That was the only choice I could make at this point, and I had to make the right one this time.
I was going to.
Dr. Perry was so ecstatic with my progress Wednesday morning he gave me an assignment. Two, actually, not counting the talk I needed to have with Abbi and Dary.
“There are two things I want you to do,” he said. “Both are incredibly important to the grieving process. First off, I want you to dedicate one day a week to grief.”
My brows pinched. “Like, the whole day?”
“Not the whole day, unless you feel like you need that,” he clarified. “It can be just an hour or several hours. What I want you to do on that day is spend time remembering your friends. Look at old pictures, visit their social media accounts if they’re still available, write about them. I want you to think about them, remember them and process those feelings. Do you think you can do that?”
I could. It would be hard, especially looking at their pictures and seeing their last posts, but I could do it.
“Grieving them isn’t an easy thing to do, especially for you. Mainly because you feel a responsibility toward what happened. And it’s never easy grieving the deaths of those who ultimately played their own role in their deaths.” He rested his arms on the table. “I see a lot of anger and uncertainty when working with families of those who have overdosed. What you need to remember, at the end of the day, is that these people were your friends. No matter what happened, you cared about them and you are allowed to grieve them.”
Nodding slowly, I said, “I can do it.”
“What day?” he immediately followed up.
“Um.” I wrinkled my nose. “I could do Sunday evenings?” I also thought Sunday evenings were kind of depressing anyway.
“Sounds good. The second thing I want you to do is actually a commitment.”
I raised a brow.
“By the end of the year, I want you to visit their graves.”
My stomach immediately tumbled at the thought.
A sympathetic look filled his eyes. “I know. When you see their graves, it’ll be very final, but I think that for you, it’s necessary. You were unable to attend their services. Visiting their grave site may do more for you than just providing closure.”
Pressure clamped down on my chest, but I nodded. “I can do that.”
Because I had to.
Because I had made the decision to not let the choices I made on August 19 define my life or wreck it.
* * *
I was full of nerves at lunch, but I forced myself to eat what I think was lasagna but just looked like a lump of cheese and hamburger meat. Sebastian was back to sitting next to me, but his back was turned. He was having some deep conversation with one of the guys about the best hydrating drink or something. Keith was listening.
It was the perfect opportunity.
“So, um, I was wondering if you two wanted to grab something to eat after school?” I asked Abbi and Dary, sounding as awkward as if I was asking someone out on a date.
Dary’s eyes immediately lit up behind the glasses. “I think that would be great.” She glanced over at Abbi. “I don’t have plans.”
“I don’t know.” Abbi was peeling apart her lasagna with her fork. “I don’t think I’ll be hungry.”
Dary’s shoulders deflated.
I was prepared for this. “We could go to the smoothie place,” I suggested, knowing Abbi could never turn down a fresh smoothie. “We don’t have to go to a restaurant or anything like that.”
Abbi’s face was hard, but her gaze lifted to mine. My lower lip trembled as I leaned forward and whispered, “Please. I really want to talk to you guys.”
Her jaw softened, and I held my breath, because I really thought she’d shoot me down, but then she nodded. “Okay.”
Relief almost swept me out of my chair while Dary clapped like an overexcited seal. “Thank you,” I whispered to her.
Abbi didn’t respond, but she nodded, and that was something. That was enough for now.
* * *
Smoothies in hand, we found one of the booths in the back of the small restaurant. Abbi sat across from me and Dary. I’d gone with Old Faithful—a simple strawberry smoothie. Dary was more creative and went for something that had peanut butter in it. Abbi ordered a mango.
If Megan was here, she would’ve bypassed the smoothie and gone straight for the flatbreads, claiming she was doing it for the protein.
Dary had been chatting since we sat down, and the moment she quieted, Abbi asked, “So why did you want us to come here?”
I’d stopped with the straw halfway to my mouth. “Does there have to be a reason?”
“No,” Dary replied at the same time Abbi said, “Yes.”
Abbi elaborated a second later. “You haven’t wanted to do anything with us for months, so I’m figuring there’s a reason.”
“That’s not entirely true,” Dary stated gently.
“Maybe for you, but I’ve barely seen anything of her.” Abbi slurped down a mouthful of smoothie.
“Okay.” I held up my hand. “I deserve that. I haven’t been a good friend in the last couple of months. I know that. That’s why I wanted to talk to both of you today. I...I wanted to talk about the accident. About what happened that night.”
Dary dropped her arm onto the table. “You don’t have to.” Twisting toward me, her eyes were already shining. “We don’t have to do this.”
“But I do.” My gaze found Abbi’s. “I need to get this off my chest.”
And then I did.
I told them what I had told Sebastian, and it was easier simply because this was the third time I rewound that night, and it was less painful to bring myself back to that place. But it wasn’t easier to look Abbi or Dary in the eye. I made myself do it, because Abbi already knew the truth and Dary might’ve also suspected it, but I took that bitter weight of silence and I laid it out on the table between us, hoping that they would understand where my head had been since the accident but never once expecting forgiveness or acceptance.
As I spoke, Dary had pushed her glasses up and had covered her face, and I felt her shoulders tremble every so often. Continuing when I knew it was getting to her was like walking on heated shattered glass.
“I’ve been trying to work through all of that,” I finished, feeling sapped of energy. “And I know me dealing with my guilt isn’t a justification for shutting you guys out, and I...I don’t even expect you guys to be okay with it. I just needed to be honest.”
Abbi wasn’t looking at me. She’d stopped when I got to the part about asking Cody if he was okay to drive. She was fiddling with the straw, her lips pressed together.
My throat burned. “I’m just so sorry. It’s all I can say. I know it doesn’t change anything, doesn’t rewrite what has happened, but I’m so sorry.”
Dary lowered her hands. Her eyes glistened. “I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything,” I said, feeling shaky.
She wiped at her cheeks. “You know, I suspected this. I mean, I knew you didn’t drink a lot, and I’ve always wondered why you weren’t the one who was driving, but I... It sucks to be in that situation. To not want to piss everyone off but do the right thing.”
Abbi remained quiet.
“I should’ve done the right thing,” I said.
Dary’s breath shuddered out of her. “Yeah, you should’ve.”
Sitting back, I dropped my hands in my lap. What could I say beyond that? Beyond the truth? I’d known going into this that I might lose Dary, like I was sure I’d lost Abbi.
Then Abbi finally spoke. “You made...a mistake. A big freaking mistake,” she said, still staring at the bright yellow drink. “But that was all you did. You made a mistake.”
My breath caught. What I felt I couldn’t quite describe. It wasn’t exactly absolution, but it was something powerful.
Dary looked at me, her cheeks damp. She didn’t say anything, but a moment passed, and she leaned over, resting her head on my shoulder. A tremor coursed through me, threatening to take over.