spotless pictures, effectively breaking her husband’s line of vision.

I, however, still had perfect view of the main photo at the center of the frame.  It was the one they had used for the yearbook, and the memorials.  His mom had complained at the photography studio that it was just so plain and casual and she just couldn’t understand why he would like that picture above all others, but, in the end, I think she knew that it was just the most him.  He was against a plain white background, alone except for a faint shadow, in his favorite pale blue UC-Berkeley t-shirt and gray hoodie, just looking into the camera as if waiting to learn something new, no smile but still completely open.

I backed away from the couch, needing to get away from Matt’s unseeing gaze, but not wanting to disturb Mr. Watson.  Trying to navigate on my crutches, I bumped into the end table, knocking over a picture of Matt with his beloved 1989 Dodge Colt.  I stifled a sob and tried to hide my tears.  Mr. Watson’s eyes followed as I struggled to right the frame.  He reached over to help and brushed my hand.

“Becca–”

God, his voice sounded so broken.  His eyes, that had always been laughing when I was there, were so very empty.

“I can’t stay,” I whispered, not wanting to shatter the silence in this place that was still so full of him.  “I just wanted to – I’m sorry.  So, so sorry.  And, I just… needed to… to say goodbye, I guess.”

I turned away before Mr. Watson could answer and squeezed his wife’s hand once before pulling away to head for the door.

“Bec! Wait!”

Kinzie came flying down the stairs and threw herself into me.  I braced myself against the wall behind me and my right crutch, wrapping my left arm around the little girl to keep us from toppling over and buried my face in her hair as she clung on tight.  I had to choke back my cries when a wave of Matt’s familiar scent came over me.  She was swimming in one of his t-shirts, and I was sure she had been curled up in his bed just moments ago.  It had always been her refuge when she was upset… curling up against her big brother under his mountain of covers.  He’d just had that way of making you feel like everything was going to be just fine, no matter what was happening.  I could feel the tugging, pulling me into one of the moments we had spent like that, touching in any way we could with his baby sister cuddled between us.

No.

I was here.  I couldn’t keep doing this or it’d never end.

Kinzie’s little tears seeped into my sweater. Behind me, I heard their mom whimpering and imagined her in her husband’s arms, with him brokenly whispering words of comfort against her hair.  Kinzie’s lips started to move, as if she had something to say, but it was an eternity of seconds before she spoke.

“Why, Becca?”  She was so quiet, her whimpers for my ears alone.  “Why’d he have to go?”

“I – I don’t know.”

“He could have just stayed.  Why didn’t he stay with us?”

My fault.  It was my fault.  He didn’t stay because I’d needed him with me.

“Don’t make me answer that.  Please, I just—”

“I need him—so much.”

“I know, Kinz. I know.  I—”

“But—but it’s not fair!”

“You know what?  No, it’s not fair.  Life isn’t fair anymore.  I need him too.  But we can’t all keep him, can we?  You’re getting him back in the end, and you have no idea what I’ve been through, what I’ve done, what I’m giving up.”  Her little body stiffened against me, and I knew that’d I’d let my thoughts slip  She didn’t deserve my stress and anger.  “Kinzie, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean–”

“He’s not coming back, Becca.  You know that, right?”

All I could do was nod.

After minutes of rocking her against my body as best I could, she calmed down and slowly peeled herself away from me, bit by bit, before taking my hand, swinging it back and forth.  She was up to something in that cute but silly little head of hers.

“Come with me, Becca.”  She tried to tug me towards the kitchen, a new energy of excitement in her step.  A tiny giggle escaped my still trembling lips as I slipped my hand from hers and follow her through the doorway and away from her parents’ watchful eyes.

“Where are we going?”  I decided I could play along with her sneaky game for just a little while.  I would miss having a little sister to be mischievous and playful with, even if she wasn’t my sister.  She looked back over her shoulder at me and gave me a watery yet animated grin.

“We’re going to make a cake, just like last year, and go eat it out on the blanket with Matt.”

“Kinz, I don’t think—“

“Becca, please.”

She was pulling out all the stops.  With the downward turned quivering lips, the long whimpers dragging out the words, and the big, pleading eyes, still shining with tears, she knew she always won. I couldn’t say no to her, not now, not like this, but if I wanted to say goodbye to the last three years and everyone I had come to love in that time, I couldn’t go there and eat gummy bear mega chocolate mud cake as if nothing had or was going to happen.

“Please, please, please, Becca.  For Matt. He shouldn’t be all alone on his birthday, and Mommy and Daddy won’t take me, and I know he misses you.”

Why did she have to make it so hard, make it sound like he was just off on his own somewhere thinking about us and waiting for us to come bearing birthday treats?  How could I be expected to lay there on the same blanket we’d cuddled under a year ago, eating his favorite dessert, as if he wasn’t below us, locked in a padded wooden box, packed away under real mud?

“I can’t do this.”  I backed away from Kinzie, choking on my breath and my words.  “I—I just—I can’t.   I have to go.”  I turned away from the little girl and staggered out of the kitchen. I pushed past Mr. and Mrs. Watson, refusing to meet their gaze or acknowledge their concerned words and comforting grazes.  I had to get out.  Without a single backward glance, I tumbled out the front door and forced myself to keep going until I reached Pop’s truck.  I waited for the telltale click of the lock and got myself into the Ford’s cab.

“Becca?”

“Go. Go.  Please go.”

Pop muttered something about ‘taking it out’ and ‘just a girl’, but I couldn’t tell for certain.  He made sure my seatbelt was fastened and my crutches were secure in the back seat before putting the truck in gear.  As we rumbled along the road in silence, I sank back into the cracked leather seat, wishing I could just sink far enough to just disappear.

That wasn’t the goodbye I had wanted.  I had spent all my time since I’d formulated my plan preparing myself, walling off all the emotions that I knew were painful enough to make things way too hard to possibly be accomplished.  I had made myself a fortress against the hurt, or so I believed.  I had planned to go there, to see them so sad and weak and hopeless, and to feel the boost of courage and strength deep down in my gut that would come with knowing that I would be their hero, the one who would give them their boy back.  I would wrap my arms around each one of them, tell them just how much they meant to me and thank them for making me part of their family.  Then, strengthened by the inner glow of love and courage, I’d slip away and selflessly make everything better.   With the strength they would unknowingly give me, it would almost be easy to give up everything to save him.

I had just known it.

I was so wrong.

Matt was killed driving me home from a National figure skating exhibition in California.  We were on day two of the trip home and were so excited because I’d just hung up from a call with my coach telling me I had been offered a full sponsorship by a Sacramento based company.  It was something we’d both been secretly praying for but too scared to speak about.  At the end of the school year, we’d both be heading to California, only an hour or so apart, him to study at Berkeley and me to train full time with a major Olympic coach.  There’d be tutors on the side as well, of course, but that didn’t matter.

It had been so warm in L.A., but the closer we got to Billings, the colder and wetter it got.  There was a cold front coming through, unseasonably cold even for March in Montana, and the roads were a lot more frozen over than we realized.  The road crews were doing their best to keep up with it, but their salt was nothing against all the ice.  Normally, Matt was an extremely careful driver, being entirely in love with his car, but that day he let his excitement of just how close we’d be together after he graduated, instead of what we feared would be at least a year of being eighteen hours apart, get the better of him, and his usual concentration slipped.  Less than fifteen miles from home, the car slipped too, on a patch of black ice, and we collided with an eighteen-wheeler in the opposite lane.  I had a broken arm, head trauma, and a shattered knee, and would suffer the tiny death of being told that I would never skate at the professional level again.

Matt suffered much worse.  His spine was snapped and his legs and pelvis crushed, but he lived long enough for me to hear him crying out breathless in pain, unconscious to what had happened or that I was even there, crying, too, as I struggled to whisper comfort.  I fell into the dark abyss that was unconsciousness, looking into his wide brown eyes until the moment I was out, at peace knowing he was there with me.  I didn’t realize until much later that he was already dead.

I woke up in the hospital four and a half days later with no memory of what had happened at first, and it seemed that everyone wanted to keep it that way.  I only found out when my dad, who had just gotten in from his home in Arizona and who had not been informed by my mom or grandparents, blurted out the truth.

I blamed myself.  He hadn’t needed to skip school and come all the way out there with me, but I wanted him there, wanted to be able to look into the stands and see his face.  It was my fault he had died, so why shouldn’t I die, too?  I tried to rip out my IVs and tubes, to refuse medicine or food, but, of course, hospitals have precautions against that.  I searched for a way out, but everything I tried was hindered by either my family or the doctors and nurses, and I couldn’t understand why. It was my fault.  I had killed Matt.  There was a death penalty for that, so what was their problem if I chose to carry it out myself?

When I was released, Nana, Mom, and my doctor felt that it was important for me to get back under routine and into living.  And so, barely three weeks after Matt died, I went back to school.  My first class was history, which was usually taught by Mr. Watson, but there was a new teacher, a recent college graduate with a strange obsession with the Beach Boys, who would be our teacher for an “unknown length of time” until our regular teacher “felt that he was ready to return.”  As he spent the entire lecture on sixties culture going on and on about how Brian Wilson was the greatest musician of all time, I let my mind wander and lost myself in my memories.

The old flower doodle on my unopened notebook matched the flowers in the empty field on my grandparents’ land between the horse and cattle corrals.  It was the same field where he’d kissed me the first time.  And it was so weird, because suddenly it wasn’t just a memory.  I was there and his lips were on mine, so incredibly soft and warm, and I freaked out.  I knocked his hand away from my cheek and just started yelling at him, telling him it wasn’t fair that he got to leave me behind and mess with me like that, before completely breaking down sobbing, leaving poor Matt so confused.

The girl behind me had to shake me out of it when Mr. Dunbar noticed that I wasn’t all there.  I was in tears and so dazed that he sent me to the school nurse and she ended up sending me home, saying I’d had enough for one day.  It wasn’t until I was alone in my room, huddled up in my covers and pillows looking through an old diary, that I realized that my memory, and the entry, had changed.  That Matt had had to calm me down and promise me that he wouldn’t leave me behind, thinking I meant that he had a life at school while I studied at home alone, and that in the end I couldn’t remember what had made me so upset in the first place.  I had written that I must have just been so nervous about my first kiss.

It was then that I realized that I could change the past.

It took a lot of attempts before I figured out how to control where and when I went and what I did.  It was hard because in slipping into the mind of my past self, they – I – was still there, and the mentality of the past held firmly at the forefront.  I had to fight for control, and I learned fast that I had to fight dirty, bombarding them with all my anger and sorrow until they were suffocating and too lost in the struggle to bother me.

I tried so hard to change what happened, to save Matt, but nothing worked.  We left earlier, but hit gridlock in some city and ended up in the same place at the same time.  We left later, but everything was still the same.  I convinced him to let me drive the last leg of the drive, but when the accident happened, I forgot what he did, how he reacted, which way he turned the wheel and whether he braked, and instead spun the car into the truck, and everything ended up as it had before.

Having seen Matt die four times now while I could do nothing to stop it drove me nearly insane, and in a bout of passion, I broke up with him, thinking that if we weren’t together anymore, that he wouldn’t be driving me and everything would be okay in the end. I flew to L.A., but when I looked up into the stands after my program, there was Matt, so determined for us to be together again.  Because of the weather in Montana, my flight home was delayed.  I wanted everything to be okay, so when Matt begged me to let him drive me home, I finally agreed, as long as he promised to take a different route.  He did, and because of the ice, we ended up going off the side of the cliff.  And I was okay with that, because at least we’d go together, but at the last moment I panicked and jumped to the first safe memory that my mind could grab onto.  It was impossibly hard to pull myself out of the mindset of a three-year-old and make the decision to let things happen as they originally had.

So I let everything happen, and as I waited for the day where I would know what to do. I’d done everything I could to keep him with me.  There was only one option left to let him live, which meant that there were goodbyes that needed to be said.  I could only pray that it would work, because I’d have no way of knowing in the end.

And so, as I sat in Pop’s old Ford, I pushed into my mind and chose to say the hardest goodbye I would ever have to say.

Last summer, for my seventeenth birthday, Matt surprised me with two lawn tickets to see one of my favorite singers in concert.  We got to the grounds where the concert was being held, only to find a massive line of cars waiting to get into the parking lot.  For all the love Matt put into his car, it still messed with him; the gas gauge didn’t work, and the red light came on when there was only a couple of minutes’ fuel left.  And, of course, because this was the one time Matt claimed he was sure there was enough in his tank to last through the night, the light came on just as were joined the line.  By the time we got gas and made it back to the venue, the concert had started and the gates were closed.

Refusing to tell me what he was up to, he turned the car around and sped towards home. When we pulled away from the gates, his face was locked in tense determination, but the longer we drove, the more relaxed he became, and before long, that lopsided smirk of his was back in place.   After I’d asked him for the umpteenth time what was going on, he slammed the car to a stop, spraying gravel from under his tires on the old dirt road, and pulled me out into what I realized was the extra field, our field.

Matt spread his blanket out between the bright patchwork of wild flowers and tuned the car radio into the live broadcast of the concert, turning it up as high as it would go.  We lay there, watching the sun set and then counting the awakening stars overhead, attending our own private concert in our own little world, until my Mom called his phone wondering why we weren’t on the way home yet.  It was my happiest memory with Matt, just lying there together, so small under the stars.  It was where I chose to see him for the last time.

Focusing, I pushed against the restraints I’d built up in my mind and felt the cracked leather soften to fleece and my sneakers melt away, replaced by the damp grass tickling between my toes.  As the soft breeze feathered bits of hair over my cheeks, I turned my head and, with a deep breath, let my eyes flutter open.  Without meaning to, his name fell from my lips in the lightest of whispers.  He didn’t look over, though his eyes ticked in my direction for a moment.  He just scooted closer, his shoulder coming to rest against mine, his cheek so close, and he took my hand, pointing our woven fingers up at the glittered night sky.

“Do you see it?  There.” He drew my hand further over. “Pegasus.  The king of all white horses.”

I remembered this.  Much cooler than the wingless ones, was what I was supposed to answer, laughing with him as he looked over at me, our hands coming to a rest on his chest as my body instinctively turned to curl into his warmth.  Instead, I bit my lip to keep from crying as he brushed his nose against mine.

“You okay there, Becs?”

I’d forgotten just how good it felt to be cradled against his chest in the cool summer night air.  I snuggled closer, burrowing my nose in the crook of his neck.

“Are you still with me?”

I nodded against his skin.  “Can we just stay here?”

“For a little bit more, yeah.”

“No, I mean can we stay here?  Forever.  Stay in this night.  Just do this over and over and not have to even think about the possibility of tomorrow.”

He laughed softly as the pad of his thumb painted pictures on my palm and his other hand inscribed letters on the bare skin between my shoulder blades.  iloveyou.  Over and over again, soft and slow.

“No way, Becca.  There’s way too much for us to miss out on.”

I’d been so stupid to think that I could give this up.  Even if it all faded to forgotten in the end, I’d still be alone, missing the other half of me.  I could no sooner walk away from him than rip my heart from my chest.

“I can’t leave you.”

“It’s not like it’s for forever, silly.  It’s just three weeks.”

“Forever.  It’s forever, forever.  Please.  No, please, I can’t.  I can’t.”  I was babbling now, I couldn’t help it. This old me was taking over, begging to keep him just a little longer; one more second, minute, night, lifetime.  It was her voice in his ears, but it was mine as well.

“Three weeks might suck, but it’s not going to kill us, Becs.”

“Please, Matt.  Please.  We can just stay here.  Right here.  We can hide under the stars and never, ever have to say goodbye.”  He sat up, pulled me by my shoulders to look at me, but I clung to him, burying my face in his neck.  “I can’t say goodbye to you, Matt.  Don’t make me say goodbye.”

He pushed me back to see my face and took my chin, making me look up at him.

“Okay, so we won’t say goodbye.  Just ‘I love you’, and mean it.  And you’ll go do your thing and be back before you know it.”  I whimpered, not even trying to fight my cries as I thought about how wrong this all was.  “Hey.  No.  Just focus on what happens when you get back.  We get everything, Becca, everything.  Your mom promised a later curfew now that you’re so much older, plus we’ll have upper-class lunch together all year.  You’ll have the prom of your dreams, and then I’ll graduate, and go to UC-B and become this renowned not-so-shady lawyer who gets to brag constantly about his amazing, gorgeous girlfriend who won the Olympics.  Twice.  But you’ve gotta go to make it all happen, Becs.”

He was right.  I knew he was.  I had to go to make everything happen the way it should.  He’d go to college and become a superman-esque lawyer and have an Olympic medal worthy girlfriend, whether she competed or not, because that was the greatness he deserved.  And I’d skate, because it was all I knew before him, and all I would know without him.

“I love you,” I whispered as I brushed my lips against his one more time.  “So, so much.”  And before I lost my nerve again, I jumped…

***

…to the day we met.  I was fourteen and struggling to land the final jump sequence Kelly was determined I would get.  When we met, I’d been trying the series over and over.  The Watsons were in the next rink over watching Kinzie, but Matt got bored watching a bunch of five year olds fall repeatedly, so he decided to explore and found it more fun to watch me fall instead.  Kelly had stepped out for a minute when he called my attention and told me, with this adorably lopsided smile, that the trick was to land with the metal part on the ice, and to stand on it and not fall.  I should have been angry since he had not idea what it really took, but I was too in awe of how cute he was and the fact that he was talking to me.  He would remain the cute, amazing, unbelievably incredible boy that my world revolved around until the day he died.  And I couldn’t let that happen, so I had to give him up.

My seventeen year old mind meshed with that of my fourteen year old self, and I finally gained control as the nearly ended music swelled.  I forced myself to breathe and tuck in and tighten, locking away the fear, and I touched off, saying goodbye to the evenings of laughter over Nick@Nite reruns and American Idol on the comfy checked couch…

…spun, saying goodbye to the his smiling face and crazy signs at every competition or expo: “I love you × ∞” or “My girlfriend is frakking awesome!”…

…jumped, saying goodbye to the sitcom perfect family life I’d known at his house, the family I’d become part of…

…spun, saying goodbye to the boy who’d been my everything and the love I would never know…

…and I landed, on my blade, and glided into the new future as Kelly screamed with glee and the program came to a finish.  The music stopped, and I started moving, trying so hard not to think.  I had to get out of here.

Off the ice, gloves off, in bag.

Don’t break, Becca.

Skates off, wrap laces and pack away.  Slip Berks on.

No tears yet.

Sling bag over shoulder, wave goodbye to Kelly.  “Yes, I’ll promise.  I’ll be here extra early tomorrow.”

Don’t cry.  Please don’t cry.

I pushed through the doors of rink two and out the complex entrance.  I sat on the farthest bench from the main doors, doing my best to remain unseen behind the young birch tree, and finally let myself fall apart as I waited for my mom to pick me up.  My chest ached, rattled with my sobs.  My head throbbed as my tears streamed from my hopeless eyes.  As Mom’s gray sedan pulled up, I heard a car door slam across the lot.

“Come on, Matty!  It’s time to watch me skate pretty!”

Kinzie.

Losing the fight, I looked up and saw him, as wonderful as ever, being dragged along the pavement by his tiny sister.  He sensed me staring and his eyes flashed my way.  I snapped my head down and prayed he didn’t see me.  Moments later, I heard the automatic doors open and shut.  He was gone.

Mom honked her horn, and I slowly joined her in the front seat.

“You alright, sweetie?  Did everything go okay?”

I thought about Matt and the life he would have, with years extending way beyond seventeen.  Over the month of my trials, I’d learned that over time, memories of the old, altered moments would fade.  I was fourteen now. This was my present and future.  This was my world, and there was no place in it for Matt or the Watson family or the life we’d led together.  Eventually I’d forget what had happened, forget what I’d never truly know, and, as much as it hurt to think about right now, life would go on as it should.

“Yeah, Mom.  Everything’s fine now.”

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