I fell for Cameron Connolly at the wrong time. And when he left, I thought my life was over. But then, after the worst happened, I truly understood what that phrase meant. Now, he’s not ready for a second chance, and I’m not offering one. Though given that our families have been forced together after losing one of our own, I know there’s no turning back. Not this time. Not again. Not when it comes to Cameron.
I never wanted to hurt Violet Knight, but there were reasons I had to leave all those years ago—not that she’d believe me if I told her what they were. I not only left her, I also left my foster brothers. Honestly, I didn’t want to come back to Denver to help run my father’s failing brewery. But when it comes to my brothers, I know I’ll find a way to make it work. Perhaps I’ll even earn Violet’s forgiveness and face the connection we both thought long forgotten in the process. Because I wanted her then, but now I know I need her. I just hope she needs me.
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Sometimes people just don’t get it.
– Allison in a text to Violet
IT DIDN’T SEEM right that the sun was shining, and that birds were chirping in the air. It didn’t seem appropriate that the sky was free of clouds, or that the world seemed to scream of beauty and peace.
I didn’t find it fitting at all.
Because I was outside this afternoon instead of working or being with my family. I was watching strangers lower my best friend into the ground.
My best friend wasn’t supposed to be dead. We weren’t even thirty yet. No, I wasn’t even thirty yet. She would never reach it.
I watched as they lowered the casket inch by inch—ashes to ashes, dust to dust, as the saying goes. I watched it all and didn’t shed a tear. I’d done my crying. I had lost so many tears, so much of myself with each crying jag and hiccupping sob.
I couldn’t cry just then.
I was surrounded by my family, my friends, Allison’s family, and everyone who had known my best friend throughout her life.
She had been such a joy, such a bright spot in this sometimes-dark world. She’d made me laugh, made me smile. And she had done so for countless others, as well. She was the happiness we all craved.
But all of it was a lie.
I knew that now. I’d discovered that the Allison I thought I knew hadn’t been the Allison she’d hidden deep inside.
That shamed me. It made me want to leave, made me want to throw myself to the ground and curl up into a ball. It made me want to switch between pitching a fit and just weeping and praying that something could be changed.
It made me angry, it made me sad, but mostly…mostly, I just felt ashamed.
Because Allison was lying in that casket, wearing a blue dress that made her pretty blue eyes stand out.
No, that wasn’t right either. Because Allison’s pretty blue eyes were closed, and they wouldn’t be looking at anything anymore. No more searching for the next best thing, no more looking for anything.
Allison’s parents had decided not to do organ donation, even though I knew that Allison had wanted to do it. She hadn’t put it on her driver’s license, though, and since we were not old enough in our minds to finish our wills, there hadn’t been instructions for burying my best friend.
I was going to make a will as soon as I could. Because I did not want my friends mourning for me while wondering what I had wanted, and then watching it slip through their fingers when they realized that my parents were the ones in control.
Allison hadn’t been married, hadn’t had a power of attorney.
When she died, her parents had been the ones to make all the decisions, and that should have been fine. But I knew Allison—at least I thought I had. And so had my sister, Sienna, and our other best friend, Harmony.
The three of us thought we knew what Allison would have wanted.
We figured she would have wanted to be cremated, her ashes scattered to the wind in the different places that we had known and loved together. That was something I wanted, as well. I vividly remembered my conversation with Allison about it one night when we all got a little too drunk and started talking about death. It was something that a lot of people talked about, at least that’s what I thought. It was part of everyone’s future—the end, the idea that you wouldn’t be around to make your own plans unless you wrote them down ahead of time.
But I didn’t think that any of us had written them down. Well…maybe Harmony. Harmony had been through her own heartbreak. She probably had a full list of what she wanted when her end came.
But now, I was going to make sure that I had my list. Because Allison had not been cremated. Her organs had not been donated.She was going into a hole in the earth, and her parents had every right to make that decision.
I wasn’t going to hold onto any bitterness when it came to that. I had enough for everything else that had happened. I didn’t want to hold onto that and only remember watching my best friend being lowered into the ground and the darkness that came with that.
Hell, I didn’t want to remember any of this at all.
But it wasn’t like I had a choice. This day would be in my memory until the day I died. Until somebody tossed my ashes to the wind.
I closed my eyes and held back a groan. No, Violet, it will be before that, won’t it? Before ashes and dust. I honestly wasn’t really thinking clearly.
I almost jumped when Sienna reached out and squeezed my hand. My little sister—not quite so little since we were both nearly thirty—leaned into me, resting her head on my shoulder.
We were almost the same height, but I was wearing taller heels, and that meant she could easily place her head on my shoulder. I wanted to turn around and just pull her into my arms, tell her that everything would be okay. And knowing Sienna, she wished she could do the same for me.
I tore my gaze away from the hole in the ground where Allison lay and would forever stay until she was no more, dust to dust and all of that. When I turned, my gaze met Harmony’s where she stood stoically on the other side of Sienna.
Harmony had her dark red hair pulled back into a bun, and I didn’t really understand why she had done that. She usually wore it down. All of us generally had our hair in long waves or straightened. The four of us had decided to see who could grow their hair the longest and the fastest. Harmony had won, but for some reason, her hair was back today.
Then I remembered.
It was how she had worn her hair at her husband’s funeral.
She hadn’t wanted to look the same as she had every day when she had known and loved her husband. She’d wanted to appear different than when he had seen her, the times when he had played with her hair with his fingers.
So, she had worn it back.
It seemed we each had a special way to wear our hair, our makeup, and ourselves for funerals.
I wasn’t even thirty yet, but I had been to enough funerals for a lifetime.
I didn’t want to go to any more.
I didn’t want to be here at Allison’s. She shouldn’t be dead. She had been alive and healthy and whole just a few days ago. But now I knew that maybe she hadn’t been. Perhaps she hadn’t been healthy or whole at all.
Maybe that’s why she’d ended her life at the age of twenty-seven. Just a year younger than me.
The four of us had been friends since high school, Sienna and I being close for far longer since we were sisters. We were all in the same two grades and became fast friends. We had even gone to the same college, and all stayed in Denver to retain our friendship.
I knew that not everybody had that ability. With the way everybody kept moving for their careers and the way the world seemed to become a smaller place, most people didn’t have their childhood friends in their lives. But I was lucky. I had been able to keep my three best friends by my side throughout my pain—and theirs. We had grown together, lived together.
But now, there was only three.
We had lost our fourth.
And I didn’t know what the next step was.
Whispers brought me out of my thoughts, and I tried not to feel selfish. I was so busy worrying about myself and how I was going to feel that I couldn’t really think about the world without Allison in it.
Every single person around me had been connected to her.
My brother, Mace, was here, standing right behind me with his fiancée, Adrienne, at his side. He hadn’t brought their little girl Daisy with them, as they hadn’t known how she would react at a funeral, being so young. I understood that, though Daisy had known Allison.
I had been in the room when Mace explained to his daughter that Allison wouldn’t be able to come back for another tea party. That she wasn’t going to attend another Thanksgiving like she had the past couple of years.
I didn’t cry as I remembered these things, although my eyes did burn.
Why couldn’t I cry? I should be crying.
Sienna was crying. Harmony was crying. Adrienne was crying.
My mom was sniffling on Mace’s other side, my dad putting his arm around her shoulders as he held her close. I had witnessed that as I turned to look before, but I knew he would still be there, comforting her.
My parents were sweet, amazing, and they had loved Allison like their own daughter.
And now, Allison wouldn’t be coming home.
She wouldn’t be doing anything.
Allison’s parents stood on the other side of the casket, crying into their handkerchiefs. They were poised, prim, and a little separate from the rest of the world. They had been that way long before they heard that their daughter wasn’t going to wake up again. I remembered going over to spend the night at Allison’s house when we were in high school. Her parents were nice but very reserved. Though that didn’t mean they were bad parents. They were wonderful, and Allison had loved them. I just didn’t think they had known their daughter as well as maybe my parents knew me.
But, then again, I hadn’t known Allison the way I probably should have either.
Maybe I would have seen it if I had. Maybe I would have been able to stop it. Or, maybe, I was being selfish again and just needed to stop and breathe.
Others began talking, and I knew we would soon be moving from the cemetery to the wake at Allison’s parent’s home. They had a large house that could hold everybody so we could eat, drink, and maybe laugh at some memories.
I didn’t know if I could do any of that, though.
I had only been to one funeral before—Harmony’s husband, Moyer.
I didn’t even know if I remembered that as clearly as I should. And I never asked Harmony if she did. I always felt like I shouldn’t. There were some things you just didn’t talk about until the time was right. I just didn’t know when that time would be.
My gaze traveled over the rest of the mourners, and then I sucked in a breath.
I should have known they would be here.
Of course, they would be here.
The Connolly brothers had known Allison almost as well as the Knight siblings and Harmony did. Even if they hadn’t been in our lives for a few years, the Connolly brothers had been part of our crew when we were in college and were very much part of Allison’s life back in high school.
I let out a shaky breath, willing the guys not to look up and meet my eyes. I knew I shouldn’t study them, shouldn’t look at them. But I hadn’t seen them in so long, even though I knew they had moved back to Denver.
Everybody in our circle had known.
There was Brendon, the eldest, and the one in a neatly cut suit. I knew he grieved. He had been friends with Allison just like his brothers. But I didn’t really know him all that well. I didn’t know how he felt, but I was glad he was here just the same.
Because that meant Allison wasn’t alone.
None of us were.
Next to Brendon stood Aiden, his hair a little messy, grief clear on his face.
I finally felt a tear fall and quickly wiped it away as Sienna squeezed my hand, letting out a sob of her own.
Aiden and Allison had been the couple in high school and into college. They had eventually broken up, not because they hated each other, but because they hadn’t been right for each other. That was what Allison had always told me anyway, and I believed it. Aiden had moved on, maybe not to other women, but to other parts of his life. I knew he had gone to culinary school and was a chef somewhere now, but I hadn’t really heard much about him since he and Allison broke up.
But now he was here, watching the first love of his life fade away into the darkness.
Another boy was standing on his other side, an older teenager. He had the look of the Connollys, but I had never seen him before.
After the Connollys’ father had passed away, I hadn’t known there were more foster brothers added to the family. The other three had been adopted in high school, though Aiden and his twin, Cameron, were biological brothers, as well. Maybe the boy I didn’t recognize wasn’t a brother at all. Perhaps he was just a friend. And maybe it was none of my business since I had no idea what they were all up to these days.
My gaze traveled to the right of the young man, and my jaw tightened.
The final brother.
Cameron. That Cameron.
The one that had broken my heart and walked away as if he hadn’t known that he held it at all. He still looked as sexy as ever with his dark hair brushed back from his face and his beard just past scruff. Today, he wore a suit just like his brothers, but I had never known Cameron to live in one like Brendon did. Even Aiden wore suits more than Cameron.
Cameron was rough. Edgy. Dangerous.
He was a man that I hated, the first man I had ever loved, the first for a lot of things. And he was here. In my presence. I wasn’t going to be selfish and make this all about me, but I hated that he was here. I didn’t like that I had to see him today of all days.
But I would push that thought out of my head because today was not about me. It was all about Allison. Today was about my best friend.
I pulled my gaze away from the Connollys and focused on what came next. We made our way to the cars and then to Allison’s parents’ house. All the while, a drum beat behind my eyes started, telling me that a migraine was coming on. I quickly popped a pill and then chugged the water that Sienna handed over to me without asking. I knew that I would be incapacitated later, but maybe it was something I deserved.
I hadn’t had a migraine in over two weeks, but this one was coming for me soon. That much I knew. Though with everything that had happened, I was surprised that it hadn’t come on sooner.
It was going to hurt, but maybe I needed that pain.
We walked through the halls of the home that Allison had grown up in, the house we had all slept in a time or two. We had gotten ready for our junior prom here, although my sister had been in the grade below us and was only allowed to attend because she was going with a junior boy. Somehow, we had made it work so we could go to almost every dance together, even when we left Sienna behind in high school.
Today I walked through these halls again, looking at the photos of a young Allison on the walls.
My fingers traced the edge of one of the frames, and I let out a deep breath.
Everything was going to be okay. Because it had to be. Life would move on. It always did.
I just didn’t want it to move on without my best friend.
I walked to where the food was, where everybody was gathered and talking. It wasn’t that the whispers had gotten any louder, but maybe it was just that I was finally listening.
“I heard she took pills,” a voice said from far off in the distance.
“Yes, then drowned herself in the bathtub,” another voice said, equally as vicious but still almost sickly sweet.
“You know, I heard the police found no note. They don’t know how she did it. We don’t know exactly how she did it. And nobody knows why. Maybe her friends do.”
I ignored that last voice, or at least I tried to.
Then there was another.
“You know, it does seem out of the blue. But maybe if we keep looking, we’ll see what happened. I mean, no one just does this.”
I swallowed hard and then took a few steps away. My hands were shaking, and I tried not to listen to any more of the murmurs.
Of course, there would be speculation. Of course, there would be whispers. Allison was bright and cheery and far more energetic than any of them or us.
Gossip had run rampant when Harmony’s young husband died, but we had pulled through. We stood together as a team, the four of us, and made sure that Harmony knew that she was never alone.
And I was going to do the same thing now. So, I took a few steps towards Sienna and Harmony. The three of us grabbed hands, standing in a circle that was one shy of what it used to be. It was odd. I could actually feel the distance between us growing because there wasn’t that fourth person in the circle, clasping hands as we always had.
The actual physical representation of what we were now hit me a little too hard, and I blinked quickly. I had only shed that single tear, and I knew I couldn’t do any more.
Not with all the eyes watching me. Not with all the whispers.
Mace and Adrienne had gone home, not being able to stay for the wake because they still had to drive over an hour back to Daisy. My parents had gone as well, my father battling a cold. He would be fine, but I knew that the day had taken a lot out of him.
All of them would have stayed for me and Sienna and Harmony if we needed it.
But we had each other.
We had each other.
“They’re all talking about it,” Sienna murmured.
“Just ignore it. It’s always best just to ignore it.” Harmony’s voice was a little shaky, but she held her chin high.
“I hate it. I just want it to go away. I just want to go sit up in Allison’s old room and play a stupid board game like we used to.” I closed my eyes, the headache starting to push its way into my brain. I knew it would likely transform into something more soon, the lights getting a little too bright, the tastes in my mouth going bitter.
“We need to get you home soon,” Sienna said. “I can tell a migraine is coming on.”
“Yes, it’s going to suck. Let’s just stay for Allison’s parents for a little longer, see if there’s anything we can do for them. Then, I’ll go home and lick my wounds.”
“I love you guys,” Harmony said, bringing both Sienna and me in for a hug. So I leaned on my friend and held my sister close. This wasn’t right. It wasn’t supposed to be just the three of us. I mean, I knew that it would be eventually, but when we were older—far older when we were watching over our grandchildren, …
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