This story was written as an entry for A Drop of Romeo's Star-Crossed December contest. The photo used for this story was entitled "Photo Booth".

Star-Cross'd Awards is the bi-annual writing contest of ADoR. There will be one from January to June, then another from July to December.

For each round, there is a set of prompts. You may choose from any prompt. For each prompt, there is one winner. Honorable mention will be awarded when there are sufficient submissions.

The requirements are:

Must be the specified story type (either multi-chaptered or one-shot)

Reference to Romeo and Juliet (this does not have to be a MAJOR reference. For example, your narrator could walk past a poster advertising a nearby showing of R&J)

Must have been written after the contest begun

The purpose of Star-Cross'd is to give you enough time to start and finish something you can edit until you're satisfied. I know that when I try writing for a prompt, I tend to not have enough time to finish my response. One month goes by like that. Star-Cross'd gives you five to six months to complete your entry.

All authors who submit their work shall receive a review from me AS LONG AS YOU FULFILL THE REQUIREMENTS! The winner of each round will receive a banner.


I Didn't Know My Own Strength

It was a strange sensation that I felt. No, it wasn't one of glee or excitement, but more like dread. It was as though I had to force my feet to move forward, to put one foot in front of the other. Why? Why did it have to be so hard to move towards the building? It was just a building, just mortar and brick and glass. There wasn't anything special about it, not at all. Why was it so hard, then? Why couldn't I go inside?

I knew why.

I knew exactly why.

I took a deep breath and wrapped my arms around my waist. It was starting to sprinkle, the wind blowing a cool breeze against my face. One foot in front of the other, I thought as I stared at the automatic doors that opened with a swish as a nurse walked out to go home for the night. It was so easy for her to leave such a place, but it was so hard for me to just walk through those doors. That was all I needed to do, just walk through those doors to the elevator and up to the fifth floor. It was that simple once you thought about it.

But, it wasn't.

It wasn't simple at all.

My brother was in there. My nineteen-year-old brother was in there somewhere, lying on an operating table as the doctors worked to save his life. It was supposed to be simple, but it wasn't. I couldn't force myself to go and join my family inside because it was just too hard. A little piece of me fell apart each time that I thought about it.

He was supposed to be on leave, he was supposed to return to Afghanistan in two days. Him lying in a hospital was not supposed to be in the picture, but it was. It was reality and I needed to force myself to realize that. Reality. I wasn't sure that I even knew what reality was for sure, not after the year I'd had. I wasn't sure if any of my family knew what reality was.

I ran my hand through the short locks that I now called my hair and took a deep breath. One foot in front of the other. Slowly, I walked towards the door and into the hospital. It wasn't hard, I realized, but I didn't remember any of it. All of it seemed like a dream and the next thing I knew was that the elevator doors opened on the fifth floor, but I didn't get out. Instead, I watched as the doors slid shut and then opened on the eighth floor of the hospital and a handful of doctors stepped silently inside.

As the elevator went to several other floors and new people came and went, I slowly became aware of my surroundings and began to digest what it was that was going on exactly. The elevator allowed me to sort through my feelings and figure out what it was that I needed to say and do whenever I stepped into the waiting room that my family resided in at that current moment.

With my hand shaking, I pressed the fifth floor button once again and watched as the floor lights lit up. This time, however, I stepped out when the doors slid open and found my way to the waiting room my family was in.

They were all there, sitting there with pale faces except for my little brother. My grandma sat next to my mom, holding her hand silently. My father was pacing the room with a coffee clutched in his hand as my grandfather watched him. Aunt Cindy sat on the floor next to my eight-year-old brother Toby with a coloring book on her lap, watching as he colored in the animals. Uncle Bob was sitting next to his daughter, Catherine, sleeping while she stared blankly at the wall across from her. She was a year older than I was and just a year younger than my brother, which made the three of us nearly inseparable from birth.

As I stepped inside, my father and mother's attention turned to me. It was my father, though, who reached me first and pulled me in for a tight hug. It felt like he was trying to put all of his emotion into that one hug and it was me who reminded him just how fragile I still was. He kept his arm around me as my mother came over and pulled me in for a hug.

"How is he?" I asked finally, looking from my mom to my dad. Dad shook his head slightly.

"We haven't heard anything since we arrived," he told me and finally sat down next to my grandpa. "All we know is what we told you on the phone."

"Did you find someone to watch the Carter's boy?" Mom asked me in an attempt to take her mind off what was happening. I nodded.

"Yeah, um, Kevin came over and said he would look after him until the Carter's came home," I replied. She nodded.

"Good," she said in a defeated voice before she went back to sitting next to Grandma.

"She's exhausted," Dad told me in a whisper. "She's been up since five. Jamie's outdone himself this time. I have no idea what he was thinking whenever he got into that car with those boys."

"He was probably thinking that he was friends with them before he left," I replied just as softly. Dad shook his head.

"That was a year ago, Anna. They were all drunk and I thought he had enough sense to not get into a car with people that were drinking."

"He would have had enough sense if he'd been sober, too. He made a poor judgment."

"This was not an error of judgment, it was pure stupidity and he is certainly going to hear about it once he's well."

"Do you think he's going to be the same?" I asked, biting my lip. He closed his eyes for a moment before he spoke.

"I have no idea," he said. "The sheriff said that the car struck pretty hard and that James was found lying on the pavement a few feet away. I'm praying that he will be the same, but I really just do not know if he will be, honey."

I didn't respond and we stood there in silence, just waiting for news.

Catherine and I went to the snack machines an hour later to try and find some sugar filled foods that would allow us to stay awake for however much longer was necessary. I had a feeling that it was going to be a while before we would be able to sleep and it was a feeling that put me on edge. We walked outside and into the cool air and watched as the rain poured down.

"This is surreal," Catherine said finally, pushing her red hair out of her eyes. "I mean, think about what all has happened this year. My parents separated and then got back together. Jamie joined the Army. You . . . you went through hell."

"That's one way to put it," I mused as I munched on a cinnamon roll.

"Yeah, I guess it is," she said with a sigh. "I thought that you having cancer was the worst thing that could happen."

"But then remission happened," I pointed out. She gave me a slight smile.

"Yeah, then you went into remission, but I think not knowing if Jamie is going to live or not is the worst thing. At least whenever you went into surgery, we always got to say our goodbyes just in case. None of us got to say goodbye."

"This entire ordeal just sucks," I said as I sat down on the sidewalk. "I just want to rewind to yesterday, back to when everything was somewhat normal." Catherine sat down on the sidewalk next to me.

"What are we going to do if he doesn't . . .," she trailed off, unable to finish her sentence.

"I have no idea," I said in a soft, hoarse voice. "I have absolutely no idea."

x.x.x

It was three hours after my arrival at the hospital that we were finally told how Jamie was. He was unconscious, but stable apparently. The list of damage that had been done to him in the crash was too much to remember, but it didn't matter much to me. He was alive and they were going to monitor him throughout the next twenty-four hours. If he survived for the next day, they expected that he would make a good recovery, but it wasn't going to be easy, they warned us. We were allowed to see him for a brief period of time, but only two people in the room at once since he was in the intensive care unit.

Catherine and I waited our turn outside the sliding doors with my grandparents as my parents visited him. Eventually, though, they emerged and my mother walked past us without a word. Dad squeezed my arm as he followed her. I dropped my gaze for a moment before the nurse came to let Catherine and me in.

The walk to Jamie's room felt like it lasted a lifetime, but whenever I stood outside of his room, I couldn't even remember walking there. Catherine looked at me before she stepped into the room, leaving me to force myself to follow her.

The person lying on the bed, though, was not my brother. My brother was a black haired—from my father—boy who stood at a little less than six feet and was pure muscle with a dark tan from the desert. The man lying on the bed was pale, his black hair hidden beneath the bandages wrapped around his head, and he looked nowhere near six feet tall. The records may have said he was James Daniel Raskin, but he was not the James Daniel Raskin that I knew.

I put my hand over my mouth to try and hold back the sob that wanted to escape through my lips and quickly turned away from him and half ran out of the room. It was too much. Seeing him there on the bed looking so helpless was just too much for me and it was something I hoped I wouldn't have to see again, but I knew I would eventually. I just hoped that the next time I saw him was when he was awake.

x.x.x

I returned to school a week later after there had been no change in Jamie's condition. The doctors said he was improving and that his wounds were healing nicely, but they were unsure how much longer he would be unconscious. They kept telling us that it could be mere days or it could be as long as months or that he may never wake up.

"Hey," a voice said from behind me. I pulled my Spanish book out of my locker before I turned around and found Kevin Keahi standing there. "Catherine told me you'd come back today and I just wanted to see how you were doing." I turned and shut my locker before I faced him, leaning against it.

"I'm fine, Kevin."

"You don't look fine," he told me as he closed the gap between us. "I'm not your family, A, you can tell me what you're really feeling." I hugged my Spanish book to my chest and looked at him. All around us, kids were joking and shoving each other playfully as they headed to class. I was seventeen-years-old and I had never felt the way I was feeling at that moment before.

"I really feel like I don't want to be here," I said in a whisper. He shoved his hands into his jean pockets and considered this for a moment before he nodded.

"Then let's get out of here," he decisively said, holding out his hand to me. I gave him a small smile before I took his large hand within my small one and allowed him to lead me out of the building and towards the parking lot.

I wasn't sure how long Kevin drove or where we were when he finally pulled off the freeway and into the parking lot of a small diner. It didn't matter, though, because it felt like I was millions of miles away from everything that was happening back home. Kevin hadn't said a word the entire drive and I was grateful for that because I was tired of having to talk about what was happening with Jamie to people who really didn't care much about what exactly had happened. All they wanted was a good gossip, but Kevin wasn't like that and that had been the reason we'd become best friends.

We sat down on the well-worn booth seat of the diner and looked over the menus that the waitress had given us. All of the choices listed were fattening and were definitely unhealthy, but at that moment it was exactly what I was craving. Kevin and I gave the waitress our orders and sat there silently after she had gone.

I looked around the diner, taking in the old photos hanging on the walls and the battered tables and chairs. The cook was flipping burgers in the kitchen that was tucked beneath the bar counter. A waitress leaned against the counter, flirting with a boy who looked like he was in college or a bit older. An old, faded flyer that looked as though it was advertising a remake of Romeo and Juliet was hanging on the door and fluttered whenever someone came or went.

It was a nice, quaint building and I found myself feeling all warm and fuzzy inside just from being there for a few minutes. There was just something that spoke to me.

"Where's your head at, Anna Raskin?" Kevin asked me, resting his chin on his hand as he studied me. I leaned back against the back of the booth and shrugged.

"I'm not too sure," I admitted. He looked at me, considering this before he nodded.

"Understood," he said, sitting back and letting his hands fall into his lap. "I haven't been through nearly as much as you have, but I still sometimes struggle to figure out where it is that my state of mind is at and what it is that I want, or need, to make of things. I think that's something that happens to everyone at one point or another and there really is nothing that we can do about it."

I looked at him for a moment, feeling a smile creeping onto my face. "Sometimes I wonder how you got so smart, Kevin."

"I've always been smart."

"Keep telling yourself that," I told him, smiling. He grinned back at me, not even glancing at the waitress as she sat our food down in front of us.

After we finished our meal, we walked outside and found the sky pouring the rain down onto the ground beneath it. I looked at Kevin before running out into it and stopping in the middle of the parking lot with my arms above my head

"What are you doing?" Kevin called, laughing. I closed my eyes, feeling the cold water running over my face.

"Living," I called back. I opened my eyes again and looked at him.

"You're going to get sick!"

"I'm already sick!" I shouted over the roar of the rain. His smile had left his face as he looked at me. I dropped my arms down to my side and looked at him, a sad look playing over my face. "I'm sick, Kevin. I just found out last week." I wrapped my arms around my waist, thankful for the rain so he wouldn't see the tears on my face. "My parents are the only ones who know except for, now, you."

"Anna," he said, stepping towards me and then stopping, a troubled look on his face.

"Don't act weird around me, Kev," I said with a sad smile. "I'm still me, I'm just no longer in remission." He stuffed his hands into his pockets and stared down at the ground. "We all knew it was a possibility because there is no cure for cancer."

"Yeah, but you could have lived the rest of your life without it coming back, too," he mumbled. I walked over to him and stopped a few feet away.

"My treatments are supposed to start next week," I told him as I looked at him. "Kevin, at least look at me." It was a few seconds before he sighed softly and lifted his gaze up to meet mine. "I'm not giving up, so don't act like I'm going to die. As long as Jamie is fighting, I'm going to fight. If he loses his fight, then I'm going to fight for him, alright?" I smiled softly at him, trying to get his normal attitude back. "I'm the one with all the problems, Kevin, so you don't get to be sad on me. I need someone in my life who isn't going to act like I'm a porcelain doll who can't do anything because I'll break. I'm stronger than you may think."

"I know you are, Anna," he replied. I nodded.

"Good," I said, "now let's go home."

x.x.x

The house was pitch black whenever Kevin pulled up in front of him. I thanked him for getting my mind off everything for a while before I started up the front walk. Blindly, I shoved my key into the door and pushed it open, hearing something being pushed whenever I did so. After I had shut the door, I switched on the hall light and picked up the mail, frowning.

The answering machine was flashing in the living room and when I listened to it, it was only a message for my dad from his firm about a case. There wasn't a note on the table from my parents telling me where they were, but I had expected that. Whoever gets home first always picks up the mail and puts it on the counter, so it had been clear that I was the first one there. I pulled out my phone and tried to call both of my parents, but neither of them picked up. After grabbing an apple from the fridge, I sat down at the counter and dialed Catherine's number in hope that she knew where they were.

"Anna?" she asked as she picked up on the second ring.

"Hey," I said as I fingered my apple, no longer hungry. "Have you heard anything from my parents?"

"They didn't call you?" Catherine questioned, her tone changing. "I thought they had called you or else I would have tried to track you down."

"Why should they have called me?" I asked, sitting up straighter and my pulse quickening. "Is James alright? Did something happen?"

"You should call your parents, Anna," she told me. "You'll want to hear it from them and not me, trust me." I was silent as a million thoughts ran through my mind and all of them were about the worst scenario. "Anna, just call them."

"I already tried," I whispered, shoving my chair back and grabbing my car keys. "I already tried and they didn't answer."

"Oh," was all she said.

"Oh? All you can say is 'oh'?" I asked as I hurried out the door and towards my car.

"I . . .," she started and I could tell she was grasping to find the right thing to say. "I'll just meet you at the hospital, okay? I'll wait outside of the ER, okay? And, Anna?" I opened my car door and slammed it shut before jamming the key into the ignition.

"What?" I snapped.

"Don't freak out too much, alright?" I paused in putting the car into gear. Was she serious? How was I supposed to not freak out too much if she wouldn't tell me what was wrong with my brother?

"I have to go," I said instead and hung up the phone as I put the car into reverse and backed out onto the road.

The drive to the hospital felt longer than normal. I wasn't sure what to expect once I got there because I wasn't sure if Catherine had been keeping good or bad news from me. At that moment, after everything that had happened, I expected it to be bad news. It could have been good news, though, but it was unlikely because there hadn't been any change in James since he arrived at the hospital and the doctors were telling us that he may never wake up and that was something that scared me more than anything.

Jamie was my best friend, my first friend. No matter how many fights I had with my friends at school or with my parents, he was there for me and if he ever had an opinion, then he kept it to himself and I did the same for him. I had been the first person he'd told when he had decided to enlist in the Army just a few weeks before graduation. With only two years between us, we had a bond that most siblings could only dream about.

He was the person that I could go to about anything and I knew I could rely on him. After all, he was the one who started the fight with Derek Wyle whenever he made fun of my red hair when I was five. Even at the age of seven, James had been a fierce, yet compassionate, person. He would stand up to defend anyone's honor, but he would never harm a fly and that was something that I often teased him about, but he always just shrugged it off and told me that it really didn't matter to him.

Catherine was true to her word and met me outside of the emergency room. She grabbed my arm as I started into the hospital and made me look at her.

"Calm down, Anna," she told me in a firm voice. "You cannot enter that hospital with that look on your face because you're just going to upset your parents."

"What is going on and don't you dare tell me to let my parents tell me," I said through gritted teeth. "I don't like it whenever secrets are being kept from me and you know that as well as anyone."

Catherine took a deep breath before she nodded. "They thought for a while that maybe Jamie was waking up, but it turned out to be a false alarm. He, um, opened his eyes for a brief second, but the doctor's said that was something that happened with comatose patients and it doesn't always mean that they are awake."

"If they thought he was going to be awake, then why didn't my parents call me?" I asked, frowning. She shrugged, releasing my arm and wrapping her arms around her waist.

"I have no idea, Anna, but there was something else that happened."

"What else can go wrong at this point?"

"They discovered that he had a collapsed lung. They took him into surgery and are monitoring him now, but they say that it's best to start preparing ourselves for the worst outcome," she said softly.

"He's going to be okay, Catherine," I told her. "I'm not going to accept anything else because he's tough and I know he'll be able to pull through."

"He's only so tough, Anna, and his body can only handle so much trauma."

"He's going to live; I'm not going to give up on him even if everyone else is."

"We're not giving up, Anna, we're just—," she started, but I cut her off.

"Preparing yourselves. I know. I heard you. I'm going to go and find my parents."

My parents, it turned out, weren't extremely hard to find as they were in the same place as they had been every day they'd visited with Jamie. They looked at me like a stranger whenever I walked into the room. Dad stood up and started towards me to embrace me in a hug, but I held up my hand to stop him.

"Just tell me one thing: why was it that Catherine told me what happened and my own parents didn't?" I asked softly. Mom stood, too, to stand next to Dad.

"It happened too quickly, honey, there wasn't any time," she told me, reaching out to take my hand, but I shied away.

"There wasn't time? Not even now, seeing as though you're just sitting here? Not while James was in surgery?" I asked, wrapping my arms around myself. They exchanged looks before they opened their mouths to speak, but I just shook my head. "I want to see him and then I'm going to go home. If anything happens tonight, I want you to promise that you'll call, okay?"

"Okay, sweetie," Dad said, squeezing Mom's arm as she tried to speak again, but she closed her mouth once again and nodded.

"Alright," she said instead.

x.x.x

Jamie lay on the hospital bed looking the same as the day before, but he had one more machine connected to him. I didn't know what it did, but I didn't really care what it was or what it did as long as it kept him alive. After sinking down into the chair next to his bed, I gently took his hand in mine and stared at him, watching for any signs that he was in there.

His skin had a gray tone to it from the medicine they had him on and the lack of sunlight. Whenever he had first been admitted into the hospital, the doctors had told us that if he made it for the first twenty-four hours, then they expected him to make a full recovery. At that moment, when they had told us that, I hadn't expected him to be unconscious for over a week and the doctors had told us not to be worried, that had been before everything that had happened earlier that day. I didn't know the full extent of his injuries, but I hadn't thought that they were so bad that he would have still been unconscious a week later.

I closed my eyes and rested my forehead on the edge of the bed. My little brother was the only one who wasn't feeling all of the stress that the rest of us were. Not only did my parents have to deal with my cancer returning, they also had to deal with the fact that their eldest child was laying in a hospital unconscious. My cancer had been tough on them the first time and James had even been home to help take care of me and Toby so that my parents were able to actually go to work, but with him in the hospital, I knew it was twice as hard on them.

I straightened up and looked at James once more, silently begging that he would wake up and that everything would go back to normal, but his face remained the same. After squeezing his hand one last time, I forced myself to stand up and walk out of his room and prepare myself for my own fight.

x.x.x

"There goes those fries," Kevin observed as I threw my lunch back up on the fourth day of chemo. "I bet they tasted just as good the second time as the first time."

"You're disgusting," I whispered as I sat up, leaning against his shoulder and closing my eyes.

"Hey, you're the one who asked me to drive you today," he said as he put his arms around me. I snorted.

"That was clearly a mistake."

"Just imagine how miserable it would have been to have to go through this alone, alright? At least with me here, I can keep you entertained." He was right, but I wasn't about to admit it. My parents had both returned to work to try and get some money to pay the medical bills that were beginning to pile up and I hadn't wanted them to have to take off work just to drive me to chemo and watch me throw up everything I had ate that same day.

"Any excuse to miss school, right?" I asked him, opening my eyes and looking up at him.

"Exactly," he replied with a smile on his face.

I looked away and closed my eyes again as I tried to focus on anything but the nausea. The distraction, however, was Kevin's healthy, strong heartbeat. It irritated me that he was healthy, yet he was hanging around in a hospital instead of doing what healthy people were supposed to be doing. My parents had even learned that even though you have two sick kids, you still need to try and live a normal life so that when they got better, they would have a somewhat normal life, too. Kevin, though, was choosing this and I wasn't sure who in their right mind would choose to be around a bunch of sick people.

Maybe he was crazy.

Maybe we were all crazy.

I threw up three more times before my chemo session was over and every single time Kevin found some way to make a joke of it. He helped me walk down to his truck and drove me home in silence, which I was grateful for. I rested my head against the cool glass and closed my eyes, feeling a sense of calm come over me as the truck bounced along down the road.

x.x.x

My family won a trip to England whenever I was thirteen. I had the time of my life while we were there and I remembered being obsessed with the country for several months after we had left. James, however, had been going through his rebellious stage at that time. He never did say, even as he got older, if he really truly did have a good time or if he had actually been miserable on that trip.

The memory that always came to mind when I thought of that trip was whenever my parents had allowed James and I to go off on our own. In my opinion, they should have known better than to turn a thirteen-year-old girl and a fifteen-year-old boy loose in a foreign country, but I wouldn't have changed anything about that day if I was given the chance.

James and I walked down the streets of Birmingham, looking into windows and stopping to test foods that we believed smelled good. He and I didn't talk much, but that's how it normally was with the two of us. We didn't have to talk in order to know what the other was thinking at that moment. My parents had often told us that we were twins and that the only difference was that we were born two years apart.

I watched as James walked a little ways ahead of me, knowing that he had a destination in mind by the way he was walking. To be honest, I was a bit afraid to ask him what it was he was going to do because you could never know with him and sometimes you just didn't want to know what he was doing because it was just as bad as not knowing. What he did next wasn't anything extremely bad, but I didn't believe it to be anything extremely good, either. I wasn't sure if it was entirely legal, though.

James used the runs of the fence outside of a restaurant to pull himself up towards the top of the fence, placing his hand on the phone booth to help steady himself. It was strange to see a dark haired boy with a black t-shirt, leather jacket, black jeans, and boots sit on top of the phone booth. He sat there and a big grin broke out over his face and it truly was the one time I thought he was happy on that trip.

"You are so strange," I called out to him and smiled as I saw his grin grow even larger.

"Everyone's strange, Anna, you'll learn that soon."

And, believe me, I did.

x.x.x

Six Months Later

My parents were having a hard time coping. I could hear them talking in whispers, but I wasn't able to see them. Around me, machines beeped and told me that I was still alive, but the nurses informed my parents that I was just barely holding on. The only thing they could do now was pray for a miracle.

The cancer had spread throughout my body, recently reaching my brain. I had been in and out of consciousness for the three days I'd been in the hospital. My mind begged for the chance to apologize to Kevin, to apologize for scaring him whenever I began seizing. He had been my rock through everything and it was the reason that I had chosen to make him my boyfriend. It hurt me to think that I would never be able to tell him one last time how much he meant to me.

"Hey," a voice murmured next to me. I hadn't even realized that my parents had left the room, not that it really mattered. A warm hand took a hold of mine and held on tight. "You're freezing, Anna. I'll have to file a complaint about keeping your room a bit warmer. It's not like you have to worry about catching a disease, right?" If I would have been able to smile, then I would have. "This is complete bull crap, you realize that, right? How is it that I get to live and you don't? What have you done wrong to deserve this?"

The voice let out a sigh as they pressed my hand to their forehead. "I was such an idiot and yet here I am, alive and as healthy as I can be for the time being, but you, Anna, you aren't stupid. You're one of the smartest and strongest people that I know. Life is just unfair most of the time, don't you think?"

"Yes," I tried to say, but the words wouldn't come out.

"Mom and Dad keep saying that they would take your place if it was possible, but I don't think that would be fair to you. Why would you be better off alive if you didn't have your parents?" Jamie took my hand away from his forehead and I could feel his eyes studying me. "A brother would be something you could get over, don't you agree? Not your parents."

Would he get over me? Was that what he was trying to say? I tried to muster up the strength to open my eyes and look at him, but it wasn't there. All of my strength was being put into staying alive and I could even feel that beginning to fade.

"It should be me who dies, Anna, that's how it's supposed to be," he whispered. "I was the one who made a mistake, not you. You didn't do anything to deserve this." Neither did he, I tried to say, but once again I was unable to form the words.

I had Kevin write a letter for me the last time I'd been with him, before the seizure, I mean. We'd been lying on a blanket in his backyard, staring up at the stars whenever I had told him that I wanted to leave something behind that would give my family comfort whenever I died. At that time, we had thought I'd have six to twelve more months, not just three days.

If I focused hard, I could remember the exact words that were written that night and I just hoped it would be enough for my family. It was the best I could do if I was unable to tell them myself, the best I could do to try and help them through all of this. The letter went something like:

One day during my sophomore English class, Mrs. Allen wrote a single quote on the board and walked away without saying a word the entire class period. When we walked in the next day, she asked us to tell her what the quote she had wrote on the board meant to us and who we believed had said or wrote it. None of us really knew, but that didn't discourage her. She said to look at the quote once again and dissect it into small sections to find the true meaning of it. "The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our separate ways, I to die, and you to live. Which of these two is better only God knows." It was quite simple once you actually made yourself think about it. The hour of death had come and it was time for us to be separated. I am to die and you are to live and neither of us knows which one is better, but God knows.

Mrs. Allen was quoting Socrates to tell us that she was retiring, but I believe it fits this circumstance. My time to die has at last arrived and we all knew it was coming, be it now or fifty years down the road. I know that you don't want me to leave you, but for some reason it is my time to leave. I just want to say that all of you have done all that you could and that the only thing left to save me would have been God himself, but that's not going to happen. I know it and you know it because He is calling me home to be with Him.

Please, do not blame each other and please do not grieve for too long. I won't tell you not to grieve because that wouldn't be fair. You'll be sad, yes, but you will find happiness in your life. You still have Jamie and you have Toby and you have Catherine and you have a lot of other people that will be there for you. I am just one mere person and I do not want you to make a big deal about any of this, please. I want you to be able to be happy, to be able to live your lives as you wish.

For Mom, you have been my rock since I was little. We have butt heads several times, but I think that has only strengthened the bond between us. You were the one who assured me as a five-year-old that being a red head made me special, that I was chosen to be graced with such a rare thing. You were the one who helped me learn how to drive whenever Dad ran out of patience and I love you for all of that.

For Dad, we have been able to lean on each other whenever things get tough. Although I always considered you to be the strict parent, that isn't true. I mean, whose idea was it to make that volcano in the kitchen and test it inside instead of taking it outside? I will never forget the look on Mom's face when she came home and saw the mess in the kitchen from where it had exploded. Make a note, Dad, and remember to actually measure the vinegar and baking soda whenever you make one for Toby.

For James, don't you dare blame yourself for being alive and me being dead. You've survived a great array of things and you will survive this as well. My brother is not weak and he does not give up whenever things get tough. You, to me, are not really a brother, but more of a friend. After all, you, Catherine, and I were The Three Musketeers, remember? We even had swords made out of card board and hats that we stole from that junk shop down the road—although I think the lady who owns the store knew about that. Even if the third Musketeer isn't there, the two others must go on. Who knows, maybe whenever Toby gets older he can take my place.

For Toby, we have never really gotten to know each other because you are so much younger, but you are my brother and I love you, even if it seemed like I hated to babysit you. Rather you know it or not, you have left a huge influence on my life and I really do appreciate you for that. You have to carry on the tradition of eating all the candy canes off of the Christmas tree now that I am not there. I'm counting on you to do that and remember for Dad to actually measure the vinegar and baking soda because you and I both know that he won't remember.

For Catherine, it seems so odd to call you my cousin because you are my best friend as well as my sister. Since the day I was born, we have been inseparable and you have been the one to always tell me the truth even when it wasn't something that I wanted to hear. You were the one who always talked me into—or out of—stupid situations and I appreciate that. P.S., I know that you have always had a crush on Kevin and its okay if you want to be with him because then I'll know both of you are in good hands.

For Kevin, I'm sorry if you can't read this, but I couldn't tell you what I wanted to say if you were writing it, so that's why I've stolen the pen from you. How do I tell you how much I've appreciated you and everything that you have done for me? How do I tell you how much I love you and how much I care about you? It's impossible to put it into words, but I think you already know. I want to tell you that you are allowed to grieve, but you aren't allowed to push everyone away like I know you want to. How do I know this? We're the same. Whenever Jamie had his accident, I wanted to push everyone away, but it was you who helped me and now it's time for me to help you by saying this: You have no right to mope around because you are not the one who's life ended at such a young age. You have the right, however, to go eat at that crappy diner and eat their deliciously greasy food all that you want. You have the right to move on and be happy. You have the right to pursue every dream that you ever dreamed of and you know why? Because I said you have the right to and I want you to. I love you, Kevin, and I want to write that in case I'm never able to tell you again before I die.

For everyone, I love all of you in a unique way. Yes, I do believe that everyone is crazy, but that's okay because it's what makes us all unique. It's what makes life interesting. I want to tell you that I wish you all the best of luck with life and I want you to live it to the fullest because you never know what day is going to be your last. I want you to pursue everything that you want to pursue and only think about what could have gone wrong after it is all over because that is the only way you are going to learn and you are never too young to learn.

Goodbye to all and I send my love to each and every one of you.

Love,

Annabelle Lynn Raskin

x.x.x

Track List:

My Little Girl – Tim McGraw

God Gave Me You – Blake Shelton

Love Like Crazy – Lee Brice

What Hurts the Most – Rascal Flatts

The Dance – Garth Brooks

I'll Be – Edwin McCain

How You Remind Me – Nickelback

Don't You Wanna Stay – Jason Aldean ft. Kelly Clarkson

Don't Blink – Kenny ChesneyR

eady, Set, Don't Go – Billy Ray Cyrus and Miley Cyrus

Ode to My Family – The Cranberries

I Hope You Dance – Lee Ann Womack

Hercules – Sara Bareilles

Skyscraper – Demi Lovato

Hero – Mariah Carey

Defying Gravity – Wicked

The Show Must Go On – Queen

Fighter – Christina Aguilera