Authors: Juliette Caron
“Did you know, on average, people with mental illnesses die twenty-five years earlier than normal people?” Mary said as we climbed out of Adrien’s ancient silver Nissan. Keaton had offered to pay for a cab, but Adrien insisted we ride in his car, which was finally out of the repair shop.
“Mentally ill people are normal, too, Mary,” I said, watching Adrien as he locked the car. Was he mentally ill? I was certain he was depressed. Why else would he…I let the thought trail off. No use dwelling on the inevitable. It was something I couldn’t think about too much. In fact, I pretty much had to be in denial because there was no other way I could enjoy my limited time with him.
“That’s pretty random,” Adrien said, laughing, raking a hand through his hair.
“And anyway, what
normal?” I said to Mary. “You certainly aren’t.”
“Ha!” she said to me. She then turned to Adrien, “Abby was mentally ill. She was bipolar.”
“It wasn’t a serious case,” I said. “I barely even noticed her lows. She was pretty happy most of the time. It was her highs that got her into trouble.”
Keaton laughed, adjusting his fedora. “She really thought she was invincible.” He said it wistfully and with affection. I frowned. Poor Keaton. He really did love Abby. They’d made a really cute couple, too.
It was a chilly afternoon. Despite the bright, clear sky and the sun directly overhead, an icy wind still managed to bite the skin underneath our clothes. The crisp, earthy smells of fall permeated the air. I almost hated fall. It wouldn’t be so bad by itself, but cold, bitter winter always followed.
“Cold?” Adrien asked, wrapping his arm around me.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Mary asked. It was my first time visiting Abby’s grave since the funeral. The visit was long overdue.
“I’m sure. Adrien, you really didn’t have to come. You’re the only one here who didn’t know Abby,” I said, snuggling up to him to keep warm. I wasn’t sure what made my heart race more—anticipating seeing Abby’s grave again or Adrien’s strong arms encircling me.
We wandered through a maze of headstones, trying to find hers. Cemeteries always freaked me out. It was so abnormal to be standing on rotting corpses. Okay, not directly
them, which wasn’t much better. But, unlike Mary, I was definitely not comfortable with death. Morgues, coffins, crematoriums, all of that. Even an approaching hearse on the road unhinged me. Every time I saw one, I’d get this sick feeling in my stomach and wonder if it held a dead body and then, of course, my imagination would get the best of me and I’d start making up tragic stories about the poor dead guy in the back. How did he die? Strangulation? Drowning? A black widow bite? Who was he leaving behind? His soul mate? A paraplegic mother? Five children?
“Here it is,” Keaton whispered. Alarmed, I stopped so fast I stepped on Adrien’s shoe.
“Sorry,” I said, feeling like an idiot.
“No problem,” he said, stealing a kiss from my cheek. What did all these touches and stolen kisses mean? Was my plan working? Could I change his mind?
When I saw her name engraved in the granite headstone, it felt like being punched in the stomach by a world champion boxer. I wasn’t ready for this. Why did it still catch me off guard, all these months later? When would I finally realize she was really gone?
We stood in silence, listening to chirping birds and leaves being rattled by the wind, before Mary said, “Death is so beautiful.”
I shot Mary a look. Had she lost it? “Death is
beautiful,” I said. “Are you
“I’m just saying—”
“How can you
that?” I nearly spit the words out.
Mary’s eyes darted left and right. “Wait, I—”
“You weren’t in the car with her. You didn’t see all the blood. You didn’t watch her take her last breath. You don’t know
,” I said, nearly shouting.
Adrien cringed before taking my trembling body in his arms and holding me tightly, soothing the anger and hurt away.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that,” Mary said, clutching her black velvet jacket tightly over her chest, looking down at the ground.
“No, I’m sorry. I just—I guess I freaked out there for a minute. This is all so fresh for me still. I thought I was getting better, but sometimes it just hits me all over again.”
Keaton, who seemed oblivious to the rest of us, began singing Abby’s favorite song,
, by The Cure. Surprised, the rest of us stood in silent wonder, carefully listening. Keaton had a decent voice. He’d sometimes sing backup in The Striped Goat, his smooth falsetto perfectly complimenting Abby’s deeper voice. Mary hid her face in her hands, on the verge of hysterics. I couldn’t tell if she was laughing or crying, or maybe both. Keaton took her hand and squeezed it. That last part got the best of us and we were all in tears. Even Adrien’s eyes became glassy and I felt him trembling, too.
After a few intense moments of silence—which I was sure were going to kill me—Mary spoke up first. “Abby, you were the most beautiful soul I ever knew. My very best friend.” She placed an iridescent silk butterfly atop the tombstone. Abby loved butterflies.
Keaton was next. He set a paper origami bird next to the butterfly and whispered, “Now you’re free…Free as a bird…I will always love you, Abby.”
It was my turn. I opened my mouth, unsure of what to say. I managed to get out a frog-like croaking noise.
Adrien pulled his arm around me tighter and said, “I’ve never met you, Abby, but I’ve heard nothing but good. I—I’m sorry your beautiful life was cut short.” His face crumbled in pain. “I’m so sorry.”
Finally I said, “Abby, you’re my best friend, my sister, my soul twin. Death can not keep us apart. Somehow, I feel you near me. Somehow I know you’ll always be around. I love you.”
Mary did that laughing-crying thing again. I pulled a handful of gourmet ginger ale bottle caps from my jacket pocket and sprinkled them, like dirt, over the grave. “She loved ginger ale,” I explained. This struck everyone as funny and we all laughed. Really, really hard.
On our way back to the car, I started feeling funny. Tired, weak, nauseous. Like my stomach turned inside-out. The grave. Mary and Keaton. Chris. Adrien. John and April. It was all too much.
“Are you okay, September?” Mary asked, her heavily made up face concerned. “You don’t look too hot.”
Keaton nodded. “You do look a little pale.”
“I’m always pale,” I said right before I threw up all over some poor guy’s grave. My half-digested black bean salad slid down the center of the headstone.
“Poor Jonathan,” Adrien said, struggling to read the victim’s last name, “Jonathan Bacon. He never saw it coming.”
“Ha, ha,” I said, feeling increasingly miserable by the second.
“You’re running a fever,” Mary said, feeling my forehead with the back of her hand. “Let’s get you home.”
“September, you have a visitor,” Mary said, yanking me out of a rare good dream. I dreamed Adrien, Mary, Abby and I spent a perfect day at the park, playing on swings, eating strawberry ice cream.
I moaned. “Leave me alone.”
Not unlike a dentist extracting a tooth, Mary yanked open the curtains. Cruel, ruthless sunlight blinded me. My eyes slammed shut in protest. “Wakey-wakey. Hot Waffle Guy’s here.”
“What time is it?”
“What day is it?”
“It’s September twenty-sixth. Two days after you puked all over the cemetery,” Mary said, running a damp cloth over my face. “Sit up.”
Obediently, I struggled to get into a somewhat seated position on the bed. She pressed a glass of room-temperature water to my lips. I sipped carefully, afraid if I drank too much, I’d throw up again. Some of the water wandered and dribbled off my chin, wetting the front of my shirt. Mary smiled at me affectionately. How did I ever hate her? Every day I understood a little more why she meant so much to Abby. She grabbed a brush from her back pocket and began running it through my hair.
“Wait. What are you doing?” I asked, confused.
“You want to look good for Hot Waffle Guy, don’t you?”
It finally clicked and I sat up, panicked. “Adrien’s here? I don’t want to see him. I mean, I don’t want
. Not like this. I’m a wreck.”
“Calm down, you actually look kind of cute, in a half-dead sort of way,” she said, yanking on a knot in my hair.
“Ow! I don’t want to see him. Not today. Send him home.” A quiet tap on my door informed me it was too late.
“September?” It was him. Great. How much did he hear?
I groaned. “Come in, if you must.” When he opened the door, I wanted to hide under my covers and never come out again. I felt naked without makeup and my hair was a stringy mess. Did I have B.O.? My breath could probably kill anything within a ten mile radius.
“I’ll leave you two alone,” Mary said, in mocking tone. I shot her the look of death before she slipped out.
Adrien entered the room, looking around for a moment. His eyes rested on Abby’s photo, the one of her on the fifty cent kiddie ride, before he sat on the edge of my bed. He placed a single sunflower in a simple blue vase on my nightstand and a mysterious paper bag on the floor. He noticed the pile of books on forgiveness and flipped through one of them.
“Are these working? Are you forgiving the man who killed Abby?”
“They’re helping a lot. I’m starting to. I didn’t think I could, but I’m really starting to.”
“What if he doesn’t deserve your forgiveness?”
I laughed, surprised. “Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. Forgiving him is more for me and my own happiness than for him.”
He thought about that for a few moments before asking, “How are you feeling?”
“A little better,” I said, aiming my offensive breath away from his general direction.
“Good,” he said. “I missed you.”
I laughed. “We’ve been apart for like two days.”
“I guess I’m used to spending every day with you. The past two days have felt endless. I’m having September withdrawals. The truth is you should be illegal. You’re like a drug.”
I couldn’t help but smile. “That’s what all the guys say,” I joked. I explored his face. He looked tired. The whites of his eyes had red rivers on the surface. His usual vibrant skin had become dull. Even his green shirt looked as disheveled as his hair.
As if he could read my thoughts, he said, “I haven’t been sleeping much lately.”
I opened my mouth to ask why, but I knew why. He had six days left before…No. I shouldn’t think it. I was going to get him to change his mind. Somehow.
“I brought you something,” he said, opening the big brown bag.