It had been a week and Oona was still in a cocoon. No one really wanted to wake her unless we had to. She wasn’t eating, or she wasn’t eating much. She would take a sip from a straw if one of us gave it to her, and then she would settle back into the covers and fade off. I always wondered what she found there, if it was like the world I had found in that space between worlds, where reality could be what you designed and not the making of another’s desires or the weight of heartache. She would startle from time to time so I knew that her dreams weren’t altogether peaceful, but the fact that she kept going into them seemed proof that wherever she found herself, she was mostly comforted.
The silence was what scared me the most. It was deafening. It threatened to take me right back to my own days of controlled speechlessness. Every once in a while I would hear her weep, that deep visceral whimper that bore no words and broke through the soul. I could empathize with her on so many levels. To say I knew what she was going through would be an exaggeration, but I certainly knew that desperation to disappear, to rewind, to undo what was impossible to comprehend.
It was Zella’s idea to play music. I was relieved by the distraction. We started with some instrumental praise and worship, which was her way of acknowledging Oona’s preference while also asking God to heal the space around us. Oona loved classical so we tried to find what we could that would be both. We prayed it would penetrate Oona’s heart and mind. It did bring peace, if not to her, most definitely to us. Then Zella got tired of it all, frustrated that there were no lyrics and announced that we needed to hear promises, words of truth. So she connected her phone to the speakers, and we played whatever music came on. I needed those words, they helped dissolve the flashbacks.
It had been almost a week since the incident, and every day in the tomb of silence had attempted to pull me into the darkness of my own memories. The grief Oona was experiencing was sucking me in, and though I couldn’t mention it to anyone else around me, I was afraid. I wondered if Oona would go through a miscarriage, too. I wondered if that was one of the thoughts haunting her since it hadn’t been that long ago since we had been surprised by my pregnancy. When I thought of that, I also wondered about the child I lost, what would he or she look like? Would I see Brad in his or her face? Had he or she grown at all, were their souls developed in heaven where they couldn’t on earth? Would I see them one day? Would I have a chance to tell my story of confusion and fear and the fact that I wasn’t aware so I couldn’t have known to protect who was forming? Then I wondered if all was already known, my thoughts felt and seen and known more acutely than I realized? The more those questions were allowed to surface in the silence, the more I felt the pull of sadness and the weight of depression. I pushed them away knowing no answer would be found and determined not to allow myself to travel down the rabbit hole that held hopelessness. I couldn’t go back! I couldn’t experience that pit of despair again! I refused to give those thoughts power over my mind so I spoke up.
“We have to be hopeful,” I said just as much to myself as to the others in the room. Oona didn’t move, but Zella had been sitting in the corner texting so my loud voice caught her off guard.
“What’s that?” She looked at me confused.
“We have to be hopeful that she will find a way out! We can’t believe that everything is going to end badly. We have to believe and choose to resist the pull of doubt and shift our focus!” For the first time in a week I felt my chest relax as I pushed my hair up into a messy bun and reached out my hand just as I noticed a faster song come on her playlist, “Let’s dance!”
I could tell she wasn’t sure how to respond to that. “For real?” she asked, still unsure what my motivation was for suggesting it.
I offered no explanation, I simply walked over to her and extended my outstretched hand, “May I have this dance?”
She looked around like I had asked her to steal something. “Here? Now?”
“Yes,” I grabbed her hand and started to sway. I could feel her loosen up a little, “Now isn’t that nice?”
“More like, awkward,” she responded with a stumble.
I laughed holding her arm up so she wouldn’t completely wipe out, “Okay, a little unorthodox given the situation, but nice, right?”
She shrugged, “More awkward than nice, and why are we doing this again?”
I kept moving back and forth, trying to swing her and lead her but her clumsy, Converse clad feet kept sticking in the carpet, interrupting the flow. “We can’t stop moving, Zella. We have to live. Don’t you always tell us to choose life? Well, life moves and engages and experiences joy in spite of grief and fear.”
She didn’t respond at first, but I knew that she heard me and agreed as she started to pick up my rhythm and the cadence became less rigid, “And this dancing, this is our way of living, of choosing life?”
“Yes!” I laughed, “Now pick up the pace, or I’m finding another partner!”
I don’t know how long we danced, but eventually we giggled and laughed and sang along to the music and all the while Oona never moved. There were moments that I was sure that Oona’s mom would come in and break up the party, or question our sanity, but she never did. We just kept dancing because I had to believe in my heart that our living would help Oona find a path out of the darkness, or at the very least redirect darkness to light! I knew all too well the pull it had on a wounded heart and was resolved not to return. The truth was, it was entirely possible to stay there in grief and fear, allowing shame to pull you under, losing all sense of life around you, slowly slipping into isolation and depression, but I wasn’t going to let that happen to Oona. She had a life to live, as crappy as all this was, and there would be an end to her pain without the window of death to fall through.
Later that afternoon, driving home, we agreed that dancing had helped. It had been almost a week of visits with no change. We had all agreed to take shifts, and so far everyone had shown up. Oona’s parents were scarce, it appeared even a tragedy hadn’t altered their selfish lives much. I didn’t understand how they could be so uninvolved – it seemed unnatural. But, they allowed us to come, and agreed to our daily schedule, so we let them be and likewise they left us alone.
As we got closer to Zella’s house, she grabbed my hand. I gripped hers tightly and held it close to my heart
“We are gonna make it, right?” Zella asked, unsure.
I couldn’t believe she was asking me that question. That was my line. She was the one that always believed and never doubted, but I knew the answer this time, “Yes.”
“It’s been a crazy year,” she sighed, turning to look out of the passenger window.
“You ain’t lying,” I agreed thinking in a flash of what we had all been through and some of the memories I’d had recently.
“I don’t want to keep having years like this,” she confessed through the beginning of tears.
I held her still clutched hand to my lips and kissed it. I felt so sorry for her. We had all been through so much but poor Zella had watched it all. She had suffered right along with us, and we would probably never know the amount of pain and stress that she had carried. She felt it all. She didn’t just observe things from a distance and hope for the best, she allowed her heart to break and tear and with those broken pieces she would go to God and ask Him to be with us, to strengthen us, to heal us, to watch over us, and in our selfishness, I doubt we ever once offered a prayer for her.
“You are a beautiful soul, my friend,” I whispered through tears of my own.
“I just want to be a good friend,” she responded.
She was telling the truth. She wasn’t looking to win “Best Friend of the Year” award. She was simply trying to do what she could to be the best friend that she could be, and half the time she did so without even trying. She always had, even when I had been too spoiled to receive it. I could never take back the mean things that I had said to her when I was struggling and hurting, but I had promised myself and God that I would do my best to make up for it. Tonight was my way of holding true to that and providing strength for a girl that had carried me all of my life.
I dropped her off at her front door and watched as she walked up to her house. There was less bounce in her step these days, her walk seemed awkwardly heavy even for her, and she was only getting thinner the more stress we all felt. Words could not capture how very much I loved her. I couldn’t remember a single moment in our lives that we had not shared. She knew the good, the bad, and the ugly Celeste. She knew the me I was ashamed of and still she believed in me, and despite all that had happened and the choices I had made, she still thought the best of me. She was one in a million, and there wasn’t a day that I have lived where I didn’t give thanks to God for giving her to me, His love by extension, seeing to it that I was helped through my heartache and loss. I knew deeply He had been behind it all, even when our moms first met. All along, the plan was our friendship. You couldn’t convince me otherwise. I waited until the door closed, making sure she was safely inside before I headed to my house.
Robbie was waiting for a report as soon as I pulled in. I was already shaking my head before he asked the all too notorious question everyone was asking these days. I almost hated to talk about it. It seemed that every time we mentioned Oona his face would drop, and the sparkle that I have always found in my brother’s big browns would glaze over before he would let them fall away. The truth is, as hard as this was on all of us, I was surprised how hard he was taking it. I guess none of us really knew how close the two of them had gotten while we were distracted, and now that she was falling apart, it wasn’t a stretch to say he was heartbroken. God only knew what he did when it was his turn, too much of a gentleman to lay beside her, he most likely just watched her and prayed and hoped that that day would be the day she would escape from her cocoon.
“I’m heading over there later this evening,” he reminded me.
I sighed, “I am sure Toby will be glad for the company.” I knew he wasn’t going over there for him, but still, it was the way the schedule had turned out. Toby and Robbie, me and Zella and sometimes even Mitzi would show up and sit with us.
“There was nothing?” He was searching for more, and I wished with all my heart I had more to offer. “Did you tell her I had a job interview?”
I smiled, “I did.” Then I got tickled, “And Zella and I debated on what kind of skirt you should wear as a secretary, A-line or pencil?”
“Ha ha,” he smiled slightly, “Administrative assistants, because that is the politically correct title, wear pants all the time.” He made a swing at my hair, “But, which did you go with?”
In all seriousness I answered, “Pencil. Definitely pencil, shows off your girlish figure.”
His response took me off my feet, literally. He picked me up and wrestled me to the floor while attempting to tickle me. I screamed! For the briefest second, I felt like a kid again, simple and careless. It had been a while since either one of us had just let loose, and it was desperately needed. All too quickly, he let me go and laid back on the kitchen tile. He rubbed at his leg, reminding me of just one of the many things that had changed since childhood. That’s when I remembered the question I had been dying to ask him all day.
“Oh my goodness!” I sat up, “What did Stephen say?”
“Well, Liam didn’t confess. He is sticking to his story that it was getting hot and heavy so he told her they needed to cool it, and she flipped out and ran to her car which is the last he saw of her.”
That made me furious. “So, he is pretty much saying he didn’t do anything.”
“Yep,” Robbie agreed. “Until Oona decides to talk and tell us what exactly happened, he will get away with it because it is her word against his.”
I got up and hit the floor with my fist, “That sucks!”
Robbie rolled over and looked at me, “She needs to talk.”
“Well, when we left she was no closer to it,” I admitted in defeat.
He ran his fingers through his hair, a trait that he had inherited from our father, I found out – a nervous habit that they would turn to when they were unsure or stressed. “I guess I should head over there.”
“Wait.” I offered him my hand to help pull him up, and as he found his footing I asked, “And does Stephen believe that load of crap?”
“I don’t think so, but there is not much he can do,” he admitted.
“What do you mean?! Isn’t accusation enough? She is our friend, he knows her! Does he think that she would lie about this!? Doesn’t he believe her?” I was so confused and upset.
“What do you mean, ‘believe her?’ he argued, “Celle, she hasn’t said anything!”
I wasn’t giving up, “But, you told him what you saw, right? The pictures on the laptop? His defensiveness?”
He sighed, “I did, and of course, Liam had a story for that, too.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“No. He apparently broke down and confessed that porn was a weakness, but it was something that he was ‘highly convicted about’ and was already in a process of accountability.”
That made me mad. “And of course, Stephen bought it because what guy doesn’t struggle with porn!”
“Hey!” He pointed to his chest, “This guy! I wouldn’t disrespect you or the other women in my life like that! Rare as it may be, it’s not a temptation for every man.”
I hugged him and apologized, “You’re right.”
He sighed and pulled me close, kissing the top of my head, “Stephen said he wasn’t taking any chances so he is keeping a close eye on him and removed him from leadership until this can get cleared up. That at least tells me that Stephen is suspicious and unwilling to trust Liam. She just needs to talk.”
I nodded in agreement and released him. If she would only talk and tell us what happened, we could do what needed to be done, to see justice served. The fact that Liam was walking around like a free man, an innocent man, ticked me off. He should be in jail, charges pressed so hard against him he couldn’t breathe. Would this be another “incident” that got swept under the rug? Would Oona be another victim rendered voiceless. The potential of that wrecked me. I refused to admit defeat! Seemed to me that there should have been something that could be done, but Robbie was right, it was his word against hers, and right now, she was speechless. I called Zella to tell her the latest