For Sandy and Steve
May your love for each other be
I FELT THIN AS PARCHMENT, delicate as a house of cards, held up only by my own carefully poised architecture—so fragile I could come apart at the slightest breeze. Sitting on the edge of the bed, I held perfectly still…waiting.
It’d been three days since we found Spence, the memory of seeing him in the field seared itself into my mind like a hot brand. His face, so waxy and pale; his eyes—lifeless, staring up at a sky he could no longer see; his chest a wash of crimson, and his heart, permanently broken…just like mine. Slowly but surely that memory was waging battle against me, sucking out any will I had left.
I took a tiny breath, my only resistance against the onslaught. I closed my eyes and prayed for release. Soon, I thought. Let it come soon.
After setting things in motion, I didn’t think I’d have long to wait.
Behind me I heard the bedroom door creak open. I took another small breath tinged with a tiny ray of hope. “Amber, honey?” Momma said.
I let out the breath. The hope went with it.
Momma came into the room and I stiffened as she sat down next to me. I curled my fingers around the note in my hand, hoping she wouldn’t notice it poking out of my closed fist.
“Sweetheart, won’t you come have something to eat?” she asked.
I opened my eyes and stared out the window, willing her not to touch me.
“We were thinking of taking you out,” she continued. “Bill Metcalf came by this afternoon and said that the football team is heading to Bennigan’s after they visit the funeral home for the viewing. I thought it might be good for you to be around Spence’s friends.”
Momma put a gentle hand on my shoulder, threatening the architecture. I trembled with the effort to hold myself upright. “Your dad says you went out earlier. Did you go for a walk, honey?”
I said nothing, all of my focus intent on holding up the house of cards. Around us the air was still and hot. Summer was about to come early to Fredericksburg.
Momma sat there, looking at me expectantly, and I waited. Finally, she got up and said, “We’ll bring you back something to eat. Bailey’s sleeping in our room. The poor pup is exhausted with worry over you, I think.” Momma paused, and when I didn’t acknowledge her or what she’d said, she sighed softly. “We’ll be home by eight, but call us at the restaurant if you need us, okay, baby?”
I said nothing, and at last she left the room and I was alone. A few minutes later the house fell silent as my parents drove to dinner.
The sun began to set and with it, the searing memory of Spence lying in that field burned hotter. I’d found him at dusk. He’d died just as the last rays of the sun painted the sky pink, lavender, and deep indigo. It’d been a beautiful night. A perfect night. A night of hopes and dreams…until it wasn’t. Until it’d become a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from.
In my mind I replayed the moment I’d gone to look for Spence and heard something odd. A small pop. Nothing more than that. Just a small popping sound piercing the spring night. And then, a few moments later, a second pop. I’d thought little of it. A firecracker. A toy gun. A car backfiring. Nothing unusual, and yet, that had been the moment I’d lost him.
The house of cards quivered and I took a breath, reinforcing it for just a little longer.
The sun dipped lower, sending magenta rays streaking across the sky and in through the window to bathe me for one final time in soft light. I wondered if I could ride one of those rays and find my way to Spence. Would it be that easy?
Behind me, out in the hallway, I heard light footsteps on the floorboards. At the same time a cool breeze fluttered the curtains and caressed my skin. I closed my eyes and let out a sigh. Death had found me. At last.
Upstairs I heard Bailey bark once—a soft woof to alert me. A tear slid down my cheek for Bailey. For leaving her. For leaving them all.
I’d placed a letter on the desk, trying to explain, but I couldn’t seem to get the words right, and it pained me greatly to think they’d always wonder why.