I was fourteen when Brent and I made it official. He took me out to his grandpa’s farm, and we sprawled out on a blue-and-white-polka-dot blanket, staring up at the stars. He showed me the Little Dipper just moments before he asked me to be his girlfriend.
Brent and I had been best friends since long before I could remember. His daddy and my daddy had grown up together, so playdates had been inevitable. We shared not only a fondness of Neapolitan ice cream, but also a birthday. We’d spent our childhoods chasing down chickens and causing mayhem on that very farm, where our love blossomed.
Two years later, he captured my virginity in that same spot, and two more years passed before we said our “I dos.”
Now, ten years after our stargazing love affair had started, I was sinking into a pit of guilt and stuck in a world of what-ifs.
When I was twelve, my parents and I were struck by a drunk driver. A drunk driver who stole my parents from me. Somehow—through fate, no doubt—my life was spared. I had been asleep in the back seat when the man’s car had struck ours. The officers told me that he had veered into our lane and no amount of defensive driving could have changed the course of that accident. He made sure to tell me over and over again that it wasn’t my fault. That it wasn’t my parents’ fault, either.
Well, no duh, Sherlock. Clearly, they hadn’t been the drunk ones in the wrong lane. I got it. I was twelve at the time—still a child in the officer’s eyes—but I wasn’t stupid. I could never blame my parents for not having been able to get out of the way. That didn’t mean I didn’t harbor some guilt myself.
We had been on our way home from a softball game. My softball game. I’d played for my junior high’s team as a starting pitcher. For the first time in nearly twenty years, our school had made it to the state championship. And after a rough season and a brutal game, we had finally taken home a state trophy. The game was two hours away from home, and I had begged them to take the team out for ice cream at a local Dairy Queen before heading home. Had we gone home straight after the game, my parents might still be here today.
For the last twelve years, people have told me over and over again how silly it was for me to feel that way, including Brent.
“Let it go.”
“You couldn’t have stopped it.”
“It was fate.”
“They wouldn’t want you to feel so guilty.”
None of those phrases changed how I felt, no matter how silly my feelings were. I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if we had left when they’d wanted to. If I wouldn’t have begged them to take us for ice cream. Twelve years and I still hadn’t put a spoon to a bowl of Neapolitan. It just wasn’t the same.
Even after having lost the only family I really had, I never once felt alone. If it hadn’t been for Brent and the Hart family, I’d have died of loneliness years ago. Brent’s parents let me stay with them for a few months, until my aunt could finally be bothered to move back our small town of Danville, Georgia. Population: 222. Well, 220 after the accident.
Aunt Sharon spent those few months trying to convince me to move to Chicago with her. I, of course, refused. After her futile attempts to get me to agree to move, Aunt Sharon decided she’d come back to Danville and raise me herself.
“It’s what your parents would want,” she told me several times a day.
No, my parents would want to be here, raising me. But what do I know?
She moved right back to Chicago the day I turned eighteen, leaving me my mom and dad’s house and all of their belongings. It wasn’t long before Brent moved in—but not until after our wedding.
My parents had been gone for twelve years. Brent had been dead for twelve days. What the heck was with the number twelve in my life? And why couldn’t I seem to keep my loved ones alive and well?
Too bad answers to impossible questions didn’t simply fall from the sky. Maybe then would I have been able to stop the pain that ate away at my core. The pain that numbed me from reality and left me lost in an emotional hurricane.
A loud bang coming from the front door woke me from my delusional thoughts. I didn’t expect—or want—company, so I stayed curled up under my blanket and sank deeper into my new couch. The banging grew louder, which caused a groan to escape my throat.
Why can’t I just be left alone?
I checked the mirror that hung crooked on my pale-grey living room wall as I got up. My hair was loosely bunched up on top of my head, my eyes bloodshot and my wardrobe atrocious. I’d been wearing the same pajama pants for four days now with a plain, white T-shirt underneath Brent’s robe. The intoxicating smell of his cologne still lingered, but just barely. My breath caught as the image of him lying motionless on our couch flashed through my head.