July 15, 2019

Whatever Happens Chapters 1-3

Chapter One

Stepping out of the massive SUV, my worn purple Vans touch down on the crumbling asphalt outside my new home.

The new house, unlike the road in front, isn’t falling apart.

It’s a pristine, newly renovated, modern looking farmhouse.

It looks too sparkly and lifeless to me. It’s beautiful, sure, but it’s not my home.

My home is miles and miles away in the rearview mirror.

My parents wanted to escape the memories. I wanted to drown in them.

Now, we’d moved all the way from Texas to a small town not far from Cambridge, Massachusetts. The bank my dad worked for as the head of IT paid for the move, and the massive moving truck rolled to a stop behind the Escalade.

“What do you think?” The passenger door closes softly and my mom steps up beside me, sizing up the house. Her voice is soft, not filled with any sort of joy at all, mostly just a tone of resignation.

“It’s a house,” I answer resolutely, exhaling a small sigh.

A house is four walls encapsulating emptiness. A home is the people, the laughter, the memories. This home doesn’t have any of that. It’s merely a shell.

“It’s a house,” she echoes.

My dad joins us at my other side. None of us speak to the notable absence between us.

It’s been three months, nearly four, since my little sister took her own life. The tragedy still dangles over the three of us like the guillotine I learned about in my history and French classes.

We barely speak of her nonexistence, all grieving in our own ways and unable to talk about it. I’ve tried, but my dad shuts down and my mom bursts into tears at the mention of Luna.

“Should we check it out?” Dad cocks his head to the side, his hands on his hips. His dark blue pants and white button down are loose on his normally broad frame. He’s lost weight since my sister died. “What do you say, Vi?” He forces a smile, but it’s not like the wide one he used to sport.

“Lead the way.” I plaster on a smile as well.

All of us are puppets right now. We don’t know how to function without Luna. She was the light, life, the stars itself. She shined brighter than anyone I knew.

Before following my parents up the driveway, I open the car door and grab the small travel cage holding my beloved pet ferret. I get him out, cradling him in my arms.

“Well, Will Ferret, welcome to our new home.”

He looks back at me with his small black eyes and I swear he even cocks his head to the side like he knows what I’m saying.

“Vi, hurry up.” Dad waves from the steps of the front porch and I hurry to catch up.

When I join them he swings the front door open, revealing a foyer with vaulted ceilings, an L-shaped staircase, and dark wood floors spanning from the foyer to the rest of the house.

Tilting my head back, I take in the chandelier above. It’s black, wrought iron maybe, and reminds me of something you might see in a Spanish style home.

I follow my parents from room to room as they point out each and every one, talking about where they plan to put pieces of furniture from our old house.

It’s all so normal, but not.

We wouldn’t even be here if Luna was still alive.

Will wiggles in my arms and I let him down. He thinks he’s a dog and runs around the house most of the time when I’m home anyway.

Dad steps up to the row of windows overlooking the backyard and a field beyond. His hands are on his hips and he lets out a heavy breath. My heart clenches, because I know he’s thinking of Luna. We all always are.

I stop beside him, and he tilts his chin down to me before wrapping an arm around my shoulders. “What do you think, kiddo? Think you’ll like it here?”

I miss home, this place is a stranger to me, but suddenly I understand why my parents were so adamant about this. Maybe it’s exactly what we all need. A fresh start.

I smile at him. “I think it’ll be perfect, Dad.”

He wraps me in a hug and I bury my face against his chest, inhaling the scent of our laundry detergent.

I never want to let go, because I’m afraid if I do my feet might never touch the earth again.

Chapter Two

Hours later all the furniture is in the house and boxes are strewn about.

Sitting at the top of the stairs I can hear my parents arguing in the kitchen about some vase my mom is freaking out didn’t get packed, while my dad insists he personally packed it himself and it’s just been mislabeled or placed in the wrong room.

My parents have never fought often, and they were always open with Luna and I when they did. They wanted us to know marriage isn’t easy and you’re not always going to agree, but you do have to love each other enough to get through it.

I hope they can love each other enough to get through this. I lost a sister, but they lost a child. Come next year, I’ll be gone too. College looms over me like a heavy cloud. I used to be excited to start that chapter of my life, but not anymore. It seems so trivial when living is so important.

Standing up, I turn around and head down the hall to my room. The walls are white, but I don’t mind. Soon enough they’ll be covered in posters and photos.

My bed sits against the back wall and the window to the left overlooks the backyard and has a portion of roof I can open the window and climb out on to sit. I’m thankful for that. My room back home had it, and I always liked sitting out there looking at the stars. When my emotions get too big I like to look at the stars, the universe, and be reminded of how small we really are.

Will Ferret’s large playhouse sits on the floor for the time being.

My dresser is across from the bed with a mirror above and my desk is tucked into the corner. The table Will Ferret’s cage goes on is stationed between the doors to my closet and bathroom.

A gray fluffy rug is rolled up in the corner of the room with ample boxes scattered around.

“Well, Will, I better get started on this.” Or else I’ll be sleeping on a bare mattress.

I grab the box cutter I brought up with me an hour ago when I intended to start unpacking my room, but things got overwhelming and I had to take a breather.

Starting with the box labeled BEDDING I unpack my sheets and quilt. Another box contains my pillows. Once I have everything I need, I make my bed and already the room looks more like an actual bedroom.

Will watches me from the floor and I wish I could lift his cage myself up onto the table, but it’s large and awkward, which means I’ll need my dad’s help.

 After my bed’s made and looks halfway decent I start on the boxes containing my clothes. It takes a good two hours to get all of my clothes put into the closet and stuffed in my dresser.

I slide one of the dresser drawers closed and as it clatters into place my mom calls out my name. “Violet! Pizza is here!”

I didn’t even know they’d ordered pizza, but my stomach comes to life, growling like a little gremlin lives there.

“Be good, Will.” His black little eyes follow me as I leave the room.

My feet pound down the steps and I ignore the fact there isn’t an echoing of them behind me.

In the bright modern kitchen—white cabinets and white granite—I find two boxes of pizza on the bar top. Three barstools are already fixed in front.

Three, not four. My heart seizes in my chest and tears prick the back of my eyes. I cried every day after she died. Everything reminded me of Luna. Now, I’m better, but the strangest things will cause the pain to come flooding back.

I force myself to look away and realize they’ve almost completely unpacked the kitchen items. There are only two boxes left, with what looks like a million already taken down and stacked in the corner for recycling.

“Pizza, Vi.” My mom breezes by me, shaking me from my thoughts. “Aren’t you hungry?”

“Y-Yeah.” My hands shake as I tuck a piece of long brown hair behind my ear. Grabbing a plate stacked on the counter, I swipe two slices of pepperoni pizza and join my parents at the kitchen table to the right. It’s surrounded by two walls of windows overlooking the backyard and the neighbor’s house.

“Getting anything done?” Mom asks me, sprinkling red pepper flakes onto her pizza. Her hair is the same shade as mine. We actually look a lot alike. I have her pouty mouth and small nose, but my eyes are all my dad from their shape to icy blue color. With my dad’s dark hair and olive skin his eyes really pop. I, however, inherited my mom’s pale skin.

“Yeah, my clothes are unpacked and I made my bed. It’s basically just books and odds and ends left.”

“That’s good.” Her eyes crinkle at the corners with a smile.  I nod along, not knowing what to say. Thankfully, for me, she carries on the conversation. “Do you think you’ll try out for the cheer team here?”

I’ve been a cheerleader since seventh grade and before that I was in gymnastics from the time I was three. I always loved tumbling and flipping.

“No.” The one word leaves me in adamant refusal.

Her eyes widen in surprise. “No? Why? This is your senior year. Surely, you want to do it your final year of high school. It seems a shame to give it all up.”

“I don’t want to,” I bite out, my words cutting.

Her brows furrow and she opens her mouth to argue, but my dad clears his throat.

“I think it’s fine you don’t want to do it this year. Focus on your grades and college.” He gives my mom a significant look to drop it and when his eyes connect with mine I know he understands there’s more to it than me not wanting to do it.

“School starts in three weeks, what do you think you’ll do between now and then?”

I pick apart the crust of my first slice of pizza. “I don’t know. Explore the town. Maybe get a job.”

“A job?” Her eyebrows raise.

“Yeah, I can save for a car.”

“Honey, we told you we’d get you a car for graduation.”

“I think if you want a job, that’s a great idea. As long as it doesn’t interfere with school.”

I flash my dad a grateful smile for once again saving me. “It’s just an idea. I might not have time. Maybe I’ll join a club at school or something.”

A wrinkle forms in Mom’s forehead. “A job? Club? But not cheerleading like you’ve done for years. I don’t under—”

“The pizza was great.” I stand up with my plate. “I’m going to try to finish unpacking my room before I go to bed.”

“Violet—”

I hear my dad whisper something to her as I dump the remains of my dinner in a trash bag lying on the floor, full of miscellaneous crap from the move.

Escaping upstairs I close the door to my room. It’s seven in the evening but since it’s summer, the sun hasn’t even set yet.

Sitting down, I start on another box. I go through the photos in it, sighing as I look at pictures of me with girls I called my friends for years. Friends who I haven’t heard from all summer. It’s not like I couldn’t have reached out, but it sucks when people don’t know how to deal with your loss. I needed my friends to be there for me, to get me out of the house and remind me life goes on, but they didn’t. People are terrified of saying or doing the wrong thing when you’re grieving, when all you really want is to just have someone be there for you.

I debate on throwing the photos away, but decide against it and toss the photos in a desk drawer, piling more items on top.

I do stick other Polaroid’s and photos on my walls. Photos of my parents, Luna, vacation beach trips, and even a funny one of Will and I when I was holding him in the air and he sneezed on me. My face is priceless. I touch the tips of my fingers to one of my favorite pictures. It’s Luna and I when we’re little, dressed in Disney Princess costumes—I’m Ariel and she’s Aurora—and our faces are lit with happiness. The photo was taken at the exact moment my parents told us we were going to Disney World. Luna’s small fists are clasped under her chin, her eyes alight with happiness, and the binky that was in her mouth is forever suspended in mid-air.

Tears burn my eyes and I dam them back.

I’m not sure I can ever forgive myself for not seeing the pain and sadness in my sister’s eyes in those final months leading up to her suicide. Luna and I were always close, but that year we’d drifted apart. We still spoke and hung out some, but not like we used to. I was too focused on my friends, boys, parties, and cheer.

Now she’s gone and I can’t rewind time to make it right.

I close my eyes, remembering her last text message to me.

It’s not your fault.

I’d been confused when I received the text message, wondering what wasn’t my fault.

I got my answer when I arrived home an hour later to an ambulance, my mom wailing as my dad held her, and a body bag being wheeled out of the house.

Chapter Three

Sleep evades me as I toss and turn in my bed, thinking if I find just the right spot sleep will magically take me.

Picking up my phone the time flashes back at me.

It’s barely three in the morning and I’ve slept maybe five minutes.

I shove the blankets off and tiptoe over to the window. The windows are brand new and don’t make a sound as I unlock and raise one so I can step out onto the roof.

I sit down, drawing my knees up to my chest and wrapping my arms around them.

Tilting my head back I take in the night sky above.

Stars wink back at me and I look until I find the brightest one in the heavens.

Luna, I think to myself. Ever since she passed I make a point to find the brightest star every chance I can, because she shined more than anyone I know and it makes me feel closer to her.

“I failed you, Moon.” It was my nickname for my little sister.

I failed her, but I also failed myself. I became obsessed with popularity and being with the in crowd. So much so that I forgot what’s really important.

I’ll never make that mistake again.

I hear a noise and look down, searching.

I spot movement on the neighbor’s patio and look down to see a dark head bent over a large telescope, one that looks like something a professional would use. 

I watch the person, curious what it is that draws them to the stars like me.

As if sensing me, the person looks up and my lips part as the boy finds me. Floppy brown hair tumbles over his forehead and black-rimmed glasses slip down his nose. When his eyes find mine in the dark they quickly dart away.

He looks to be my age, but since it’s dark I can’t be quite sure.

He focuses on the telescope, but his shoulders are tight now, not relaxed like before. After a moment, he shakes his head, and without looking my way again he heads into his house.

With one last look at the sky, I decide I should do the same. I slip inside, closing and locking the window.

When I turn, I look out the window beside my bed and a light blinks on in the house next door as the boy enters his room.

Even though my room is dark, it’s like he can sense me as he looks through the window. His gaze drops and he reaches for the blinds, rolling them down.

My mouth downturns, wondering what his problem is, but I have other things to worry about than my new un-named neighbor.

Knowing I won’t be getting any sleep tonight, I sneak from my room and get a head start on more unpacking.

At least it’s something my parents won’t have to do come morning.

***

“You did all this?”

I jolt upright from the spot I passed out, on the floor of the family room.

“Y-Yeah,” I stutter, rubbing sleep from my eyes. The sun has completely risen and I smell coffee coming from the kitchen. My mom stands at the entrance to the room with her robe wrapped around her slender body. Her eyes shift around the room, taking in the décor items added to the built in shelves, her beloved fake plants I tell her only gathers dust, among other odds and ends. This isn’t the only room that saw my touch during the early hours. I’m surprisingly productive when I’m running on adrenaline.

“Did you sleep?” Her eyes narrow on me and I know she doesn’t need me to answer. “You need to rest, Vi.”

“I’m fine, Mom.” I stand up from the floor, placing my palms on the couch to give me leverage. “Can I have some of that coffee?”

She tosses her arm over her shoulder. “Go to bed.”

“It’s morning,” I argue.

She pinches the bridge of her nose. “You have to sleep.”

Tell me something I don’t know.

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

She flinches and my mouth parts in horror, realizing what I’ve said. In my tiredness my ill-placed joke slipped out of my mouth.

“Mom, I didn’t mean—”

She holds up a hand, her silent command for me to shut up. She walks away without a word and I know I’ve hurt her. It was unintentional but that doesn’t fix the mistake.

Wringing my worn pajama shirt in my hands I bite my lip in an effort to hold back tears. I can’t do anything right anymore.

As quietly as I can, I slip upstairs to my bedroom and then the attached bath. I get into the shower, not even marveling over the shiny pearlescent looking tiles. When I finish I blow-dry my hair hastily, braiding it sloppily down my right shoulder. Dressing in a simple pair of jean shorts and a striped tank top I grab my purse, sliding it across my body before slipping my feet into a pair of flip-flops.

“Where are you going?” My dad questions as I pass him in the hall on the way to the stairs.

“Thought I’d go explore.”

He tilts his head. “I thought I could make my world famous French toast for breakfast. I have a few days before I start work. I wanted to make the most of it.”

“Thanks, Dad. I’ll have some when I get back.”

His face falls and he reaches for my arm when I start to walk away. I pause, my eyes reluctantly meeting his.

“I love you, you know that, right?”

“Of course, Dad. I love you, too.”

His lips are downturned and his light hold on my arm doesn’t lessen. A war rages in his eyes and finally he murmurs, “I’m sorry.”

I flinch and he lets me go, hastily turning away but not before I see the pain on his face.

The pain we all keep hiding, pushing down into the deepest pits of our souls, until one day it’s bound to turn into a black hole and swallow all of us alive.

I reach the bottom of the stairs and feel like I’m suffocating.

“I’ll be back in an hour,” I yell out, and don’t wait for a response as I make a break for the garage. Inside I find my yellow bike with wicker basket tucked beside the wall amid boxes. I fish it out and one of the boxes falls. I hear a crash, but I don’t stop to see what’s broken.

Pressing the button on the garage door I make my escape.

I wanted to leave anyway, but now I have to.

Hopping on my bike I pedal as fast as I can away from the house and neighborhood of cookie cutter perfect homes.

It doesn’t matter how many feet, and eventually miles, I put behind me. I can’t escape what I’m running from, because it’s the memories and they live inside me.

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Welcome!

Micalea SmeltzerHi. I’m Micalea. Ma-call-e-uh. Weird name, I know. My mom must’ve known I was going to be odd even in the womb. I’ve written a lot of books. Like a lot. Don’t ask me how many, I don’t remember at this point.

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