“What about you?” Amanda asked. “Do you have brothers or sisters?”
Again, his past spilled into his present. He hadn’t intended to say the word. Somehow, with Amanda, the truth of himself always sat too close to the surface.
“Are you close?”
Eli’s muscles twitched. “She’s dead.”
“Oh. Eli, I’m sorry…”
“No, it’s okay. You had no way of knowing.”
“Has it been long?”
“Always too long. Never long enough.”
He couldn’t think about it in terms of time. She’d died when he was someone else, the person he was trying hard not to be tonight.
Amanda seemed to sense his reluctance to talk about it. He wanted to believe, if she pressed him, that he’d refuse to answer. The scary truth was he didn’t know if he was capable of refusing Amanda anything she asked.
“What about your parents?” she asked.
His mind flashed him an image of his mother. Always the same image. The last time he’d seen her. On her bed, propped against the headboard. A full syringe ready to plunge into her vein.
“You shouldn’t be in here,” she’d snapped when he’d nudged open the door.
“Mom?” he’d stammered. “Please. Don’t.”
She’d given him a brief, sad look before her eyes fluttered away and she turned her attention to the needle. That short exchange was the last time he’d seen life in her eyes. If he was honest, though, her life had begun slipping away long before that day.
But she just shook her head as she emptied the syringe into her vein. “Forgive me,” she murmured. Her lips parted and she gave a gentle sigh. Her voice drifted in the air.
Then it all changed in an instant. Her body convulsed. The needle snapped off in her arm. Her eyes bulged and froth seeped from her lips.
Then it was over. Eyes glazed and unseeing.
Death immediately steals life from the eyes. It isn’t a gradual thing. There is no time to look into the soul, to say goodbye. To adjust. Death doesn’t settle in slowly. One minute, the person’s eyes are clear. The next they’re covered in a milky haze. You watch them die, and it stays with you. That image is what you remember, and you question whether there ever was life or if it was all a mirage.
He felt Amanda’s hand in his and blinked back to the present. “Both gone,” he said softly.
He didn’t say they were dead. But he said the word gone as if it were the same thing. Amanda didn’t question the distinction. She murmured words of apology, of condolence. She didn’t know, couldn’t know, how wrongly placed those words were.
Sometimes a drowning man found an air pocket, but that didn’t mean he was alive, only that he wasn’t quite dead yet.
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