Her father has to stop twice to compose himself. I tell him it's okay – he doesn't have to continue, but each time, he takes a few minutes to get himself under control and carries on with the story. When he's through, I have no idea what to say. So I tell him we'll be there soon.
After ending the call, I call Marta, instructing her to ready the pilot and my plane and to make arrangements for me to be away from work for a while. It's the worst possible time, but disaster doesn’t plan itself around your calendar, it just sweeps in and punches you in the face, demanding your attention. And right now, this situation has my full and undivided attention – and my first priority is Sophie.
A few hours later, we're aboard my jet and it's ascending smoothly into the night sky. I had to carry Sophie to the car and help her board the plane. She's weak and disoriented and that haunted empty look hasn't left her eyes once. Not while she laid in the bed staring at the ceiling, not when I explained that we were flying home tonight, and not now – while she watches the little lights twinkling ten thousand feet below us.
I've packed our bags, which in addition to toiletries and random articles of clothing, each include formal black attire suited for a funeral.
I lift the bottle of bourbon from its resting place at the center console and pour myself a measure. Glancing over at Sophie, I'm reminded of our first evening together –this plane, her somber mood for an entirely different reason. She'd been fighting to save her sister's life. My stomach tightens and I chug down a bitter sip of alcohol, needing its numbing effect now more than ever.
It's only once we're up in the air that Sophie speaks her first words to me.
"Can I have some of that?" she asks, nodding to the glass decanter sitting beside me.
"Of course." I'd offered her water, tea and tried to get her to eat, all of which she'd refused earlier. And while I knew the strong liquor wasn't the best thing for her empty stomach, I wouldn’t deny her. Pouring a moderate amount in a glass, I hand it to her.
Her fingers brush mine and Sophie's eyes lift to meet my gaze.
"I love you," I tell her.
"I know. I love you too," she says, then she takes a big gulp of her drink and grimaces.
We don't talk about what will happen when we land. I've never seen her childhood home, but now isn't the time for nostalgia. I want to provide her comfort and take away every ounce of her pain. This is the most frustrating, fucked up situation I can imagine. I hate it. I want Becca back. I want my sweet, full of life Sophie back. I hate the thought that crosses my mind – without Becca's existence, does Sophie's own existence dim?
She drinks two big glasses of bourbon, which I let her have against my better judgment, and then falls asleep against my shoulder.
Tightening my arms around her, I watch her as she sleeps, and vow that whatever comes next, I will be there for her.
I never thought I had to fear an infection. Cancer – the big, nasty C-word was my enemy – not some illness that crept in uninvited at the eleventh hour. It isn’t fair. And I don't understand. She'd been doing so well.
I hate how empty and lifeless our shared bedroom feels. Yet I can't help myself from laying on Becca's bed since it's the only place in the house I can still feel her.
I can hear Colton and my dad downstairs somewhere talking quietly. I don’t know what I'd do without him. He is my rock and my love for him has only quadrupled in the past two days.
My mom comes in when the sun begins its descent across the sky.
"Honey?" she taps on the open door and enters.
She sits down on the bed beside me. "As soon as we got to the emergency room, Becca asked one of the nurses for paper and a pen."
I wonder why she's telling me this, until she pulls a square of paper from her pocket and hands it to me. "Even though we assured her she'd be fine once they got the antibiotics into her system, she seemed to know something we didn’t. She wrote this in a fury while they attached her to an IV drip and removed her port. Then she folded it up and told me to give it to you. I haven’t read it."
I hold the paper in my hands. It's still warm from my mom's hand and I savor the image of a determined Becca in her one last rebellious act against the fucking sickness that took her.
"Can you leave me alone?" I ask my mother.
She nods and rises from the bed, giving me privacy for what is sure to be an emotional moment.
I unfold the paper and laugh at the drawing that jumps out at me from the bottom of the page. It's a poorly drawn penis with large balls and squiggly lines of hair jutting out from them. I smile for the first time in two days. Tears dart to my eyes and my love for her grows, if that’s even possible. I haven’t read a damn word of her letter, and my mood has already lifted. She knew I'd need this. She knows me too well.
Thank you for taking me to Rome. Holy shit those Italian guys were hot. Thank you for being my best friend, thank you for every sacrifice you made for me, big and small. Thank you for always giving me your pink Starbursts.
I blink down at the words, recalling the countless packages of Starbursts I bought from hospital vending machines over the years. The pink were Becca's favorite, and even though they were mine too, I always forfeited them to her. Every single time. Without question. Without hesitation.
I love you without end. Don't you dare think for a second that that love is gone. Don't you dare mourn for me. Miss me. Every day, just as I will miss you. Then get on with living. Do it for me. Because I can't. I will be there in every starry night, in ever whisper of breeze against your skin when you jog, I'm in every package of Starbursts, smiling down at you when you eat the pink ones.