"She's good," I heard Felix say quietly.
"She's better than good, Felix. Where does she come from?" another man asked, the one who had tuned the piano, I assumed.
"I don't know. She hasn't told me. She seems so very sad, though."
There was a pause before the other man said, "I knew another piano player who brought that same quality to the music she played."
"Sadness?" Felix asked.
"More than that. A broken heart," the other man said very softly.
And then no more was said as the music poured out around me, coming from my fingers, my heart, the longing in my soul, from all the shattered places inside me. And each note echoed the same name . . . Calder, Calder, Calder.
The street ten stories down swayed below me, the promise of a hard smack of concrete and then blessed oblivion calling to me so sweetly. I didn't want to resist. I hoped I'd register at least a few seconds of unfathomable pain before I floated away. I deserved it. I didn't want a death that didn't include misery. Had she suffered? Had she called my name in the dark as the water covered her and then filled her lungs with burning, suffocating terror? A sob, a loud gulp of tortured breath, escaped my throat and I took another swig from the half empty bottle in my hand. It slid down my throat in a slow slide of fire. Fire.
"Calder." I heard Xander's voice behind me, low and full of fear. "Brother, give me your hand."
I shook my head back and forth swiftly and swayed precariously on the ledge where I sat. Just a small tilt forward, even the intention of a tilt, and I'd plunge to my death below. To her.
"No, Xander," I said, my words slurring slightly. I was drunk, but not too drunk that I couldn't think clearly enough. Or I thought so anyway.
"What are you doing, Calder?" Xander asked, sitting on the ledge a little ways down from where I was. I glanced over at him and squinted. His voice was even, but his eyes were filled with panic.
"I hate to do this to you, brother. But it hurts too damn much. It was my fault. I don't deserve to live," I said.
"Then why are you alive?" Xander asked, his voice smooth and gentle, like a lullaby. My mom used to sing me lullabies when I was a little kid and couldn't sleep. Of course, my mom had also stood by while my dad tried to set me on fire. But I wouldn't think of that. I couldn't. My shoulders sagged and I felt the wetness on my face as a breeze blew by.
"You know what I think? I think you're alive because you're meant to be alive. For some reason, you're meant to be here. You're the only person who made it out of Acadia that day. The only one. And I, for one, refuse to believe there's not some purpose to that. I refuse to believe you didn't reach your hand up through that god-awful wreck of water-covered destruction so I could pull you out of there. And I want to help you discover what that reason is, Calder. Take my hand again. Take my hand and let me help you."
I looked over at him, grief sweeping through me even more swiftly. I took another fiery sip of alcohol.
"You carried me for twenty miles on your back once," he said, his voice breaking at the end. "Twenty miles. And if you hadn't, I would have been at Acadia that horrific day, too. I would probably be dead now. Would you have left me that day? Did you leave me that day?"
I frowned at him. "No," I said. "Never."
"Then take my hand. Let me carry you. It's my turn. Don't deny me that. Whatever I have . . ."
"I know," I choked out. I bent my head forward and gave in to the anguish, my shoulders shaking in the silent sobs that wracked my body. When some of it had passed, I whispered miserably, "Fuck." I wiped my sleeve across my face and threw the bottle to the side. I should have gotten myself more drunk, but I didn't have a taste for the shit. "This life feels so damn long," I said after a minute.
"That's because you're hurting, and it seems like it won't ever get better."
"It doesn't get better. It never gets better."
"It will. You have to try. Calder, you have to try."
"I've been trying! For four months, I've been trying."
"It's going to take longer than four months. It just is."
I let out a deep breath and stared out at the sky beyond. It was full of fury, dark, rolling storm clouds moving closer. Soon the whole sky would break open just like me and the rain would fall.
We were both silent for a few minutes, my head swimming. "Any news on the identification of the other bodies?"
"No," Xander said. "You know I'll let you know if there is." Xander watched the news, listened to the reports about Acadia. I couldn't bring myself to.
I nodded my head.
"They still haven't mentioned anyone who made it out?" My voice cracked on the last word.
Xander shook his head, his expression filled with sympathy.
"The footsteps you saw in the mud . . ."
"No, brother. And that could have been . . . just, I don't know. Please, Calder. Take my hand."
I turned away, looking back out to the sky.
Xander watched me for a few minutes and then glanced back at the now-broken bottle of whiskey I'd thrown. "You can't keep numbing things if you want to move forward."
I straightened my spine slowly. "I don't drink to numb things," I said, meeting his eyes. I knew mine were half-lidded and swollen. "I drink because it makes me feel everything more deeply. I drink for the suffering."
Xander stared at me. "Gods above," he muttered, shaking his head. "Then even more reason to stop. You don't deserve that."
"Yeah," I choked out. "I do."
"It wasn't your fault, Calder. None of it was your fault."
I shook my head back and forth not able to form the words in my heart. It was my fault. She wasn't here because I hadn't been able to save her. I'd failed her. And I longed for her so desperately that some days I couldn't even move. The grief felt like it was crushing me, and the only escape I could think of was death. But what if . . .
"What if taking my own life brings me somewhere other than where she is?" I asked, my voice barely rising above the wind.
Xander was silent for a minute. "I don't know if that's how it works. I want to tell you it does so you'll come off this ledge, but you know I'd never lie to you, right? The truth is, I just don't know." He hung his head, but kept his eyes turned upward, glued to me. I looked away, back out toward the sky.
"Calder, I'm not going to say I know what you're feeling, but I'm missing people as well. And Eden was my friend, too."
I let out a harsh exhale and nodded my head. Xander had lost his parents, his sister, his brother-in-law, his friends . . . "I know."
"Let me help you. And please don't leave me totally alone. I'm not saying that to pile on more guilt. I'm just saying that because it's the gods' honest truth. I'd miss the hell out of you and I'd be alone. Please don't do that to me."
I looked over at him, the face that had always been a constant in my life since before I could remember. I breathed out a long, shuddery sigh and reached my hand out to him. He moved slowly, but gripped me so tightly that in that moment, I knew if I lunged myself over, he'd come with me. He wasn't going to let go. I felt the tears start flowing again and we sat that way for a minute, me hanging my head. Finally, I began turning as I let go of Xander's hand and swung my legs around, my feet landing on the solid roof now in front of me. Soft raindrops hit my face, as soft as a caress.
I crossed my arms over my knees, letting my head fall into them. And I cried. Xander moved closer and his hand gripped my shoulder, but he didn't say a word. The rain continued to fall, soaking the back of my T-shirt, running down my neck and mixing with my tears. After a while, my tears dried up and the rain had become nothing but a light mist in the air. I sat up. I stared unseeing at the door that led downstairs to our rat-hole apartment for a little while, and then let out a shaky breath. I was so tired. The alcohol mixed with the ache inside me made me want to sleep. And maybe tonight I could do it without the haunting dreams.
"You know what I'm gonna do tomorrow?" Xander asked.
I shook my head. "With you, there's no telling," I said, swiping my arm across my wet face.
Xander laughed. "There's my boy," he said and I could hear the love in his voice.
"I'm gonna stop into that art supply store I pass every day and I'm gonna buy you some supplies. Maybe painting would help. What do you think?"
I ran my hand back through my wet hair. "I don't know if I could," I said honestly. "It might hurt." I paused. "Then again, everything hurts."
"I'll get the supplies and let you decide, okay?" he said, gripping my shoulder again.
"We really can't afford art supplies," I said.
"Sure we can. I've been meaning to take off a few pounds anyway."
I let out what might have been an imitation of a chuckle and shook my head.
"Come on in," Xander said. "We have two cans of those beans you love so much."
"Oh, God," I said, grimacing, but when he stood, so did I, following him inside, away from the edge, away from Eden, but never away from the ache that lived in my soul and always, always would.
"No man or woman born . . . can shun his destiny."
Homer, The Iliad
Three Years Later
"Eden? uh, Miss . . . I'm sorry, I don't have your last name written down here." The lawyer, Mr. Sutherland, leafed through the papers in front of him on the desk.
"Yes, what is your last name anyway?" Claire, Felix's daughter, asked sharply. She leaned forward in her chair to look around Marissa to where I was sitting. "I don't think I've ever heard it."
I blinked and snapped back to the present. I had zoned out for a minute, my mind conjuring up the many times I'd tried to engage Claire and her brother Charles in small conversation over the years, even through my anguish, even in spite of the overwhelming grief I was trying to cope with day by seemingly never-ending day. I had only ever been met with disdain. And now Felix was gone, and here we were, sitting together in his lawyer's office, where we'd been called to collect the last things he'd been working on from his sick bed. My eyes darted to Marissa at the question of my last name. Marissa glanced at the watch on her wrist. "Mister Sutherland, I hate to rush you here, but I know Eden has a lesson and I have another appointment this afternoon."
Mr. Sutherland cleared his throat. "Yes, of course. We're basically done here. Mrs. Forester, I just need you to sign here and my secretary will put a copy of the documents in the mail."
Marissa leaned forward and signed the papers he slid in front of her and then dropped the pen in her purse.
I scooted to the edge of my chair, clutching the large envelope Felix's lawyer had given me, the one with my name written across the front in Felix's handwriting, the bold penmanship that made my heart clench with ache and loss. Oh Felix, I can't believe you're gone.
"Now wait a minute here," Charles, sitting to the right of his sister, said. "What exactly is she getting in that envelope? We need a breakdown of—"
"It's nothing more than a personal letter," Mr. Sutherland said impatiently. "I assure you, Charles. The same thing that's in each of your envelopes." He nodded to the large envelopes Claire and Charles were each holding on their laps.
"All the same, if we could just inspect it—" Charles started.
Mr. Sutherland looked annoyed. "I'm sure Miss," he glanced at me and then back at Charles, "I'm sure Eden would kindly appease you by showing you the contents if it would mean wrapping this meeting up—"
I let out a breath, and stared at the attorney, my heart picking up speed in my chest. This letter was all I had of Felix—I wouldn't let them take it. I didn't even want them to rifle through it. It was mine. Marissa put one hand on my knee.
Like a whisper, it came, as it sometimes did. Be strong, Morning Glory.
I stood up, holding the envelope to me like a life preserver. "No, you may not inspect it," I said just a little shakily. "If you were so interested in your father's personal affairs, you should have asked him while he was still alive. You should have shown up to even one of those Sunday dinners he invited you to, called him back once in a while, spent more than three minutes picking up Sophia after her lesson." I looked pointedly at Claire. "I tried to get to know you. I wanted to be your friend." Hurt overcame me and I paused. "But you weren't interested. And that's okay, I guess. But now, you do not get to inspect this envelope, because although you don't believe it, I loved Felix." I paused again, swallowing down the pain that welled up in my throat, taking in their shocked expressions. I had never once spoken to them this way. I took a deep breath and gentled my voice, but made sure it was strong and clear. "Felix was a father figure to me. You don't know anything about me because you never cared to know, but your father was someone who helped me when I needed it most. You have no idea how much that meant to me, no idea." I looked back and forth between their narrowed eyes and took a deep breath. "The answer is no, you may not inspect this envelope," I repeated.
The lawyer said it contained a personal letter. To someone else, that might not have been much, but it was all I would ever have of Felix. I didn't have a lot, but I had this, and two people who disliked me, who had chosen time and again not to show me an ounce of kindness, were not going to take it away. I hugged it to me more tightly.