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  • The house windows glow against the gathering darkness and I stare longingly at their brightness, wanting nothing more than to escape behind them. Instead, I’m frozen in the front passenger seat, avoiding eye contact, held fast by guilt.

    Nate stares at his lap. Even with his shoulders slumped he is so tall his hair brushes the roof of the car.

    “That night was so hard,” he says. “I know you explained, but I can’t remember so much of what you said.”

    Choosing to end it the night before my trip, three months ago, so I could run away afterward had been cruel and cowardly and I know it so I only nod. I can’t change it now.

    “When people asked, I couldn’t really tell them why.”

    I nod again, knowing no explanation could make it easier.

    “Can you explain,” he pleads. “Again?”

    I clench my teeth and swallow. “I need to be alone.”


    “I just need to be by myself. I have things to do.”

    “I guess I hoped when you got back, you might have changed your mind.”

    “I haven’t.”

    Nate takes a deep breath. “It’s just that my dad liked you so much.”

    “I know.” I stare past him. “I liked him too.”

    It’s been a year, but the night we found out is burned in my memory.

    I’d jolted awake in bed, startled by the ringing. Nate was silhouetted on my right, bolt upright too, his cell phone glowing, tinging his face ghostly blue.

    “It’s my mom.” He glanced at me before answering, as we silently asked the same question: why would she call at three a.m.?


    Her voice jumped from the phone, too loud in the still darkness. “There was an accident, with your dad, Nate. He’s dead.”

    Nate was up and dressed before I’d even moved.

    “I’m going,” he said.


    His car roared to life and the world resumed its silence. Then I realized I should have gone with him.

    For the next three hours, I waited and worried. I worried as if it could help, as if there were still something to hope for, as if the worst hadn’t already happened. It was still dark when the alarm rang at six.

    Shower, dress, breakfast, feed Kitty, catch the bus. I arrived right on time, because what else was I supposed to do?

    Work was a slow, failed attempt at cheery customer service. My manager told me to go but I stayed, saying I needed the distraction. I couldn’t explain why I didn’t want to be with Nate’s family, why I would feel like an intruder.

    Over the next days, the tragedy engulfed us. I sat with Nate, his mom, brother, sister and her boyfriend as they discussed his death, how he’d been driving home, down the Malahat, and a truck carrying a man and his teen daughter had veered into the wrong lane, instantly killing everyone. I sat in the front row of a funeral hall so crowded they needed two overflow rooms. Later, I mingled awkwardly as their house filled with a mass of extended family.

    “You’re part of the family, too,” Nate said, touching my knee reassuringly.

    I only nodded, because how could I say that I knew I could be, but that I didn’t want to be?

    Now, Nate grips the steering wheel in the dark. “I always thought my dad would know the person I end up with. I wanted him to.”

    I fold my arms and lean away, because he isn’t being fair. “Everyone wants that.”

    He stares desperately at me and says, “It hurts to know he never will have known that person.”

    I want to run, jump out of the car and slam the door, scream that we weren’t real, because what right does he have to put that on me? To expect me to stay when I need to go, so that he can hold onto his father?

    I open the car door slowly. I walk into the house. I’d let him believe for too long that we were right together and that hadn’t been fair. But staying can’t lessen his loss and isn’t pretending much crueler?
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