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Authors: Emily France

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Signs of You

BOOK: Signs of You
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Copyright © 2016 Emily France

Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. “Recopilacion Delas Cartas Qve Fveron embiadas de las Indias & Isles del Serenissimo rey d' Portugal, ...”
The New York Public Library Digital Collections
. 1557.

 

This is a work of f iction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used f ictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

All rights reserved.

 

Published in the United States by Soho Teen

an imprint of

Soho Press, Inc.

853 Broadway

New York, NY 10003

 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

France, Emily

Signs of you / Emily France.

1. Self-help groups—Fiction. 2. Grief—Fiction. 3. Relics—Fiction.
4. Supernatural—Fiction. 5. Future life—Fiction. 6. Love—Fiction. I. Title

PZ7.1.F73 Sig 2016 (print) | PZ7.1.F73 (ebook) [Fic]—dc23 2015048581

ISBN 978-1-61695-657-8

eISBN 978-1-61695-658-5

Interior design by Janine Agro, Soho Press, Inc.

Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

For my husband, Kevin. A sparkling wit. The greatest gift.
And the best date to the ninth grade dance a girl could ask for.

 

I love you.

Chapter 1

Sighting

She's been dead two years when I see her in the grocery store. She's looking at bottles of bubble bath. She picks up a pink one, unscrews the cap, and sniffs. Her nose wrinkles and she puts the bottle back on the shelf. As she looks for a different scent, I blink.

I must be losing my mind. I look again. It's her.

Everything about her is how I remember it—her chestnut bobbed hair, her smooth golden skin and high cheekbones, her familiar blue sweater zipped up halfway. She's wearing the dress we buried her in, baby blue linen with a tiny f loral print. I blink and blink again. It's her. I am looking at my mother. The mother I last saw in a coff in; the mother we buried at Richf ield Cemetery two years ago last week. The mother who's dead because of me.

She picks up another bottle of bubble bath and reads the label. I take a step closer, and she looks up and smiles. When our eyes meet, I feel like I might collapse under the weight of everything I need to say. That I'm sorry for that night. That the last words I ever said to her were angry and mean and horrible. “I hate you,” I'd said.
Hate, hate, hate.
And I'm sorry I didn't try to stop her as she ran out the door, upset and hurt, and got behind the wheel of a car we all knew she shouldn't have been driving. Not with her injury.

My mom wasn't supposed to drive because of me. When she gave birth to me, she got hurt. During labor, her blood pressure spiked and she had a stroke. It was a small one, but big enough to affect her sight and sometimes her memory. She always told me that she'd missed so much. She couldn't see well enough to teach me how to put on makeup, to ride a bike, to parallel park.

But when she said these things I knew she wasn't talking to me, or even about me. She'd been forced to give up driving, forced to quit the nursing job she'd loved. She'd missed out on a lot of the good stuff, on the dreamed-about, supposed-to-be stuff. All because I was born. And the last words I'd said to her, the mother whose life I'd ruined, were
I hate you.

And as if screaming it wasn't enough, I ran to my room and tweeted it, too:

Hate my mom. Hate. #meanit.

I tweeted it because I didn't have that many followers. And I still don't. I've never been that popular online or anywhere else, really. But people found out about my tweet. It got retweeted. Then posted on Facebook. Quickly I became the girl who told her mom off the night she died. I vowed never to tweet another thing as long as I live, but that doesn't help. I'll never know how many people saw it; I can't pull it back and make it my own private shame. It's just . . . out there.

But now she's standing ten feet from me in the grocery store, and I have another chance. All I can think is
I'm sorry
. Sorry you had me, sorry I screwed up your life, sorry I said what I did. I want to hear her voice, to smell her perfume, to wrap my arms around the woman whose blood is my own. I want to say
Mom
. So I run. Well, I try to run. My feet won't work right. I put one foot in front of the other as fast as I can, but I'm dizzy and disoriented.

When I'm close, her beautiful smile changes to a look of horror. She shoves the bottle of bubble bath back on the shelf and walks away.

I speed up. So does she. She rounds the corner and I lose sight of her behind a huge display of crackers. I break into a sprint, clear the pyramid of boxes, and nearly bump into her.

She turns. Except now the woman who faces me looks nothing like my mother. She's a blonde, in hot pink lipstick. Her dress has lost its familiar f loral print. Now, she's just wearing jeans.

“Can I help you?” the woman asks. My cheeks f lush hot under the glare of the grocery store f luorescents.

“No, ma'am. I'm . . . I'm sorry. I thought you were someone else,” I say.

The woman looks annoyed that I stopped her. Annoyed and maybe a little frightened. She shakes her head and hurries away. I watch her go and know that I
should
be
thinking that I've lost my mind. But I'm not. At f irst, I'm thinking one thing, and one thing only:

Mom, come back.

But then another thought comes:

I think I know why I saw you.

I'm a mess as
I pull out of Heinen's parking lot. My palms are sweaty; I can't get a good grip on the steering wheel. I feel frayed, my insides totally shattered, but instead of speeding, I drive way too slowly. Like I'm afraid I'll hit something or someone at any moment because I can't focus on the road. A car comes up behind me and the driver lays on the horn. I look in my rearview mirror to see if I know the man behind the wheel, but all I catch is the blur of his SUV as he swerves around me and gives me the f inger.

I start again, a little quicker this time, and catch sight of my hazel eyes in the rearview mirror. Maybe the guilt f inally got to me.
I
wanted
to stop Mom the night she ran out after our f ight. As she brushed by me, car keys in hand, I wanted to shout.
Please, don't go
; the words
were on the tip of my tongue. Chills ran down my arms like millions of tiny marbles under my skin. As I watched her slip out the door, some part of me
knew
she'd never come back through it. Or maybe that's just how I remember it. Maybe it's easier to convince myself that I knew I was going to lose her before I actually did. Like that makes it less scary somehow. I don't know. All I know for sure is that I didn't say anything. I just let her go.

A few hours later the cop showed up. He said she crossed the centerline on I-77 and ran straight into an oncoming semi-truck. He asked if she'd been drinking.

“No, no,” my father had said. His voice was tight, controlled. He was keeping it together for my benef it. But he began to shiver. “She never drank. Maybe half a glass at Christmas.” His voice broke, and he turned away, a deep sob wracking his shoulders.

I remember thinking that the sound of my father crying was the most horrible sound on earth. It terrif ied me. Crushed me in an instant. I put my arms around him and held tight.

“She didn't crash because she was drinking,” I said to the cop. “She crashed because of me.”

I shake off the
memory and focus on the drive. I head straight to the place I've gone to a million times before: Jay's house. I skip the front door because I haven't used it since the ninth grade. Jay always lets me in through his window. I mean, there's no reason I can't use the front door. Even late at night. His mom is usually out on a date with some weirdo she met on the Internet. But his bedroom is on the f irst f loor, so his window is like my personal VIP entrance.

I peer through the window and there he is, lying on his bed in his favorite T-shirt, blue with gold lettering: Go W.H. Bees. That's our high school baseball team—the Woodhull High Bees. And I guess small, stinging insects are an appropriate mascot for a sprawling Ohio high school that combines two suburbs of Cleveland. I mean, our sheer numbers make us a little menacing, but still, you could kill us with a f lyswatter. Or a can of Raid.

His baseball shirt is the same one he wore the day we sat on my front porch steps when I f irst opened up about my mom, about how guilty I felt. He seemed to get it right away. Jay told me his mom had never been that good at being a mom; I told him mine had never been that good at being happy.

I reach up to knock on the window but stop. I'm so afraid to tell him why I'm here. I stand there, sort of paralyzed, and watch. He's propped up on some pillows, staring at his glowing iPhone screen. His guitar leans against the bedframe, and on the wall behind him are several posters: Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Doors. When we f irst met, I asked him why he listened to old music.

“Simple,” he'd said. “I like it because it kicks more ass.”

I remember smiling and thinking,
I'm so into him. How could I not be totally into him?

I take a deep breath and tap on the glass.

He jumps off the bed and sweeps his hand through his thick brown hair. “Hey,” he whispers, cranking the window open. “What's up?” He holds my hand as I climb up to the windowsill and jump down onto his soft blue carpet.

“Hey.” It's all I can manage, like I'm drowning in the awkward silence and can't choke out any more words.

“Talk to me,” he says. “You don't look so good.” His pale brown eyes glimmer as he studies me the way he always does when he's worried—with that if-I-can-f ix-it-I-will look. And I want to tell him everything, that I saw Mom, that I think I know why, but I freeze, suddenly all too aware of what a nut bag I'm about to sound like.

I think I saw my mother today. I want to f ind her. And I think you can help. And I always tell you everything
. . .
Well, everything but the whole I'm-into-you thing. But, this. THIS. I can't think of a way to tell you THIS.

“I'm f ine,” I say, stalling for time. “Just a little stressed.”

“About what?”

I wildly search my mind for potential stressors in my life that do
not
involve seeing someone who died two years ago.
My room's a mess. I think I overheard my dad f lirting with some woman on the phone, and it made me want to hurl. I'm worried because I haven't gone up a bra cup size in, like, forever.

“You're not worried about the history test are you?” he asks.

History test. Perfect.
I used to be a straight-A student and ace everything from history to biology to physics. After Mom died, I just couldn't focus. Or care. Or even remember why I used to care.

“Yep, I'm a mess over it. Who
is
Polk, anyway? Keeps me up at night.”

“Nice use of the Henry Clay campaign slogan,” he says with a grin. “Well done. Very hard to do in casual conversation.” He reaches up to give me our traditional greeting: a f ist bump followed by the opening of our hands in a little fade-away motion. It's sort of lame, but we saw it in a movie once and decided it was the perfect greeting—especially when you're me. After Mom's funeral, it didn't take long to get sick of the pity on people's faces when they saw me, followed by one of those it-sucks-to-be-you hugs. So Jay and I decided we'd do the f ist-bump handshake at all times—good and bad—to protest the world's proclivity for pity-you greetings.

“I'll help you study tonight,” he says. “No worries, we'll—”

The sound of a gong and crashing waves interrupt him.

“What the hell?” I ask.

He f lops onto his bed and grabs his cell phone. “Got a text,” he says. “It's my new notif ication noise: Zen bells.”

Whoever it is makes him smile. He even laughs a little as he types back. I crawl onto the end of the bed and lean against his footboard. In my head, I'm running through different ways to tell him about seeing Mom.
So, I was at the store today. No. So, you know that cross that's in your living room? No. How do you feel about life after death? NO.

Jay texts away, his eyes shining in the bright screen light.

“Anyone ever tell you that your eyes are the color of diet maple syrup?” I ask. He shakes his head no, but doesn't look up. His f ingers keep pecking at the screen. “Just wondered. And I'll be right back. Going to the bathroom,” I lie.

“Okay,” he says, still not looking up.

I slink off the bed and head down the hallway. But instead of going straight for the bathroom, I take a detour into the living room. In the dark, I can see the sofa and walnut end tables with matching brass lamps. I imagine Jay's mom bringing her myriad dates in here for a middle-aged romp on the pristine white cushions. The thought makes me feel vaguely ill, but mostly it pisses me off. Jay's mom is so messed up. There should be some rule that before you're allowed to have a kid, you have to prove yourself. You have to know how to handle certain major life stuff that gets thrown your way: death, life detours, disappointments. I don't know what the test would be exactly, but you should have to pass it with
at least
a 70 percent.

I walk around the sofa and click on one of the brass lamps. On a long skinny table next to the window is a glass case I've seen a million times before. I peer inside. A tarnished silver cross necklace sits on a little velvet cushion. It's all scratched up and engraved with what I think is a Latin word.
Magis.
But I have no idea what it means.
A brass placard sits next to it.
saint ignatius of loyola, lost cross, circa 1556
.

Jay's dad was Howard Bell, a well-known theology prof up at Case Western. To hear Jay tell it, he spent his entire life (including parts that might have been better spent with Jay) studying the works of an old Catholic saint named Ignatius. His dad had been obsessed with f inding The Lost Cross of St. Ignatius—last seen in the 1500s—ever since Jay was a baby.

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