“She kissed my forehead, looked me in the eyes, and said, ‘Take care of your father.’”
“Shortly after, we learned about the car accident with Josie’s father. My mom died instantly. We hadn’t even had time to hate her for leaving before we were forced to mourn.”
“Jackson, I’m so, so sorry,” Grace said as she breathed out. “I cannot even imagine what that would do to a person’s soul.”
I felt my chest tightening, and as I spoke, I remembered why it was a subject I never opened up about. It was hard—too hard to relive those memories. It was too hard to face that guilt all over again. Whenever I thought of the night of Mom’s death, I swore it felt like I was right back there, drowning all over again.
“Maybe if I had begged for a few seconds longer, then she wouldn’t have been on that road at that exact moment. Maybe if I’d held her tighter…” I whispered.
Grace shook her head. “It’s not your fault, Jackson. There’s no way it was anyone’s fault.”
“I could’ve fought harder to make her stay.”
“No. That’s been a hard lesson for me to learn. It turns out it doesn’t matter how much you beg someone to stay. If they want to go, they are going to leave regardless. All we can do—all anyone can do is learn the art of letting go, and no matter what, it’s clear she loved you.”
“She was my world, and after I lost her, Tucker became my best friend. I felt as if somehow, he was a part of her.” I lowered my head and closed my eyes. “Say something to change the subject,” I begged. “Say anything to make my mind stop spinning.”
Grace cleared her throat for a second, and then she began to sing “Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba.
Almost instantly, I laughed. I needed that. I needed her there with me to ease me away from the darkness. “Great timing,” I told her, releasing a breath. I allowed my shoulders to roll back and relax.
“I am really sorry, though, about your mother.”
“It’s all right. It’s just the main reason I don’t believe in love.”
“You don’t believe in love? Like at all?”
“Nah. I’ve just seen what love can be when it’s found, and what it can become when it’s lost. My father is who he is because of a broken heart, because he lost the love of his life. For months, he wouldn’t get out of bed. He turned to the bottle to try to feel better. He tried to drink my mother out of his memory, and when that didn’t work, he kept drinking and now he’s just…broken.”
“What was your father like? Before he changed?”
“Happy,” I said. “That’s the only word I can think of. He had the deepest laugh, you know, the kind that would rocket through your system and make you laugh yourself, and he was so in tune with cars. He could fix pretty much any and everything. I remember being young and watching him in awe.”
“And now he’s the way he is because she broke his heart.”
“Exactly. I hate who he is right now, hate seeing him in this light because he pisses me off daily. I don’t know who that man in that house is anymore, but I can’t really blame him. The love of his life died in a pretty awful way right after telling him she didn’t love him anymore. If I were him, I’d be crazy, too.”
“Do you think someday he’ll be okay?”
“I don’t know. I hope so, but I really don’t know. I’ve tried to get him into rehab clinics, but he doesn’t want to hear it. I think he feels like what’s the point? No matter what, she’ll still be gone, sober or not. Plus, he’d still be sad sober—probably even sadder.”
“Do you think broken hearts can be fixed?”
“Yes,” I said matter-of-factly. “They just beat a little differently.”
“So maybe someday your dad’s heart can be fixed.”
I shook my head. “For a broken heart to be fixed, the person has to want to repair it. It’s kind of like a car engine—you can fix it if you take the time to work through the broken parts, but I think my dad’s gotten used to how it feels—the hurt. I think that’s where he’s most comfortable now.”
“What about your heart?” she asked. “Is your heart okay?”
“My heart left me the day she passed away.”
“Oh, Jackson…” Her voice lowered, and my chest ached. “It hurts me that you’re so sad.”
We didn’t say another word, but she didn’t leave my side for a good while.
Grace didn’t know it, but at that moment, I was so happy she stayed.
I was in desperate need of someone staying with me.
One Monday afternoon, I ran into Finn in town, and he kept calling my name.
I tried my best to ignore him, but he wouldn’t let up. “Gracelyn! Grace!”