Deeper(5)

By: Jennifer Michael


What’s going on?

Footsteps sound on the steps to the second floor, and I go rigidly still as my door opens. My mom’s face is pale, and her cheeks are splotchy, red, and wet from crying. I know that whatever Mom is about to tell me is worse than anything my imagination could ever cook up.

“What is it, Mom?” I sit up, and instinctively, my hand links with Aria’s. My fingers feel like ice against her warm skin.

Her eyes slowly flutter open, and she pushes herself to sit next to me. She doesn’t let go of my hand as she pulls the covers higher around us and looks to my mom, who still hasn’t said anything.

“Sweetie, come here.” Mom’s voice breaks, and tears flood from her eyes.

“Just tell me. What’s happened?” I can’t bring myself to move closer.

“Rylan, honey, please come here.”

She steps farther into the room, and my breathing becomes shallow. Aria’s free hand braces on my back. Mom keeps coming toward my bed, and I just want to scream, to tell her to stop. She sits on the end of my bed and holds her arms open to me.

I can’t accept the embrace. I’m terrified of whatever she’s going to say.

Aria struggles to reposition between us, and I attempt to keep her from moving away from me. She never lets go of my hand while she bridges the physical gap between Mom and me. Her other hand takes hold of Mom’s, and her warmth comforts and connects us both.

“I don’t know how to say this…” She looks down, breaking eye contact with me.

Aria squeezes her fingers around mine.

“Then, don’t. Whatever it is, don’t say it. I don’t want to know.”

“Daddy is gone, baby.”

“What do you mean? Gone where?”

“Rylan, he passed. It happened while he slept. I don’t think he suffered any pain, but he isn’t with us anymore.”

No.

No. No. No.

She’s lying. That can’t be true. Dad isn’t sick. He’s invincible. He’s my hero. There is no way he could be gone.

Stuff like that doesn’t happen to good people. It doesn’t happen to people like me.

I have to see him. I need to know this isn’t true and that he’s downstairs, reading the morning paper and drinking his coffee. He’ll greet me like he does every morning as I walk down the stairs. This will all be cleared up the instant I see his beaming smile and hear his deep voice.

My legs ache as I leap from the bed. After three steps, my knees buckle, and I hit the floor. I can’t go down there.

What if he isn’t there, waiting for me? What if bad things can happen to good people? What if this is really happening to me?

My heart falls from my chest, and my stomach revolts. My fingers scrape against the carpet. Utter disbelief and grief paralyze my body. My throat vibrates as a scream rips from my chest. Pain shoots through my body. A throbbing, unrelenting sting pierces me from the inside.

“Please! Please! Please!” I plead for something, anything. That I’ll wake up and learn this is all a bad dream. I ask for hope that Dad will come scoop me up off the floor and tell me everything is going to be okay. I try to use logic to will away the ache that’s already taken up residence in my heart.

But none of that happens.

Warm hands touch my skin, and I’m pulled into the embrace of my best friend. On the floor, Aria holds me. Her touch isn’t the one I was begging for, but she clutches me tightly and silently cries for the man she saw as a second father.

“I love you.”

I choke on my own sorrow.

“You’re going to be okay.”

I don’t know if that’s true.

“We’ll get through this.”

My mind shuts down.

“I’m always here for you.” Her words are meant to soothe, but there is nothing that can quiet this sort of suffering.

I can hear my mother’s sobs, but she doesn’t make a move to come and be with us.

I hear the front door open and close, and then Mom speaks for the first time since she dropped the news, “Aria, that’s your parents. I called them before I came in here.” Mom moves from the bed and crouches next to me. She extends her hand to me on the floor. “Get up, baby. You need to get up.”