Chapter 6: Reflection
I'm not sure how long I stood there looking at her grave. Darkness had fallen around me and the air had chilled as the sun slipped away. I shivered but didn't notice the cold creeping over my skin. I hadn't been here in months - since before China at least. I thought I'd come to think but when I looked on her grave, when I placed the flowers in the empty vase, I felt my throat close and tears sting my eyes. If she were alive she would hold me and stroke my hair and tell me how to fix everything. That's what mothers were for. But she wasn't alive...
Todd would tell me how to fix things....if Todd was talking to me. If Todd wasn't part of what needed fixing I could curl up against him and he would stroke my hair and would listen to me. But Todd was avoiding me. I don't think he is actually mad at me exactly. At some point in the last year the line had been drawn firmly - between friends and more than friends - and I'd crossed the line. If I'd done it out of actual interest it would have been different but I was wounded by Erik and had used Todd as a soft landing. So things were awkward....very awkward...between us.
I was still considering the situation with Todd when I heard the leaves crunching and shuffling behind me. Someone was approaching but they stopped a few feet away. I registered the noise and presence but didn't turn to see who it was. "Gin?" Erik's voice was low as if he was afraid to disturb the dead. "I went by your house... Your dad told me you were here." he said quietly.
I didn't reply or even turn to look at him. The wind was picking up and blew my hair gently across my face. I could smell the threat of rain in the air. A storm was brewing overhead and I knew I should go home with Erik. We were supposed to be working on another report for that project tonight anyway. But I didn't move, even as the goosebumps from the chilly night air crept up my arms. Erik - Erik was another problem I wished my mom could solve for me. I knew I shouldn't be upset with him for seeing someone else over the summer...we were broken up. But he came back. Why did he come back if he was moving on? Why couldn't I move on? Maybe that was the real problem...
I heard Erik shuffle his feet behind me and stir restlessly. He was waiting for me patiently, not trying to disturb my reflections or drag me away before the storm caught us outside. The wind caught my hair again and the impending storm smelt stronger - a familiar smell I'd once loved so much.
"I could smell the rain that night too." I said aloud, breaking the silence between us.
If Erik looked confused or was about to question me, I didn't look to see or give him a chance to say anything. "It was eight years ago - almost nine now..." I continued absently running a finger along the edge of her stone. "My dad was working late - he did that a lot back then. Todd was over and my mom wanted to go out. Todd and I suggested ice cream." I turned to look at him. "Have I told you this already?" I asked considering. I couldn't remember telling Erik the details. He merely shook his head.
I nodded. "We went out - Todd came with us. We had ice cream and laughed together the whole time. Todd and I told my mom about something..." my brow furrowed as I tried to remember the story we'd told her that night. "This kid Michael had released the class pets that day. Our teacher spent half the morning scurrying around trying to catch them." I said with a sad laugh. "Anyway, there was a storm brewing as we got back in the car. Todd and I sat in the back together laughing about something or other. We were waiting at a red light and I saw my mom watching us with the rear view mirror. She was so happy that night. The light changed and we started going forward. This big truck ran the red light, we were in the middle of the intersection." I looked up at Erik, having looked down at the ground at some point. "He was tired. That's what he said in court later - he was tired." I shook my head. I turned back toward the grave, away from Erik's sad look.
"Anyway, I heard the sound of screeching breaks and the grinding of metal on metal as the truck hit the front of our car." I started walking, slowly pacing to the other side of my mom's grave. "The impact was on the driver's side, front part of the car. His truck pushed us onto the curb and into a pole. Todd was knocked unconscious but otherwise was fine. When the movement stopped, the silence was....I've never felt a silence that thick since then. It was like the world stopped for just a moment. And then I heard shouting and talking from outside. We were stuck between the truck and the pole in such a way that no one could get the doors open. I heard my mom groaning from the front seat and tried to get to her. I couldn't get my seat belt off so all I could do was reach for her.... It took about ten minutes for the police and ambulance to get there but it felt like an hour. My mom was silent when they pulled her out of the car. I watched from the back seat as the paramedics rushed her into the ambulance. That's when the rain really started falling that night. It wasn't long before they were pulling Todd and I out." I looked over at Erik. "She was dead before they even got to us. I didn't realize it then of course...." I trailed off feeling
Erik walked over to me and put his arms around me, pulling me into a tight hug. He didn't say anything and just held me tightly.
The rain started to fall then. It started as just a few stray drops but as we stood their holding each other, the rain started to fall harder. We both broke the hold at the same time and without speaking started running for cover. By the time we got back to my house, we were soaked to the core. "I don't know why I told you all that." I said shaking the rain from my hair. "It's just too much - you and Todd and...." I shivered from the cold and wet. "I can't - I can't....if you want to hate me, I'm not gonna fight that anymore."
"Hate you?" Erik asked surprised. He clutched my arms and either side and looked into my eyes. "I don't hate you Gin - I couldn't if I tried." he said sternly.
I must have looked unconvinced because he just shook his head. "Neither of us have handle this very well have we?" he asked smiling sadly. "I promise you, I could never hate you - no matter what happens between us. Now what's up between you and Todd?" he asked.
I shook my head. "Nothing you can fix." I said weakly. "I'm sorry Erik - for how I handled things before. I thought....." I chuckled pitifully. "I don't know what I thought, I thought it would be better if you...left."
"You were right - it's taken awhile for me to acknowledge that but I am glad I went back." Erik said.
I grimaced slightly, assuming he was glad because he had some great summer with the mystery girl he'd told me about.
He saw my grimace and read my thoughts from my face as if I were open book. "Not because of that. Because of my mom and my brother. I wouldn't have wanted to miss that or imagine her being alone for everything that happened." he paused and looked around uncomfortably. "I'm also glad I came back Gin. But I am sorry I was such a jerk. Seeing you was harder than I expected."
I leaned against his shoulder feeling spent. There was so much to say but I was afraid to ruin this moment and what felt like a fragile bridge between us. Erik put his arms around me and rubbed my back and stroked my hair just like I'd imagined my mom or Todd doing to comfort me.
"Friends then?" I asked, still leaning into him.
He pulled back from me and I was terrified that we were about to lapse back into our awkward interactions but he gave me a small smile and stroked my cheek. "Friends." I smiled back at him.