It was quiet. A broken and hollowed-out silence that muffled the senses, drowning them deep in a depthless ocean of dread.
Avery swallowed hard- once, twice. A third time to make sure that the tears were kept tight under lock and key. Picking at the black lace lining the hem of her dress, her eyes drifted and floated. Seeing and unseeing. The posters lining the walls screamed at her through the emptiness, crying out her name from across the abyss. It was a vice, the wrongness of it all, how it choked and smothered her; a toxic fog that blurred her senses and pulled her closer to that ledge. Closer to that point of no return.
Her fingers ghosted over the frame's cracked paint, it's chipped glass. The faded photograph no one had thought to change in thirteen years. Identical twins in all ways but one.
Avery and Danny, dynamic duo. Together forever-
Until the weren't.
The pain tightened, cracks shifting as Avery studied the picture. Blank faces on an equally blank background. Dull and vivid all at the same time. Quiet and too loud. Tainted, by the empty promise of life after death. Smiles that teased as colors taunted, urging her to remember the newly missing part of her soul.
They say a picture paints a thousand words, but to Avery, they painted a thousand stories; spread out on the canvas of her thoughts for all to see.
They were stories that told of the world of secrets passed in whispers beneath bedsheets and flashlights and pillow forts. Promises made to stars long gone and wishes to dreams left behind. It sang the song of Avery and Danny. A song the Universe did not sing back.
Memories came to life under her touch, vibrant and bright. Troves of laughter, buried deep, were now brought directly to the surface.
Twin shrieks of glee echoed in her ears, dancing across her mind's eyes, bringing with it the stickiness of melting ice cream and crash of sparkling summer waves. The pain of a concussion when she was twelve flickered in time with the lavender-scented candle that burned quietly in the corner of her room. She remembered how Danny had climbed up beside her in the hospital bed and refused to move from her side until she was released. He had stayed, long limbs curled around her protectively while doctors murmured and parents cried.
He had been her saving grace. Yet she had failed to save him when it mattered most.
And suddenly they were eighteen, on the back porch swing watching the sun go down, when he coughed.
And coughed again.
He had clawed at his throat, hazel eyes wide.
And then he had stopped coughing.
Avery didn't remember much after that, the night fading into day with a buzzing white noise.
The brightly colored frame dug into her palms as a strangled, inhumane sound ripped it's way from her chest. Tears fell, blurring the photo's edges with a burning wetness. A growing weight pressed in, sending her tumbling down the bottomless pit of grief and agony.
Avery barely heard the glass shattering as the frame went crashing to the ground. A sob hitched in her throat. Blood warmed her hands and knees as she slid to the ground. Dropping deeper, falling harder.
"I miss him."
The room spun. Whispers closed in around her head, dizzying and spiraling higher. It was all too much. All too heavy.
"Danny, Danny. Danny. Danny."
Avery wrapped her arms tightly around herself, as if she could stop the crumbling pieces of her from breaking apart. She was screaming from across the void, reaching for a lifeline that no longer existed. She was teetering, careening towards the edge of nothingness. Hurling towards the Ending at breakneck speed.
Because the Beginning was bright. Happy. Painted in brilliant shades of purples, reds, and greens. Hues of gold, yellow, and bronze. Bursting with color and bubbling with life.
The Tipping Point was black. The halfway mark that changed everything. A starless sea made of a deep, unforgiving darkness. Cold and hard and brutal. The type of pain that always lingered, never truly going away.
And the Ending.
The Ending was decorated in muted shades of grey. Dull. Drab. Numb of emotion, with the most distant star of hope.
She cried. She cried hard and dark and ugly.
She cried for her brother. For the part of her that was lost and gone and wouldn't come back. Not now, not ever. She cried for the promise they had made between them. A promise, once potent, now severed to aging dust.
You said you'd grow old with me.