1. Breathe

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1. Breathe

                I had never cared about town gossip. It was an unwritten rule that in small towns, people talk. I had learned to ignore under-the-breath whispers. Except for this particular rumor. The one about my father.

               "I heard he shot himself in the heart. Twice."

               "My neighbor told me he chugged down a whole bottle of pills, and then some!"   

               "I heard that the poor guy was so depressed he hung himself in the closet with a belt. His daughter found him hanging there!" another hissed under her breath.

               By now I'd learned it was better to just accept that this was who I was to everyone now. The girl who's father killed himself. It was still fresh, the searing pain of grief. Only two months had passed. I found myself keeled over sometimes, the pain too strong, my tears too persistent to hold in. It left me writhing on the floor in my own sobs, not knowing whether or not I was going to ever be able to stop. And when I was done, done sobbing, done heaving, done feeling anything at all, it would start all over again. The pain. The burning feeling of knowing that someone is gone, truly gone.

               My mother was barely here. Physically, she was right here with me. Mentally, emotionally, physiologically, she couldn't handle this. She was a zombie — fully functioning but not truly alive. I could say the same thing about myself, to be honest.

               When I got home I found her in her bed under the blankets. Sleeping pills were sitting on her nightstand. The sandwich I'd tried to make her eat was still left untouched.

               "Mom," I nudged her. "Mom, are you hungry?"

               "Shh baby," she said her voice hoarse. "I'm trying to sleep."

               I couldn't help myself, "Are you ever going to wake up?" I regretted it. I bit my tongue so I couldn't say anything more. But a "I'm sorry" slipped out soon after.

               She ignored my apology and she tried to hide her hurt by burying her face further into her pillow. I left her room but not before her head a soft kiss, so soft I was positive she hadn't even felt it. And I wanted to tell her I loved her, but I didn't because by the time I had opened my mouth to speak, her snores were back and she was gone.

* * *

               "Caroline."

               "What?" I asked my boss Tyler who had a frown on his face as he looked at me. I worked in a local coffee shop, a job I'd started at the beginning of the summer. Before everything had happened. Before I'd become the girl with the dead dad. Without realizing it, I had been standing in the same place for the last eight minutes staring into a mug of coffee that I had failed to serve to a customer, the dark coffee staring back up at me, mocking me. I put the tips of my fingers to my mouth in surprise and turned to him with an apology already on my lips.

               "Are you okay?" It was something I hadn't expected him to ask. He look concerned but also irritated which sent my nerves haywire.

               "Yes. Yes, of course." An automatic response.

               His dark eyebrows furrowed and his mouth pressed together in a thin line. He sighed heavily. "Look, I hate to do this," he said and he did sound apologetic but not enough to cease my panic. "But, Caroline, I think you should take a break."

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