(Initially written in request)
Crinkled pages lay between my shaking fingers, and I hear Brooke’s mom call my name. The whites in my eyes shine back at her and begin turning into a slight pink. Brook’s father hugs me close, reassuring me. I wipe away the forming tears from my waterline.
With delicacy, her voice floats through the room. “Ava, do you care to say a few words?” She intertwines her fingers of each hand, holds her hands close to her heart, and shifts her lips into a small smile – small enough so only I could see it, but big enough for me to build the courage to walk up.
Pulling my sleeves up just above my wrists, I tighten my grasp on the papers and begin walking. My heart pounds heavier – about to burst through my ribcage – and my long, frantic strides take me to the stage faster than expected.
Standing at the front, I look up to the anticipating audience. Eyes overwhelming me lead me to a slight panic, but then I take a deep breath and remember I’m doing this for her and the people who love her.
“Brooke…” I choke out a little giggle. “She really was something, as most of you would know.” I can hear the audience snicker under their breath – relief: that’s what we need.
I continue, “Always spontaneous, always living in the moment, and always driving you insane.”
“You can say that again!” Brooke’s dad yells from the seats. I look up at him and give him a weak smile. He grins back at me with support and love – what Brooke and her brother were always so lucky to receive. Mrs. Bailey leans into her husband and laces her fingers around his; their warmth touches mine, and I wish Brooke were here to see this image. Talking about her parents’ romantic and childish love brightened her day, giving her something to hold onto.
“Most people saw her as the girl who wasn’t afraid to speak out what’s on her mind; nonetheless, be hesitant on – what she would call – adventures, even though we would go to a drive-thru restaurant at two in the morning. She’s definitely more than the rambunctious girl she was.” I clear my throat and clench the pages a little tighter. “To me, she was a shoulder to cry on, my chauffer whenever I was hungry, and the girl who prevented my from being a social laughing stock.”
I stare at the papers for a little longer than intended, and I fold it in half and keep it to my side.
“If she were here right now, I’d ask her ‘Why?’ But I do know why, unfortunately.” The audience shifts in their seats, lean in intently, and bring up their tissues and handkerchiefs closer to their faces. “Mrs. Bailey let a couple of us go into Brooke’s room a few days ago. She let us grab one item from her room for memory’s sake if we wanted.” I begin thinking about her journal she tucked away between her mattress and headboard of her bed. I walked into her room, knowing where everything was, and immediately went to her journal. I knew that’s what Brooke would’ve wanted. For me to either burn it or to keep it. Nonetheless, she would forbid anyone else to lay a finger on it.
“She was sad. She loved on so many people, but she felt like no one ever loved her back.” I realized how selfish that sounded, but that’s not who she was – not even close.
“She enjoyed making people laugh until they could hardly breathe, or surprising someone whenever she attacks them with a hug. For some reason, almost everything she did was to make someone’s day a little brighter. She never thought twice about it.”
I sigh. “But, I guess, the primary reason was so she could try to feel good about herself too. I remember sitting on her bed after school, and she would continuously ramble about how a random person would thank her later in the day for complimenting him or her earlier. She always perked up whenever something like that happened, but then it would fade.”
More than anything, Brooke strived to put others before her. I look down at my sheets of paper, and my inked scribbles looked like a foreign language to me.
“She loved Michael too. So much that I practically had to compete for Brooke’s love between Michael and I.” I snicker. The chapel coughs out a minuscule laugh.
“She was sad because she wanted little Michael to stop having to come home crying because the other kids bullied him at school. Brooke was always there to run, pick him up, and smother him in hugs and kisses.”
From the corner of my eye, I can see Michael swing his legs inversely underneath the seat, as his feet weren’t able to touch the ground. He’s staring at the ground, clasping on the edge of his chair.
“She loves, and she practically taught me how to do so too. But, for some reason, she couldn’t find a way to love herself.” All those who love her or even hardly knew her shifted in their seats. I watch their faces adjust in bewilderment, unable to comprehend that Brooke, the shining sunflower, wasn’t happy.
“I was there the night that it happened.” My throat begins to tighten up and my words are hardly being choked out. “We just wanted to kick back after a stressful week, and the word of a party popped up on our screens in seconds. I remember eating a burger while she was dipping fries into her milkshake. She was smiling, laughing, and I saw a little twinkle in her eyes that made me believe she was happy again – just like she used to be. I was so convinced…”
I sigh, but I know I have to continue. “We stopped by my house so we could freshen up, and we get to the party and it was far larger than we expected. Like second nature, Brooke dove into the crowd, and I lost her for a few hours. We trusted each other to be responsible and had a system: I’m always the designated driver because I hate alcohol and we socialize while checking up on each other every few hours.”
Retelling the evening feels like reliving it. I couldn’t bear go on, but I understood the lingering curiosity as to why she would ever do it. For the sake of the rest of them, I wanted to give them the few answers I’m able to provide.
“After realizing we haven’t checked in with each other for several hours, I went on a search for her and found that she was far too drunk. At least, more drunk than she usually is.” My face brightens red. “I know I should’ve never let her drink in the first place, but I figured I had to follow the ‘Live while you’re young’ rule, which I immediately realized is some reckless façade.”
I swallow hard, and brace myself for the next couple of minutes. “I catch her stumbling through the house, falling on random strangers’ laps, and I quickly pick her up. I carry her off to an empty bedroom and tell her to wait there until I got back. I left to grab a bottle of water for her to douse down, but by the time I got back…” The words begin choking again, and I battle the tears. “By the time I got back, she wasn’t there.”
“I search around the house, pushing people out of my way, and I run into Dan.” From the audience, he directs eye contact with me and nods in reassurance.
“He noticed I was frantic. ‘Are you okay?’ He asks me. Of course I was. It was Brooke who wasn’t.” I shake my head, trying to rattle off the memories, but it’s engraved into my head.
“I quickly tell him that Brooke didn’t look to well when I left her in the bedroom, and that I couldn’t find her.” The amount of guilt floods me, and my hands begin shaking more rapidly.
I grasp the papers at my side, but I knew what I prepared was useless now. The tears begin to glide down my cheek, and I close my eyes to try to make it stop – make all of it stop. Feeling a hand on my lower back, my eyes shot open and Mrs. Bailey is standing at my side. She whispers, “It’s okay, sweetheart. You can do this.”
I nod, readying myself.
“Dan grabs two of his friends and tells them to keep an eye out for Brooke Bailey while keeping it on the down-low. We continue searching the house, but it wasn’t long until one of Dan’s friends ran up to me.” Hearing the words again tore me.
“He said, ‘Apparently Brooke found a pair of keys on the ground.’ As soon as I heard ‘keys,” I quickly rushed to Dan, grabbed him by his arm, and pushed myself through the crowd while screaming ‘Check if you lost your keys! If you have, head to the driveway!’” Repeating my own words slurred into an ache that made my voice sound raspy and petrified. The entire night felt like a nightmare.
“I explain to Dan what one of his friends told me, and I remember watching him pace back and forth on the grass. I tried calming him down, but I frankly couldn’t even calm myself down.” And I still can’t.
“I heard a voice screaming through the front door and out to the porch. ‘Someone took my keys! Have you found them?’ A blonde girl I hardly recognize pranced towards me, and I had to explain the situation.” The blonde girl sits towards the back corner, and I gaze at her. With her eyes and nose vibrantly scarlet, it’s obvious she has been shedding tears.
“She then told me that she has a yellow bug and the hood of the trunk has a white stripe in the center of it. I forward the information to Dan, and he and his two friends split up to find the vehicle while the blonde girl and I team up. Running up and down the streets, sprinting through trees, and waving flashlights for the next hour only left us with fused worry. It was at that point when I knew something was terribly wrong.”
I tuck my brown hair behind my ear while I glance down at my feet pointed towards each other. You’re like an inverted duck, she would say.
“My phone begins buzzing along with a screeching ringtone I set up, so I can easily recognize it. From the other static end, I can hear Dan gasping for air. His two friends’ voices are heard faintly in the background, and he finally speaks out, ‘Ava, you have to get here…’ Hearing his voice already broke my heart. I knew for sure something was wrong, and I can hear him begin to sob. ‘I already called the cops, but please get here. I’m on Infelix and Vita. Just… Just keep going north and you’ll see,’ is what he said to me. He hung up before I could spit out a word, and I begin sprinting down the streets.”
Images pop into my head. It feels like a dream – I’m sprinting as fast as I can, I can feel my lungs inflating deeply, and my legs are giving out. But all the power I surged into my body seemed to get me nowhere. I feel the pain, but nothing’s there.
“I finally got there after a couple minutes.” The tears weren’t flowing anymore, my heart stopped trying to escape my chest, and my hands swayed with the beat of my breathing. It doesn’t feel real. But it is, she whispers.
“My eyes were fogged with a blanket of grey smoke, and I saw the yellow bug annihilated by the tree. The cops were already there, and they told me that there are no signs of other vehicles, and there was a chance it wasn’t an accident. I didn’t know what else to do other than fall on my knees and scream, wishing Brooke would somehow hear me in Heaven.”
My body shivers as if I felt her brush past me. “She was supposed to graduate with me and go go-cart racing after prom in our ridiculous six-inch heels. She was supposed to go to college and study in Europe for six months. She had everything planned out, but the grim reaper took her too soon.”
Mr. and Mrs. Bailey walk up to each side of me, and rest their arms behind my back. Michael wraps his arms around my legs and the Bailey family filled me with love once again. Except, this time, there’s one less person hugging me.
Mrs. Bailey steps forward. Her voice feels like a fireplace on Christmas morning, “Brooke had so much potential and she was following the path that promised great things. But now, she can’t attain the promises that were set. God was working on her, but the devil got in the way.”
Mr. Bailey finishes the final thoughts, “We love you, Brooke.” Then he lays a golden sunflower on top of her chest. Her golden-brown streaks sit around her face, enhancing her beauty.
I gaze to all the individuals in her life who loved her, took care of her, and wanted to spend another second with her. Closing my eyes, bracing myself and imagining I can hold her once again, tears fall down my cheek and onto the wrinkled pages. I love you, Brooklyn. And you taught me how to do that.