When Gemma saw that her mother had set a third place at the dinner table for the second time in three days, she knew she had to say something. This was going too far- her mother could not do this, could not continue to behave in such an oblivious manner toward her brother's death. It had been nearly a month since the funeral- if Della continued to deny its occurrence, even subconsciously, Gemma was afraid what might happen. Even at fifteen, she worried about her mother- her health, her mental state, their future as a family. With her father, Della's husband, dead of a car accident years ago, Gemma feared that the death of her brother as well would prove to be too much for her mother.
She caught Della's eyes as Della began to set down silverware beside each of the three plates.
"Mom. You set down three plates," she said gently, watching Della carefully.
Della frowned, as if confused by her daughter's words. "Well, of course I did, Gem. Reid has to eat too. I'll call him downstairs in a minute." She turned away, moving toward the food on the stove. Gemma stared after her, feeling her stomach knot. Her mother was going through one of her spells again, the spells that really worried her…
"Mom," she said carefully. "Reid isn't upstairs. He's dead. Remember?"
Della didn't even turn to face her daughter. "Don't be silly, Gem. Of course Reid isn't dead. He's probably tinkering around on that Internet. That kid runs the power bills up so high with all his gadgets."
Gemma swallowed, walked over to stand beside her mother, touched her on the shoulder. "Mama," she said determinedly, "Reid is dead. You have to remember that- you went to his funeral. We arranged it."
"Gemma, don't even say things like that- it's not nice, and it's not funny," Della said in a slightly more tense tone. "Now please, go call your brother for me."
What was she supposed to do now? Gemma never knew what to do or say- it was like her mother had to realize again on her own. Until then, it was bad- Gemma hated feeling helpless, confused. She was never quite certain whether it was she who was crazy, or her mother. She didn't want to lie to Della, or to play along with her, but neither did she like her mother getting angry at her.
"Gemma," Della repeated, and the annoyance was clear in her voice. "Go call your brother down for dinner. Now."
Gemma hesitated, biting her lip. Now what?
"Mom," she said timidly. "I told you, Reid is dead. You just forgot. I can't call him down because he's not there."
"Gemma, I told you that's not funny," Della snapped. "Stop saying that. And go get your brother."
Gemma stood there, biting her lip, trying desperately to think of what to say. Finally she said quietly, "I can't, Mom."
Della gave her a nasty look that made her stomach twist, and sighed loudly. "Fine, if you're going to be such a brat about it, I'll do it myself." She spun around, the annoyance evident in her back, her body language, as she headed towards the stairs. Gemma could hear her mounting them, calling out, "Reid! Reid, dinner!" as she went.
She knew what Della would find inside Reid's room, or what had once been Reid's room. No one had touched anything in it since he died- everything was exactly in the disorder he'd left it in. It was coated over with dust, and the food he had left was rotting, causing the whole room to smell. But Della would not notice this, Gemma knew- she would only see that Reid was not currently in the room, which would not prove his death in her mind.
Sure enough, a few minutes later Della reappeared in the kitchen, giving Gemma another pointed look. "It would have made it a lot easier if you had just explained Reid was at a friend's house instead of all the 'he's dead' nonsense. I'll keep some food aside for him," she muttered, going to serve herself and Gemma.
Gemma waited a few moments, then tried again. "Mama… I'm not lying. Reid died a month ago. That's why he's not here. It's hard for you, so you forget sometimes."
"Gemma, stop that!" Della hissed. "You know that's not true. Reid is gone a lot, but that doesn't give you the right to say that. He's seventeen, he has a lot of friends, girlfriends. He socializes a lot, and that's what he's doing now."
Gemma cringed, staring at her plate, not eating, as she very softly asked her next question. "When's the last time you saw Reid, Mama?"
Della began to answer swiftly, but then stopped, thinking about it. From her tense expression, Gemma knew the question- and probably her answer to it- disturbed her.
"Yesterday!" she said finally, triumphantly. "We saw Reid yesterday- both of us."
The knotting in Gemma's stomach tightened. "Mama… we went to see Reid's grave yesterday."
The stricken look on Della's face made it hard for Gemma to determine whether she was so shocked because she remembered that Gemma was right, or she didn't' believe her and couldn't understand her saying such a thing. Gemma decided to press on, hoping it was the former.
"I'm sorry, Mom… you forget a lot. I know you can't help it, but you do. Reid is dead. He killed himself-" and here her voice cracked; she had to look away, blink several times, before she could go on. "he did it in his car. Carbon monoxide poisoning. That's why his car isn't here," she finished quietly. "We sold it. You can go look it you need to."
Della didn't speak for several moments. When she did, her voice shook with anger, and Gemma stared at her untouched food, near tears.
"I can't believe you would say such a lie, Gemma Danielle. That is sick and heartless of you to lie about such a thing. And to try and offer proof of such a lie- of course Reid's car isn't here, he drove it to go to his friend's house!"
"Call his friends, Mom," Gemma said in a near whisper, her throat choking. "They'll tell you. They know too."
"I will do no such thing, give credence to your sickness!" Della said fiercely. "Gemma, I don't want to look at you right now while I'm eating. Take your plate and eat in your room."
When Gemma opened her mouth, Della cut her off, glaring at her.
"I mean it, Gemma. Go. Now."
Gemma stood slowly, the lump in her throat still crowding. She picked up the plate of food she had no desire to eat, began to carry it across the kitchen. Reaching the doorway, she turned suddenly, unable to stand it.
"Mama, I'm not lying, I swear. There's a box behind the couch, it has Reid's obituary in it, the sympathy cards, his death certificate, newspaper articles- even his s-suicide note. Please-"
"Gemma Danielle, go upstairs immediately!" her mother hissed.
Gemma turned slowly, fighting tears as she climbed the stairs, walked past her dead brother's closed bedroom door, the door she knew he would never open again. She sat slowly on her bed, waiting for her mother to remember.