Stay Strong

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Chapter 12

Aspen’s P.O.V.

I woke up later than normal, dread settling in my stomach. I walked into the kitchen, fixing Candice and me breakfast.

Once it was ready I went into Candice’s room and flipped on the light switch. “Candice, honey, it’s time to get up,” I say as I gently shake her shoulder. She slowly opens her eyes and looks up at me.

“Are we going today?” she asks still partly asleep. I nod my head and step away from her bed so she could get up. She follows me into the kitchen and sits down at the table while I fixed her a plate.

“What do you want to drink?” I ask as I set the plate of french toast and eggs in front of her.

“Orange juice, please.” She begins eating as I fix our drinks. I sit my own plate on the table across from her at the table and set our drinks down before sitting down myself.

“When are we going?” Candice asks sadly while looking down at her plate. I smile gently at her.

“We’ll go around lunch today. I’ll make us a picnic.” I push my food around my plate while I watched Candice eat some more. She nods her head before going silent. I follow suit and slowly finish my breakfast.

As Candice finished her breakfast I took her plate and stood up. “Go get dressed. Your clothes are on your dresser.” She nods her head and heads to her room.

I quickly wash the dishes, sitting them in the drying rack before taking out the things I needed to make sandwiches.

As I was finishing the last sandwich, Candice came into the kitchen. “Can we get ice cream after our picnic?” she asks in her high pitched voice.

“If you behave then we might be able to. But I can’t make any promises,” I tell her over my shoulder. “You can go watch cartoons if you want. I’ll be ready to go in a few minutes.”

I looked down as Candice tugged on my baggy sleep shirt. “Can you do my hair?” she asks, her eyes gleaming. I smile gently down at her and nod my head. She smiles back before skipping into the living room.

I look back down at the sandwichs before putting them in a small cooler with some bottles of water and apple juice. I put the cooler on the table near the door where I keep my keys so I wouldn’t forget it.

“I’m going to get ready. I’ll be done in a moment,” I tell Candice as I pass the living room. She doesn’t respond, too engrossed in some princess show.

I close my bedroom door and open my closet. I stare at the dress with sadness weighing down my heart. I blinked back tears as I took the dress off of its hanger and slipped into it. I slipped into some black heels and grabbed a thin jacket before tossing it onto the bed. I walked over to the jewelry box sitting on my dresser and opened it, staring at the necklaces, earrings, rings, and bracelets in it. They were all my mother’s. One of the only things I inherited from her.

I picked up a simple necklace that had a dark green pendant the size of a dime hanging from a thin silver chain. I clasped it around my neck before walking back over to the closet. I shut the door and stared at the mirror hanging on it.

My long black hair needed to be brushed but I would take care of that in a moment. I ran a hand along the front of the dress, the black silk smooth to the touch. It fell just above my knees with three fourth sleeves and had a high neck that stopped an inch below my jaw. It was a pretty dress. Too bad I wasn’t wearing it for something joyful.

I stared at my eyes in the mirror. Green eyes that had hints of darker green in them around the pupil. My mother’s eyes. I quickly turn away before my thoughts can go down a dark path.

I walk into the bathroom, throw my hair into a simple braid. I didn’t bother with any cosmetics. I didn’t care too much for it and there would be a lot of tears today so there was no point. I call Candice into the bathroom so I could do her hair.

Her head popped into the bathroom before she stepped inside and sat cross-legged on the toilet facing the wall. I run a brush through her long hair that fell to her waist. If someone asked who looked more like our mother, it would be Candice. She has our mother’s lovely brown hair and green eyes. I kiss the top of her head and swallow thickly. I wish I didn’t have to do this every year. I wish she wasn’t taken away from us so soon.

I pull away and quickly style her hair into a waterfall braid. “There you are, honey,” I say as I kiss the top of her head again. She gets up and hugs my waist. I rub her back and whisper, “Go grab your jacket. It’s about time we leave.”

She nods her head grimly before running out of the bathroom. I grab my own jacket from my room and head to the door where Candice was waiting, her jacket pulled over her black dress. “Did you turn off the TV?” I ask as I grab my keys, wallet and the cooler with our food in it.

She shakes her head and I point to the living room over my shoulder before saying, “Then please go turn it off.” She rushes into the living room before coming back into the hall. “Ready?”

She nods her head. I open the front door and we walk out into the crisp air. I lock the door behind us before we get into the car. I drive off and head towards the graveyard one town over.

I pull into a parking spot and get out of the car, taking in the gray clouds that blanketed the sky. I took a deep breath, holding it for a moment before releasing it. I open the door for Candice to get out. She grabs my hand as I shut the door. I grip her hand tightly and we walk through the cemetery, the gray, white or even black headstones glistening in the weak sunlight filtering through the clouds. My heels clicked on the cement beneath our feet as we made our way to the towering willow near the north-eastern corner of the cemetery.

When we reached one headstone I turned towards Candice to find her staring at the name on the smooth granite surface with tears running down her face. I squat down in front of her, not worrying about my dress. “I will be over there on the bench. Come over there when you’re done, okay?” I say as I grip her shoulders. She nods her head and I leave her alone to talk with our mother.

I sit down at on the metal bench underneath the willow tree. The branches swayed in the gentle wind. I had a perfect view of Candice from here. I could see her on her knees before the headstone, crying. I wrap my arms around myself and watch.

We always did this, for the past three years we have come here and let each other have their own time with our mother. But that didn’t mean that seeing Candice cry hurt any less. I truly wish our mother was still here. She would have been able to raise Candice. She would have been there to keep Lorelai from hitting me.

I should have known something was wrong that night. Something had felt off all day. Hector was distant, our mother hugged us more, told us she loved us more. But that wasn’t all. That night when she came in there to tell me good night, as she kissed my head she whispered into my ear, “If something happens to me, and I no longer can, I need you to take care of Candice. No matter what. Please, promise me.” I had stared at her in shock and confusion but when I saw the sadness and worry in her eyes I nodded my head and told her that I would.

“Aspen,” Candice’s soft voice snapped me out of my thoughts. She was standing in front of me with tears still running down her face. I open my arm for her and she instantly runs into them. I pull her into my lap and hold her until she has calmed down.

Once she calmed down I sat her down beside me. “Stay here. Don’t get up. I won’t be too long and then we can go to the park to have our picnic. Sound good?” Candice nods her head to my question. I kiss the top of her head and head towards my mother’s grave.

I stand before the grave, my hands in my jacket pockets. I stare down at the words that were carved into the smooth granite.

Monica Peterson Nelson, 1982 - 2015, beloved mother, daughter, and friend.

I stare at those words, reading them over and over again. I have seen them many times before, but they never fail to remind me of how much I miss her. How much I still need her. I sit down on my knees before the grave and cry into my hands for a few minutes.

“I’m trying, Mother. I’m trying,” I whisper to the stone once my tears have dried up. “I’m trying to take care of Candice. I really am. Lorelai keeps trying to take her away from me. She keeps waiting for me to make one small mistake to prove that I can’t handle taking care of Candice, but I won’t let her take my sister. I promised you I would take care of her and I will. For however long she will let me.” I take a deep breath to somewhat gather my thoughts.

“I’m doing good in school. My grades are good. I finally sent in an application to a college. I’ll hopefully hear from them soon.” I rub at my eyes. “Vanessa and Bryson are doing great. They are still the same as always. I’m beginning to think that they are fraternal twins that were separated at birth,” I laugh sadly at my own joke. “Sonia is... Sonia is no longer my friend, I think. She likes this boy that happens to like me and...I think I like him too, so Sonia doesn’t like that much. That’s all that is really going on right now. Other than this creepy guy that keeps calling me saying that he’s my father. I’ll see you soon, Mom. I love you,” I whisper the last part before kissing my fingertips and pressing them to the cold stone.

I walk back over to Candice and find that she was crying again. I cradle her in my arms and rest my chin on the top of her head while rocking her back and forth. “I know. I miss her too,” I whisper, hoping Candice can hear me over the sobs that shook her whole body.

After a few more minutes of comforting Candice and fighting down my own tears, we decided to go ahead and leave the cemetery. While we were walking past our mother’s grave, Candice stops and stares at it before walking up to it. I stand by her side and wait for her to finish whatever she was doing. I hear her gently whisper, “I love you, Mommy. I wish you were still here.”

I clench my fists, fighting back the tears that wanted to fall from my eyes. It hurt so much that it caused me physical pain to see my six-year-old sister talking to her mother’s grave, telling her she wished she was here. I rub at my chest as if I could make the pain go away.

“Come on Candice,” I say gently and hold out my hand to her. She nods her head, kissing the stone before grabbing my hand.

“Aspen?” a low, smooth voice that was all too familiar called out. I turned around and saw a man in a black suit. I tuck Candice behind my back and watch him approach.

When he stops a few feet away from us, he glances at both of our faces before looking at the headstone behind us. His eyes were filled with pity, sadness, and heartache. His face looked to get paler as he looked between me and Candice. “Hello, Aspen. You told me to meet you in person. Well... here I am. I’m sorry if I caught you at a bad time,” Gavin Graves said sadly as he tilted his head towards the stone.

I’ll be damned. I never really thought that he would show up out of nowhere. Hell, I didn’t think he would even come to see me. What the hell did this guy want?


A/N:

I’m posting another chapter today as well. I am so sorry that updates are slow. I am trying to get them posted as soon as possible.

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