“I can’t believe you did that!” Henrietta’s voice was half-laughing half-shocked.
I shrugged, pulling from the parking lot. The act of tossing my milkshake onto the ice cream stand window, my wrong milkshake, was a brief impulse I’d already forgotten about.
“It was strawberry,” was my only response.
“I don’t think you were even mad. You just looked at it, cool as anything, and BLAM it was on the window. You didn’t even say anything.”
I shrugged again. What could I say? I hadn’t been angry. I hadn’t felt anything. I never did anymore.
“You worry me, you know.” Her voice had gone soft, unsure of my response. I looked at her from the corner of my eye, she was biting her lip as I’d known she would be. It was her go-to habit when she felt in over her head. Her lip got bitten around me a lot lately.
“I know,” I said, because I did know. At times I even worried myself. Or I would have if I allowed myself to feel such things.
“It wasn’t your fault, you know.”
I pretended to misunderstand, “I know. I clearly said cherry. I know they’re both pink and all but jeesh.”
“Not funny, Jesse. You know what I mean. Jamie wasn’t your fault.”
“Maybe not, but I’m still the one that got to sit there and watch him die.” I calmly parked the car in front of her house. “You’re home.”
She frowned at me. “I thought we were going to the movies. And you’re not going to avoid talking about Jamie by taking me home. It’s been 2 months now. You need to talk to someone and I’m not going anywhere.”
We sat in silence for a while, the car engine rumbling under our feet. She kept her silence but I knew she’d never drop it now she’d broached the subject. Henrietta could give persistence lessons to a beagle.
I sighed and loosed the secret I’d kept close to my heart. “You know what the last thing he said to me was?”
“About time I get to do something before you do.” I finished the sentence on a hiccup that most definitely wasn’t a choked sob. I hadn’t cried since he’d died. And even while he’d been dying I’d pasted a smile on my face and tried to joke with him. Pretending everything was going to be ok. That help would be there any minute and we’d be rock climbing within a week.
She smiled, “That 3 minute difference always did bug him. Remember that time he stole the cookie jar from Mrs. Dailey’s desk and insisted it was you because ‘Jesse is older and therefore taller and could reach it’?”
I smiled too. “He always blamed me for everything. Did you know he deliberately flunked PE because I’d never gotten an F and he wanted to be first?”
She laughed at that “Remember those ridiculous things he bought for his shoes that were supposed to make him taller than you?”
“Oh the lifts! And he fell on the stairs and broke his leg and he even like that because I’d never broken anything.”
We were both laughing then. The next 20 minutes were spent remembering Jamie, his practical jokes (because I was straitlaced), his fanatical exercise regime (so he’d be the ‘buff’ twin) and his addiction to cherry shakes (which I’d hated).
Henri reached across the seat and brushed her fingers across my cheek and it was only then I realized we’d stopped talking and I’d been crying. It wasn’t silent crying either. It was great big gut-busting tears. Jamie had been more than my twin, he’d been the strong one. The one that pushed me to reach beyond what I thought I could do. To stretch my boundaries and always try new things.
And he was gone. Snatched from me by a freak accident while we were tubing.
My head ached and my throat felt like road rash before the tears let up. I smiled at Henri, though. The first genuine smile she’d seen from me in a long while.