I chuckled and huffed under my breath. “Yeah right.” All eyes flowed to me. My eyes went to Henry, confusion filling them. “You pray?”
“You don’t?” Rebecca jumped in.
I felt like a sinner from her simple question.
The answer was no.
The awkwardness of the situation set in and I came to a strong resolution. I knew nothing about Henry and this family seemed to know everything.
I knew it was stupid, but a part of me was pretty saddened by that. Why was it that you wanted those who ignored you to love you the most?
Henry said a prayer while everyone closed their eyes and held their hands together. Well, almost everyone. I just sat and stared at them all during that time. Ryan never closed his eyes either.
“Amen,” the group muttered together and opened their eyes. They dove into the steak dinner in front of them.
Hailey didn’t have a steak on her plate. She never had any meat at dinnertime. The other day, she told me that killing and eating harmless animals was a terrible act. She said that it was against the natural order of things, that people weren’t supposed to eat meat. So she stopped.
I assumed that she’d never studied the fact that lions never hesitated to eat a gazelle if they were hungry.
“Oh, Ryan and Hailey…don’t forget. You two are teaching Bible study in the morning.” She might not have noticed, but I watched as her two kids rolled their eyes.
Tomorrow was Sunday, which meant that today was Saturday. I’d almost forgotten about my invite to Joe’s bar to hear Mr. Beautiful Eyes perform. And by ‘almost,’ I meant I’d been thinking about it ever since I saw him. I was mostly excited to learn his name, seeing how I had only been calling him Mr. Beautiful Eyes.
“I think I’m going to head upstairs and get ready to go.”
Henry raised an eyebrow. “Go where?”
I gave him an are-you-seriously-concerned-about-my-whereabouts look and he sighed. Then I gave myself an is-he-seriously-not-concerned-about-my-whereabouts sigh.
“I made you a key. It’s hanging in the front hall,” Henry said as I stood up from the table.
Well, that was thoughtful.
All dressed up and ready to go out, I opened the wooden box and pulled out my bucket list, staring at all of the choices. I knew I needed a note from Gabby. I just had to find an easy way to get to one without breaking her rules of just ripping a letter open.
The clock sitting on the dresser read nine thirty p.m. Hailey walked into the room and smiled my way. “Just arrived a few days ago and you’re already trying to leave?” she laughed.
“No…it’s not that. It’s just…”
“Too much change?” she asked, finishing my thought before I’d even thought it.
I nodded and couldn’t help but smile when she stood up and tossed me her keys.
“Take my car. It’s the Ford Focus. I’m not going to ask where you’re going because I’m a terrible liar. And if I had to rat you out, I would feel bad.”
“Thanks.” I picked up a couple of the CDs from my collection to play in her car and prepared to make my exit without running into Rebecca or Henry.
“Welcome. And Ashlyn?” Her voice heightened as she reached for her bottle of facial lotion and started to apply it to her skin. “It’s not so bad here.”
“Yeah. It’s just that I miss there. I’ll be back later.”
In Hailey’s car, I listened to the music blaring from the CD player. I glanced over to the passenger’s seat, and for a split moment, I could have sworn I saw Gabby sitting there singing along with me. Over the past few weeks, it hadn’t been uncommon for me to sit and talk to her as if she really were there, to try and imagine what she would say, how she would comfort me.
“Mom hasn’t called. Whatever… It doesn’t matter. Can you believe that Hailey calls Henry Dad?” I muttered to my invisible sister. “I’m not jealous or anything. It’s just…weird.” I stared at the empty seat and bit my bottom lip.
She didn’t reply.
Because when people died, they took their voices with them. I wondered if they knew how much the people left behind would kill for their sounds one last time.
As I drove down Main Street, I saw that there were a bunch of smokers hanging around outside a bar. Joe’s bar. I pulled over to the curb, put the car in park, and hopped out.
On a chalkboard sign sitting near the door read the words, ‘Live Music. Half-priced shots. $2 beer.’ Blue and purple balloons were tied to the sign. I watched as one of the smokers joked with his friends and untied one of the balloons, releasing it into the hot air. It floated up, up, up and away, allowing the wind to guide its patterns of travel.
I pursed my lips together and blew out a small bit of air toward the flying object. Sometimes I wished it were that easy. To just get up and fly, fly away. Glancing at my bucket list, I read the one that I was hoping to accomplish that night.
#14. Dance on a bar.
I could do that—even if I really didn’t want to—if it meant a letter from my sister.
The doorman looked at me, checked my ID, and put a big, ugly black stamp on my hand—an instant sign that I was underage and shouldn’t be allowed to have a drink or five. I’d expected that, since Mr. Beautiful Eyes had told me from the beginning.
What I hadn’t expected were the emotions when I stepped inside. So many memories came rushing back to me from just standing inside the bar. The band was setting up onstage, and I choked on tears that were fighting to pour out. Where did that come from? Why did I feel like crying?