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"I had to leave for work but Caulder had already run across the street. He was imaginary sword fighting with the little boy that had been in the U-Haul. I was just going to yell at him to come get in the car, but there was something about that girl. I just had to meet her. I walked across the street but she never even noticed me. She was watching her brother play with Caulder with this distant look on her face.

"I stood beside the U-Haul and I just watched her. I stared at her while she looked on with the saddest look in her eyes. I wanted to know what she was thinking about, what was going on in her head. What had made her so sad? I wanted to hug her so bad. When she finally got out of the U-Haul and I introduced myself to her, it took all I had to let go of her hand. I wanted to hold onto it forever. I wanted to let her know that she wasn't alone. Whatever burden it was that she was carrying around, I wanted to carry it for her."

I lean my head on his shoulder and he puts his arm around me.

"I wish I could, Lake. I wish I could take it all away. Unfortunately, that's not how it works. It doesn't just go away. That's what your mom is trying to tell you. She needs you to accept it, and she needs for Kel to know, too. You need to give that to her."

"I know, Will. I just can't. Not yet. I'm not ready to deal with it yet."

He pulls me to him and hugs me.

"You'll never be ready for it, Lake. No one ever is."

He lets go of me and walks away. And he's right again, but I don't care this time.

***

"Lake? Can I come in?" Mom says from outside the bedroom door.

"It's open," I say.

She walks in. She's got her scrubs on now. She sits on the bed next to me as I'm writing in my notebook.

"What are you writing?" she asks.

"A poem."

"For school?"

"No, for me."

"I didn't know you wrote poetry," she says as she tries to peek over my shoulder at it.

"I don't, really. If we read our poetry at Club N9NE we're exempt from the final. I'm thinking about doing one, but I don't know. The thought of getting up there in front of all those people makes me nervous."

"Push your boundaries, Lake. That's what they're there for."

I flip the poem upside down and sit up. "So what's up?"

She smiles at me and reaches to my face and tucks my hair behind my ear.

"Not much," she says. "I just had a few minutes before I had to leave for work. I wanted to let you know that it's my last night. I'm not working anymore after tonight."

I break our stare and lean forward and grab my pen. I put the cap back on it and close my notebook, tucking both the items inside my backpack.

"I'm still carving pumpkins, Mom."

She slowly inhales and stands up, hesitates, then walks back out the door.

15.

“Forever I will move like the world that turns

beneath me

And when I lose my direction, I’ll look up to the

sky

And when the black cloak drags upon the ground

I’ll be ready to surrender, and remember

Well we’re all in this together

If I live the life I’m given, I won’t be scared to

die.”

-The Avett Brothers, Once and Future Carpenter

Chapter Fifteen

Will walks into the classroom carrying a small projector. He sets it on the desk and begins hooking it up to his laptop.

"What we doing today, Mr. Cooper?" Gavin asks.

Will continues to prepare the projector as he responds to Gavin. "I want to show you why you should write poetry." He swings the plug around his desk and inserts it into the outlet on the wall.

"I know why people write poetry," Javi says. "Because they're a bunch of emotional saps with nothin' better to do than whine about ex-girlfriends and dead dogs."

"You're wrong, Javi," I say. "That's called country music."

Everyone laughs, including Will. He sits at his desk and turns the laptop on and glances at Javi.

"So what? If it makes someone feel better to write a poem about their dead dog, then great. Let them. What if some girl broke your heart Javi, and you decided to vent with a pen and paper? That's your business."

"That's fair," Javi says. "People are free to write what they want to write about. But the thing that bothers me is, what if the person who writes it doesn't want to relive it? What if a dude performs a slam about a bad breakup, but then he gets over it and moves on? He falls in love with some other chick, but now there's probably this YouTube video floating around on the internet of him talking all sad about how his heart got broke. That sucks. If you perform it, or even write it down, someday you'll have to relive it."

Will stops fidgeting with the projector and stands up and turns to the board. He grabs a piece of chalk, writes something and then steps aside.

The Avett Brothers

Will points to the name on the board. "Has anyone heard of them?" He looks at me and gives his head a slight shake, indicating he doesn't want me to speak up.

"Sounds familiar," someone says from the back of the room.

"Well,” he says as he paces the room. “They're famous philosophers who speak and write extremely wise, thought-provoking words of wisdom."

I try to stifle my laugh. He's mostly right, though.

"They were asked about this once. I believe they were doing a reading. Someone asked them a question about their poetry, and if it was hard having to relive their words each time they performed. Their reply was, that although they had ideally moved beyond that-from the person or event that inspired their words at that point in time, it doesn't mean someone listening to them wasn't in that.

"So? So what if the heartache you wrote last year isn't what you're feeling today. It may be exactly what the person in the front row is feeling. What you’re feeling now, and the person you may reach with your words five years from now-that's why you write poetry."

He flips on the overhead projector and I immediately recognize the words projected onto the wall. It's the piece he performed at the slam on our date. His piece about death.

"See this? I wrote this piece two years ago, after my parents died. I was angry. I was hurt. I wrote down exactly what I was feeling. When I read it now, I don't share those same feelings. Do I regret writing it? No. Because there's a chance that someone in this very room may relate to this. It might mean something to them."

He moves his mouse and the projector zooms in, highlighting one of the lines of his poem.

People don't like to talk about death because…

it makes them sad.

"You never know, someone in this very room might relate to this. Does talking about death make you sad? Of course it does. Death sucks. It's not a fun thing to talk about. But sometimes, you need to talk about it."

I know what he's doing. I fold my arms across my chest and glare at him as he looks directly at me. He glances back to his computer, highlighting another line.

If they only would have been prepared, accepted the inevitable, laid out their plans,

"What about this one? My parents weren't prepared to die. I was angry at them for this. I was left with bills, debt, and a child. But what if they would have had warning? A chance to discuss it, to lay out their plans? If talking about death wasn't so easy to avoid while they were alive, then maybe I wouldn't have had such a hard time dealing with it after they died."

He's looking directly at me as he zooms in on another line.

understood that it wasn’t just their lives at hand.

"Everyone assumes they have at least one more day. If my parents had any clue what was about to happen to them before it happened, they would have done everything in their power to prepare us. Everything. It's not that they weren't thinking about us, it's that they weren't thinking about death."

He highlights the last line of his poem.

Death. The only thing inevitable in life…

I look at the phrase and I read it. I read it again. I read it again, and again, and again. I read it until the end of the class period, after everyone around me has left. Everyone but Will.

He's sitting at his desk, watching me. Waiting for me to understand.

"I get it, Will," I finally whisper. “I get it. In the first line, when you said that death was the only thing inevitable in life…you emphasized the word death. But when you said it again at the end of the poem, you didn't emphasize the word death, you emphasized the word life. You put the emphasis on life at the end. I get it, Will. You're right. She's not trying to prepare us for her death. She's trying to prepare us for her life. For what she has left of it."

He leans forward and turns the projector off. I grab my stuff, and I go home.

***

I sit on the edge of my mother's bed. She's asleep in the center of it. She doesn't have a side anymore, now that she sleeps in it alone.

She's still wearing her scrubs. When she wakes up and takes them off, it'll be the last time she takes off a pair of scrubs. I wonder if that's why she's still wearing them, because she realizes this too.

I watch the rhythm of her body as she breathes. With every breath that she inhales, I can hear the struggle of her lungs within her chest. The struggle of lungs that failed her.

I reach over and stroke her hair. When I do, a few of the strands fall off into my fingers. I pull my hand back and slowly wrap them around my finger as I walk to my room and pick my purple hair clip up off the floor. I open the clip and place the strands of hair inside and snap it shut. I place the clip under my bedroom pillow and I go back to my mother's room. I slide into the bed beside her and wrap my arms around her. She finds my hand and we interlock fingers as we talk without saying a single word.

16.

" "

-The Avett Brothers, COMPLAINTE D'VN MATELOT MOURANT

Chapter Sixteen

After my mother falls back to sleep, I go to the grocery store. Kel's favorite food is basagna. It's how he used to say lasagna, so we still call it basagna. I gather everything I need for the meal and I go back home and start cooking.

"Smells like basagna," Mom says as she comes out of her bedroom. She's in regular clothes now. She must have taken her scrubs off for the last time.

"Yep. I figured we could make Kel his favorite tonight. He'll need it."

She walks to the sink and washes her hands before she starts helping me layer the noodles.

"So, I guess we finally stopped carving pumpkins?" she asks.

"Yep," I reply. "The pumpkins have all been carved."

She laughs.

"Mom? Before he gets here, we need to talk. About what's going to happen to him."

"I want to, Lake. I want to talk about it."

"Why don't you want him to be with me? Do you not think I'm capable? That I wouldn't make a good mom?"

She layers the last of the noodles as I cover them with sauce.

"Lake, I don't think that at all. I just want you to be able to live your life. I've spent the entire last eighteen years raising you, teaching you everything I know. It's supposed to be time for you to go screw up. Make mistakes. Not raise a child."

"But sometimes life doesn't happen in chronological order," I say. "You're a prime example of that. If it did, you wouldn't die until you were supposed to. Until you were seventy-seven or so, I think. That's the average age of death."

***

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