“Maya, talk to me. What’s going on?”
“Eli.” My voice was barely a whisper, the words lodged in my throat. A slow tremble took over, my shoulders shaking with the effort to hold myself together. “Eli, she’s gone.”
My eyes filled with unshed tears, confirming the truth we both knew could be a real possibility, even if we’d never downright said it. I dropped to my knees, narrowly missing the shards of glass that had scattered across the linoleum.
Eli knelt down, clearing a path with the towel so he could come closer. He caught my hands. “What happened?”
“Overdose. She…she overdosed, and they found her this morning.”
Someone else was saying the words, I thought, because I still couldn’t believe this was happening. Hot burning tears streamed down my face.
“Honey, I’m so sorry.” Eli came closer and pulled me into a fiercely tight embrace. I hugged him back, letting my tears fall free onto his shoulder.
“I couldn’t save her. Eli, why? Why wouldn’t she let me help her? She didn’t have to go through this alone.”
Eli’s chest expanded with a sigh. “Maybe she was trying to protect you. This kind of thing…it can destroy people’s lives, not just the people using. She probably wanted to keep you as far away from it as possible. Did you ever think of that?”
I shook my head. Could she have been trying to protect me all this time? Maybe, but I couldn’t help but feel like I’d failed her, like she knew I couldn’t be the one to help her. Because what kind of person had I become in her absence? How could I have given her what she needed when I was barely living myself? Still, I couldn’t let go of the belief that I could have changed her course if she’d given me that chance.
“She never gave me a chance. All those years…waiting to make it right for us, to make the kind of life we’d planned for. Everything I worked for. Now…”
A relentless, searing pain twisted in my gut. I wanted her back, to see her smile or hear her laugh, to feel her touch, to relax into the kind of healing embrace only a mother could give. Just one more day, one last glimmer of her love.
But I’d never have it again. My body quaked with the force of my sobs.
Eli hushed me. “It’s going to be okay, Maya. She’s not hurting anymore.”
“No.” My voice was a wail.
Her memory was everywhere then, saturating every cell. My skin hurt, everything hurt. The reality that she was forever lost swallowed up any sense my or Eli’s words could make.
Tears crashed over me, wave after wave of a deep drowning sadness. Hard as I grasped for her, to keep her with me in this world of the living, I could feel her slipping away, slow like the tide until I was too weak to cry, too tired to hurt.
CAMERON. Eli buzzed me in, and I bound up the steps to Maya’s apartment. My brain was a cloud of what ifs since she’d texted me earlier. Texts could be vague but the tone sounded hopeful. One way or the other, we needed to talk.
When I walked in, Eli met me with a concerned look.
“Hey, Eli. What’s up?”
“Did Maya call you?” His voice was quiet, almost a whisper.
“No, we were going to have dinner. Is she here? Is everything okay?”
He shook his head, his arms crossed tightly across his chest. My heart dropped. Visions of her blacked out, in danger somehow, gripped me.
“Where is she?” My muscles tensed, ready to spring me in whatever direction she might need me.
I relaxed slightly, but something was definitely wrong.
“Cameron, her mom died of an overdose. The police called her a few hours ago with the news.”
“Jesus Christ. Is she all right?”
“She’s upset. I mean, she was ready to drink a fifth of whiskey but she kind of broke down instead. Thank God I was here. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone cry that hard for that long. She finally passed out about an hour ago.” Eli bit his lip.
“She must be destroyed.” My mind was still catching up to the magnitude of this news.
“Did you know she’d been missing?”
I nodded. “She finally told me, yeah. I can’t imagine what she must be going through. Can I see her, I mean… Is it okay?”
He nodded, motioning toward the bedroom.
I crept in quietly. A soft amber glow lit the horizon of the sky through her window and darkness was closing in fast. Maya was curled in a ball on the bed, surrounded by tissues and pillows. I sat on the edge of the bed next to her. I watched her slow breathing, in awe as ever of her beauty and all the strength she carried inside of her. Even in the peace of sleep, her eyebrows pulled together. Her face was pink, the skin around her eyes puffy from all the tears she’d cried. I wanted to touch her, hold her. I fisted my hands in restraint. She needed to rest. I moved to leave and her eyes fluttered open.