Alyson was 28 when she died. It was dark the morning of her funeral. Only fitting, thought Abigail. Abigail got dressed in her black dress and her black heels. She looked at herself in her bedroom mirror. She meant to frown but she couldn’t even bring herself to exert that much energy. She hadn’t slept in her childhood bedroom in almost 10 years, and it felt weird being back. But really it just felt weird being back without Alyson there. The bedroom looked almost the same as it had ten years ago when the girls left for college. Abigail never returned to her childhood home for anything more than a day visit. But Alyson, on the other hand, lasted approximately 17 days at college before dropping out and returning home to live with her parents. It was a lot longer than Abigail thought her sister would last, and she gave her credit for even attempting to leave home at all.

The death was unexpected. Aren’t all deaths unexpected, though? Abigail was terribly sad for the loss of her sister, for the grief that her parents must be feeling. But mostly, she just felt guilt. Maybe if she had called her sister that day, or taken her out to lunch even… She tried to remember the last conversation that she had with her. It was an argument. It was always an argument. She hated herself for it. She hated Alyson for it, too. She hated her parents, hell she hated her whole life and everyone in it! But mainly she just hated herself. She wasn’t as strong as she once believed she was. In fact, she was quite the coward. She submitted to what her life had become, a planet in orbit around her sister’s sun. It was easier that way and quite frankly, she didn’t know how to live any other way.

The funny thing, though, was that once Abigail was alone in her bed at night, it wasn’t tears that came down her face. Instead, she found herself wondering what she would do tomorrow. She could go to the movies since she didn’t have a doctor’s appointment to get to anymore. Maybe she would make herself pasta for dinner? She suddenly realized that she had endless time on her hands and no one to report back to. No, wait. This was wrong. She shouldn’t be feeling this. She should be going over and over and over again all of her happy memories with Alyson. Why couldn’t she recall a single one in this moment? An intense feeling of grief suddenly struck her. It was as if there was a pendulum swinging inside of her chest- relief to grief, relief to grief. Each swing making her lose her breath as these thoughts washed over her again and again.

The service was beautiful, some would say. But Abigail knew that Alyson would have been disappointed with her funeral. There were no fireworks, there was no drama. Abigail half expected Alyson to pop out of the casket and scream, “JUST KIDDING!”  The girls’ mother, Francine, had been inconsolable since Alyson’s death. Francine had been the one to come home first that night. It was a Thursday. She thought it weird that Alyson hadn’t texted her since lunchtime, but maybe her daughter had become engrossed with some television show. Typically, Alyson didn’t go more than two hours without contacting her mother with some problem to solve or some conflict to complain about it. Francine enjoyed being needed, and Alyson needed someone. They enabled each other in all of the worst ways.

Francine got the mail from the mailbox as she entered the house. She called out for Alyson, “Honey, what would you like for dinner tonight? I’m pretty tired today, how about just ordering some pizza?” There was no response. “Honey? Where are you?” She looked in the living room first, empty. Then she climbed the stairs to her daughter’s bedroom, but it was empty, too. She went into her own bedroom next. “Alyson?” There she was, lying on her bed motionless with a gun in her hand. Francine screamed and ran to her daughter, but her body was cold. She knew she was too late. Francine crumbled to the floor, sobbing harder than she had ever sobbed before, “My baby! No! Why would you do this! Baby, no! Mommy loves you! No!” She couldn’t pick herself up from the floor. It was as if she was immobilized. She couldn’t call the police. She wasn’t going to call George or Abigail or anyone. Once she uttered the words, it would be real and her baby would be dead. Her beautiful, intelligent, kind-hearted, baby would be dead and she couldn’t let that be real. She succumbed to her hysteria. She slid down the side of the bed until she was sitting on the floor propped up by the night stand. She held on to her child’s hand and pressed it against her own cheek as tears slid down her face.

George came home a little before 11 that night. All of the lights were on in the house but he didn’t hear his wife’s or his daughter’s voices, or even the voices from the television. Typically they were both in bed when he stumbled home drunk. He didn’t make a habit of doing this, only a couple of times a week. His buddies were envious of his freedom. George was envious that they didn’t have a need for freedom. He didn’t share the details of his home life. He got to be someone else when he was with these people. He was fun. He made people laugh. He wasn’t the apathetic asshole he transformed into as soon as he walked into his front door every evening.

George stumbled upstairs and found his daughter in a puddle of blood lying on his own bed. He found his wife clutching his daughter’s hand sitting on the floor beneath the bed, staring off into space. He screamed, “Francie! Oh my God! What has happened? Why didn’t you call me?! How did you let this happen?! We have to call 911 right now! Francie!”

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