Free Short Story

The Memorial

 

Description:  When Mary stumbles upon the memorial set up for the boy she accidentally murdered, she's confronted by her victim's twin brother Connor. The Memorial is a touching short story filled with heart, emotion, and a little humor.

 

His parents dropped the charges, so I never did serve jail time for murder. 


Though if I had, it may have alleviated some of the guilt I felt. 


How did one move on after taking the life of another human being? A teenager who hadn’t even graduated high school, and now never will.


They should have pressed charges.


I killed a boy.


And I got off scot-free. That’s how the lawyer of the boy’s parents put it when they decided to drop their pending charges right in the middle of my trial. Scot-free. I hadn’t known what that meant, so I looked it up. Getting away without punishment. That was so far from the truth. The guilt chiseled away at my sanity every moment of every day. And the slash marks I made on my arms, legs, and stomach daily? Further self-punishment, but not nearly enough.


They dropped the charges in the middle of the trial, because the mother felt bad for me. For me. She saw my bubbling, watery eyes while I barely pleaded my defense, and she didn’t have it in her heart to sue a girl she could have imagined marrying one of her sons. That’s what she’d confessed later on. She’d realized that suing me over something I never meant to do would not bring her son Cole back, and wouldn’t make her feel any better anyway.


Up on the stand, I caught a glimpse of her eyes as well. A mother hurting beyond repair. Devastated. I saw my own mother in her eyes. I’m everything to my mother; if I died, she’d die. This mother would have to live the rest of her life wondering what could have been. And it was all because of me. Because my mind was wandering over my recent breakup, and I wasn’t paying attention to the road in front of me.


And it happened two weeks before Christmas.


Every day, I thought about their Christmas morning. Father, mother, brother, and sister sitting around a joyless tree. That’s if they’d even put one up. Did they open presents that morning? Were Cole’s gifts under the tree? Did they return his unopened packages, or did they donate them? Are they still sitting wrapped or unwrapped, unopened in the back of a closet? Did they eat that day? Or were they too sad to think about eating? Did they pray? Or did they blame God for my mistake? Did my name fall from their lips like the taste of rotten milk on their tongues? Do they still shed tears every day as they go about their lives? Do they go about their lives?


For the first time in six months, I returned to the spot where I killed Cole Cassidy. A park bench sat alongside the winding road where Mom’s SUV, with me at the wheel, slammed into his Miata at just the right angle to push it across the double yellow line and into oncoming traffic. The bench was there for him. A memorial put there by family or friends. I was told about it by my mother, who came home in tears, because she’d seen Cole’s mother sitting there alone one afternoon as she’d driven by.


So, today, I rode my bike to see it for myself.


It was lonely. Sitting there within the trees, fresh balloons flying just above it, tethered to the bench by string tied on by hands belonging to a mourning heart. I couldn’t bear the sadness, but I set my bike on the ground and inched my way toward the bench, using my guilt to gain courage. I needed to be here, but I didn’t know why.


“Hello.”


I jumped back about a foot and fell on my ass.


“I’m sorry. Did I scare you?” he asked, reaching out his hand to help me up.
Tucking my hands beneath me, I stayed on the ground. “I, I didn’t see you, where’d you come from?” My words spilled out in one scared breath.


He laughed. “Magic.”


He must have found my bulging eyes and dropped jaw hilarious, because he held his hand to his stomach and bent over in a laughing fit.


“I’m glad I amuse you,” I said, now angry enough to get over my original surprise. I ignored his helping hand again to get myself off the ground.


He stuck his hands in his pockets and said, “I’m sorry. Again. Boy, I’ve known you, what, a hundred and twenty seconds, and I’ve already said I’m sorry two times more than I ever have. That’s a record.”


“What? You’re kidding, right?”


With a straight face and a shrug, he said, “No joke. I’m kind of an ass.” It was a matter of fact.


As he stepped closer to me once I was back on two feet, I realized I knew him. And just like that, my fear was back. “Are you? Are you? You’re…” I clutched my chest in my hand to stop my heart from bolting out of its home.


“Connor,” he said, smirking, his brows lifted in arrogance.


“Ca...Conner?” I asked, stuttering over my words and shaking in my legs. 


“Yup. That’s me.”


I didn’t know what to say. My tongue was tied and my mind went right back to that day in court.


“And you’re Mary.”


I nodded, unable to speak as chills traveled up my spine. I wanted to run; get the hell out of here, but I was curious to look at him.  In the courtroom, his eyes were different - vacant. Hollow. They weren’t now. Now, they were welcoming, almost warm. Six months could change that look in his eyes, I suppose. Having had time to mourn, he could have gotten over it,  but...


“Don’t be afraid, Mary. I’m not mad. I forgive you.”


I crumbled at his words, grabbing onto the bench so I wouldn’t fall again.
“Whoa. I see where maybe the problem is. Your balance is kinda off, no?”

He wasn’t funny. Maybe making jokes about it helped him through his loss, but there wasn’t anything funny about the situation.


At my obvious irritation, Connor said, “Oh man, I’m sorry. See. Told you, I’m an asshole.”


He edged closer; I backed away.


“Mary. Please don’t be scared of me. I’m not mad.”


“I’m not scared,” I finally said, my voice shaky and weak, my words an obvious lie.


“Sit?” he asked, gesturing toward the bench meant as a memorial for his brother. “Please. We can talk.” He sat and patted the seat.


I owed it to him to talk, if that’s what he was asking, so I sat.


“You still think about it?” he started, his tone too nonchalant for someone who was given the opportunity to verbally, hopefully not physically, attack his brother’s killer.


“Every minute of every day.”


“Not every second?” He wasn’t very funny. “I’m shocked.”


“How can you be so cavalier? He was your brother. I killed him.”


“Twin brother. And yeah, I noticed.”


I shook my head. I didn’t get how he could act like he didn’t care. Maybe that was it? “Is this an act you put on? To hide your real feelings?”


“I told you, Mary, I’m an ass. I don’t have feelings. So, nothing to hide. What you see is what you get.” He swallowed loudly, before he said, “It was...it was Cole who had the feelings.” He flinched.


“I knew it,” I blurted before I had the chance to stop myself.


“What did you know?”


More quietly, I said, “This does bother you. I saw you flinch.”


“This-” he said, waving his finger between us - me to him, him to me, me to him. “-doesn’t bother me. But, okay, maybe it bothers me a little.”


“Maybe?”


“We weren’t the best of friends.”


“So, that means you don’t care that he’s...he’s…” I shrugged, unable to complete the sentence.


“I don’t care that he’s dead? Oh, I care. But...I’ve had lots of time, Mary. Lots. Of. Time.”


Looking down at my hands crossed between my legs, I spoke slowly. Softly. “I’ve had the same amount of time.” I closed my eyes and shook my head. “I can’t move on.”


When I reopened my eyes, Connor’s hand was hovering over my wrist, but at the last minute, he pulled it away.


“You need to get over this, Mary. It was an accident. Sure, it was a fatal one, but you can’t live your life in the past. You have to forgive yourself and move on.”


I looked at him in shock. “How do you do it? Your brother is gone. Dead.

Because of me. How can you just sit here talking to me about forgiving myself? Why don’t you want to kill me in return?”


“Why? So you can be dead as a doornail, too?”


“Oh my God.”


“What? Too callous for you?” He laughed. How could he laugh?


I stood, not able to deal with him right now. I wanted to scream. To die. He wanted to laugh.


“C’mon, Mary. Lighten up. It’s okay to laugh. Cole laughed all the time. He’d want you to move on. He’s over it. So should you be.”


“Wait. He’s over it? He’s dead.”


“Right. And he’s in a happier place and all that shit. Really, Mare. It’s not that bad.”


It’s not that bad? “What about your mother? And your father? I’m sure they think it’s bad. And your sister? I saw them in court. If looks could kill, one glance from your father, and I’d have been up there alongside your brother.”


“Up there? You don’t know my brother.”


“You are an ass.” I turned my back on him and wanted to walk away, but my feet were fixed where I was. How were his parents dealing with this? I needed to know, so I turned around. “Tell me.”


“Tell you what?”


“Your parents. How are they getting through this? How are they moving on? Because I can’t believe that they did.”


His eyes got that vacant stare, similar to what I remember that day in court.
“They aren’t. Are they?”


He shook his head. “Not my mom.”


I walked back to the bench and sat. “Why did she really drop the charges?”


“I don’t know. I never talked to her about it.”


“Never? You didn’t even ask?”


Connor shook his head again. “No. I didn’t.”


I dropped my head, but continued talking to the ground. “I wish she hadn’t.”


“Why?”


“I deserve to be in jail.”


“For a car accident?”


“For vehicular homicide.”


He laughed again, but this time, it was missing the humor. “Listen to yourself. You’re not a murderer, Mary. It was a car accident.”


“But I wasn’t paying attention,” I shouted, lifting my head and making eye contact. “Your eyes are brown?” I asked, all confused.


“I like to call them chocolate. And way to change the subject.”


“Right. My mind. It was wandering.”


“On my chocolate eyes?” He wiggled his brows.


I couldn’t help but crack a smile. “No. When I hit your brother’s car.”


“Ah. And that’s why you keep blaming yourself.”


“Well, yeah. I wasn’t paying attention.”


At that, Connor sighed and turned serious. “What were you thinking about? At that particular moment?”


As I tried to hold back the sob that I knew was coming, it suddenly felt like little pieces of glass were shuffling around in my throat.  Covering my mouth with my hand, I tried to physically push the tears back.


He had no witty quip, nor did he crack a joke. It must have all been finally sinking in, or he was admitting to me that he was affected by Cole’s death, because Connor remained silent along with me.


“It was so stupid,” I cried, finally, the words spewing out in frantic bellow. “I was thinking about a boy.” I wiped the wetness from my face with the heel of my palm; the snot from my nose on my sleeve.


He stifled a laugh.


“He’d just dumped me the day before. I was crying.”


He chuckled, but continued to let me speak.


“My eyes were, like, bubbling. I just-” I snuffled, there was so much wetness dripping from my eyes and nose. “-I didn’t see him. Through my tears. I, I didn’t see him.” It seems like I was always crying. Still always crying. Always. Only now, it’s because of something so much worse than a boy breaking up with me.
I expected Connor to say, “Well, yeah, obviously,” or something snide like that, but instead, he surprised me and said, “You’re not the only one to ever drive while crying, Mary. It’s not a crime to do so.” His hand hovered over mine again, and again, he yanked it away before touching me. “It’s not like you were drinking and driving. Or texting.”


I scoffed. “And don’t think those lawyers didn’t try to get me on that.”


“I’m sure they did.”


“I’m sorry. I’m sorry for taking your brother away from you. I’m sorry for ruining your whole family’s life. I’m so sorry. Will you please forgive me?”


“Yes. I do. It’s okay. We’re not the only family to lose someone.” His guard was down now; I heard the sadness in his tone. And I would do anything if I could take it away.


“Hey,” he said after a while. “He shouldn’t have been driving such a small car. Our father told him not to get it. It wasn’t safe. True to his nature, though, he bought the used piece of shit anyway. Had it been a bigger car, maybe that huge monster of an SUV you were driving wouldn’t have pushed it that easily. That was one huge front end. What kind of truck was that?”


“Suburban. It was my mom’s. How did you know what the front end looked like?”


“The rear-view...the pictures. From the accident. That Miata was toast.”


“How do you do it? How do you turn it off so quickly?”


“Turn what off, Mare?” He said my name as if we were old friends.


“Your emotions.”


“First off, I’m a dude. Second, I told you, I’m an…”


“Ass,” we both said in unison. “Yeah. We’ve established that,” I continued. “Still, it has to get to you somewhat.”


Connor stood and stretched his hands up in the air, body extended. I think he even yawned. This was all an act. I was sure of it. “Wanna know why me and my brother were on the outs before he died?”


“You were on the...you mean you weren’t talking to each other?”


“Nope.”


I dropped my head in my hands and sighed. “I can’t believe what I’ve done.”
“Mary. It’s fine. He wasn’t talking to me as much as I wasn’t talking to him. I kinda stole his girl back from him.”


“Back from him?”


“Long story. But see, we all do things we wish we could take back, Mary. You know what I’ve learned though?”


I shook my head.


“That sometimes bad things need to happen to help us to grow.” He sat back down, and with his fingers, turned me to face him. “Maybe not even to grow in this life. Our souls. They’re meant to learn lessons. Did you know that?”
Again, I shook my head.


“Yup. And sometimes, Mare, the bad things that happen to us, don’t even happen for us. Sometimes it’s for somebody else to grow.” He nodded. “Been talking to someone about it.”


“Like a counselor?”


“Pretty much. So, yeah. The two of us may have done something we regret, but it may have been because a lesson needed to be learned.”


“And what lesson is that?”


“I have no flippin’ idea.” He laughed.


“Are you pulling my leg?”


He snickered again, then became serious. “No, Mary. I’m not. I’m being completely serious. No one’s here forever, babe. It sucks, yeah, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”


“That can’t be true.”


“But it is. You didn’t plan to be crying the exact moment you rammed into him. Just like it was not just dumb luck that placed that piece of scrap metal in front of you. And don’t forget the car on the other side of the road that hit the Miata head on. There’s more to that than coincidence, Mare. If it hadn’t been you to push, to push him into oncoming traffic, then it may have been something else. Mary,” he said covering my hands in his very soft palms. “It’s time to move on. Yes, it’s unfortunate that it was you who started the chain reaction that day, but maybe, not only was Cole meant to die, but maybe you were able to grow that day too. Or maybe it was for another reason altogether. Who the hell knows? This life is so much bigger than us. If Cole didn’t die that day, I’d have no idea how big it really is. We have purposes. We have lessons. We have friggin dumb luck. But it’s all just so. Much. More.” He squeezed my hands now, but it wasn’t forceful or harsh. His grip was pillow-like. My hands felt enveloped in soft warmth.


“How do you really know? How do we know what’s meant to be and what’s not?”


“Oh, Mary. That’s something I’m not sure we’ll ever know completely. But it’s time to go. I’m getting tired and...it’s a long way home.”


I looked around and noticed there was no car around.


“I walked,” he said, reading my mind.


“I’d give you a ride, but-” I pointed to my bike. “-I don’t drive a car anymore.”


“Oh, Mare. Don’t do that. Get back on the horse. You can’t ride a bike forever.”


That’s what he thinks.


***


After contemplating my conversation with Connor, I realized the guilt I’d been lugging around since the accident felt lighter. Still there. But a little less burdensome.


When I woke up the next morning, I brushed my teeth, pulled my hair back into a ponytail, and grabbed my jacket. Fifteen minutes later, I dropped my bike next to the memorial bench and sat down, hoping Connor would show up again.
But then a thought occurred to me - what if one of his parents showed up instead? I wasn’t ready to deal with them. My courage plummeting, I changed my mind and went back to my bike.


As I bent down to pick it up, I heard, “What the hell are you doing here?”


Just like the moment my car propelled Cole’s Miata across the yellow line, time slowed down as my heart rate sped up. Grasping my chest on instinct, I dropped my bike and ascended to full height at the speed an inchworm takes to make it across two inches of pavement.


“You don’t belong here, and you certainly are not welcomed here.”


“Connor?” I whispered.


“Get the hell away from my brother’s bench.”


I relaxed when I realized he was probably joking again. “Okay. Not funny. I came by to thank you.”


He narrowed his eyes and said, “Thank me? For what?” he asked, his face scrunched up in disgust.


“For yesterday. I was thinking about what you said, and it made me feel less, I don’t know, a little less guilty.”


“What the hell are you talking about? I would never say anything to make you feel any better. If it were up to me, and not my mom, you’da been locked up behind bars right now.”


My stomach was working its way up my esophagus. My heart was being pushed into my back. “But yesterday, you were so...so...nice to me. I don’t und…”
“Nice to you? Not in this lifetime.”


“Oh,” I said on an expressed breath. "I’ll leave.”


But as I lifted up my bike, he was sitting on the bench waving to me. He was joking around. “You know, that wasn’t funny, Con…” I stopped mid-sentence, because he was pointing at the spot he was standing a moment ago.
He was still there.


“Listen,” the standing Connor said, “I don’t know what you’re trying to pull by being here, but you weren’t invited.”


“Tell that loser,” sitting Connor said, “that it’s my bench and I invited you.”
“Oh my word, you’re not…” I said to sitting Connor.


“Yeah, Mare. I am. But he can’t see me. Truthfully, I was surprised that you could.”


I’ve been talking to a ghost?


“Cole?” I asked, looking at the boy on the bench.


“You don’t get to say his name,” the real Connor said.


At the sight of me buckling at the knees, Cole, or his ghost, rather, jumped up and helped me to the bench.


“Why won’t you just leave?” Connor stepped closer, surprised at my gall. “How can you just sit there and, what is it? Why are you here?”


I looked at Cole, who was enjoying the whole scene, and back at Connor, who clearly was not. I hung on to the arm of the chair, still seated, and said, “I am so sorry,” very slowly. “I came by yesterday, because it was six months since, well…”


“I don’t need to be reminded,” he interrupted.


“I realize that,” I added. “I would like you to know, though, that I really am sorry. I know that doesn’t bring back-” I swallowed and looked at Cole, “-bring back your brother, but I really, really am sorry.” I pointed to my bike. “I don’t drive anymore. I won’t. I’m just so sorry.” I don’t know whether I was crying due to remorse, or because I just found out I’d had a whole conversation with a ghost, or that the real Connor was so angry with me.


Connor - the boy I did not sit with yesterday - shook his head and turned around. Cole - the boy i killed in the car wreck - nudged me in the arm. “Keep talking. You’re softening him up.”


“Are you really-” I touched his arm; I could feel him. He was soft. “-here?”


“Touch me harder.”


“What?”


“Push into my arm. Don’t just let your fingers graze it.”


I did what he said, and my hand fell through his body. “Oh my God. But how? How are you here?” I whispered.


“Unfinished business.”


“What kind of unfinished business?” I said louder than I’d intended.


“Who are you talking to?” Connor turned, but Cole was right - his tone was softer; his green eyes, not as cold. 


They were green in court. I knew it.


“Well?” he asked again.


“Tell him,” Cole nudged.


I shook my head at both of them and stood. “Look, I’m really sorry, and well, I hope maybe one day, you can forgive me. Or at least know I never meant to…” I trailed off, because, well, what else could I have said?


“Well, obviously you didn’t mean to, but...oh, just forget it.”


“Tell him I’m here, Mary. I want him to know.”


Turning back to Cole, I lifted my hands. “How? He won’t…”


“Are you schizophrenic or something? Do you always talk to yourself?”


I turned back to Connor.


“You got a Bluetooth on?”


“No.”


“Then what?”


After I hesitated, I admitted, “Well, you’re not going to believe me, but-” Oh my God, how do I say this? “Your brother is sitting on the bench.”


Connor looked to where I pointed but said nothing.


“Tell him nice shoes. They’re mine.”


I winced when I repeated what Cole said.


Connor glanced at his Roshes with wide eyes, then back at the bench.


“Why couldn’t he just get his own pair?”


“You want me to say that?”


“What?” Connor asked.


“He said, um, well, why couldn’t you get your own pair?” Because it felt safer, I kept my gaze on the ground.


“These are my own.” 


“Bullshit. I see the red Sharpie right there on the side where Tiff drew a heart. Tell him.”


Rubbing at my neck, beneath my ear, I did as he asked. “Cole said, ‘bullshit, he sees the red Sharpie where Tiff drew a heart.”


Connor’s face paled.


“I...how did you know that?” he asked, his mind not ready to make the jump to the paranormal.


“He’s here. I’m not kidding.” Connor’s eyes were wide as quarters still, his face, whiter than his brother’s ghost should have been, but I continued. “I had a whole conversation with him yesterday thinking he was you.”


“Didn’t want you to be frightened right from the get-go,” Cole explained at the same time Connor said, “You’re lying.”


“Why would she lie, asswipe? What would she gain from lying?” Even though he knew Connor couldn’t hear him, Cole still spoke to his brother.


I cracked a grin when I looked at Cole. His sarcasm was oddly charming.


“What’s he saying?”


“Aha. He does believe you.”


“He’s saying, he’s saying something crude, isn’t he? He’s such a prick. You know you’re dead, don’t ya? But you still gotta get the last laugh. Typical.”


Oh my word.


“Did you expect me to change just ‘cause I died? Tell him, Mary.”


“He said, ‘did you expect him to change just because he died,” I pretty much whispered, embarrassed to be repeating his words.


“Figures. No. I shouldn’t have expected any differently.”


Connor stepped back and slid down the oak tree behind him. Sitting with his hand in his head, his knee supporting his elbow, Connor let out a mirthless chuckle and said, “I can’t believe I’m sitting here conversing with my brother’s ghost and the girl who killed him.”


I said nothing.


Cole said, “You know she actually didn’t kill me. The oncoming car did that. So, yeah.”


“He said something sarcastic didn’t he?”


I nodded. “Yeah.”


“What’d he say?”


“Nothing.”


His pleading green eyes made me crack.


“He said, technically, it, it was the oncoming car that...” I stopped. I couldn’t. “I know it was me. I’m really so sorry.”


“Right. At the moment, I should be thanking you for killing him.”


Cole cracked up.


I ignored him. “Why?”


“Why what?” He lifted his head to look at me while he waited on my question.


“Why were you two not speaking with each other before he, you know?” I shrugged.


“He told you that?”


“Yes. Yesterday.”


After leaning his head back and looking at the sky, the sun high above, Connor said, “This is ridiculous. He can’t be there. That kinda stuff just doesn’t happen.”
“I know. It’s insane, but I’m not making it up.”


“You. I’m here. Get over it.” Cole stood from the bench and floated toward Connor. His feet didn’t make impressions on the grass as he approached his brother. “Dude,” Cole said, though Connor couldn’t hear him. “I said DUDE.” This time Cole lowered himself to his brother’s level and shoved him in the shoulder. “Bitch.”


“Whoa.” Connor’s head hit the tree trunk. He jumped up and put up his dukes.

“Did he do that?”


As I nodded, Cole belly-laughed and shoved at him again.


“What the hell?” Connor pressed his palms forward, pushing at air, but he stumbled forward.


“Cole. Stop,” I demanded, getting very upset watching them behave that way.
With his fingertips, Cole prodded Connor in the chest, clearly upsetting Connor.


“Stop,” I said, feeling bad for Connor, whose face was beet-red, his jaw, clenched.


“It’s not bad enough you got Tiffany back-” Connor retorted. “-but you had to go and die, suddenly becoming a hero in her eyes? In everybody’s eyes. A goddamned hero for dying in a car crash. So even in death, you’re better than me. Because all I hear is Cole this and Cole that, and Cole was so wonderful, Cole was the nicest guy, Cole was an angel, Cole, Cole, Cole. From every goddamned person we know. Teacher’s included. I can’t take it anymore, you little shit.” While Connor was attempting to hold back the sobs I could hear in his voice, Cole continued to laugh.


“Stop laughing,” I wailed, my own tears shedding on Connor’s account.


“Go to hell, Cole.” Connor moved to the bench and sat.


“Heading there soon, bro. Just waiting my turn.”


I shook my head at Cole’s indifference. He seemed so compassionate yesterday, at least for a while he had. Today, he was being an ass. Just like he said he was.


“I know,” Connor said. “Yo
u’re heading there now.”


“You know me so well, bro.” Cole now sat against the tree where Connor had been.


“Can you hear him?” I asked Connor.


“No. But I figured he said something like that. You don’t share a goddamn life together without learning how the other thinks.”


“Oh, we shared a lot more than that, my friend,” Cole quipped.


“Why are you being so mean?” I asked Cole. To Connor, I questioned whether Cole was always this mean or not.


“He had his reasons,” Connor whispered, peering directly into my eyes.


“You guys were always like this?”


“Not always. That girl Tiff? Who drew the heart?” Connor lifted his foot. “I kind of stole her from Cole.” Connor’s lip quirked in remorse. “Cole was in love with her from the moment she moved into town three years ago.”


Cole sat silently against the tree, listening to every word his brother was saying.
“I knew he liked her. But I was sick of him always getting everything - Honor Society, top seed in every stupid wrestling tournament, all the cool friends,” he trailed off.


When I looked over at Cole again, his appearance wasn’t as vibrant as it had been. Was he green? “Are you okay, Cole?”


He nodded.


“What’s the matter? What’d he say now?”


“Nothing. Isn’t that odd?”


“Maybe Hell froze over,” Connor commented and rested his elbows on his thighs. He looked at his crossed hands and said, “I did this to him. Made him an insensitive, hateful ass.”


“What?”


Connor sat back and studied the tree where Cole sat. “When Tiffany first moved here, Cole and she hit it off right away. They were disgustingly happy. I couldn’t stand it. Not only did she take my brother’s attention away from me, she made him even more popular.” Connor ran his hand down his face. “Sometime, months later, maybe a year, they, you know…” he looked at me, then at the space where only I could see Cole. “They both lost their-” he raised his eyebrows. “-They did it for the first time.” Connor turned his attention back to the tree. “He came home excited. So in love. He went on and on about it. In detail.” Beads of sweat formed on Connor’s temple. “It pissed me off that he lost his virginity before me, too. And to the prettiest girl in the whole town. I was just so, so…”


“Jealous?” I asked.


He slowly nodded. “Yeah. Jealous.” He wiped the sweat from his brow with the bottom of his t-shirt. “The next day, the day after they had sex for the first time ever, I didn’t let on to Tiffany that I knew, and I told her, well, I told her I was sorry she and Cole broke up.”


“What?”


“Well, yeah, that’s what she had asked. ‘What are you talking about, Connor? We’re not broken up.’ I said, ‘Oh. I’m sorry, I just, I just assumed, because, well, he came home at three this morning and said he was fooling around with Michelle.” Connor closed his eyes. “Cole really came home at ten; she knew that he’d left her only a few minutes before that. ‘Whattaya mean?’ She’d asked, her eyes already filling with tears. I took her hand, very humbly, and told her I was sorry. That I really thought they were broken up. ‘He hasn’t mentioned you in some time,’ I’d said, ‘and he’s been hanging around with Michelle a lot. I just assumed.’ Her bottom lip was trembling.”


I looked at Cole, who looked like he wanted to cry too. Only this time, he actually did look like a ghost. Transparent, almost.


“I took her in for a hug,” Connor continued. “Ran my fingers through her hair. Rubbed her back. Told her he was an ass, and he didn’t deserve her. She believed me, Mary. Even though for weeks, Cole tried to tell her the truth. He even got Michelle to tell her there was nothing at all between them but friendship, but Tiff didn’t buy it. Truth was, Michelle and Cole were great friends. It was easy to accept there was something going on between them.” Connor was letting the tears flow now. He backhanded them away and continued. “Tiffany and I became a couple soon after. Cole...Cole,” he bawled. “I am so sorry. So sorry. I was so jealous, and it made me-” he sucked in a couple of hyperventilating breaths. “-I’m so sorry, Cole. I messed up so badly. So badly.”


Without thinking, I took Connor’s hand in mine.


“I dated Tiffany for a year before the guilt made me into such a mess that I had to tell her what I did.” Connor’s eyes closed above his hand-covered mouth. “She never forgave me. Neither did Cole. Even though, in the end, he got her back.”


“In the end, I fuckin’ died,” Cole finally said.


“Well, in the end, I guess he died, but, no one talks to me anymore. Especially now that he’s dead. I deserve it. I deserve it, Mary. I’m evil.”


Squeezing his hand, I said, “Not evil. Human. We all get jealous, don’t we? And jealousy makes us into someone we don’t even recognize.” I looked over to Cole, but I could see the tree behind him now, where his body should be. He was paper thin. “He’s sorry, Cole. Maybe, maybe you can make up now. Before it’s really too late.


I could see movement in front of the tree. He was nodding. Standing.


“I didn’t want him to die,” Connor cried. “He was my best friend before Tiffany. If I could just do it all over again. It’s not like I even loved her. Not like Cole did.” Connor slid off the bench and dropped to his knees. “Is he still there, Mary?”
“He is. But barely. He’s, he’s fading.”


“Tell him. Tell him I’m sorry,” he begged.


Cole walked over to Connor and dropped to his knees in front of his surviving brother. He sat back on his heels and punched Connor in the face. Connor wasn’t aware he was even touched. “You deserved a harder punch,” Cole said weakly.


Connor looked straight at Cole.


“Do you see him?” I asked.


“What?” He turned to me. “No, why? Is he right here?” As his eyes searched, Conner said, “Cole? Do you forgive me?”


“I do,” he answered quietly.


“He said yes. He forgives you.”


“You’re not just saying that? He really said that?” At that moment, Connor was so desperate to hear his brother say the words.


“Cole. Tell me word for word what you want Connor to hear.”


“Tell the asswipe I love him and I forgive him and I even understand why he did what he did.”


“He said, ‘tell the asswipe I love him and I forgive him and I even understand why he did what he did.”


“You do?” he asked, staring right where Cole was, as if he could see him.


“Yeah. I do. I guess I didn’t make it easy for you, what with being so awesome and all. Go ‘head, tell him, Mary. I’ll wait.”


“He said, ‘yeah. I do. I guess I didn’t make it easy for you, what with being so awesome and all.”


“But you could’ve been more popular too.”


“But you could’ve been more popular too,” I rep
eated. “All you had to do was shred your guitar in front of people. Don’t know why you hid that shit.” I repeated.


Connor replied. “Because it was my shit. It was personal.”


“And that’s okay,” Cole said; I relayed. “But you shouldn’t have been jealous of me just because I enjoyed being social.” Again, I echoed his words, but they were getting harder to hear. It was as if I was hearing him through an old Victrola.


“Well, it made me envious.”


“Well, I’m sorry. Really. I wish you’d told me. I really do.” Again, I regurgitated his muddled words. “But, Con, man, I forgive you. I do.”


As soon as I fed Connor the last of Cole’s sentiments, Cole disappeared completely. I stood and reached out. “Cole! Cole!”


“What’s going on?” Connor questioned, standing next to me and taking my elbow.


I dropped to my knees, and Connor followed. “He’s gone,” I said, patting the ground in front of us. “He’s gone,” I said again and sat back on my heels.


Connor sat back on his feet also.


“I think he was here just so he could forgive you.”


“That’s crazy.”


“Is it? I don’t think so. I think it’s true. Yesterday, he told me that we have lessons and stuff to learn. So we could grow. Now, I thought he was you when he was telling me this, but he said sometimes things happen…” I stopped, realizing I was just about to tell him he may have been the reason his brother died. Which it wasn’t, but I didn’t know how to word it without sounding mean. 


“What, Mary? He said sometime what happens? Finish,” he pleaded desperately. “What did he tell you?”


“He said that life was bigger than us, and we all have lessons to learn. Maybe one of those lessons was, well, for you to forgive yourself.”


Shaking his head, he insisted, “I don’t forgive myself.”


“But Cole forgave you. And you asked him for his forgiveness. You know how hard that is to do? Ask for forgiveness? I think it’s harder than the act of forgiveness itself. And because you asked, Cole did forgive you. Now you have to ask yourself for forgiveness.” I paused in thought. “And maybe I’m supposed to do the same.”


“Forgive yourself?”


“Well, I guess, but to ask you and your family to forgive me as well. Maybe if we are forgiven by the one we’d wronged, we can start forgiving ourselves. And start growing.”


He nodded. “Okay. But what’s in it for Cole? What was his lesson? How does he grow?”


I didn’t really have an answer to that. I think only one person could answer that. And He wasn’t gonna tell us. “I don’t know, Connor. Maybe we’re only supposed to figure out our own lessons.”


We both thought about that for a while. The air between us so thick we couldn’t find words to cut through it. While Connor kept his head bowed, I kept my eyes on him. He was fairer than his brother; not as striking. Not as broad and thick. Truthfully, I don’t know how I confused Cole for Connor in the first place. Maybe my brain couldn’t grasp the idea that a dead boy was standing in front of me. Maybe I just didn’t know either of them well enough to distinguish between them. I’d only seen Connor in court and Cole in pictures. They really were as physically different as they were in personality. But I’m glad I got to talk with both of them. And hopefully, they were happy to have met me. Maybe the three of us needed to find each other in order to start the healing process...or in Cole’s case, the going-to-Heaven process. Maybe one day, I’ll get to meet their parents, and we can talk too. I’m not that brave yet, but maybe one day. I don’t think I will ever be able to put the accident behind me, 
because, 
let’s face it,
I killed a boy. 
It doesn’t matter that I hadn’t meant it, the result was the same. 
I killed a boy.

But I could grow from the experience. I don’t know how, but I would. And when it was my time to die, I could do so with at least one less lesson to learn. I didn’t know what that lesson was yet, but I know one day, I would have figured it out. And one day, my heart would find peace again. And maybe Connor and his family would find it as well. Hopefully, Cole’s heart had already found that peace.


***


Connor said nothing when he stood up and left, but I didn’t try to stop him. His mind was somewhere else. And his heart was trying to heal. But I pulled myself up and sat back down on the bench.


Cole’s bench.


I put my hands together, and I prayed.


I prayed for Cole.


I prayed for Connor.


I prayed for their sister.


I prayed for their mom and dad.


I prayed for my mom and dad, who were hurting with me all along.


And I prayed for me. Because I had to start sometime.


“Is this seat taken?”


I gasped and slid right off the bench. Right back down on my ass.


“You know, you really gotta work on your balance, kid.”


I didn’t bother getting up. Instead, I crossed my legs and smiled. “You came back.”


“I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye to you.”


“Thank you.”


“You know, Mare. If things were different, and you didn’t, like, kill me, I think I’d want to marry you.”


“What?” I asked, covering my mouth, trying to hide the fact that my smile was spreading across my whole face.


“I like girls who aren’t afraid to fall.”


“Oh, then you’d love me.”


“Exactly.”


Cole and I gazed into each other’s eyes for quite a few moments before he dropped to the ground and sat cross-legged in front of me.


“I’m not supposed to be here,” he whispered, taking my hands in his. “I’m crossing over today. No more reason to stay, they tell me.” His smile was a little sad. “I asked my angel, at least that’s what he tells me he is, if you ask me, he looks like he should be in some motorcycle gang. Anyway, I asked if I could have one more moment with you.” Cole nodded once. “Mary, thank you so much for showing up yesterday. I didn’t realize it until then, but I needed closure. And I don’t think I would have gotten it if I hadn’t the chance to meet you. I’m not sure why you were able to see me, but I am so damn glad you could.”


My smile was replaced with my tears.


“Maybe, just maybe, in the beginning, I was kind of mad at you. You know, for killing me.” He chuckled.


I didn’t find it funny, so I cried harder and covered my face with my hands.


“No, no, Mare, no crying. No crying. I’m not mad anymore. I’m...I’m actually happy. There are some really cute girls where I’m going.” Cole winked. “But seeing you, and talking with you...it really helped me to finalize my thoughts. I’m okay with leaving now. I can’t put a finger on why meeting you helped, but it did. And...thank you for helping my brother. You helped him too.”


“I don’t know about that. I think he still might hate me.”


“Nah. I don’t even think he’s mad anymore. He’ll be okay. So will my family. So, I just wanted to say...don’t give me or my family, one more sad thought. It’s done. I’m in a good place, and they will realize that soon. But you need to move on from this, Mary. So, that when it’s your time to come up here,” he pointed to the sky, “you’ll be one hundred percent ready for me.”


“What?” I asked, confused about what he said.


“I need you one hundred percent whole and okay with yourself, so you won’t have to linger long in this space in-between.” He circled his finger in the air. “You can’t have any unfinished business, because I’ll be waiting long enough for you. Don’t make me wait a minute longer than I have to.”


“Wait. What?”


He leaned in and kissed me right on the lips. It was warm. It was soft. It was home. “They tell me there’s dating up there. So, while I’m waiting for you, I’ll be dreaming up the most perfect date ever. Of course, I’ll probably practice on those cute girls already there, but hey, you’ll probably be dating down here, right?”


“You’re crazy, Cole.”


“Crazy for you, Mare. And since we didn’t have time to get to know each other down here, you know, ‘cause you killed me.” He winked. “Then, we’ll have eternity up there to get to know one another.”


Once again, Cole kissed me. He let his lips linger a moment or two before he said, “Goodbye, Mary. I’ll be waiting in the clouds for you.”


And just like that, he was gone.


And just like that, I could finally forgive myself.

The End


If you liked this story, please consider reading one of my full length novels. You can find them on most online bookstores and Amazon. Thank you for spending a moment of your time with me.