The Absence of Intellect – Fifteen

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There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and it felt wrong to Emily. Her sister was being lowered into the ground and the weather didn’t even have the good grace to mourn with her. It was as if nature itself was ignoring the fact that one of the brightest lights had gone out.

After years in the coma, her lungs being inflated by machines, her heart had finally given out. The doctors had been unable to revive her, and had explained to Emily that even if she had, the damage to her brain would have been profound. Even if the neural bridge had been finished, it wouldn’t have been able to bring her back. She’d stood over her sister’s body, looking down at it and feeling as if someone had scooped her heart out.

The feeling had only intensified at the memorial service, and Emily had stayed until they closed the casket, wanting to get one last glimpse of the other half of her heart, the one she had shared everything with since the day they were conceived. When the lid was closed and took her away for the last time, that was when Emily finally started to cry.

“You want to go home?” Hunter put a hand on her arm and she looped her arm through his, holding him tightly. He was there, anchoring her to reality, and she clung to him. “We can order something for lunch. Maybe Alice’s, you like their sandwiches.”

“Let me stay here a little longer,” she said, sounding like she was badly congested. Hunter nodded and kissed her on the top of the head as she leaned on him. “It’s so strange. Everything I’ve been doing, almost every dime I’ve earned, it’s all been for her. I put everything on hold to try and save her, but I couldn’t make it in time. What am I supposed to do now?”

“Just keep working on it,” Hunter said. “You can still help more people like her and me. That’s the best way to honor her memory.” Emily smiled at him with tears in her eyes. She was about to tell him how much his words meant when an older couple dressed entirely in black. Hunter was wearing a black suit with a dark gray shirt underneath and a black tie, and looked more well off than them by far. Emily thought it was appropriate, since he was the one who was paying for the funeral, the headstone, and the black Chanel suit she was wearing, and she tightened her grip on his arm.

“I hope you’re proud of yourself,” the woman said, her voice cold and hard. “You kept her alive all this time for nothing.”

“Hello, Mom,” Emily said. “It’s nice to see you too.”

“She could have been at rest years ago but you had to go and be selfish,” her mother continued. There wasn’t a tear in her eyes, and Emily knew she’d been rehearsing this for years. “You couldn’t just let her go, you were so sure you were smart enough to save her, and it didn’t matter what anyone else told you. She’s been dead since the accident, and you’re the only one who couldn’t accept that.”

“I had to try,” Emily said, unable to pull any strength into her voice. “She was my sister.”

“And she was our daughter,” her father said. “Don’t you think we knew what was better for her than you?”

“I’m your daughter too, in case you forgot,” Emily said. “It didn’t matter who knew better, she chose me to be her advocate. I did what I thought was right at the time.” The casket was almost entirely in the ground now and the guests were gone, leaving Emily and Hunter were alone with her parents. “Can we not fight today? Out of respect for Melissa?”

“Now you have respect for her?” Her mother’s hands were on her hips now, and Emily couldn’t summon the strength to argue with her. In her heart she knew her parents were right, but admitting it to herself would be too much at that moment. She could admit it to Hunter but absolutely refused to admit it to her parents.

“I’m not going to have this argument here,” Emily said, shaking her head. She looked past them at the grave and saw that the casket was out of sight, then tugged on Hunter’s arm. “Let’s go. There’s nothing left for me here.” He nodded and they started to walk away, leaving Emily’s parents at the gravesite where cemetery attendants were moving in to gather the chairs.

“That’s right,” her mother called after them. “Just run away, like you’ve always done. You have these grand ideas and you think you’re going to save the world, then you just walk away from what you’ve done when it all falls apart.”

“Don’t listen to her,” Hunter said. “Just keep walking, we’ll go back to the house and order lunch. We can order sandwiches from Alice’s, you like those.” Emily sighed and looked up at him. “What?”

“You already said that,” she said. Repeating himself made Hunter so self-conscious that she almost automatically made a joke to lighten the mood, but today she couldn’t make herself do it. Hunter pulled his arm away from hers and her stomach dropped. “I’m sorry, Hunter, I—”

“Don’t apologize. You don’t have any reason to. Now come on,” he said gently, putting his arm around her shoulders instead. “I’ll drive. You can give me directions if I get lost.”

“Yeah,” Emily said, trying to smile. “I know how you get when the houses start to have grass in front of them.” Hunter raised an eyebrow.

“Yards. I can still remember the word for yard.”

“Then the treatment must be working,” she said, finally managing a smile. “How are you feeling this time? Still nauseous?”

“No, that pretty much passed after a couple of days, thanks to the stuff you prescribed me. One of the perks of having a girlfriend who’s a real doctor.” They had reached the car and Hunter unlocked it and opened the door for her. Emily got in and let him close the door behind her as she put her hands over her face. Part of her wanted to go back to the grave for one last look at the coffin before they started filling in the hole, but she didn’t want to chance running into her parents again.

She knew how they felt about her decision to keep Melissa alive, they’d never hidden their disapproval. Now that her sister seemed to have taken things into her own hands, she’d known they would show up to throw it into her face. In spite of everything, she still didn’t regret a thing. Even if it seemed hopeless, if there had been the slightest chance her sister could be saved she would have done the same thing. Hunter got into the driver’s seat and started the car, and Emily looked over at him.

Hunter would understand. Out of all the people in the world, Hunter was the only one who would understand exactly why she had done it and she loved him for it. If he had been anyone else, she would have tried to hold his hand while he was driving but she knew he would be focusing on driving. Emily had no doubt that he would be fine but she understood why he was nervous.

“I think I’m going to get their chicken salad,” Hunter said as he pulled away from the curb. “The apples and celery really make it different.”

“Uh-huh,” Emily said, leaning her head against the seat and closing her eyes. Hunter’s car was much nicer than any she’d been in before and the smell of leather was comforting. Before she knew it, she was starting to nod off. She hadn’t slept much in the week since Melissa’s death. When she opened her eyes next, she was been shaken awake by Hunter.

“Hey,” he said, his hand on her shoulder. “We’re home.”

“What?” Emily sat up and looked out the window. “Already?” He nodded and she smiled. “See, I knew you could do it.” She got out of the car and followed him into the house with a yawn. “I didn’t realize I was so tired.”

“I’m not surprised, you’ve had a stressful week.” Hunter tossed his keys into the bowl by the door and loosened his tie. “You want the menu from Alice’s or do you already know what you want? I’ve got their number on my phone.”

“Yeah,” Emily said around a yawn. “I want the California club with kettle chips. I’m going to go get out of these clothes. I think my tights are cutting off my circulation.” She went up the stairs to the guest bedroom, peeked in on the kittens that were wandering around, then went into the bedroom she and Hunter were sharing to get undressed. The shoes were the first thing to go, and she sighed with relief when she kicked them under the bed. Emily rarely wore anything but flats or sneakers, and every time she wore heels she was miserable while they were on and extremely appreciative whenever they were off. She was just reaching back to unzip her dress when Hunter put his arms around her waist from behind and she turned to see Hunter smiling at her.

“They said it’ll be 45 minutes before the food gets here,” he said. “Lunch rush.”

“Maybe I’ll be hungry by then,” Emily said. “Unzip me?”

“Sure,” he said, pulling down her zipper. Then, to Emily’s surprise, he leaned down and kissed her back. “I have an idea about how we can kill 45 minutes and work up an appetite.” He pushed the sleeves of her dress down her arms and Emily bit her lip. It felt wrong to do this while Melissa’s grave was being filled in but at the same time there was nowhere else she wanted to be than in Hunter’s arms. “We don’t have to,” he said, and rather than reply Emily turned to face him.

“I’d rather we did,” she said. “My sister wouldn’t want me to stop my entire life because of her. She’d rest a lot easier knowing I was fighting with our parents and getting naked with my boyfriend after her funeral.”

“She would, huh?”

“Definitely. Melissa was always the one with the dirty mind.” Emily grinned. “She knew every filthy joke and could find at least a double entendre in anything. I used to tell her she stopped maturing at twelve.”

“Well then,” Hunter said, putting his arms around her and leaning in to kiss her, “I can’t think of a better way to honor her memory.” Emily laughed and threw her arms around his neck, and Hunter kissed her again, then took out his phone.

“What are you doing?” She frowned and he shook his head as he put the phone to his ear.

“Hi, this is Hunter Chambers, I just placed an order for delivery. Can you have the delivery guy just leave it on the front porch? My wife’s got a headache and I don’t want him to ring the doorbell and wake her up. Thanks.” He hung up and tossed his phone onto a pile of clothes on his dresser. “I’ve always hated working under a time limit.”

“This sounds promising,” Emily said, and Hunter raised an eyebrow at her. “I like a man who takes his time.”

“Then you’re going to love this.”

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