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It’s one of those days where everything is gray. It’s no longer winter, but not yet spring, it’s just some unpleasant transition season. The once huge drifts of glittering snow have decayed into pitiful piles of dirty slush which continue to melt as small raindrops slowly erode at the icy crystals. The sky is a mass of gray cloudiness, an overcast shroud that smothers the sunlight. It’s not very windy, and the cold doesn’t hit you when you first walk out the door. Instead it slowly seeps through your jacket and into your skin until you feel like, even if you go back inside where it’s warm, you’ll never stop freezing with your bones chilling you from the inside.

And I’m just standing outside, shivering a little, but brushing away any thoughts of returning to my artificially heated house.

I’m waiting for something, but I’m not sure what.

Actually, I’m waiting for nothing. I know that. But part of me still hopes that something will break through the dreary gray, something from the fantastical dreams that flutter through my head every day.

If this were a fantasy story, then now would be the moment I hear a strange noise, or see some peculiar glint of gold through the gray. I would furrow my brow, confused for a moment, then wander over to investigate. As I would step around the piles of slush, I would slip on one of the few remaining patches of ice and probably fall flat on my face. I’d groan a bit, and then get up. But I would no longer be in my slushy, dreary front yard. I’d find myself in some enchanted forest, where everything is lush and green, where the water in the brook is laughing happily, where the sunlight streams through gaps in the trees and leaves dappled patterns on the forest floor, where a chickadee flutters away to bring news of my arrival to a dragon….

But that’s impossible. I know that. Still, sometimes I wish it could be true. Sometimes it feels like it is, like the words in a fairytale seem so much more real than the light patter of raindrops in February.

I turn and sigh, finally shrugging off my far-fetched dreams, and trudge back indoors. The heat washes over me like a welcoming blanket as I step through the door and kick off my shoes, but tiny, icy prickles of February chill remain embedded in my skin.

My mom smiles warmly as I step into the kitchen, but I can see the lines etched across her wearied face and the look of sadness deep within her sea-green eyes. Days like this are hard on her, too.

“Hey, Kya,”, she says softly, enveloping me in a warm hug. After a moment, she pulls back and searches my face. “You okay, sweetie?”

“I’m fine,” I answer, even though we both know I’m lying. “I’ll be upstairs, okay?”

She nods understandingly. “Just don’t be too long,” she adds as an afterthought as I start heading up the stairs. “Dinner’s going to be ready soon.”

“‘Kay,” I call back distractedly, going into my room and closing the door behind me. I flop onto my bed and stare listlessly at the ceiling, my thoughts and emotions swirling around in a slushy muddle inside my head.

Five months. Five dismal, bitter months.

It’s not too long before I hear a gentle knock on the door. My older sister, Zoe, pokes her head in. “You okay, sis?” she asks gently.

I start to nod, then pause and shake my head. Zoe steps in and sits down on the bed, taking my hand. She doesn’t say anything, just sits next to me.

That’s the great thing about sisters. They know when it’s best not to say anything, when just being there is the best thing they can do for you.

“I miss him,” I murmur eventually. I know it’s obvious, but I don’t feel stupid saying it, only sad.

Zoe nods solemnly and squeezes my hand. “We all do.”

It’s true. My mom looks so much older than she did five months ago, lines of grief etched deeply in her face like ripples in a frozen puddle. My dad is colder and quieter than he used to be, rarely cracking his jokes that used to be so common. Even Zoe, who once was the calm and confident one, still sometimes cries in her sleep. And me… well, I have days like this.

I blink several times as my eyes start watering. Before I know it, I’m sobbing into Zoe’s shoulder, clinging to her as a lifeline while she wraps her arm around me comfortingly. “I just want him to come back,” I mumble between gulps.

She just nods and hugs me tighter. “Me too,” she whispers. “Me too.”

Eventually the wave of tears subsides, and I pull away, still sniffling but feeling just a little bit better. “Tissue?” Zoe asks, smiling gently and offering me one.

I take it and blow my nose, wiping my eyes before I toss it in the wastebasket. “Thanks,” I murmur appreciatively.

“Zoe? Kya?” my mom calls from downstairs. “Can you girls help set the table?”

“I’ll take care of it,” Zoe says, squeezing my shoulder before going out the door, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

Days like this happen, but they’re unusual for me. Usually when I think about him, I don’t really feel anything. It’s like the world I’m in just doesn’t have him in it, and the world that did feels like a distant, frozen dream. And on days like that, I know I should feel something, but it’s just not there.

But sometimes, on days like this, the dream feels all too real. On days like this, I just wish I could disappear into one of my fantasy novels, where everyone lives happily ever after, and never come back out again to face the crushing reality of the world I live in. A world of pain. A world of destruction. A world of death.

What would the world be like without it? Without pain, without destruction, without death?

I close my eyes, trying to picture it.

It seems like a wonderful place. The sky is clear, without the depressing blanket of clouds that is typical of February. The gardens are colorful and bright, without a trace of a single wilted flower. There’s a café where the funeral home once was, since there’s no need for funerals anymore. The man who usually begs on the street isn’t sitting at the corner with his sign anymore. Instead he’s laughing and strolling through the town, arm in arm with the woman who would have been his wife.

And he’s there, walking with Zoe and me, smiling as we all turn into the library. I start browsing the fantasy section, but he pulls me over to his favorite sci-fi series. He’s always wanted me to read it, but not until now does he finally convince me to bring all five thousand-page books to the counter. Zoe just rolls her eyes at both of us, then sidles over to the historical fiction section. She keeps glancing at the books I picked up, however―until I catch her gaze with a self-satisfied smirk. Then she flashes an obviously fake scowl and goes back to intently scanning the back of some thick paperback.

This painless world’s so different from the world as it really is. It’s the world as it used to be, but even better. Before the accident, pain and loss still happened―just not as much to me. Here, it’s all gone, leaving the world as it should be.

But is it really the way the world would be? If you could somehow erase pain and death, just like that, would you really end up with a perfect world without any consequences?

You never know a good thing until it’s gone.

The saying flashes through my head, changing my “perfect” world drastically. If there was never any pain or loss, would it really be possible to appreciate the good times? Can you truly understand how special something is until you lose it?

I picture that world again, and I’m surprised by how much it has changed. The laughter and happiness I had imagined vanishes, replaced by a mixture of nonchalant complacency and vague dissatisfaction. The beggar and the woman don’t stroll arm in arm, but instead walk lazily and make occasional remarks about the overly bright sun. Zoe completely ignores us as she thumbs disinterestedly through a book she’s read at least a dozen times. Nobody’s in serious pain or grief, but nobody’s joyful either. Everyone’s just… numb.

You never know a good thing until it’s gone.

I blink back tears as my image of that world fades away, just like all my fantasies do. I can entertain myself with them for a while, but they always melt like crystals of slush in a February rain. I know I can’t get him back. It hurts. It hurts more than anything, but at least I’m feeling something stronger than numbness, stronger than the apathy that runs rampant through my painless fantasy world.

It’s been five months since my brother died.

You never know a good thing until it’s gone.



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