Copyright © 2016 Natalie Cuddington
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Always for Anthony
I couldn’t breathe. I literally forgot how to breathe. My chest was closing in and I tried to take a breath but it was like I didn’t know how. I grasped at the wall and clenched my fingers around the door frame to hold myself up, but the room started to spin around me and I didn’t know how to stand anymore, either. I forgot how to function, how to talk, how to keep my eyes open, I had no idea. It was like all of a sudden my life meant nothing. I was nothing in the world and neither was the police officer standing in my doorway. His face meant nothing, even though it told me that he was trying to care. His voice meant nothing when he said something to comfort me. His words meant nothing because I couldn’t even hear them. I couldn’t make them out, I couldn’t process anything, I was just hearing sounds. I felt my knees give beneath me and I collapsed, my weight pulling me down like I had no will to even try and hold myself up. The police officer caught me and wrapped his arms around me tightly, and it did seem to help a little bit. With what, I wasn’t sure, but the world seemed to spin less with his grip around my shoulders. But still, nothing mattered. Not anymore. Not without Shaun.
I couldn’t stop replaying my last conversation with him over and over in my head. The snow was so bad, I could hardly see across the street through the living room window, and he texted me to tell me he was on his way home from work. I called him instead of texting him back, telling him to wait, or stay at a friend’s house. The weather was too bad; I didn’t want him risking anything.
“If I do that every time it snows, I’m never going to come home during the winter,” he had said.
“Yes you will, it doesn’t snow this bad every night.”
“It’ll be fine, Chloe, I promise. I’ll see you in about an hour. Maybe an hour and a half.”
I didn’t want him to. I didn’t want him driving in that. “Ok,” I said slowly.
“I love you,” he said.
“I love you too.”
And he hung up.
And then he died.
My mom came over to stay with me when I refused to go to her house. She didn’t want me alone, and I told her the weather was too bad, that I wasn’t going anywhere. When she sighed and said she’d come to me, I told her again that the weather was too bad and if she came over she would probably die. She sighed, again, and said that it wasn’t far and she would bundle up and walk.
She got to my house in too short a time to have walked, and I thought I heard her car lock in the driveway, but I was too dead inside to think too much about it. She knocked on the door and let herself in, calling my name into the dark hallway, and gasping when she found me on the couch.
“Why are you in the dark?” she asked.
I just shrugged.
“Are you ok?”
How was that even a question? My fiancé just died, mom. The man I was madly in love with and was going to spend the rest of my life with and make babies with just died, but yeah, I’m ok. She grabbed my face when I didn’t answer her and shook me a little bit.
“Chloe,” she said. “Talk to me.”
I shrugged and pulled away from her, wrapping my blanket around me. But my blanket felt empty. Like nothing. My blanket was nothing, my mom was nothing, I was nothing. Shaun was gone, so everything else was too.
“Chloe?” my mom called from down the hall. “Are you sure you’re ok in there?”
I wasn’t. I wasn’t ok at all. In fact, I was so not ok, that I wasn’t where she thought I was. I told her I was going to bed, and when she asked me where, I snorted, and said, “In my bed, where else?” But I had been standing in the doorway to my bedroom for 15 minutes, unable to take another step. I couldn’t do it. Neither of us had made the bed that morning, so the sheets were still messy and curled up in the middle of the bed. Shaun’s pillow was still crooked and sort of smushed into mine, and if I got into bed, I would wreck it. I would take away Shaun’s blanket mess and traces of him would start to disappear already. I couldn’t do it. I backed out of the doorway and tiptoed down the plushy carpeted hallway into the guest room, where my mom was waiting. She probably knew this would happen. I didn’t want it to happen. I didn’t want any of it to happen. But never did I think I would be 25 years old, and crawling into my bed with my mom, because I was too afraid to sleep alone.
The first few days after Shaun’s death were a big blur for me. I couldn’t really process anything or understand a lot of what was coming out of people’s mouths. Everything just sounded like word jumbles to me and I had trouble coming up with appropriate responses. I kept throwing up at his funeral, and I knew people could smell it on my breath. They would always hug me and then cringe as they walked away. I didn’t want anyone to hug me. I didn’t want anyone to tell me they were sorry, or that they were there for me. I didn’t want people giving me empty condolences just because they felt like they had to. It was all I heard from anyone I ever saw, ever. “I’m sorry for your loss.” “I’m so sorry about Shaun.” “I’m sorry this had to happen so close to the wedding.” It wasn’t even that close to the wedding. It was November, and we were getting married in August. I didn’t even know why they would bring it up. Were they trying to make me feel shittier than I already was? I was already having to hear person after person after person just tell me how sad they were about Shaun dying, why would I want to hear about how it sucks that I was supposed to marry him? Why would I want to hear any of it? Of course they were all sad that Shaun died. Shaun was the best. Everyone should be sad about him dying. But what they shouldn’t do, is come up to me and tell me how horrible it is, as if I wasn’t aware of it already. I know it’s sad. I know he’s dead. I know you’re sorry. Stop telling me about it. Stop telling me you wish things were different. Stop telling me it’s tragic. Stop telling me that he’ll be missed. I FUCKING KNOW THAT ALREADY! Why couldn’t someone come up to me and tell me something I didn’t know? Something that maybe would actually make me feel better? Something that might make me laugh, like, “Oh, did you know that Unicorns have super smelling powers in the tip of their horns?” Something like that would have made me smile. It’s random and cute and has nothing to do with Shaun. Or something like, “My three month old niece farts like a 40 year old man.” That might have gotten a smile out of me. That shit’s hilarious. But no. People are thoughtless assholes, who think I want to hear everyone go on and on and on about my dead fiancé. I would like to hear more about how he’s still dead. Yes. Let’s do that.
Then there was a lot of quiet staring into nothing. I just sat on the couch and stared at the wall, like an emotionless statue, just waiting for something to happen to me. I couldn’t move or think about anything, because if I tried to think about something, the only thing that would come into my head would be Shaun. Or how I would never hear his voice again. I would never again get to look into his dark, chocolate eyes, or run my fingers through his thick black hair. The few freckles on the apples of his cheeks would never smile at me when he laughed, and his body would never again keep me warm at night. His soft hands would never touch my face, and his fingers would never again link through mine. I would never again bury my face in his chest and breathe in his scent. Never.
“Can you please come stay with me?” my mom asked the night after the funeral.
I shook my head and curled up deeper into the leather sofa.
“Please, Chloe? I worry about you.”
“I have to get back to work, but I don’t want to leave you here alone.”
“Just go back to work, I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine. I can take another day off, but I really don’t want you here alone.”
“Why?” I sat up a bit, still wrapped tightly in my blanket.
“Because you’re depressed.”
“I would be worried about me if I wasn’t depressed.”
“See?” she said. “It’s things like that. You’re acting differently. You’re not you.”
“I am me. I’m just a fiancéless me.”
She sighed and sat down on the couch, making me groan and curl my legs up to give her more room.
“You can go home,” I said. “I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine.”
She tightened a little bit, and I wanted to feel bad for yelling, but I just couldn’t. I had every right to yell. I had every right to be depressed. I had every right to be the way I was being, so I didn’t feel bad.
“You’re smothering me,” I said.
She winced and stood up. “Ok, I’ll go. Call me if you need anything.”
Ok, so I felt a little bad about that one.
I walked past our bedroom and wasn’t even going to go in, but from the corner of my eye, I swore I saw Shaun lying in our bed, all curled up in the covers. I did a double take and he was still there. I shook my head and slowly closed my eyes, keeping them tight enough that I could feel my eyelashes on my cheeks. When I opened my eyes again, he was gone. Of course he was gone; he wasn’t there to begin with. I shut the door gently, trying to ignore the goose bumps raising hairs up and down my neck, and made my way to the guest room.
I had been sleeping for a few hours, when I slowly woke up, and groaned when I saw that it was only 1am. I tried to go back to sleep, but all I did was toss and turn for an hour. I was still so tired, but I just couldn’t fall back asleep. I was having trouble even keeping my eyes open, but no matter how long I lay there with my eyes shut, I couldn’t pass out. I finally gave up and threw the covers to the side, stepped into my slippers and walked down the hall to the kitchen to make myself a glass of warm milk. I got goose bumps again when I came towards our bedroom, but I almost screamed when I noticed that the door was wide open. I distinctly remembered closing that. I closed it because it creeped me out seeing into the room, thinking I could see Shaun. I shut that door. I ran down the hall as fast as I could, feeling like I was 6 years old again, and running from a monster. When I made it to the kitchen, I turned on all the lights and opened the fridge. Dammit, I was out of milk. I settled for a glass of water and pulled out the Brita jug, setting it on the counter beside the fridge. But as I turned to get a glass out of the cupboard, I saw the back of someone’s head on the other side of the couch. Someone was sitting in my living room. I took a quiet step closer, being careful not to creak the floor when I walked, and tried to tell myself that I was just seeing things because I was so overtired. But as I got closer, I could hear him breathing.
“Shaun?” I couldn’t believe I even said it. Of course I was thinking it, of course I wanted it to be true, but saying his name in hopes that he would turn around and smile at me, was just going to make this whole situation a million times worse. But then, he turned around and smiled at me.
I couldn’t move. I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing came out. I had no words. I had no thoughts. Nothing was going through my brain at that moment; it was like I was frozen. I was so flustered and confused and everything else, that I didn’t know what I was anymore. This couldn’t be happening. Shaun was not sitting in my living room. Except that he was. Shaun was sitting in my living room. I was finally able to make my brain communicate with the rest of my body again, and I took a step closer to him. But the closer I got, the fainter he looked, and by the time I reached the couch, he was gone. Like a fading image in the sun, eventually wasting away to nothing. I felt a hole in my chest even bigger than before, and fell into the cushions of the couch, trying to catch a breath through my sobs. What was wrong with me? Why did I think I was seeing my dead fiancé? I was still grieving, and I was way too tired, it must have been a combination of the two. That was the only explanation. And I mean, it’s not like he said anything to me, right? I didn’t hear him talk. I just thought I saw him, because I missed him and my mind was getting frazzled. It still hurt more than I thought it could. I clutched one of the throw pillows and held it against my chest so tight that I felt a pull in my shoulders. I cried into the pillow for what seemed like hours, hoping I would just fall asleep. I’m not sure how long it took, but eventually my sobs quieted down, and I was able to drift off.
I woke up with the sun beaming through the windows, practically blinding me before I even opened my eyes. I felt hung over. My head was spinning and my throat was dry, I felt like barfing all over the place again, and I couldn’t decide whether I felt better sitting up or lying down. Was I getting sick? I slowly peeled myself off the couch, and dragged my feet to the bathroom. When I turned the water on in the shower, I thought I heard someone come in and shut the door. I turned to see no one in there with me, but the door was closed. I couldn’t remember if I had closed it when I came in or not. I got goose bumps up and down my back, but I tried to shrug it off and just got in the shower.
It was my first time showering with my mom out of the house, and for some reason it brought me back to old habits, and after I wrapped myself in my towel, I headed straight for my bedroom without even thinking. I turned the knob and opened the door, and there was Shaun sitting on the bed. His legs were crossed and he had a magazine in his lap, and he didn’t even notice me come in. Or it appeared that he hadn’t noticed. I gasped, but managed to hold back a scream and covered my eyes with my hands, letting my towel drop to the ground. I backed up into the wall and told myself that I was only seeing things. Shaun wasn’t actually in our room. His perfect butt wasn’t actually sitting on our bed. His strong, manly hands weren’t actually fingering through a magazine. I couldn’t actually smell his Swiss Army cologne, reminding me of our first date. No. I shook my head and opened my eyes. Shaun was gone. Of course Shaun was gone; he wasn’t there in the first place. I shuddered as I picked up my towel, and backed out of my room.
I went to the guest room where I still had a bunch of clean clothes and got dressed with shaking fingers. What was happening? Why did I keep thinking I saw Shaun? Shaun was dead. I shook my head and shoulders to try and get the heebie jeebies out, and went to make some flavoured coffee. Fake cappuccino. I don’t know what it was, but it tasted like French Vanilla and it would make everything better.
I started making my way toward the kitchen but before I got to the end of the hall, I heard the hot drink machine turn on. I stopped in my tracks and brought my hand up to my chest. My heart was beating so hard; I was afraid to go into the kitchen and see Shaun at the counter making coffee. I shook my head and closed my eyes until I couldn’t hear the coffee maker anymore, and then I went into the kitchen. Everything was the way I had left it, so I let out a deep breath and grabbed the French Vanilla cup thing from the cupboard.
I had my delicious hot drink and took a careful sip from it before turning around to go into the living room. I looked up from my mug and screamed when I saw Shaun standing only a few feet away. I dropped my mug and it smashed on the ground, the hot contents splashing everywhere and burning my bare feet. I screamed again and jumped back, practically jumping onto the counter behind me.
“Please don’t scream,” he said.
He just talked! He just told me not to scream! What was happening!? I hopped off the counter and ran past him, careful not to get so close that I touched him, and ran into the guest bedroom. I hyperventilated in there for a couple of minutes before I was finally able to breathe normally again. This wasn’t happening to me. It wasn’t happening. Shaun wasn’t just in the kitchen. He didn’t talk to me. No. No!
I tiptoed into the doorway of the guest room, and peered around the frame, into the hall. No signs of life. I took a tiny step, and then another. Once I was fully into the hall, I pressed my back against the wall and slid along it like I was a spy. I’m not entirely sure why I felt the need to ninja my way through the house, but it felt better than just walking normally. I felt like if I did this, I would sneak up on him, instead of him sneaking up on me, and that just seemed less scary. I held my breath and stepped farther down the hall, closer to the kitchen. I peeked around the corner, but I didn’t see him. I couldn’t hear him. I let my breath go when I was convinced he was gone, and all I saw in the kitchen was my broken mug, and my now cooling drink, all over the floor.
I had fallen asleep crying on the couch again. When I woke up, I was a bit disoriented and confused. I looked around the dim room, and at the orange light coming in from outside. I must have been asleep for a few hours, at least. I tried to smile, because I heard this thing that even if you’re sad, smiling released endorphins in your brain and makes you happier. Your smile becomes real after a little bit. But it didn’t help. I just felt silly, and I started to cry again.
“Chloe,” I heard from beside me.
“Oh my god!” I screeched, getting up from the couch and backing away. Shaun was sitting on the cushion next to where I was just sitting, and the shock of seeing him again so suddenly brought more tears to my eyes. “Stop it!” I cried. “Get out of my head!” I covered my face with my hands and backed up even more, until I was pressed against the wall. Why was I seeing Shaun so much? What was happening to me?
I had to get out of this house. I had to get away, go somewhere new, start off somewhere fresh, where I wouldn’t be constantly reminded of Shaun. I didn’t want to see him everywhere, or think that I could hear him making coffee, or see him on the couch. I didn’t want to feel his breath on the back of my neck when I could swear he was lying next to me in bed. I didn’t want to be constantly reminded of how much I wanted him back. If I went somewhere new, somewhere I hadn’t been with him, it would be easier. I could sell the house and get an apartment in a new town. Or an old town; maybe I could move back to Sudbury, where I went to school. I knew people there, I knew the town, but I didn’t know Shaun when I lived there, so nothing there would make me think of him. There wouldn’t be any awful reminders of him and I would be able to move on. I would be able to make it through a day without having to barf whenever I thought about how Shaun was normally there but wasn’t anymore. I would be ok if could just get out of this house.
“You’re not selling the house,” my mom said for the third time.
“Only I am.”
“Chloe, think about this for a second.”
“I have, mom. I’ve thought about it enough to know that I can’t keep living here. I can’t stay where I lived with Shaun. We bought this house together, to spend our lives in it, together. And now he’s dead and I can’t be here anymore.”
“But you need this house, sweetie.” I hated it when she called me sweetie.
“No, mom, I need to get out of this house. Out of this town. I need to get away from everything Shaun, or I’m never going to be ok. I will rot in this house, mom.”
She looked at me then, in a way I had never seen. It was like I could feel her pain. Her pain of having to see her first daughter in pain. It was like she was dying just knowing how much trouble I was having dealing with all of this, and seeing that on her face, in her eyes, made me hurt even more. I didn’t want my mom to worry about me. I didn’t want anyone to worry about me, I really just wanted people to understand. I wanted her to understand that if she helped me with this, that I would be ok. That she wouldn’t have to hurt for me anymore, because it would be easier to think of him less.
“I need to do this,” I said. “I can’t… I can’t stay here any longer or I’ll go crazy.”
I could still see the pain in her eyes, the hesitation of letting me move far away from her when she thought that I needed her. Or maybe the pain was because she knew I didn’t need her, and she really wished that I did. A mom just wants to be there for her kids, I guess, and when they don’t need them, it can end their world. I understood that. But she needed to understand my side, too. Her lips tightened into a straight line and she slowly nodded her head, her dark red hair falling in front of her eyes. I wanted to fix it and put it behind her ear for her, but instead I just sat there on the couch, not sure of what to say or do.
“Thank you,” I finally said.
“I guess you don’t need my permission to sell your own house,” she said.
“You know what I mean.”
She smiled. “Yeah. I know what you mean.”
The house sold faster than I thought it would, and I was able to stay at my mom’s for the few weeks that it took to sell. Not seeing Shaun while I was there only confirmed my feelings about moving away. It was totally the right decision. I was already starting to feel better about it and was relieved to think that nothing scary was actually happening with my brain. My mom helped me with all the paperwork and bank stuff for the house, and I was pleased to be able to rent an apartment in Sudbury without even having to go there. I did everything online and through emails, and I could move in whenever I wanted, as the apartment I took was currently empty. I could start over soon, and then everything would be ok.
I sold most of my furniture. Shaun and I had bought it together, and I was afraid of his memories coming with them, so I put them on kijiji, and my house was pretty empty really fast. It was a little sad to get rid of the stuff we bought for the house, and leave the house behind since we hadn’t even been there for a year yet, but it was also pretty relieving to not have to think about it anymore. Even though I had such great memories of this house and all the stuff in it, it hurt to think about them, so getting rid of everything took a strange weight off my shoulders. It was also nice to have some cash, and have everyone come to me and take everything away for me, but it was also nice that it left me with little to pack and take with me. I managed to get the rest of my stuff into my old Jetta, though the trunk and back seat was so packed I was afraid of my car doors bursting off.
“Are you sure I can’t come with you?” my mom asked.
“There’s no room, mom,” I said.
“I could follow you up there. Help you get settled.”
“I’m fine. I told you, Hannah and Brie are expecting me.” Lie. “They’re going to help me and we’re going to have a fun sleepover setting up my stuff and eating Chinese food.” Another lie.
My mom sighed and smiled, making some of her freckles show through. They were usually only noticeable in the summer, but sometimes under certain lighting, her smiles made them pop a bit. “I love you.”
“I love you too, mom.” I gave her a hug, and let her hold on to me a little longer than I’m sure she knew I wanted her to. She squeezed me tight before finally pulling away and wiping a single tear from her cheek. “Don’t cry,” I said.
She shook her head and rolled her eyes. “I’m your mother and you’re leaving to start a new life. I’m allowed to cry.”
“But this is supposed to be a good thing,” I whispered, not really sure if that was entirely true. Was it going to be good? I was driving to Sudbury by myself, less than a month before Christmas, to get over my dead fiancé. I hadn’t even talked to Brie in about 4 months, and it had been even longer for Hannah, and I definitely didn’t tell them I was getting back into town. I had thought about it when the idea of Sudbury first crossed my mind, but having to explain to them why I was there, just made my heart race so fast that I thought it would make me throw up. I couldn’t just call them up out of the blue and tell them that my fiancé was dead. I couldn’t. The whole point of starting over was to start over. Leave my old life behind, and not touch it, not look back. Looking back would be too painful, and in order to get in touch with Hannah or Brie, I had to look back. I had to dwell. And I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. It was sort of a big city, I was sure I could manage meeting new friends and starting over without them. It would be easy to not run into them. Wouldn’t it?
The drive was actually pretty nice. The roads were dry and the weather was great. The sun shone down through the clear, blue sky, and I actually had to wear my sunglasses from it being so bright bouncing off the snow on the sides of the roads. I hadn’t realized it until about 25 minutes into my drive, that I was actually smiling. I had forgotten what it felt like to smile, since I didn’t think I did any of that since Shaun died. It felt good.
“Chloe.” I jumped a little and looked at the passenger seat, but no one was there. My heart started to race and my fingers were shaking, so I gripped the steering wheel tighter, hoping that would help steady them. I felt my blood rushing through my arms and into my fingertips, back up my arms and through my chest. This wasn’t happening again. “Chloe,” I heard again, only this time it was whispered in my ear. I felt warm breath on the side of my face when he said it. I squealed and hunched my neck into my shoulders, afraid to look back at the passenger seat. But I had to. I glanced beside me, and Shaun was sitting there, staring at me, with red puffy eyes like he had been crying. I did a double take, and when I looked back, he was still there, and everything inside of me started to fizz and bubble and I no longer had control of my body. I couldn’t handle what my brain was throwing at me. I swerved on the road and tried to correct myself, but it just made my car spin and when I slammed my foot on the breaks, the whole car squealed and skidded to a stop. I shut my eyes really tight for a second and took a deep breath to compose myself. And that’s when I realized that my car was sitting horizontally across the two highway lanes, and someone was coming. Someone was coming! I put a shaky foot back on the gas and turned the wheel to the right, trying to straighten up and get back in my lane before I got into an accident and died, too. Once I was driving along the road again, I realized that I was too shaken up to keep driving, so I pulled over to the shoulder and put on my four-ways.
What the fuck just happened? I buried my face in my hands and sobbed, my body shaking under my cries. Was Shaun seriously just sitting in the car with me? Did his ghost seriously just show up and almost cause me to get into an accident? Didn’t he see how much it sucked when it happened to him!? Why would he want it to happen to me, too!? I wiped my face with the sleeve of my sweater and took in a deep, quivering breath. Now I wasn’t so sure if I could do this.
“Chloe,” I heard again.
“Ah, what!?” I screamed. But when I looked beside me, no one was there. It was just my jacket, my pillow, my purse, and a bag of ketchup chips sitting in the passenger seat. No Shaun, and no sign that Shaun was ever there. Except for the fact that my heart was threatening to jump out of my chest and I thought I was going throw up all over the dashboard. But other than that, no sign that he was trying to get me killed, or trying to contact me. I stared at the seat for a good ten minutes, before I went into my purse and pulled out my iPod. I looked through my playlists for something I might want to listen to, but wasn’t in the mood for any of my music. But I had to listen to something. I couldn’t drive in silence and maybe hear Shaun say my name again. I finally found the Audiobook of The Night Circus, which was my favourite book. For some reason I only had the first third of the book of my iPod, but it would take longer than a drive to Sudbury to listen to the whole thing anyway, so I plugged it into my stereo and hit play. I sat for a few more minutes, just listening to the magical voice tell the most magical story ever.
I waited until the narrator read the last line of the prologue, before taking a deep breath. I felt myself smiling again, and finally turned off my four-ways, turned on my left blinker, and pulled back onto the highway.
I liked that I still knew where I was going, even though I hadn’t been back in Sudbury in over a year. I still remembered where to turn off, and where all the streets took me once I got into town. I even knew how to get to my apartment, just from the address. It was on a main street, so it shouldn’t be hard to find anyway, but I still liked to think that I should be a little proud of myself. I turned into the parking lot at around 2pm, and found a spot near the front door. As I was parking, I thought that maybe I should pull up in front of the doors so I didn’t have to carry my stuff as far. I shrugged and shut my car off, figuring I had all the time in the world, since I had no friends, no job, and nowhere to be. I could use the exercise, so I just carried my belongings across the parking lot. None of my stuff was really that big, anyway. The heaviest stuff was my suitcases full of books, but those were on wheels, so it was all good.
I didn’t see anyone as I was lugging my stuff up the stairs and down the hallway, but it was in the middle of the day on a Thursday, so people were probably all at work or at school. I dropped everything in the middle of the living room and took about 30 trips back and forth, really wishing that I had let my mom follow me up. But it felt good when I was finally done and could sit down and relax. But as I sat on the carpet and looked at my pile of stuff, I couldn’t help but cry. I brought nothing with me. I got rid of basically all my stuff. All that was in that pile was blankets. Pillows. Dishes, pots and pans, a TV and Blu-ray player, books, photo albums, picture frames, movies. A microwave and toaster. A disassembled computer desk and my laptop. I had no couches, nothing to put books or my TV on, nowhere to store my photo albums, I didn’t even have a bed. I thought that selling all my stuff would be a good thing, but sitting in that apartment with such a small pile of my life, I had never felt so alone and empty.
I started off by putting things in their appropriate rooms. I put all my clothes, bedding, my alarm clock, and my small TV in my bedroom, the desk pieces, TV, Blu-ray player, movies and books in the living room, and all the kitchen stuff on the kitchen counter. I put my towels and extra sheets in the linen closet and my hair stuff and soap dispenser in the bathroom. That’s when I realized that I didn’t even bring any toilet paper with me. So I locked up the apartment and drove over to Walmart.
I went pee as soon as I got there, and then grabbed a cart and filled it with snack food, frozen meals, toilet paper, paper towel and soap and things. I figured I should probably get an air mattress so I had something to sleep on until I got a new bed, and then I stopped by the book section to see if there was anything I wanted to treat myself with. There was a new John Green book displayed on an end cap, along with his previous books that I owned already. I smiled and picked up the new one, the colourful cover making me feel a bit better already, and put it in my cart. I can do this, I thought to myself, and went to check out.
I wrapped myself in my comforter and curled up on my air mattress that I pressed against the wall, and started reading my new book. Reading was such a good way to get away from real life. Reading was a way to explore new worlds and meet new friends. Live a different life for the time that it takes you to read it. My stomach started grumbling when I was about 70 pages in, so I shoved a frozen pizza in the oven and continued to read. And that was all I did all evening. I read, and ate pizza.
“Chloe.” I woke up and found my book lying open and face down on my chest. I only had about 50 pages left till the end, but I must have fallen asleep. But I swore I woke up because I heard someone say my name. All the lights were still on, and I looked around my room, but no one was there. I grabbed my Walmart receipt from the floor and used it as a bookmark so I could put the book aside and go to sleep for real. I got up, still wrapped in my comforter, and turned off the light. I stumbled back to the air mattress, but didn’t have to worry about tripping over anything or banging my shin on anything, since I had no furniture anyway. But when I climbed back onto the air mattress, I felt my hand brush over someone’s arm. I felt the muscles and the hairs under my palm, and I squealed, jumping up and running to turn the light back on. Shaun was on my air mattress.
“Chloe,” he said again, his voice low.
I couldn’t say anything. All I could do was stand there with my mouth open, my hand still up by the light switch.
“Chloe,” he said again. “Please don’t be scared of me.”
I didn’t want to be scared. But who wouldn’t be scared? Shaun’s ghost was in my new apartment. Or was it his ghost? What if there was something wrong with me? What if I had a brain tumor that was causing me to hallucinate? Or maybe I was just crazy, and this was my way of dealing with his death. I guess he didn’t have to be scary if it was just me being losing my sanity and creating him in my head.
“I…” I didn’t know what to say. “I miss you,” was all that I could come up with. I couldn’t do anything but stand there and stare at his freckles under the light.
But then I blinked, and he was gone. I turned the light off and on again, but he was still gone. All the other times that I saw him and freaked out, and wished he would go away, and now all of a sudden, I was having a break down because I couldn’t see him anymore. I slid down to the floor and cried, trying to make sense of everything. Trying to understand. If he was just in my head, then how come I couldn’t make him come back? If I was creating him to deal with my grief, then why couldn’t I control when he showed up? I wanted him back. I wanted to feel his breath on my lips, I wanted him to hold me, I wanted to feel his heartbeat under mine as I lay on top of him, I wanted him to be alive. I wanted this whole month to be a stupid nightmare, and wake up next to him in bed, with him comforting me because I had just had an awful dream. I managed to crawl back to the air mattress and shut my eyes, but I cried until I fell asleep.
Someone was gently tucking my hair behind my ear and I smiled, slowly opening my eyes. I was pleasantly surprised to be looking at Shaun, his brown eyes staring into mine. His hair was cowlicked and looked like he hadn’t washed it in a few days, but overall he looked good. His skin was glowing under his cheeks and his lips looked so kissable that I found it difficult not to just lean into him right then.
“Hi,” he whispered.
His smile grew a little bigger and shifted closer to me on the mattress, making it bounce a bit beneath us. This had to be real. This couldn’t just be in my head. My head doesn’t make things physically happen.
“I’m sorry I scared you,” he said quietly, his hand brushing the side of my face. His touch was so real. His fingers were warm and soft, and I couldn’t help but lean into his touch. I nuzzled my face into his hand and he gently rubbed my cheek with his thumb, sending tingles down my neck and shoulder. My mouth went dry like it did on our first date and I was brought back to the memory of our first kiss. I wanted to kiss him. If he could touch my face, and I could feel it, and he could make my air mattress bounce, then surely we would be able to kiss. I closed my eyes and leaned in towards him, but when he didn’t meet me halfway, I opened my eyes, and he was gone again.
My phone started to ring then, and I groaned when I picked it up off the floor to see who it was. It was my mom. Of course.
“Hello?” I said into my Samsung.
“How was the move?”
“It was fine. I need to order some furniture from Ikea or something soon, though. They deliver, right?”
She chuckled. “It might be pretty expensive taking it all the way to Sudbury.”
“Whatever. I’m sure it’ll be fine.” I looked around my empty room and sighed. “So what’s up?”
“I was thinking that we could come up and see you for Christmas.”
“I don’t know how to cook a turkey, mom.”
“Oh you don’t have to do any cooking. I just thought it would be easier for us to come to you. We can come up during the day on Christmas Eve and leave on Christmas Day or Boxing Day. We can even get a hotel if you don’t feel comfortable having us at your place over night.”
“That’s nice, mom, but you don’t have to do that.”
“I’m not letting you spend Christmas alone, so we’ll be seeing you on the 24th, ok? Around noon.”
“So how are you?”
“I’m fine, mom.”
“Hanging in there.”
“Ok. Do you want to talk about it?”
“Just making sure.”
“I’m gonna go back to bed.”
She was in the middle of saying goodbye, but I couldn’t stay on the line any longer. I was starting to break, and if I heard her talk anymore, I would cry like a baby. I shut my phone off and tossed it on the floor, before curling back up in my blankets and pulling them right over my head.
“Come back, Shaun,” I whispered. I pulled the comforter down from my eyes and peeked out into my room, but he was nowhere. I didn’t feel him anywhere, and I wasn’t sure if I ever would again.
“I’m not going anywhere.” I almost didn’t hear it. It was as if he was whispering from across the room, but as soon as I heard it, I sat up and looked for him.
“Where are you?” I asked, frantically.
“I’m right here.” His voice was so soothing and calmed me in a way that I never thought it would. Definitely in a way that it never did in the past. I was hurting so much because Shaun was gone, but then, somehow, he wasn’t completely gone, and then I didn’t hurt so much anymore.
“But I can’t see you,” I said through gasping sobs. My eyes welled with tears and my room blurred through them and I couldn’t make out any shapes around me.
“Don’t cry.” And then I felt him sitting beside me. I could feel his warmth. I could hear him breathing. But when I turned to face him, he wasn’t there. He was there, I could feel him there, but I couldn’t see him! Why couldn’t I see him? I let myself fall back down into my air mattress, and cried into my pillow. I felt him put his hand on my back, but it just made me cry more, because I knew it wasn’t real. Shaun wasn’t in my room trying to make me feel better. Shaun was dead.
I needed to get rid of all the pizza boxes stuffed in my recycling bin. It was overflowing, and it seemed that I really had a bad eating habit. I had been in my apartment for six days, and I had eight empty pizza boxes. Eight. How can someone consume that much pizza in a week? Well, kill someone’s fiancé, let them quit their job and move away from all their friends, and it’s actually pretty easy.
I dropped them into the big recycling bin in the basement and turned to leave when I bumped into the most gorgeous man I had ever seen in real life before. He was tall, well over six feet, and had strong arms, and what looked like through his dark t-shirt, a very tight, built chest. His stubble just made his strong jaw more defined, and his beautiful blue eyes made my legs feel like rubber. I couldn’t believe how much I wanted to just reach over and run my fingers through his beautiful and shimmering brown hair. Oh my god, this man must have been sent from the heavens.
“Did you just have a party or something?” he asked me.
“What?” I felt my face getting hot, so I bowed my head down and tried to walk past him but he moved aside so that I couldn’t.
“All the pizza. I was just asking if you had a party.”
“Oh. No. I just… Uh… want to get fat.” I smiled at him quickly and then rushed past him and up the stairs.
“Hey, wait,” he said, running after me. “Are you new in the building?”
“Yeah,” I said, still half running up the stairs.
“Well do you know anyone around here?”
“Yeah, I went to school here.”
He caught up with me and was now half running up the stairs by my side, keeping stride with my steps.
“Yeah.” What was I supposed to say to him? Why was he so pushy?
We walked the rest of the way to my floor and I thought he was following me when he didn’t break off to go to his own place.
“You following me now?” he asked. Which I found strange, because I was about to ask him the same thing.
“No,” I said slowly. “I live over here.”
“Me too.” He smiled. And I almost fainted. Oh my god.
He finally stopped at my apartment, only he went towards the door across the hall. No way! Mr. Gorgeous Man lived across the hall from me.
“I’m Cohen, by the way,” he said, opening his door.
“And your first name is?”
“Your name is Cohen Cohen?”
“No…” He tilted his head to the side and smirked. “My name is Cohen Hawke.”
“Right.” Man, I felt stupid. “I’m sorry, I just thought that Cohen was your last name, and then it was just stuck in my head. I wasn’t really thinking… I just… Ah, I’m a mess, I’m going to stop talking now.”
He laughed. “Ok. But maybe you should tell me your name first.”
“Oh. I’m Chloe. Uh, Diller.” I managed to smile a bit and I didn’t think it looked too awful, what with my greasy hair and puffy cheeks and all.
“Nice meeting you, Chloe Diller. I’ll see you around.”
“Yeah,” I said. “See you around.”
And with that, he stepped into his apartment, leaving me alone in the hall. What just happened?
If this was any other time, and I wasn’t trying to get over the fact that my fiancé just died, I would totally lock myself in my apartment and never leave again. I would surely make a complete and total fool of myself the next time I saw him, and every other time I saw him, too. He was way out of my league and I had no idea how to be cool or hot like him. But the fact was, this wasn’t any other time, and I was trying to get over the fact that my fiancé just died. And locking myself in my apartment hadn’t seemed to help much so far. So this guy who was totally gorgeous seemed to want to be my friend. Or he at least was friendly enough to his neighbours that becoming his friend might be an easy enough task. And just looking at him sort of made me forget how to speak, so surely he could make me forget about Shaun, just while we hung out? I wasn’t sure how good of an idea this was, but since I still didn’t feel up to contacting Brie or Hannah, this was my only option. My only distraction from my suddenly shit life.
So ok. Cohen would be my distraction. Cohen. What a great name. Cohen and I could become friends, and while I was trying to remember how to form words, and forgetting that I even had a name, I would also be forgetting that Shaun is dead.
So I had to prepare myself to run into him again. I had to shower. I had to look good, because I mean, really, who would want to stand next to someone like him while they were a sloppy mess like I was? See, this was already putting my mind onto other things, like wonderful hot showers. Yes. Cohen would be a perfect distraction. If I saw him again. Of course I would see him again; he lived across the hall. I locked the door behind me and went into the bathroom, peeling off my clothes and stepping into the steaming shower. This was the first time I actually felt motivated to have a shower since Shaun died. Up until today, I was just having showers because it was something to do, something I thought would probably be a good idea to do every once in a while so I didn’t
Verlag: BookRix GmbH & Co. KG
Tag der Veröffentlichung: 09.12.2016
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Always for Anthony