“Yeah, I did. We spoke for a little bit. Did you talk to him?”
“No. I haven’t talked to my mom either. Not for days now.” The tremble in my voice was picked up by Bentley, and he wrapped his arm around my waist, pulling me in closer for a comfort hug.
“She’s just grieving. She doesn’t mean any harm. I’m sure of it.”
I ran my fingers against the concrete steps, feeling the rough texture against my smooth skin. “I think she wishes it were me,” I spoke softly. A tear fell down my cheek, and I turned my head toward Bentley, who seemed to be hurting enough for me by my own words. “I don’t think she can even look at me because, well…I’m just the evil twin who lived.”
“No.” He said the word with such order in his tone. “Ashlyn, there’s not an evil bone in your body.”
“How can you know that?”
“Well”—he sat up straight and gave me a goofy smile—“I’m a doctor. In training at least.” I couldn’t help but chuckle at his comment. “And just so you know… During the last conversation Gabby and I had, she just kept repeating how happy she was that it wasn’t you.”
I bit into my bottom lip, trying to hold back the tears that were ready to fall. “Thanks, Bentley.”
“Any time, buddy.” He hugged me one last time before we separated. “Which brings me to the next thing.” After reaching over to the box next to him, he lifted it up and set it in my lap. “It’s from Gabby. I was told to give it to you to open after the funeral tonight. I don’t know what’s in it. She wouldn’t tell me. She just told me it was for you.”
I stared at the wooden box, running my fingers against it. What could’ve been inside? What could’ve made it feel so heavy?
Bentley pushed up from the steps and slid his hands into his pockets. I listened to his footsteps as he walked closer to the church doors and opened one, making the quiet muffle of tears that was heard from inside that much more damaging. I didn’t look up, yet I knew he was still there.
He cleared his throat and took a few moments before speaking. “I was going to ask her to marry me, you know.”
The wooden box before me pushed against my thighs, and I felt the summer sun piercing my face, spitting its light against my skin. Without turning back toward him, I nodded. “I know.”
A heavy sigh fell from his lips as he turned to reenter the chapel. I sat there for a while longer, silently asking the sun to melt me into a pile of nothingness on the steps that afternoon. People wandered by the building, yet no one stopped to stare. They were too busy living their lives to notice that mine had somehow came to a halt.
The church door reopened, only this time it was Henry who came to sit next to me. He didn’t say much, but he sat far enough away to avoid making me feel too uncomfortable. Reaching into his suit’s pocket, he pulled out a pack of cigarettes and lit one up.
A cloud of smoke blew from his lips, and I watched the hypnotic patterns it made in the air before dissipating away.
“Don’t you think it’s a bit morose to be smoking on the steps of a church?”
Henry flicked some of the ashes off the end of his cigarette before talking. “Yeah, well, seeing how the world just buried one of my daughters, I think I can have a smoke on these steps and say, ‘Fuck you, world.’ At least for today.”
I laughed, sarcasm filling every inch of my chuckle. “It seems a little bold for you to call us your daughters after eighteen years of only birthday calls and holiday gift cards.” Henry’s driving down here from Wisconsin was the first time I’d seen him in quite some time.
He hadn’t made it his mission in life to have a #1 Dad coffee mug, and I’d learned to be okay with that. But for him to come up here, today of all days, and play the grieving father role seemed a bit dramatic, even for the guy smoking the cigarettes.
He sighed heavily, not replying. We sat and people watched for the longest time. Long enough for me to feel bad for the way I’d snapped at him.
“Sorry,” I muttered, glancing his way. “I didn’t mean that.” I wasn’t sure that he even held it against me. I guess sometimes it was easier to be mean than to be hurt.
Before long, Henry dived into his true reason for joining me outside. “I spoke with your mom. She’s having a pretty hard time.” No comment from me. Of course she was having a hard time! Her favorite daughter was dead! He continued. “We agreed that it might be best if you were to come stay with me. Start and finish your senior year in Wisconsin.”
This time, I really laughed. “Yeah, okay, Henry.” At least he still had a sense of humor going on. An odd sense of humor, but still funny. Rotating my body toward him, I saw the somber look filling his green eyes—the same shade of green as mine. And Gabby’s. My stomach hurt. My eyes gained water. “You’re serious? She doesn’t want me here anymore?”
“It’s not that…” His voice shook, hoping to not offend me.
But it was that. She didn’t want me anymore. Why else would she want to ship me off to the land of cows, cheese, and beer? I knew we were having a hard time, but that’s what families did after deaths. You had hard times. You walked on eggshells. You yelled when you had to and cried during screams. You fell apart—together.
The stomachaches from the past few weeks were back, and I hated myself for feeling faint. Not in front of Henry. Don’t pass out in front of him.
I pushed myself up from the step, holding the wooden box under my left arm. Dusting off the back of my dress with my right hand, I moved toward the church. “It’s fine,” I lied, my mind muddied with panicked thoughts of what was to come. “Besides…who wants to be wanted anyway?”