Dawn had a routine.
Every afternoon, the long yellow bus would leave her by the roundabout, and she’d walk down one block and cross two streets to reach her parents’ house. Theirs was the only one story house in their row, with a driveway large enough for three cars if you angled them right, or one, if you were just learning to drive, like her.
She would then cut through the lawn and touch the giant, marble frog lounging by the front door, the closest she’d ever get to playing with a pet, thanks to allergies. Afterward, she’d open the door, set the keys on the bookshelf in the hallway, and then plop down on the couch for a ten minute nap. It was the same everyday. Her routine.
To see David sprawled on the couch when she walked in the door on Thursday set her ablaze with anger. She slammed the door, the wood burning and crackling under the heat.
“David, what is wrong with you?” She demanded, reaching for a pack of matches. “Don’t you know that’s my seat? I take a nap here every single day. Or have you not noticed?” She struck one across the side of the packaging and held it up to his face. “You never care about anyone but yourself.”
David rose to his feet, twisting off the cap of a gasoline canister and dumping its contents on the couch. “You think you’re so special, you can just get whatever you want. You’re just selfish. And they don’t even do anything, just let you walk all over everyone!”
Their mother would come upon the charred couch and a pile of ashes when she walked in the door, a few minutes too late, as usual, then send both to opposite ends of the house while she cleaned up the mess.
The particular situation differed slightly every day, but their fights were always the same. And always part of her routine.
“I’m leaving now,” her mother said, peering into her small, dark bedroom. Dawn looked up from her laptop and nodded.
“You be good to your brother,” her mother continued. “I don’t want to hear about any fights when I get back.” Dawn rolled her eyes and looked back at her email. She was expecting some information about a package she’d shipped, but it seemed like it was still in transit.
“Oh, and don’t forget to go over to Ms. Kerri’s house at 5:00. You’ve got a few minutes.”
“Mom, why do I have to go over there?” Dawn complained. Her mother crossed her arms over her light green blouse and gave her a tired look.
“We’re not going over this again, Dawn. Ms. Kerri is our neighbor, and she’s helped us out on many occasions, including the time you were sick with the flu. This is just a small favor.”
“No, watching a fish is not a ‘small favor’,” Dawn said, tracing quotation marks in the air. “That’s a huge responsibility, because the fish can’t make any sounds, so you’ll never know if it needs anything, and what if it’s drowning, and since you can’t hear it, you’ll kill it, and then what are you gonna say to Ms. Kerri?”
“I’m not going to say anything to her. And you’re going to care for that creature so well, you won’t have to say anything to her either.”
Not wanting to hear any further arguments, her mother closed the door softly and went about her way. Dawn sighed and shut off her laptop. Why couldn’t she have asked David to watch the fish instead? Why did she always have to do everything?
Whenever it came to anything that might require responsibility, like checking the mailbox, or buying something from the store, her mother always picked on her to do it. It wasn’t that David was younger than her, or that he was irresponsible, or that he didn’t want to do any of those things. It just seemed that her mother wanted to make her life miserable. That was the only possible explanation. If Ms. Kerri had wanted her to babysit any other kind of animal, she was sure her mother would have made her do it, even though she was allergic.
She checked her watch. Only two minutes to 5? Dawn hustled to her feet and slipped into her light blue jacket and a pair of matching flats.
Ms. Kerri was a nice enough woman, but the two of them had never had a real conversation. She had only seen the woman a few times, and on all those occasions, she’d been talking with her parents, and when the adults are talking, there’s really no getting in on the conversation. So it was a little awkward for her to go over there on her own.
Hey, we’ve never talked before, but I’m gonna watch your fish. Forget the fact that I’m sixteen and I’ve never cared for anything in my life. Trust me completely with your beloved creature.
Dawn carefully avoided her brother eating at the kitchen table — no need to step on a land mine twice in one day — and crossed the street to Ms. Kerri’s spacious, two story, beige townhouse.
She answered on the first knock.
“Hello, Dawn, so nice of you to stop by.” Ms. Kerri wore a burgundy dress shirt, a long black skirt and some heels. Her hair was pulled up off her shoulders, and her lips were a deep red. Dawn had never seen her in anything other than slacks and a polo shirt, wearing next to no makeup. Dawn raised an eyebrow.
“Are you going on a date?”
Ms. Kerri laughed at her inquiry. “Of course not,” she replied. “I haven’t been on a date in ages. I am giving a presentation at my office, and I won’t be back until late this evening.” She suddenly gasped. “Where are my manners? Come inside. I will show you Carl.”
Dawn obediently followed the woman inside. The first thing she noticed was the raspberry scent in the air. She tried to find the origin of the scent plugged into the outlets, but it came, instead, from the large candle in the center of the dining room table. Once she found it, Dawn took in the rest of her surroundings, which included a decent sized kitchen with a dining room attached to it. The dining room table was long and black, surrounded by white chairs. Directly across from the dining room and kitchen was the living room, simply decorated with two small black and white couches and a large, flat screen plasma TV. A computer sat on a side table, open to a blank Word document. A few pictures hung on the walls, mostly quotes or black and white photographs of birds. Dawn took in a deep breath of raspberry. She had dreamed of decorating a house like this ever since she saw it in a furniture store magazine. It was very simple, with next to no furniture, and the blinds were pulled back, revealing a small green backyard and letting in a good amount of sunlight.
“You have a nice house.” Dawn found the woman pulling drinks out of the refrigerator.
Ms. Kerri smiled and set two water bottles on the counter. “Thank you, Dawn. I styled it after a house I saw in a furniture store magazine.”
I bet it was the same magazine I saw it in. Despite naming her fish Carl, Ms. Kerri has some pretty decent taste.
Dawn twisted the cap off one of the bottles and took a sip. She wasn’t thirsty, but if her mother had taught her anything, it’s at least eat/drink a little bit of whatever your host offers you. That way, even if you don’t like it, you’ve at least touched it, and you can throw it away later in greater confidence.
“Wait here one moment while I fetch Carl,” Ms. Kerri said, then disappeared up a staircase that sprouted up in the hallway. Dawn resisted the temptation to continue scoping out the house, but she didn’t want offend Ms. Kerri. Another thing her mother taught her: never go snooping around your guest’s house. Let them show you the places you can see, and let them keep their embarrassingly dirty rooms hidden from the public eye.
After a few minutes of silence and forced sips from the plastic water bottle, Ms. Kerri reappeared, holding a small glass bowl in her hands. The water had been died blue, so it was difficult to clearly see any of the dark objects inside. Ms. Kerri set the bowl down on the counter gently and handed Dawn a canister of fish food.
“Now, the only thing you have to do is feed him that every two hours, starting with the moment you get home.” she began, running the side of her hand against the glass. “Your best bet is setting an alarm, but even if you miss the first two hours, he won’t die.” She paused and looked at Dawn carefully. “But if he misses more than three hours between meals, he will surely die.”
Dawn resisted the urge to ask if she was being a little too dramatic, and swallowed it with a nod.
“You don’t have to worry about giving Carl any attention,” Ms. Kerri continued, lowering herself to look into the side of the bowl. “I’ve given him more than enough attention for today, so he shouldn’t feel lonely for the rest of the night.”
This time, Dawn couldn’t contain herself. “Fish don’t get lonely, Ms. Kerri. Only people do.”
Ms. Kerri tilted her head. “Maybe.” She removed her hands from the glass and stood up. “Why don’t you practice carrying his bowl? If you have any trouble, I can walk him over for you.”
Dawn slipped her fingers around the bowl and lifted. Although it was light, she could feel the weight of the water sloshing from left to right.
“I think I can do it myself,” she replied, setting it back on the counter. Dawn put the fish food container in her pocket to free up that hand.
“Well, then, I guess there’s nothing left for you here.” Ms. Kerri scooped Dawn’s water bottle into the trash and put the unopened one back in the refrigerator. “Grab his bowl. I’ll walk you to the door.”
“Will I ever be able to see him?” Dawn asked, carefully lifting the fish bowl and making her way out of the kitchen.
“Whenever he knows I’m going out, Carl hides behind those little trees in there. He’s throwing a tantrum, but he’ll get over it once you feed him.”
“Every two hours,” Dawn said quickly, to show Ms. Kerri she’d been listening. The woman smiled and opened the door for her.
“I know you’ll take care of him,” she said. “I should be back for him sometime after midnight. If you’re already asleep, I made arrangements with your mother to watch him until I get there.”
Dawn nodded and stepped out of Ms. Kerri’s house, carefully climbing down the stairs to the driveway. She didn’t look back until she’d crossed the street and was at her own door. Ms. Kerri stood on her porch, looking a bit worried, but still smiling. Dawn was sure the woman was still watching even after she’d closed the door and set the bowl on the now empty kitchen table.
She sprinkled some of Carl’s food into the blue water and waited for him to come up. A few tiny bubbles surfaced, but other than that, there was no sign of him.
Dawn sighed. The little guy was still throwing his tantrum.
She caught herself. Fish don’t throw tantrums. And they don’t get lonely, either. Only their owners do.
Ms. Kerri didn’t have to say it. Dawn knew that she was making up that nonsense about giving a presentation at the office. The woman had told her mother long ago that she didn’t work, but lived off the fortune of a distant deceased uncle. Dawn knew that she was going on a date, but was to embarrassed too admit it.
Dawn sighed again. She was never going to be weird when she got older. If she was lonely, she’d go out and try to make friends, not hide away at home with a fish, and if she was going out on a date, she wouldn’t be sensitive about it. Dawn was sure she would never be anything like Ms. Kerri.
Except for the way their houses were decorated. That was the only exception.
The package arrived on Monday. Dawn had been in the middle of her daily nap when a pound and a thump near the front door forced her to her feet. She peered through the kitchen window to find a short UPS man walking back to his truck. Dawn tried to contain her excitement. After a few days of delays, her package was finally here!
She set it on the table and carefully peeled back the tape. There it was — a solid black beanie with the words “Live In Forever” stitched across the front. She discarded the box and stuffed the beanie in her back pocket.
David is gonna love it!
“Live In Forever” had been his favorite band for the past five years. He was always yapping about this band member or that one. Every other day, he’d present her with an argument as to why they should be her favorite band.
“Their musical experimentation is genius,” he had told her just yesterday. “Tell me how many other bands are playing for the future, not just to create or harp on trends?”
It had taken her two weeks, but she’d managed to save enough money to order the hat for him. She had to turn down the movies with her friend Gigi, but if it meant fixing things with David, it was well worth it.
Sometime before he got into “Live In Forever”, David had started to change. She hadn’t noticed it at first, but their fights had started getting longer, and he began to spend more time alone in his room. The hardest change was that they’d stopped talking to each other. The only exceptions were his rehearsed and recycled arguments declaring “Live In Forever” the greatest collection of musicians — ever. The two of them had never been friends, but they’d at least been able to have a normal conversation without blowing up.
Dawn knew that a hat wouldn’t fix things. She knew that their longstanding animosity could not be pacified by a single act of kindness. But there was something about David that made her willing to try. There was a look in his eye, almost as though he were wiser than his seventeen and a half years, and he knew something that the rest of the world didn’t. Dawn wanted to get to know him, and she hoped this hat could help him see that she cared about him.
Two soft taps on his door. She waited a few seconds, studying the only French door in the entire house. He used a green bed sheet as a curtain, taped to the edges of the door in paranoia.
“David?” If it was normal day, he was probably in there listening to music. He wouldn’t have heard the knock. She tried again, this time a bit harder.
He pulled open the door and leaned on the door frame. “What’s up?”
Dawn smiled. “I have something for you.”
He looked bored. “What are you talking about?”
“I bought this for you.” She produced the beanie and held it up to him. “This is a “Live In Forever” hat.”
David looked from the hat to her face, then back at the hat.
“I don’t want it.”
She felt her blood boiling but didn’t want another episode. She swallowed. “David, I don’t understand. Why don’t you want it?”
He shrugged. “You don’t have to give me stuff. It won’t make me like you.”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “I still don’t understand. Why won’t you accept this? And what could I do to make you like me?”
“Listen, Dawn, just leave me alone, okay?” He started to close the door but she stopped him.
“No, David, it’s not fair. We used to be friends. What happened?”
“Keep acting like you don’t know,” he spat, then shoved her hand out of the way and slammed the door.
Dawn felt the pain in her chest, somewhere between her throat and her heart. She looked at the hat in her hands, the woven white letters blurring together. Two weeks of wasted hope. What was the point of this dumb hat if he wasn’t going to wear it?
I don’t even know what I did! If I knew, it would be so much easier to fix. How can I do anything to make this right if I don’t even know what I did to ruin it in the first place?
Dawn stumbled to the couch, willing the tears to stay in place. There had to be something she could do about this.
“I don’t care how long it takes you! I want it done, and I want you to start now!”
“But I have so much to do already—”
“Get out there now, before I make you do more.”
She walked into a firestorm. Her father was yelling, flailing, gesturing. Her brother was making fists, stomping, and trying to weasel his way out of this.
“I’ve been asking you to clean the garage for two months already, David,” her father had been saying as she walked in the door after school. He was home unusually early, but he explained later that he’d taken the day off because he wasn’t feeling too well. When he discovered that David hadn’t cleaned the garage, he was furious.
“But, Dad! It takes so long to clean. I never like doing it. Why do I have to clean it anyway?”
That comment started a volley of angry accusations, all of which Dawn carefully avoided by closing her bedroom door. David would continue fanning the flames until he burned himself. She didn’t want to be around for that.
An hour later, after homework and a light snack, she found him in the garage, grumbling and mumbling about the dust and a roach that he’d chased up the wall. The spot on her chest was still tender from earlier that week when he’d refused her gift, but she kept watching him.
He felt her stare and scowled.
“What are you doing here? Come to watch me clean? Needed some free entertainment?”
Dawn shook her head. “I want to help you.” The words came out before she even realized it.
You want to what? This place is disgusting! And you don’t even like cleaning.
Another voice followed that one. Why do you even want to help him? He’s clearly angry with you for some unexplained reason. Why would you want to help someone who doesn’t like you?
“Well, I don’t need you help,” he replied, his voice laced with the same acidity as when he’d rejected the beanie.
“Okay.” She returned to her homework, defeated. Maybe there was nothing she could do. Maybe she should leave him alone, leave him to whatever was going on that was making him hate her. Whatever it was, she couldn’t do anything to change it.
Ms. Kerri knocked on the door later that afternoon. He father answered it, and let the neighbor in.
Her mother came from the kitchen, all smiles.
“I’m so glad to see you,” she said, offering the woman a hug. “I was just about to get started with some dinner. I hope you’ll stay and join us.”
Ms. Kerri met Dawn’s eyes from the couch. Somehow, she knew that if she showed any hesitation, the woman would decline the offer. Dawn looked away slowly, not wanting to make this decision.
“I’ll stay,” she said replied, smiling.
Her mother sat her down on the couch and returned to the kitchen.
“Hello, Dawn,” Ms. Kerri said, settling into the leather recliner.
Ms. Kerri looked at her again, and this time, Dawn found herself caught in her gaze. There was something different about Ms. Kerri’s eyes, something she had barely noticed before. The woman’s eyes were the darkest shade of brown she’d ever seen. The pupils and irises were indistinguishable, and they created a depth to her eyes that was astonishing. The gaze was deep and penetrating, revealing the tender places of her soul. Dawn tried to look away from the gaze, terrified of what she saw in them.
“Carl misses you.”
Dawn raised an eyebrow. “Carl?”
“Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten him already,” Ms. Kerri replied, the corners of her mouth dropping in a mock frown. “He’ll be very disappointed to hear that his friend has forgotten him.”
“No, I remember him,” Dawn said, quickly. “I was just surprised that he’d miss me.”
“Fish are such incredible creatures. You never know what kinds of bonds you can create with them, even after just a few hours.”
Dawn laughed. “He really is your only friend, isn’t he?”
Ms. Kerri smiled, and when she did, her eyes lost their depth, taking on, instead, a sparkle. Dawn had never seen that in Ms. Kerri’s eyes before. Had she just not been paying attention? Or was this something new?
“I have at least one other friend,” she said, nodding over to the kitchen. “Your mother has made me feel more welcome in this neighborhood than anyone else. And,” she added, with a little wink, “any friend of Carl’s is a friend of mine.”
It was that moment that started their friendship. Dawn had been a little wary at first, but Ms. Kerri revealed herself to be a funny, energetic, and interesting older woman. Her parents invited her over for many dinners, and they played all sorts of games and had all sorts of conversations. Dawn had never experienced friendship with an adult before, and, while strange at first, she understood the value in it.
One afternoon, after a few months of getting to know each other, Dawn had made a comment about David. Ms. Kerri’s ears perked and she leaned forward in her seat.
“What did you say?” They were sitting together in her black and white living room, the birds and quotes leaning in with her to hear more.
Dawn stumbled a bit with her words, realizing she’d said too much, too soon.
“No, I just meant that we don’t always get along so well.”
Ms. Kerri nodded. “I can understand that. Why don’t you two get along?”
She shrugged. “To be honest, I have no idea. He won’t tell me what’s wrong. He always says that I should know what I did, but I have no idea.”
Ms. Kerri’s eyes took on that deep quality again, and Dawn found herself looking away. She didn’t like what she saw in the woman’s eyes. There was no judgment or condemnation, but there was a level of understanding that went beyond knowledge. Ms. Kerri’s eyes revealed something about herself that she wasn’t ready to acknowledge, something she couldn’t even put into words. How can someone’s eyes do that to you?
Ms. Kerri leaned back in her seat, a move that Dawn had come to associate with “story time,” an often extensive digression that would somehow be related to their conversation.
“When I was younger, our neighbors used to host loud parties every Saturday night, ruining everyone’s sleep. Just when you thought the party was over, they’d put on a song that the kids loved and you’d hear tiny, high pitched voices screaming at the top of their lungs at ungodly hours. But every Sunday morning, at around eight o’clock, they’d bake some muffins and bring it to my parents as a peace offering. All noise from the night before would be forgotten as we filled our bellies with all types of delicious muffins.”
“That sounds more like bribery than a peace offering,” Dawn cut in.
Ms. Kerri nodded. “Yes, that might have been it. But, I guess, the question is, have you tried making peace with David? Have you extended to him peace offering?”
“But that’s just it. Every time I try to do something for him, he always rejects it. Like I tried giving him a hat of his favorite band, and I tried helping him clean the garage, but he wouldn’t let me help.” Dawn sighed. “I’ve literally been throwing peace muffins at his door, but he won’t take any of them.”
“I understand,” Ms. Kerri said, crossing her arms, “but I am sure you realize there is some part that you have to play in all of this.”
“But, again, that’s the point. I don’t know what I did wrong. If I knew, I would do something to fix it.”
“I know you would.” Ms. Kerri smiled, and in that moment, she looked just like her grandmother, which was strange, because the woman was no older than thirty five. And, yet, when she smiled, her lips held the compassion of her seventy three year old grandmother. That woman had seen her share of violence and oppression, and instead of crumpling with bitterness, her compassion and love for others held her upright. Dawn wondered how Ms. Kerri managed to look like her mother’s mother, and still retain the youthfulness that came with her thirty-some odd years. There was a wisdom in those eyes, much like the wisdom in David’s, a wisdom that extended beyond her years. Dawn felt compelled to ask her for advice.
“What should I do, Ms. Kerri?”
The woman smiled. “You should continue offering to help him clean the garage.”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “But, it’s obvious he doesn’t want my help.”
“No, what’s obvious is that he is dealing with a lot of bitterness and anger,” Ms. Kerri said. “It’s obvious that whatever happened between the two of you left him with this anger against you. It’s your responsibility to acknowledge that, and try to work through it. But it’s not your responsibility to force him to stop being angry at you.”
“So, I don’t understand how continuing to try to help him with the garage will mean anything.”
“The only thing you can do is show him love.”
“And I can show him love through helping him clean the garage?”
“He’s been cleaning the garage for how many months now? It’s obvious he doesn’t want to do it. Your persistence will show him that you really are willing to patch things up with him.”
Dawn sat back in her chair. Ms. Kerri came back with a fervor that she hadn’t expected.
“It sounds like it might work, but, I just don’t know if it’s worth it.”
Ms. Kerri stood up from her chair.
“Come, Dawn, follow me.”
She stood up and followed her into the kitchen.
“You care about your brother, right?”
Dawn smiled. She played back a memory of when she was eight, and they were splashing around in the neighborhood pool. Some boys were messing with her, trying to push her underwater, and he came to her rescue. She remembered looking at him, smiling, thinking that he was her most favorite brother in the world, forgetting the fact that he was her only brother. Yes, she cared about him.
“Then, get over there now and give it another try.”
Dawn looked at Ms. Kerri, watching as the woman poured herself a glass of water. “Did you have a lot of trouble with your siblings? You seem to know a lot about this.”
“I know what regret can do to you,” she replied softly, her eyes disappearing as she searched into the past. “If you don’t fix this with your brother now, there will come a day when you can’t fix it, and the only thing you’ll be left with is a broken relationship and a mountain of regret that you’ll never be able to hide.”
Dawn swallowed back her fear. “I don’t want any regrets in our relationship,” she said. “I want us to be friends again.”
“Then, by all means, go and work on cleaning that garage.”
With a huge smile and a quick good-bye hug, Dawn left Ms. Kerri’s house feeling encouraged. She would go home and help David clean up that garage, and, in all of that, the wounds of their relationship would heal.
When Dawn met Cyrus, she forgot everything except combing her hair in the morning and choosing nice clothes to wear before leaving the house. She forgot to do her homework. She forgot to eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner. She forgot to spend time with Gigi, or any of her other friends. She forgot to visit Ms. Kerri, and she forgot to play with Carl on Thursdays.
She forgot to help David with the garage.
Cyrus was different than the other boys. That’s what drew her to him. None of the other girls wanted him because he was quiet and liked to talk a lot about ideas. But that was precisely why Dawn wanted him. When they got together during lunch and after school, they would talk for hours about every topic under the sun, the minutes and hours dancing into the past, forever to be treasured.
“Time travel exists,” Cyrus had said one day, after a long walk that had led them from her house to the canal several miles away. She had looked at him, trying not to betray the adoration in her gaze. He didn’t know that she was in love with him, and she was too afraid to tell him just yet.
“What do you mean?” She asked, leaning in to hear his every word.
He looked down at her from his five foot eleven frame and smiled. “Everything we’ve ever done has been recorded in the history of our memories,” he said, gesturing as he spoke. “Every time you recall one of those memories, you’re traveling back to that place in time, reliving those moments.”
“But you aren’t actually going there,” she replied. “Time travel doesn’t work unless you jump into a machine. I heard on the news that they are working on one, but it isn’t anywhere near functional. And, besides, if you travel through time, you’ve gotta be able to change things, which you can’t do for memories. If you can’t change things in the past, there’s no reason to go.”
Cyrus shook his head. “I’m talking metaphors here, Dawn. Time travel doesn’t exist like it does in the movies. But memories capture those times so well, and they can be relived as many times as you want. It’s pretty much just like time travel.” As he spoke, he reached for her hand. She kept her eyes on the canal, watching the dusk lap against the grassy banks, wishing this moment could stretch on into forever.
“Like this moment right now,” he continued, as though sensing her thoughts, squeezing her hand with his warm fingers. “We’re together here, enjoying each other’s company, and the evening is beautiful. I will remember this day always, and every time I think of it, I will be traveling through time to get here.”
Dawn wasn’t so convinced, but she didn’t want to argue with the seventeen year old man holding her hand. If he said that when they thought of shared memories they were traveling through time, then, by all means, they were.
They made formal declarations less than a week later. When she was with Cyrus, she forgot everything. She forgot her past, she forgot her dreams — everything — and replaced them with a new past, a new set of dreams, all of which she created with him. She had never been in love before, but she’d chosen the right person to fall in love with. The name “Cyrus”, she had learned, means “sun”. The sun always makes its appearance at dawn, and, no matter how far away it goes, always returns to the same place by the start of the next day.
They were, therefore, destined to be together. And as they relived the past, reveled in the present, and dreamed of the future, there was not a point in time in which they did not exist.
They lived in forever.
“Dawn, I want you dressed and ready to go in fifteen minutes.” Her father stood in her doorway, arms crossed. She sat up straight in her bed.
“But, Dad, that isn’t fair! Cyrus and I are—”
“Dawn, I already told you. We’ve had this planned for two months. You aren’t allowed to miss this.” Her father shut her door and resumed getting himself ready.
Dawn sighed. Why do they always have to do this to me? It’s because they don’t like Cyrus. That’s why they are making me do all this dumb stuff.
Of course, if she was really honest, she would admit that this event had been planned before she met Cyrus, so it wasn’t really fair of her to accuse them of trying to keep her from him. But the truth didn’t sit well with the mood she was in, so she continued believing it was because they didn’t like her boyfriend.
Just saying the words felt good on her lips.
She began to go through her closet, trying to figure out what to wear. This event was being held at her parents’ church, one of those old school places that alienated young people like herself. She wasn’t even sure why her parents were making her go to this.
They never make me go to church on Sundays, so why this dumb event?
It didn’t make any sense. Unless, of course, they were trying to keep her away from Cyrus.
Yes, it makes perfect sense.
The church was smaller than she had remembered. Maybe because the last time she had been there was when she was in first grade. All of the same old people were there, except for the few that had passed on since she was seven. Her parents quickly clung on to their friends. David found some other sulking teenagers, forced by their parents to come to this event as well. Dawn found a cluster of chairs by the drinks table and claimed one of them. Anyone who came by to get a drink would be served with an irritated and bored look.
How long do we have to be here?
Dawn poured herself something to drink and settled into one of the chairs.
“Hey, Dawn, so nice to see you.”
She looked up to see Ms. Kerri’s smiling face. She quickly averted her gaze, focusing on her plastic cup of orange soda.
“Hello,” she mumbled.
“I haven’t seen you in a while,” Ms. Kerri continued. “How have you been?”
“Fine.” She shot back with the answer you give when you don’t want to talk to someone. Ms. Kerri didn’t seem to get the hint.
“Carl misses you.”
Dawn sighed. Of course the fish misses me. He’s a fish. He doesn’t care about people.
“How are things with your boyfriend?”
Dawn raised an eyebrow. “How did you know about my boyfriend?”
Ms. Kerri smiled. “I live right across the street, you know. Don’t think I haven’t seen him drop you off, or pick you up for a stroll around the neighborhood.” She gestured to the empty seat next to Dawn. “Do you mind if I sit next to you? This isn’t really my kind of party.”
“Sure,” Dawn lied.
Ms. Kerri settled into the seat and crossed her arms. “So what’s been going on, Dawn?”
“I already told you,” she replied, feeling a bit irritated. Ms. Kerri was so annoying. Didn’t she know when people didn’t feel like talking?
“No, I mean, what’s really going on?”
Dawn kept from looking at Ms. Kerri. She had figured out the thing about Ms. Kerri’s eyes that bothered her. It was the fact that she could see herself in the woman’s eyes, unfiltered. She saw the late nights she’d spent hanging with Cyrus, the conversation she’d had with her teacher over her grades, the fight she’d had with her father on the way over here — she watched those events play in those dark brown eyes.
How could Ms. Kerri have known about those events? We haven’t seen in each other in months!
Dawn couldn’t make eye contact with Ms. Kerri. She knew that if she did, everything would come out, and she wasn’t ready to deal with the fact that she’d let Ms. Kerri down.
“Dawn, I don’t understand,” Ms. Kerri said, shifting in her seat. “I am here to help you. That’s all I’ve ever been here for. Please,” the woman said, leaning forward. “You can trust me.”
“I—” Dawn took a deep breath, inhaling a combination of stale spaghettis and orange soda, then decided to tell Ms. Kerri everything.
“I didn’t do what you told me to do. I met my boyfriend” — the phrase didn’t taste as pleasant now, more like a bitter capsule that had exploded in her mouth — “and I never spent any time with David. He has been cleaning the garage almost every day since then, and he’s almost done, and I haven’t helped him at all. I haven’t even talked to him. Not one conversation, not even a fight, in all these months.” She swallowed, tasting each guilty word. “I mean, at least we have that, that we haven’t gotten into any fights in all these months.”
Ms. Kerri crossed her arms. “You know that isn’t good, Dawn. If you keep this up —”
“Yes, I know, our relationship will be ruined, and I’d regret it forever,” Dawn interrupted. She was annoyed with Ms. Kerri. She thought that the woman would say something to help her, but, instead, she just made her feel more guilty than she already was. “Well, I don’t know if I agree with that anymore.”
Ms. Kerri raised and eyebrow and leaned back in her chair. “Oh, really?”
“Yes,” Dawn said, feeling more confident with every word she said. “I have a good thing going with Cyrus. We are in love, Ms. Kerri. If I have Cyrus, I don’t need anything else. I don’t need to fix my relationship with David, and,” — she closed her eyes — “I don’t need you, either.”
“You are very wise for a sixteen year old girl,” Ms. Kerri said, without a moment’s hesitation. “You choose relationships that are fleeting, with absolutely no foundations, over the relationships that matter.” Ms. Kerri stood up. “As much as you want to deny it, you love your brother. And, believe me, you will regret not doing anything about this.”
Dawn felt defensive. Why was this woman always trying to tell her something? Who did she think she was, talking about Cyrus like that?
“Our relationship is not fleeting! We have foundations,” she spat back, her voice rising. “And why do you care so much? Why does it matter to you what happens between David and me?”
Ms. Kerri looked at her, then, and she couldn’t look away. Dawn couldn’t see herself in the woman’s eyes this time. Instead, she saw…love?
“I know what it’s like to choose the relationships that fall apart, the ones that are not meant to last. I know what it’s like to hold the pieces in your hand, wondering how you could have been fooled, how you could have believed his words.” Ms. Kerri lowered her voice, forcing the memories back into the past. “And I know what it’s like to neglect the relationships that were designed to last. Your family, Dawn, is an important part of you. Cherish it. When something threatens to destroy it, stand up and protect it.” Ms. Kerri gave her one last smile, set her cup on her chair, and walked away.
Dawn stared at the cup, tiny orange bubbles racing against her heart to the surface. Cyrus and I aren’t going to fall apart, she told herself. We are in love. This is going to work out. And David…I don’t care about him anymore.
Even as she repeated the words in her mind, it bothered her to know that none of them were true.
The days were getting cooler, and David spent more time hanging around the garage. Dawn had decided that on the weekend, she would go out there again. They hadn’t talked to each other in months. Maybe that was enough to have cleared away some of the cobwebs. Maybe he wouldn’t still be angry.
When she said that she didn’t care about David, she knew it wasn’t true. When Cyrus called her and told her that he wanted to take a short break and come back in a few weeks, she knew that wasn’t true, either.
Ms. Kerri had been on to something.
“I know what it’s like to hold the pieces in your hand, wondering how you could have been fooled, how you could have believed his words.”
Dawn recalled the words Ms. Kerri had spoken with such conviction at the party a while ago.
I guess she had had other men in her life besides Carl.
The thought made her smile. She had only known Ms. Kerri and her fish for a little while, but in this moment, she missed them both.
The garage door was open, and David was seated on a stool, staring at his phone. Dawn tapped on the door, getting his attention.
He looked back at his phone. “Hello.”
“You are doing a good job in here,” Dawn said, looking around. Two shelves lined the walls, holding an assortment of tools and random items that didn’t have any real place to belong. A few tables were stacked on top of each other, and a drum set lay disassembled in one corner. The ground was covered in miscellaneous trash, but there was a wide enough walkway to pass through, and things didn’t look so crazy anymore.
“Why don’t you tell that to Dad,” David replied, still not looking up from his phone.
There was a brief silence.
“What are you doing here?” David asked.
“I want to help you.”
“This again. I already told you — ”
“No, David, this time is different,” Dawn cut in. “I really want to help you, David.”
He stood up, pulling himself to his full five foot ten frame. He towered over her, crossing his arms.
“So, the boyfriend skips out on you, and you try to help me out to make yourself feel better?” He snickered. “What, did the nerd find someone else that wanted him?”
Dawn clenched her teeth. “Your words against Cyrus don’t hurt me, David. I don’t care about him anymore.”
He smiled. “That’s right. And so all that crying you do at night has nothing to do with him, whatsoever.”
She closed her eyes. Was she really supposed to take this? After months of silence, nothing had changed. Part of her wanted to walk away, like all the other times, but another part of her wanted to stay, wanted to fight for their friendship. She didn’t understand it, and she wasn’t sure she wanted it, but she knew that she had to stay.
“I am not leaving, David,” she said, taking a step forward. “This is my house, too. I can clean any part of it that I want, and today, I choose to clean in the garage.”
With that, she began to pick up trash from the ground. David didn’t move for a few minutes. She knew that she had surprised him.
He finally sat back on his stool. “Why are you doing this?” He asked.
“Because I am sorry for whatever I did wrong to you.”
They passed the rest of the afternoon in silence.
“Can you hand me the dust pan?” Dawn asked her brother. He tossed it over to her side of the garage. She caught it just before it scattered the dirt she’d been trying to throw away.
“Thanks,” she muttered. David didn’t seem to hear her. He continued stacking old, rusty chairs on top of each other.
“We have to take these to the dump,” he said when he finished. “I can put them in the car, if you’ll drive us there.”
Dawn raised an eyebrow. “Still afraid to drive?”
“Hey, it was a bad experience, okay? It’s gonna take me a little bit of time to get over it.”
“Whatever,” she replied, laughing. David had almost crashed while pulling into the Wal-Mart parking lot the other day, and it had given him a shock. He wasn’t as confident in his driving abilities as before, and he tried to get away from driving, or even riding in a car, as much as possible.
He rolled his eyes at her.
“I’ll have all of this loaded and ready to go in five minutes.” David disappeared into the house, leaving her to finish sweeping up the garage floor.
In just a few days, they’d made so much progress. Dawn was careful not to mention it around David, though. She knew that he was annoyed by her helping him, and didn’t like the fact that with her help, they were able to move much quicker.
Things weren’t better between them. Things were just … different. They didn’t talk about anything other than their work, if they needed help moving something, or if they needed something the other person was using. They had more than enough fights, especially when it came to David’s idea of organization. But, even though things were better, things were changing, and that was all that mattered.
And the change wasn’t only with David.
Earlier that morning, Cyrus had called. He had actually called her, even though she had since gotten a new phone number and had never given it to him. He had said he was sorry, and that he shouldn’t have taken the break, that what they had was eternal, and that even though he thought he could walk away, he was wrong. They were meant to be together, he had said. Please, can you forgive me?
“I already know about Alice,” she had replied. “I know about how she left you when she realized what kind of person you are.”
“And what kind of person am I?”
“You are a liar,” Dawn had replied, and then ended the call. It had taken every single ounce of strength not to accept his apology, not to admit that she dreamed of him almost every single night, that she was having trouble understanding the future without him. They had so many plans, so many memories, so many experiences. She didn’t know who she was without Cyrus, and these last few weeks had been devastating. Dawn would never admit it to her brother, but cleaning the garage had given her a chance to think things through. It had given her a chance to realize that if Cyrus ever came back, she couldn’t let him into her life. Even if she didn’t know who she was without him, she needed to be able to stand on her own. She needed to figure out who she was without him, and that was going to take some time.
“I am ready to go,” David shouted from the car.
Dawn blinked. She had been leaning against the wall, thinking things over, while he had been busy loading the car. She grabbed the keys from inside and made her way back to the car.
“Here,” David said, handing her something when she closed her door.
She looked down at his hand. It was a clean, crumpled brown tissue from the glove compartment. Dawn glanced up at the rear view mirror. Tiny wet streaks lined her face. She grabbed the tissue and dabbed at her eyes.
“I saw you back there,” he said, his eyes focused on the driveway in front of them.
“Thanks,” she squeezed out, and started the car.
Yes, things were changing. Not better. But changing.
The weeks continued on just like that. They worked every afternoon, no real conversations, but no real tension either. The air was growing sweeter with each inch of the garage they organized, dusted, and wiped down. After a long Thursday evening, Dawn decided to take a break and visit Ms. Kerri. They hadn’t seen each other much since the church party, but Dawn wanted to change that.
“Good afternoon, Dawn,” Ms. Kerri said, opening the door after the third knock. She held a small container of fish food in her hand. “Why don’t you come inside? I was just about to feed Carl.”
Dawn followed the woman inside, carefully shutting the door behind her. Ms. Kerri pointed to a square fish tank near the television in the living room.
“I bought him a new home,” she said, beaming. “What do you think of it?”
Dawn frowned. This time around, the water hadn’t been dyed, so you could see Carl’s tiny gray body swimming around. But there was nothing else inside the tank, only water. “Um…it’s very…plain.”
“Oh, I bought some furniture and decorations for the tank, but I haven’t been able to put them in,” Ms. Kerri said, tapping some flakes into the water above Carl’s head. “Do you want to help me pick out which ones I should put in tomorrow?”
A pile of plastic plants and brick walls lay on a table in the middle of the living room. Dawn picked up a purple plant and twisted it in her fingers.
“Don’t you have anything cool, like a TV, or something, to put in here?” She asked. “I mean, are you just going to put flowers, rocks, and ruins in Carl’s tank? Won’t he get a little bored?”
Ms. Kerri set down the fish food container and made for the couch. “No, I don’t think so. Carl is a very intelligent fish. He can use his imagination.”
“There. It’s been a while since I’ve seen you smile,” Ms. Kerri said, folding her arms. Dawn looked at her, curious.
“It hasn’t been a while.”
“Are you missing Cyrus?”
Ms. Kerri looked at her, long and hard. “Are you sure?”
“No.” Dawn sighed. “I reorganized my life around him,” she began, taking a seat on the couch. “It’s been really difficult understanding things when he’s not around.”
“Like what things?”
“Well, like what I want to do when I graduate. We had it planned that we were going to start a business together, maybe something cool, kind of like a Starbucks, for book lovers and gamers, something like that.” Dawn paused. “I…I also thought that we might actually get married once I turned eighteen, and now that that’s not gonna happen, things are…a little different.”
Ms. Kerri nodded. “I see. You had a plan for the future that involved him, and now that he’s gone, you need a new future.”
“Yes, that’s exactly it.”
“You are still very young, Dawn,” Ms. Kerri said. “As you continue to grow and learn, you will figure out where you are supposed to be. The most important thing you can do for now is to be satisfied and content with where you are right now, but to not be satisfied to stay that way.”
You’re losing me, Ms. Kerri.
“What do you mean by that?”
Ms. Kerri looked up into the ceiling, gathering her thoughts. Dawn liked when Ms. Kerri looked away. She had gotten used to the woman’s eyes, but she liked the way she looked when she was deep in thought. It always seemed like Ms. Kerri was an endless well of knowledge and wisdom, but it took her a little bit of time to draw it out. Ms. Kerri had to work to bring this stuff to the surface, something that some might consider a flaw, but something that showed Dawn that whatever Ms. Kerri would say next would have value.
“I mean that you need to be content in who you are, but you should always want to grow. You should always want to change for the better, not for someone else. Do you understand?”
Dawn nodded. “Yes, that makes sense.”
“You are a young woman, growing in intelligence and beauty with every second,” Ms. Kerri said, looking at her again. “I don’t want to see you waste that on someone who doesn’t deserve it. Be satisfied in you, even in the broken parts of you, but never be content to remain broken forever. I don’t want to see you finding yourself in a boy, especially not one like Cyrus.”
“Thank you, Ms. Kerri,” Dawn said, a few tears coming to her eyes. She didn’t even know that she needed to hear those words, but they did something to her, something that she couldn’t describe. Suddenly, she remembered David.
“Oh, Ms. Kerri, you wouldn’t believe what’s happened!”
Ms. Kerri listened with a careful smile, gave advice when it was needed, and encouragement after every few sentences. When Dawn left the woman’s house that evening, she was glad for the friend she had found in Ms. Kerri. It seemed strange to her that had her mother never asked her to watch her fish, she would never have gotten to know this beautiful woman.
“Listen, I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” David said, blood rising to his face and turning his cheeks red. “We already decided that we were going to build a new cabinet. I don’t understand why now you want to build a bench.”
“Well, if you’d let me explain, maybe you would understand!” Dawn shouted back from the garage door.
David sighed and crossed his arms. “You’ve already explained it a thousand times, and I told you, it doesn’t make any sense. Besides, we agreed on this, Dawn. You can’t just change plans all of a sudden.”
“I am not changing plans all of a sudden,” Dawn corrected. “When we started talking about this, I told you that I wanted to do a bench. You’re the one who said that a cabinet would be more practical, even though we don’t really need another one.”
“Listen, I already told you that I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” David said.
Dawn closed her eyes. This was not what they needed. Not another fight.
But how can I get out of this one? I can’t just let him win. That wouldn’t be fair. And he would think that he can just trample all over me, like I don’t even matter. Besides, we don’t even need another cabinet! Why can’t he understand that?
“You know what? Forget it,” David said suddenly. “You can go make your bench. I don’t even really care. That’s just the way you always are. Taking over projects and making them all about you.”
He stood up and walked out of the garage without another word.
Dawn remained motionless. His entire demeanor had changed, and his eyes looked just as they had on the day that he had rejected the hat she had bought him.
“That’s just the way you always are,” he had said. “Taking over projects and making them all about you.”
Dawn didn’t remember the last time they had done anything together. She especially didn’t remember making anything they had done together “all about her,” as he had put it.
Maybe I’m getting warmer, she thought, but had to catch herself.
This is huge! I need to find David and fix this!
She went into the house and found him smoldering on the couch. He didn’t look at her, even when she called his name.
She sat down on the couch next to him. He moved further away from her.
“David, I’m sorry.”
He kept his eyes on the ground, refusing to look at her.
“Please, David, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have changed our plan out of nowhere. I should have talked about it more with you, instead of bashing the cabinet idea.”
He still wasn’t looking at her, but his breathing had slowed down a bit.
“Dawn, I don’t really think now is a good time to have this conversation,” he said, slowly.
“I know, David,” she said. “But I needed you to know that I was sorry.”
He suddenly turned to her. “I don’t understand you, Dawn. I don’t understand why you are doing any of this. You’re a hypocrite, you know that, right? You do something wrong, then say you’re sorry, like it means anything.”
“David, that doesn’t make me a hypocrite,” Dawn replied. “It just means that I made a mistake. And I’m telling you that I’m sorry because I mean it. I really am sorry. I’m just not perfect, so I’m going to continue messing up. But I will keep saying sorry as long as I mean it, and I intend to mean it for a long time.”
He looked at her, his eyes losing some of the heat from earlier. “What happened to you, Dawn? Why are you doing this? Why are you apologizing to me? You’ve never done something like this before.”
Dawn looked away from him. The answer to this wasn’t so easy. There were so many conflicting emotions and motivations, so she couldn’t pinpoint the exact reason. There was not wanting to live with regret. There was some sadness over her breakup with Cyrus, and wanting to have a friendly relationship with her brother. But then, there was that other thing, that quiet one that whispered to her before she went to sleep, the loud one that pushed her to continue working alongside him, even when he was making fun of her, or trying to hurt her feelings, or refusing to talk to her.
She turned back to him, trying to look him in the eye without wavering, and told him.
“Because I love you, David.”
As soon as she said the words, something happened in David’s face. It was a cross between disbelief and acceptance. She couldn’t understand it.
He immediately got up from the couch and went for his room.
Dawn sat there, helpless, wondering if she had made things better, or if she had made them worse.
The front door slammed and loud footsteps came running down the hall. Dawn sat with Ms. Kerri in her kitchen, eating some lunch on a cool, Saturday morning. Her mother burst into view, tears streaming down her face. Dawn stood up.
“Mom, what’s the matter?”
Her mother collapsed into her arms, a weeping mess. “It’s your brother,” she managed between gasps of air.
“What’s wrong with him?” Dawn shouted. Her mother leaned all of her weight against her, nearly sending her crashing to the floor. Ms. Kerri swooped in from the side and held the woman up.
“Mom, what’s wrong with David?” Dawn shouted again. Ms. Kerri put a calm hand on her shoulder.
“He’s been in an accident,” her mother managed. “It was a car accident.”
“A car accident?” Dawn asked. “But he hasn’t driven a car in months, Mom. David would never drive. He’s terrified of driving.”
“Well, I don’t know why he did it, but he did, okay?” Her mother suddenly shouted. “And he got into an accident, and he’s dead, Dawn. Your brother is dead!”
Ms. Kerri took her mother from her arms. “Let’s sit over here by the couch.”
Dawn felt the two of them move away from her, but she didn’t see them. David was…dead? That didn’t make any sense! They weren’t finished. They hadn’t managed to fix things. They hadn’t talked since his blow up over the cabinet, and she didn’t understand what his face meant when she told him that she loved him.
None of this makes any sense.
She didn’t want to believe it. But her mother crying on the couch, refusing to be comforted by Ms. Kerri told her otherwise. In just a second, things had suddenly, and drastically, taken a turn for the worst.
They sat together on a bench in the park. The funeral was tomorrow, and the sun was shining brightly with not a cloud in the sky to cover it’s rays. Dawn sat under the light, Ms. Kerri by her side, hating the brightness. She wished it would go away. How dare it show its face on a day like today, a day when nothing seemed to have any meaning. Dawn wished it never had come, that it would have stayed night forever. Darkness seemed to be the only thing that made sense.
“What time do we have to be there tomorrow,” she asked Ms. Kerri. The small details were always slipping away, always needing to be refreshed. It was the big things, the fact that he was gone and would never come back — those things took up all the space in her mind and didn’t leave room for anything else.
“Your parents want you in there by eight thirty.”
“You are going to be there, too, right?” Dawn asked. She wouldn’t tell her, but she needed Ms. Kerri there with her. Her parents were a mess. This morning, they had both sat at the table, unmoving, bowls of cereal poured and growing soggy with every second, mixing their milk with tears. She couldn’t see them like that. She needed someone who didn’t know David that well to comfort her.
Just thinking his name made her sick to her stomach. She felt a pain in the back of her throat, and suddenly began to cry.
Ms. Kerri immediately pulled her close.
“It’s okay to cry,” she whispered.
That was when the sobbing started.
“But I don’t understand this. I don’t understand why he had to die.”
The words were no more than tiny whispered, spurted out between hefty gulps of air. “We didn’t even get to finish. We didn’t get to make this better.”
“I know, Dawn. I know. And it hurts. But we are going to get through this. You are going to get through this.”
Dawn wasn’t sure if she could believe that. How could they get through this? It didn’t make any sense. There was no reason for David to have been driving. He hated it. He was afraid of driving ever since he almost got into a car accident at Wal-Mart. Why would he decide to drive all of a sudden?
She didn’t understand any of it, and the only thing she could think to do was cry, to let out the sobs, the noise, the tears. Just let it all out in the comforting arms of Ms. Kerri.
As the minutes wore on, though, Dawn noticed something. There was a new voice in the sobs, and it wasn’t her own. She felt Ms. Kerri shaking, she felt the woman clinging to her. She felt her tears, and she knew that this moment wasn’t for her own comfort. This was a moment for her to comfort Ms. Kerri.
David’s body was terrifying to behold. His face had been destroyed in the accident, but they did the best they could. Her mother told her that they had finally decided to cover as much of his head as they could with the hat they saw he was wearing when his car collided into the van.
Dawn was the last one to pass his body that day. She couldn’t bring herself to look at him. But when she finally saw him, there was only one thing she noticed about him, and that was the words “Live In Forever” stitched across his hat.
Dawn closed her eyes and tried to imagine David, not as the figure lying in that wooden coffin, all pale and deformed, but as he was three years ago, making jokes or showing her some new music he’d purchased. That was the David she wanted to imagine.
If I could go back in time, I’d go back to that time, before any of this craziness started.
“Do you think they’d ever get those time machines they’re building to work?” Dawn asked, taking a sip of tea. She tried to swallow it, but her throat was closed from the crying. She knew it was a crazy thought, but she was all out of ideas, and she needed to think of something other than the fact that he was gone.
“I don’t know if a time machine would work for you, Dawn.” Ms. Kerri looked off into the distance, holding her own mug close. “Even if they could send someone back in time, you can’t stop people from dying. Once they’re dead, they’re dead.”
Dawn remembered the sobs that came from Ms. Kerri the day before the funeral. Those were not normal, consolatory sobs. There was a deep pain hidden in those gasps and tears, and Dawn knew she must’ve lost someone, too.
“Who was it?”
Ms. Kerri didn’t look at her. The woman seemed to know what she was thinking. She took a slow, shaking breath.
“He was my brother. I was a little older than you. I’d never experienced death so close before.”
“I’m sorry,” Dawn said, reaching for the older woman’s hand. After a long week of receiving comfort, it felt good to be able to give some of it back. “How did you make it through?”
Ms. Kerri looked into her mug of tea. “I nearly didn’t. It was such a dark, lonely time. He used to play the guitar after school, and it would annoy me to death.” She smiled sadly, the sides of her mouth twitching as she tried to keep another wave of sorrow inside. “I remember bursting into his room one afternoon, and shutting off his pedal board while he was playing. I had been trying to focus on some schoolwork, and it was too loud. He claimed he’d been in the middle of recording something, and he wouldn’t talk to me for days.”
Ms. Kerri finally looked at Dawn, her eyes filling with tears. “Every once in a while, after he was gone, I’d be doing my homework, and I’d hear his guitar playing. I’d go over to his room to tell him to lower it down, but there wouldn’t be anyone in there. The sounds were all in my head.”
Dawn felt her own tears rising. She leaned against Ms. Kerri’s shoulder. Her head had grown so used to the woman’s shoulder, she was sure she’d left a permanent impression.
“How am I going to make it, Ms. Kerri? How am I going to make it without David?”
“One breath at a time.”
“We weren’t even friends. Not really. But these last six months really changed things. I loved him, Ms. Kerri.” She closed her eyes and willed the tears to stay back. “I really did love him.”
“I know you did. But more importantly than that, he knows you did.”
And, with that, Ms. Kerri began to cough.
None of it was right. She had just lost David. And now, this? Dawn walked along the cold, long hallway to Ms. Kerri’s room, alone. Her mother refused to take one step in another hospital and had left her on the sidewalk. Dawn could only imagine what her mother had felt when she was led to his room, knowing that there would be no hope for him.
But, at least for Ms. Kerri, there was some hope. She wasn’t gone yet.
Dawn found Room 207 and peeked inside. There was Ms. Kerri, laying comfortably on the hospital bed, eyes closed, smiling. Her brown hair was loose around her pillow and she looked very pale.
Dawn cleared her throat, and the woman opened her eyes slowly.
“My mother wouldn’t come inside,” she said, taking a few steps closer. Other than the paleness, Ms. Kerri didn’t appear to be sick. But the fact that they hospitalized her meant something was wrong.
Ms. Kerri smiled and patted the side of her bed. “Why don’t you sit down over here?” Dawn obeyed quietly. “I understand why your mother didn’t want to come in. I am not offended.”
Dawn studied the woman carefully. “Why are they keeping you here?” She asked. “You don’t look very sick.”
Ms. Kerri looked away from her. “It’s something from my family history, they say. They don’t know what to do about it.”
“Does that mean you are going to die?” Dawn felt guilty saying that. Her bluntness didn’t seem to bother Ms. Kerri though. The woman looked at her sadly.
“I am afraid so.”
Dawn could not will herself to cry, even though she wanted to.
“This isn’t fair,” she said. “Why is this happening to me? First David, now you…”
“Sweetie, this isn’t just happening to you,” Ms. Kerri said, taking her hand. “This happened to your parents, David’s friends, and now, this is also happening to me. This wasn’t done specifically to you.”
“And that’s supposed to make me feel better?”
Dawn sighed. “I just want to understand why this is so hard. Why my brother isn’t alive anymore, and why you are going to die.”
Ms. Kerri didn’t reply for a long time. She looked at Dawn, and, as much as Dawn tried, she could not understand the look in her eyes. She could not understand what she was reading in them. She didn’t see herself, she didn’t see Ms. Kerri searching for wisdom, she didn’t see love. She had learned to recognize these in Ms. Kerri’s eyes, but today, she could not understand what she saw. There was almost an emptiness in them, like there was nothing in her eyes. But that didn’t make any sense. How could you have nothing in your eyes, especially someone like Ms. Kerri who spoke more with her eyes than anything else?
When Ms. Kerri did reply, there was a spot of fear in her voice.
“Dawn, there is something that I have to tell you.” Ms. Kerri pulled herself up on the bed as high as she could and squeezed Dawn’s fingers.
“Now, this is going to sound crazy, but I want you to hear me out completely before you disregard it.”
Dawn was confused. “What are you talking about, Ms. Kerri?”
The woman breathed deeply. “Dawn, I am not from here.”
“You mean you aren’t from Florida?” Dawn smiled. “I figured that.”
“No,” the woman said, shaking her head. “I’m not talking about where I am from. I am talking about when I am from.”
“Ms. Kerri, you’re not making any sense,” Dawn said, sitting up straighter in her seat. She wasn’t sure if she was hearing this correctly. Did she just say “when”?
“Dawn,” Ms. Kerri said, looking at her with sincerity in her eyes. “I am from the future.”
There are few words that can describe Dawn’s reaction to Ms. Kerri’s revelation. The clearest of all feelings, however, was that of utter disbelief.
“Ms. Kerri, that’s impossible. Time travel doesn’t exist like it does in the movies. You can’t travel back in time.”
“You are right that it doesn’t look like the movies,” Ms. Kerri said slowly. “It’s a lot harder and costs a great deal more.”
“But I don’t understand it. How can I know if you’re telling the truth? How do I know that you’re not crazy?”
Ms. Kerri smiled. “Why would I be lying about this? What would it profit me to say that I am from the future?”
Dawn frowned. “I guess that wouldn’t make any sense.” She paused. “Well, then, why are you here? Why did you travel to the past and move in across the street?”
The woman grew quiet. Dawn stood up. “Are you feeling okay? Do I need to call a nurse?”
“No, no, I am fine,” Ms. Kerri said quickly. “Well, as fine as I can be in this condition.”
“Ms. Kerri, how did you get here?” The question burned coming out. It meant that she was admitting the possibility of Ms. Kerri’s statement. But why would she lie to me about this?
“In my time, I found a scientist who was experimenting on time travel. He gave me some formula in a shot, and the next thing I knew, I was drifting through time.” Ms. Kerri suddenly began to shake.
“I am calling a nurse!” Dawn shouted. Ms. Kerri grabbed her arm.
“No, don’t do it, Dawn,” she said forcefully. The shaking calmed and she released her grip from Dawn’s arm.
“Why did you come to this time?” Dawn asked. The woman looked away from her, her face growing paler with every second they spoke.
“I came here because of you, Dawn,” she said.
Dawn crossed her arms. “You came here because of me?” She asked, incredulously. “But I am no one. I don’t have any importance in the scheme of anything! Why would you come anywhere for me? And how did you know about me?”
“I came here because of your regrets,” Ms. Kerri said, coughing slightly. “You and your brother were at a rough place in your relationship, and you needed to make it better before you destroyed yourself with regret.”
Dawn shook her head. “No, Ms. Kerri. This doesn’t make any sense. I didn’t have any regrets about our relationship. When I met you, I wanted to make it better. I hadn’t done anything that I regretted.” She felt a pain in the pit of her stomach. What was going on here? Was Ms. Kerri telling the truth? How could any of this be true? Was she supposed to believe it, just because Ms. Kerri knew some things about her relationship with her brother?
“Dawn, I knew you in the future. I knew what kind of woman you had become, torn apart by regret. I came here to find you before then, to help you patch things up with David before it was too late.” Ms. Kerri reached for her hand, but she pulled away.
“Yes, I did,” Ms. Kerri said, smiling. “You were a beautiful woman who had lived a long life, but you were tormented by regret over your brother, and it had destroyed you.”
“So, he died in the future?”
Ms. Kerri paused. “Yes, he did.”
“Is that why you said you could never stop people from dying?”
Ms. Kerri suddenly began to cry, but it was an empty cry. There was no strength or wisdom in the woman any longer. Dawn saw her as an empty well, dried up and crumbling, moldy and dank. There was nothing beautiful about Ms. Kerri as she began to weep. There was only emptiness.
Dawn wanted to comfort the woman. She felt sorry for her. She was growing even more pale, and her body seemed to be growing thinner as their conversation lingered.
The crying did not stop until Dawn put her hand gently on the woman’s shoulder.
“Ms. Kerri,” she said softly. “You did your job.” Dawn did not believe the woman. But she knew that Ms. Kerri had crossed over the line of insane, and she needed to help her through this moment. She spoke as truthfully as she could. “You helped me patch things up with David, even if…” she paused as her voice began to shake, “…even if he was taken before we could make things completely right. But I worked as hard as I could. I loved my brother to the end, and I know that he knew it. And that’s all that matters.”
Ms. Kerri looked up, her eyes red and puffy, tears streaming down her sallow cheeks. “I did it,” she said softly. “I did my job.” She grabbed Dawn’s hand. “Would you take care of Carl for me?”
“I will take care of him.” Dawn looked for the phone to call the nurse. She had to tell her that something else was going on here, that Ms. Kerri was crazy, and she needed to be moved from here because this wasn’t a physical thing. Despite her age, that much was obvious to Dawn, now that she knew…
“Thank you, Dawn,” Ms. Kerri said, taking in a deep breath. “You don’t know how pleased I am to hear that I did what I was supposed to do.”
“Are you going to go back?” Dawn asked.
Ms. Kerri shook her head. “Death was the price I had to pay, sweetie. I cannot return.”
“So you did this all for me?” Dawn shook her head. “Why would you do something like that for someone else? Why would you sacrifice your own life so that someone else wouldn’t have to live with regret? And how could you even know that it would have worked? David and I barely had anything. We were civil with one another, not friends. If things had gone just a little differently, we might not have even had that before he died.”
Ms. Kerri smiled and looked at her one last time. “Dawn, I did all of this not knowing it would work. I stepped out in faith. And I wasn’t even the greatest at this. There were times that I should have done something that I didn’t do it. There were times when I should have kept quiet, and I didn’t. I did everything wrong, and we nearly almost lost.”
Ms. Kerri squeezed Dawn’s hands. “You see, Dawn, I had to do this. I had to sacrifice everything, including my own life, to make sure that you made it through this, that you fixed this with David. After living your entire life, the only thing that kept you up at the night, the thing that infected every single one of your relationships and kept you from forming any kinds of attachments, was your regrets over David.” She paused and leaned closer. “I had to do this, Dawn, not just because I loved you, but because I am you.”