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“How are you, Emily?” my dad asked when I got into the truck after my first day back at school.
I shrugged. He opened his mouth to say something else, then stopped. My dad is tall and thin, with a seemingly permanent smile on his face. In the past two weeks, I’d learned that it isn’t so permanent. He was smiling now, but there were dark circles under his eyes that I’d never seen or noticed before. Neither of us talked on the way home.
We got home to an empty house.
“Where’s Mom?” I asked.
“She went back to work, too.”
“Oh. I thoughr she said she was staying home another day.”
“She changed her mind. You know her. Work gets her mind off of things.”
How could you get your mind off of something like this?
“Are you hungry?” Dad asked.
“Do you have homework?”
“No. Well, I have to make up an English paper, but everyone else seemed afraid to give me any work.”
“Let me help you with that,” he said, ignoring the last part.
My dad is an English professor. That explains me and Eddie’s names; tributes to Dickinson and Poe. This is good, because he loves helping me with my school papers, but bad because as soon as my teachers find out that my dad is a professor at Texas Christian University, they expect me to be some kind of genius, especially if they had Eddie before me. I’m not especially smart.
“No. I’m going to take a nap.”
“Oh. Okay, Emily. I’ll be down here if you need anything.”
I went upstairs and walked to my room at the end of the hallway. My heart skipped a beat when I walked past Eddie’s room, but I kept going.
My room has two walls painted a ridiculous shade of cheerful lime green and two painted a pale, demure blue; the results of having a free spirited dad who thought I should be allowed to choose the color of my own room and a left-brained lawyer mom who disagreed. I don’t know how they ever got married, but I guess it worked out so well for them because they could compromise. My desk was a mess, so I spent awhile cleaning it. Then, I laid down on my bed, without any real intention of going to sleep. I turned onto my side, looking at the picture frame on my nightstand. It held the only picture in my room I hadn’t taken myself; me and Eddie playing in the sand at Corpus Christi. I picked up the frame, opened the back, and pulled the picture out.
“Eddie (12) and Emily (9),” was written in my mom’s handwriting on the back. I turned it over and looked at the two laughing kids on the front.
I was sitting alone in the living room on a Friday evening, reading The Guardian on my laptop with the New York Times and the Dallas Star on the sofa beside me. At my house, I had to do preparation like this or I would never be able to keep up with my genius parents’ and brother’s conversation at the dinner table. Mom wasn’t back from her office in Dallas, and Dad was on his way home from the university in Fort Worth. Dad usually got to our house in Grapevine around six, and Mom around seven or eight.
“Where are the keys?” asked my brother, coming down the stairs.
“How should I know?”
“Alright. Thanks, Emmy.” He shoved me playfully as he passed the couch.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to dinner in Dallas with some friends. You can come if you want.”
I had a really big crush on his friend Tom, who would surely be there. I was too shy to go.
“Okay.” He smiled at me. He had the same big, TV commercial perfect smile as our mom. “Tell Mom and Dad I’ll be back by ten.”
“Okay. Have fun, Ed.”
“See you later.”
“Emily!” I heard Mom yell from downstairs. “Time for dinner.”
“I’m not hungry!” I yelled back.
“Yes, you are. Come now!”
I put the picture and frame under my pillow and walked downstairs. She was taking a pan of meatloaf that someone else had made out of the microwave. She studied it for a minute. It didn’t look good.
“How was your day, Emily?” she asked when she saw that I had come.
She looked up at me. My mom is a pretty lady. I’ve always wished that my hair was wavy like hers, but instead I’m stuck with a curly, honey colored mess. That day she looked especially pretty, in her dressy work clothes. She was wearing the earrings I had given her for Christmas last year.
“Good. Put the silverware on the table, please.”
I got the silverware from the drawer and went to the living room, where Dad was setting out three glasses. I realized that I’d accidentally gotten an extra fork. I stuck it into the meatloaf as a serving tool when mom brought the pan in, like I’d gotten it on purpose. Mom and Dad sat at their normal places, side by side, and I sat by myself across from them. It’d been two weeks since we’d sat in the dining room together for a meal
Mom and Dad had come home not long after Eddie left. We had leftover lasagna from Wednesday for dinner. It was kind of soggy and not so good anymore, and I’d wished I had gone with Eddie. Then, I watched some police shows with my parents.
“You said he’d be back by ten, didn’t you, Emily?” asked Mom at ten fifteen, “He’s always back on time.”
“There was a Mavericks game,” said Dad, “He probably got caught up in traffic.”
I always assume the worst. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and called my brother. He answered after a few rings.
“Sorry. There was a basketball game and I was caught in traffic.”
“Okay, just checking. Bye.”
“Bye. See you soon.”
“You were right, Dad,” I said after hanging up.
My parents relaxed again, and we turned back to our murder mystery.
“You know it was the innocent looking old man,” said Mom sagely. She could always nail the bad guy way before the fictional police.
“No!” said Dad, faking shock.
“Yeah,” I said. “You’re probably right, Mom.”
“Emily, I asked you if you feel okay,” said Dad.
“Several times,” added Mom stiffly.
I stared at the ugly meatloaf on my plate.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“She’s pale,” said Dad. “Do you want to go back to bed, Emily?”
I got up and he followed me. Mom sat up rigidly straight and kept eating. Dad tucked me into my bed upstairs.
“Mom doesn’t even care,” I said.
“Don’t say that. She does.”
Our show went off (Mom was right about the old man). We watched another and another.
“Call him again, Emily,” said Mom at eleven thirty. I did. The phone didn’t even ring. “His phone is off or something,” I said.
Dad pulled out his phone and tried. Nothing. Mom couldn’t reach him either.
“How can she sit there and ignore the empty chair?” I asked angrily.
“Do you want a story?” Dad asked me.
He got up and went to the bookshelf beside my desk.
“I knew it’d still be here.”
Dad pulled a book off the shelf and my swivel chair out from under my desk. He sat down beside my bed. I’d seen that pretty green book a thousand times before.
“The Collected Poems of…”
“Yes, you’re right. I’ll read you one you don’t know.”
He thumbed through the pages.
“Here it is.
‘Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
I’d answered the door when the police knocked.
“’We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.’”
I’d seen both of my parents cry for the first time at the wake.
“’We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.’”
I’d fainted at the funeral.
“’Or rather, he passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.’”
I’d missed my brother every second.
“’We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.’”
And I’d never cried.
Dad had stopped reading and was looking at the page with moist eyes.
“That’s all?” I asked.
“No,” he answered curtly.
“Does it have a good ending?”
I waited for him to finish, but saw that he couldn’t. I reached for the book and picked up where he left off.
“’Since then 'tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.’”
I looked over at my dad. I hadn’t had a real conversation with him in two weeks, and I was glad it was finally coming.
“Why did you read me that?” I asked. “How would that make me feel good? Emily Dickinson was morbid.”
“No, she wasn’t.”
“Dad, how is that not morbid?”
“Because, Emily, it’s about how from the other side, dying is just like the end of one day and the beginning of another.”
“But it just isn’t fair. People aren’t supposed to die when they’re seventeen.”
“I know. A lot of things aren’t fair.”
“But Dad,” I said, finally feeling a tear forming, then trickling down my cheek. “How can you just keep on going? How can you ever stop being sad?”
“Well, you’re moving into a new day, also.”
“But who knows what will happen then?”
“There will be good and bad times, hopefully more good than bad, but Emily, I promise that you’ll make it to tomorrow. You just have to trust in God and me and your mom to get you through this. I promise you will.”
He took my hand, and I let him pat it.
“Did I help you any?” he asked.
“Yes. Well, kind of.”
“Someday you’ll be able to look back on everything you did with your brother and you’ll be happy, not sad.”
“I don’t know. It’s strange, but it always happens.”
I heard the door open. Me and Dad both turned to see Mom standing in the doorway.
“Are you alright, Emily?” she asked.
“Yeah,” said Dad. “Come here, Jenny. Let’s say our prayers so Emily can go to sleep.”
“It’s eight o’ clock,” I said as Mom walked over and sat down beside me on the bed.
“You could use some extra sleep,” said Dad. He took one of Mom’s hands and one of mine. Mom looked at me expectantly, and I stretched my arm out toward her. She took my hand, rubbing it with her thumb.
“Dear God,” said Dad, “Thank you for Jenny, Emily, and Ed.”
“And thank you for Dad.” I added.
We usually said a long prayer, but tonight there was a silent agreement that this was all we needed to say.
“Amen,” we finished together.
My parents leaned forward and kissed me.
“Goodnight, Em,” said Mom.
“I love you,” said Dad. “See you in the morning.”