It amazed me how a second of distraction could make everything seem less empty, not quite so lonely, and when it was gone, the mere silence you were lost in before felt more like a vortex of desolation. Just like with David, I suppose; he came into my life when I was numb inside and, without him, I felt like I was dead.
And that was exactly why I had to let him go. Knowing the grief he’d suffer for losing Nathan made me soft; made me think about taking him back. But that would do me no good at all. Time heals, David told me once, and if that was true, then time needed to start now. The sooner I let him out of my heart, the sooner I’d move on.
Tomorrow, at sunrise, I’d go running for the first time since I lost them—feel the fresh air on my face in the early morning, just as I used to every day with Mike, back home in Australia. Vicki would think I was okay again, Dad would be happy I’d left my mum and Harry in the past, and I would run. Nothing more. Run, until everything that hurt in my heart and my soul moved to the edges of my limbs, into my knees and my lungs, and I would leave it there. Leave the pain—leave the sorrow. Leave David.
When we saw each other at the funeral, he wouldn’t know me. I could play a different Ara. I could stand strong—smile. I would smile. If only for a second, just to nod toward him, while in my mind I’d be saying goodbye.
“Dad, you look nice,” my voice trailed up as I set eyes upon my suit-wearing father, coming out of his room.
It hurt to hear his voice sounding so flat and sad. “You okay, Dad?”
“Okay. Hey, um, Dad?” I said as he started walking away. “Is this dress okay for a funeral?”
His lips twisted tightly as he studied my mournful black attire: a soft cotton dress, with a burgundy belt around the waist. “Ara, are you sure you’re ready for this?”
I frowned up at him. “For a funeral?”
“Yes. It’s just that—it’s barely been two months, honey.” His eyes held obvious memory of my mother. “Are you sure you can cope with this?”
“No, Dad. I’m not sure. I’m actually not sure about anything anymore. But I want to go—for Emily and…David.” His name stuck in my throat.
The clock on the wall at the base of the stairs chimed eight. The funeral wasn’t until nine o’clock, but Mrs Rossi asked my dad and his family to attend a church service beforehand. Unfortunately, he agreed.
“Yeah,” I lied. I knew I should sit at the table and eat with him—maybe even have a coffee to help ease the chill in my skin from my early morning run, but he was better than anyone at seeing through my mask; I wasn’t okay. I wasn’t ready to see a coffin or see people crying. But I had to see David one last time before he was gone from my life forever.
I sat at the base of the stairs, hugging the post, listening to the calm of the house; the way the smell of toast could make everything seem kind of okay. My hunger pangs grew, twisting my gut into knots. But instead of eating, I watched my father with a careful eye—resting his chin on interlaced fingers, staring out at the white glare of the morning. I wondered where his thoughts were—where his heart was. He said so little about what he felt or how he was coping, that watching him, seeing him look so sad and distracted, came as a bit of a shock.
“All set to go, are we?” Vicki asked, coming down the stairs.
I nodded, resting my head against the post after.
“Vicki.” Dad smiled at her adoringly as he came in from the kitchen. “You look lovely.”
“Thank you, Greg.” She straightened the front of her skirt. “I’m just sorry for the occasion.”
Dad nodded, and the sadness stole the smile from his blue eyes.
Vicki did look nice in black, but it seemed like such an unfriendly colour, almost cruel really, to say goodbye to someone in. If my last memory were of my funeral, I’d want to see everyone dressed in colours—to celebrate my life, instead of mourn it.
“Hurry up. We’ll be in the car.”
Dad grabbed the keys and Vicki shouldered her purse, and as she pulled the front door open, my breath stopped short of my lips. The cool morning air blew across my knees, sending a chill through my skin, and the sun reflected brightly off the damp black road outside, like a spotlight—blinding me. But my eyes did not betray me, displaying perfection before them. “David?” my dad said cheerfully. “You’re right on time.”
David stood in the doorway with one hand in the pocket of his tailored black suit as he shook my dad’s with the other. “Good to see you again, Mr Thompson, Mrs Thompson.” He nodded politely at Dad, then Vicki, and turned his head to look directly at me.
I was shrinking. I could feel it. I wanted to close my mouth, wipe the dumbfounded stare off my face, but I really loved David too much to hide the elation in my soul. He looked so damn perfect. There was no way I’d be able to control my emotions now.
“Good morning, Ara,” he said in that smooth, weightless voice.
“Um…hi,” I said, and my eyes fell to the floor. I didn’t want to see him standing there, looking at me like nothing ever happened between us—like we were just friends.
“Uh, Ara?” Dad broke the lengthy silence. “Since you kids are having your own wake at Betty’s, I thought you might like to ride in with David?”
“No, she’s right, Vicki,” Dad said softly. “I’m sorry, honey. I did think it would be okay.”
I folded my arms, biting my teeth together. It wasn’t supposed to be like this; I was supposed to see him from afar—supposed to prepare myself for talking to him. Nobody seemed to care about my trying to move forward. I went jogging today! Jogging! Wasn’t that enough? Dad had just single-handedly destroyed all the resolve I had to let David go. Well, I wasn’t going to stand by and let them conspiratorially send me to a mental institution. I could handle this. I’d dealt with worse.
“I’ll just see you there then.” David looked at me once then turned stiffly away.
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t go. I said you should have checked with me first.”
“Okay, Ara.” Dad patted my arm. “I’ll remember that for next time.”
I took off, skulking along behind David, arms still folded, piercing his soul with eyes like daggers when he opened the car door for me. “I can get the door myself.”
“I’m sorry.” He took a step back. “I know you can. I was…”
I pushed past him and slumped into the passenger seat, shutting the door on whatever he was going to say.
In the silence, while Dad talked to David by the mailbox, the woodsy, lemony smell of his seats stirred the memory of our picnic by the lake—making my stomach growl again, spreading the familiar weak and shaky feeling through my arms. I looked over at Dad, his hand on David’s shoulder, with Vicki jumping in to touch his arm. It was nice of them to just leave me sitting here, in the heat, waiting.
David glanced back at me, just for a second, then shook my dad’s hand, jerking his head in my direction. I saw Dad’s mouth move, breaking into a grin; I knew they were laughing at my bad mood—they always did. No one cared to ask what was wrong. All they cared about was that my sulking was something funny to laugh at.
“You okay?” David slid into the car, closing the door on a roll of thunder.
I cleared my throat and looked out the window. “I’m fine.”
“I’m fine,” I muttered—just to shut him up.
“You know, you could’ve said no.” He started the engine. “I didn’t force you to come in my car.”
“Your dad asked me. What was I supposed to say?”
“Hmph.” I refolded my arms for good measure and glared at my parents as we pulled down the drive.
By the time the church came into focus on the distant horizon, the silence in the car had evolved into a big fat cloud of tension. I just wanted to hurry up and get there, but David was driving much more carefully and a hell of a lot slower than ever before.
When the car finally pulled up in a parking space, my door swung open, David offering his hand before I even saw him pull the key from the ignition.
“You keep popping up—like, way too fast.”
“Ara, I didn’t. I swear. You must have blacked out, sweetheart—”
“Don’t call me that!” Ignoring his offer of assistance, I grabbed the doorframe and hoisted my dizzy self from the car, taking inconspicuously deep breaths to steady the ringing in my ears.
“Ara, are you okay?” His hand hovered near my waist. “You’re really pale.”
“I’m fine,” I said, scowling at him.
“You’re not fine.” He stood taller, dropping his hand. “Would you like me to take you home?”
For a moment, my gaze lingered between the church and freedom, but Emily caught my eye and waved softly. I waved back and shut the car door. “No. Then everyone will wonder why the new girl suddenly disappeared from a funeral—questions would follow.”
David laughed a little, wiping the amusement from his face quickly when he looked at mine. “I’m sorry. Um—shall we go in?”
“Lead the way,” I offered, and walked slowly behind him, in no rush to be stuck in that dreary red-bricked building.
“Mr Knight.” The priest by the door shook David’s hand. “Lovely to see you again.”
“You too, Father.” David turned to a short, portly woman in a black tunic then, and kissed both her cheeks.
“Thank you for coming, David.” She reached up and stroked his face. “My Nathan would be so proud to see you all here.”
She smiled, her pudgy face tight with sorrow. “And who do we have here?”
“This—” David stepped back and placed his arm around my waist, pulling me closer. “Is Ara Thompson.”
Her eyes went from David to me, widening. “My dear child. How sweet of you to come.”
I smiled softly; there wasn’t much I could say.
“You’re so much like your mother,” she said, taking my hand in her moist, plump grip. “And is your father far behind?”
I gave a quick glance into the parking lot. “He’ll be here any minute.”
She nodded, patting my hand. “Well, I’ll see you both after the ceremony.”
“You will.” David kissed her cheek again and stepped across the threshold of the church, smiling as he made the sign of the cross over his body.
I dipped my fingers in the holy water by the door, too, and did the same. “This isn’t the time to smile, David.”
“Same old David,” I scoffed, turning away a little too quickly. The walls grew taller around me, seeming to reach miles up into the sky, gathering a deathly chill from the outer atmosphere and sending it down here, to my world, making my stomach churn. A hint of smoke from singed candles wafted around the room, bringing my mind back to the last time I set foot in a church; the light faded from each stained-glass depiction of Bible stories lining the walls, making the coloured images grey and blurred—revealing faces from the past; my mum, Harry, even my grandpa all stared out at me, though their spirits did not linger here, within these walls. I closed my eyes for a second and shut everything out—the muffled sobs and whispers, the dreary organ music and the sound of paper rustling on the wooden backs of chairs.
David grabbed my arm and gently steered me to the edge of the pew, sliding in next to me, pushing me further up to allow room for more people. I wrapped my fingers around the back of the seat in front of me, taking slow, deep breaths until the bile pinching my tongue eased off.
“Mint?” he offered; I grabbed one from the tiny tin and popped it in my mouth, refusing to look at him. “You’re welcome,” he said smugly and stuffed them back in his pocket.
Then, the priest began, as did the incessant kneeling and standing. After communion, I knelt beside David and opened one eye to watch him. He seemed intent on his prayer; his eyes closed tight, lips moving fast—speaking in tongues. Okay, so, not in tongues, but something that sounded remarkably like Latin. He never mentioned religion before. I didn’t even know he was Catholic and did not know he spoke Latin. But why not; he spoke French? Then, so did Mike—but that was different, because his mum was French, so he grew up with it.
I turned my head, closed my eyes, and continued the Hail Mary I’d started, just as everyone around us shuffled in their places and began to sit back in the pews. David reached across and helped me up gently by my arm.
I glared at him, jerking away. “I can get myself up, thank you.”
“Sorry.” He swallowed, rubbing the left side of his chest as he looked to the front. When his hand dropped back into his lap, I studied the fine lines in his knuckles, the squared tips of his nails and the curl of his fingers, imagining mine wound through them, until he folded his arms, readjusting his seat.