Falling into You Read online

Page 7

I clutched a crumpled, folded piece of paper in my hand. The note. I had it memorized, now. I’d read it and reread it so many times.

  The viewing, a small room filled with too many people. I stood next to the casket, refusing to look in. Stood next to a tastefully-created collage, pictures of Kyle, of us together. Strangers in the pictures, I thought, seeing happy me, happy, living him.

  Words spoken, empty condolences. Hands squeezing mine, lips brushing my cheek. Weeping friends. Cousins. Becca, hugging me. Jason standing in front of me, not speaking, not hugging me, his offered silence the best thing he could have given me.

  Then, oh god…Mr. and Mrs. Calloway, standing in front of me. They’ve been here all the while, but I couldn’t see them. Couldn’t bear to meet their eyes. But now they’re here, hands clasped and threaded between them, two sets of brown eyes so much like Kyle’s, pinning me, searching me. I said little about what happened. There was a storm, a tree fell. Kyle saved me.

  Nothing about the proposal, the ring on my finger, the wrong finger. Nothing about the fact that we were arguing. That it should have been me.

  That if I had done…god, so many things differently, their son would still be alive.

  Nothing about his death being my fault.

  If I had said yes, he would still be alive. We’d have gone up to the bedroom. Made love. The tree would have crashed through the house, but not near us.

  I stared into their eyes and tried to find words.

  “I’m so sorry. ” It was all I could say, and even that was barely audible, shattered words falling like shards from my tongue.

  “Oh Nell…me too. ” Mrs. Calloway wrapped me in a hug, bawled onto my shoulder.

  I stood stiff, the physical contact too much. I had to suck in air through my nose and let it out through my mouth into her straight black hair, trembling and tense. I couldn’t let myself feel. If I felt, I would break.

  I don’t think she understood that I was begging her forgiveness for killing her son. But those three words were all I could dredge up out of myself. Eventually her husband pulled her away and tucked her into his side while she shuddered.

  People came and went, words were spoken. Faces passed in front of me in a blur. I nodded at times, mumbled things. Just so they would know I wasn’t catatonic, that I was physically alive.

  I wasn’t, though. I breathed. My synapses fired, my blood pumped in a circle. But I was dead, dead with Kyle.

  Dad slipped to my side, held me in a one-armed hug. “It’s time, Nell. ”

  I didn’t know what I was time for. I pivoted in his embrace and glanced up at him, brows scrunched.

  He saw the question. “To have the service. To close the casket and…bury him. ”

  I nodded. He pulled me to a chair and I sat down. Mr. Calloway stood with his back to casket and spoke. I heard his words, but they meant nothing. Words about Kyle, about how wonderful he was, how great he was, how much promise he had, cut short. Cut short. True words, but empty in the face of things. Nothing mattered. Kyle was gone, and words meant nothing.

  Mrs. Calloway couldn’t say anything. Jason talked about how Kyle was such a great friend, and those words were true, too.

  Then it was my turn. Everyone was looking at me. Waiting. I stood up and walked to where everyone else had stood, behind a little podium with a disconnected microphone. I picked at the wood with my fingernails, which was painted a dark plum by my mother.

  I knew, then, that I was changed. The old Nell would have known what to say, would have found polite and well-meant words, would have spoken about how incredible Kyle was, how loving and thoughtful, how we had a future together.

  But none of that came out, because I wasn’t that Nell anymore.

  “I loved Kyle. ” I stared at the blonde wood of the podium, because the eyes of the people in the seats would have pierced my armor of numbness, would have spiked through to the river of magma deep inside me that was my emotions.

  “I loved him so much. I still do, but…he’s gone. I don’t know what else to say. ” I pulled off the ring from my right hand and held it up. A few people gasped. “He asked me to marry him. I told him we were too young. I told him…I would go to California with him. He was going to go to Stanford and play football. But I said no, not yet…and now he’s gone. ”

  I couldn’t hold it in anymore, but I had to. I choked the breakdown back, sucked it in and forced it down. I slipped the ring back on my right hand and walked out of the viewing room without looking into the casket. I knew, from when Grandma Calloway died, that the thing in the casket wasn’t Kyle. It was a shell, a husk, an empty clay gourd. I didn’t want to see that. I wanted to see Kyle in my mind as the strong, gloriously gorgeous Adonis, the way his muscles moved and rippled, the way his hands touched me and the way his sweat mingled with mine.

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  The problem was, all I could see when I closed my eyes was that one shoe, his eyes hunting for me as the life bled out of him, his hand curling around my fingers and then falling empty and limp as I was carried away.

  I left the funeral home, bolting out a back exit and making a beeline across wet grass for a huge spreading oak that stood behind the building. By the time I was leaning against the rough bark, my black dress was soaked through and sticking to my skin. My hair hung in damp strings past my shoulders. I shuddered, struggling to hold it in. I breathed, choking on my tongue as I tried to literally bite down on sobs.

  I turned in place and pressed my forehead to the bark, clenching my teeth and panting, whimpering through my lips. Not crying, not crying. Because I couldn’t. I couldn’t let myself.

  I felt a warmth descend over my shoulders, soft silk of a suit coat. I pushed away from the tree and turned to see a pair of sapphirine eyes gazing at me, stunning, piercing, breathtakingly blue. The face was haunting, familiar, chiseled and achingly beautiful like Kyle, but more rugged. Older, harder. Rougher. Less perfect, less statuesque. Longish, shaggy black hair, messy and thick and lustrous and raven-black.

  Colton. Kyle’s brother, older by about five years.

  I hadn’t seen Colton in a long, long time. He left home when Kyle and I were just kids, and he hadn’t been back since. I wasn’t even sure where he lived, what he did. I didn’t think he got along with Mr. Calloway, but I wasn’t sure.

  Colton didn’t say anything, just settled his suit coat over my shoulders and leaned back against the tree trunk, white button down soaking through to show his skin, and the dark ink of a tattoo on his arm and shoulder. Something tribal, maybe.

  I stared at Colton, and he met my gaze, level and calm but still fraught with unspoken pain. He understood my need for silence.

  I felt something hard in the inside pocket, stuck my hand in and withdrew a pack of Marlboros and a Zippo. Colton lifted an eyebrow, taking them from me. He flipped open the top and withdrew a cigarette, flicked the Zippo and lit it. I watched, because watching kept the magma at bay.

  He put the filter between his lips and sucked, and I felt something odd happen inside me as his cheeks hollowed. A feeling as if I knew him, although I didn’t. As if I’d always watched him drag on a smoke and blow it out slowly through pursed lips. As if I’d always looked on in disapproval, but never voiced my thoughts.

  “I know, I know. These things’ll kill me. ” His voice was rough and gravelly and deep, but still melodic somehow.

  “I didn’t say anything. ” That was the most I’d spoken in over forty-eight hours.

  “You don’t have to. I can see it in your eyes. You disapprove. ”

  “I guess. Smoking is bad. Maybe it’s an inherited dislike. ” I shrugged. “I’ve never known anyone who smokes. ”

  “Now you do,” Colton said. “I don’t smoke much. Socially, usually. Or when I’m stressed. ”

  “This counts as stress, I think. ”

  “The death of my baby brother? Yeah. This is a chain-smoking oc