2020 Second Place Short Fiction

Fate by Leonor Fontanez, Class of 2021

Shea+Cinquemani%2C+Class+of+2020

Shea Cinquemani, Class of 2020

I’m​ ​not​ ​sure​ ​when​ ​it​ ​happened.​ ​I​ ​remember​ ​the​ ​day​ ​was​ ​cold,​ ​the​ ​sun​ ​was​ ​setting​ ​on our small​ ​town​ ​and​ ​Colin and I​ ​were​ ​on​ ​the​ ​road.​ ​No​ ​one​ ​else​ ​was​ ​there​, ​just​ ​him​ ​and​ ​me, best​ ​friends​ ​reminiscing​ ​over​ ​college​ ​days.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​never​ ​a​ ​good​ ​driver: ​cheated​ ​on​ ​his written test,​ ​bribed​ ​the​ ​instructor,​ ​and​ ​based​ ​all​ ​of​ ​his​ ​knowledge​ ​on​ ​racing​ ​games.​ ​But​ ​I​ ​didn’t think​ ​he​ ​was​ ​bad​ ​enough​ ​to​ ​slip​ ​on​ ​ice​ ​and​ ​lose​ ​control.​ ​We​ ​rammed​ ​into​ ​a​ ​giant​ ​tree​ ​and when​ ​I​ ​gained​ ​consciousness​ ​again,​ ​he​ ​was​ ​already​ ​pale​ ​and​ ​scarred​ ​and​ ​thrown​ ​halfway through​ ​the​ ​windshield.​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​even​ ​remember​ ​calling​ ​the​ ​police.​ ​But​ ​when​ ​they​ ​came,​ ​I didn’t​ ​want​ ​to​ ​move.​ ​I​ ​couldn’t​ ​leave​ ​my​ ​friend,​ ​a​ ​loving​ ​father​ ​and​ ​husband,​ ​a​ ​son,​ ​a brother.​ ​What​ ​would​ ​I​ ​tell​ ​everyone?​ ​They​ ​eventually​ ​got​ ​me​ ​in​ ​the​ ​cop​ ​car,​ ​with​ ​much resistance.​ ​I​ ​was​ ​in​ ​shock​ ​for​ ​a​ ​while,​ ​hours,​ ​but​ ​once​ ​I​ ​got​ ​in​ ​that​ ​car​ ​I​ ​broke​ ​down.​ ​Gasping for​ ​breath,​ ​clutching​ ​to​ ​the​ ​chafing​ ​leather ​until​ ​I​ ​reached​ ​the​ ​hospital.​ ​Colin​ ​didn’t​ ​deserve this.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​supposed​ ​to​ ​live​ ​on,​ ​there’s​ ​nothing​ ​for​ ​me​ ​here.​ ​Not​ ​without​ ​him.

When​ ​I​ ​woke​ ​up​ ​again,​ ​Amy​ ​was​ ​there; of​ ​course ​in​ ​tears,​ ​clutching​ ​balloons​ ​and​ ​her daughter’s​ ​hand.​ ​My​ ​vision,​ ​dazed​ ​and​ ​faded,​ ​began​ ​to​ ​clear​ ​after​ ​some​ ​hard​ ​blinks.​ ​Amy immediately​ ​let​ ​go​ ​of​ ​the​ ​balloons​ ​and​ ​rushed​ ​over​ ​to​ ​me.​ ​I​ ​hugged​ ​her​ ​as​ ​we​ ​both​ ​sobbed in​ ​each​ ​other’s​ ​arms.​ ​I​ ​looked​ ​past​ ​her​ ​shoulder​ ​and​ ​smiled​ ​down​ ​at​ ​their​ ​perfect​ ​child.​ ​I cleared​ ​my​ ​throat​ ​and​ ​gestured​ ​for​ ​her​ ​to​ ​come​ ​to​ ​me.​ ​She​ ​smiled​ ​her​ ​spotted​ ​smile ​and trotted​ ​over.​ ​Even​ ​at​ ​a​ ​time​ ​like​ ​this,​ ​she​ ​could​ ​always​ ​make​ ​me​ ​smile.​ ​

“Hey​ ​Chloe,​ ​how​ ​are you?”​ ​I​ ​asked​, ​chipper,​ ​hiding​ ​the​ ​pain​ ​from​ ​my​ ​bruises.​ ​She​ ​hugged​ ​me​ ​back.

“I’m​ ​happy​ ​to​ ​see​ ​you,​ ​Sammy!​ ​Mommy​ ​won’t​ ​let​ ​me​ ​see​ ​Daddy​ ​yet.”​ ​Those​ ​words were​ ​like​ ​a​ ​spear​ ​to​ ​the​ ​chest.​ ​“Where​ ​is​ ​Daddy​ ​anyway?”​ ​she​ ​asked.​ ​

I​ ​froze​ ​and​ ​stuttered for​ ​a​ ​moment. I​ ​looked​ ​up​ ​at​ ​Amy.​ ​Her​ ​hazel​ ​eyes​ ​begged​ ​me​ ​not​ ​to​ ​say​ ​a​ ​word.​ ​​This​ ​is​ ​wrong​​ ​I​ ​thought. But​ ​I​ ​nodded.

“Uh-h-he’ll​ ​be​ ​back​ ​soon,​ ​‘kay​ ​Chloe?”​ ​Her​ ​green​ ​eyes​ ​seemed​ ​to​ ​get​ ​a​ ​little​ ​brighter. I​ ​let​ ​her​ ​down​ ​and​ ​she​ ​ran​ ​to​ ​the​ ​other​ ​side​ ​of​ ​the​ ​room​ ​to​ ​reach​ ​for​ ​those​ ​balloons.​ ​This was​ ​my​ ​and​ ​Amy’s​ ​time​ ​to​ ​talk.​ ​“What’d​ ​they​ ​say?”

“You​ ​know​ ​what​ ​they​ ​said,​ ​Sammy.​ ​He’s​ ​gone,”​ ​she​ ​sighed.​ ​I​ ​pushed​ ​myself​ ​up​ ​as carefully​ ​as​ ​I​ ​could.​ ​My​ ​eyes​ ​shook​ ​while​ ​Amy​ ​sat​ ​down,​ ​nearly​ ​in​ ​tears​ ​again.​ ​“Why​ ​us? Why​ ​him?​ ​Colin​ ​did​ ​nothing​ ​to​ ​deserve​ ​this,”​ ​she​ ​rubbed​ ​her​ ​face,​ ​hoping​ ​that​ ​some​ ​of​ ​the sorrow​ ​and​ ​stress​ ​would​ ​fall​ ​with​ ​every​ ​stroke.​

I​ ​looked​ ​over​ ​to​ ​Chloe. “You’re​ ​not​ ​gonna​ ​tell​ ​her?”​ ​She​ ​looked​ ​up​ ​at​ ​Chloe​ ​and​ ​smiled.​ ​The​ ​smile​ ​turned back​ ​into​ ​sorrow.

“I​ ​can’t.​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​know​ ​how,​ ​Sam.”​ ​Chloe​ ​made​ ​one​ ​final​ ​leap​ ​and​ ​snatched​ ​the balloons​ ​from​ ​the​ ​air​ ​with​ ​a​ ​loud​ ​thud.​ ​

“What’s​ ​best​ ​for​ ​her​ ​now​ ​is​ ​that​ ​you’re​ ​here.​ ​I’m here,​ ​her​ ​family​ ​is​ ​here.”​ ​I​ ​took​ ​her​ ​hand​ ​rubbing​ ​the​ ​jewel​ ​Colin​ ​had​ ​given​ ​to​ ​her​ ​six​ ​years ago, the​ ​one​ ​I​ ​helped​ ​him​ ​pick​ ​out,​ ​pay​ ​for​ ​even.​ ​Amy​ ​was​ ​back​ ​in​ ​tears.

They​ ​released​ ​me​ ​to​ ​my​ ​suburban​ ​home​ ​the​ ​next​ ​day.​ ​I​ ​unlocked​ ​the​ ​door​, ​staring​ ​at the​ ​keys​ ​in​ ​disgust.​ ​I​ ​was​ ​greeted​ ​by​ ​my​ ​giant​ ​Saint​ ​Bernard,​ ​Howell.​ ​His​ ​slobber covered​ ​my​ ​hand​ ​as​ ​I​ ​scratched​ ​under​ ​his​ ​chin.​ ​I​ ​walked​ ​further​ ​into​ ​my​ ​house,​ ​looking​ ​at the​ ​surroundings.​ ​A​ ​lounge​ ​area​ ​for​ ​us​ ​Alpha​ ​Phi​ ​Alpha​ ​members​ ​to​ ​watch​ ​the​ ​playoffs around​ ​October,​ ​like​ ​always.​ ​A​ ​giant​ ​kitchen​ ​for​ ​almost​ ​any​ ​holiday​ ​you​ ​can​ ​name.​ ​My​ ​photo wall,​ ​with​ ​tables​ ​covered​ ​in​ ​framed​ ​photos​ ​and​ ​snow​ ​globes​ ​of​ ​vacations.​ ​I​ ​dropped​ ​my​ ​bag there​ ​and​ ​stared​ ​at​ ​them.​ ​Me​ ​when​ ​I​ ​was​ ​young​ ​with​ ​my​ ​mom,​ ​nothing​ ​ever​ ​seemed​ ​to​ ​go right​ ​did​ ​it?​ ​My​ ​first​ ​drink​ ​at​ ​the​ ​college​ ​house​ ​surrounded​ ​by​ ​my​ ​brothers​ ​and​ ​sisters.​ ​I scoffed​ ​and​ ​picked​ ​up​ ​the​ ​photo​ ​of​ ​Colin​ ​and​ ​me,​ ​holding​ ​Chloe.​ ​Too​ ​many​ ​feelings​ ​to describe​ ​washed​ ​over​ ​me​ ​in​ ​that​ ​instant.​ ​I​ ​gripped​ ​the​ ​photo​ ​tighter​, ​making​ ​all​ ​the​ ​muscles in​ ​my​ ​body​ ​pulse​ ​and​ ​quiver.​ ​I​ ​screamed​ ​and​ ​all​ ​that​ ​surrounded​ ​me​ ​was​ ​broken​ ​glass​ ​and a​ ​torn​ ​photo.​ ​I​ ​gripped​ ​the​ ​side​ ​of​ ​the​ ​table​ ​and​ ​convulsed,​ ​which​ ​later​ ​caused​ ​me​ ​to​ ​vomit.

I​ ​cried​ ​harder​ ​than​ ​I​ ​had​ ​in​ ​years.​ ​I​ ​was​ ​laying​ ​there​ ​shuddering​ ​until​ ​Howell​ ​came​ ​over​ ​and licked​ ​away​ ​my​ ​tears.​ ​I​ ​looked​ ​up​ ​at​ ​him; ​the​ ​innocence​ ​in​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​kept​ ​me​ ​together temporarily.​ ​I​ ​went​ ​back​ ​to​ ​crying.​ ​He​ ​gently​ ​bit​ ​onto​ ​the​ ​side​ ​of​ ​my​ ​shirt​ ​and​ ​began​ ​pulling me​ ​up.​ ​I​ ​held​ ​onto​ ​his​ ​neck​ ​as​ ​he​ ​walked​ ​me​ ​over​ ​to​ ​the​ ​couch.​ ​I​ ​praised​ ​him,​ ​“Good​ ​boy, Howell,”​ ​and ​rested​ ​my​ ​head​ ​against​ ​the​ ​cushion,​ ​still​ ​staying​ ​on​ ​the​ ​floor.​ ​He​ ​hopped​ ​up​ ​and lay​ ​down​ ​next​ ​to​ ​me,​ ​his​ ​head​ ​touching​ ​mine,​ ​reminding​ ​me​ ​that​ ​someone​ ​was​ ​there.

My​ ​boss​ ​kept​ ​me​ ​home​ ​for​ ​the​ ​next​ ​week.​ ​He​ ​said​ ​something​ ​as​ ​traumatic​ ​as​ ​that deserved​ ​rest.​ ​Ironically​ ​however,​ ​I​ ​worked​ ​at​ ​the​ ​pharmacy​ ​downtown​ ​from​ ​my​ ​house.​ ​So I​ ​found​ ​myself​ ​there​ ​quite​ ​often​ ​having​ ​chats​ ​with​ ​my​ ​work​ ​buddies.​ ​They​ ​tried​ ​to​ ​laugh with​ ​me​ ​as​ ​much​ ​as​ ​they​ ​could​ ​until​ ​I​ ​clutched​ ​my​ ​stomach​ ​in​ ​pain.​ ​I​ ​was​ ​handed​ ​the​ ​pills and​ ​slugged​ ​away​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​drive​ ​out​ ​dark​ ​thoughts​ ​of​ ​Colin.​ ​I​ ​reached​ ​for​ ​my​ ​car​ ​keys​ ​and my​ ​hands​ ​started​ ​shaking.​ ​I​ ​unlocked​ ​the​ ​door​ ​and​ ​opened​ ​it.​ ​Candy​ ​wrappers​ ​and​ ​empty Gatorade​ ​bottles​ ​covered​ ​the​ ​seats​ ​and​ ​floor.​ ​I​ ​pushed​ ​the​ ​wrappers​ ​away​ ​and​ ​slowly climbed​ ​in,​ ​minding​ ​my​ ​bruises.​ ​​​My​ ​hands​ ​rested​ ​on​ ​the​ ​wheel​ ​and​ ​turned​ ​pale.​ ​I​ ​squeezed my​ ​eyes​ ​shut,​ ​breathing​ ​heavily.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​the​ ​third​ ​time​ ​that​ ​week​ ​I’d​ ​been​ ​at​ ​that​ ​damn pharmacy​ ​and​ ​that​ ​pain​ ​wasn’t​ ​getting​ ​any​ ​better.​ ​A​ ​tear​ ​subsided​ ​from​ ​my​ ​pale​ ​skin​ ​and​ ​I shuddered.​ ​I​ ​sniffed,​ ​sighed​ ​and​ ​stared​ ​into​ ​my​ ​rear​ ​view​ ​mirror.​ ​Cars​ ​zoomed​ ​by​ ​with​ ​such disrespect​ ​and​ ​ignorance.​ ​What​ ​were​ ​they​ ​doing?​ ​Didn’t​ ​they​ ​know​ ​what​ ​happened​ ​last week?​ ​Why​ ​were​ ​they​ ​so​ ​slapdash​ ​in​ ​blissful​ ​ignorance?​ ​I​ ​sighed​ ​and​ ​wiped​ ​dry​ ​tears​ ​from my​ ​cheeks.​ ​“You’re​ ​okay,”​ ​I​ ​traded​ ​looks​ ​with​ ​myself​ ​in​ ​the​ ​mirror.​ ​My​ ​black​ ​eyes​ ​stared back​ ​at​ ​me​ ​full​ ​of​ ​fear​ ​and​ ​sorrow.​ ​“No,​ ​you’re​ ​not.”​ ​I​ ​doubted.​ ​A​ ​knock​ ​on​ ​my​ ​window startled​ ​me​ ​and​ ​I​ ​scowled​ ​at​ ​the​ ​silhouette.​ ​I​ ​reluctantly​ ​unlocked​ ​the​ ​door​ ​and​ ​started​ ​the car.

“Hey​ ​Sam!​ ​I​ ​see​ ​you​ ​stopped​ ​by​ ​for​ ​a​ ​quick​ ​visit,”​ ​he​ ​looked​ ​at​ ​the​ ​pharmacy.​ ​“So what​ ​the​ ​hell​ ​are​ ​you​ ​still​ ​doing​ ​in​ ​my​ ​car?”​ ​He​ ​grabbed​ ​the​ ​pills​ ​and​ ​tossed​ ​them​ ​to​ ​the back​ ​seat.

“It’s​ ​my​ ​car​ ​Phillip,​ ​has​ ​been​ ​since​ ​‘96.​ ​I​ ​was​ ​just​ ​leaving​ ​anyway,​ ​came​ ​for​ ​my​ ​pills.” I​ ​rolled​ ​my​ ​eyes.

“How​ ​many​ ​times​ ​do​ ​I​ ​have​ ​to​ ​tell​ ​you​ ​Sammy,​ ​just​ ‘​cause​ ​I’m​ ​your​ ​step​dad​ ​don’t mean​ ​you​ ​can​ ​call​ ​me​ ​Phillip.”​ ​He​ ​shifted​ ​unsettled​ ​in​ ​his​ ​seat.

“No​ ​of​ ​course​ ​not.​ ​I​ ​can​ ​call​ ​you​ ​Phillip​ ​because​ ​I’m​ ​a​ ​twenty-six​ ​year​ ​old​ ​adult​ ​who’s just​ ​lost​ ​their​ ​best​ ​friend​ ​and​ ​is​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​cope.”​ ​I​ ​snapped.​ ​He​ ​sighed​ ​and​ ​I​ ​looked​ ​over​ ​at him,​ ​hiding​ ​my​ ​tears​ ​with​ ​puffy​ ​eyes.

“Listen​ ​Sam,​ ​I​ ​know​ ​you’ve​ ​been​ ​through​ ​a lot​ ​lately,​ ​but​ ​just​ ​know​ ​I’m​ ​here​ ​for​ ​you.” I​ ​breathed​ ​heavily​ ​gripping​ ​the​ ​wheel​ ​again.

“Everyone​ ​seems​ ​to​ ​be​ ​here​ ​for​ ​me​, ​Phillip.​ ​But​ ​I​ ​was​ ​supposed​ ​to​ ​be​ ​there​ ​for​ ​Colin. So​ ​what​ ​does​ ​it​ ​matter?”​ ​I​ ​faced​ ​away​ ​from​ ​him​ ​staring​ ​out​ ​my​ ​windshield.

“Sammy–”

“Get​ ​out,”​ ​I​ ​looked​ ​at​ ​him​ ​urgently​ ​and​ ​demandingly.​ ​He​ ​turned​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​soft​, ​but​ ​I kept​ ​my​ ​ground;​ ​he​ ​opened​ ​the​ ​door.

Another​ ​monotonous​ ​night​ ​passed​ ​when​ ​I​ ​got​ ​home.​ ​Panic​ ​attack,​ ​followed​ ​by convulsions​ ​and​ ​crying,​ ​until​ ​Howell​ ​dragged​ ​me​ ​to​ ​my​ ​bed​ ​around​ ​midnight.​ ​I​ ​woke​ ​up​ ​in cold​ ​sweats,​ ​startling​ ​myself​ ​with​ ​every​ ​waking​ ​nightmare.​ ​I​ ​often​ ​woke​ ​up​ ​screaming​ ​his name.​ ​I​ ​kept​ ​wishing​ ​for Colin​ ​and I to​ ​be​ ​at​ ​some​ ​dicey​ ​bar​ ​filling​ ​our​ ​bodies​ ​with​ ​bad alcohol.​ ​I​ ​wished​ ​we​ ​could​ ​be​ ​laughing​ ​at​ ​widowed​ ​men​ ​hitting​ ​on​ ​underage​ ​girls​ ​with​ ​fake IDs.​ ​I​ ​wished​ ​he​ ​and​ ​I​ ​were​ ​scoping​ ​out​ ​slightly​ ​intoxicated​ ​people​ ​for​ ​me​ ​to​ ​take​ ​home. But​ ​when​ ​I​ ​stopped​ ​wishing,​ ​I​ ​found​ ​myself​ ​in​ ​the​ ​dark​ ​next​ ​to​ ​my​ ​big​ ​dog​ ​in​ ​my​ ​bigger house​ ​yet​ ​small​ ​town.​ ​Only​ ​without​ ​Colin,​ ​my​ ​best​ ​friend.

***********

It’s​ ​been​ ​years.​ ​A​ ​lot​ ​has​ ​changed​ ​since​ ​then​ ​hasn’t​ ​it?​ ​Amy​ ​remarried​ ​for​ ​example. Some​ ​technician​ ​named​ ​Brandon​ ​Lester,​ ​three​ ​years​ ​strong.​ ​I​ ​helped​ ​them​ ​move​ ​house​ ​last year.​ ​I​ ​held​ ​it​ ​in​ ​every​ ​time​ ​I​ ​saw​ ​pictures​ ​of​ ​Colin,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​think​ ​Amy​ ​did​ ​too.​ ​Chloe​ ​turned​ ​8​ ​a few​ ​months​ ​ago.​ ​Every​ ​year​ ​on​ ​her​ ​birthday​ ​she​ ​seemed​ ​to​ ​get​ ​happier,​ ​slowly​ ​forgetting the​ ​sadness​ ​that​ ​came​ ​with​ ​losing​ ​a​ ​father.​ ​None​ ​of​ ​us​ ​could​ ​handle​ ​it.​ ​We​ ​didn’t​ ​even​ ​have a​ ​service​ ​for​ ​him.​ ​His​ ​ashes​ ​lay​ ​untouched​ ​in​ ​his parents’​ ​living​ ​room.​ ​I​ ​used​ ​to​ ​visit​ ​them​ ​often after​ ​we​ ​heard​ ​the​ ​news.​ ​But​ ​they’ve​ ​moved​ ​on​ ​too.​ ​

That​ ​morning,​ ​I​ ​got​ ​up​ ​with​ ​more​ ​pep than​ ​usual.​ ​I​ ​walked​ ​over​ ​to​ ​my​ ​calendar​ ​and​ ​crossed​ ​off​ ​the​ ​day​ ​with​ ​red​ ​marker.​ ​I​ ​walked into​ ​my​ ​bathroom​ ​and​ ​got​ ​ready,​ ​staring​ ​soullessly​ ​into​ ​my​ ​black​ ​eyes,​ ​combing​ ​through my​ ​black​ ​hair.​ ​I​ ​poured​ ​Howell​ ​some​ ​food​ ​and​ ​got​ ​dressed.​ ​I​ ​looked​ ​into​ ​the​ ​vanity​ ​in​ ​my bedroom​ ​and​ ​put​ ​on​ ​a​ ​fake​ ​smile.​ ​My​ ​eyes​ ​trailed​ ​down​ ​to​ ​the​ ​infamous​ ​wedding​ ​day photo,​ ​Colin​ ​and​ ​Amy​ ​kissing​ ​under​ ​stars​ ​as​ ​I​ ​toppled​ ​into​ ​the​ ​wedding​ ​cake.​ ​I​ ​sighed, “Happy​ ​Thanksgiving,​ ​Colin.”​ ​I​ ​managed​ ​a​ ​smile.​ ​I​ ​grabbed​ ​the​ ​keys​ ​out​ ​of​ ​their​ ​bowl​ ​and drove​ ​to​ ​celebrate​ ​it.

When​ ​I​ ​walked​ ​through​ ​the​ ​tall​ ​double​ ​doors,​ ​I​ ​was​ ​greeted​ ​by​ ​toddlers​ ​and​ ​Chloe smiling​ ​up​ ​at​ ​me.​ ​I​ ​picked​ ​her​ ​up​ ​and​ ​pecked​ ​her​ ​on​ ​the​ ​cheek,​ ​her​ ​blonde​ ​hair​ ​covered​ ​her smile.​ ​The​ ​scent​ ​of​ ​pie​ ​and​ ​meat​ ​filled​ ​my​ ​nostrils​ ​as​ ​I​ ​inched​ ​closer​ ​to​ ​the​ ​kitchen.​ ​Brandon stopped​ ​me​ ​midway​ ​and​ ​smiled​ ​cheerfully.​ ​I​ ​set​ ​Chloe​ ​down​ ​and​ ​greeted​ ​him.​ ​“Brandon, how​ ​are​ ​you?”

“I’m​ ​alright​ ​Sam,​ ​you?”​ ​

I​ ​leaned​ ​against​ ​a​ ​chair​ ​and​ ​reassuringly​ ​lied​ ​to​ ​him. “I’m​ ​great.​ ​Where’s​ ​Amy?”​ ​He​ ​gestured​ ​to​ ​the​ ​kitchen​ ​and​ ​I​ ​smiled​ ​brightly​ ​at​ ​a woman​ ​covered​ ​in​ ​flour​ ​and​ ​sugar.​ ​“Hey​ ​Amy,​ ​happy​ ​Thanksgiving,”​ ​I​ ​said.​ ​She​ ​tossed​ ​a​ ​set of​ ​rolls​ ​in​ ​the​ ​oven​ ​and​ ​wiped​ ​some​ ​excess​ ​flour from​ ​her​ ​apron.

“Sammy,​ ​hi!​ ​I​ ​thought​ ​you​ ​might​ ​not​ ​be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​make​ ​it.”​ ​I​ ​shrugged​ ​and​ ​hugged​ ​her, minding​ ​the​ ​powders.​ ​“The​ ​food’s​ ​almost​ ​done​ ​so​ ​if​ ​you​ ​could​ ​help​ ​me​ ​with​ ​the​ ​table please.”​ ​I​ ​almost​ ​immediately​ ​turned​ ​and​ ​grabbed​ ​a​ ​set​ ​of​ ​plates.​ ​She​ ​always​ ​could​ ​make me​ ​do​ ​what​ ​she​ ​wanted.​ ​Brandon​ ​tended​ ​to​ ​the​ ​children​ ​while​ ​Amy​ ​and​ ​I​ ​set​ ​up​ ​the​ ​table.

“So​, ​Amy..”​ ​

She​ ​looked​ ​at​ ​me, “So,​ ​Sammy.”​

​I​ ​chuckled. “Two​ ​more​ ​kids.​ ​That’s​ ​commitment.”​ ​

She​ ​chuckled​ ​after​ ​me. “Well​ ​what​ ​can​ ​I​ ​say?​ ​I​ ​love​ ​children.​ ​But​ ​two​ ​more​ ​wasn’t​ ​my​ ​choice, ​they’re​ ​twins.”

“I​ ​love​ ​twins.​ ​Maybe​ ​for​ ​different​ ​reasons​ ​than​ ​you​ ​though.”​ ​She​ ​shook​ ​her​ ​head​ ​and

looked​ ​out​ ​at​ ​Chloe.​ ​She​ ​played​ ​with​ ​barbies​ ​while​ ​the​ ​two​ ​boys​ ​raced​ ​trucks​ ​across​ ​the hardwood​ ​floor.​ ​“How’s​ ​she​ ​been​ ​handling​ ​all​ ​of​ ​this? ​You​ ​told​ ​her​ ​right?”​ ​she​ ​clutched​ ​the set​ ​of​ ​silverware​ ​in​ ​her​ ​hand​ ​and​ ​looked​ ​down.

“She​ ​still​ ​gets​ ​nightmares​ ​about​ ​it.​ ​I​ ​waited​ ​a​ ​good​ ​year​ ​or​ ​two,​ ​leaving​ ​her​ ​to​ ​wake up​ ​to​ ​scream​ ​and​ ​cry​ ​for​ ​me​ ​and​ ​him.”​ ​She​ ​spoke​ ​slowly​ ​and​ ​quietly​ ​on​ ​the​ ​verge​ ​of​ ​tears, “In​ ​second​ ​grade​ ​she​ ​learned​ ​about​ ​death.​ ​She​ ​asked​ ​me,​ ​‘if​ ​I​ ​can’t​ ​talk​ ​to​ ​Daddy,​ ​then​ ​is​ ​he dead?’​ ​and​ ​I​ ​couldn’t​ ​face​ ​the​ ​answer.​ ​But​ ​she’s​ ​smart –​ ​no​ ​trait​ ​from​ ​me.​ ​She​ ​figured​ ​it​ ​out​ ​on her​ ​own.”​ ​I​ ​looked​ ​down​ ​and​ ​shivered.​ ​“But​ ​once​ ​I​ ​met​ ​Brandon,​ ​she​ ​was​ ​mad.​ ​A​ ​tantrum here,​ ​some​ ​hitting​ ​there,​ ​until​ ​finally​ ​she​ ​broke​ ​down​ ​in​ ​school​ ​and​ ​said​ ​she​ ​wanted​ ​her daddy​ ​back.​ ​I​ ​drove​ ​her​ ​home​ ​in​ ​tears.​ ​She​ ​wouldn’t​ ​speak​ ​to​ ​Brandon,​ ​and​ ​as​ ​far​ ​as​ ​she​ ​was concerned​ ​it​ ​was​ ​just​ ​me​ ​and​ ​the​ ​twins​ ​in​ ​her​ ​life.”​

​I​ ​looked​ ​back​ ​to​ ​Chloe.​ ​Without​ ​knowing something​ ​bad​ ​had​ ​ever​ ​happened​ ​to​ ​her,​ ​you​ ​couldn’t​ ​tell​ ​that​ ​she​ ​was​ ​really​ ​sad​ ​on​ ​the inside.​ ​I​ ​guess​ ​I​ ​reflected​ ​her.

After​ ​dinner,​ ​we​ ​all​ ​gathered​ ​in​ ​the​ ​living​ ​room​ ​and​ ​shared​ ​what​ ​we​ ​were​ ​thankful for.​ ​Chloe​ ​went​ ​first.​ ​“I’m​ ​thankful​ ​for​ ​my​ ​two​ ​baby​ ​brothers,​ ​Daniel​ ​and​ ​August.​ ​I​ ​love​ ​them so​ ​much.​ ​I’m​ ​thankful​ ​for​ ​my​ ​mommy​ ​who​ ​I​ ​love.”​ ​She​ ​curled​ ​her​ ​small​ ​hands​ ​into​ ​a​ ​heart and​ ​faced​ ​it​ ​toward​ ​Amy.​ ​“I’m​ ​thankful​ ​for​ ​Sammy,​ ​my​ ​real​ ​Daddy’s​ ​best​ ​friend,”​ ​she​ ​turned the​ ​heart​ ​to​ ​me.​ ​I​ ​smiled.​ ​“And​ ​I’m​ ​thankful​ ​for​ ​my​ ​fake​ ​Daddy​ ​because​ ​you​ ​got​ ​us​ ​this​ ​big house!”​ ​We​ ​erupted​ ​in​ ​laughter​ ​and​ ​applause.​ ​I​ ​picked​ ​her​ ​up​ ​and​ ​gave​ ​her​ ​a​ ​long​ ​hug.

“You’re​ ​next​ ​Sammy,​ ​guests​ ​go​ ​next!”​ ​she​ ​smiled.​ ​I​ ​thought​ ​for​ ​a​ ​moment​ ​there​ ​was​ ​so​ ​little to​ ​be​ ​thankful​ ​for.

“I-I’m​ ​thankful​ ​that​ ​Amy​ ​and​ ​Brandon​ ​invited​ ​me​ ​to​ ​their​ ​wonderful​ ​home​ ​with​ ​their beautiful​ ​children​ ​who​ ​I​ ​adore.​ ​I’m​ ​thankful​ ​that​ ​I​ ​get​ ​to​ ​see​ ​Chloe​ ​smile​ ​one​ ​more​ ​holiday. And​ ​I’m​ ​thankful​ ​for​ ​Colin,​ ​my​ ​best​ ​friend​ ​and​ ​Amy’s​ ​husband,​ ​and​ ​Chloe’s​ ​father.​ ​I​ ​couldn’t have​ ​done​ ​it​ ​without​ ​him.​ ​So​ ​thank​ ​you,​ ​wherever​ ​you​ ​are.”​ ​I​ ​smiled​ ​to​ ​hold​ ​back​ ​tears.​ ​I looked​ ​over​ ​at​ ​Amy​ ​and​ ​Chloe.​ ​Amy​ ​was​ ​on​ ​the​ ​verge​ ​of​ ​tears​ ​and​ ​Chloe​ ​was​ ​already​ ​there, gallons​ ​of​ ​water​ ​streamed​ ​from​ ​her​ ​eyes​ ​to​ ​her​ ​rosy​ ​cheeks​ ​to​ ​the​ ​floor.​ ​We​ ​all​ ​smiled​ ​at each​ ​other.

I’d​ ​been​ ​stuck​ ​in​ ​traffic​ ​for​ ​a​ ​good​ ​hour.​ ​The​ ​sun​ ​had​ ​already​ ​fallen,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​moon peeked​ ​over​ ​the​ ​mountains​ ​with​ ​stars.​ ​I​ ​put​ ​my​ ​car​ ​in​ ​park​ ​as​ ​the​ ​surrounding​ ​vehicles came​ ​to​ ​a​ ​halt.​ ​I​ ​turned​ ​up​ ​my​ ​radio,​ ​blasting​ ​Kansas​ ​through​ ​the​ ​car.​ ​Reaching​ ​in​ ​the​ ​glove compartment​, I​ ​popped​ ​open​ ​an​ ​extra​ ​pill​ ​bottle and​ ​gulped​ ​down​ ​a​ ​few.​ ​They​ ​don’t​ ​go​ ​bad right?​ ​My​ ​eyes​ ​darted​ ​to​ ​the​ ​radio​ ​as​ ​a​ ​familiar​ ​song​ ​came​ ​on.​ ​Colin​ ​and​ ​I​ ​used​ ​to​ ​sing​ ​this all​ ​the​ ​time.​ ​Guns​ ​‘n​ ​Roses,​ ​“Every​ ​Rose​ ​Has​ ​Its​ ​Thorn.”​ ​I​ ​groaned​ ​and​ ​shut​ ​it​ ​off,​ ​growing​ ​tired of​ ​everything​ ​that​ ​reminded​ ​me​ ​of​ ​him.​ ​I​ ​took​ ​the​ ​car​ ​out​ ​of​ ​park​ ​and​ ​sped​ ​down​ ​the highway.

I​ ​ended​ ​my​ ​night​ ​on​ ​the​ ​couch​ ​watching​ ​reality​ ​tv.​ ​Howell​ ​lay​ ​next​ ​to​ ​me​ ​staring​ ​up at​ ​the​ ​moon,​ ​howling​ ​at​ ​it.​ ​I​ ​pet​ ​him​, ​keeping​ ​him​ ​quiet​ ​for​ ​a​ ​moment.​ ​He​ ​walked​ ​over​ ​to​ ​the door​ ​and​ ​started​ ​barking.​ ​I​ ​looked​ ​back​ ​and​ ​groaned​ ​lazily.​ ​“Howell,​ ​what’s​ ​wrong?”​ ​I pushed​ ​myself​ ​off​ ​the​ ​couch​ ​and​ ​walked​ ​to​ ​the​ ​door.​ ​I​ ​opened​ ​the​ ​door​ ​to​ ​a​ ​cold​ ​snowy street.​ ​Howell​ ​growled​ ​at​ ​the​ ​street,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​stared​ ​at​ ​it​ ​tentatively.​ ​In​ ​the​ ​dark,​ ​hidden​ ​by broken​ ​street​ ​lights​ ​and​ ​a​ ​faded​ ​moon​ ​stood​ ​a​ ​tall​ ​silhouette​ ​facing​ ​me.​ ​Its​ ​featureless​ ​face looked​ ​back​ ​at​ ​me​ ​unmoving.​ ​I​ ​slowly​ ​closed​ ​my​ ​door​ ​and​ ​locked​ ​it.​ ​Howell​ ​stopped growling​ ​and​ ​whimpered,​ ​running​ ​back​ ​on​ ​the​ ​couch.​ ​I​ ​went​ ​to​ ​bed​ ​unsettled​ ​that​ ​night.

I​ ​was​ ​alone​ ​that​ ​Christmas.​ ​Howell​ ​and​ ​I​ ​stood​ ​in​ ​the​ ​snow.​ ​I​ ​sat​ ​by​ ​a​ ​fire​ ​while​ ​he trotted​ ​through it ​digging​ ​holes​ ​that​ ​almost​ ​immediately​ ​got​ ​refilled​ ​by​ ​snow.​ ​We went​ ​inside​ ​at half​ ​past​ ​five,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​made​ ​a​ ​small​ ​ham​ ​and​ ​biscuits.​ ​Howell​ ​joined​ ​me​ ​in​ ​the kitchen​ ​drooling​ ​over​ ​the​ ​ham.​ ​I​ ​began​ ​cutting​ ​into​ ​it​ ​and​ ​tossed​ ​him​ ​slice​ ​patting​ ​him​ ​on the​ ​head.​ ​I​ ​began​ ​cutting​ ​my​ ​own​ ​slice​ ​and​ ​jumped​ ​at​ ​the​ ​sound​ ​of​ ​my​ ​doorbell.​ ​Howell immediately​ ​jumped​ ​up​ ​and​ ​barked​ ​at​ ​the​ ​door.​ ​I​ ​wiped​ ​my​ ​hands​ ​and​ ​walked​ ​to​ ​the​ ​door.

“Hello?”​ ​I​ ​stood​ ​still​ ​staring​ ​at​ ​the​ ​mysterious​ ​figure​ ​that​ ​I’d​ ​seen​ ​for​ ​the​ ​past​ ​month.​ ​Their green​ ​eyes​ ​looked​ ​at​ ​me.​ ​Their​ ​hands​ ​squeezed​ ​their​ ​pockets​ ​tightly​ ​and​ ​their​ ​face​ ​looked frozen​ ​against​ ​the​ ​cold​ ​December​ ​wind.​ ​They​ ​smiled​ ​at​ ​me​ ​and​ ​walked​ ​closer​ ​to​ ​the​ ​screen door.​ ​​This​ ​isn’t​ ​happening.​ ​​I​ ​thought.​ ​“I​ ​don’t–”​ ​And my​ ​porch​ ​light​ ​caught​ ​the​ ​features​ ​of​ ​his​ ​face and​ ​my​ ​heart​ ​stopped.

“Hey​ ​Sammy,​ ​I​ ​can’t​ ​find​ ​Amy​ ​or​ ​Chloe.​ ​So​ ​I​ ​thought​ ​I’d​ ​come​ ​by​ ​and​ ​hang​ ​out​ ​with you​ ​for​ ​Christmas.​ ​Let​ ​me​ ​in?”​ ​Colin’s​ ​familiar​ ​voice​ ​rang​ ​in​ ​my​ ​ears,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​shook​ ​away​ ​the dazed feeling.​ ​I​ ​stared​ ​at​ ​him.​ ​“C’mon​ ​Sam,​ ​it’s​ ​cold​ ​out​ ​here.”​ ​I​ ​nodded​ ​my​ ​head​ ​and stumbled​ ​over​ ​my​ ​words.

“Y-yeah​ ​yeah,​ ​sure​ ​Colin.​ ​I​ ​just​ ​didn’t​ ​think​ ​I’d​ ​see​ ​you​ ​again.”​ ​I​ ​opened​ ​the​ ​door​ ​and Howell​ ​cried​ ​out​ ​to​ ​the​ ​moon.​ ​Colin​ ​howled​ ​back​ ​and​ ​laughed​ ​petting​ ​his​ ​head.

“Again?”​ ​He​ ​turned​ ​back​ ​to​ ​me​ ​and​ ​blasted​ ​some​ ​Christmas​ ​music.

“What?​ ​Oh​ ​nothing.​ ​What’s​ ​up?”​ ​I​ ​sat​ ​down​ ​on​ ​my​ ​couch​ ​dazed​ ​and​ ​confused.

“Nothing,​ ​I​ ​just​ ​thought​ ​I’d​ ​bring​ ​you​ ​a​ ​Christmas​ ​gift: ​me.”​ ​I​ ​laughed.​ ​This​ ​was​ ​a Christmas miracle.​ ​He​ ​took​ ​off​ ​his​ ​coat​ ​and​ ​sat​ ​back​ ​with​ ​Howell.​ ​We​ ​spent​ ​the​ ​rest​ ​of​ ​the night​ ​talking.​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​know​ ​what​ ​brought​ ​him​ ​here,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​was​ ​my​ ​job​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​him.​

​Colin stayed​ ​in​ ​my​ ​guest​ ​bed​ ​for​ ​the​ ​next​ ​month.​ ​We​ ​didn’t​ ​do​ ​much​ ​besides​ ​catch​ ​up.​ ​He​ ​told​ ​me about​ ​how​ ​he​ ​and​ ​the​ ​family​ ​were​ ​supposed​ ​to​ ​go​ ​to​ ​Brazil​ ​this​ ​season​ ​but​ ​he​ ​couldn’t find​ ​Amy.​ ​He​ ​told​ ​me​ ​that​ ​he​ ​was​ ​being​ ​kept​ ​in​ ​the​ ​hospital.​ ​He​ ​could​ ​hear​ ​us​ ​talking​ ​about him.​ ​He​ ​could​ ​hear​ ​Chloe​ ​asking​ ​for​ ​him​ – ​the​ ​things​ ​sent​ ​chills​ ​down​ ​my​ ​back.​

​“I​ ​tried​ ​to​ ​say to​ ​her​, ​I’m​ ​right​ ​here,​ ​baby.​ ​Daddy’s​ ​right​ ​here.​ ​I​ ​screamed​ ​to​ ​you​ ​all​ ​but​ ​it’s​ ​like​ ​I​ ​didn’t​ ​even exist.​ ​I​ ​didn’t​ ​leave​ ​until​ ​Thanksgiving​ ​day.​ ​So​ ​I​ ​went​ ​home.​ ​No​ ​one​ ​was​ ​there.​ ​I​ ​saw​ ​a vacant​ ​house​ ​with​ ​a​ ​“For​ Sale”​ ​sign​ ​laying​ ​in​ ​the​ ​front​ ​yard.​ ​So​ ​I​ ​came​ ​here​ ​and​ ​no​ ​one​ ​was home.​ ​Where​ ​were​ ​you?”​ ​I​ ​stayed​ ​silent​ ​and​ ​he​ ​sighed.​ ​“It​ ​doesn’t​ ​matter.​ ​But​ ​I​ ​would​ ​like to​ ​see​ ​Chloe​ ​again.​ ​Take​ ​me​ ​to​ ​her?”​ ​

I​ ​smiled​ ​and​ ​sighed. “Uh​ ​s-sure.​ ​I’m​ ​sure​ ​she’d​ ​be​ ​overjoyed​ ​to​ ​see​ ​you​ ​again,​ ​Colin.”​ ​He​ ​gave​ ​a​ ​toothy smile​ ​and​ ​started​ ​singing​ ​off​ ​key​ ​but​ ​cheerfully.​ ​I​ ​joined​ ​him​, ​and​ ​before​ ​we​ ​knew​ ​it​ ​Howell was​ ​singing​ ​along​ ​too​ ​joining​ ​us​ ​in​ ​imperfect​ ​harmony.

That​ ​Valentine’s​ ​Day​ ​Colin​ ​and​ ​I​ ​made​ ​it​ ​apparent​ ​that​ ​he​ ​was​ ​going​ ​to​ ​see​ ​his family.​ ​I​ ​called​ ​up​ ​Amy​ ​and​ ​told​ ​her​ ​I​ ​had​ ​a​ ​surprise​ ​and​ ​to​ ​bring​ ​Chloe​ ​over.​ ​They​ ​got​ ​there within​ ​the​ ​hour.​ ​I​ ​greeted​ ​Chloe​ ​with​ ​a​ ​kiss​ ​on​ ​the​ ​cheek​ ​and​ ​a​ ​big​ ​hug.​ ​Same​ ​for​ ​Amy. “C’mon​ ​you’re​ ​gonna​ ​love​ ​this,”​ ​Chloe​ ​ran​ ​with​ ​me​ ​laughing​ ​and​ ​jumping​ ​excitedly.​ ​

When they​ ​saw​ ​him​ ​they​ ​froze.​ ​Amy​ ​grabbed​ ​Chloe’s​ ​hand​ ​in​ ​fear​ ​and​ ​looked​ ​at​ ​me​ ​in​ ​fury.​ ​“It’s him,​ ​he’s​ ​back.”​ ​I​ ​smiled.

“This​ ​is​ ​unholy.​ ​It’s​ ​wrong.​ ​That’s​ ​not​ ​Colin.”​ ​She​ ​marked​ ​a​ ​cross​ ​on​ ​herself.

“Mommy,​ ​look​ ​it’s​ ​Daddy.​ ​Sammy​ ​was​ ​just​ ​hiding​ ​him.”​ ​She​ ​laughed​ ​and​ ​ran​ ​to​ ​him.​ ​I smiled​ ​as​ ​Colin​ ​leaned​ ​down​ ​and​ ​hugged​ ​her​ ​tight.​ ​“Daddy,​ ​I​ ​missed​ ​you.​ ​At​ ​least​ ​tell​ ​me when​ ​you’re​ ​dead​ ​alright?”​ ​He​ ​chuckled​ ​in​ ​confusion.

“I​ ​missed​ ​you​ ​too​ ​baby.​ ​I​ ​missed​ ​Mommy​ ​and​ ​Chloe​ ​so​ ​much.”​ ​Tears​ ​fell​ ​from​ ​his eyes​ ​as​ ​he​ ​looked​ ​up​ ​at​ ​Amy.​ ​She​ ​traded​ ​looks​ ​with​ ​him,​ ​then​ ​me,​ ​and​ ​Colin​ ​again.​ ​She finally​ ​gave​ ​in​ ​and​ ​hugged​ ​him.​ ​Tears​ ​flew​ ​from​ ​her​ ​eyes.​ ​“I​ ​missed​ ​my​ ​beautiful​ ​girls​ ​so much.​ ​Don’t​ ​ever​ ​leave​ ​me​ ​again.”

“You​ ​don’t​ ​ever​ ​leave​ ​us​ ​again,​ ​okay​ ​Colin?”​ ​Amy​ ​said​ ​through​ ​sobs.​ ​He​ ​hugged​ ​them tighter.

Later​ ​in​ ​the​ ​evening​ ​Amy​ ​and​ ​I​ ​went​ ​to​ ​my​ ​room​ ​to​ ​talk.​ ​I​ ​closed​ ​the​ ​door​ ​and​ ​sat​ ​on my​ ​bed.​ ​

“Alright​ ​Sam,​ ​spill​ ​it.”​ ​

I​ ​shot​ ​a​ ​face​ ​of​ ​confusion. “Spill​ ​what?​ ​He’s​ ​back​ ​that’s​ ​all​ ​there​ ​is​ ​to​ ​it.”

“What​ ​did​ ​you​ ​do?​ ​Praying,​ ​voodoo,​ ​or​ ​was​ ​it​ ​just​ ​some​ ​universe​ ​screw​ ​up?”

“I​ ​didn’t​ ​do​ ​anything.​ ​He​ ​came​ ​to​ ​my​ ​house​ ​on​ ​Christmas.”

“Christmas?​ ​You’ve​ ​been​ ​hiding​ ​him​ ​from​ ​me​ ​since​ ​last​ ​year?”​ ​I​ ​shrugged​ ​and​ ​she began​ ​pacing​ ​around​ ​the​ ​room.​ ​“I​ ​can’t​ ​do​ ​this,​ ​Sam.​ ​I​ ​finally​ ​got​ ​my​ ​life​ ​together​ ​after everything.​ ​What​ ​the​ ​hell​ ​am​ ​I​ ​gonna​ ​do?”​ ​She​ ​started​ ​to​ ​cry.

“I​ ​don’t​ ​know​ ​Amy.​ ​But​ ​do​ ​what’s​ ​best​ ​for​ ​Chloe.​ ​I​ ​think​ ​you​ ​know​ ​what​ ​that​ ​is.”​ ​I twiddled​ ​my​ ​thumbs.

“I​ ​can’t​ ​do​ ​that,​ ​Sam.​ ​Brandon​ ​and​ ​Daniel​ ​and​ ​August​ ​they​ ​are​ ​a part​ ​of​ ​my​ ​life​ ​and​ ​I can’t​ ​leave​ ​them.​ ​Even​ ​if​ ​I​ ​could​ ​go​ ​back​ ​to​ ​my​ ​perfect​ ​life.”​ ​She​ ​sat​ ​down​ ​and​ ​cried​ ​in​ ​my arms.​ ​What​ ​did​ ​she​ ​want​ ​me​ ​to​ ​say? There​ ​was​ ​nothing​ ​that​ ​could​ ​be​ ​done.

“I’m​ ​sorry.”​ ​I​ ​said.​ ​“This​ ​is​ ​all​ ​my​ ​fault.​ ​If​ ​I​ ​had​ ​never​ ​shown​ ​you​ ​two…​ ​I​ ​just​ ​feel​ ​like everyone​ ​is​ ​learning​ ​to​ ​cope​ ​with​ ​his​ ​death.​ ​And​ ​I….I​ ​just​ ​can’t.​ ​You’re​ ​all​ ​moving​ ​on,​ ​but​ ​I can’t.​ ​So​ ​why​ ​can’t​ ​I​ ​just​ ​deal​ ​with​ ​it​ ​like​ ​the​ ​rest​ ​of​ ​you?”​ ​I​ ​began​ ​crying​ ​too.​ ​I​ ​couldn’t​ ​keep doing​ ​it.​ ​My​ ​life​ ​wasn’t​ ​getting​ ​any​ ​better​ ​without​ ​him,​ ​but​ ​it’d​ ​ruin​ ​everyone​ ​else’s​ ​with him​ ​there.​ ​I​ ​shouldn’t​ ​have​ ​brought​ ​her​ ​here.

“No.​ ​Sammy​ ​it’s​ ​okay,​ ​I​ ​promise.​ ​We’ll​ ​just​ ​have​ ​to​ ​think​ ​of​ ​something​ ​is​ ​all.”​ ​She smiled​ ​at​ ​me.​ ​Colin​ ​knocked​ ​on​ ​the​ ​door​ ​I​ ​quickly​ ​wiped​ ​my​ ​eyes.

“Guys?​ ​C’mon​, ​Chloe​ ​wants​ ​to​ ​play​ ​charades.”​ ​We​ ​sat​ ​there​ ​for​ ​a​ ​moment.​ ​“What​ ​the hell​ ​is​ ​wrong​ ​with​ ​you​ ​two?”​

​I​ ​laughed. “Nothing​ ​Colin,​ ​just​ ​spreading​ ​rumors​ ​about​ ​you.”​ ​

He​ ​scoffed​ ​and​ ​chuckled. “Back​ ​to​ ​your​ ​college​ ​ways​ ​I​ ​see?”​

​I​ ​laughed. “I​ ​never​ ​left​ ​them.”​ ​We​ ​joined​ ​Chloe​ ​in​ ​the​ ​lounge.

They​ ​left​ ​later​ ​that​ ​night​ ​with​ ​sad​ ​faces.​ ​Colin​ ​tried​ ​to​ ​go​ ​with​ ​them,​ ​but​ ​Amy​ ​and​ ​I came​ ​up​ ​with lies​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​him​ ​here.​ ​He​ ​listened.​ ​He​ ​and​ ​I​ ​stayed​ ​up​ ​with​ ​Howell​ ​until about​ ​three.​ ​“Isn’t​ ​this​ ​something?”​ ​Colin​ ​interrupted​ ​the​ ​silence.

“What​ ​is?”​ ​I​ ​asked​ ​he​ ​turned​ ​to​ ​me.

“Well​, ​this.​ ​Two​ ​best​ ​friends​ ​living​ ​together​ ​after​ ​our​ ​four​ ​years​ ​of​ ​college.​ ​Reunited after ​Amy​ and I ​settle​ ​things.​ ​It’s​ ​destiny.​ ​Fate​ ​even.”

“Those​ ​are​ ​synonyms,”​ ​I​ ​joked.​ ​He​ ​sat​ ​back.​ ​“Besides​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​really​ ​believe​ ​in​ ​fate.​ ​If it​ ​happens,​ ​it​ ​happens –​ ​that’s​ ​my​ ​motto.”

“Ah,​ ​you’re​ ​no​ ​fun.”

“What?!​ ​I​ ​am​ ​so​ ​fun.”​ ​Colin​ ​looked​ ​at​ ​me​ ​questioningly.​ ​I​ ​looked​ ​to​ ​Howell and​ ​even​ ​he​ ​seemed​ ​to​ ​be​ ​mocking​ ​me.

“Okay,​ ​so​ ​if​ ​you’re​ ​so​ ​​fun​, ​​dive​ ​bar.​ ​Right​ ​now.”

“It’s​ ​three​ ​am.”

“That’s​ ​when​ ​all​ ​the​ ​fun​ ​begins! ​Sammy,​ ​c’mon.”​ ​He​ ​nudged​ ​me​ ​and​ ​reached​ ​for​ ​the car​ ​keys.​ He​ ​jangled​ ​them​ ​in​ ​his​ ​hand​, ​and​ ​my​ ​heart​ ​stopped.​ ​I​ ​snatched​ ​them​ ​away.

“No.​ ​I’ve​ ​got​ ​work​ ​tomorrow​ ​anyway.​ ​I’m​ ​gonna​ ​head​ ​to​ ​bed.”​ ​I​ ​got​ ​up​ ​and​ ​closed​ ​my door,​ dragging​ ​my​ ​back​ ​against​ ​it.​ ​My​ ​face​ ​welled​ ​with​ ​tears,​ ​and​ ​my​ ​hands​ ​shook.​ ​That​ ​was one​ ​thing​ ​that​ ​could​ ​never​ ​happen.​ ​It​ ​could​ ​seal​ ​his​ ​fate.

“Don’t​ ​mind​ ​us….”​ ​a​ ​voice​ ​called.​ ​“Just​ ​passing​ ​through.”​ ​It​ ​was​ ​calm​ ​and​ ​quiet.​ ​I​ ​was almost​ ​drawn​ ​to​ ​it.

“Through​ ​what?”​ ​I​ ​whispered​ ​back.

“Your​ ​dream​ ​silly.​ ​I​ ​have​ ​business​ ​to​ ​attend​ ​to.”​ ​I​ ​walked​ ​to​ ​it.

“Like​ ​what?​ ​It’s​ ​a​ ​dream​ ​after​ ​all.” The​ ​voice​ ​seemed​ ​to​ ​draw​ ​near.

“I​ ​have​ ​to​ ​fix​ ​a​ ​mistake​ ​I​ ​made.​ ​It​ ​appears​ ​I’ve​ ​jumped​ ​to​ ​conclusions.”

“I​ ​know​ ​that​ ​feeling.”​ ​I​ ​looked​ ​behind​ ​me​ ​and​ ​an​ ​image​ ​of​ ​a​ ​sleeping​ ​Colin​ ​lay​ ​there.

“What’d​ ​you​ ​do?”​ ​I​ ​asked​​.​ ​They​ ​stayed​ ​silent​ ​for​ ​a​ ​moment;​ ​I​ ​could​ ​almost​ ​feel​ ​them thinking.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​like​ ​a​ ​pulse.

“I-we​ ​tried​ ​to​ ​fix​ ​a​ ​family.​ ​It​ ​didn’t​ ​work​ ​so​ ​I​ ​must​ ​restore​ ​his​ ​fate.”​ ​I​ ​stood​ ​upright.

“His​ ​fate?”​ ​A​ ​cloud​ ​of​ ​whispers​ ​loomed​ ​over​ ​me​ ​and​ ​gradually​ ​got​ ​louder.​ ​I​ ​covered my​ ​ears​ until​ ​they​ ​eventually​ ​hushed​ ​up.​ ​“Whose​ ​fate?”​ ​The​ ​voice​ ​chuckled;​ ​it​ ​was​ ​deep​ ​and subtle.

“I​ ​think​ ​you​ ​know.”​ ​I​ ​tightened​ ​my​ ​body​ ​and​ ​tried​ ​to​ ​find​ ​the​ ​voice.

“What​ ​are​ ​you​ ​gonna​ ​do​ ​to​ ​him?”​ My​ ​breathing​ ​became​ ​strained.

“I​ ​must​ ​fix​ ​the​ ​mistake,”​ ​the​ ​voice​ ​got​ ​quieter.

“Wait,​ ​what​ ​are​ ​you?​ ​Are​ ​you….God?”​ ​I​ ​shuddered.

​​“Just​ ​below​ ​God.​ ​Don’t​ ​you​ ​remember​ ​me,​ ​Sam?​ ​The​ ​last​ ​time​ ​I​ ​was​ ​here,​ ​it​ ​was​ ​the worst ​day​ ​of​ ​the​ ​year.​ ​Who​ ​do​ ​you​ ​think​ ​saved​ ​you?​ ​It​ ​wasn’t​ ​your​ ​time​ ​Sam.” I​ ​stepped​ ​back​ ​in​ ​fear.​ ​I​ ​could​ ​feel​ ​their​ ​bones​ ​creak​ ​almost​ ​like​ ​they​ ​smiled​ ​at​ ​me.​ ​They began​ ​to​ ​drift​ ​away.

“W-wait!​ ​You​ ​don’t​ ​have​ ​to​ ​kill​ ​him.​ ​I-I​ ​can​ ​do​ ​it,”​ ​I​ ​regained​ ​my​ ​confidence.

“Can​ ​you?​ ​Better​ ​than​ ​me?”​ ​the​ ​voice​ ​called​ ​back.

“It’ll​ ​be​ ​another​ ​accident.​ ​Please​ ​just​ ​two​ ​more​ ​weeks,”​ ​I​ ​pleaded.

“Hmm.​ ​I​ ​am​ ​here​ ​for​ ​that​ ​exact​ ​time.​ ​How​ ​about​ ​this: by​ ​February​ ​29​ ​of​ ​this​ ​year, you​ ​must​ ​kill​ ​Colin​.​ ​I​ ​cannot​ ​help​ ​you​, ​and​ ​you​ ​cannot​ ​tell​ ​anyone.​ ​If​ ​you​ ​fail,​ ​Colin​ ​and his​ ​daughter​ ​will​ ​both​ ​be​ ​killed​ ​by​ ​me,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​am​ ​not​ ​a​ ​friend.​ ​For​ ​my​ ​protection,​ ​I​ ​am​ ​going to​ ​hurt​ ​someone​ ​you​ ​love.​ ​Only​ ​temporarily​ ​but​ ​once​ ​you​ ​finish,​ ​they​ ​will​ ​be​ ​back​ ​to normal.​ ​The​ ​world​ ​will​ ​be​ ​back​ ​to​ ​normal,​ ​and​ ​my​ ​job​ ​will​ ​be​ ​done.​ ​So​ ​what​ ​do​ ​you​ ​say,​ ​Sam? Do​ ​we​ ​have​ ​a​ ​deal?”​ ​

My​ ​heart​ ​dropped​ ​as​ ​I​ ​contemplated​ ​what​ ​had​ ​to​ ​be​ ​done.​ ​Could​ ​I​ ​kill Colin​ ​to​ ​save​ ​someone​ ​I​ ​loved?​ ​I​ ​sighed​ ​and​ ​let​ ​out​ ​my​ ​hand. “Deal.”​ ​

Their​ ​bones​ ​creaked​ ​again​ ​and​ ​they​ ​shook​ ​my​ ​hand.​ ​I​ ​jumped​ ​awake​ ​and squeezed​ ​my​ ​bedsheets.​ ​I​ ​immediately​ ​ran​ ​into​ ​the​ ​guest​ ​bedroom​ ​and​ ​found​​ ​Colin​ ​in​ ​deep​ ​sleep.​ ​I​ ​exhaled​ ​and​ ​turned​ ​around.​ ​Howell​ ​jumped​ ​from​ ​the​ ​couch,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​let him​ ​outside.​ ​I​ ​turned​ ​on​ ​the​ ​stove​ ​and​ ​took​ ​out​ ​some​ ​breakfast​ ​food.​ ​The​ ​phone​ ​rang​, ​and​ ​I raced​ ​over​ ​to​ ​it​ ​not​ ​to​ ​wake​ ​Colin.​ ​“Hello?”​ ​I​ ​went​ ​back​ ​to​ ​cracking​ ​eggs.

“Sammy?”​ ​Amy​ ​called​ ​through​ ​tears.​ ​I​ ​shifted​ ​myself​ ​to​ ​pay​ ​attention​ ​to​ ​her.

“Amy​ ​what’s​ ​wrong?​ ​What​ ​happened?”​ ​she​ ​sobbed​ ​louder​ ​and​ ​spoke​ ​through​ ​tears. “Chloe’s​ ​sick.​ ​I​ ​woke​ ​up​ ​this​ ​morning​ ​and​ ​she​ ​was​ ​in​ ​the​ ​bathroom.​ ​Her​ ​face​ ​was covered​ ​in​ ​blood.​ ​The​ ​doctors​ ​are​ ​saying​ ​it’s​ ​a​ ​terminal​ ​illness.”​ ​I​ ​started​ ​to​ ​tear​ up ​myself. This​ ​is​ ​what​ ​the​ ​voice​ ​in​ ​my​ ​dream​ ​was​ ​talking​ ​about.

“No,​ ​this​ ​wasn’t​ ​supposed​ ​to​ ​happen.​ ​She​ ​was​ ​the​ ​one​ ​person​ ​who​ ​was​ ​supposed​ ​to live​ ​on.”​ ​We​ ​both​ ​cried.​ ​I​ ​turned​ ​off​ ​the​ ​stove​ ​and​ ​drove​ ​to​ ​the​ ​hospital.

***********

I’d​ ​been​ ​there​ ​for​ ​almost​ ​two​ ​weeks.​ ​I​ ​had​ ​three​ ​days​ ​to​ ​get​ ​rid​ ​of​ ​Colin​ ​and​ ​save Chloe.​ ​I​ ​had​ ​too​ ​many​ ​sleepless​ ​nights​ ​fighting​ ​over​ ​what​ ​to​ ​do.​ ​The​ ​voice​ ​kept​ ​yelling​ ​at me​ ​to​ ​make​ ​a​ ​decision,​ ​and​ ​every​ ​night​ ​I​ ​cried​ ​out​ ​for​ ​someone​ ​to​ ​help​ ​me.​ ​But​ ​nobody came.

I’d​ ​made​ ​my​ ​decision.​ ​I​ ​couldn’t​ ​keep​ ​living​ ​like​ ​that.​ ​I​ ​remember​ ​the​ ​day​ ​now,​ ​thanks to​ ​the​ ​voice.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​there​ ​watching​ ​me​ on that​ ​leap​ ​year,​ ​four​ ​years​ ​ago.​ ​

I​ ​woke​ ​up late.​ ​I​ ​barely​ ​spoke,​ ​knowing​ ​what​ ​was​ ​coming​ ​for​ ​us,​ ​for​ ​me.​ ​I​ ​couldn’t​ ​tell​ ​anyone. I​ ​just​ ​told​ ​Amy​ ​vaguely​ ​that​ ​Chloe​ ​would​ ​be​ ​okay,​ ​but​ ​she​ ​just​ ​wouldn’t​ ​see​ ​Colin​ ​again.​ ​I waited​ ​until​ ​sundown​ ​and​ ​kissed​ ​Howell​ ​on​ ​the​ ​nose.​ ​I​ ​looked​ ​at​ ​my​ ​photo​ ​wall​ ​again,​ ​but instead​ ​of​ ​crying​ ​in​ ​sorrow,​ ​they​ ​were​ ​tears​ ​of​ ​joy.​ ​I​ ​sighed​ ​and​ ​sniffled.​ ​

Colin​ ​sat​ ​on​ ​the​ ​couch channel​ ​surfing​ ​as​ ​usual.​ ​I​ ​grabbed​ ​my​ ​keys​ ​and​ ​looked​ ​out​ ​at​ ​the​ ​fading​ ​sunlight.​ ​“Hey, Colin,​ ​you​ ​wanna​ ​go​ ​for​ ​a​ ​ride?”