Familiar Ground

By: Michelle Lynn

I can’t help but think it’s Cassi’s doing that the sun shines down on such a crap filled day. Watching my mom’s tears fall down her cheeks while my dad holds her close to his chest, I’m thankful they at least have each other. I stand two feet away, dressed in the only black suit and presentable tie I own. The brown box, bearing a spray of pink flowers is slowly being lowered into the ground. A mixture of relief and sorrow begin to conflict inside of me, but no tears escape my eyes. There’s probably still too much rage lingering above the grief to allow them to break through.

Then my eyes land on the man who called the wake of fury to the surface. That night will never leave my mind until the day I join Cassi in the ground.

I was asleep after a grueling twelve-hour workday when my phone starts ringing. Startled awake I glance down at my phone. Cassi’s name flashes across the screen. I contemplate not answering it, since more than likely she just wants some money. This was an all-time low for her to call me at two in the morning. Knowing if I don’t answer and find out what’s wrong, I’ll lay awake all night wondering what she did in order to get the money I answer the call.

“Hello,” I say, placing the phone to my ear.

“Um… Adam?” A man’s voice comes over the line, and I bolt up in bed.

“Yeah, who’s this?” Possibilities stream through my mind. The police, a drug dealer, or maybe just some random guy who found her dead in an alleyway.

“My name is Shane Thomas. I’m Cassi’s boyfriend.” His shaking voice sounds terrified.

“All right. Where’s Cassi?” I question, already shrugging on my jeans, getting ready to go.

“That’s why I’m calling…” He hesitates, and I prompt him to continue.

“Where?” I demand.

“Cook County Hospital.” I slip my bare feet in my gym shoes, grabbing my jacket and keys.

“I’m on my way,” I inform him, locking up my apartment door. “Emergency?”

“No, um…”

“Okay, give me the room number,” I impatiently instruct. How high is this guy that he can’t even remember where she is?

“I’m really sorry. The morgue,” he finally reveals, and the phone drops out of my hand, cascading through the air until it lands with a thud onto the floor.

Twenty minutes later, I walk with a steady pace through the Emergency Room’s sliding doors. Passing a waiting room full of people to a very overworked nurse I ask for directions. She guides me where I need to go, and I mindlessly follow. My heart races, and my hands shake. Please, tell me this is some form of mistaken identity or some cruel joke, anything but that my worst fear is now my reality.

Ten hallways and two elevators later, a big black sign glaringly declares I’ve reached my destination. The way the words make me wince, it’s like it’s lit up in neon lights. I’m just about to cross the threshold of death when I catch sight of a guy standing up by the lone bench in the hallway. The way the blond haired guy is walking my way, I’m pretty sure he’s the guy who called me.

“Adam?” he asks, and I take in his whole appearance. Worn jeans and t-shirt, dirty shoes. Hair way outgrown, but doesn’t scream low life druggie. Trust me, I’ve seen the type.

“Yeah,” I say, not even offering my hand. “Shane?”

“Yeah.” He rocks back on his heels, and my eyes dart to the entrance. “I guess we should go in.” He walks in front of me, and I follow.

A friendly tech dressed in lime-green scrubs printed with cheerful, smiling aliens escorts us into a stale room, empty except for the metal table in the center. That’s her body under the sheet, lying on top of a cold slab of metal. The employee goes about his daily job responsibilities and places his hands on either side of the sheet. My feet are itching to flee. Maybe if I don’t see her, she isn’t really there, and it didn’t happen. I can go back to my apartment and curl into my bed, thinking that she’s still alive out there somewhere. But I stay put, leaving a safe distance between me and the outward shell of her former self.

The tech lowers the white fabric just past her shoulders, and my body begs me to let it crumble. Her eye sockets are sunken in, and her body is pasty white. The biggest thing I notice is, how at peace she appears. Like some sleeping angel that didn’t live an out of control life. “Is this your sister, sir?” the deep voice asks, and I nod my head.

“That’s—her,” I stutter. Shane goes closer, pulling her hand out from under the sheet and holding it with his own.

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