“You have no idea how it’s going to feel for me to see him. Quit pretending you do,” I say as I stand and turn my back completely from the yellowed glass.
My eyes meet hers and our glares match, neither of us flinching. Eventually, my mom’s focus falls to my chin, and she sucks in her top lip hard. She’s frustrated with me, quite literally biting her tongue to keep herself from engaging.
“You shouldn’t waste your time by the window is all. It could be hours,” she says, spinning on her heels and gripping the doorknob. She steps through and pauses short of closing it completely. “It isn’t Will’s fault he survived.”
My eyes flutter to a close again, and my chest burns. I hate her honesty. Perhaps because I’ve never mastered it.
She’s right, of course. Every single word out of her mouth is truth. But I still don’t know if my heart can handle seeing Will Hollister, and I think maybe there’s a part of his heart that can’t bear to see me either.
Too many reminders.
Too much that’s familiar.
Somewhere along the way, Evan Hollister and I fell in love. It happened both slowly and all at once. Will left for college, leaving only the two of us to train together in the evening hours. The first time my father left us to swim our laps alone, Evan kissed me. He said he’d been waiting to do it for years, only he lacked the courage. He kept kissing me every day since, until he no longer could.
We both went to Valparaiso together, an unpopular choice Evan made not following in his older brother’s footsteps and going to State. I’d gotten into Valpo, though, and Evan came for me.
I got used to him doing things for me. Coming home to me. Until one day, he didn’t.
The Hollister family loves to fly. Evan’s dad, Robert, had been flying since he was a teenager, probably before he could drive. He had his own plane, and when life got boring, he piled his family inside the cockpit and they took off to see parts of the country. I’d gone with them all…many times.
There was no reason that the Hollister plane should fall from the sky, but that’s exactly what it did on Christmas Eve four years ago. Nobody had to call. A plane crashes onto a country road outside of Knox, killing three on board, and leaving one to fight for his life—that makes the news everywhere in the country. Tragedy…pain and loss. Those are the things that lead at six o’clock.
My eyes were seeing the pictures just as friends and relatives were starting to fill our house with news. I had hope that it was a different plane for almost an hour—as if it could be any other plane. When that was dashed, I began hoping that the one fighting for his life was Evan.
It was Will.
I didn’t want it to be Will, but at the same time…I did.
I keep that thought buried deep, and I’ve never said it out loud.
I haven’t seen Will since days before the crash, which means…years. He was still in a coma when we buried his parents and brother. His body managed to come through the crash virtually unscathed. His head took severe trauma, however. My parents went to see him when he finally awoke, but I couldn’t bring myself to visit. They’re too much alike, he and Evan. I just couldn’t bring myself to see something that was a near match, but not the same, when I looked him in the eyes. It’s the differences that would kill me.
Once Will was released, he moved to Michigan to live with his uncle and complete his rehab. He came back to Indiana a few times—for friends, I guess, and handling his parents’ estate. My dad used to try to tell me about it, and at first, I listened. I actually almost felt a kick in my heart for happy news that Will was improving. But the resentment always took over. It made me feel ugly because I knew it wasn’t fair. I still know it, and I still feel ugly, but I can’t help it. It’s like a sickness, guilt is the only salve.
So I live on a perpetual edge, held up by guilt and the dull ache forever left in my heart because I loved a boy, and fate stole him away from me.
It took me a year of counseling, and my father begging, to get back into the water. It was another year before I remembered how to win. And for the last six months, I’ve started to feel like I can remember how to breathe—how to live without the weight and the constant feeling that something important is missing. I’m going to swim for gold. This is the year. I’ve reemerged, remembered, and I’ll finally be able to consider peace.
Then my dad had to fuck it all up with one phone call.
Will wasn’t looking. He was fine training on his own, working out with coaches in Michigan. Clearly, whatever they were doing for him was effective because, despite falling thousands of feet to the earth in an aluminum tube—that at some point caught on fire—he was back to winning freestyle sprints in the pool. He didn’t need my dad. We didn’t need him. Yet, he’s somewhere on the goddamned sixty-nine highway, barreling southbound right for me, and I can’t hide up here forever.