The Things You Leave Behind


There was a point when we were younger that people told me that I looked like Natalie. I was in Elementary school probably, fresh-faced, young, dark hair that spun in ringlets. Natalie was in Middle School at the time, tromping around the halls there like she owned the place, wearing skirts that were too short for dress code and that mom would never let her wear out of the house. Instead she stuffed them into her backpack and changed at school, and I only know this because one morning I caught her shoving the flimsy material into her book bag and threatened to tell mother before she shut me up by bribing me with ten dollars and a chance to borrow a shirt of hers.

It was usually at family parties when I was told this, an old relative bending down and patting my head, “You look so much like your sister,” they’d coo at me and I felt like my very insides were beaming when they said that. There was no higher compliment than being compared to Natalie, and even at my young age I knew this well.

If Natalie was ever standing nearby though she might scoff sometimes, “She looks nothing like me, she’s totally different,” She would say, not entirely unkind but it would still make my mood turn sour like old milk. And then she would see my face and rest a careful hand on my shoulder, switching into her perfect mode, “I think you’re much prettier than I was Reagan, different is good,” she would tell me, and to this day I never knew if she was lying or not. I would like to believe that she was though, because surely she could see in the mirror that she was beautiful, even if she complained about trivial teenage girl things that were mostly fishing for compliments.

The comparisons hadn’t lasted for long though, by the time I reached middle school my hair had lightened to a sandy shade, my hair fell in loose waves instead of ringlets, my face became sharp instead of soft like hers and my eyes became wide. No one told me that I looked like Natalie anymore after that, they could no longer lie and see they saw the similarities. I knew I looked nothing like my sister, who was taller and willowy like a whisper. She was softer though, gentle where I was angles and sharpness, and no one compared us anymore, except for my grandmother, who, up until the day she died, was adamant that Natalie and I shared the same smile.

Three days had passes since Tate had come to collect Natalie’s things, I heard him shuffling about in her room for an hour, things shutting and closing, the creaking of her bed and I wondered if he sat there and cried for a while. When he left, he shut the door softly behind him, just as he had found it and passed by my room. Outside the door I saw him pause for a second and squeezed my eyes shut so that it looked like I was sleeping, not daring to even move an inch as he stood there for several more moments before the footsteps were moving away again and I allowed my eyes to peek open at the empty doorway. My hands rubbed against my swollen eyelids, my nose was stuffy and my throat felt soar, as if something had been clawing at it for the past hour, and maybe it had. Maybe the grief inside me turned into a monster in my sobs; maybe it clawed its way out of my body, leaving it a bloody mess, a shadow of what it once was. Maybe the grief knew that it was in too deep to see this through, maybe it wanted a way out just as desperately as I did, maybe it was trying to destroy me so that I could no longer feel.

It was dark when I finally pulled myself from bed that night. The crickets chirped loudly, the starts shone above, the house creaked the way it only does at night. My feet fell on the carpeted floor softly, they were quiet in the darkened house, and the only light in my room came from the window, and it cast the room in a light that was barely there, enough to see the ground, but not enough to determine what a scary shadow in the corner was. I stumbled to the doorframe and caught myself on it, as if my feet had somehow forgotten to walk in the days I had spent lying in bed. I cast a glance down the hallway to the shut door of my parent’s bedroom, a sliver of light emerged from underneath it, but probably only because they couldn’t drag themselves twelve feet to turn it off. In fact, they probably hadn’t moved in days, they were probably waiting to see if their mattress could swallow them whole, take them away from this world where there was pain.

I moved silently one door over, before I could even register where my feet were taking me, before I could even calculate those familiar steps I had taken to get to this very same room so many times before. And this time, though it had never been allowed before, my hand slipped right around the handle, I pushed the door open without even knocked first. If Natalie was still alive, she probably would have taken my hand and twisted it behind my back until I apologized. But I was meant with stony silence and darkness, nothing in this room creaked or moved, the very air itself seemed to be frozen where it was. I reached numbly for the light switch, my hand gliding across the smooth paint of her walls that she had just refinished the summer before in the lightest shade of pink I had ever seen.

The light finally found my fingertips and flicked on, the whole rooms suddenly becoming bright and light right before my very eyes. It was strange to see a room I had been in so many times before and feel suddenly alienated, uninvited. It wasn’t as if she would care at this point, wherever she was, but that it felt as if some barrier was keeping me out, something that ran deeper than just her being gone and me wanting to go in there. So I stood there in the doorway, looking into the room that no longer belonged to my sister. The bed was unmade in the corner, because she never made her bed, her curtains were thrown back so you could see out the window, random bits of clothing were scattered on the floor, a bra strewn over a lamp in the corner. She had her notebooks still stacked on her desk, ready to be discarded for the summer.

There were things left unfinished in her room, simply left behind on the night we climbed into that car together. There were things that she would never come back to, things that were left in static, waiting for her to return to them. When you die, I guess there are always things you leave behind. Unfinished homework, projects around the house, relationships, clothing and stories and memories. There are things that you cannot take with you in death, and those things are forgotten, they seem unimportant in the wake of dying, but in actuality, all the things you left behind once made up who you were.

I fell to the floor in the doorway, leaning against the jam with my side, I sighed into the room, I imagined myself going in there so many times with Natalie, sitting on that same bed, inhaling her sent, feeling close to her. I ran a hand along the carpet beneath me where she would tromp every day of her life. I felt sick to my stomach suddenly, as if the air was closing in on me, as if there was no room for anything, let alone breathing. I stood up quickly and the blood rushed to my body and made me see spots for a minute. I forced myself to breathe deeply through my nose, and I stumbled blindly for a few moments farther down the hallway, almost tumbling down the staircase at that last minute.

I steadied myself and started down the steps slowly, one at a time, gripping onto the railing and leaving behind the ghost of my sister. I was outside before I even knew where I was going, there were no shoes on my feet and the cement was cold underneath them, scraping their soles. I rushed to my car, my car keys already in my hand and I had no idea how they got there in the first place. I threw myself inside, I stared at the wheel for a moment and felt a surge of panic rise in my throat before I swallowed it whole and started the care before I could think about it. In my head this had made perfect sense, but when driving around on the darkened streets with silent, sleeping, houses brought me back to that night and I felt tears prick my eyes and a scream try and claw its way out of my throat.

I reminded myself that this was not that night, I was not drunk off of champagne and cute boys, or giddy with closeness to my sister. I was not that same, stupid girl that I was those weeks ago. Still though, as the car pushed on I couldn’t shake the feeling that around every curve death awaited me, at every stop light there would be some danger there to try and take my life. The other problem was that almost everything was closed at this hour of the night, save for the odd bar that I couldn’t get into anyway, that I wouldn’t even want to get into.

There was a supermarket that was all bright down the road, a sign declaring it to be open twenty-four hours. My body knew I was going there before my mind did. My food found the gas pedal, my hands turned the steering wheel at the entrance, I was parked before I realized I wanted to be there. I sat in the driver’s seat for a moment and breathed in deep in the dark car. I tried not to see the red or Natalie, I tried, in my head, to detach this from that. This was another day, another incident; this was a place that had nothing to do with Natalie. I pushed out of the car and into the cool air, my white t-shirt hung almost below the shorts I was wearing, I wasn’t wearing a bra and my feet were bare. For the first time I realized how strange I must look, leaving my house at odd hours to drive to a supermarket in my PJs. I hung my head low as I started into the store. My hair was still unwashed around my face, and when the automatic doors swung open for me the cashier cast me a strange look. I flushed deep red and reached for the elastic around my wrist and pulled my hair back off my face. I rushed past where he was still looking at me, dodging down an aisle so that he couldn’t see me anymore.

I wanted to tell him that if he worked the night shift at a twenty-four hour supermarket, he was in for a few strange sights. No normal person decides to shop in the middle of the night, only the crazy ones. This made me wonder for a moment though, if I was crazy. Did driving around in the middle of the night to get away from the ghost of my sister make me insane?

I looked around at the aisle filled with different assortments or razors and shampoos and decided that I was, indeed, crazy. Maybe Natalie had left me behind after all, like all of the things in her room. But maybe she had taken my sanity with her that night, stolen it from me with her gut-wrenching screams when I was scared and vulnerable. Maybe that was her revenge for me taking her life, she took something from me in return, something I was sure that I needed now most of all.

I rushed down the aisle then, my feet carrying me fast. This place was much bigger than it had appeared on the outside, all the different aisles stretching out on either side of me for what seemed like miles. I felt small and alone in there, but I quickly turned to my left and kept walking down the aisles, finding almost all of them empty of people. Until that is, I reached the last one, this one was lined with glass freezers on either side, the air seemed to drop twenty degrees instantly and I felt my hands fly up to my arms in an attempt to warm them. I expected to find this one as deserted as all of the others, empty of people and all signs of life. Maybe I would even wander down this one, let the cold wake me up and shake my brain loose, but before I could start down it, there was the sharp slap of one of the freezers closing, my eyes darted up quickly, scanning the entire walkway to see someone standing there at the end. They were wearing long flannel pants and a loose shirt, their dark hair stood up in all different directions and their shoulders slumped over, in exhaustion or stress I couldn’t tell.

I started to move away, retreat back down an empty aisle so that there would be more time to think, less people to worry about. I could pretend that I was alone in the world as I looked at the things normal people would buy, shampoo and soap, food and drinks, maybe even something sweet for dessert. I tried to remember my family being normal like that, back when we were all happy and charming, when we would all go shopping together on the weekends even though it always took twice as long with all of us in there.

Just as I started to make my retreat the person spotted me. When they did their whole body went rigid for a moment, they looked like they too were going to make a run for it. Until that is, their body started moving towards where I was standing at a fast pace, almost like they were running. As they got closer I could start to make out the features of a strong jaw, tanned limbs, almond shaped eyes. I realized too late who this stranger in the supermarket was, and by the time I wanted to turn and sprint away he was only two feet away from me, standing with a frown on his face but a light in his eyes. He had a frozen pizza box tucked under one arm, his shirt had a stain on the corner and I felt like I was going to vomit.

“What are you doing here?” Tate asked, his voice husky from lack of sleep.

“I could ask you that same thing you know,” I stated, casting my eyes up and trying to meet his, acutely becoming aware of my missing bra and shoes, I felt almost naked.

He shrugged his shoulders and sighed, “I guess that’s true.”

We were silent for a moment, Tate shifted his weight and exhaled sharply, I cast my eyes down at the ground and crossed my arms firmly over my chest, wiggling my toes against the cold linoleum floor.

“Thanks for letting me go in there today,” he said after the silence began to stretch for too long in too many directions.

I nodded, noting how he couldn’t even bring himself to say that actual words, “It’s whatever,” I said, “I mean, it was your stuff.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said, a hand going through his hair, which compared to mine, looked freshly washed and clean. “So what brings you here at this hour?” He asked, shifting his weight, moving the pizza box to the other arm to rest.

I shrugged, “Nothing really,” I decided, “I just wanted some air. What about you?”

He looked slightly embarrassed for a moment, his cheeks turning darker with the blood that rushed there, “Sometimes it’s hard to sit at home during the night,” he said, and I wondered if the same reasons had brought him to this supermarket. I wondered if he was trying to escape the ghost of the dead girl that apparently plagued us both. I looked up at him through tired, squinting eyes and decided that the only reason he would be out here at this hour was if he was running from something.

“What kind of pizza is that?” I blurted out suddenly, and decided that I was insane for asking such a question. Tate’s face went blank for a moment, as if he didn’t quite understand before a small smile turned up the corners of his mouth and he looked like he might have laughed other under circumstances.

“I think its peperoni,” He said, glancing down at the box in his hands as if he wasn’t really sure how it had gotten there.

“Natalie’s favorite,” I said my voice much soft this time, almost as if I was whispering and I saw Tate’s face suddenly fall quickly before he took a deep breath and regained his composure.

“It’s everyone’s favorite,” he said quickly, clearing his throat and I wanted to kick myself for being so stupid, I felt a wild blush rush up to my face to declare my humiliation to the world, or at least to Tate.

“I guess I came here because of her,” I said slowly after another moment of silence, and Tate did not say anything, as if he was waiting for me to elaborate so I took another deep breath to steady myself. “I mean, I couldn’t stop thinking about her, it’s hard to be in that house sometimes, right next to where she slept, where there’s an empty table at the dinner table when my parents drag themselves out of bed to eat. It’s like we all kind of fell apart without her. My parents hardly even speak anymore, I haven’t been outside in days, it’s like we’re all kind of waiting for her to come back,” I said and by the end my words got caught on the sudden rush of sadness that wanted to overtake me before I sharply swallowed it back down so it could make its appearance again at a more reasonable time.

“I guess I’m kind of here for the same reason,” Tate said decidedly, and I could hear him scuffing his feet along the floor like he always did. “I just feel so crazy,” he whispered fiercely.

“I sat in the doorway for her room for a good ten minutes and I didn’t even go inside,” I told him, “I screamed at her friends yesterday because they wanted to come inside, I’ve slept for the past three weeks instead of getting out of bed. It’s like I’m completely insane without her,” I said, shutting my eyes tight against the floor that was too bright.

“Were you two really close?” Tate asked, his voice was soft and gentle now though, as if sensing my pain.

“I think we were,” I said, feeling completely desolate.

“Fuck I’m sorry Reagan,” was his reply, and I felt like I was going to vomit all of the sudden.

“What about you two?” I asked instead, “You two were closer than anyone I’ve known,” I said, looking at him through my eyelashes, trying to figure him out as he tried to figure me out.

“I guess you could say that,” he muttered quickly, like he was embarrassed and he cast his eyes down at the ground and I could feel both of our sorrow’s building together around us, threatening to drown us both right there in the middle of the supermarket, looming darkly overhead even though everything around us was bright to the point of painful to look at.

“We’re both insane I think,” I decided after a moment, the words spilling from my mouth to hold the sorrow at bay for another moment at least.

“I think so too,” Tate said, straightening his shoulders, “Me more than you,” he added.

“Why is that?” I asked, my face scrunching up as I looked at him.

“Because,” He sighed for a moment as if thinking it over, deciding whether or not he should tell me, but then his eyes caught mine and the words were pouring from his mouth, “I’ve always been crazy.”


After that, silence settled around Tate and I. It was another few moments before we both began slowly shuffling towards the entrance of the market, where the boy was still sitting at the cash register, giving us both strange looks now. Tate placed his frozen pizza on the counter between them and I loomed in the background while he paid for it, listening to him as he growled at the boy for looking at him like he had two heads. The boy looked thoroughly taken aback and quickly gave Tate his change as Tate stalked out of the place, with me on his heels.

“I really hate people sometimes, you know?” Tate was saying when we were out in the open, dark air again, turning around quickly to look me in the face.

“Yeah,” I said softly, not really understanding but not wanting to make him more upset. We were a quite a sight, I assume, two teenagers wandering around in the dark on a random night trying to buy a frozen pizza.

“Shit,” he says and kicks the tire of his car, pulling keys out of his pockets.

“I hope you like your pizza,” I called out, unsure of what to say as I approached my own car and clambered in without a second thought. In the dark I tried to sort out my thoughts, I tried to separate myself from Tate in my mind, and I tried to separate Tate and Natalie. I slipped the key into the ignition and pulled myself from my thoughts when there was suddenly rapping at my window that caused me to jump up in the air, my hands flying to my chest, my eyes going wide.

“Fuck,” I cursed as I rolled down the window, “Don’t ever do that to me again,” I told Tate sharply, inhaling deeply through my nose, “I hate being scared.”

“Sorry,” Tate rushed, looking rather shameful with his head bowed down and I could tell that he was probably blushing again. “I was just wondering if you wanted to come over and split the pizza with me,” He finished.

I looked at him for a second, because in my mind this made no sense. The pizza and him standing here now were two entirely separate events, maybe even separate nights. “What?” I said, as if he needed to clarify this, because of my own mistake.

“That’s pizza is really big you know, and there’s no way I’m going to be able to eat that all even though you would expect me to be able too—“ He said, his voice quick before I cut him off.

“Why don’t you share it with your parents?” I asked, furrowing my brow, my hands playing with the knobs on the stereo so I would have something to do.

“I don’t live with my parents,” His voice was soft, there was a sadness there too, one that made my heart ache for him. It seemed we were always aching for each other, the two of us, feeling each other’s sorrow, feeding off of it, trying to comfort each other.

“Oh.” I said, the word falling clumsily from my lips as I cast my eyes up at him, “I guess I could help you,” I said, trying my best not to feel uncomfortable as he smiled widely, opening my car door for me as I once again climbed out of it and locked its doors behind me.

“What if your parents wonder where you’ve been all night?” Tate asked suddenly, just realizing this.

“They won’t notice,” I shrugged, knowing that they probably wouldn’t move a single inch tonight or tomorrow if they ever moved at all again. Maybe they would die right there in that bed, without having moved an inch since they retreated there after the funeral.

“Well then get in, wouldn’t want to keep the pizza waiting,” he said, the lightest tone to his voice that I had yet to hear from him and he opened my door for me again before climbing in on his side and zipping me away to somewhere we could wallow in each other’s misery all over again.

Maybe it was not joy that brought people together, maybe it was misery and pain and depression. Maybe joy pulled people apart, but sadness pulled them back together. Maybe the real connection all humans shared is that we all felt pain, and that’s what kept us close.
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Sorry for the delay for this update, but if I do say so myself, I think it's pretty good! For all of you who don't know, my story Skipping a Beat was put on the Project Fiction Goodlist if you want to check it out.

I'm done being a whore now.