They asked you to do the eulogy.
You refused, after sending them such a dark glare, they were forced to back away.
They asked again a few days later, despite the heat of your rejection. "You knew her better than anyone," they argue to you, trying to get you to see reason. "She would have wanted it this way."
"No." You disagree, voice completely devoid of emotion. You just want to be left alone, to weep and mourn on your own time. You weren't even planning on attending the funeral. You did not want your memories of her tainted. She would be laying in a box, completely made up and in a dress, even though she never wore makeup a day in her life and despised dresses. "Why don't you ask her mother or her boyfriend?"
They share a look behind your back, you know they do. You continue anyway. "Her mother was there from the beginning. I only came in four years ago."
"We can't ask her mom to do the eulogy…" One of them argues.
"She's too close to the loss."
You whip around that you send the cat sitting in your lap jumping. It meows pitifully at you. "And I'm not? What the hell is wrong with you?"
"Oh, come now, Cora, you were her best friend, not her sister."
"Emma was the closest thing I'll ever have to a sister!" You are screeching, but you can't be bothered to care. "She was the only constant thing in my life after my whole world fell apart!" Suddenly, the fire leaves you and you sag. "And I took her for granted…"
After a few more minutes of prodding, you send them away, refusal still sticking.
They will be back.
They always come back.
You fist met Emma Taylor in high school. It was a chance meeting, one completely dictated by fate. The high school you both attended was large, and you had just moved in the week before. You were constantly seeing new faces, but none of them had stuck.
You had always been a loner, a type to only have a few close acquaintances, but never a friend. The fact that you randomly ran into someone on the stairs one day should not have changed your life so monumentally, but it did.
She was small, thin, and mousey looking. Her hair was chestnut, her eyes like moss; completely generic, as far as people went. Yet, she had a presence about her, practically an aura that radiated kindness and warmth. You sent her sprawling onto her back on the stairs, her books spilling out of her arms and scattering onto the ground below the steps.
You expected her to lash out at you, as it was obvious that she was fine, but instead, she stared at you – through you – and blinked once before smiling.
You were blindsided, completely shocked. This was not normal, at least, for you. You had always been a klutz, so you were used to being yelled at for bumping into someone, but, never before had someone introduced themselves to you.
"You gonna help me up, Cora?"
You pull yourself from your stunned staring and offer her your hand, which she takes easily. As she rises to her feet, she looks at you critically. "You're new." It isn't a question, so you don't respond. "You should come over sometime." She smiled then before glancing toward her books and sighing. "I gotta go. See you later?"
Despite yourself, you nod.
Somehow, in the next week, you managed to run into Emma at least once every day. Eventually, through these meetings, she convinced you to come spend the afternoon in her home. One visit followed, then two, then three. Suddenly, you were aware that you were always looking for her in the halls, constantly aware when you were alone. The two of you texted constantly, even when you couldn't see each other.
It wasn't long after that that you declared yourselves best friends, truly and completely. The bond that had formed between the two of you was infectious, almost addicting, and you were always together at every possible moment.
She was a year older than you, so, when she graduated two years later, you couldn't help but fear that she would disappear. She didn't, of course, always returning on weekends.
A year later, and you followed her footsteps and left high school with a diploma. You both moved off to university together. The following year had been happy. She cycled through boyfriends like any typical casual dater, and you appropriately raged and gushed with her. You had a few boyfriends as well, but you weren't as appealing to the male population, because of your strange coloring. Black hair and blue eyes aren't exactly strange, but it was unusual, deterring those influenced by looks alone.
Life had been going great until that fateful day.
They returned again, this time with a priest. Her family was Catholic, even though she had not been to church in years. You yourself had been raised Baptist, and your situation was much the same, though you did not hold the same annoyance with your church as she did hers.
The priest sized you up, his small, dark eyes slightly glaring through his glasses. "It is my understanding, sister, that you do not wish to speak at your friend's memorial service?"
You do not respond, instead choosing to wiggle your fingers at the cat. She glares at you, hisses at the visitors, and turns with a haughty sniff. You sneer after her.
"Why won't you accept this honor?"
"Why won't you take no for an answer?"
"There are quite a few people worried about you."
"And they believe that making me think about Emma is a way to a quick recovery?"
"You need to let go. Move on."
"She's not even in the ground yet!"
Your outburst is uncalled for, you know it from the looks on their faces, so you scowl to cover up your embarrassment.
But, they will be back.
Two hours later, you lay on your bed. The cat has recovered from her earlier agitation and is curled up next to you, purring in your ear. You reach one lazy hand over to pet her and she leans into the rub, her purring increasing.
It has only been a few days, but already the apartment seems colder without her steady presence. She was always a ball of energy, never sitting still until she collapsed out of exhaustion. She was always singing too, the small collection of rooms full of the pure, clear tones of her voice.
Now, it is deathly still and extremely quiet. You twitch when the ringing silence penetrates your mind and you flip onto your stomach, upsetting the feline and sending her running for a more stable bed. You bury your face into your pillow, feeling tears pricking at your eyes. You have not cried one tear since you received the news. You have always been strong for her, so much so that you have convinced yourself that you have forgotten how to cry, to sob. She was the crier, you were the strong shoulder.
"You were always so strong…" A phantom voice whispers into her ear right as something cold brushes your shoulder. You whip around, lashing out. Your right hand passes through a slightly resistant material and your eyes dart toward the source. They widen seconds later. "Yet, that strength has always been your weakness…"
You dart up so quickly, you make yourself dizzy. However, after one look around the room, you realize that's nothing there and you sigh before faceplanting back onto the bed.
They return once more, but the confrontation is short this time. You say no and slam the door on their faces.
Later, you wonder where they get off harassing you. They must have been put up to this by her mother, you think to yourself. The woman was never happy with your friendship, as she saw you as a bad influence. You always shrugged off her glares, but now, you bet, she's making you feel them.
No matter the reasoning for their buzzing, you will not do the eulogy. You doubt anyone could understand you through your choked throat. The tears always lodge themselves there, but never escape. You have never been a public speaker, anyway, as you get scatterbrained under pressure and clam up. The whole prospect is not appealing.
But, more than that, you do not want to go to the funeral. You do not want to mourn her. She deserves to be celebrated, not missed. You remember all of the times that she smiled at you, told you that everyone you loved would live on in your heart, even if they weren't near or if they were gone.
You cannot bear to go see the people who will miss her. They will never understand how much you are aching for her to walk through the door. You have never wished harder for a nightmare; to simply wake up to her snoring quietly on the other bed across the room.
So, you will not write that damn eulogy, because that would require you to give up hope.
And, right now, hope is all you have.
They return once again, but you don't open the door this time. You simply sink back against it to the floor, clutching at your skull. They knock again, their voices like whispers through the wood.
"Cora… We just want to talk."
You shake your head, your throat too clogged to speak.
"We know you're here. Open the door."
You are silent.
"Please, we need to speak with you now."
"It's always darkest before dawn…"
A different voice whispers and you jerk your head up.
There is nothing there.
You bang your head back against the wood. Seconds later, the knob jiggles as the others on the outside try to get in.
"Go away." You whisper.
And they do.
"I was not your sun, Cora…"
"I miss you… So much."
"You must continue living. Let me go."
"Can't or won't?"
"I don't know…"
"It is your time to shine on your own. I have left you enough for you to begin again."
"The first step is always the hardest."
"You're not even really talking to me. I'm going insane."
"Acceptance is the first step to cure."
"Then why do I feel so smothered?"
"Go get some fresh air."
You have only been to the park once. When you first moved here, the two of you visited to get a feel for the neighborhood. The experience had long been buried in your psyche, but now, the memories slam into you.
You sit on a bench, watching as a group of friends plays on the swings. They push each other, laugh, live. You realize belatedly that, with Emma, you have died as well. You honestly cannot comprehend life moving forward, but, now, looking at these kids, you start to believe that it's possible.
You don't know how long you sit there before she shows up. She is wearing a scarf, so red that it catches your eye before you realize who is wearing it. The wind whips it around her heart-shaped face and she scowls a familiar scowl as she approaches.
You watch with a blank face as she sets herself down beside you.
"What are you doing here?" You ask, glancing at her out of the side of your eye. Her cheeks are red from the wind, her hair ruffled and frizzy about her head. She is wearing her favorite shirt, the black one with the inspirational phrases on it that you gave her for her eighteenth birthday. She looks so undeniably normal that if you didn't know better, you could have sworn that the last three days had been an illusion.
"You really need to work on your greetings." She teases, yanking her scarf from the wind's harsh grab. It falls around her shoulders, concealing her familiar necklace. You finger the identical one hanging around your neck. "And your social skills. I wasn't your whole life, Cora."
You scowl at her smirk. "Might as well have been." You argue back. "I've been taking care of your cat." You change subjects quickly, watching for a reaction from her.
Her eyes narrow a small bit. "She's yours now."
"I'm pretty sure I belong to her."
A silence settles after she chuckles at that. It is thick and heavy. Slightly, you wonder what your problem is. You thought you wouldn't be able to see her again, and here she is, and you can't say a thing.
"I hid your Xbox controller in the cereal cupboard." She says abruptly, breaking the hovering hush. "Ya'know, because you flooded the bathroom."
"I apologized for that!"
"So? I'm the one that cleaned it up."
"Well, I always clean up after your damn cat. She doesn't even like me."
"Bastet likes everyone!"
"Please. You're blinded by love."
She laughs again and you blink at the familiar sound. "I missed this…"
Her laughter cuts off. "It's only been three days."
"Then I will miss this."
She doesn't respond, and you turn to look at her fully.
"I know why you're here." You whisper.
"Do you?" Her answer is bold and cryptic at the same time.
"You're here to convince me to move on."
"No." The denial sends a shock through you. "I'm here to be your friend, first and foremost, like I always have."
You stare at her in shock for a few seconds before your brain kicks back on. "Then, as my friend, you should know what I'm going through. What would you do if you were in my shoes?"
She shrugs. "Probably the same thing."
"I know what you're going through because I've imagined it too many times. I've woken up crying from dreams dealing with this situation, and I've never fully recovered. But, despite that, I still lived, knowing that, one day, one of us was going to leave. Of course, I wasn't expecting it to be so soon, but…" She shrugs at you.
"I don't think I can." You respond.
"I know you can. You survived before we met."
Her words sting for some reason. "Not very well…"
"Look," she says, scooting closer and throwing her arm over your shoulder. She is warm, something that surprises you. "At the risk of sounding like a corny children's movie knock off, I'll always be with you."
You send her a flat look. "In my heart?"
"No," she answers again, reaching out and poking you in the head. "In here. I'll be that little annoying voice that talks to you."
"I'm pretty sure I already have one of those. It's called a conscience."
"Not that annoying thing!" She laughs. "I'll be the one that laughs with you, cries for you, watches you succeed… I need you to live because I can't. Do the things you've always wanted to. Don't let anything hold you back and I'll be with you." She stares deep into your eyes and you into yours. Hers are bottomless pits of emerald, so unfathomable and impossible to comprehend. They beg you to understand, to accept, to forgive. "I'm sorry…" She says then.
"For leaving you."
"It's not your fault."
"Maybe." She tugs at her scarf, pulling it off. Easily, she presses it into your hands. "Maybe not. But, for what it counts, what I'm about to do is impossible." Then, she leans forward, gives you a hard, tight hug. You savor it, hug back. Brief feelings of sorrow, regret, and a tinge of brief nostalgia passes between you before she slowly starts to disappear. At first, it is unnoticeable, but then you can feel her form wavering and you clutch tighter, unwilling to let go. But, she pulls away and smiles wetly at you, her tears shimmering pieces of diamond on her cheeks.
Then, she is gone, and all you're left with is a crimson scarf. You fist your hand around it and suck in a deep breath as all the tears you have been fighting off finally break free. The sob shatters your dams and you bury your face in the red material. You practically scream at the loss, made even more personal now that she was disappeared right in front of you.
Something tinges in the back of your mind, and you feel something warm seep into your from the scarf. It works its way into your head and settles over you, hugging you close. Your cries quiet and you look up just as the sun cuts through the thick autumn clouds, lighting up the park around you.
Somehow, despite the sorrow still clinging to you, you manage to smile.
When they return the next day, you open the door and nod your acquiescence. They stare at you before nodding back.
They do not ask what changed your mind.
And, they do not return.