Authors: Jamie Canosa
There comes a time when you have to stop looking to others for strength, and find it in yourself.
Never give up.
It’s there, inside each of you, if you only know where to look.
Other books by Jamie Canosa:
Falling to Pieces
Fight or Flight
Sink or Swim
Now or Never
Pieces of my Heart
©Jamie Canosa 2014
Cover Design: KKeeton Designs
Cover ©Jamie Canosa 2014
All rights reserved. No parts of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Exceptions are reviewers who may quote short excerpts for review.
All Rights Reserved
The church loomed before me like something from a gothic nightmare. It was one of those ancient, dark stone buildings that looked more like a castle, or maybe a prison, than a place of holy worship. Its ominous shadow blotted out the sunlight, sending a shiver up my spine. If the clouds hadn’t been so low with the imminent threat of more snow, I might have been able to see the spires and turrets. As it was, I searched the ground for any signs that there may be a frozen moat beneath the layers and layers of sludge, muck, and snow. Anything to keep from going inside for as long as possible.
I’d never actually set foot inside a church before and proceeded cautiously with a certain confidence that I’d be struck dead by some kind of rogue lightning bolt upon crossing the threshold. The air inside somehow felt even colder than the frigid wind whipping up the fresh powder from the night before. I couldn’t be sure if it was the building or the reason for me being there that was giving me the chills, though.
Several rows were already filled in near the front. I spotted Caulder seated beside his mother in the front row almost immediately, and my feet itched to go to them. Seek comfort from the only familiar faces present, but this was a private time for them. A time for family. Something I was not.
I hadn’t spoken to either of them, besides a brief phone call from Mrs. Parks, asking if I’d consider speaking today. Something I was
Slipping into a back row unnoticed, I slid my hands over the silky material covering my thighs. The dress was simple—black, fitted, knee length, from the clearance rack at the mall—but easily the nicest thing I owned. Didn’t matter. I wouldn’t be wearing it again. When I put it on that morning, I suddenly understood why my mother had never re-worn the one and only skirt she had after the funeral she bought it for. Tonight this dress would be sitting in the trash. There was no way I could ever look at it again, without remembering what it had been bought for, and I was pretty sure today was going to be a day I’d want to forget.
A few last minute stragglers shuffled into the sanctuary as a man in a white robe took his place behind a tall, wooden pulpit. The murmur of voices settled until only the sounds of passing traffic could be heard. A car horn. A radio. Reminders that although those of us gathered had paused to mourn, the world outside went on. Life went on. Today would roll into tomorrow and the day after that. And soon, we’d have no choice but to do the same.
The preacher opened in prayer. Hands folded, heads bent. I only knew what to do because of movies I’d seen. The room was too quiet. A creaky bench here, a scuffing foot there, but nothing loud enough to drown out his words as he spoke of love and loss—two things I was acutely in tune with.
“Mrs. Parks has asked that we open this time for anyone who might like to say a few words.” He hadn’t called me by name, but I knew my cue when I heard it.
The sheets of paper suddenly felt like a lead weight in my sweaty palm. A few people stirred in their seats, glancing around to see if anyone would rise to the challenge. No one stood. I couldn’t let this opportunity pass without a single person speaking. I couldn’t miss my last chance to make sure everyone knew exactly how much Kiernan meant to me. I owed him that much.
My knees shook as I forced them to bend, lifting me to my feet. By sheer force of will alone, I propelled myself down the center aisle, unable to look at anyone as I passed. There weren’t too many people present, but still I felt as though I might hurl as I climbed the three squat steps to the podium.
Kiernan’s casket sat directly to my left, open, but I locked my gaze on the papers rustling in my trembling hands, refusing to look at him. Refusing to replace my warm, vibrant memories of him with what lay inside that box. The words were already there. All I had to do was read them. I could do this.
Sucking in a deep breath, I stepped up to the microphone and winced as earsplitting feedback echoed off the stone walls.
“Sorry.” Way to go. Up there two seconds and I was already deafening the entire place. Adjusting the mic to accommodate my height—or lack thereof—I waited for the screeching to subside. A few people who had covered their ears settled back in their seats. “I’m sorry. Um . . . My name is Jade Carlson. I was Kiernan’s—” His name stuck like glue in my throat and I had to choke it out to continue. “Kiernan’s girlfriend.”
Heart beating a violent rhythm, I focused my attention once more on the papers, smoothing them out on the pulpit for no other reason than to give my hands something to do.
“Kiernan was . . .” My eyes skimmed over the words painstakingly written before me and then out over the intimate gathering of family and close friends. When I’d practiced in front of the mirror this morning, determined to make it through without crying, the words had sounded appropriate, but standing there, in front of all of them, they felt inadequate.
My gaze settled on Caulder. It was the first time I’d laid eyes on him in nearly a week, since that horrible day in the hospital hallway. The day all of our lives were irrevocably dimmed by loss. Caulder looked worn. Dark circles shadowed his eyes. Facial muscles strained. His effortless style eclipsed by an aura of utter exhaustion. And he looked thinner than I remembered. I wondered if he’d been eating. Or sleeping. I certainly hadn’t. He was hunched forward, elbows to knees, eyes on me. And somehow in his intense regard, I found the courage to say the words I really needed to say.
Swallowing hard, I cleared my throat one more time. “Mrs. Parks asked me to say a few words about Kiernan today. I spent days and sleepless nights working on what I’m holding in my hands. It’s starts with, ‘Kiernan was a good man’, but that’s not true. It’s not fair to say because he wasn’t. He wasn’t
. He was the
. The best human being I’ve met in my life. A person who could not only shine with his absolute best even when things were at their worst, but someone who could make other people see the best in themselves. People like me.” Intense pressure building in my throat broke my words and I struggled to put them back together. “Kiernan showed me how to appreciate life—the good, the bad, and the messy. He taught me the difference between living and existing, made me see the beauty in every precious moment, and gave me the courage to embrace them all. To truly
them. Even when life gets scary. I’m not the same person I was when I met Kiernan. I’m not sure what changed, or when, or how. Only that it did.
did. For the better . . . Something I would never have been able to say about myself, much less believe, before he came into my life.
“It’s also not fair to call him a man. Kiernan wasn’t a man. He’ll never get to be a man. He was a boy. But he was more responsible, compassionate, and empathetic than any ‘adult’ I’ve known. We should be proud—
should be proud—of the boy he was.
“I’ve heard people say things like ‘his star burned too bright’ or ‘Heaven needed another angel’. That’s—” I was tempted to call it what it was, crap, but the last thing I wanted to do was insult his family if that was what they needed to believe. “—not what I believe. I think sometimes life sucks. Sometimes it isn’t fair. Sometimes no matter how good, how great, how . . .
you are, bad things just happen. It sucks. It’s not fair. It’s life. And now we’re all left to find a way to keep going without him because that’s what life does. It keeps going. Without a care. Without mercy. It just keeps moving forward.
“Kiernan told me—” Tears I hadn’t even felt coming on suddenly began streaming down my cheeks. I had to swallow a sob before I could continue. “He told me he was sorry for-for loving me. He was s-sorry because,” a deep breath helped me regain some of my waning control, “he didn’t want to hurt me. His biggest fear was the pain he’d cause those he cared about after he was gone. But I think we can all agree that knowing Kiernan for even a single day was worth a lifetime of grief. I . . . I will never—” The tears returned harder and faster than before, and the sob that refused to be denied any longer came with them. “Kiernan, I will n-never forget the things you t-taught me. I owe you s-so much. I can never . . . never . . .”
I hated that word. It encompassed all of my failures. I could
tell him just how much he’d done for me. How much he meant to me.
repay him for any of it. He’d saved my life in so many ways and I could
do the same for him.
My throat clogged and I stumbled away from the podium. Caulder was already waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs. I could feel the pitiful stares of the others in attendance as he led me with an arm wrapped firmly around my shoulders back the pew where he sat with his mother.
Mrs. Parks cast us a furtive glance and I ducked away from Caulder’s embrace. He let me go, but immediately threaded his fingers through mine, giving my hand a brief squeeze. “You hanging in there?”
I nodded, brushing the remaining tears from my face with my free hand as the preacher reclaimed his position. “Now Caulder Parks, Kiernan’s brother, would like to share with us.”
“Guess it’s my turn.” Caulder’s chest rose and fell deeply, before he untwined our fingers and got to his feet.
Mrs. Parks scooted closer to me as he made his way to the pulpit, slipping a slim arm around my shoulders and leaning close to whisper in my ear. “Thank you, honey. That was . . . perfect.”
Caulder cleared his throat, drawing our attention back to him before I could respond—not that I had any clue
to respond. Her arm stayed firmly wrapped around me as he scanned the crowd, scrubbing at the days’ old scruff on his jawline.
“So you all already know I’m Kiernan’s brother.” He paused, an unfathomable look passing over his face. “Was. I
Beside me, I could feel his mother’s body begin to tremble and considered that maybe she wasn’t holding on to me solely for my benefit. Burrowing my arm between her back and the hard bench, I shifted closer and held on just as tightly to her.
“It’s so . . . strange. Talking about him—
about him—in the past tense. I’m not sure if I’ve really started doing it yet, or when I will. I guess it’s inevitable eventually . . .” He seemed so lost up there. Distracted on a side tangent, speaking more to himself than anyone else in the room. After a long moment, Caulder shook his head, refocusing on his audience with a deep breath.
“When I was sixteen, I spent the summer in France. Two amazing months in the city of light. I saw a lot of things there. Experienced a lot. Made a lot of memories. But the one that’s burrowed its way inside my brain the deepest, the one I can’t stop thinking about, happened before I even left.
“I was so excited to go. Couldn’t wait to get on that plane. My par—My
wasn’t quite as excited.”
That was when it hit me. I was seated with Kiernan’s family. His mother and his brother. Not his father. The man hadn’t even bothered to show up for his own son’s funeral.
“I don’t know if I even really said goodbye to her. Probably just waved as I walked through security at the airport.” A hint of a smile tipped Caulder’s lips before fading away. “But the night before, Kiernan came barging into my room. He was only twelve at the time, and he knocked over all the luggage I had on my bed. I asked him what he was doing and he told me he’d tell me what he
saying goodbye. He
coming to the airport with us in the morning. And he
going to miss me while I was gone. Because that was stupid. Because we were brothers.
. And nothing could change that. Not some dumb plane. Not an ocean. Not another continent. Because family is forever.
“Those were the words he used. Family. Is. Forever. And he was right. Family
forever. And Kiernan
my family. He
my little brother. Not a plane, or an ocean . . . or a goddamn headstone can change that.”
Tears were flooding down every face in the building—mine included—by the time he finished. Every face
Caulder’s. He stood up there somber and stolid as a stone statue. I attempted to move over to make room for him as he returned to where we sat, but when Mrs. Parks refused to let me go, he took a seat on her other side without a word. She took his hand and held it, but he continued to stare blankly at the shiny black box, which held all that remained of his brother.
Watching them lower that box into the cold, hard ground was beyond awful. Snow seeped into my holey sneakers, soaking my socks and numbing my toes. Music played from a stereo someone had thought to bring along. The preacher spoke about dust and ashes, words that went in one ear and right out the other as I watched Kiernan slowly slip away from my world. Some irrational part of me ached to grab hold of the box and haul it back out, cling to him just a little bit longer.
Dropping the customary handful of dirt wasn’t possible as the mound they’d dug out had frozen solid. Instead, we each dropped a white rose on top of the sealed coffin. When my turn came, I stood beside the grave, hand shaking, as I held the delicate flower above him.