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“Get lost, Levi,” Lance said in the most caring way possible.

“Thank you,” I murmured, to Lance, to music, to my soul.

I fine-tuned the strings. I messed around with the bow.

Lance turned and walked upstairs. The moment he disappeared, I shut off the lights, filling the space with darkness.

Everything was exactly the same, but somehow completely different.




This feels right.

My fingers discovered the sounds of apologies that the violin offered me. The strings cried for me. Music understood me when I didn’t understand myself. It was my blanket of protection from every real fear that existed. I rocked back and forth as I traveled down the road of pure escapism. I became lost in the moment, forgetting all of my surroundings, all of my pain, all of my hurt.

I played until my fingers ached.

And then I played some more.

I played until my body shook.

And then I played some more.

I played until my heart broke.

And then I played some more.

My fingers ripped the bow away from the violin. My hands were pale as ghosts from my intense playing. My body shook with nerves and a clouded mind, but I knew the answer to the question.

I knew who I had to chose, and it broke my heart.

Hold it together, Levi.

I needed to calm myself, to control my panicked breaths. I wondered if what I was feeling was what it always felt like for Mom. Were the panic attacks so painful that they traveled from her toes to the tip of her head? Did she feel the walls screaming at her? Was it always this ugly and terrifying for her?

I needed to find a place of peace.

But I wasn’t sure how.

The truth was that Mom was my peace. From day one, she’d been there for me. Even when she was battling the ugliest of wars, she was still my stillness. I was the hurricane and she was somehow the eye of the storm. She comforted me when Dad’s cards stopped showing up. She held me when he said he didn’t want to see me anymore. She’d been there from day one, and I’d left her.

What’s wrong with me?

How could I have ever hated her?

She was sick, and I walked away.

She begged me to come home, and I ignored her.

She was my true music. Not the kind of music that I played in a darkened space. Not the kind of sounds that the shadows applauded. She was the colors that found the strings. She was the purples and blues, the yellows and reds that bled love from the vibrations of sound.

Hannah Myers was music.

And without her, life was a mistake.

* * *

I headed home that night with my mind made up. I would tell Dad that I had to go back to Alabama and look after Mom for a few weeks. I had to know that she would be okay. But, when I stepped inside, I saw the glow from the black and white comedies playing on the television. Dad sat in front of it with his dinner sitting on his TV tray, and beside him was another tray with my dinner.

My chest tightened as the nurse walked up to me, explaining that she would be back the next evening, and that she’d left all of Dad’s medicine labeled for him to take in the morning. She left and closed the front door behind her.

“I made you the fried chicken TV dinner and a Salisbury steak one—I wasn’t sure which one you liked more,” he said, moving a spoon around a bowl of soup in front of him. I sat down next to him on the couch as we watched the comedies together.

He didn’t eat much of his soup, but when he did lift his hand, I watched it shake repeatedly. I offered to help him, but he huffed and grumbled as always.

Eventually he placed his spoon down, defeated, and nodded toward me.

I fed him the soup, and I was back to square one with no clue how I could leave him here to go back home.

“You know that song you played at the showcase? The first one?”

“Yeah. ‘Love You Till The End’ by—”

“The Pogues.” He nodded, his eyes still on the television screen. “It was mine and your mom’s wedding song.”

The pieces of my mother that I’d never truly understood were slowly coming together.

“What happened to you two? Why did you split up?”

He cringed and rubbed his temple. “I messed up. Your mother and I got into a big fight one night, then I got drunk and made a move on Camila Watson in a bar. That’s why her husband can’t stand me, and that’s why Hannah left me.”

“Did you love Camila?”

“No. No. I was stupid and young, an asshole who made a bad mistake. It turned out my mistake was enough for your mom to pack up and leave me. I don’t blame her, though. She had her anxiety and always worried I would leave her for someone else. At that point I didn’t know how sick she was, about her mental health. I should have fought, though. I should’ve fought for her.”

“Did you love her?” I asked.

He sniffled and cleared his throat, but didn’t say anything else until he was ready for bed. I walked him to his bedroom and even though he argued that he didn’t want me to help him change into his pajamas, he allowed me to do so.

When he was settled into bed, I went to turn off his lamp, and heard him mutter, “Until the end.”

Denise called me that night to tell me Mom was okay. She was still in the hospital, but she was doing much better.

That night I cried myself to sleep.

* * *

On Christmas day, I headed to the woods at six in the morning, just like every day before. For a second I thought I was still dreaming when I saw Dad standing next to the tree house. He stared at the ladder that led up to it. Each rung was covered in snow. Dad’s hands were stuffed into his sweatpants pockets.