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Pushing the Limits

By:Brooke Cumberland

PROLOGUE

ASPEN



I step through the doorway, immediately hit with the mixed aroma of  mildew and lavender from all the flower arrangements. I narrow my eyes,  trying to adjust to the dim lighting. It's eerily quiet, the service not  due to begin for another hour.

My mother was hysterical all night long, crying in her room. I heard her  through the bedroom door, but I didn't go to her. I couldn't.

I know she blames me.

Mom hadn't said a word to me all morning, so I asked my older brother,  Aaron, to take me early. I wanted to see Ariel before everyone else  starts arriving. See her one last time.

I walk down the short hallway and into the room her service is being  held in. Chairs are all lined up perfectly, row by row. The room will  probably fill up quickly with family and friends, all coming to give  their condolences.

I swallow as I step closer, her casket already open. I notice faint  music playing overhead through the speakers. It's meant to sound soft  and soothing, but I don't know how anything can soothe away the ache  burning in my chest.

I glance around and notice the walls look as if they were painted a  hundred years ago. The faded beige carpet is almost nonexistent. Flowers  surround her on one side and a table of vanilla scented candles on the  other. Nothing in this entire room represents her except the collage  board of pictures she had hanging in our room. She made it two summers  ago and had been adding photos of her friends and us ever since. It  captures every part of her personality.

We lived on farmland with only fields surrounding us. No neighbors or  friends to play with meant we'd learned to entertain ourselves. I  remember the day she got a new camera for Christmas and immediately  started taking pictures-of everything. We'd giggle and snap pictures of  each other, torment Aaron and take his picture when his girlfriend was  over, and take about a hundred photos of our pets. I smile at the  memories, but at the same time feel like crying because now there won't  be anymore. The memories we made the last fourteen years are all I have  left of her.

When Pastor Jay asked us to bring in our favorite pictures of her, I  knew immediately she'd want these. I step closer and examine them, even  though I've looked at it every single day for the past two years.  Somehow today, it looks different.

There's the one of us standing in front of the middle school on our  first day of seventh grade. We were assigned different homerooms and  weren't happy about being apart. Another one shows us with our dog,  Fudge, the first day we brought him home from the shelter. We've only  had him for six months now. He was a rescue, and she said she knew he  was the perfect fit for our family.

After tracing the lines of each picture, I slowly walk to her casket. I  pleaded with my mom to let her wear her favorite purple dress, but she  refused. She said it was an ‘occasion' dress, AKA-a happy occasion.  Instead, she picked out a dark, navy blue dress that she absolutely  loathed wearing. My lip curls up on one side thinking how much she'd  hate wearing this dress right now. She hated wearing dresses, in  general, but now, oh, she'd be so pissed. Part of me wants to laugh at  the irony, as the other part wants to rip it off her and sneak the  purple dress on.

I glance down at her, curling my fingers tightly around the edge of her  casket. She looks flawless, almost like she's just sleeping. Even  looking at her right now, seeing that she isn't breathing anymore, it  hasn't all sunk in.

For the first time in days, I let myself cry. I cry harder than I ever  have. I've held the tears in, trying to remain strong for Mom, but I  can't do it anymore. I release all the pain I've kept inside and  apologize to her over and over.

"I'm so sorry, Ari. God, I'm so, so sorry." I blink, wiping my cheeks  off. "You hated that nickname," I say, letting out a short laugh. I  exhale a deep sigh. "I'm going to miss you so much," I whisper, reaching  for her hand. "I'm going to miss you sneaking in my bed and sleeping  with me every time a storm hit. I'm going to miss staying up late on  weekends, gossiping about Brady Carmichael and all the guys on the  basketball team. Or the girls who think purple lipstick is in." I  chuckle softly to myself. "I'm even going to miss arguing with you over  who gets to use the shower first. It was like our little tradition, I  guess." My lips soften, curling up on both sides at the happy memories.  "Truthfully, I'm going to miss everything about you." I lean down and  kiss the top of her forehead. "I love you."

I hear footsteps in the hall and take that as my cue to start heading  out. People will be arriving soon, and I'm not quite sure I'm strong  enough to deal with everyone. Half feel sorry for me and the other half  blame me.         

     



 

I'm not sure which one is worse.

"Aspen … " I hear my dad's deep voice. I turn and face him, his lips set  in a firm line, his eyes as empty as I feel right now. "Your mother  wants to talk to you."

I swallow at his tense features, but nod and follow him out of the room.  He barely speaks or looks at me now. I'm only a constant reminder of  what happened-of who he's lost-of how our lives are forever changed.

He leads me to a small room on the other side of the hall where she's sitting with her nose buried in a handkerchief.

I stand in front of her and wait. I'm not sure what to say to my mom  right now-or anyone for that matter. I'm not sure there's anything I can  say.

"I need to hear the story one more time," she chokes out. "I need to hear why my baby girl is dead."

Her head is low and she refuses to look at me. I've told her and the  police the story several times already, but every day since the  incident, she's demanded to hear it again.

"Mom … " I begin, my eyes filling up again. "I can't. Not again."

"Tell me!" She raises her voice, finally tilting her head to look up at  me, her face contorted in a mixture of grief and disgust.

I do as she says. I repeat the story the exact same way I did the first  dozen times. No matter how much it hurts to talk about, I explain what  happened.

"How could you let that happen?" she mumbles. "How could you be so careless? I just don't understand!"

"Mom, it's not Aspen's fault … " Aaron interrupts, stepping next to me.

"Mama, I'm sorry," I burst into a new wave of tears. I've apologized to  her and Daddy over and over. But I know they'll never forgive me.

I'll never forgive me.

Aaron wraps an arm around my shoulders and cradles me to his chest. I  hear my mom huff in disapproval. I push against his chest, wiping the  tears from my cheeks as I storm off.

I'll never forget the way her eyes widened in fear as she fell to her  death. The way her body lay on the ground, motionless. The way her voice  begged for my help as she screamed on the way down.

I'll never forget.

I don't tell Mom and Dad those things, though. The images already haunt  me in my sleep. The sound of her screaming has woken me up the past two  nights. Every time I attempt to fall asleep, her dead eyes appear in my  mind. It's no use, I tell myself. There's barely a difference between  existing and sleeping now.

Life without her is pointless.

People start arriving, so Mom, Dad, Aaron, and I all stand in front near  her casket. I swallow my emotions down and refuse to cry. I shut down. I  shut everything down. I let them hug me and say how sorry they are for  our loss. I let them cradle my head as they press me against their  chests. I let them squeeze my hands as they tell me how much she will be  missed. I let them do whatever they need to express their feelings. But  I don't cry. I quietly thank them and look down at my feet.

When the service is over, we gather at the cemetery to bury her. A large  bouquet of white lilies rests on her closed casket. I step forward and  pull one out for myself before they lower her into the ground. Mom and  Dad do the same, but they don't look at me. Dad wraps his arm around  Mom's shoulders, holding her close as she cries.

I grip the obituary program tightly in my hand and stare down at her  picture displayed on the cover. Mom used her most recent school photo  from this past year although it hadn't been her favorite. I don't know  why, though. She looked stunning as usual-bright smile, sparkling green  eyes, and flowing golden blonde hair.

Underneath it reads, Loving Daughter and Sister. Gone too soon but never forgotten. 4-10-1995 to 4 – 10-2009.

She died on our birthday.

I swallow as I take it all in. April tenth was our favorite day. We'd  wake up early to Mom making us our favorite breakfast-the only day of  the year she'd make it. Belgian waffles with melted cream cheese  frosting drizzled on top and then slathered in homemade maple syrup. She  used fresh blueberries-instead of frozen-on top. She called it our  special birthday breakfast, and every year we looked forward to it.

After we finished eating, we'd rip our presents open from our parents  and later on exchange the ones we made for each other. For the last few  years, we'd talk Mom into letting us skip school for the day. She  wouldn't even bother arguing with us, knowing she'd eventually cave  anyway. So when we woke up on our birthday five days ago, we'd done  everything exactly the same.

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