Rachel - Book cover

Rachel

Aalia Waqas

2: Chapter 2

TWO DAYS AGO

Rachel watched the next day go by in a blur, spending most of it with Hannah, who was making funeral arrangements, only nodding when Hannah asked for a suggestion.

Gavin dropped by and tried to get her to talk, but she wasn’t really talking.

She got a few texts and a couple of calls from some people offering their condolences, but she was quiet during those too.

By 5 p.m., she was back up in her room, packing up her things in a few cardboard boxes.

She skipped dinner and fell asleep amid the mess of clothes in her room. She didn’t wake up until Nate came in with food, and Hannah followed closely behind.

She munched quietly as her godmother-to-be rummaged through her clothes to pick something out for the funeral.

She held up a top and some jeans. “This?”

Rachel shrugged.

She bit her lip thoughtfully. “Yeah, maybe not.” She bent down and picked up a dress. “This?”

“For the love of God, Hannah. This isn’t prom. I’ll just wear something decent and get the damn thing over with,” she snapped.

Hannah nodded and put both things on her bed.

Nate glared at Rachel.

“Sorry… I’m just—”

“It’s okay, sweetie. I understand.” She smiled.

“No, Hannah, really. I shouldn’t have snapped. I’ll wear the dress and some leggings, thanks.”

She bent down and kissed her forehead. “It’s fine. Do you need help packing?”

Rachel looked around. “Yeah, I guess I could use a little help,” she admitted.

“We’ll kick Nate out after you’re done eating.”

Nate looked offended, and Rachel smiled.

ONE DAY AGO

This morning, Rachel got ready for the funeral and waited in the car for the couple to come outside.

Gavin joined her, looking extremely unlike himself in a simple suit and his otherwise unruly black hair looking somewhat combed. He offered her a small smile and asked her if she was doing okay.

She gritted her teeth and tried not to yell at him.

She was sick of the sympathy, the sorry faces, all the pity, and people telling her that everything was going to be okay.

But the most annoying part was the three-word sentence that was on the tip of everyone’s tongue: “Are you okay?”

“I swear, Gavin, you ask me if I’m doin’ okay one more time, I will punch you.”

“Rachel, I’m just concerned, okay?” the blue-eyed boy stated, running a hand through his hair and messing it up again.

“No! It’s not okay! People are stupid! They think that asking me if I’m okay is gonna help! Like it’s a crime to even try and feel okay. I just lost my Nanna; of course I’m perfectly fine!”

Rachel rolled her eyes.

“Sorry,” he mumbled. He nodded to Nate, who was making his way down the steps with Hannah.

Rachel was silent once more, staring out the window and thinking about what was left of her family. There was only Nate and Hannah.

Gavin was family too, considering how they had absolutely no boundaries, and they were closer than siblings could be.

Nate Marvin, her godfather.

He was a tall, middle-aged man with tanned skin, dark-brown hair that was never longer than half an inch, eyes dark and honest, and a hoarse voice that had scared Gavin off the first time he’d met him.

Most people were slightly intimidated by him, but Nate wasn’t scary at all once you got to know him; he smiled too much for someone who looked so intimidating.

Hannah, Nate’s fiancée, had striking gray eyes and dirty-blonde hair. She had a beautiful smile, she was too polite for her own good, and she couldn’t cook for the life of her.

Hannah had been part of Rachel’s life for almost six years.

They’d hit it off from the very start. She’d taught her how to play chess and to do her makeup just right, even perfecting Rachel’s hand on the blasted eyeliner.

Rachel had once insisted that Nate marry Hannah, or else she was switching godparents.

Thankfully, six years later, there was an engagement ring on her finger that was due to be joined by a wedding ring by the end of the year.

Gavin had been the messy kid in third grade who’d been the worst speller in the entire class.

Rachel had been the loud, equally messy kid whom the teachers adored because she was at the top of her class.

Gavin had hated her, and Rachel couldn’t stand anyone hating her. So eight-year-old Rachel had made it her goal to make sure they were friends by the end of the year.

It had taken her two years instead, but they’d gotten there, and they’d been inseparable ever since.

Nanna had been the only person in her life who was like a mother. She’d had auburn hair with streaks of gray in it for as long as Hannah could remember.

She’d been smart and easygoing but could be terrifying when she wanted to. She’d had a solution to every problem.

She’d never been too hard on Rachel and had tried to be more of a friend than a guardian.

Rachel had always known that her situation wasn’t like other children’s.

She didn’t have a mom and dad like most kids in her class; instead, she had a Nanna and a Nate, and that had always seemed like the much better situation. She was lucky. She knew it.

That was the extent of her immediate family. Everyone else, every friend, every distant relative, stayed at a comfortable distance.

Rachel didn’t need anyone else. She had other friends, but the people that really counted ended right there.

And now one was gone. There was a gaping hole where Nanna once had been, and Rachel felt lost and very, very hollow.

During the eulogy, Rachel’s voice cracked. She decided to shorten it and go sit before the waterworks started.

She stepped away from the mic, and Gavin looked at her with pity resonating from his eyes.

“Rachel, you sure you’re—”

Next thing she knew, white-hot pain shot through her hand as it connected with Gavin’s jaw. Her hand stayed where it was, but Gavin stumbled backward.

It hurt more than she’d expected it to. They made it look so easy in the movies.

Her hand was stinging. She brought it up to eye level to inspect the bruising knuckles.

She felt everyone’s gaze fixated on her. She turned around and left, wandering the churchyard, kicking at the ground and eventually sitting down on a stone bench.

She just kept thinking of what lay ahead.

An “institute” that was supposed to be her new home, an orphanage. The only reason she was going was because she didn’t have a choice.

One main reason she was almost allergic to the place was her father, the man who’d gone AWOL a year after her mother had passed away. Rachel had been just three.

So why on earth should she even consider fulfilling his wishes? Leaving a nanny and a fortune for Rachel—that was all the regard he’d had for her.

She just didn’t want to put Nate in a difficult situation. He’d fulfilled his duty as godfather for sixteen years. The guy deserved a break. Maybe he could get married in peace now…

NOW

She pressed forward and skipped a song that was too upbeat for her mood. Music provided her with a distraction, something to make it all go away, albeit temporarily.

There was that and painting, a safe haven, the colors providing release, every stroke an outpouring of emotion.

Rachel stared at the ceiling, her thoughts drifting from Nanna’s death to her absent father to someplace safe.

Restless now more than ever, she got out of bed and went to the roof and swung her legs over the edge.

Nanna had always said that she was a lot like her mother.

She had her attitude. And her auburn hair. So that meant she’d probably gotten the eyes from her father.

Nanna had mentioned her mother used to sing a lot, and she’d sketched, played guitar, and loved poetry. She used to say that her mother had had an artist’s soul.

And though Rachel never knew what her mother had looked like or anything else about her, doing the things her mother used to love made her feel some sort of connection with her.

Just something to make her mother feel like less of a stranger.

The stars were out that night, and she sat there, legs dangling off the edge, for hours.

Her heart felt heavy as she memorized the way the city looked before her. Lights sparkled beyond like a handful of cheap jewelry scattered on the ground.

The horizon began to grow brighter, and the girl sucked in a deep breath. It would be the last sunrise she’d see from this roof, this house… This town.

She huffed and got off the edge. She had to go talk to Nate. Again.

***

Rachel tiptoed downstairs and knocked on the bedroom door, opening it when Hannah yelled out, “Come in!”

“Hey, guys…” She sat down on the bed, hands immediately tracing the pattern on the comforter.

Nate sat down beside her. “What’s up?”

“I’m almost packed now… Just a few more boxes left, and then I guess I’m headed to Jameson.”

Stunned silence prevailed for a few moments, and Rachel looked up at the couple. “What?”

They broke into identical smiles, which would have been slightly creepy if she hadn’t known them for so long. “Thank you.”

Nate hugged her, then Hannah pushed him aside and embraced her. “Our brave girl.”

“Yeah, yeah. You two are just happy to get rid of me.”

“Are not!” Nate protested.

“It’s not like I had a choice anyways.”

Nate sighed, “I’m sorry.”

Rachel smiled, genuinely smiled, after what had felt like too long. She reached out and hugged them again and asked, “Will you visit?”

Nate stroked her hair. “Promise.”

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