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Chapter 3

I couldn’t sleep. Every time I tried, I saw Abby pull the trigger again.

Around two, I gave up. Heading down the hall, I passed the kitchen and living room, stopping at the end. Abby’s room.

The door creaked open. Inside, I could feel Abby’s presence. Her spirit lived here, and that comforted me. After turning on the light, I closed the door and lay down on the floor, next to the blood stains.

When I closed my eyes, I didn’t see her pull the trigger. Instead, I heard the sweet sound of her laughter. I pictured her smile. Wherever she was now, I hoped she was happy.

My eyes closed and I tried to relax. Something pressed against the sides of my head, feeling almost like hands. That should’ve freaked me out, but it was strangely comforting.

As I drifted off to sleep, I was immediately pulled into what I thought was a dream. I was at school, standing in front of some lockers. Brigit was also there, a menacing smirk gracing her face.

"Haven’t you learned by now? He doesn’t want you. He never has and he never will. God, you’re so pathetic, Abby. I almost feel sorry for you."

There was a piece of paper in Brigit’s hand. Involuntarily, I tried to grab it, and when I saw my hand, I had some brief understanding of what was going on. It wasn’t my hand-it was smaller. This was Abby’s hand.

"Give it back." As further confirmation, the voice also belonged to Abby. What was going on?

Brigit waved the paper away from her, taunting her. I caught sight of what looked like a drawing, but I wasn’t sure what of. I figured it was one of Abby’s.

"Abby, we’ve been over this. I’m only trying to help you get it through your head that he doesn’t want you. In fact, he doesn’t even remember you exist."

"He can’t just forget me. I’m still his neighbor," Abby said. "He sees me all the time."

"But does he bother to acknowledge your existence? When was the last time he spoke to you?"

Abby hesitated, and I could feel her pain as if it had been my own. "He wouldn’t forget me."

"You’re only lying to yourself," she said. "I could show Ash this picture right now and tell him his old friend Abby drew it, and he would ask me who that was. He couldn’t be bothered to remember you. You keep saying that he cares about you, but when people care about you, aren’t they supposed to talk to you? Aren’t they supposed to be there for you? You still didn’t answer my question. When was the last time he talked to you?"

Abby looked to the ground. "Three months." Her voice was barely above a whisper.

"You’re in love with a guy who lives thirty feet away from you who hasn’t said a word to you in three months? You really are pathetic. If you still think by some miracle he’ll come back to you, you’re just lying to yourself. There’s nothing about you worth coming back to."

Abby’s hands shook, and her bottom lip quivered. "I know I’ll never be pretty enough for him, but I love him. I would do anything for him. Would you?"

My heart was breaking for her. Abby used to be much more confident in herself than this. Had Brigit ruined that, or was it me?

Brigit scoffed. "Please. You would never be good enough for him, no matter how much you love him. So, why don’t I do you a favor?" Brigit took the drawing between both hands, tearing it almost perfectly down the middle. It fell to the floor, and Abby fell to her knees.

"Quit fooling yourself with these ridiculous drawings. Ash will never love you. He’ll never hold you again. And, he will definitely never kiss you. Get it through your head, Abby. You’re nothing more than some pathetic crybaby who won’t let go of the past."

With shaking hands, Abby picked up the drawing. Once again, she had drawn us, but this time, we weren’t kissing. I was holding her.

Brigit walked away, her heels clicking against the tile. Abby stared at the ripped piece of paper, tears dropping onto it. "She’s right. I don’t deserve you."

Standing up, Abby dropped the paper, letting it fall to the floor as she ran out of the school.

I knew what would happen next, but I continued watching. I saw myself, standing beside my Mustang waiting for Brigit. For a brief second, our eyes locked, but then she looked away. She headed for her car, but I caught up to her, grabbing her arm.

"Abby, what happened?"

She wrenched her arm from my grasp, ignoring me.

"Abby, you’re not fit to drive home," I protested. "Talk to me."

Sliding inside the car, she gave me one last look. I couldn’t see her face, but I remembered the cold and distant look in her eyes. "Goodbye, Asher."

She slammed the car door. I tried to open it, but it was already locked. Within seconds, she sped out of the parking lot.

I shot up, sweat rolling down my face as I struggled to control my breathing. What was that? That wasn’t a normal dream. It was too real. Were those Abby’s final moments?

The end of the dream I knew was real. That had to mean the rest of it was, too. But, I hadn’t witnessed it. How could I have a memory of something I never saw?


A chill went up my spine as I searched the room, but no one was there. Yet, I knew it wasn’t alone.

I checked my cell phone. Barely after six AM. I wasn’t in the mood to try sleeping again, so I stood up and left the room. Down the hall, I found Carla in the kitchen. I expected her to be desolate and upset, but that wasn’t in her nature. Just like Abby, she put her own feelings aside to take care of everyone else. If she was upset, she wasn’t going to show it in front of me.

"Morning, Ash." She didn’t sound like her usually cheery self, but expecting that would be idiotic. Across the kitchen, the coffee pot was warming up. Abby and her father used to drink coffee, but I never knew Carla to be a big fan of it.

"Morning. How are you holding up?" I took a seat at the table and a wave of memories clouded my mind. I used to spend days at a time here when I was younger.

She sighed. "As well as could be expected. How about you?"

"Same." I rubbed the back of my neck, my nerves just now waking up. "There’s something I want to talk to you about, when you have time."

"Let me finish making breakfast, then we can talk."

I glanced around but found no other presence. A wave of unease washed over me. "Where’s John?"

"I made him go to work. I told him I wanted some one-on-one time with you, before . . . "

I nodded, signaling she didn’t need to say any more.

A few minutes later, Carla and I sat across from each other with plates of bacon and eggs, but I wasn’t in the mood to eat. Staring at the eggs, I was reminded of the last time I had seen an egg in this kitchen. Abby got the bright idea to give me a cooking lesson that ended with food all over the kitchen and all over us. If not for the current circumstances, I would’ve laughed at the memory. Instead, I fought back tears.

"So, what do you want to talk about?"

I took a bite and met her gaze. "Abby said in her note that she loved me. In what way?"

"Which way do you think?"

Last night, I had tried to ignore it, but her drawing haunted me, and now that dream . . . "I never deserved her love, let alone for her to be in love with me."

She stood up and turned away, grabbing a mug and pouring some coffee. She didn’t add anything to it and took a sip. If I remembered right, that was the way Abby’s dad used to drink it.

It felt like hours had passed by the time she turned to me. "You were close, practically inseparable when you were little. But, as you got older, the lines between friendship and romance weren’t as clear. I don’t think you noticed, but she did. I would see you hug her or put your arm around her. Half the time, I don’t even think you realized what you were doing, but she did." She took another sip. "I think it caused her some confusion."

I thought about all the times I had wrapped my arm around her. How we would lie together on either her bed or mine and watch movies, and how she would sometimes snuggle close to me. Not to mention the look of tenderness and longing in her eyes when I touched her.

How did I not realize it before?

"When did she know she had feelings for me?"

She rubbed her chin. "Eighth grade. You were dating some girl named Tess, I think. It was easy to tell she was jealous."

"I’m sorry for leading her on. If I knew, I would’ve been more careful." But, would I really? Or would I have led her on even more? I would’ve been more gentle with her feelings. That might’ve led her to think I returned her feelings, and I didn’t know if I would’ve.

"Ash, it’s not your fault. It was beyond your control. You can’t change what’s meant to be." A tear rolled down her cheek. "I prayed to God that you returned her feelings, though, because if not she was going to break, and she did. The second worst feeling is knowing something is wrong with my daughter and having no idea how to fix it. For three years, it’s been that way. I tried to get her to hang out with other people and make new friends, but all she wanted was you. Nothing mattered to her as long as you were gone."

"I never thought she was going to do this. She always seemed lonely, and I knew people liked to mess with her, but I thought she was going to be fine."

She sniffled, a faraway look crossing her face. "I hardly ever knew what went on in school. She never told me, especially after her father died. But, I knew every time she cried, it was because she just wanted you there with her. It didn’t take a mind reader to know how much she missed you. You’re the only person she ever called her best friend."

Eyes squinted shut, I gripped my hair, a sudden mix of emotions swirling inside me. Anger. Frustration. Resentment. Some I couldn’t recognize. "Why would she ever fall in love with me? She should’ve known she would only get hurt."

"We can’t choose who we fall in love with. It happens when it’s supposed to."

"Well, she should’ve stopped it!" I banged my hand against the table. It throbbed with pain, but I didn’t care. "If she would’ve stopped caring or loving me, she would still be here!"

My body shook, but I didn’t know if it was from anger or sadness. She should’ve known I would break her heart.

Carla walked over and grabbed my fists, uncurling them. With tears in her eyes, she looked at me, and her words cut through me like a knife. "Abby wasn’t a fool. She is the most loving person you will ever meet. I don’t care how you feel about her, but you better never take her love for granted."

I sunk back in my seat, and she rested her hands on my shoulders. While I tried to steady my breathing, she continued, "Abby said she fell in love with you because you were good to her and made her feel special. If you don’t want her death to be in vain, bring back that part of you that was her best friend. Even though she’s gone now, it’s not too late to show her you still care about her."

I stared at the empty chair beside me, pretending Abby was sitting there. I thought about the dream, how afraid she had seemed when Brigit said I had forgotten about her. Abby wasn’t here anymore, but that didn’t mean I had to forget her.

"I’ll keep her memory alive," I said. "I won’t let her be forgotten."

The drawing of us kissing re-entered my mind. I wouldn’t forget her, or how much she loved me.


After we finished eating, Carla sent me to the attic to search for a shoe box full of Abby’s baby pictures, and she said another box was in her room. A visible layer of dust covered almost every inch of the attic. A stack of old children’s books sat in the corner and a shoe box laid on top of them. I opened it and found the pictures. Glancing through the photos made my heart swell. I remembered this Abby. This Abby was brave and fearless, not broken and depressed. This Abby was my best friend.

I didn’t want to look through them in this dusty mess, so I closed the box and went back downstairs. In Abby’s room, the other box wasn’t in plain sight, but I thought of the places I might have hidden something important to me but didn’t want to look at every day.

Checking under the bed, I found another shoe box. Just like the first, it was full of pictures.

After I dumped both boxes on the floor, Abby’s memories laid in disarray in front of me. As I dug through them, I saw myself in at least half of the images. There were pictures of us from the time we were babies until we were thirteen. I was five months older than her, and the difference was obvious in the toddler photos. I found a baby picture of us that looked like her parents just brought Abby home from the hospital. Carla held her sleeping body in her arms while I was wide awake in my mom’s. I was reaching for her, and I chuckled as I flipped the image over and found the caption: Abby meets her future husband.

There was an odd ache in my chest as I flipped the picture over again. Abby. My future wife. Could she really have been?

The image of us kissing popped into my head again, but it didn’t scare me anymore. The thoughts may have just started, but they felt as natural as breathing. How would her lips have felt against mine? How would she have responded to my touch? What would her reaction have been to hearing me say ’I love you’ for the first time?


Did I love Abby?

I hurt her. I didn’t protect her. I made her think I didn’t care about her. If I loved her, none of this would’ve happened.

It happens when it’s supposed to.

Emotions overwhelmed me, trapping me, making my head spin. Pain over losing her. Guilt for not standing up for her. Anger for not being there for her. Hatred toward the ones who led her to do this.

Longing for her kiss. Hunger for her touch.

The "l" word crept back into my mind. No girl ever made me feel so many emotions before. Was this what being in love felt like? Was love just a bunch of emotions rolled into one?

I wiped away the tear that rolled down my cheek. How could I fall in love with a girl who was dead? How was it supposed to happen this way?

Think rationally. Abby was in love with me, but that didn’t mean I had to return her feelings. It wasn’t like I could break her heart more than I already did by not returning them. I had always gotten in relationships that didn’t last long. I went for girls like Brigit, never anyone like Abby. Abby knew me better than anyone. She had seen me at my best and my worst, yet she still loved me in spite of everything. I knew her, too. She was always there for me, even when I wasn’t there for her. And, despite what she had said in the dream about not being pretty enough for me, that was a lie. Everything about her was beautiful, but I had been too busy chasing dead-end relationships to realize it.

I imagined Abby again. I imagined leaning into her, capturing her lips with mine, making her dream world a reality. The mental image didn’t shock me as it had yesterday. Now, my heart ached for it to be real.

I groaned. I was in love with her, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.

I couldn’t dwell on these thoughts. I had to keep moving, so I grabbed more photos.

In the majority of the other pictures, we never hesitated to hug, hold hands, or just be close. My smile was so wide my face should’ve exploded. I didn’t care about the gap between my teeth, and the way we were looking at each other as we got older . . . I couldn’t believe I just now realized she was in love with me or that I was in love with her. Especially when we reached our pre-teen years, we gazed at each other with such adoration and tenderness it almost made me cry.

I was in love with her long before I would ever admit it. I could feel the connection I had to the boy in these photos. I always did things to try to impress her or make her laugh. God, I loved to make her laugh. Did she laugh at all in the last three years?

Something brushed against my shoulder, but, just like before, there was nothing there. My heart lurched. Was Abby in this room with me, looking at these photos, too? I never believed in ghosts, but I didn’t want to think she was gone, either. She was just in a place I couldn’t access.

Shrugging off the thought, I focused on the images.

Next Chapter: Chapter 4