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The phone rang. My heart skipped a beat because I knew it was my mom.
Her hesitation worried me; I knew what she was about to say. My heart dropped to my stomach.
“What? What happened,” I asked, near tears.
“I’m sorry, my baby,” she sobbed.
“I have to see Connie.”
I pressed END before she could respond. So many thoughts came to me, I couldn’t grasp any of them.
How could this have happened? Why Autumn?
All I knew was that I lost one of my best friends. Then, I cried hard, like a dam bursting. My dad put his hand on my knee as I looked out the window. I told him I needed to see my friends.
After what seemed like the longest drive ever, we pulled up to the school. I walked in the gym door slowly, so nobody would get too worked up, but I failed. The door was creaky and it slammed shut. All eyes were on me. Everybody was sitting along the black and orange bleachers. The air smelled of burnt sage and sorrow and the eyes that looked back at me were full of tears and their cheeks were stained with the fallen ones. The weight of their grief settled upon me. I forgot my pain and instantly wanted to take theirs away. My other best friend met me with a hug. I whispered words of encouragement in her ear as we embraced, hoping that my arms and voice would pull the heartbreak right off her.
The next to hug me was my baby sister. I repeated the same ritual with her, and the rest of the team. Figuratively and almost literally, I tried to absorb their pain.
“Where’s Connie,” I asked to no one in particular.
“She went home,” someone replied.
Worry started in. I knew she wasn’t doing well. Never in her life, had she lost someone so dear. Of course, she had lost relatives but never like this. This was her best friend and her partner in crime. She lost a part of herself.
On my way home, my mind was jumbled. I tried to organize it by remembering the happy times I had with Connie and Autumn. On my iPod, I scrolled through countless pictures. I could almost hear them laughing next to me. Guilt rushed over me.
Did I spend enough time with her? Did she know how much she meant to me? Did she know how much I loved her?
All these questions played in my mind as I reminisced the good times. The memories left me heartbroken because we would never have any times like that with Autumn again. Tears serenely cascaded down my face. I couldn’t bear the thought of having to live my life without her.
The day was completely exhausting and it wasn’t over. I tried using sleep to numb the pain, but I couldn’t because my dreams were more ungodly than reality. I woke, drenched in sweat, despite the fan blowing. I started up the stairs to get a snack; then the phone rang.
My mom answered, but I couldn’t understand the muffled conversation. Even though I had an idea, I asked,
“Who was that?”
“Carol. She said Connie hasn’t stopped crying since she found out. The priest even went to their house to pray with her. There wasn’t anything anybody could do or say for her to stop. She didn’t say anything all day but when she did, she said, ‘I need to see Shayla.’”
I thought my heart couldn’t possibly crack anymore. I was already in so much pain over losing Autumn, but I was hurt ten times more knowing how my best friend was. She definitely wasn’t prepared for this; it hit her like a train. I began to think about how I could help her.
I heard someone enter our house from my room in the basement. Their footsteps, heavy with grief, crossed the threshold. I ran up the stairs, hoping to do for Connie what I had done for the other girls earlier that day—take away her heartache with a simple hug. I held her as she broke down. She sobbed and our parents watched the love and pain we shared. They too, cried. It had to be agonizing to see your children’s pain and not know how to soothe them. I gave Connie an ice cold glass of water. The condensation that ran down the cup mirrored the quiet tears still creeping out of her tired eyes.
When we finally made it to my room, I sat her on the side of my bed, sprinkled my room with holy water, and said a prayer of strength and guidance. Next, I made the sign of the cross atop her forehead with the holy water. I held her head in my hands and it was heavy with pain. Then, I prayed over her. I asked the Creator to give us strength to make it through this torment together, to watch over us and to guide Autumn on her journey to the spirit world. Meanwhile, Connie got her last cry in before the day was over. Tears flowed down my face as I comforted her. We ended the night telling stories. We laughed and we cried; softly, of course, as we were tired of blubbering. Before we hit the hay, I posted on Facebook.
“I’m glad I’m not sleeping alone tonight. Love my best friend 🙂 ❤”
Autumn’s very best friend, Shaunt’e, commented,
“You’re one lucky girl, shay.”
A single tear rolled gently down my rosy cheek as something tugged at my heart. Life is funny that way because at that moment, I was both lucky and unlucky. I had lost one best friend but I had another at my side. A bittersweet ending to such a tragic day.
Not only is this the end to “Autumn’s Reign,” but this is also the end of Autumn’s reign on me.
Shayla Gayton is a student at Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College.