But we wouldn’t.
The only way I would be okay was if I never saw his face again.
Weeks passed after I left Meadows Creek, followed by months. I spent most of my time in my parents’ backyard, chopping wood and carving into it. I built things with my hands because building felt like the only thing I had left of myself.
When May came around, I was still thinking of Elizabeth. I was still missing Emma. I was still learning how to say goodbye to Jamie. I still wanted Charlie back. I hadn’t known it was possible to lose my world twice in such a short period of time.
“Tristan,” Mom said, stepping onto her back porch. “You want to come in for dinner?”
“Nah, I’m good.”
She frowned. “Okay.”
My hand rested against the axe in my grip, and I lowered my head. “Actually, I think I’ll eat.”
The level of excitement that overtook her almost made me smile. Even though I knew I wasn’t anywhere near hungry, the joy it brought to her made me want to stuff my face. Mom had been through so much since the accident. I couldn’t imagine the amount of blame she probably placed on herself, the number of daily struggles she dealt with from knowing she had been behind the steering wheel, and I hadn’t made it any easier for her.
The least I could do was sit down and have dinner with her and Dad.
“Are you thinking of selling the house in Meadows Creek?” Dad asked.
“I don’t know. Probably. I’ll start all of that stuff next week or something.”
“If you need any help, let me know. I don’t know much about selling a house, but I can Google better than most people my age,” he joked.
I laughed. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
When I glanced up, I saw Mom staring my way with that same frown she’d worn outside. I shifted in my seat. “Dinner’s great,” I said, complimenting her skills.
She kept looking sad. “Thanks.”
“What’s wrong?” I questioned, rubbing the back of my neck.
“You’re just… What happened to you? You seem so heartbroken.”
Dad cleared his throat and gave Mom a stern look. “Come on, Mary. Give him time.”
“I know, I know. It’s just, I’m a mother, and the worst feeling in the world is knowing your child is hurting and you can’t fix that hurt.”
I reached out across the table and gripped her hand in mine. “I’m not okay. But I’ll get there.”
“Promise?” she asked.
I hadn’t stopped by the cemetery since I’d returned to town. I spent a few too many hours in my car, trying my best to figure out what I was supposed to do with my life. How I was supposed to move forward. When I found myself sitting parked in front of the cemetery, I felt my stomach tighten into knots. It took everything in me to get out of the car and walk.
I hadn’t been there since the burial. Standing in front of Jamie’s and Charlie’s tombstones made my eyes fill with tears as I lay flowers against them.
“Hey, you guys. Sorry I haven’t visited. Truth is I was trying my best to run from you, because I didn’t know how to live without you. I abandoned you and went searching for a replacement. For someone who didn’t even exist, because I couldn’t imagine not having a family anymore. I couldn’t imagine living in a world where you both weren’t. I don’t know how to do this without you. I don’t know how to exist…so just tell me what to do. Please. I’m so fucking lost. I don’t think I can do this without you.” My heart pounded against my chest as I slid down to the ground, finally allowing myself to feel the loss of Jamie and Charlie. They were my world. Charlie was my heart, and Jamie was my soul, and I’d let them down by turning away from them both. By not mourning their memory the way they deserved. “Please wake me up. Wake me up. Wake me up and tell me I’m stronger than I think I am. Wake me up and tell me my heart isn’t breaking anymore.”
I stayed with them until the sun began to set. My arms were wrapped around my kneecaps, and I stayed still, staring at the words on the stones. Missing people, missing the ones who knew you better than you knew yourself left emptiness inside of you. I tried to fill that emptiness, but maybe it was supposed to be left hollow inside my heart.
Each day, I felt the hurt, the memories. Each day, they both crossed my mind; I guessed that was the blessing behind the broken heart.
“If I could tell you a secret, Jamie, I would tell you that I still love her. I would tell you that Elizabeth is something good and right in the world. I would tell you she’s the reason I started to breathe again. So what am I supposed to do? How do I start to move on from her knowing that she can’t be mine? I just wish…” I cleared my throat, uncertain what I was wishing for. Answers to the unasked questions, I supposed. “I just wish I knew you would be okay with this. I wish I knew it was okay for me to fall in love again.” As I stood up to leave, I kissed my lips twice and placed my fingers against the gray tombstones.
Right before I turned to leave, a small white feather came floating down from above and landed against my arm. A wave of comfort washed over me as I nodded. “I’ll be okay. I’ll be good,” I muttered, knowing that it was a kiss from my loved ones. I knew I would be okay one day, because it was obvious that I wasn’t alone.
“What are you looking at?” Mom asked me one afternoon as I sat at the dining room table Dad had made her for Christmas a few years before.