“Alexe!” Clementine calls from the other room. “Can you help me with this?”
“Just a moment!” I say back, closing the closet door. I search for my shoes on the floor of my room with my feet, and slide them on. I walk into the kitchen, where Clemintine is waiting.
Her long auburn hair pours down her pale shoulders, falling into her dark eyes as she turns to me. She looks at me sheepishly. “I still can’t work the coffee pot.”
I laugh, then show her how to do it again. She never understands, but I don’t mind doing it for her. After the accident last year, she’s had trouble doing things, but I’m always more than happy to help.
We’ve been married for four years, and dated for three years before that. This last year has been difficult. She had to quit work, and she stays home most of the time. She's become distant from her family, too, and neither us have been talking to the few friends we had. There were misunderstandings after the accident, and they made me upset, so I withdrew myself from them.
“It’s almost Christmas.” I remind her, setting the mug of coffee in front of her. I sit in the chair beside hers, and reach for her hand to kiss it. “What do you want me to get you?”
“I don’t need anything, Alexe.” She says, blushing as my lips brush her knuckles. The silver ring on her finger is cold, and her voice is soft as always. “I’m happy being with you.”
“But isn’t there something you want?”
She thinks, sipping the hot beverage. “Not really.”
“Tell me if you think of something.”
“I will.” She promises. “Do you have work today?”
“Yeah. Will you be okay on your own?”
She nods, and I kiss her cheek. “I’ll see you later.”
She pulls me back for a longer kiss, her fingers lingering in my dark frizzy hair. “I love you.”
I smile. “And I love you.”
That’s always been our thing. We don’t say ‘too.’ Just ‘I love you.’ We always have and always will.
“Clem? Are you here?”
I push open the door, dropping my bag in the foyer. “Clem! Clem!”
“Alexe? What’s wrong?”
I sigh in relief, following her voice to the kitchen. “Nothing. I thought something was wrong.”
“Why would something be wrong?”
I turn the corner, and scream when I see her. Her dress is covered in blood, and she smiles at me.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no-
My eyes fly open. I’m sweating, and my throat feels hoarse. Clementine is beside me, a worried look on her face.
“What’s wrong? Are you alright? Sit up, sit up. Breathe slowly.”
Clem has always been able to help me through panic attacks, and she guides me through the breathing techniques my old therapist taught me.
“Was it the same dream?” She asks softly. “You were screaming again.”
I nod, my fingers clutching hers.
“It’s okay. I’m right here. I’ll always be with you.”
I nod again, and she wraps her arms around me. I’ve had a lot of nightmares since the accident. It’s always about her dying.
She kisses my forehead. “Go to sleep. I’ll be here with you.”
“I love you.” I whisper in the dark.
“And I love you.”
“I’m fine, mom.” I say into the phone. “Work is fine.”
“Are you still talking to Jace?” She asks.
My therapist. No. Not for a long time. “Yeah. A meeting every month.”
“That’s great, dear. Will you come out to see us soon?”
“Maybe. We’ll have to see. I should go now. Don’t want to be late for work.”
“Of course. I love you, Alexan-”
I hang up. Clementine sighs, wrapping her arms around me. We’re on the couch, the tv volume low.
“Did she deadname you again?”
“She does it every time. It’s been three years.”
“She’ll come around. Don’t worry.”
“Let’s go make something.” She says, pulling me up off the couch, and smiling at me. “Pumpkin pie.”
“I thought we were waiting for Christmas.” I say, but I can’t help smiling back.
“Let’s do it now. We have the ingredients.”
Pumpkin pie is our favorite, and it’s one of the many things we have in common. Like our detestation of love songs, and our love of cats.
An hour later, we’re in the kitchen as it fills with the smell of cinnamon and pumpkin spice. We’re playing music, and dancing around the kitchen with each other, laughing and smiling.
“I love you.” She says to me when we slow down.
I pull her to me, planting a kiss on her lips. “I love you. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to spend my life with.”
“Neither could I.”
Clementine gazes out the open window, the frosty winter wind blowing into the car, and biting at my skin. She insists on having it rolled down, despite the cold. She likes to hear the world, she’s always said.
She’s in a silky green dress, her favorite, the one I gave her last Christmas. I offered my wool coat, a gift from her a year ago, since it’s freezing, but she declined. The chilly weather doesn’t bother her much.
“I hate this song.” She murmurs.
“Will you change it?” I ask, distracted by the bridge ahead. I don’t want to look away from the street, not with the roads as icy as they are. We should’ve stayed home. Someone could get killed out here.
“Never mind.” She sighs.
I frown. “Why not?”
She looks away, and back out the window. “It’s fine.”
“Clem,” I say, glancing away from the road to look at her, but she doesn’t answer. “Clem.”
When she turns back, and looks into my eyes, I remember.
Dark blood pours from the wound in her head, rolling down the side of her face. Her hair is bright against the white snow. Her new dress is stained a terrible red, a bullet sized hole ripped at her chest. Her lifeless eyes are still open, and I sob at the terrible sight.
My eyes widen as I remember the events of last year. I remember the loud bangs of the gun, and finding her in the snow.
I remember the cold, quiet hospital, and the terrible wait after, and the news from the doctors, and the miserable funeral.
I remember the lonely days after, and how I couldn’t bear it any longer when people tried to tell me she was gone, and she wasn’t coming back. I remember cutting off communication with everyone, and moving away from people. I remember crying at night, and all the nightmares.
I remember finally giving up, not wanting to go on without her. I remember that small orange bottle, the soft pop of the lid. I remember my trembling hand nearing my lips, then her face, and her hands, ever so gentle, stopping me. She’s stayed by me ever since.
And I get it. She hasn’t done anything now that I think about it. She never finishes her food, and I always toss it, or finish it myself. She can’t work things, because she can’t touch it. If she’s not really here, she can’t really move things. I’ve done everything for her. I’ve avoided people that would tell me otherwise, and she always says exactly what I need to hear.
She smiles at me sadly as I reach out to touch her.
“I thought we could stay together forever.” She whispers. “For Christmas, I want you to take care of yourself without me.”
I shake my head, feeling my eyes welling up. “I can’t. I can’t do this without you, Clem-”
“You can. You always could.”
“No-” I start, reaching for her hand, but the chilly air hits my fingers instead. She’s gone.
I jolt forward suddenly, the car spinning on the slick road. I hear a scream-probably mine- when I see the tall metal pole before the car crashes into it. The windshield shatters, and glass pricks my skin. My head strikes the dashboard, and I feel the car flip, making me lurch forward, before it skids to a stop.
I can see my dark blood on the dashboard, and on my hands when I look down. Everything spins, and my eyes close heavily.
I love you, Clementine.