“Why do we keep doing this every night?” I ask sitting down beside my sister on the grass in our backyard.
It’s warm out, even for a Georgia June night, and the fireflies are lighting up all around us.
“Because we’ve always done this,” Skylar said laying back on the grass. “We can’t just not do it.”
Since she was nine and I was seven, we’d spent our summer nights in our backyard, watching the moon, the fireflies, and talking. I guess it was our way of bonding.
“Yeah, well, remind me to put on bug spray tomorrow,” I said smacking at a mosquito that had landed on my leg. I said this every night, and she never reminded me, and of course I never remembered it on my own.
“Are you scared?” Skylar asked me propping up on her left arm and looking me in the eyes.
“Scared of what?” I asked, smacking at another mosquito.
“Dying,” Skylar said blankly.
My head snapped up from my legs and I stared at her. What did she mean was I scared of dying? This wasn’t what we talked about on our summer nights.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“I mean, are you scared of dying?” she asked.
I thought for a minute, and looked up at the moon and the stars. One thing I liked about sitting outside at night was looking at the sky. It gave me a sense of how small I am, how big the universe around me is.
“I guess not,” I said. “Everyone dies eventually, right? I guess I’m scared of what comes after.”
“What do you mean?” Skylar asked. Her eyebrows were scrunched together. This was a serious conversation for her.
“I mean, we go to church all our lives and learn that there’s Heaven and there’s hell, and God loves everyone, and you have to accept him to get into Heaven,” I said. “I guess I’m just scared that maybe, what if everything we learned was wrong? What if he’s not really up there? What if there’s something else and we completely missed it? Or what if there’s nothing?”
Skylar nodded her head and laid back in the grass once again. “Well, I’m not scared.”
“You’re not scared of dying, or you’re not scared of what comes after?” I asked, leaning back on my elbows and looking over at her.
“Both,” she said without any hesitation.
“At all?” I asked.
“Not at all,” she said. “When it’s my time to go, I think I’m going to be ready. It’ll be like an adventure.”
It didn’t sound like much of an adventure to me, but I didn’t tell her that. Her tone was serious, and I wasn’t sure why it bothered me so much.
“Why are you asking me?” I asked.
“I was just thinking about it today,” she said.
“Kind of a weird thing to think about,” I said.
She shrugged. “Maybe.”
Definitely, I thought.
“Hey, Payton?” Skylar’s voice was softer now.
“Yeah?” I said back.
“Do you ever wonder what our lives would be like if Dad hadn’t left?” she asked.
It was a lie. And she could probably tell it was a lie, but I didn’t want to admit that I still thought about it.
“I do,” she said.
Oh shit. Her voice was fragile, and if she started crying there wouldn’t be any stopping it. And there was no way we could tell Mom what she was crying about. It was a sensitive subject for her. And apparently for Skylar, too.
“Why?” I asked. “You can’t change it.”
“But still,” she said, “what if he was still here?”
“But he’s not,” I said. “He’s off with that Amber or Ashley chick that worked with him, and they probably have their own family by now. He doesn’t care about us anymore, so we shouldn’t waste our time caring about him.”
“I miss him sometimes,” Skylar said. “Sometimes I just feel like he should still be here with us.”
“I guess,” I mumbled picking at blades of grass.
A few minutes passed, and I finally glanced over at my sister. Even in the darkness, I could see the tears sliding down her cheeks.
“Skylar,” I began.
“I said don’t,” she snapped. “Don’t tell me that it’s going to be okay, or that we don’t need him, or that I shouldn’t care. Because no matter what you say, it’s not going to be okay, I need him even if you don’t, and I do care.”
“I was going to say that you need to stop crying before Mom calls us in,” I whispered. “She can’t see you like this.”
“I’m tired of having to be strong for everyone,” Skylar said.
“You don’t have to be strong for me,” I said. “I can take care of myself.”
“But I still have to be strong for me,” she said. “And that’s a lot harder than you think it is.”
If I start over, it will still be along the same lines. Outside, talking, dying/dad, etc. I just need to know how good or not good this sounds in itself.