Miss Me Not (Page 7)

Folding the paper in half, I slid it into my textbook so I could add it to all the rest. I was more than certain that it bordered on mentally deranged to keep all the "hate" notes I'd received over the years, but in truth, they kept me centered. It was almost comforting to get one now. I was forgetting all my unspoken promises. Dean was tempting me and the note in my book only highlighted that. I'd ride with him to the service today, but that was all. He didn't have a place in my life, and God knows I didn't have a place in his.


Dean was waiting for me at the end of third period by the entrance to the student parking lot as promised. The rain was still steadily falling, so he was waiting for me off to the side under a small awning. He looked at me somberly when I joined him.

"I didn't bring an umbrella, so we'll have to make a run for it," he said, looking at me for my input.

"I like the rain," I said simply, stepping out from under the awning. The rain cascaded down on me as I dashed across the parking lot, headed for his jeep. Dean caught up easily and grasped my hand in his as I leaped over a puddle in one of the countless potholes that littered the student parking lot. I skidded to a stop after clearing the puddle and looked down at our joined hands before looking up at him. I should have protested the contact. He knew I didn't like to be touched and yet that hadn't stopped him. His eyes held mine. Neither of us flinched as he held my hand loosely in his. I could have pulled away. I could have stuck to my resolve earlier. Instead, I wrapped my fingers around his and held on like I never had before. He smiled slightly before pulling me toward his jeep with my hand safely enveloped in his.

By the time we made it into his vehicle, I was soaking wet and shivering.

"The heat will warm it up in here in a few seconds," Dean said, cupping my chilled hands in his. He blew on them gently while never taking his eyes from mine.

"You know you're seriously breaking my 'no touching' rule," I stated.

"I figured since I'd broken the rules yesterday, I was now exempt from them," he said balefully, finally releasing my fingers so he could put the jeep in reverse.

I looked out my window, biting my lip so I couldn't break yet another rule. Being around him and sticking to my resolve were becoming more and more difficult.

We drove the rest of the way in silence. I was surprised and thankful he didn't ask about the touching thing. He could have. I knew I was a freak of nature. People didn't usually walk around with an invisible shield around them.

"Are you warm yet?" he finally asked, pulling through the open iron gates at St. Frances Cemetery.

"Yeah," I said, pulling a grey sweater out of my bag for the graveside service.

"At least they have tents set up," he said, indicating the two oversized tents filled with white folding chairs that bracketed a smaller tent holding a closed casket that was resting on a stand in the center of the tent. Mourners were already filling the wooden chairs that sat on the sodden grass. A couple that looked to be my parents' age sat in the front row, sandwiched between a set of elderly people who were obviously grandparents. The woman in the middle, most likely Mitch's mom, sat sobbing as she gripped the hands of those beside her. It was Mitch's father who hit me like a punch in the gut. His grief was evident as he sat with drooped shoulders beside the sobbing woman, tears coursing down his own cheeks. I had never seen a man cry before.

I gulped silently, looking at the living proof of Mitch's last decision in front of me. If Mitch hadn't beaten me to the punch, this could have been me. It would have been me. The moment seemed so final. A box was all that remained of him.

"You okay?" Dean asked.

"Uh, yeah," I answered, realizing I had stopped in the rain ten feet or so from the enclosures.

"You sure?" he asked, looking concerned.

I nodded, heading for the last row of seats in the tent that sat to the left of the casket. Dean sat next to me and rested his arm along the back of my chair. I didn't protest. Breaking the rules was suddenly the last thing I was worried about as I watched the grieving adults in front of me. Was this how my moment would have been? Would people have grieved for me? I'd always assumed I'd leave the Earth much the way I lived on it. Invisible. This went beyond the fake grief I'd observed in class three days ago. This went deeper to the core. Why did Mitch decide to end his life? It seemed evident his parents cared for him greatly. I knew my reasons, and I sort of knew James's reasons, but what about Mitch?

The seats around us filled up as people hurried under the dry enclosures to escape the rain that kept up its relentless flow. If I believed in God, I would have said that surely the angels must have been weeping over the lost soul. But I didn't.

Once the seats were all occupied, the minster stepped to the podium where a microphone was set up.

"Today is a grievous day on both heaven and earth. Suicide is an epidemic. One out of every five teenagers has thought of committing suicide, and at least one out of every twelve has attempted it. Statistics like this scare me. For the failure is ours. As the family's minister, I accept full blame for this tragic loss. Over the last few days, I've prayed about my part in this senseless tragedy. What if I would have engaged Mitch more often? What if I would have added teenage depression in my sermons? What if I would have set up family counseling at the sanctuary? But what ifs don't change anything today. Mitch's death is a tragedy that cannot be undone. All we can do is learn from the experience, pray for the soul that was lost to us all and accept God's comfort."

The rest of his words were lost on me as I mulled over what he said. Would anyone blame themselves for my death? Everything suddenly seemed so complicated.

The family minster was replaced at the podium by Mitch's father who wound up breaking down when he discussed the chasm between him and his son that had moved in over the years. After he was led back to his seat, Mitch's grandfather took over the podium and talked about the summers Mitch would spend with him and his wife. Summers filled with fishing, working on old cars and learning to farm. He became choked up when he talked about summer nights on the porch, drinking lemonade from Mason jars and watching the fireflies together. The setting he described seemed to belong in a different era and endeared him. I wanted a summer filled with porch swings, lemonade and fireflies.

The minster took the podium back again once Mitch's grandfather had resumed his seat.

"Our last speaker today will be Mitch's best friend from grade school," he said, indicating someone in our section.

I swallowed my gasp of surprise as Dean stood up beside me and made his way to the podium. He stopped on his way to shake Mitch's dad's hand and hug his mom who had stood to greet him. My mind was reeling as I watched Dean embrace her. How had I not known? Why didn't he say anything? I recalled his words from yesterday when we were sitting under the tree he'd shown me about it being a tough week.

After a moment, Dean released Mitch's mom and stepped up to the microphone. He removed a folded up piece of paper from his wallet and slowly opened it, smoothing out the wrinkles. "Mitch and I became best friends in preschool," Dean said into the microphone, clearing his throat slightly. "Our friendship was forged over our passion for superheroes. The majority of our days were spent reenacting scenes from our favorite shows, much to the horror of those around us. We swore one day we'd grow up and become real-life heroes. We were inseparable all through grade school and knew everything about each other." Dean cleared his throat again and looked down.

I felt a strange hiccup-like sensation in my heart as I realized he was fighting to hold back his own tears.

After a moment, he continued. "When we entered junior high though, our superhero days were long forgotten and other activities took its place. Sports became my new passion, while Mitch drifted toward his own interests. Before we knew it, we were no longer hanging out. It's been years since I'd talked to Mitch, and somewhere along the way, I no longer knew his secrets. I wish I could rewind time. Like Pastor John stated, I'm also filled with what ifs. What if I had known? Would I have been able to change his mind? I'm filled with sadness, and I'm deeply sorry I didn't know that Mitch needed help," he finished with red eyes.

My eyes were swimming in unshed tears as I watched him leave the podium and embrace a couple who were sitting in the second row. He talked briefly with them, wiping his eyes before nodding his head toward me. I looked down, letting my hair hide my face from the scrutiny of the couple who had to be his parents. After a moment, he once again claimed the seat next to me. I kept my head down, confused about the events that had just transpired. I wanted to leave.

The rest of the service passed in a blur, and before I knew it they were lowering the casket into the ground. White daisies were passed around and the mourners lined up to pay their last respects by dropping their daisies on top of the casket. It seemed fitting that daisies were picked to send Mitch off. I'd always considered daisies a flower that represented the sun with its petals that stretched out much like sunbeams did. In my world that was filled with darkness and shadows, daisies represented the light I missed the most. I wonder if it had been the same for Mitch.

Dean and I were separated as mourners from both tents crowded together. I held back on the fringes, taking my opportunity when I was sure no one was watching to leave the graveside and head for the main road outside the gates, still clutching the white daisy in my hand. Once I hit the sidewalk, I picked up my pace, anxious to put as much space as I could between me and the scene I had just fled. I was thankful that the rain had finally relented. Multiple puddles left my shoes and the hem of my dress soaking wet as I splashed along in my haste to get away. A block from the cemetery, a transit bus pulled up to a stop near me and I gratefully hopped on. I fed a couple dollar bills into the machine at the front and sank down in the seat behind the driver. My knees bounced anxiously up and down as I silently urged the bus to move faster. I had one destination in mind and I was antsy to get there.

After a ten-minute ride, we finally arrived. I hurried down the bus steps and crossed the street without slowing down. My head was fuzzy and my chest pounded. My labored breathing became more and more erratic. I felt like a ticking time bomb on the verge of exploding. Finally reaching my destination, I sank down on the sodden grass, not caring about the back of my dress that was getting soaked through. I looked up at the branches of my tree, willing my breathing to return back to normal. The day's events were a jumbled mess in my head. Dean's sudden interest in me became crystal clear. He obviously felt a great deal of guilt over Mitch's death and had decided to make me his pet project. I guess he felt he had failed his friend and could somehow make amends for that by saving me. What he didn't realize was that Mitch had already done that.

Mitch. If there really is a Heaven or hell, is he sitting there now, aware of the profound way he has suddenly affected my life? Did he believe as I did that he could leave this world without anyone caring, like a disappearing shadow? It's cryptic, but I wish I could talk to him now to ask him if he could go back in time, would he do it again, knowing how much he was missed? I wondered now about my own legacy. Would I really be missed? Would Dean miss me? I looked down at the flower that was still clutched in my hand and began plucking off the petals. "Miss me, miss me not."

I lost track of time in my sanctuary, watching the petals float away in the gentle breeze. My hair was fanned out on the cold wet ground beneath me, but I was too emotionally spent to move. I wished I hadn't left my sweater on my chair at the cemetery, but I could deal with physical discomfort. I wasn't surprised when I heard a set of footsteps on the sidewalk heading toward me. I had been expecting him. He already knew me well enough that I would seek out the refuge that was his. It was time to nip this in the bud. Once he realized he didn't need to save me, he could walk away. Our relationship would fizzle out before it ever started. It would be better that way.

Chapter Eight

"Nice disappearing act," he said, sitting beside me on the damp grass.

I sat up and studied him. His eyes were still red and slightly swollen. I could have offered comfort, but it would have defeated my plan.

"Why didn't you tell me?" I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders. "I guess because I was ashamed to admit I let him down," he finally said.

"It was his decision."

"I could have changed his mind."

"How? By reverting back to a friendship that died years ago?" I said harshly, needing him to understand that he didn't hold the cards.

He reared back at my words like I had sucker-punched him. "Maybe," he finally answered.

"It wouldn't have fixed the hole in him," I said, suddenly agitated as I stood up and started pacing back and forth.

"How do you know? It might have helped. At least he would have had someone he could talk to," he said almost angrily, jumping to his feet also. "Having someone to lean on has to help."

"Having someone to talk to doesn't help the hole if you're not the cause of it," I said, turning on him. "You can't fix something you didn't break!"

"I can help," he pleaded.

"I don't need to be a pet project of yours," I said in a voice dripping with venom.

He didn't deny my accusation. All the wind was knocked out of my sails and I forgot to breath. I wanted to be wrong. I had actually hoped it was something else.

Without another word, I turned and stalked away. He reached out and snagged my arm with his hand before I could move more than a few steps.

"You're not a project," he said through clenched teeth.

"Really," I said sarcastically, trying to ignore the hurt that raced through me.

He sighed, dropping his hand down so that he held my hand loosely in his. "It might have started that way. I've watched you over the last few years. I know you're a loner like Mitch was. I made halfhearted attempts to include Mitch over the years. Halfhearted asshole attempts. I knew he didn't fit in with my normal group, but I didn't care enough to make the time for him. Everything else was so much more important. I hate myself for that. I'm the selfish jerk who couldn't take the time to find common ground for an old friend until it was too late," he said earnestly, finally releasing my hand. "When you showed up for tutoring, I felt it was a sign. I could redeem myself. But with you, I didn't need to search for common ground, you intrigued me from the moment you sat down."

I stood like a rock, listening to his confession of guilt. I wanted to move, to be indifferent, but his words kept me anchored in place.