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Part 2: ‌Jack – Chapter no 18

If Only I Had Told Her

“Phineas Smith is dead.”

“Lexy,” I say. It’s too fucking early for her to call. It doesn’t matter if we’re sleeping together again. “Stop being a drama queen,” I groan into the phone and roll over in bed.

“Jack. I’m not kidding.”

“Lex, I don’t care how pissed you and Sylvie are at him—”

“Finn died last night, Jack.” She raises her voice. “That’s what I’m telling you. He died. He’s fucking dead.”

I sit up.

“Bullshit.” It’s still too fucking early for Alexis to be calling me because Finn finally dumped Sylvie. The sun is hardly up.

“Finn’s dead, Jack,” she says. “I just got back from the hospital with Sylvie and her parents. There was an accident. Sylvie has a concussion, but Finn died.”

“Bullshit,” I say again, because it has to be. No. No?

“Yeah. Finn’s gone.” Alexis is crying. She’s actually crying. “Fuck,” I say. “No. How?”

This can’t be real.

This really can’t be real.

Surely she’s going to say that he’s in a coma or clinically dead and on a ventilator, but there’s still a chance? There’s got to be some hope?

“What? I can’t understand you, Lex.”

I strain to listen. Outside, birds are singing. The sky is clear after the rain.

“How the fuck did Finn get electrocuted?”

 

It’s like pounding my head against a wall, the way I’m trying to find the comfort or hope that’s supposed to be in every bad situation. There is none.

Finn is dead.

I try to make it right.

Okay, I say to myself. Finn is strong. He’ll learn to live with—

But no.

There has to be some way this can be undone. But no.

This is death.

I hung up with Alexis a few minutes ago. I’m supposed to be getting ready to go by her place, but I’m sitting on my bed.

“Finn’s dead,” I say aloud.

We have to go back in time and fix this, I think.

Time travel is not an option. Except every problem in life has a solution.

If you think hard enough, work hard enough, there’s a solution. Right?

I need to tell Finn that he can break up with Sylvie over the phone.

That’s the solution.

But it’s already done. He’s gone.

My mind spins, trying, trying, trying to find a way out of this maze. There’s got to be a way I can think this into not being true. Death is so final. Over. Done. Finn.

 

“I’m going to his house,” I say into my phone as I pull out of the driveway. My voice is shaking.

After I hung up with Alexis, I was frozen, staring at everything and nothing, trying to make sense of it. Then I called for my mother to come to my room like when I was a kid waking up after a nightmare. I didn’t trust my legs to work.

Mom sat next to me on the bed and held me, and I told her the news. It’s been years since I’ve held on to her like that, like I’m drowning. With six other brothers in the house, it took a serious injury to get one-on-one time with Mom. She stroked my hair, and as my sobbing slowed, I remembered the last time I’d needed her like this, when I’d cracked my shinbone in sixth grade. It had seemed like an eternal wait in the emergency room before I’d been given pain medication, though my mother had sworn it was only twenty minutes.

There’s no medicine for this pain.

Eventually, Mom asked about Finn’s mother, and I said I didn’t know how she was. That got me out of bed. Mom was hesitant to approve my plan, but after I used her line back at her about Finn not being lucky enough to have a big family like ours, she told me to go ahead.

I pull the car out of the driveway and hold the phone against my shoulder with my cheek so I can use both hands to turn. Finn would tell me that using both hands doesn’t make up for talking on the phone in the first place.

“But everyone is coming over here,” Alexis says.

“I’m gonna check if his mom needs anything. I’ll be by later. Are Vicky and Taylor there?”

“Yeah, b—”

“Lex, I’ll be by. I should do this.” “Why?”

“I—He was my best friend, Lex. And she’s been important to me. You know that.” Alexis and I talked about deep stuff at least sometimes.

“Sorry, what? Jack, I gotta go. Everyone is arriving. I know. I can’t believe—”

I hang up. Finn was right about Alexis and me. Our last conversation.

It hits me again.

I won’t be able to tell Finn that he was right about Alexis.

He’d called me to tell me that I was right about Autumn, or really, that I was wrong. He had a funny way of seeing it.

That had been last night—no, evening?

The day before that, I’d woken up in a blanket fort Finn had built for Autumn. They’d been snuggled into each other like littermates, Autumn snoring like a freight train.

Is she in love with him too, or is she an honest-to-God sociopath? I’d wondered as I watched them together.

I’d not put the odds in Finn’s favor. So when he called to say she loved him back, I asked if he was sure.

“All the way sure,” he said. He sounded so happy. He’s dead now.

Finn’s dead.

But he can’t be.

My breath quickens. I pull the car to the side of the road and rest my head against the steering wheel.

What if it was mistaken identity or a mix-up at the hospital? Alexis said Sylvie saw him herself. Saw him dead.

Dead.

Finn.

This is a new world. Finn is dead. I am numb.

 

Finn’s driveway is a pain to get up and down because of the hill, so I park on the street and cross the lawn. His house looks the same as always, though his car isn’t there.

Finn isn’t going to be inside or upstairs or on his way home. Finn is never coming home again.

With that thought, all the never-agains come crashing down on me, and I’m frozen in place, standing on the grass he’ll never complain about mowing. He’ll never kick another soccer ball or play a new video game. Finn will never tell me another story or joke. He’ll never study for another test, eat another burger, roll his eyes at me, or watch that new superhero movie we were looking forward to in December.

It’s all done.

Finn’s story is over. His whole life.

That was it.

Not even nineteen years, and he’ll never, ever do anything else ever again. Finn won’t go off to college or celebrate his birthday. He won’t get another haircut or get the oil changed in his car. He won’t bite a hangnail on his thumb or buy another CD. Finn Smith has done everything he will ever do.

He won’t get to be with Autumn.

The memory of his joy last night hits me again.

The thing is I’ve always hated Autumn. The first time I met her, she was ignoring Finn on his birthday. Then she kept ignoring him for, I don’t know, the next four years? It was only in the past two years that when he talked about her (when I’d tolerate it), it seemed like she’d warmed back up to him. Somewhat.

Then, suddenly, Autumn breaks up with Jamie and starts spending every minute with Finn. I was pretty sure that was proof she was as evil as I’d

always suspected. But I had fun hanging out with him and Autumn those couple of times. I’ve always understood why Finn was so into her. I’d just never understood why he’d hung on so long when it was clearly never going to happen, and I was preparing myself to spend my first semester of college getting Finn through another Autumn abandonment.

So I hadn’t really processed what Finn told me over the phone last night. It had seemed impossible, what Finn claimed had happened between them, but he’d been so sure, so happy. He was so certain that she loved him.

And he’s dead now.

I can’t ask Finn what made him certain. I can’t ask him anything anymore. He’s never going to have a thought to share because his brain is no longer thinking.

I was afraid that Autumn would break Finn’s heart. Now I wish she had the chance. I wish he was inside, devastated by Autumn or perhaps severely injured in the accident. No matter how horrible, I wish Finn was able to feel something, anything.

I’m still standing in Finn’s yard staring at the grass he’ll never mow again. I don’t know how long it’s been when a woman’s voice says, “Jack, right?”

It’s Angelina’s friend, Autumn’s mother. Finn always called her Aunt Claire or something?

“Hi. Sorry,” I say, though I’m not sure what for—being here or that Finn’s not. “I was coming to see Angelina. If she needed…if I could do… something.”

I feel like I’m pleading, but I’m not sure why.

She hugs me, and I start to cry in front of his house, in front of this woman I barely know, and she pats my hair like my mother did earlier this morning.

“I know,” she says. “I know. I know. I know.”

I can tell that she does understand in a way my own mother hadn’t. She knows how unfair it is. How Finn is the last person who should be in some freak accident. How everyone loved him.

Then it’s like a valve has shut off. My crying stops. I’m trying to get my breathing under control as she steps away from me.

She says, “Look at me,” so I do. She stares into my eyes like she’s trying to find her way inside my brain. “It’s going to be like that for a while, okay? You’ll be fine one minute and crying the next. You aren’t losing your mind. This is too horrible to take in all at once. Do you understand?”

I nod, even though I only sort of do.

“Okay then.” She pauses and looks me over for a moment before she says, “There is something you can do for Angelina, or rather for the two of us. I need to go to the hospital with Angelina. I can’t let her do that alone. Can you stay with Autumn for us?”

She studies my face, and I slowly realize what Angelina is going to the hospital to do.

The body. His body. Finn.

Alexis said Finn had been declared dead on the scene. He hadn’t heard the zipper as the body bag closed over his face. There had been no sirens when the ambulance drove him away, because there was no more rushing, no more worrying over Finn. Unlike Sylvie’s parents, Angelina would have been told to come when she could. I wonder who told her that: a policeman at the door, a phone call from the hospital? Did they explain to her how to find the morgue?

“Yeah,” I say. “Sure.” It sounds easy enough, and I’ll do anything she tells me if she says it’s for Finn’s mom. I follow her around to the back of the house. I’m focused on Finn’s body, his body that used to run next to me across the soccer field, now an item to be claimed like a piece of luggage.

Again, my mind wonders if it won’t really be him. But then there is the problem of where the real Finn is and that Alexis said Sylvie saw him when she regained consciousness.

Finn is dead. I need to stop trying to find a way out of it.

As I walk into his house, a house he’ll never walk into again, I’m overwhelmed by the smell of Finn. Not that he smelled bad but the way that everyone has a smell. It’s part their shampoo or whatever and part them. I can smell Finn here in this house, though I’ll never smell the whole of Finn again.

We ran together a lot, and not only at soccer practice. Because we both liked to run, the smell of his sweat mixed with his old-man deodorant was as familiar as our ribbing each other when we raced. I would give anything in the world for another run, another sniff of sweaty Finn.

I wasn’t prepared for how the air of his home would affect me, let alone the pictures on the wall or the staircase where I slipped once and Finn diagnosed my sprained ankle. I should have expected it to be difficult to be here.

But I remind myself I am here for Angelina, and for the first time, I wonder why Autumn can’t be alone.

I get the answer when I see her.

I guess I don’t have any lingering doubts about Autumn’s feelings for Finn. Her face is so swollen from crying that she almost doesn’t look like herself. She’s curled in a ball on the corner of the couch, chewing on her fingernails, staring at the floor like she’s sleeping with her eyes open.

“Autumn?” her mother says.

Autumn’s head turns robotically in our direction.

“I’m going to take Angelina to the hospital,” her mother says. Autumn winces.

“Jack’s here. He came to see if we needed anything. Isn’t that sweet?”

“Hi.” Autumn’s voice sounds terrible, so hoarse it’s barely a rasp. Everything about her is flat and emotionless, like a garden statue that decades of rain have left with only the impression of a face.

I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do, but sitting on the opposite end of the couch seems appropriate. Her mother heads upstairs. When I look over at Autumn, she’s staring at me.

“Hi,” I say, since I’d not said it before. She continues to stare, and I start to feel uncomfortable.

“Who told you?” she finally asks. It sounds like it must be painful for her to speak.

“Alexis. Sylvie’s parents called and asked her to come to the hospi—” I stop, but my reference to Sylvie doesn’t seem to have upset her.

“How is she?” “Alexis?”

Autumn laughs, coughs, and winces. “No,” she chokes out. “Alexis is probably hosting an unofficial wake and making this all about herself.” Her face tightens in a way I can’t read. “I was asking about Sylvie.”

“I don’t know.” I wonder if I should have called Sylvie and seen if she needed anything before coming here.

The stairs behind us creak, and I hear Angelina’s voice from the back of the house.

“Autumn, Jack, I love you both so much, but if I see your faces right now, I’ll cry. I have to go. I have to go. I have to go…” Angelina repeats, and Autumn’s mother mumbles in soothing tones until the back door closes.

Autumn takes a shuddering breath.

I’m not sure why I came here except that it felt more appropriate than going to Alexis’s house, where there’d be people who knew Finn but also hadn’t.

Not like Autumn and I knew Finn. I look over at her again.

She’s back to staring at the rug and speaks without looking at me. “You can turn on the TV if you want.”

“Thanks,” I say. “Maybe in a minute.”

Autumn returns to chewing on her nails. Her hair is a disheveled mess, and I can faintly smell her sweat. I don’t know if she loved Finn anywhere close to as much as he loved her, but she loved him. I believe it now.

I’m trying to decide if I should say what I’m thinking. Nothing feels real, so it’s hard to think clearly. Finally, I decide it’s what he’d want me to do.

“You know,” I say, “Finn called me last night on his way to pick her up.”

Autumn looks up at me, startled.

“I thought you should know that he was really, really happy.”

For the briefest of moments, joy lights her face, and then it burns out again.

“Yeah?” she whispers.

I clear my throat to get the tremble out. “He was so happy.”

“I was afraid he would change his mind when he saw her,” Autumn says. I can barely hear her.

“That—no—There’s no way.”

I don’t know how to explain this to her. I don’t know Autumn, not really, and this is such an intimate but vital thing that I need her to understand, for Finn’s sake.

I push past the catch in my throat. “Nope. No way. Autumn, he’s been in love with you for as long as I’ve known him.”

Autumn looks at me with interest but not like she believes me.

I try again. “Like, fairy-tale love? Cartoon character with hearts floating all around him? Or a movie montage with the best song? That’s what you were to him.” I’m sniffling, but I need to finish. “You were the biggest,

most impossible dream for him.” I press the tears away with my fingers before they can fall.

“You’re sure?” They sound like the last words she’ll be capable of speaking.

The tears I’d been fighting retreat as quickly as they’d overpowered me, like her mother had told me they would.

“Absolutely,” I say.

Her shoulders relax slightly, and a little bit of tightness leaves her puffy face. I try her mother’s technique.

“Look at me,” I say, trying to sound firm. She raises her eyes but not her face.

“Finn loved you,” I say, confidently. “He was coming back to you. You can be certain of that.”

“Okay,” she says, but I don’t hear it. Her voice is gone, and I only see it on her lips. Maybe a fraction of a percentage of her devastation has been eased. There’s nothing I can do about the rest of it.

Eventually, I turn on the TV, and we sit in silence.

I wonder how long it takes to formally ID a body and sign papers.

Finn Smith in a morgue. His stupidly long legs and mop of blond hair will never be sweaty from running again. His body is cold.

The body that is Finn and not Finn, because Finn is gone.

I cry for a little bit, discretely brushing away tears and a few sniffles. I’m trying to be quiet, because I’m embarrassed. I stare in the direction of the TV and think I’m doing a pretty good job of hiding my emotion, but right as I’ve caught my breath, Autumn croaks.

“You were a good friend to him.” She was waiting for me to finish. “I’m so glad he had you. You were a better friend than I was for the past few years.” She coughs and strains to speak, then makes a sound like a laugh but maybe not. “The last third of his life,” she finally gets out.

“Are you okay? Are you sick too?” I ask. “Or is that from crying?”

Her eyes get this faraway look, and it scares me somehow.

“I was screaming for a while,” she says. “I was trying to make it not real by not believing it, and screaming worked…for a while.”

I don’t know what to say, but she doesn’t seem to expect an answer. It seems like she’s watching the TV again, but it also looks like she’s been drugged. We’re silent after that.

 

When their mothers return, I hug Angelina and stay a little while. She looks like she was in a car accident herself, but she’s able to talk to me calmly for a few minutes before I go. Autumn’s mother walks me to the front porch, and she thanks me for staying with Autumn.

“Ms. Davis, uh, is Autumn okay? I mean, none of us are okay, and I’m worried about Angelina too. It’s just—” Suddenly I feel terrible for asking.

“Autumn will be okay, and so will you. We all will be.” She looks at me the way she did when I arrived, but this time, I think she’s trying to convince herself too. “Life can be and often is fiercely cruel,” she continues. “You and Autumn have learned that a little younger than most, but you all, including Finny, would have had to learn it eventually.” Her voice falters. She takes a deep breath and gives me a weak smile. “Angelina and I already knew that about life. She—we’ve—losing a child is the worst, but we’ll survive, because we must. We all will, including Autumn. Including you.”

I nod because she needs me to, not because I agree.

“The arrangements still have to be made, but I’m sure we’ll see you at the wake, Jack,” she says before going inside. “Thanks again.”

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