Chapter no 23

If Only I Had Told Her

I watch as the line of people who have waited to talk to Angelina slowly winds down. Alexis met my eyes before she left, but we never spoke. When Coach was leaving, I told him there was something I needed to do, that I’d get a ride home from someone else. I don’t know what I’m waiting for though. I don’t need to say anything to her or Autumn’s mom, and my duties are finished. Finn is in his grave.

I take off my jacket and tie, unbutton my collar.

Compared to the August heat, the metal of his coffin had felt so cool against my cheek.

I wonder how Angelina does it, comforting these people, mostly kids from school but a few adults too. They are waiting to shake her hand or give her a hug or share some sentiment, and her child is not fully buried a few feet away.

Autumn’s mother stands protectively by her. I figure if Angelina wasn’t getting anything out of talking to these people, she’d take her friend home.

“Are you waiting to talk to her?” Sylvie asks.

I jump because I had no idea that she was nearby, much less standing behind me. I’d wandered away a bit, and Sylvie and I are on a small slope among some graves from the 1970s.

“No,” I say. “I wasn’t ready to go. Are you?”

“No,” she says. There’s a bruise near her temple and a scratch along her cheek. Otherwise, she is outwardly, physically unmarked from the crash. Her blond hair is pulled back and up in a way that I’m sure has a special name. Her trim black suit probably has a French name on the label.

“I thought about texting or something,” I say by way of apology, but Sylvie shrugs.

“Nothing was your fault,” she says.

“Still, I could have said something.” I’m not sure if we’re talking about the crash or Autumn.

“You don’t have to pretend that we were more than friends of convenience, Jack. I’m tired of people pretending to care more about me than they do.”

“Geez, Sylv,” I say. It’s not that I think she and I would have naturally gravitated toward each other, but in the past four years, I’d come to think of us as comrades of sorts.

“Sorry,” she says, which is more than what I said to her, but I decide to call her out on what was truly shitty in what she said.

“Finn didn’t pretend anything about his feelings for you,” I say. “He lied about his feelings for Autumn, but he loved you.”

“Just not enough?”

“I—” I’m regretting not letting this go. “I don’t think it was about ‘enough,’ Sylv.”

She laughs, startling me again. I look at her. She isn’t smiling, and her eyes are closed.

“That’s what he said.”

“Yeah?” I’m distracted, because I’ll never know his side of that conversation. “What did you say to that?”

She shakes her head. “I can’t remember.” She opens her eyes. “The good news is the doctors say it’s dissociative amnesia, not retrograde amnesia, which means that my not remembering the minutes before or after

the accident isn’t brain damage. I’m protecting myself, according to them.” She laughs the same cold laugh, and for a moment, she looks like Autumn did on the couch, but she takes a deep breath, and it clears.

I shouldn’t ask her, but it’s bothering me, how Alexis described the scene to me in detail…but Sylvie’s memory isn’t complete about that night.

“Alexis said that you saw him when you woke up and called 911.” Sylvie doesn’t laugh this time.

“That’s what they tell me, but I don’t remember making the call.” She shakes her head. “I remember telling a paramedic that I knew Finn was dead because of his face. But later at the hospital, when the police tried to get a statement from me, I couldn’t remember waking up or his face. They did all the brain scans, and it’s a regular concussion. Apparently, when I’m ready, I’ll remember.”

“Oh,” I say. “Can you choose to never be ready?” I’m being sincere, but she laughs again, and this time, it’s real.

“I’ll have to ask my new therapist,” she says. “What happened to the guy Finn liked?”

She sighs. “Dr. Giles always hated Finn.”

The idea of anyone hating Finn silences me.

In the distance, Angelina and Autumn’s mom are walking to the limo together, their arms around each other’s waists. Soon, Sylvie and I will be the only ones here: us, Finn, and all the other dead people like him.

“Maybe ‘hate’ is too strong of a word,” Sylvie continues, “but Dr. Giles didn’t trust Finn. Plus he said Finn seemed codependent. That was part of the reason he thought I should go away for the summer. To give me space to take care of myself.” Sylvie shrugs. “Dr. Giles and I agreed that after all the progress I’d made dealing with…other things, perhaps it would be best for me to start fresh with someone who didn’t have preconceived notions about Finn, since he’s going to be the focus of my appointments for a long time.”

“Huh,” I say.

Sylvie looks down the slope. Together we watch the limo drive off.

What a betrayal it is that Alexis told me that stuff about Sylvie and some teacher from her old school. I’d only half been listening, and part of me had wondered why she was telling me all that, but mostly I had been thinking about Alexis’s body and not about whether she was a good friend.

Sylvie starts walking down the hill, away from Finn’s grave, into the older parts of the cemetery, and I follow.

“It’s funny,” I say, simply to say something. “I was thinking about how no one could hate Finn, and you say your doctor at least hypothetically disliked him.”

“Oh, I hate Finn,” Sylvie assures me. She smiles softly at my shock. “Don’t get me wrong. I love him too. If I had the power to stop loving him, I would have long ago. So I love him, and I hate him.”

“I guess.” I want to defend Finn, but this time, I can’t. “I guess that’s fair.”

Sylvie smiles again and shakes her head. She stops walking. “Jack, if you really are my friend, can you do something for me?”

“I mean,” I say, “if I really am your friend, can you stop questioning it like that?”

“That’s fair,” Sylvie says, and I’m not sure she notices I was joking. “If I stop questioning our friendship, will you stop falling for Alexis’s bullshit?”

“I–I thought Alexis was your friend?”

“Yes,” Sylvie says. “But she has a lot of growing up to do.”

I know Sylvie well enough to know that there’s no point in reminding her that Alexis is two weeks older than her. Besides, she’s right; Alexis hasn’t matured much in the past four years. It’s such a simple thing, but it explains so much about Alexis, not to mention my relationship with her, that I’m too stunned to say more than, “Yeah.”

“I mean,” Sylvie continues, “you’d outgrown her before junior year had even started.”

We’re on a gravel path now, and I’m matching Sylvie’s brisk pace.

Apparently, we’re taking a walk together.

“Yeah,” I say again for the same reason.

This time, she must hear it in my tone, because she says, “Didn’t you notice how all your fights were because you’d said something she didn’t want to admit was true?”

“I’m going to be honest with you, Sylv,” I say. “I never knew what any of my fights with Lexy were about.”

“That’s okay,” she laughs. “Lexy never knew either, but she didn’t know that she didn’t know.”

“It sounds like you outgrew her too,” I say. Sylvie shrugs and keeps striding forward.

I add, “I’m seeing a lot about Alexis clearly. She’s not always been a good friend to you.”

Sylvie looks at me differently than I think she has before. “Noted,” she says.

The gravel crunches under our feet.

I feel like I should say something profound, something I can quote from Finn that will make her pain less complicated. If this were a movie, there would be a convenient flashback to tell me what memory to share with Sylvie, but nothing comes to mind.

Suddenly we’re not walking anymore. I had noticed Sylvie pausing, and I’d thought she was taking off her jacket. But she pulls out a computer printout of a map and studies it, brow furrowed.

“Are you looking for, uh, William Burroughs’s grave?” I ask. Sylvie looks at me blankly.

“The writer? He’s buried here.”

“No.” Sylvie says. “He was a junkie who shot his wife.” She folds the map and puts it into her jacket, which she is still wearing in this heat. “I was going to see Sara Teasdale’s grave. She was a poet.” She continues on at the same brisk pace as before.

“You never seemed like a poetry fan. Like, at all?”

We’re walking on the path again, but she veers off to the right.

“I’m not,” Sylvie says. “Generally I find poetry tedious. But I like Teasdale’s poems. Unlike most poets, she knew how to get to the point. And since I was going to be here anyway…” She trails off as we leave the gravel for the grass.

Sylvie counts the headstones we pass under her breath as I follow behind. I think about a hundred years ago, when these graves were new, how they’d been important, how people had come here to weep and remember. I wonder if Finn’s headstone will, one day, be nothing more to anyone than a marker to be counted to find someone else’s final resting place.

“Here it is. Oh.”

At first, I don’t understand, and then I see it. Sara Teasdale was born on August 8, 1884. “I didn’t know her birthday,” Sylvie says. “Just a coincidence,” I say.

She shrugs and stares at the date.

“What’s your favorite poem of hers?” I try.

She smiles in a way that lets me know that I haven’t changed the topic how I’d hoped.

Sylvie closes her eyes before reciting.

“Now while my lips are living, Their words must stay unsaid, And will my soul remember

To speak when I am dead?

Yet if my soul remembered You would not heed it, dear, For now you must not listen,

And then you could not hear.”

Sylvie doesn’t open her eyes; she stands there. The heat has finally gotten to her, and her face has a pink and dewy glow that makes her look like she’s been crying, even though I’m pretty sure she’s hasn’t been.

“Is that it?”

Sylvie opens her eyes and blinks at me. “It seemed complete, but it was so short.”

“I told you she knew how to get to the point,” Sylvie says. Finally, she takes off her jacket. “I found her book on the English language shelf in a used bookstore in Paris. I read that poem and bought the book.” She folds her jacket over her arm and sighs. “I read it cover to cover twice on the train to Berlin.”

“You know,” I’m not sure what I’m about to say, though it feels important. “Finn would love this. You planning to visit the grave of the one poet you thought wasn’t bullshit after his funeral.” I rush to say, “He wouldn’t love that he was…you know, having a funeral.” I can tell Sylvie’s trying to follow along, so I continue. “But if he had to have a funeral, he would love that you were doing this afterward. Are doing it.”

“Because it’s the sort of thing Autumn would do?” She raises her chin and looks me in the eyes.

I shake my head. “She wouldn’t have a map. Or she would lose the map or get lost even with the map.” I wave Autumn’s ghost away with my hands. “But, Sylv, my point was Finn would have loved you having that map in your jacket pocket all through his funeral. He would have loved you saying that, unlike other poets, this one knew how to get to the point. He loved you.”

Sylvie is back to staring at the grave. “But not the way he loved her.”

I can’t argue with that. More than anyone, I can’t argue with it, so I join her in staring at the date on the grave.

The wind picks up, giving some relief. There are so many old trees in this part of the cemetery, and the rustle of the leaves is so loud I can barely hear her say, “Where was she?”


Sylvie nods. “I thought about asking Angelina, but I could tell she knew that Finn and I were breaking up that night and why. It felt better not to ask.”

“Autumn told me that she felt you should have the funeral.” It hadn’t made sense to me when Autumn said it, and I don’t expect it to make sense to Sylvie, but she nods.

“I didn’t expect that of her,” she says.

We’re quiet again. The wind is starting to feel like the beginning of an afternoon storm. We won’t be able to stay much longer.

“Um, you didn’t want to be alone with your poet or anything, did you?” “My poet?” Sylvie cracks another sad smile. “She was the first poet to

ever win a Pulitzer, so she’s hardly ‘mine.’ But no and thank you for asking.” She pauses. “You need a ride home, don’t you?”

“Um, yeah?” I say. “Sorry. I didn’t plan my day well.”

“Most people don’t,” Sylvie says as she puts her jacket on again. She touches the poet’s headstone with two fingers. “All right, let’s go,” she says to me.


Sylvie remembers the way back to Finn’s grave without checking her map. By the time we return to the site, the rain is starting, and we hurry past him and to her car. It feels like a betrayal to leave him in the rain.

Inside her car, I open my mouth to ask Sylvie if she’s sure she wants to drive in the rain, but before I can, she says, “In case you’re going to offer to

drive, the reason I drove separately from my parents is because I can’t ride in a car driven by anyone else. I’ll be fine. Put on your seat belt.”

I look back as she drives us away from him, but I comfort myself remembering Autumn will come by later to see that Finn is settled in.

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