When most people saw Arianna's room, they declared her a hoarder, though it was never out loud, always kept in their thoughts as was polite to do.
But, looking about the room, it was undeniable.
It started with the cello in the corner, which was always the first thing that people saw when they walked into her room. The wood gleamed in the light of her overhead fan's lamp, and the automatic assumption was that she was a musician.
That assumption quickly dissipated when their eyes swept over the rest of her room.
There was a bracelet making station with various strings and beads scattered all around it. Sitting next to it was a pair of knitting needles, which still held a project she'd started knitting, long since forgotten about as the yarn sagged under the weight of her forgotten dreams. Next was something that was only identifiable by the fact that there were buttons surrounding it, so they assumed that it must be a button maker.
The list went on, and so did the amount of musical instruments, a piano pushed up against a wall with a guitar trapped in the corner next to it.
The most recent visitor to Arianna's room was her cousin, Billy. Billy didn't know much about Arianna, except that they were cousins who'd never really gotten to know each other because of a feud their mothers had had going for what Billy estimated to be decades.
The only reason she was even standing in her estranged cousin's room was because Arianna's mom had passed, quite suddenly and unexpectedly. She'd heard about Aunt Bex's passing from a Facebook post, which a cousin they had both friended shared with an obligatory 'pray for the family' written underneath.
She'd called and left a message for her mom to let her know that they needed to talk, but she hadn't heard back from her in the few days since. Billy, in the meantime, had gone to the funeral on a whim, curious about that side of the family (though that didn't explain why she'd followed everyone to the memorial service).
At the funeral and the memorial service afterwards, which was staged at Arianna's house, Billy went mostly unnoticed. She had a few uncles and cousins greet her with curious eyes, but nobody brought up the fact that it was surprising Billy would be attending the funeral of her estranged aunt.
It was strange though. Despite the fact that she was surrounded by extended family, she still felt like it was wrong for her to be here somehow.
This was not her tragedy. She did not share in the same type of grief. Although she was sad to hear about Aunt Bex's passing, it was the sadness of simply knowing that another human being was gone from this world. She'd heard stories about Aunt Bex being passed around all afternoon, learning all about the wild adventurous person that Aunt Bex had been from secondhand accounts, and not from the woman herself.
A different kind of sadness was starting to surround her, and so she'd walked up the stairs to try to escape it, looking for a bathroom and stumbling upon Arianna's room instead.
Arianna was twenty five years old and it seemed that she still hadn't moved out of her mother's house, evidence of that scattered all around the cluttered room. She wondered idly if Arianna and her mother had been close; she'd played her emotions close to her chest, acting as any good daughter would. It didn't really tell her about their relationship, and looking around her room, Billy couldn't find anything that shed light on it.
The surprise Billy was feeling at being caught was reflected in Arianna's tone. Guilt started to creep in as she whirled around to see her.
There she was. Arianna Taylor, her red hair in a neat ponytail, a few curls hanging loosely around her face, framing it. Freckles danced across her skin, covering it, but the most noticeable feature were her eyes: green and intense and searching.
"Oh, goodness, sorry, Arianna, I wasn't- looking for the bathroom."
"No, it's-it's fine," she said.
She wondered if it was as strange for her as it was for Billy to be standing in front of her cousin, growing up knowing her in a distant way and then suddenly being face to face with the person herself. Looking at Arianna, she'd say that it wasn't. Arianna looked calm, though she could see the grief leaking into the corners of her eyes, now that the surprise of finding her in her bedroom had worn off.
"How're you doing with everything? How's Aunt Alice?"
Billy felt the surprise that had just faded come back to the forefront. "Good, yeah," she said, before she realized what she'd said. "You know, considering."
"I haven't seen her around," Arianna said, and then clarified. "Aunt Alice, I mean. Was she at the service and I missed it?"
She felt shame burning in her gut. Whatever stupid feud they had should've been put aside, if only so that her mom could've said goodbye. They were sisters, for goodness sake. Didn't that mean something?
"I don't- erm, it was lovely, the service," she said, running her hands nervously through her pixie cut. "I'm sure your mother would've loved it."
The words felt as sour as lemons. She wished that she could take them back as soon as she'd uttered them. What exactly would Billy know about what Aunt Bex would've wanted?
Arianna's face softened as she moved past Billy to enter her room. "Thank you," she said. "That means a lot."
Arianna sat down on the bed, and that probably should've been that. Billy should've asked where the restroom was and walked away.
But, the same thing that had pulled her to be here pulled her closer to Arianna's world.
"What's um. Up with all of the...?"
She could've facepalmed, but instead rested her hand over her mouth in a relaxed gesture.
"Stuff?" Arianna finished neatly. Billy nodded. "Well, the button maker I got because I had this goal to fill this denim jacket completely with buttons, but I never got around to it. The bracelets, I was going to start selling them to donate to this woman's charity that I really admire, but I also never got around to that. Um, what else, I started playing the cello in high school, got really good at it, but I never did anything else with it, and then I had a friend in college who played the guitar and who promised to teach me but I never followed through with it."
Billy nodded along with all of her explanations, but when she reached the end, Billy asked the obvious question. "If you don't use that stuff, then why don't you... you know...?"
She realized how rude the question was. Billy was a veritable stranger in Arianna's life (as much as one could be a stranger to anybody in this day and age of social media). Why should she have any right to ask why she hadn't gotten rid of things that obviously held such value?
Arianna just smiled patiently, as if she'd been asked this question before. "How much did you know about me before you walked into this room?" she asked. "I'm guessing the answer is not much."
She didn't say it with scorn, simply as if she were explaining it.
"But now, you know that I was a musician in high school, but that I never did anything with it, that I went to college and that I have a charity that I love so much- well, I suppose I almost love them enough to raise money for them. Each of these things tell a different part of my story. In a way, they make up who I am. The objects that people own will often tell more of a story than the people who own them."
Billy had never thought about it that way. She didn't think she owned anything that had that much sentimental value. But, then again, she never thought that a bracelet maker could be thought of as sentimental.
She didn't know why, but Arianna's honesty about the things in her room made her want to ask.
"Did you know what it was about?" she asked. "Their feud."
Billy didn't realize she felt hope rising in her chest until Arianna's words killed it.
"No, mom never talked much about it, or Aunt Alice. Always said she'd come around, but..." She sniffled, shaking her head as she turned away. "I guess she never did."
Guilt crept through Billy once more. This time, she was determined to end the conversation. "I'm sorry, I should-"
"Will you... sit with me?" she asked. "Just for a minute."
Billy had never felt more like an outsider than she did in that moment. Arianna's grief was deep and unknowable, and now, she wanted to share it with Billy, a person who hadn't even set foot inside of this house before today.
Perhaps that's what made it easier, she thought as she sat down next to Arianna. The thought of pouring your grief into someone who didn't share it, knowing that it wouldn't weigh them down the same way or add to it. The people downstairs had also lost Aunt Bex. Billy was a bystander. Maybe that made it okay for her to ask Billy to carry the weight.
Whatever was going through Arianna's mind, Billy sat down next to her, taking her hand. They sat there for a moment before Billy said the only thing she could.
"I'm sorry for your loss."
Arianna didn't say anything, simply leaning her head against Billy's shoulder in response.
They weren't sat that way for long.
Billy frowned at the familiar voice, but they both sat up, glancing at each other in confusion. Alex was Arianna's deadname. Billy only knew about it because, as was the custom on Facebook, she followed Arianna's transition through other people liking her photos and them therefore showing up on Billy's timeline.
After a moment, Arianna got up to see what the disturbance was about and Billy followed closely behind.
She was still a guest here, after all.
They walked down the stairs, but she saw her face long before she reached the bottom. "Mom?" she asked, frowning in confusion.
Her mom's eyes scoured the room for the source of the utterance before they traveled up the stairs to land on her daughter. She immediately moved to her, past the crowd of people that had gathered in the foyer to try to determine why Aunt Bex's estranged sister would be causing such a ruckus at her memorial service.
"I'm here," Arianna said. "It's Arianna now."
She looked over at Arianna, and Billy felt a tightening in her chest. Her mom wasn't an unaccepting person, but she was also acting really strangely right now and she wasn't sure what she would do.
The knot released and confusion took it's place when her features relaxed.
"Arianna," she said. "You look just like your mother."
Arianna's eyes immediately filled with tears. Instead of letting them spill, she cleared her throat, seemingly about to speak.
Her mom beat her to the punch.
"Here, this is for you."
Both of them frowned at the package in her hands. Wrapped in a brown cloth that was spilling over her mom's hand, they couldn't see what was inside.
"Here," she insisted.
Billy was suddenly self-conscious that they had gathered a crowd, more so because she'd suddenly been thrust center stage of an event that she so clearly didn't belong in.
Arianna didn't seem aware of the attention. Neither did her mom. Both were focused solely on whatever it was she was trying to give to the niece she'd never even met.
"It was your great times six grandmother's," she explained as Arianna carefully peeled back the cloth to reveal a pocket watch.
"It's beautiful," Arianna commented, not at all showing the confusion that Billy felt they should share.
"She was one of the female spies during the revolutionary war," she explained. Billy felt the crowd pressing closer together, all trying to discreetly get a glimpse at the family heirloom she'd suddenly unveiled. "It was passed down to first born daughters throughout our family. When our mom told us about it, I was furious. I wanted it for myself, and so I stole it and let the family think that it was lost. A couple years after I'd done it, your mom found out. She wanted the piece for herself and she was so mad when I refused to tell her where I'd hidden it. I put it in a safe deposit box in New York. That's where I've been, retrieving it. It should've been hers, and now, it's yours, but more importantly, I was wrong, and it should've been hers."
Billy had rarely seen her mom cry. She felt that same apprehension tightening her chest as she watched her break down into full blown sobs, repeating the phrase, 'It should've been hers' over and over again.
But, Arianna didn't freeze. She simply reached out and hugged her, rubbing comforting circles in her back as she let loose the grief that had been building for half a lifetime.
"I'm sorry for your loss," Arianna said.
The watch was still placed carefully and tightly in Arianna's hand, holding onto it like the delicate treasure that it was. Billy thought about what Arianna had said, about how objects told more stories than the people who owned them. It was more than that, she thought. Objects didn't just tell stories, they held power. They held the power to destroy an entire relationship, to rip apart two sisters who'd lost more time than they could ever get back, a whole story never written and would never get the chance to be written.
Looking at the watch, she realized that it didn't just tell her great grandmother's story, anymore. It now told the story of her mother's and aunt's tragedy.
She didn't know what it was. Perhaps it was because she'd been surrounded by a story all day that she'd never known, never gotten the chance to know. Maybe it was seeing the cousin who could've been like a sister to her, if things had turned out a little differently.
Whatever it was, she felt determination fill her. While she couldn't do anything about the watch now telling her mother and her aunt's tragic story, she could make sure that the watch also told the story about how it brought their family back together.
Looking at Arianna and how she held her sobbing mom in her arms, she thought that, perhaps, it already had.