It’d been almost three weeks since I’d lost her, and there hadn’t been a day that I hadn’t cried. I’d cried so much I’d been impressed when the tears kept forming.
People always said it would get easier after losing someone. People said that, over time, it would get better. But I couldn’t comprehend how that could be true. As each day passed, it just became harder. The world only grew darker. The pain merely deepened.
My head crooked toward my passenger’s side window, and when I opened my eyes, I wiped away the single tear that was moisturizing my right cheek. My bottom lip quivered with restrained misery. I didn’t want to cry in front of Henry—or anyone at that. I much preferred crying alone in the shadows.
I wished Gabby were still alive.
And I wished I didn’t feel so dead.
Henry’s truck pulled into the gravel driveway of his home—my temporary place of residence. I was quick to note the two other cars in the driveway, a newer-looking nice black Nissan Altima and an older blue Ford Focus.
The house was huge compared to the two-bedroom apartment I’d lived in all of my life. The front bushes were perfectly trimmed and an American flag waved back and forth in the light breeze.
I kid you not—there was a white picket fence. A white picket fence!
There were three windows on the second level of the house, and in one of them, I saw a guy with headphones, peeking through his curtains. When our eyes locked, he disappeared in haste.
Ohmygosh. Henry really did live with other people. As he climbed out of the truck, I slid across the driver’s seat and stepped out. Before I could smooth out my coat, a woman—Rebecca, I assumed—was standing in front of me. Hugging me.
Why in the hell was this stranger touching me?
“Oh, Ashlyn! We’re so glad you’re here!” She squeezed me as my arms stayed glued to my sides. “God is good, bringing you to us. This is heaven-sent, I just know it.”
I blinked once and took a step back from her. “Heaven killed my sister so I could come stay with my estranged father’s family?”
A painful silence appeared, up until Henry snickered with uncomfortable laughter—which led to Rebecca’s chuckling uneasily.
“Here, honey. Let me grab your bags.” Rebecca moved to the back of the truck and Henry followed after her. They began to speak softly to one another as if I weren’t standing two inches away. “Where’s her luggage, Henry?” she whispered in a heightened sigh.
“This is all she has.”
“One bag? That’s it? Lord, I can only imagine her life in Chicago. We’ll have to get her some things.”
I listened but didn’t react to their words. Strangers. That’s all that the people behind the truck were to me. So for them to judge and try to figure out the life I spent in the past with my mom and Gabby only made their ignorance that much clearer.
Henry walked back toward me, my suitcase in his hand, and Rebecca followed close behind.
“Come on, Ashlyn. Let me show you around inside.”
Stepping into the foyer, I was shocked when I saw a huge framed portrait of their nice little family hanging against the wall. There was a brunette girl, who was a spitting image of Rebecca, blue doe eyes and all.
She looked to be my age but much more uptight based on her sweater-vest and past-the-knees skirt. Beside Henry was the boy I saw staring out the window. There was a forced smile on his mouth and a weird look of confusion in his eyes.
Henry noticed that I was studying the photo, and I watched a lump form in his throat. His mouth opened, but he shut it quickly when words didn’t come to mind.
“You have a lovely family, Henry,” I said dryly, moving on to the living room. The brunette girl from the photograph was sitting on the oversized, fluffy-looking chair reading a book.
She stood from her chair when she heard us enter, and a big, warming smile was sent my way. “Hi. You must be Ashlyn. I’m Hailey. We’ve heard so much about you.” She seemed genuine in her welcome, but I knew I couldn’t return the smile.
“Yeah? I wish I could say the same.”
She didn’t flinch from my rude comment yet kept smiling.
Rebecca moved behind me and placed her hands on my shoulders. I really wished she would stop touching me. “Hailey, can you show Ashlyn to your bedroom?”
“We’re sharing a room?” I asked, hating the idea because I was in dire need of my own space.
“Yeah. I hope that’s all right. Don’t worry. I’m not a slob.” Hailey grinned and grabbed my suitcase from Henry. I reached for it, telling her that I could handle it, nut she refused. “It’s fine. Trust me. We’ll probably hate each other soon enough, so we might as well be nice for the time being,” she joked.
Her room was pink. Like, very pink. Four pink walls, pink comforters, pink curtains. There was a bookshelf with trophies and ribbons of all kinds. Horseback riding, soccer, spelling bees. It was clear that Hailey and I had grown up in very different lifestyles.
Could you imagine? A bookshelf with not a single book.
“I cleared out the two top drawers for you and the right side of the closet.” Hailey hopped on her bed, which was directly across from mine. I sat down too, running my hands over what appeared to be a homemade blanket. “So Dad said you’re from Chicago?” she asked.
I cringed at her word choice. “You call Henry dad?”
She cringed right back at me. “You call dad Henry?”
This was all getting to be too much. I wanted to ask her questions about how long she had lived with Henry, about how long she’d called him dad, but I didn’t want to know the answers.