I knew he was behind me, but I could not hear his muffled sobs. All I could hear was my own yearning cries. The ones that tore through my heart, and ripped away a part of me. As we stared at the stone erected over the grave, I felt a hand enclose around mine, and looked to see a suffering as great as my own.
"Matt?" I had opened the door, to find him standing there.
"Hey Cass. My Mum baked a lasagne, I thought I'd bring some over." He smiled, though I could tell that he had to put it on.
"Thanks. Want to come in?" I pulled the door open wider, stepping aside as he made in way in. "Want a drink?"
We sat at the table, talking easily. Easier than we'd ever been able to talk when she was with us.
"It would've been three years on Tuesday.
"Lettie couldn't stop talking about it. You were so young when you were eighteen. We all were." We paused, a sigh coming from him.
"She was beautiful, wasn't she."
"There was more beauty than I ever thought to look for."
"Did you see it before…" He trailed off, not needing to finish his sentence.
"Whenever I looked at her. Whenever I commented on her ugliness people would say that I couldn't say that because we looked the same, but I never believed it, she was always more beautiful. Always will be."
"It's hard to think of her, down there-" tears choked in his eyes.
As mine became foggy I reached out and took his hand, finding comfort in the sense of another.
"Her beauty won't die with her as long as we remember it." The words came from my mouth, and I knew he heard.
He left when my parents came home. They were tired, as they always were now, and thanked him for the food before he took his leave. I waited until he disappeared up the street.
We ate silently that night, as we always did now. It was good to have real food. Mum hadn't cooked for a while. Mum didn't do much nowadays. Dad had started going to work again. He went per normal, came home as normal. Dad seemed to be coping the best. I had stopped crying myself to sleep, instead tossing restlessly. I woke several times, thinking of her. And yet, she never entered my dreams. I would lumber about in the days, wishing the university term could start again. But it wouldn't for another two months. People would come over occasionally and they creep around the house as if every step would unleash a ghost. My friends would treat me cautiously, double-checking before they spoke. All I wanted was my normal friends, I didn't care if they cracked a joke that broke me into remembrance. But they never dared.
The next time I saw Matt was two weeks after. I was sitting on the bus when he came and plonked himself beside me.
"What's new?" He said.
"Yeah." I didn't feel much like talking, not to him right now. All I wanted was someone I could spill my thoughts to.
"It's lasagne night on Thursday, do you want me to bring some over?"
"Only if you make it."
"What! No wait, Matt, you don't really have to cook the lasagne." I staggered, trying to take back my challenge.
"Nonna's over, she's too eager to refuse."
I recalled the one time I had met his bubbly Italian grandmother. "Belle belle belle." She had kept repeating as she gestured towards me and my alike.
"Then I'll look forward to it."
He brought the lasagne round and invited himself to dinner that night. And though the pasta was soggy, the meat chunky and the sauce runny, it was the best lasagne I had ever had.
It was a year since she died now. So long since I'd seen him. I never thought I would again. Yet I sat on a park bench when he came and sat beside me.
"I'm not that unrecognisable am I? I still haven't grown that beard."
It was definitely Matt.
"Lettie always said that she would never let you."
"I made her promise that you know."
"She crossed her fingers you know."
We laughed, together, a sound I had not expected today.
"How are your parents?"
"They were to the cemetery today. They want us to take a holiday."
"You didn't?" I sensed the question in his tone.
"Her body may lie there but her heart doesn't."
He was silent, contemplating I think.
"Where does her heart lie Cass?"
"With you. She loved you so much Matt, so so much."
"I know, I know."
We took that holiday and went down to the coast. The opposite of where Lettie would've chosen. My parents did that for a reason, but I don't know if it helped. It was once told that grief wouldn't last forever, that all I had to do was find something else to concentrate my efforts on. I found nothing. And yet it was like I suffered more, like each passing day I missed her so much more and instead of becoming better, I became worse. And sometimes Matt would slink into my mind, and less often into my life.
And so another year passed, and again I sat in the park whilst my parents went to the cemetery.
"What are you doing here Matt?" I asked as he approached me. I wasn't surprised though.
"I took a guess and hoped you'd be here. Why did you choose this place anyway?"
"Lettie and I always used to come and play here when we were younger. We were set on running away and living under the slide once. Lucky Mum came home with a chocolate cake that day."
He laughed, and I smiled as his rumble surrounded my ears.
"Cass and I used to come and sit on the swings, trying to see who could swing over."
"I wondered what you'd do when you came here."
"Yeah, it wasn't all we did though."
I couldn't help it, and I laughed.
"That's more like it, when did I last here that from you?"
"About the same time I last saw you."
"You need to see more of me then."
I laughed again. "You know I'm laughing at you, not with you."
We sat silently, I remembering the laugher I used to hold.
"It's been two years Matt-"
"She lived for eighteen."
"Am I going to live like this for the next eighteen years?"
"No, you're going to live the life Lettie would've wanted from you." He took my hand, and sitting there, I was taken back to the day before, when he stood behind me sobbing.
"I want to show you something Cass." He released my hand, reaching into his pocket but then retracting it.
"What is it?"
"Do you know where Lettie and I were going, the night that…" I could hear his words catch in his throat.
"Lettie said you were going out to dinner."
"I was going to take her to a little restaurant at the top of a hill that I know about."
I waited for him to continue, wondering where this would end.
He wasn't looking at me, gazing at the swings instead. "And then I was going to wait till the sun began to go down, and I was going to take her outside. And we would stand there gazing for a few minutes. Until I took this out." And he again reached into his pocket, and pulled out a little black box, still glossy in its sheen.
"You were going to propose."
"I loved her Cass, I still do. It was going to be perfect."
I placed my hand on his, covering the box from sight.
"Do you want to see it?"
"It was the perfect one for her."
"You would've been married by March."
"In the church, with a dress like a marshmallow."
"And her bridesmaids would wear gold."
"Beef and prawns."
"With a three-tier chocolate cake."
We stopped. Wanting to laugh, but to hurt with pain.
"She knew what she wanted, didn't she."
"She wanted you Matt."
We sat there, till the afternoon grew cold. He walked me back to my house, leaving me when I invited him in.
I lay on my bed that night, sleep not daring to encompass my mind. But whilst my thoughts did not turn to her, they turned to him. The boy, the friend, the one who had always been wrapped in her mind, and now was wrapped in mine.
He turned up the day after, a dish laden in his hands.
"Lasagne? It's not Thursday."
He made his way in, not bothering for a welcome. "Nonna's coming again, I'm practicing."
"Thanks Matt." I took the lasagne into the kitchen, coming out and putting us on the coach.
"Your phones ringing."
"What?" I looked at him, wondering how he knew that, considering I hadn't seen my phone since yesterday.
"I can feel it." He got up, and reached underneath the cushion beneath him. "Here's your phone."
"Hey, thanks." I stared at it blankly for a few seconds
"Are you going to answer that, or wait for it to answer itself."
I quickly pressed the button. A few words. "My parents won't be coming home for dinner."
"Good thing I've brought some."
We sat on the couch, easting the pasta. It wasn't as soggy, chunky or meaty, but it was just as good.
"You know, Lettie never liked lasagne." Matt looked at me curiously. "You're not just faking it are you?"
"Do you remember in primary school, when we tried that weird green thing and I couldn't stop taking mints because I thought the taste was still in my mouth."
"She was crazy for that, I don't know how anyone could not like this. I want some more."
He got up, returning to the kitchen with the dish.
"Just one more bite." I reached to where he had rested it on the table, taking a chunk with my fork.
"Hey! If you can double-dip I can double-dip." He reached forward and repeated my actions.
"Well then." I grabbed the dish and put it between us. "I want another bite."
We sat there, eating from the dish, just because we could. Joke flew from him, laughter from me. And for a little while I forgot about her. Until he spoke.
"What do you think Lettie would be doing, is she was still here?"
I stopped, thinking before I spoke. "I think she would be standing in your own kitchen making macaroni and cheese. With a big vase of flowers on the table." I added.
"She loved flowers."
"She was going to do a floristry course." We shared these facts, though both knew them all. "What did you use to think about me Matt?"
"Easy, you were the evil twin that lurked behind every corner. You know, one day one of my mates said I should break up with her, because she wasn't cute enough. Instead of smashing him in the face I told him that I couldn't because then her sister would come beat me up."
"Did you consider us friends."
He paused this time, considering. "We were more than friends. You were always there to hold her hand in a way that I couldn't, and I respected you for that."
"There were times when I just had to push in, times when I needed her just as much as she needed me. It's not like that anymore. She doesn't need me, but I need her."
"She's still there."
"You think so?"
He started coming over regularly after that, bringing lasagne, one time venturing with spaghetti. My parents seemed happy to see him, and I was always welcome to his visits. And in that way another year passed. During that year we grew closer, and I found myself becoming happier. My friends had become less cautious until there was barely a hint of the past. Things were getting better. But still I didn't return to the cemetery, no matter how many times people said it would help. And so I returned to the park, knowing he would come. Instead, he was already there when I arrived, sitting on the swings. It surprised me that he was here earlier.
I walked back the bench and sat on the one adjacent.
"You're here early."
"Do you know why I always came here later the other years?"
"I was visiting her gravestone."
I was silent, unsure of what to say. For some reason I hadn't even thought that he'd want to visit where she lay.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you."
"You didn't have to." Yet I knew that I felt that he did.
"She's there Cass, I went there and for a moment…"
I remained silent, not wanting to say anything, knowing that this was his moment. His and hers.
"I had to Cass."
"What about this year?"
He looked away, looked back. "I didn't want to go alone. Come with me Cass, please."
It was my turn to look away, to stare into the blades of grass until I felt my hand in his.
"It's okay if you don't want to." He didn't say more, he knew when to stop. And he always knew how to get me to go.
He stood behind me, as I stood staring at the smooth stone. Time had done nothing. Tears shattered from my eyes, dripped off my chin. A hand enclosed around mine, and I looked back to see a suffering as great as my own. But there, hidden in his eyes, lay a gleam of chance, a gleam of hope.
He started coming over my occasionally after, not always bringing food. I began to venture to his place, becoming to know more of his family, whilst he already knew mine. One more year past, and I found that with each day, I wasn't so sad. Four years and though I was still sad, it only weighed slightly on me, everything my life was beginning to return to what it used to be.
So on this day before the fourth year, I took myself into her room, tears coming to my eyes as I remembered. I sat on her bed, resting my hand on her pillow. And beneath that… I pulled out a notebook, gilded with a silver cover. I stared at it a few moments, then dared to flip through the pages.
Dear Diary, Dear Diary, Dear Diary, Dear Diary, Dear Diary, Dear Diary, Dear Diary, Dear Diary, Dear Cass
I stopped staring at the two words at the top of the page. Questions flashed through my mind, but the most important; should I read it? With a hesitant halt, I looked down at the page and took in the words of her callous hand.
I know that you'll never read this, but still, I need you to know. Cass, you are my greatest sister. Granted you are my only sister, but you are the greatest. You have always been there for me, and know, please know, that no matter what happens between us, I will always be there for you. Till the end has come and gone. You know how we used to believe that a fairy would one day come down and give us each a wish. Well I saw a fairy, I wished that you could be happy, no matter what it takes. I don't care what you do, I don't care if I died, as long as you're happy. No matter what. Cass please, please, be happy. Whenever you smile, I don't smile because I'm laughing at the same joke. I smile because I love to see you smile. We're sisters Cass, but you're so much more. You have done an immense amount for me, and I'd like to think that one day I can give something to you. I will though. I do not know what it will be, but one day I will give something to you that will repay you. It will be the greatest thing I have to give. So Cass if you do ever read this, know that I'm a hopeless liar and that I love you Cass. So much.
Tears. Cascades. Tears. I sat with the book deep in my hand, the words etched through my eyes.
So on this fourth year, I took myself to the park, and waited silently for him to appear.
It was afternoon when he did, and I smiled as he came.
"This is turning into tradition." He said as he approached.
"This park held so much for us. It was like our second home."
"It held a lot for all of us."
Silence ensued us.
"I want to take you somewhere tonight."
I glanced at him. "Where?"
"Matt, I don't think tonight is the best night." I looked down, hesitant to refuse his offer. "Mum and Dad-"
"I talked to them, they said it'd be good for you to get out tonight."
"Okay." And I felt happier knowing that I wouldn't spend my night stuck in a house mourning.
"Let's go then."
"Gotta leave now if we want to get there in time.
"Where are we going?" Curiosity slipped into my mind.
We sat in the car, chatting idly, as scenery changed into one I did not recognise. I asked again, but he repeated his answer. And idle chatter continued. Until we got there.
Light was still with us, showing the stretching trees around us. A dusty paved path led into the trunks, and we travelled cautiously, eyeing the loose stones. We went up, until trees made way and a grassy green came to our eyes. He looked at me, took my hand, and led me to a little restaurant nestled between the trees.
There we sat, cosy in our seats. And me smiling, eyeing around me, knowing what this was like.
"Come with me."
He took my hand, took me from my seat, led me outside. The sun had begun its descent, casting colours over the sea below. Over us. We stood there, gazing for a few minutes. Until he reached into his pocket, and pulled out a little black box.
"Cass. I tried to think of the perfect way to do this, and this was the only thing that seemed to fit."
I gazed down upon his eyes and he shortened himself below me.
"Cass, will you marry me?" And he opened the little black box.
Inside lay the perfect ring. A red rose. And though it was fake, though it was small, though it had been chosen for her, it was perfect for me.
And I looked at him and in his eyes, I saw all the love that he had held for her, that he now held for me.
"Yes Matt, yes."
He took the rose, twisted its edge and slipped it over my finger. And there we shared our first kiss, and I knew that this was what Lettie wanted.
We married in April. Not in a church or with a marshmallow dress. My bridesmaids didn't wear gold, and we didn't eat beef and prawns. Our cake wasn't a three-tier chocolate cake.
We married in the park, by the swings, under a tree that dropped leaves into my hair.
He looked into my eyes, with the deepest love.
"Cass, I give myself to you." And this was what Lettie gave to repay me. This was the greatest thing she had to give.
"Matt, to you I give you my life, and Lettie's."
And we accepted the other as they had accepted each other, and I knew, that Lettie, would be with us always. And I'm still searching for something to repay her, and maybe one day, I will find something. But I know that it will never equal what she has given me. Happiness.