Two days had passed since Abby’s death, and my mom still hadn’t returned my call. But, when my cell phone woke me Sunday morning, I had a memory lapse and forgot to be pissed.
"Ash, are you there?"
"Yeah." I glanced at the clock. "Couldn’t it have waited another three hours?"
"I got your message. What’s going on?"
I ran my hand through my hair, trying to get the words past my lips as the memories flooded my mind once again. "Abby’s gone, Mom. She . . . Pulled the trigger."
There was a long pause. Then, she took a sharp intake of breath. "Oh, God. I don’t know what to say."
That made two of us.
"The viewing is tomorrow and the funeral is Tuesday," I said. "I’m staying with Carla and John."
"I’ll call her soon," she said. "Oh, God. I can’t believe this happened. I thought she was smarter than that."
I cringed. Her suicide had nothing to do with how smart Abby was. "It’s my fault, Mom. I wasn’t there for her."
She took a sharp intake of breath. "Ash, we’ll talk about this when I get home, okay?"
I clicked off before she could respond. Nothing she had to say would make the truth hurt any less. Nothing she had to say could take away the gaping hole in my heart.
Figuring going back to sleep would be impossible, I stepped out of the guest room. Voices filled the hall, and I soon realized John and Carla were talking in the living room.
"He probably shouldn’t be here when Justin comes home," John said. "And I’m saying that for both of their sakes."
"Well, where do you want him to go? Home to that empty house?" Carla questioned. "He needs to be around people. I know how he feels, and I won’t let him be next."
"He seems fine now."
"Yeah, now. What about tomorrow? Or Tuesday? How will it be when he sees her body in the casket?"
I cringed. I couldn’t think about seeing Abby’s dead body again.
John’s voice caught my attention. "Justin won’t be happy."
"Just talk to him first. Warn him before he gets here."
"And that will do what?"
"Um, excuse me." I didn’t realize the words had escaped my lips until they turned to me.
Carla looked like I just gave her a heart attack. "Oh, Ash. I didn’t know you were awake yet."
"It’s okay. I can go home."
She placed her hands on her hips. "You shouldn’t be alone right now."
"No, really. I’ll be fine."
I couldn’t convince myself, much less convince her.
"You’re staying. That’s final."
I spent the next few hours in Abby’s room.
Between yesterday and today, I searched through everything she owned, looking for anything I missed over the last few years. I found several more sketch pads filled with pictures. There were clothes in her closet that still had price tags. On her bookshelf, I found some old VHS tapes we watched when we were kids. I searched every little thing trying to find out everything about her I could, but now there wasn’t anything left.
The door creaked open, and I turned to see Carla in the doorway. She looked directly at me, not sparing a glance at her daughter’s room. "Ash, there’s something I need to ask you, and I understand if you say no, but I just think . . . Abby would want this. Could you be a pallbearer?"
My mind could hardly process her words. Pallbearer? I didn’t know if I could handle it, knowing the only thing separating me from Abby was that casket, but something about it felt right. No one else knew her like I did, and if Abby really was there, she would see that I cared.
"I will." Even if it killed me, I would.
"Thank you." For a second, I thought she was going to leave until I saw the worried look
on her face. "I guess you’re also wondering who Justin is."
"Justin is my step-son. Like me, John is a widower. His first wife was a victim in a drunk-driving accident eight years ago."
"I didn’t know he had any kids."
"Justin is his one and only. He may not have been a part of Abby’s life much, given he’s away at college, but what time he did spend with her, he became protective of her. That’s why John doesn’t think you being around him is wise."
I swallowed my nerves. "I can take whatever I have coming to me."
"Hopefully John’s just over-reacting."
Judging by the sound of the slamming door, I figured Justin was home. Part of me was anxious to meet him, while the other part would rather sneak out through the window.
No. I wouldn’t run from my problems.
Carla left the room, and after a minute of hesitation, I followed her. When I reached the living room, I watched as she hugged a guy who appeared to be a few years older than me. He wore black baggy pants and a black t-shirt with some band I never heard of on it, his dark hair was disheveled, and he had some stubble on his chin. He didn’t look much like his father, for John was bald and lankier, but they were about the same height, little over six-feet. Justin looked like the unidentified guy from some of Abby’s drawings.
"Justin, this is our neighbor, Ash."
His face darkened, recognition sparking in his eyes. "Why don’t you and I step outside?"
"Justin." John’s eyes conveyed an unspoken warning. To me, that would’ve looked more like a challenge. Unfortunately, Justin probably thought so, too.
"What? There’s no harm in a guy getting to know his sister’s friend."
The way he said "friend" sent chills down my spine. I could’ve ducked out and made some excuse, but I had to face him like a man.
"Yeah. Let’s talk."
We went outside to the back porch. I sat down on the swing, not realizing until it was too late that the last time I sat here I broke Abby’s heart. Her crushed look would forever haunt me.
"So, you’re the guy."
I remained silent. Justin leaned against the railing in front of me, hands in his pockets.
"Abby told me a lot about you. You have some nerve being here after what you did to her."
"I don’t have to explain anything to you. I don’t know what Abby told you, but you know as much about me as I know about you."
"Of course I know you." He shook his head. "Abby told me everything. She told me how you traded her friendship for girls you liked who didn’t like her. She told me about all the times you broke her heart, and all the times she forgave you."
My hands clenched. "I came back to her once, then she let me go again. She said she wanted that, so I don’t think you have the whole story."
He rolled his eyes. "Yeah, you came back to her when her father was dying. You felt sorry for her, and Abby refused to be your charity case once he was gone."
"I didn’t do it because I felt sorry for her. I did it because she said she needed me."
He snorted. "Then, where were you every night when she was in her room crying? Where were you when she killed herself?"
Guilt reared it’s ugly head once again. I tried to kill it, but it had consumed me in an instant. "I was on the other side of that window begging her not to do it. She wouldn’t listen to me, so clearly it wasn’t me she needed."
He shook his head. "No, you were too late. Of course she wasn’t going to listen to you. You wouldn’t have cared if she didn’t have a gun in her hand."
"That’s not true." I may have been an idiot, but I wasn’t heartless. "Look, I know I was terrible to her. You don’t need to throw it in my face. I’ve known Abby much longer than you have. You have no right to judge something you weren’t apart of."
"No, Abby isn’t here, and Carla is too nice to say anything, so someone has to defend her."
Staying calm got harder by the second. I didn’t want to continue the argument, but my mouth stopped taking orders from my brain. "You don’t know the first thing about me or my friendship with her."
His expression hardened. "I had to sit and watch my new sister spiral further into depression and not be able to do anything because the only person who could end her suffering couldn’t care less." He took a step forward. When he spoke again, there was a new edge to his voice, "What was she? Just some kind of toy for you? When you got tired of playing with her, you just shoved her to the back of the toy box and let her break?"
My fists shook at my sides as I tried to keep the tears gathering in my eyes from spilling over. I mustered up the only words I could say, "I love her."
He took a deep breath. "I don’t think you could have ever loved her. Abby made so many sacrifices for you and you don’t even know. How many sacrifices have you made for her?"
"Just what I thought," he continued when I didn’t say anything. "One minute of your time to talk to her. You couldn’t even manage that. I don’t know what she saw in you, but you didn’t deserve her love."
I cleared my throat. "I would sacrifice everything to have her back."
He threw back his head and laughed. "You don’t deserve to have her back. You deserve to wake up every morning and remember she pulled that trigger because of you."
My voice caught in my throat. I was the reason Abby wanted to die. As punishment, I would have to go on with the rest of my life without her. The full weight of it hit me once again, although this blow felt more powerful than before. Maybe because someone else thought that besides me.
I would never tell her I loved her. She would never know she was the best friend I ever had. She would never know she was the only one on my mind. She would never know I was on my way back to her.
My stomach churned and the yard started spinning. I closed my eyes, trying to make it stop. It was like watching Abby die all over again. I didn’t even notice Justin went inside until he came back with Carla.
They were speaking loud enough for me to hear, but I wasn’t comprehending their words. Instead, the same thoughts ran through my brain as if on replay.
I hurt her so much she wanted to die. I killed her.
Carla’s voice rose, catching my attention now, "Justin, I was going to bring this up later, but it can’t wait now. The gun Abby used was registered in your name."