“Okay, thank you. Yes, we’ll see you then. I’m sorry too,” I said and hung up the phone.
“That was Caleb,” I said choking back fresh tears. “Calling hours are Friday evening and the service is Saturday. They’re doing a private burial ceremony after calling hours.”
It had only been a week since I’d walked right in to the news of Audrey’s sudden death. Seven days. I never knew that seven short days could feel so much like seven long eternities.
And even after all I’d been through in my life, I never knew that one person could have so many tears to offer. My eyes had been continuous fountains from the moment Lucy whispered in my ear.
The moment was still so fresh in my mind. Like it was still happening in real time.
My mind enjoyed parking at the moment Lucy whispered those cold words.
“Did you know my mommy died last night?”
Everything went into slow motion after that. Luke was at my side holding me and I was just crumbling in his arms. Before long, Lisbeth and Taylor joined us on the floor and we sobbed together for what felt like forever.
Eventually, I knew I needed to pull myself together for the sake of the kids. I’d only seen Lucy so far, but I assumed that the others had to be close. Luke helped me to stand but I still needed to lean on him for support. My legs resembled jelly.
When the officers finally left, Caleb joined the rest of us in the family room. His puffy, red eyes revealed his morning of tears over his dead wife.
“The police took a report for the coroner’s office. They’re taking her to the hospital and they’re going to perform an autopsy and run toxicology, but that can take months to come back.”
“What happened?” I asked, willing to be the first one to break the long silence that enveloped the group.
“I wish I could tell you,” Caleb started. “I woke up early this morning with Lucy and Alexander and decided to let her sleep a while longer because we were up late last night. After a few hours, I thought it was strange that she was still in bed. Usually, the smell of coffee and the noise of the children was enough to wake her.
“I went back upstairs to see her still lying in bed. I walked over to roll her over and wake her and found her cold and stiff. I don’t know when, but she passed sometime in the middle of the night, I think.”
Caleb was holding himself together surprisingly well. I knew he was doing it for the sake of his children, but I still admired his strength. We all talked for a few minutes about arrangements for the kids if Caleb needed help and preparing a meal service for the family to get them through at least a few weeks. When plans were made, Luke decided that he and I should head out.
“You’ll call with service arrangements?” I asked as I hugged Caleb.
“Of course. Take care of yourself, Cassie. And do not hesitate to call if you need anything.”
“I should be the one saying that to you.”
“We all need to be here for one another. We’re all family.”
I hugged him tight one more time and then felt a soft tug on my pant leg. I looked down to see Lucy holding her arms out for me to pick her up.
I squeezed her tight into my arms and kissed her forehead.
“You know that I love you so much, right bug?” I asked her, hoping to put a smile on her face with our secret nickname.
“Yeah,” she answered with sadness.
“And you know that I’m going to be back in a few days to see you again?”
“I have to go now. But I’ll be back, okay?” I asked as I squeezed her for another hug.
She wrapped her arms around my neck and whispered, “Promise?”
“Yes, I promise. I love you, Lucy.”
“I love you too, Cassie,” she answered and ran back to her father.
That day was burned into my memory in a way I didn’t want to remember it. It wasn’t filled with the joy of announcing our engagement to everyone and inviting them all to our wedding. It was filled with regret over not keeping my promise to Audrey in the first place.
I still couldn’t make sense of it all. How could this be true? I’d just spoken to her on the phone not even twelve hours before. She sounded completely normal. She was so excited to see me and hear my news. And then, just like smoke, she faded from existence. Suddenly, Audrey was gone, and we were all left with holes in our chests.
The few days between Caleb’s call and the actual services felt longer than eternities. The few moments I wasn’t crying, I was angry. This just wasn’t fair in any way. I couldn’t make sense of it. I didn’t know if I wanted to. I didn’t want to live in a world where it made sense that Audrey was dead so suddenly and so young.
The calling hours were set up in a good-looking, private room toward the back of the funeral home. There were purple flowers all over the room in big, beautiful vases with words that described Audrey written on a ribbon around them. The room smelled clearly of lavender, her favorite. There were two displays in the room of pictures of her that displayed her life.
I trembled as I signed the guest book and made my way over to the first board, at the end of the viewing line.
It hit me even harder when I saw the picture at the top left corner of the board. It was one that I had sitting in a frame on my bedside table back at Castellum. Audrey in the center, with Lisbeth, Taylor and I sitting around her and Lucy in Audrey’s lap. She always called us “her girls.” It felt so good to feel like I was part of their family. I’d always wished for a sister and now I had three I was close to.
The line moved faster than I was ready for. I grabbed Luke’s hand as we approached the open casket.
Mama had been placed in a purple dress with glittered sequins decorating the top. Her hands were crossed over her stomach and her nails were freshly decorated in her favorite shade of purple. Her makeup had been done in the same way she always did it—heavy on the eyes and just beautiful.
I stared for a moment and had to turn away before I completely lost it. Just past her casket started the line of her children and Caleb. They were all in matching maroon outfits. I was greeted by her second daughter and her husband first—and then I came to Caleb.
I hugged him tight and he did the same. He looked me in the eye and broke me with his words.
“She loved you. So much. You know that right?” he asked with sincerity.
I started crying again. “Yes,” I said and nodded.
“Good,” he said and hugged me again.
“And know that I still do too daughter,” he whispered in my ear as we parted.
Luke held me close as we moved through the rest of the line and I barely held myself together. I found Lisbeth and Taylor after and shared a long group hug with them before leaving.
I couldn’t process everything in my head as we left the funeral home.
“It didn’t even look like her,” I finally said as Luke drove back to the hotel we were staying in for the night.
He stretched out his hand and held mine tight.
“It’s because it wasn’t. Not anymore. That was just her body. Her soul is gone.”
“Yeah, I guess. It still just doesn’t feel real. It’s so unfair,” I lamented.
“I know it feels like she was taken too soon and like life should just stop because she’s gone but Cassie, I promise you, even this has a purpose. Even this terrible thing can be made into something beautiful.”
“I just don’t see how. Luke, her absence doesn’t just upset me or her other adopted girls. She left behind Caleb, seven kids who now have no mother. How is that going to be beautiful? Lucy is five. Luke, who is going to guide her now?”
I couldn’t fight the tears. Just the thought of Lucy growing up without her mother broke my heart nearly in half. I wanted to trust God through this. I wanted to believe that he had a solid reason for taking Audrey so soon and so suddenly.
But it was so hard. Trust was something that never came easily to me in the first place. Now, it felt like God had broken my trust. And the funny thing about trust? Break it once, there’s no telling if it can be fixed.
“Lucy may have lost her mother. But Cassie, she still has a father who loves her dearly, six natural siblings to look after her and I’d wager she has at least three adopted sisters who would trade the world for her safety. This is a time when we just have to accept that God’s timing is not our own. He does nothing without a good purpose.”
“Good? What ‘good purpose’ could there possibly be in striking down such a selfless woman?” I asked sharper than I intended.
Luke sighed. “I wish I could answer that, Cassie. I really wish I could. But I can’t. We just have to trust in God’s plan and try to move forward.”
“You say that like it’s some simple thing,” I said through more tears.
Luke parked his truck just outside our room. Before he could come up with a rebuttal, I let myself out of the truck and rushed inside.
It wasn’t like Luke and me to argue like this. I didn’t want to be pushing him away at a time like this—but something in me was just so angry and I couldn’t deny that part of me a chance to express itself. I’d learned that lesson the hard way when I went through my past. Bottling my anger never did anyone any favors.
Luke came in and sat beside me on my bed. I wished I had words of surrender for him—but I didn’t. I was just empty. I felt his arms wrap around me and him pull me closer. I didn’t resist, but I didn’t lean in the way I normally would either.
“Cassie, I wish so badly that I could make this better for you. If I knew how, you know I would, right?”
I looked at him with glassy eyes.
“Of course, I do. But there’s nothing that will ever make this okay.”
Luke rubbed my back to comfort me. Usually, just the gesture of his touch was enough to put the brakes on any emotional turmoil I was feeling. Today was different. His gift only worked on physical pain—emotional strife was still beyond his skill level. And I knew that killed him inside to be unable to fix this for me.
“I’m tired. I think we should get some sleep,” I whispered hollowly.
Luke agreed and moved to his own bed to allow me to get ready for bed. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I had barely slept since the day Audrey died. What I didn’t know was that my dark mind was even stronger than I gave it credit for.
I’d managed to fall asleep for short naps but when I woke up for the fifth time following another nightmare, I gave up. I decided to get a drink of water and try to clear my head.
As I stood in the bathroom, I glanced down and saw my makeup bag lying open on the counter. Inside, I saw my eyebrow scissors.
I set my glass of water on the sink and snatched the scissors from the bag. I sat on the edge of the bathtub, twirling the scissors in my hands and thinking.
Aside from announcing our engagement and inviting everyone to the wedding, my plan that day was to tell Audrey that I’d recently made it to a year clean, again.
I sat in the bathroom weighing my options. I knew there were countless reasons to put the scissors away and go crawl back into bed. But, I could also think of a few reasons to just go ahead and do it too.
I turned the scissors over and pressed the tip of my middle finger against the sharp tip. They were almost brand-new scissors—used only a couple of times. So, they were still quite sharp. The tip pierced my fingertip with little effort and blood pooled at the entry point just as fast.
The rush was intoxicating. Just that small amount was enough to increase my craving to irresistible levels. Suddenly, my mind wasn’t on Audrey and my mental pain—it was on my hands, at the tip of scissor blades. Without even thinking about it, I pulled up the sleeve on my right arm and proceeded to break my clean streak.
Just a few small cuts to start—a couple close to my wrist and a couple further down. Small bubbles of thick, warm blood started popping with each release of my weapon.
Then, I stared at my tattoo. Love. Such a simple yet insanely heavy word. The purpose behind the tattoo was to encourage me to not to do exactly what I was doing. Irony at its finest. I’d gotten the idea from Audrey when I was living with her. She told me to get a word that would remind me why I didn’t want to hurt myself. ‘Love’ felt like the practical choice at the time.
Love has always been distorted in my life—until Audrey and Luke came along. They showed me a love that I never questioned. If either of them saw me now, they’d be so upset with me.
But even that wasn’t enough to stop me. I took the sharp point of the scissors and pressed them into my arm just under my tattoo. I dragged the tip through my skin all the way under the ink—underlining my tattoo in a thick vertical line of blood. I kept the pressure high and deep the whole way across—and the blood flowed heavy immediately.
It was dizzying and euphoric to see so much at once. I dropped the blood-coated scissors to the floor, which was enough to wake Luke and worry him.
“Cassie? Are you okay?”
I was too lost in my rush to remember the right answer for Luke.
“Cassie? Can I come in?”
When I still didn’t answer, Luke chose not to ask another question. He opened the bathroom door and immediately panicked.
“Cassie!” he yelled.
I was only partially aware of what he was doing. I felt him pull me to my feet and put my arm under running water in the sink. I saw the red tint to the water as it hit the sink and I couldn’t help but feel a little happy about that.
Luke talked to me the whole time he was cleaning my arm, but I was still beyond speaking.
“Hold this like this,” he said as he pressed a towel against my arm and raised it above my head.
I complied and watched as he picked up the scissors and washed them. He took them with him out of the bathroom and returned without them. After cleaning the bathroom of my dripped blood, he put his arm around me and helped me walk back to my bed.
“Okay, let me see,” he asked as he held my arm and unwrapped the towel.
I saw that the smaller cuts had stopped oozing, but the cut beneath my tattoo was still raging.
Luke pressed the towel down one more time and then pressed his hand against my arm. Almost like magic, the small cuts vanished, and the large cut sewed itself back together, leaving just a thin, white line in its place.
My senses started returning to normal when the blood was gone. The realization of my stupidity hit me hard like it always did. I dropped my head into my hands.
“I’m so sorry,” I said through my hands.
“Cassie, look at me,” Luke asked sternly.
I didn’t dare disobey him after what I’d done. I moved my hands and looked into his eyes with tears threatening to escape my own.
“Do you remember how you felt the moment you saw Audrey on that stretcher?” he asked somberly.
“Do you ever wish that feeling on anyone else?”
“No,” I whispered.
“Then this,” he said and lifted my newly healed arm up, “has to stop happening. Cassie, I can’t put into words how scared I am every time I find you. What if I don’t make it in time next time? What if you’re beyond my healing abilities? I can’t lose you,” he said with his own tears.
“I’m so sorry,” I whispered.
I didn’t know what else to say at a time like this. This was just part of my cycle of pain. Something happens; a trigger. I do something I regret to cope. I feel hopeless. I apologize and swear I’ll never do it again. And the cycle starts over.
“Why does it always come to this?” Luke asked with desperation. “Why didn’t you wake me? You know I would do anything for you, Cassie.”
“I know you would,” I said quickly. “This is just what I do,” I said with more tears.
“What do you mean?”
“Can’t you see, Luke? This is just what I do. I let down the people I love the most. No matter how hard I try, I always do.”
Luke tried to wrap his arm around me, but I resisted. I stood and started pacing.
“Luke, I don’t deserve you. I don’t deserve your love. I don’t deserve your care. I just keep letting you and everyone else down. And I don’t know how to make it stop.”
I stopped to wipe the stripes of tears from my cheeks.
“This is exactly what I’ve been afraid of from the beginning. Luke, if I can’t stop this. Find a way to control it—how am I ever supposed to do anything good for the society?”
Luke approached me with caution as if trying to offer surrender to me. But that wasn’t what I needed.
“I just need to be alone and sort this out in my head.”
“Cassie…” Luke tried to stop me as I grabbed my jacket and keys.
“Luke, please don’t follow me. I promise I won’t do anything. I just need to be alone with my thoughts. I’ll be back in the morning before the funeral.”
I didn’t wait for him to answer. I just offered a limp side hug and kiss on the cheek, and left him alone.
I had no destination in mind, but I started walking and praying for order to return to my chaotic mind.