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Rough, cold rocks beneath my hands as I climbed higher. I looked up to see Thayer about 5 feet above me, his feet dangled about a foot above my right hand. I reached up and tried to grab it. He pulled it back quickly.
“Close! Maybe next time… if you ever become faster than me!” my brother grinned down at me and I scowled. Idiot.
I climbed a little higher. Thayer dangled his foot in front of my face. I tried to grab it again just as my wet feet slipped off their ledge. I felt a sharp pain in my head as I banged into something before total darkness.
The day my little sister died was a day I would never forget. It was 3 years ago, when I was 15. It was on her 13th birthday, and we had gone to our favourite spot on the beach, a small cave with a great wall for climbing. We had ditched her friends, who were all there to wish her happy birthday, and we were climbing when she slipped and hit her head. The doctors told us that she had a weak heart from her recent recovery of the flu, and that she hadn’t been totally healed and so her heart gave out when the wind was knocked out of her.
Her death was my fault. The way my parents treated me after that made it pretty clear. I agreed with them. It was my fault. If I hadn’t been teasing her and provoking her she would have been paying attention and she would have been able to catch herself.
After that fatal day we hadn’t ever gone back to that beach. The beach my mother had grown up going to. The beach my parents had gotten married on. The beach Daphne and I had spent our summers on. My parents couldn’t bear going there. Sometimes, on days like her birthday or the day she died, I would go there secretly, and think about her and what I did to her.
School was I place I normally let me memories of her take over me. It was easy, Daphne’s best friend, India, was the most popular, and beautiful girl at the school. If you hadn’t known her before she had turned popular, and known what she was like before the… accident. Then you’d think she had completely forgotten about Daphne, but I knew. I could see the pain in her eyes every time she smiled and looked at me. Before she had joined the high school she had come to the beach with me on those special days and we hung out. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we just sat. After she joined the high school though I never saw her there.
Anyway, seeing India there every day and thinking about Daphne at school was the best for me. It was a forever reminder of what I did. Nobody knew the real story about that day in the cave. The story my parents knew is that she had slipped. They blamed me for not warning her and watching her more carefully. Only India knew the real story and she kept her opinions to herself.
“Thayer?” I closed my locker door and looked up to Catie, class president and head of yearbook committee, standing next to me.
“Umm… hi.” I said lamely. Nobody usually talked to me. Drowning myself in thoughts about Daphne made me a pretty depressing and scary person to be around.
“Hi, I’m here to ask you what your presentation for Día de Los Muertos will be.” She looked at me expectantly.
“Umm… What?” What the hell was she talking about?
“Your presentation, of someone who has died. All seniors were asked to bring in a picture and present something nice about someone who has died. Someone in your life who was important to you.” Catie sighed, “You forgot again didn’t you.” Me forgetting to bring in something for a presentation was normal.
“Well, please bring something in tomorrow. It is crucial because Mrs. Meyers said it will be worth 20% of your grade for World Cultures.” With that Catie turned and left. I slammed my fist into the locker door. Damn, I couldn’t do this. I looked at the giant calendar on wall opposite of me. November 1st. Three years today my sister died. I glanced at my watch. Twelve Thirty. I could ditch. The beach was about 2 hours away. I could make it before nightfall. I grabbed my jacket and slammed my locker shut.
Dark thunderclouds painted the sky in shades of grey and white as I drove along the coast towards the beach. I pulled into the nearly empty parking lot. Wind whistled around me as I made my way across the cold sand to the little cliff side on top of the cave. I sat down and looked over the windy waters as the last of the day’s people emptied the beach. I leaned back and closed my eyes, letting images of Daphne take me over. Her laugh, her sparkling sea blue eyes that were almost teal, her warm, chocolate brown hair. All of it assailed me and I nearly choked.
I sat up quickly, my eyes wide. I stared off into the distance. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” I whispered softly, tears rolling down my cheeks.
I felt a small hand touch my shoulder. I jerked back reflexively and turned around. I gasped. It was Daphne.
I stared at her. She looked different, yet still the same. She looked a bit like what you would imagine a ghost to look like, substantial, pale. She had a slight glow about her, but otherwise she looked exactly the same. She was wearing the same worn jeans, white Imagine Dragons t-shirt, and my purple hoodie that she died in. Her hair still tumbled down her back and had caramel highlights. She was the same.
“Daphne?” I choked out, unable to believe that she was here. Daphne stared at me, her sea blue eyes boring into mine. She sat down next to me and wrapped the hoodie around her tighter. I wanted to reach out and put my arm around her like I used to when we were little, but I held back, afraid that she was just a fragment of my imagination.
“How is this possible?” I asked, unable to get my voice higher than a whisper. “How are you here?”
“I’m here because you need me to be.” She replied simply. I thought her voice might sound distant as distant as she looked, but it was as strong and confident as ever. Hearing her voice though shook me; I shouldn’t be able to hear her voice like this. I shouldn’t be able to see her.
“What… why do I need you?” I asked, my voice shaking now.
“Because you need to forgive yourself. It’s not your fault that I died.” She replied. She turned to me and looked me squarely in the eye. “Look, Thayer, the reason I died isn’t your fault. It was my own fault that I wasn’t paying attention and that I slipped. Not yours.”
“But, I should have looked out for you more. Should have been there for you.” I said, my voice finally starting to sound normal.
Daphne shrugged, “It still wasn’t your fault.”
“Thayer!” Daphne interrupted sharply. I looked at her, startled. “Stop it. My death wasn’t your fault. Okay. Talk to India about it. She can help.”
I hung my head “Sorry.” I muttered.
Daphne stood up and brushed off her jeans, or at least, attempted to. There was nothing there to brush off, but still, it was the thought that counts. She finally turned to me. “Look, the reason I’m here is to get you to forgive yourself and stop being such a depressing person. Live a little. Learn from my experience that life’s too short to be living with regrets.” She reached out, almost as if she wanted to put her hand on my shoulder the way mom used to when she wanted to tell us something important.
“Its time for me to move on, and its time for you to do the same. Talk to India, she can help you.” With that Daphne reached out and pulled me into a hug. Sort of. I could feel her skin against mine, cool and light as a feather.
“Thank you.” I murmured into her dark hair, tears forming in my eyes. She pulled away. I stared at her, she stared at me. As I watched her she slowly started to fade. Soon I was looking at nothing but the blue crashing waters of the coast.
I turned around and headed back towards my car. As I neared it I saw India, leaning on the hood of it, her black hoodie and dark jeans standing out against the pristine white paint.
“I thought I might see you here.” She said, giving me a small smile. I looked around the parking lot, searching for another vehicle. Nothing.
“Hey India,” I said, shoving my hands in my pockets.
“I know that Daphne has talked to you. She said she would.” India gave me an odd look, what, I just saw my dead sister. So what?
“We just talked.” I said nodding.
“And I’m fine. She’s really helped me.” I said, realizing that its true, she had helped me. For once I didn’t feel like everything was my fault, and that I was going to scream and yell.
“Good. So, are you going to use her as your presentation at the Día de Los Muertos?” India moved to the passenger door as I pulled out my keys.
“Yes, and yes, you can get a ride.” I smiled, something I haven’t done in years. India smiled too.
“Thanks. And I’m glad you’re all right. Daphne and I worried.”
“Yeah.” We got into the car and took off. As the coast disappeared into the distance I felt a sense of peace settle in me. The feeling that I’m not really responsible for my sister’s death. I had finally forgiven myself.