Oscar drives me home after that, and we leave with a last apology to each other, eyes not quite able to meet. It doesn't bother me as much any more - because at least now I know what happens when I step out of my comfort zone. I fuck it all up.
Something inside is off kilter - that's the only diagnosis I can summon. Something was punctured or fractured when Grace jumped, like she half-dragged me down with her, and it's disrupting my ability to be normal. To function normally.
I'm not that late when I walk in, barely by an hour, but my mum creeps into the hallway to question me - and I don't have it in me to be frustrated. Her eyes are small and beady as she rakes in my sopping form, coat splattered with rain, hair still limp from it - this she takes in, but she doesn't see the cloud of my eyes, the way I can't look at her face because I don't want to drag her further down with me.
"Why are you home so late?"
I snap my gaze to the pictures on the wall, eyes focused on laughs and smiles and happy times. I don't want to tell her about Oscar, or about Jenny, because there's nothing to tell - and I don't want her to think they can be replacements for the loss that's crippled us both. It's like trying to stuff a square in a triangular crater - nothing will ever replenish the special place reserved for sister in my heart; it's sealed off to the rest of the world.
"One of the tires on my bike was punctured, I dropped it off at the garage on the way home."
She seems satisfied with this, smiles half-heartedly, nods a little, then pads back into the living room - back to whatever show I can hear from the hallway. And that's the conversation over, the way it's played out for a month. I don't know if she resents me, and that's why when we speak it's stilted and charged with something thick and grimy, or because we're both empty - empty of feeling and empty of words.
So I untie my shoes, toe them off my feet, slip out of my coat - follow the routine. And when everything is in it's place, I drag myself up the stairs feeling as though this, at least, is bearable. It isn't ideal, but it's a place I know. The soft rhythm of home is something I can play, sing along to, something familiar I can work with.
At least, that's what I tell myself as I tread down the landing. Home is something I have to know, or else there's nowhere. No place is free from Grace; nowhere in Summit is free from her smile - a snippet of a memory some time in ancient history. Yet even here her room is like a white hole, spewing out piece after piece of her until her presence fills the house; the four walls brim with it. We're slowly suffocating in it, but it's a weird kind of pain. The pain that draws me in time after time.
That's why I walk straight past my room - the room that I know, the one that never changes - and dive straight inside Grace's. Once the door clicks shuts, who's to say she's gone? It doesn't feel like it here; the room doesn't have the awful chill of death, the one that clings to me most days - it's warm and pleasant like one of her hugs. And her scent still dominates the air, still envelopes me like a spray of perfume, an airy rush of her that clings to the skin like a drench of rain.
It's an odd place to find solace, but her wardrobe is where I clamber nowadays. This is where I feel her, where her smell is a strong as if she were sat next to me. When I pull the door shut, when the light shrinks away into a tiny stream through the crack of the hinge, it's like she could be here. We could be sitting, toe-to-toe, sharing breaths and comfortable silence.
And it's a beautiful lie.
I don't know how long I stay, because in the dark time doesn't conform to the usual rush of seconds - a pace so fast you can't catch your breath half the time. When the dimness enshrouds you, it could be minutes or it could be hours. Or months. Or you could be dreaming.
YOU ARE READING
The Jump That Left Me StrandedTeen Fiction
When Grace Ballard jumped to her death from Mercury Overpass, the whole town halted to a stunned silence. They halted to a stunned silence for all of a few weeks, before things picked up as normal. It's not the same for Natalie, one month in and sh...