The Girl Who Cried War
Author: coritherien

Chapter 9
Exploration

April 8, 2008

I’ve always wondered how people overcome tragedies.  I’ve heard stories of parents losing their children in unfortunate ways and I’ve always wondered how people can get over such sorrows. 

Well, I’ve recently been forced to learn how.  The answer is that nobody ever got over it.  Ever.

That probably wasn’t the answer you were looking for.

But it’s the truth.  Tragedies never disappear, you simply…get used to them.  You find ways to cope, ways to live with them.

But it never hurts less.

It’s been two months today.  Two months since my heart broke.  Two months since a huge chapter of my life ended.

It’s been two months since I found out about Nate.

During that first week, I thought life couldn’t get worse.  Carla and I spent the first night in her room, sifting through photos of the two of them as kids on Christmas holidays, on birthdays, on family vacations.  We spent the whole day in tears.

What was potentially worse, though, was Nate’s funeral.  I was forced to stand beside his family in the greeting line, thanking each person that expressed their sincere apologies for our loss when inside, we all felt like we were collapsing. 

The turnout for the funeral was much bigger than anticipated.  The entire town had to be there, and then some.  The ceremony itself, however grand, didn’t feel like Nate.  It was impersonal, cold, military.  The honorary three volley salute sounded.  Horses lined the casket.  The horses on the left had riders but the ones on the right did not.  I’m sure that had significance, but my mind was numbed to it.

A lone, bare-backed horse brought up the rear.  Its boots were facing backwards, toward the stirrups.  I was told it symbolized a fallen rider, a soldier who would never again meet battle. 

They buried his casket with an American flag draped across it.  Honorable. 

But it wasn’t Nate.

They didn’t speak of his passion for poetry, nor did they mention his determination to learn the guitar.  It wasn’t even his body they buried, it was an empty casket.  His remains, they surmised, had been swept away with the wreckage.

The only essence of Nate throughout the entire funeral was the photograph in the front of the church.  It was his senior photo, enlarged and framed in gold.  It was the last time I would see him looking truly happy.  His mop of black hair dipped low, almost into his eyes, and his white teeth sparkled. 

The day passed in a haze for me.  At no point was I actually mentally present, I don’t think.  I wouldn’t allow myself to be.

I was told by the school shrink, who demanded weekly meetings with me, that the funeral would bring about serenity, an acceptance.  A sense of closure. 

He was wrong.

I’d never felt so far away from Nate than I did after his funeral.  I felt no acceptance.  I felt no closure.  I felt only bitter resignation.

The only thing that went my way was how my parents reacted.  Aimee had undertaken the burden of filling them in.  She told them everything, and they didn’t berate me for keeping the relationship from them or urge me to move on or anything.  They let me deal in my own way…partially, I think, because they didn’t understand how much I loved him.

Like I said, I thought that first week in February would be the hardest.  I found, though, that April was proving to be quite the competition. 

It felt like the rest of the world had forgotten, when it was literally all I could think about.  Whenever the threat of happiness or laughter bubbled beneath my skin, Nate would overpower my mind until even smiling felt almost like sin.  But almost everyone, except for Mr. and Mrs. Richards, had apparently moved on. 

Even Carla returned to her lively, excitable persona in public.  I know that when she was shielded by the confines of her home, she gave up with pretending.  In truth, she was miserable.  And though I didn’t understand how she could pretend to be over it, I admired her for it.

Because at least people weren’t avoiding her like the plague.

I didn’t really blame anyone.  They didn’t know how to react around me, I got that.  But it left me no way to distract myself; I had no one to speak to.

I had Aimee, though, and that was most important.  She came back to me as soon as she heard.  She begged for forgiveness, she claimed that she was going to apologize even before she heard about Nate.  I didn’t know if I believed her, but it didn’t matter to me.  She was back, and that was all I cared about.

Tawny was a different matter.  She apologized alongside Aimee, but recently she seemed to be avoiding me along with the rest of them.  She was a loss I didn’t care about nearly as much. 

Mattie, though, had been an absolute rock these past two months.  He didn’t say a word about it, which was like a Godsend to me. 

I hated when people relayed their condolences.  It was a sweet gesture and I appreciated the thought, but it served as nothing but a reminder.

Mattie didn’t do that.  Instead, he filled the days with jokes.  He told me stories, he goofed off, he bent over backwards just to see me smile.  And that meant more to me than any, “I’m sorry,” because it hurt infinitely less. 

12:27 PM.

 

I turned the dial on my locker mechanically, the numbers not even registering in my mind.  Aimee stood next to me, brushing imaginary dust off my shoulder. 

“We should do something tonight,” Aimee ventured, somewhat cautiously.  “Dinner, the movies, whatever!  I’m up for anything you want.”

“Maybe,” I murmured tentatively, distractedly.  “I have to see what homework I’ve got first.  You know.”  I shoved my notebooks away and, grabbing my Euro book, I chanced a glance at her.  She looked hurt, maybe even crestfallen.  My heart clenched. 

“Tell you what,” I amended, “keep Friday night open.  It’ll be just you and me.  We can even have a sleepover if you want.”

Her face lit up.  “I’ll bring The Breakfast Club!” 

I smiled.  That was tradition.  “You better.”

Satisfied, she scurried off to English class.  I vowed to myself to try harder with Aimee, because she was giving me all she had. 

I swung my locker shut, only to jump nearly out of my skin when I saw Mattie standing right behind the door, just like in scary movies.  “My God, Mattie,” I gasped, clutching my heart for effect, “you scared the crap out of me!”

“Yum,” he murmured with laughter in his eyes.  “How ladylike.”

I rolled my eyes.  ‘Ladylike’ wasn’t my thing.  “I’ll get to you in a minute; right now, my heart is in my throat.”

This time he chuckled, deep and guttural.  “So, is it true?”

I glanced at him, brow furrowed.  “Is what true?” 

“Do you really have a lot of homework?”

I sighed.  “I didn’t say I had a lot of homework, I said I might have a lot.  Pay attention Mattie.”

He shoved my shoulder good-naturedly.  “You know what I mean.”

I shrugged.  “I guess it’s true.  I’m not anticipating much homework, but it’s always possible…”

He looked into my eyes then, bolder than I’d ever seen him.  “Then hang out with me.”

I hesitated, and almost took a step back.  “I…Mattie, I don’t know.”

“You know it isn’t homework stopping you.”

I looked down at my shoes.  “I know.”

He hesitated.  His voice softened to a near whisper.  “It’s not something you can change, Erin.  Don’t let it change you.”

I looked up sharply.  He didn’t specify, but he didn’t need to.  We both knew what he was so cleverly dancing around.  “It’s not like I’m feeling this way on purpose,” I spat at him.

He shrank away, hurt registering on his face.  “I—I know, I…”

I closed my eyes.  I really needed to stop jumping on people who were only trying to help.  “I’m sorry, Mattie, I’m sorry.  I know what you meant, and you’re right.  But I can’t help the way I’ve been acting.”

“Try,” he whispered.

I pouted at him.

“Come out with me tonight,” he suggested.  “Or we’ll stay in and have a movie night!  No talking necessary.  Honest.”

I looked into his eyes and opened my mouth to reject him, and then stopped.  Why not?  What was it I was afraid of?  Betraying Nate?  I would never.  Losing him, maybe?

Too late.

“Yes,” I replied before I knew what I was saying.  “What would be the harm in a movie night?”

His face lit up, but I could see him trying to school his features into behaving.  “Cool,” he played it off endearingly.  “My house?  Say, 5?”

I simply nodded.  I didn’t know what I was doing.

He didn’t notice my hesitation.  He grinned, and was gone.

5:06 P.M.

I pulled my car into Mattie’s driveway, a mixture of dread and apprehension bubbling in my stomach.  It was fantastic to actually get out of the house—I’d done nothing but watch Boy Meets World reruns for two months—but I couldn’t help but feel that this meant more to Mattie than it did to me. 

I lifted my arm to knock on his front door, but he beat me to the punch.  It opened before I made contact, like he’d been waiting for me.

I could sense a long night ahead of us. 

“Hi, Erin,” he breathed, a huge grin plastered on his face. 

“Hey, Mattie,” I smiled lightly.  Lifting up the brown paper bag in the crook of my arm, I murmured, “I brought the Dinosaur Crunch.”

He laughed, and stepped back to let me in.  “Perfect,” he exclaimed, “I’ve been dying for some.”  Dinosaur Crunch was simply vanilla ice cream dyed blue and sprinkled with dinosaur shaped hard candies.  Simple, and yet it was a trademark in Cumberland.

Not a soul seemed to be home.  He led the way to his basement, dimmed the lights, and popped in a movie that looked subtly romantic. 

Love Actually,” he explained. 

I blanched and, at a loss for what to do, plopped down on the couch.  I kept telling myself that Mattie was so sweet, he was so kind, he would never do anything wrong.

But how can it be wrong?  In his mind, I was single. 

As the film rolled, Mattie sat beside me, a little too closely.  I crossed my leg in between us to keep a reasonable distance.  The first half hour or so passed by uneventfully enough.  Too soon, though, I felt Mattie’s hand “accidentally” brushing mine.  I wondered when he’d gotten so bold. 

I kept my body as still as possible, leaning as far away from him as I could without raising speculation.  I wasn’t even breathing deeply.  Still, his hand was a wanderer.  Eventually, he bit the bullet and grasped my hand, intertwining our fingers.

I turned to him with every intention of pulling away, reprimanding him, perhaps even throwing a tantrum.  I was sidetracked when his lips smashed into mine.

It was unsettling, uncomfortable, and more than a little baffling.  I hadn’t kissed a boy since Nate left, over 9 months ago, and this was nothing like that.  Kissing Nate had always felt sensual and exciting and…right.  This wasn’t any of that.  It was lifeless and impersonal and more than a little awkward. 

His tongue prodding my lips broke my shock and prompted me to shove him away, perhaps too firmly, but I was making a point.  He fell onto the arm of the couch, clutching his shoulder but I can’t imagine it hurt him as much as it surprised him. 

“Mattie—”

“No, Erin,” he cut me off.  “I know what you’re going to say.  I know you don’t want me, you still want him—”

“Of course I want him,” I all but screeched.  “I will always want him Mattie.  I’ve told you before that I didn’t want this.”

“No, you didn’t,” he persisted, almost desperately.  “No.  When I told you I had feelings for you, there was nothing you could do, because you had just started a new relationship.  But can you truthfully tell me that, now that you’re free, you still feel nothing for me?”

A part of my mind cursed him for his words, wanted to storm and rage, wanted to throw a fit.  That part of me was angry, because he simply didn’t understand.  But his voice was thick with emotion, his throat was tight.  Hysteria mounted around us.  That part of me, that furious, raging part, felt incapable of acting.

“Mattie…”  I didn’t know where to begin.  “It isn’t that I don’t feel for you.  Of course I do—but, Mattie, it’s nothing but platonic.  Aside from Aimee, you are probably my best friend.  So, yes, I feel everything in the world for you but it’s all friendly and I promise you that it will never be anything more.”

His face fell and for a moment, I thought he might cry.  “But why?” he groaned. 

He flung himself off the couch and set into a swerving, unsteady pace.  For the first time, I saw just how much he meant what he said, how much grief I was apparently causing him. 

“If you ‘feel everything in the world for me’, why couldn’t that turn into love?  Where is that written?  Who made those goddamn rules, because I sure as Hell didn’t sign off on anything.” 

He paused, steadying himself by the wall, clutching his chest to calm his breathing.  I had never seen him so emotional.  Mattie never so much as responded to someone curtly.  I thought Hell would’ve burned over before I would ever hear him shout. 

“Mattie, you’re scaring me—”

“Good!” he shouted.  “Good, because this all scares me.  A lot.  The fact that I like somebody very much, somebody I could one day grow to love, who insists she could never like me back is so terrifying that for two years, it tormented me in silence because I dared not bring it up.  If it isn’t spoken, it isn’t real, right?”  He sank to his knees where he stood.  Finally, tears shone in his eyes.  “Why can’t you just let yourself explore it?  A new relationship?  You don’t know what this could be if you’re too hung up on him to find out.  Just give me a shot.”

I knew he didn’t mean it as maliciously as it sounded, but it stung.  Before I knew it, I was kneeling beside him, my mind swaying from anger to sympathy to sorrow so fast it was making me nauseous. 

“Listen to me,” I said at last, firmly.  “I can’t explore it, Mattie.  I can’t explore something that isn’t there.  If I thought I could love you, trust me, I would jump at the chance.  But there is no ‘new relationship’ for me, Mattie, there never will be.”

For a long moment, we sat there, with only his soft weeping to break the silence.  When I thought I couldn’t stand it any longer, he gazed up at me and I was able to peer into his eyes well for the first time since he’d started this rampage.  Emotions flitted through before I had a chance to identify them.  He eventually settled on what appeared to be misery, and perhaps a little fear.

“How do you know?” he whispered.  The fight appeared to have left him.  “How do you know that there’s nothing to explore?”

I closed my eyes away from the horror of explaining all of this.  “I know because that part of my life died with him.”  It was my turn to pace the room, and the bottled emotions from the last two months of ‘moving on’ burst to the forefront.  “When I was with him, even near him, I always knew that nothing could be too bad because he was there.  The sky could’ve been falling but, if Nate was there, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.  I know that sounds stupid, and it’s completely illogical.  But when we were together, every fiber of my being intertwined with his, and I never felt stronger, happier—better.  For a time, I was living for someone other than myself because his happiness mattered infinitely more than mine.  Hell, his happiness was mine.”

The room was a blur.  Either because I was pacing too quickly or because my tears obstructed my vision, I couldn’t be sure.  I couldn’t see Mattie’s face anymore and I couldn’t hear his tears.  All I heard was my own outburst, and I momentarily hated him for rehashing these memories. 

“I have no doubt in my mind that we would have gotten married and started a family one day.  He had such big dreams, but I would have lived in a cardboard box if it meant being with him.  And when those dreams ended, so did that part of my life.  Mattie, you’re going to find someone who can love you back 100%, but it’s not going to be me.  I’m…broken.  I’ll never work right again, I can’t.  You deserve somebody who can devote herself whole-heartedly to you.  But I can’t be that girl.  It’s out of my hands.”

I had unintentionally made my way back to the couch.  I sat limply atop it, curling my legs beneath me and burying my head in my arms.  Mattie lowered himself next to me, resting an arm on my back.  It was his turn to feel uncomfortable.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured, low, his voice nearly a whisper.  “I didn’t mean to insult his memory or anything.  Nate was a really good guy and truth be told, if it couldn’t be me you were with, I’m thankful it was him.  I just, with him…gone…I just hopped that maybe things could be different.”

I opened my mouth to argue but he spoke over me.  “Don’t worry,” he muttered, casting his gaze to the floor, “you made your point.  And I’ll respect it, as much as I hate it.”

I nodded, but worry nagged at my heart.  “I don’t want this to change anything, Mattie,” I whispered, grasping his hand tightly, because I felt him edging away. 

He smiled slightly, but avoided my eyes.  “It won’t,” he murmured.

It was a lie.  We both knew it was an empty promise, one that could never be fulfilled. 

 

Notify me when...

"This extract remains the exclusive property of the author who retains all copyright and other intellectual property rights in the work. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced or used by any person or entity for any purpose without the author's express permission and authority."

Please rate and comment on this work
The writer appreciates your feedback.

Book overall rating (No. of ratings: 
7
):
Would you consider buying this book?
Yes | No
Your rating:
Post a comment Share with a friend
Your first name:
Your email:
Recipient's first name:
Recipient's email:
Message:
 

Worthy of Publishing is against spam. All information submitted here will remain secure, and will not be sold to spammers.

No advertising or promotional content permitted.