I’M HIGH UP IN THE rear balcony of Holy Lady of the Sea, and it is pure agony. There aren’t enough tears in the whole wide world. My sobs echo those of the congregation below me.
There is a brass urn on the white marble altar. And a sea of flowers. Roses and mums and lilies and snapdragons, a cross made of white carnations, wreaths with pink ribbons hanging down the front. So many flowers, even though it’s snowing on the other side of the stained-glass windows.
I don’t know when I got here. I don’t know what day it is. I don’t know the time.
An old lady takes a seat at the organ behind me and begins a sad hymn. Everyone stands up, and the preacher walks somberly down the center aisle, followed by two altar boys holding big wooden crosses. It is a struggle for my mom to keep up. I see her through my tears. Black pencil skirt, black sweater. She can barely stand. Aunt Bette supports her on one side, my father on the other.
I rub my eyes and look again. It’s not my mom. It’s Ms. Holtz. She’s got the same curly hair, same petite frame as Rennie. The two people flanking her I’ve never seen before.
And the huge picture on an easel next to the urn is not one of me. It’s Rennie in a yellow sundress, her hair down and curly and tousled from the offshore breeze. She’s wearing an innocent expression, but she has mischief in her eyes. She looks about fifteen or sixteen. Younger than I remember her ever seeming.
This isn’t my funeral. It’s Rennie’s.
It’s so crowded that ushers have brought in extra folding chairs to put in the aisles and next to the confessionals. That’s where I see Kat. Her father stands behind her. Pat squeezes her hand. I can tell by the way Kat’s shoulders rise and fall that she’s sobbing.
When Ms. Holtz passes the Cho family, she stops and reaches out with a shaky hand to touch Lillia’s shoulder. She wants Lillia to come sit with her in the front pew. Lillia looks nervous, but Mrs. Cho gives her daughter an encouraging nod.
On her way to her new seat, Lillia passes Reeve and his family. His parents and his brothers and their girlfriends. They take up almost the whole row. Reeve’s just had a haircut; the skin on his neck is pink. He’s wearing the suit he wore to homecoming. Lillia doesn’t look at him, and he doesn’t look at her. Reeve starts flipping through a prayer book as she lowers her head and takes her seat.
I scan the rafters, the eaves, and the statuary.
Rennie? Are you here too?
I keep looking around, waiting for Rennie to show up. Only she never does. She’s not here like I am.
What did I do to deserve this? To be stuck on Jar Island for eternity? Was it because I killed myself? I know how stupid it was. I just wanted to make Reeve feel sorry for what he’d done. I wanted to take it back as soon as I jumped off the chair with the rope around my neck, only I couldn’t. It was too late. Can’t God understand that it wasn’t my fault? I never would have done it if it hadn’t been for Reeve. He should be the one punished, not me.
The preacher asks us to bow our heads in prayer. I drop my chin and close my eyes. Please let me leave this place. Let me find a way to heaven. Let me rest in peace.
When I open my eyes again, the church is empty. The lights are out; the flowers are gone.
And I’m all alone.
IF IT WERE A NORMAL day, Nadia and I would be listening to the local morning radio show. She actually laughs at the corny jokes they tell, at the slide-whistle sound effects. I don’t think their banter is very funny, but I do like hearing the celebrity gossip. Sometimes, if they are doing a giveaway or contest, Nadia will call using both our cell phones at the same time to up her chances of winning.
But not today. Not the first day back at school since Rennie died. Today as I drive us, the radio stays off. We ride in silence, except for the swish, swish, swish of the wipers as they push the tiny snowflakes off my windshield.
Nadia tries to peel off her puffer jacket while keeping her seat belt buckled. “Can you turn the heat down? It’s boiling in here.”
I glance at the dashboard. I’ve got the dial set to high, plus my heated seats are cranked. It’s because I can’t get warm. My body’s been cold since I heard the news. “Sorry,” I say.
I pull into a parking spot and watch for a second as everyone slowly marches into school. It’s like a silent movie. No one is talking or joking or laughing. I wonder, will school ever feel normal again, without Rennie here?
I’m sure not.
Sometimes, when I was annoyed with her, I’d tell myself that Rennie wasn’t as big a force as she liked to think she was. That she didn’t hold so much sway, so much power over our school. But now that she’s gone, I know it was true. This place is dead without her.
Nadia unclicks her seat belt. “Do you want me to walk in with you?”
I shake my head. “I’ll be fine.” As Nadia reaches into the backseat for her book bag, I say, “You know, there are supposed to be grief counselors here today. If you feel like talking to anyone. I’ve heard Ms. Chirazo is nice.”
Nadia nods, and she says in a timid voice, “You too, okay?”
I nod and say, “Of course,” but I don’t feel like talking. Not to anybody. I begged my mom to let me stay home sick today. Begged and pleaded. I haven’t been sleeping well. At all, really. I lie in the dark for hours and hours, but I never fall asleep.
I grab Nadi by the sleeve before she’s out of my car. “Hey. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.” I know my voice sounds tired, weak, so I smile to compensate.
The worst part is—I know people will be feeling sorry for me. If only they knew the truth, that Rennie hated me before she died. That I betrayed her worse than anyone else could have. When I close my eyes, I keep seeing flashes of what happened in those last moments together. Her showing Reeve the pictures she’d found of me drugging him at homecoming. Her slapping me across the face. Her sobbing, hating me for betraying her.
And then there’s Mary.
The thought of seeing her today makes me want to crawl into a hole. How am I going to tell her about Reeve? And what, exactly, am I going to say? That I made a mistake but it’s over now? I’ve practiced it in my head so many times, but I still don’t know the right words.
As I walk through the parking lot, I keep my eye out for Kat’s car, but I don’t see it either. I owe her a million phone calls. I’m sure she’s pissed at me too.
I keep waiting for this to turn out to be a bad dream. To wake up and have things be the way they were. I wouldn’t even care if Rennie hated me for the rest of her life for what happened on New Year’s with Reeve. Or if she never spoke to me again. All I want is for her to be alive.