Pushing the Limits

By: Brooke Cumberland

PROLOGUE

ASPEN



I step through the doorway, immediately hit with the mixed aroma of mildew and lavender from all the flower arrangements. I narrow my eyes, trying to adjust to the dim lighting. It’s eerily quiet, the service not due to begin for another hour.

My mother was hysterical all night long, crying in her room. I heard her through the bedroom door, but I didn’t go to her. I couldn’t.

I know she blames me.

Mom hadn’t said a word to me all morning, so I asked my older brother, Aaron, to take me early. I wanted to see Ariel before everyone else starts arriving. See her one last time.

I walk down the short hallway and into the room her service is being held in. Chairs are all lined up perfectly, row by row. The room will probably fill up quickly with family and friends, all coming to give their condolences.

I swallow as I step closer, her casket already open. I notice faint music playing overhead through the speakers. It’s meant to sound soft and soothing, but I don’t know how anything can soothe away the ache burning in my chest.

I glance around and notice the walls look as if they were painted a hundred years ago. The faded beige carpet is almost nonexistent. Flowers surround her on one side and a table of vanilla scented candles on the other. Nothing in this entire room represents her except the collage board of pictures she had hanging in our room. She made it two summers ago and had been adding photos of her friends and us ever since. It captures every part of her personality.

We lived on farmland with only fields surrounding us. No neighbors or friends to play with meant we’d learned to entertain ourselves. I remember the day she got a new camera for Christmas and immediately started taking pictures—of everything. We’d giggle and snap pictures of each other, torment Aaron and take his picture when his girlfriend was over, and take about a hundred photos of our pets. I smile at the memories, but at the same time feel like crying because now there won’t be anymore. The memories we made the last fourteen years are all I have left of her.

When Pastor Jay asked us to bring in our favorite pictures of her, I knew immediately she’d want these. I step closer and examine them, even though I’ve looked at it every single day for the past two years. Somehow today, it looks different.

There’s the one of us standing in front of the middle school on our first day of seventh grade. We were assigned different homerooms and weren’t happy about being apart. Another one shows us with our dog, Fudge, the first day we brought him home from the shelter. We’ve only had him for six months now. He was a rescue, and she said she knew he was the perfect fit for our family.

After tracing the lines of each picture, I slowly walk to her casket. I pleaded with my mom to let her wear her favorite purple dress, but she refused. She said it was an ‘occasion’ dress, AKA—a happy occasion. Instead, she picked out a dark, navy blue dress that she absolutely loathed wearing. My lip curls up on one side thinking how much she’d hate wearing this dress right now. She hated wearing dresses, in general, but now, oh, she’d be so pissed. Part of me wants to laugh at the irony, as the other part wants to rip it off her and sneak the purple dress on.

I glance down at her, curling my fingers tightly around the edge of her casket. She looks flawless, almost like she’s just sleeping. Even looking at her right now, seeing that she isn’t breathing anymore, it hasn’t all sunk in.

For the first time in days, I let myself cry. I cry harder than I ever have. I’ve held the tears in, trying to remain strong for Mom, but I can’t do it anymore. I release all the pain I’ve kept inside and apologize to her over and over.

“I’m so sorry, Ari. God, I’m so, so sorry.” I blink, wiping my cheeks off. “You hated that nickname,” I say, letting out a short laugh. I exhale a deep sigh. “I’m going to miss you so much,” I whisper, reaching for her hand. “I’m going to miss you sneaking in my bed and sleeping with me every time a storm hit. I’m going to miss staying up late on weekends, gossiping about Brady Carmichael and all the guys on the basketball team. Or the girls who think purple lipstick is in.” I chuckle softly to myself. “I’m even going to miss arguing with you over who gets to use the shower first. It was like our little tradition, I guess.” My lips soften, curling up on both sides at the happy memories. “Truthfully, I’m going to miss everything about you.” I lean down and kiss the top of her forehead. “I love you.”

I hear footsteps in the hall and take that as my cue to start heading out. People will be arriving soon, and I’m not quite sure I’m strong enough to deal with everyone. Half feel sorry for me and the other half blame me.

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