Room to Breathe

There was hardly any room to breathe, let alone move. Justus stood in the back of the crowd waiting to see her one last time. Outside, it was a bright, clear day warm enough to melt the ice that had taken her. It didn't feel right, Lauren being gone. Maybe it was because he hadn't seen or spoken to her for six months. It felt the same last week, only she wasn't gone forever then. He bit his lip and loosened his tie, he wanted to be anywhere but there. There was too much…reality in this room.

Lauren yawned and checked the clock in her car. 3:58 it blinked. She sighed and cranked up the radio, anything to keep her from falling asleep. She didn't really feel like thinking, her mind was always full of broken promises as well as term papers, neither of which she enjoyed. She had gone home Friday to visit her mom. She was sick again. Her dad died a few years before and it was hard for her mom to keep her in school. Lauren did what she could to help through scholarships and and student loans, not to mention her job. She never felt like she did enough though.

Justus kept his head lowered, eyes trained on the patterned carpet underneath his feet. He feared being recognized. He didn't know why he was there except that he knew he needed her forgiveness for what he had done to her. His mind told him that it was a long time ago, but his heart said that he should be dead, not here. Not his Lauren. He needed her to forgive him. He lifted his eyes slowly and looked around at the people present. She had never known, never realized how people were just drawn to her. This was just the visitation and there were well over two hundred people there, mourning her. She had a special affinity for people, they were just drawn to her. She could be sitting in a café among fifty other people and people would just approach her for whatever reason. Could she give them directions? What time was it? Did the coffeehouse serve cheesecake? It didn't matter what question was asked, she would smile and give them their answer. She was an amazing person.

It was raining, Lauren didn't like the rain. Even when she was safe and warm in her home, she was still slightly frightened by storms. The winter seemed to be hanging on longer than she wished. The rain was turning to ice before it hit the ground. She didn't like to drive in the first place, let alone in sleet. She looked at the clock again, 4:15, only thirty miles away from home. She clenched her jaw shut and sat up straighter praying for the rain to stop. She sat humming the melody to whatever song was on the radio thinking. She didn't see the large SUV swerve into her lane.

Justus's eyes locked onto the figure of a young man. He was sitting in a pew staring at the large wooden cross that hung directly above the white casket. Tears streamed down his face and his mouth moved in silent words. Justus knew his name was Ryan, he was Lauren's best friend. They did everything together, might as well have been born in the same family. Justus was envious of Ryan's ability to cry, to grieve for his friend, Ryan couldn't. Ryan slowly turned his head and his eyes locked onto Justus. He swallowed under the glare Ryan gave him. He was hated here for what he did. Against the will of his pride, he lowered his eyes back to the carpet. His stomach churned and sank then churned again with nervousness of being there. He didn't believe in God anymore, but he prayed anyway. She would have been proud of him for praying, even though it was for her to forgive him.

"It's all right sweetheart, we'll take good care of you. You're gonna be just fine. Relax." Lauren lay on the pavement beside the twisted metal that used to be her car. Several warm blankets covered her and a strange man leaned over her talking to her, telling her she would be okay. Of course she would be okay, this guy must be nuts. She couldn't turn her head and she vaguely wondered when someone would move whatever had fallen on her legs off so she could move them. She stared blankly into the cloudy late afternoon sky, the rain had stopped. She knew she should be cold, but she wasn't. Except her nose, her nose was cold, she reached with her hand to rub her nose, but her arm wouldn't move. Strange she thought, but didn't give it much heed. She gasped for breath as her mind suddenly reeled with unbidden memories.

"Hi, I'm Justus, what's your name?"

"Can I call you sometime?"

"I love you"

"I'll always be there for you Lauren"

"It's so hard to walk away, you just don't understand"

"No" she whispered, she wanted to think about anything else but him. He wasn't worth it. If she was going to die, she didn't want his face to be the last she saw. In that moment she made up her mind not to die. She tried to will her mind away from him, she tried to imagine her boyfriends face but it slipped from her grasp as a memory she longed to forget played in front of her eyes as if it were yesterday.

It was her freshman year in college, Lauren had driven up to surprise Justus for his nineteenth birthday. She stopped when she heard giggling behind the door to his dorm room. Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment at having almost walked in on his roommate doing God knows what. And then she saw his roommate exit a room down the hall. She didn't understand at first, until she caught the look of pity on his roommate's face as their eyes met. She didn't know what to do. She certainly did not want to barge in there, she feared what the images would do to her psyche. So she waited. It wasn't long before the door opened and a grinning girl with blond hair came out of the room. She saw Justus emerge behind her and she turned to give him a quick kiss before disappearing down the hall.

"Justus" she said quietly

His eyes widened and became fearful, "Lauren? What…What are you doing here?"

"I came to surprise you for your birthday, but it looks like you've already gotten your present" she said with venom dripping from her voice as she stared in the direction the girl had gone her fists clenching and unclenching.

"Why don't you come in, and we'll talk about this. Lauren?"

"No" she glared at him, "I have nothing to say to you" Her voice was calm, her emotions only betrayed by her shaking hands. She turned around to leave but felt Justus grab her wrist. She faced him again, his eyes pleading with her not to go.

"It didn't mean anything! Please! Don't go!" he begged. "I love you!"

Anger took over and she slapped him hard across the face, "Don't you dare say that to me you bastard." She turned and left without looking back to see him looking grief stricken and lost.

It was a year and a half ago when he hurt her, when he did the unthinkable… Justus shook his head, he would never be able to forgive himself. How could he ask her to do something he couldn't? She had meant everything to him, the whole world. But in one moment, one careless, stupid moment he had thrown it all away. He spent six months trying to get her back, calling her almost everyday, driving down to see her. It wasn't until she told him she had met someone else that he gave up on ever getting her back. He resigned himself to just being friends, but she didn't want that either. Six months ago she had told him to never call her again, that she was tired of dealing with him. It was unlike her to say such things, but he couldn't imagine being in her place after what he'd done. For the first time since he heard of her death he felt emptiness wash over him.

Lauren squeezed her eyes shut as the memory subsided. Her body was shaking, almost on the point of convulsing, but she didn't notice. The men and women around her looked over at her with worried expressions on their faces. She opened her eyes as she heard footsteps approach.

"Baby?" a distant voice said, "Open your eyes baby, come on, for me? It'll be alright now, I'm here."

"hey" she said faintly smiling while looking into the worried blue eyes of her boyfriend Daren.

"I love you baby" he swallowed and squeezed her hand hard, but she didn't feel it. "You're gonna be just fine, but the thing is you gotta work for it." He closed his eyes for a moment, pain crossing his features. "Don't leave me baby" he whispered.

Lauren tried to reach up and touch his face but she found her arm still wasn't working. "I love you too Daren. I won't leave you, I promise." She tried to turn her head, but it seemed to be stuck still, "Will you kiss me please?"

"Sure" he leaned down and gave her a soft kiss, choking down a sob as he did, it would be the last time he kissed her

"Thank you" her eyes glazed over slightly. She looked up at him, although it would seem she was looking past him and not at him.

"I'm sorry" was all he could manage to say as he squeezed her hand harder."

"It's okay, I forgive you Justus." She said as the memory of Justus's face swam in her vision. All of her hate and bitterness left along with her spirit. She didn't last long enough to see the pain and shock on Daren's face.

Justus was finally able to see her. The long line of visitors had come to an end and he could at last look at her face again. She was so beautiful, red-gold curls sprayed all over the white satin pillow. She had green eyes, he remembered. He looked down at her lying in the casket. People always said that when you saw a dead loved one they look like they're simply sleeping. Lauren didn't look like she was sleeping, there was something different. She was too stiff that's it, her body was too stiff for her to be asleep. He reached down to touch her face ignoring everyone around him. As his hand lingered right above her cheek a strong hand clamped down upon his wrist.

"You have no right to be here" a voice hissed

Justus looked up into the angry, grief stricken eyes of Lauren's boyfriend. "I have just as much right as you Daren." He said jerking his arm back.

"You should go, you're not wanted here." To Justus, Daren seemed to hate him just a bit more than he used too.

"Why do you hate me so much?" he asked, not taking his eyes off of Lauren's face.

"Hate you? That's not strong enough word. You would think that all you've done to her would be enough to make anyone hate you. Do I need a better reason?"

"No, I guess not." Justus would have dropped it there, but Daren pressed further.

"I hate that the last word she ever spoke was your name. I despise you because with her last breath she said 'I forgive you Justus' instead of 'I love you Daren'. I hate that no matter how much I loved her, you were still here. A shadow hanging over our relationship. I hate that you exist." He glared once more at Justus before walking away to collapse in a pew and hold his head in his hands.

Justus watched him go, his eyes wide in shock. He looked down at Lauren again, she seemed to be smiling at him. He felt a strange kind of joy enter his heart. He leaned down and softly brushed his lips against her forehead. As he straightened he smiled at her and said "I'll see you in heaven". It didn't matter anymore that he wasn't welcome there, it didn't even matter that he had caused her so much pain. All that mattered was he felt absolved in a strange way. He didn't do anything to deserve her forgiveness, and he knew it, but she gave it anyway. He wondered what her last thoughts were of him. He walked out of the church with a small smile on his face, he felt uplifted but knew he needed to do more. He couldn't just take her forgiveness for granted like, otherwise she'd take it back. He vowed to make it up to her someday, she was up there with the rest of the angles watching him. He would never hurt another person the way he hurt her ever again. She would be proud of him by the time they saw each other again. He took in a deep breath of fresh air, finally able to breathe again.

A/N: This is a short story I wrote for a creative writing class. I'm quite proud of it, although I realize that there are problems with it. Many who have read it thought it would be Justus driving the SUV, which is totally not right. So I'm sorry if any of you got that impression. Feel free to give me any constructive criticism, however NO FLAMES!! If you think that it sucks 100% and that there is nothing good about my story, you are entitled to your opinion, however I would prefer it if you keep any nasty comments to yourself. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed! Thanks, please review!