I knew when she was dead. I heard her heart stop, that last drifting shutter before it stilled and the realization crashed over me, bringing with it an awful silence.
My mom was gone.
I understood that, but it still took me a few minutes to accept it, and then I was curling in on myself, screaming into my hands. I couldn't survive this. I couldn't. I didn't have the strength.
Arms wrapped around me then, and I gave into Stefan, allowing myself to break. Was this the price given to those for cheating death? We could avoid it ourselves, but we're still forced to drown in it? To be surrounded by the death of loved ones?
I didn't want that. I'd rather have died.
Stefan's hold tightened but it didn't help keep the pieces of me together and I finally pushed away, desperate to do something. Anything.
"I have to....I have to get out of here," I said through my tears. But where could I go? I couldn't outrun the truth. Vampire or not.
"Caroline," Stefan began. "You're in pain. You have to give yourself the time to grieve."
But I shook my head. No. No. No. No. "I don't-I didn't want this!" I picked up a nearby vase, full of the flowers my mom loved, and sent it against the wall. It shattered, raining across the hospital floor like jewels. "She didn't deserve this! Why did it happen to her? Moms are supposed to be there for your wedding. They're supposed to help you choose your dress and give you relationship advice. They're supposed to be the first one to sit with you in your new house and tell you what furniture should go where." I was ranting, I knew, but I didn't care. "They're the ones that call you and ask you if you want to get mani-pedis on Fridays and drive over to watch old movies on Saturdays. They are not supposed to die before you get a chance to do any of that."
I threw something else. I didn't even look to see what it was, but I heard it smash.
"Calm down, Caroline," Stefan said, suddenly in front of me. "I know it's hard, but you have to-"
"No!" I shouted at him. "Don't tell me what I have to do. What I have to do, is get out of here. I hate this place."
One more thing hit the wall.
"I hate this room. I hate these sterile, ugly sheets. I hate the patterns and the window in the door that you only use to peek in on the dying. I hate it all!"
I clutched my head, at the emotional pain that gave way to the physical, every thought about my mom sending irreparable spikes of pain to my heart.
"Caroline, shh." Stefan soothed, his hands covering my own. "Shh. Breathe."
But I couldn't. "Make it stop," I begged him. "Please."
"I can't do that," he said, looking into my eyes. "You have to reel it in. Focus on something small. The grief is overbearing to you."
I squeezed my eyes shut. "It's not working. I can't focus on anything. She's dead, Stefan." I said it. Out loud. The pain intensified. "She's dead and I couldn't save her. She's gone." A thousand images ran through my mind. "My father. My mother. I'm an orphan now."
Stefan shook his head. "You have to stop focusing on that. Focus on the love your mother had for you. She loved you and wants you happy. She wanted you to move on."
But I flinched at his words. "I can't. I can't. They're dead. I couldn't help either of them. I couldn't help those that mattered to me."
More images. More guilt. More useless wishes that made me think of all the things I could have had but now never would. I clutched my head tighter. This needed to stop. The pain. It was too much; too much for me.
And I could turn it off.
That thought sent a jolt through me and I felt it, like a secret switch, revealed by the pain; when I realized I wanted it.
"I need it off." My words were a whisper, but I saw the realization register in Stefan's eyes. His grip tightened, turning almost painful. "No, Caroline." He pulled me closer, until our faces were just inches apart. "You don't want that. You don't. You'll lose everything. Not just your emotions, but your connection to your mother. She wouldn't want that for you."
But she was already gone. Any connection now was just an illusion, an imaginary rope tethering me to the dead. To more pain.
And I could turn it off.
"It doesn't matter what she wanted. She's not here anymore."
"No, you have people here that will help you, Caroline. This won't help you. This will ruin you. I've done it and now I have to live with the consequences every day." His gaze narrowed. "It's one thing to lose someone you love. It's another to take someone else's from them."
"I won't hurt anyone," I said, partly numb, partly overcome with loss. "I just don't want to feel this."
But Stefan kept shaking his head. "You won't feel anything. You won't care anymore. Don't. I promised her, too. I don't want to break that promise."
I didn't doubt his pain. But his suffering wasn't enough for me to hear over mine. And I tried to fight it, picturing myself going home, and slowly moving forward. Working to my first smile again. A laugh. And eventually, healing.
But then I pictured that empty house. Mom's vacant room. The struggle it would be for me to keep calling it home. Because without her, it wasn't. And the choice was no longer mine.
I looked deep into Stefan's face, feeling the tears dry. "I'm sorry," I said.
And then I turned it off.