For the second time in a row, Olivia awoke sprawled on her living room couch. This time her headache was not caused by a college-type hangover after drinking lots of tequila. No, this time it was caused first, by the pale yet still annoying glare of the Sunday morning sun as it slanted across her living room. And second, by another type of hangover, the moral kind, one which didn’t go away with a strong cup of coffee or real spicy chilaquiles; one whose consequences could follow you like a foul smell for a very long time.
Just for a moment, Olivia wondered if she had dreamt it all and the dizziness she felt was just the aftermath of her crazy drinking at Tracy’s bachelorette party. Maybe it had all been a very bizarre dream and she had to wake up to get ready for Tracy’s wedding. But when she pulled away the cover she must’ve grabbed from the sofa at some point after moving from the floor to the couch, before dawn pushed away the last remnants of night, her puffy and heavy eyes caught sight of her red underwear and soon the memory from yesterday came rushing down like an avalanche that buried her deep into the couch.
All was quiet, except for the few winter birds who chirped far too energetically for her taste outside her window, almost as if they were mocking her sorry-for-herself state and urging her to face they day, together with the awful scene she’d starred in this very same couch several hours ago.
When she stirred, her whole body felt stiff from tension and from the bad position she’d slept in. There was a mountain-size knot at the base of her neck, and her teeth ached as Olivia had a tendency to clench her teeth in her sleep every time she was under stress or just experienced a far too strong emotion before going to bed.
Somehow strong emotion was an understatement for what had happened with Michael and what she had felt during the entire time she’d been ready to make a huge and irreversible mistake. Not that her being in her underwear with a bare chested Michael on top, with hands that drove her crazy was erasable and non permanent, and had not been a mistake.
However, her act of sheer stupidity had started way before she kissed him outside her front door. It had all started with agreeing to let Michael accompany her to Tracy’s wedding, especially when Olivia knew her body’s response to him was something she couldn’t quite control yet, or understand. And it had culminated with her reckless and hormone-driven behavior, that led to her almost making love with Michael in this very same piece of furniture, as if the few working neurons inside her brain had suddenly died or something.
No, no. You were going to have sex with him, not make love.
This time the answer came from Olivia herself, as she countered back sarcastically.
“Yeah, because having sex would’ve been fine.”
Definitely not in the mood to get into an argument with the voices inside her head, – she had enough on her plate with accepting that she could see and talk to the ghost of a woman she’d never met before- Olivia decided the best thing to do was to stop wallowing and do something.
Hugging the cover protectively over her body, she got up and let out a groan, when the entire room shook under her feet. It felt like the entire planet was shaking and dancing the samba. Taking a deep breath, Olivia waited a full minute before the chaos inside and outside her head settled down. She made her way, shakily, up to her room clinging to the banister and feeling each muscle in her body complain with pain with each step she took. Once in her room, she dug out a pair of sweats, a sweatshirt and fresh underwear – she was planing on setting the one she still had on, on fire-, and with eyes half-closed, dragged her disheveled self to the bathroom.
Tons of scalding hot water later, and a non effective chamomile soothing body bath, or at least that’s what the bottle said, she came out still all shaky and on edge wrapped in a towel. In robotic movements, she proceeded to get dressed. Taking a good look in the mirror, she applied some concealer to cover the dark circles under her eyes; not bothering to dry her wavy mass of hair, she opted to tie it up in a ponytail.
Feeling even worse than she had yesterday morning before the wedding, Olivia let out a loud curse as she entered the kitchen. She realized she’d forgotten to program her coffee machine last night, giving her several minutes of excruciating time alone with her loud and embarrassing thoughts, which made the tiny kitchen feel overly crowded.
Emitting a sound of pure delight when she sipped her first taste of strong coffee, Olivia went back out with her mug in one hand and pulling out one of the chairs in the dinning room, sat down. Wanting to get her mind off what she’d nearly done last night, her eyes began to do a quick scan of the paper’s currently open page that she must’ve left lying there since yesterday. Just as she was about to turn the page, her gaze landed on one of the announcements in the obituary section. The shock of seeing Emilia’s smiling face with the Eiffel Tower looming in the background caused the hand holding her coffee mug to tremble, almost spilling its entire contents on the smooth and pale wooden surface of her dinning room table.
Placing the mug down, she began to read her family’s announcement of her dead and how she was to be buried this Saturday, yesterday, at Arlington’s Silent Hill cemetery at five in the afternoon. Her troubled thoughts immediately scattered away from her foggy mind as all she could think of now was of how difficult it must have been for Emilia to read this and go and witness how her loved ones said goodbye to her, even if her spirit still lingered around.
Remembering the sadness clouding the ghost’s pale blue eyes when she’d told her she’d decided not to go to the wedding, Olivia sprang up from the chair, as if jolted by lighting and went over to her entrance closet. Hurriedly, she began to put on the pair of boots she had inside the closet. Then, she grabbed her jacket, car keys and purse, and dashed out from her house.
Her instincts told her she would find her friend at the very same place where her family had put her body to rest yesterday afternoon.
Silent Hill Cemetery was located in Arlington, next to one of the richest and more private residential areas just twenty minutes from Olivia’s house. Its secluded location and huge expanse of land, made it one of the most visited cemeteries and not necessarily by people who had loved ones buried in there.
Emilia had only come once to this place, when one of Sam’s aunts had passed away two years ago and they’d come to the burial. As they’d been leaving the funeral, Emilia told Sam that this seemed like a peaceful and nice place to spend the rest of eternity. Not crowded, lots of trees, and far away from the noises of traffic and city life.
Of course, she always thought she might get to see a couple more potential resting places before she decided on one. It was one of the main inconveniences, apart from the ceasing to exist part, of leaving this world so unexpectedly. Unless you’d been really paranoid and had left some sort of written instructions of how you would like the arrangements concerning your death to be made at such a young age, the deceased, in this case Emilia, could end up sitting for eternity either on top of the chimney at her parents’ house, scattered all over whatever ocean came in handy or worse, sharing the same whole as her great grandmother Betsy, whom she met as a kid and who always smelled like she took a bath in vick vapor rub everyday.
The sole idea of sharing a space with a much more time consumed corpse gave Emilia the creeps. One dead body, hers, was enough, let alone two tucked together in the same enclosed space. So when she’d read the obituary and had seen the name, Silent Hill Cemetery, her mind had sent out a silent thank you to Sam’s good memory, before the cruelty and unfairness of her situation came back to slap her in the face again. It had made the idea of seeing him again all the more difficult.
During her journey here from Olivia’s house, she had been very close to turning around and forgetting all about her funeral by going to Tracy’s wedding just as she’d planned before stumbling across that wretched newspaper. She hadn’t seen Sam since that day at the hospital and just the idea of being so close to him without being able to talk to him or touch him or make him see that part of her was still very much walking and talking, had made whatever it was she was now made of tear up from the inside and bring back the memory of what it felt like to feel your heart sliced from deep within.
It had surprised her to see many known faces in the small circle that had gathered around the hole in the ground, where a priest, her family and Sam had stood nearby. Her friends from work had been there, too, along with some of hers and Sam’s friends from high school, a couple of other family members, and even her bitchy boss from hell, Amanda, who had had the nerve of putting on a good act of looking grief-stricken and visibly upset by her demise. Emilia had wanted to be able to scare the shit out of dear Amanda, if just as fair payment for all the times her boss had criticized her in front of work colleagues or simply yelled at her from her office, “are you stupid or what Emilia?”
It had been inevitable to hold back the grin that had curved her pale lips, when she noticed Sam’s eyes narrowing on her ex-boss as he, along with her coworkers, knew Amanda was just so full of it and wanted to be in a sick way, the center of attention. So like her to want to steal the show in such an event. It had been her funeral for God’s sakes, if anyone was entitled to be the star it was Emilia, and not that insufferable woman.
As much as she’d mentally prepared herself to see her parents again, Emilia had still been unable to hold back the chocked out cry, the minute her eyes registered the toll this sudden tragedy had taken on both of them. At first, when she’d noticed them holding hands standing right next to Sam, all Emilia had been able to think was, God, they seem different. As if there’d been something quite not right about her parents. After musing in on it, while the priest talked and prayed for her soul, she zeroed in on the reason.
Her parents had always been energetic, joyful people, even through tough times, they had always retained that bright contagious aura. But the people that had stood before her had looked devastated, like that light had been violently extinguished. Her mother never stopped sobbing during the entire time the priest had spoken, and her father had held her close to him, as if her closeness was the only thing keeping him from breaking down as well.
Then, it had been her father’s turn to say a few words to the people who had gathered yesterday afternoon, to say their final goodbyes to Emilia’s body.
“I never imagined I would stand here before you with this heavy burden weighing down on my heart, as I stare at the place where my dear Emilia will be put to rest. It’s true when they say it is against the laws of nature to have to bury one’s child. It should be the other way around. My daughter had still so much to live for. My own heart breaks because there were still many things, experiences, that my little Emilia still had to live.”
As her father had swallowed back the tears, Emilia’s had been streaming down her cheeks as she began to say over and over again.
“Daddy, I’m right here, please don’t be sad.”
“But as much as we know we will miss our little girl, we also know our daughter would not have wanted for us to dwell in sadness. We will honor her memory by not wasting away our lives and living them to their full extent, until our time comes to join her wherever she is.”
As soon as her father finished talking, Emilia had begun screaming to no avail.
“I’m right here! Dad, Mom, Sam, I’m here!”
Then, whirling around she had demanded to whoever had left her here to witness such a heartbreaking moment.
“Why me? Why am I here? I didn’t want to die! I didn’t deserve to die! Let me talk to them for one last time, please!”
The only answer she received was the soft, lulling caress of the wind on her face, as it brushed through her hair and dried away her tears.
A familiar, comforting voice, a voice that had been with her for ten years of her life, since she was eighteen had made her turn around. When she’d looked at Sam, whatever strength she still harbored inside that weightless, transparent body of hers, abandoned her and she dropped to her knees. A fresh flow of tears began spilling down, chilling her cheeks, as the salty liquid came in contact with the winter air.
“For those of us who knew Emilia, saying goodbye to her will be the hardest thing we will ever have to do in our lives. And for those of us, who had the indecency of taking her for granted, it will be such an insurmountable task to realize we won’t see those quiet but intense blue eyes shine again with laughter.
“I was smart enough, one day back in high school, to ask this girl if it was okay if I walked home with her. Me, the jock, and she, the girl who knew every T.V. show from back then by heart. For some an unlikely combination, but for me an interesting one until her final days. This amazing girl said yes and from then on, I had the privilege of sharing my life with her.”
In between sobs, Emilia had moved over to stand next to Sam and had spoken to him, as if he could hear her like Olivia could.
“You know I used to have a crush on you since like forever? The day you came to me and asked me if it was okay to walk home with me, I just thought I was going to faint. Probably why I almost never talked to the jocks whenever you were around. I was afraid I might lose my status of smart, but likable person to the rest of the school if I did something as embarrassing as drool over you or say something incredibly stupid. The truth is that I was afraid you were going to turn out like most of those guys, good to look at but a total nightmare the minute they opened their mouths to speak. But I am glad I was wrong and that I said yes. I just wish I had had the same courage to realize that in the end, we wanted different things in life.”
“………I know I will always love her and she will always be an important part of my life that I’ll cherish no matter where I go.”
Emilia remembered their last conversation and his coming move to Germany, it hurt as much as it had done that day.
After that, all of the attendees began to leave, little by little, stopping by her parents and Sam to say how much they were sorry for their loss. When it came to Amanda’s turn, she feigned a sniff and holding Sam’s hand – the tramp!- had offered in a low voice, which for her had always been a hard thing to achieve, since she had one of those high pitched tones that made humans and animals alike wretch in pain.
“I’m so sorry for your loss. Emilia was such a good friend. She talked about you all the time.”
“You big fat liar with your fake Coach bag!” Emilia had spat out.
“…..such a tragedy, we were so close. Sam, anything you need I know she would’ve liked for me to help you get past your grief.”
“Are you out of your mind? Jeez, you wouldn’t even hold the elevator for me you bitch!”
To her surprise and her parents’, Sam had only narrowed his eyes at Amanda and replied in a low and not so friendly tone.
“Then, I guess you must’ve come to the wrong funeral because last I heard, all you wanted to do was fire Emilia from her job. And,” Emilia had the pleasure of seeing the confidence melt away from Amanda’s botoxed face as Sam continued, “I’m sure I’ll be fine. You see, if you had taken the time to get to know Emilia, you would’ve known she would have been pissed off at any of us if we decided to stop living our lives just because she wasn’t here. She would’ve done the same if the situation were reversed. That’s how amazing she was.”
Tongue-tied and red as a beet, Amanda let go of Sam’s hand as if he’d suddenly announced he had the dreaded H1N1 disease, and all but ran away from the cemetery.
In the end, Sam had been the last one to leave. Before he did that, Emilia saw him kneel down where the hole that had been there moments ago was now covered with dirt. Soon, she’d hoped, the green grass would grow back up and she’d have a nice thick green carpeting over her head.
“God, Emilia. I’m so sorry for how things ended between us. I should’ve gone after you.”
Kneeling down next to him, Emilia had stretched out her hand, and her long pale fingers had skimmed one side of his face.
“Maybe you should’ve, but you knew me better than anyone. I had to be so Days of our lives about it and make my own dramatic exit.”
“I just thought you needed time before we talked things calmly.”
“And I did, I just got more time than I bargained for. Hell, I’ll probably be stuck here through eternity if Olivia keeps being so stubborn.”
“You know I’ll miss you, right?”
“I know, I’ll miss you, too. Just promise me you won’t blame yourself for what happened to me. What you and my dad said is true, I want you to be happy.”
Sam stood up and before turning around to leave, he whispered.
“I love you.”
Emilia clutched a hand to her heart and answered the same thing she always did whenever Sam told her those three words.
“Forever and ever.”
This time, it was she who had witnessed Sam walking out of her life.