This is a story I wrote as a sequel to “Katy’s Place” which appears in the 2013 Novelists, Inc. anthology, I Never Thought I’d See You Again.
In Katy’s Place 7/21/13 by Barbara Meyers
“Katy?” Cassie Emerson whispered in disbelief. “Is that really you?”
Katy Robbins laughed, the sound somewhere between a hearty guffaw and a delicate tinkling bell. Cassie hadn’t heard Katy laugh in over fifteen years. She’d missed it so much. Tears misted her eyes. “It’s me, girl. Not exactly in the flesh you understand, but still me.”
Cassie blinked, trying to focus on Katy’s smile, something else she’d been missing. But Katy’s face appeared out of focus, as if someone hadn’t had a steady hand when they’d taken a picture of her and this was the result.
Cassie strained to see the rest of Katy, but what she saw was more of the same, a blurry form of what had once been her best friend in the world.
“I’ve missed you so much,” Cassie whispered, wondering where her voice had gone. Tears leaked from her eyes. “Katy, I’m so sorry.”
Katy’s smile turned sad. “Me too. On both counts. Although it’s not so bad here.”
“Where’s here? Where are we?”
“We’re in “The Middle.” That’s what we call it, anyway.”
“The others. The ones with unfinished business. The ones who can’t let go or who don’t want to.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Neither did I. Not for a long time. But after you’ve been here for awhile it all gets clearer.” She gestured at her blurry form. “Well, not all, I suppose.”
“Am I—did I die?” Cassie asked, the thought horrifying her. Images of her husband, her little girl, her parents, raced through her mind. Had she left them all behind? Was her time with them done? No, it couldn’t be. She wasn’t ready. She hadn’t prepared.
“I wasn’t ready either,” Katy said.
“You read my mind?”
“No,” Katy told her in a wistful tone. “It’s what I thought when I first got here. It’s what we all think. ‘I’m not ready’ or ‘there’s so much more I want to do.’ The details are different, but it’s mostly the same thought.
“I won’t get to see Riley grow up,” Cassie said as more tears leaked from her eyes. “I’ll never see Tyler again or my parents. I wish I could tell them I love them one more time.”
“Not everyone who comes here stays. Maybe you’ll be one of those.”
Cassie was afraid of the hope that welled inside her. “You stayed.”
Katy’s chuckle held a tinge of regret. “I was one of the ones who didn’t have a choice. After the accident…let’s just say I had nowhere to go.”
“I’m sorry, Katy. I’m so sorry. I don’t even remember the accident. All I remember is waking up in the hospital and my mom telling me you had died. I wished it had been me. Oh, Katy, you don’t know how many times I wished it had been me.”
“Ssh, Cassie. It’s all right.”
Cassie thought she felt something brush her arm, something light and ethereal, something she could feel below her skin but not on it. A warm glowing kind of comfort spread from her forearm to her shoulder.
“Can you forgive me?”
“Can you forgive yourself?” Katy asked.
“I want to. But I’ve always been afraid you hate me and that you blame me. Your mother does.”
“I know. It’s been hard on her.”
“On your whole family. She came to see me a few years ago.”
Cassie stared at Katy’s cloudy face, trying to see her freckles and red hair, trying to look into those blue eyes of hers. If she focused and concentrated she could almost get a glimpse of the complete Katy before the image blurred again.
“Are you a ghost?” she blurted. “You’re so fuzzy.”
Katy laughed and it made Cassie smile. That was something they’d always done when they were together. They’d laughed. Even if they weren’t doing anything, just hanging out, they’d come up with something crazy and laugh themselves silly.
“I love your laugh. I always did.”
“We had some good times, didn’t we? All those sleepovers at your house? Pretending we were the Spice Girls.”
“I was Posh and you were Ginger.”
“Walking the beach, checking out guys, wishing they’d check us out.”
“Although at the time, we didn’t have much of anything for them to check out did we?” Cassie grinned remembering junior high like it was yesterday. She and Katy had shared their fears. What if they never had boyfriends? What if they did and they didn’t know how to kiss properly? And their triumphs. Katy’s softball team winning the county championship. Cassie’s piano solo going off without a hitch.
Cassie reached for Katy. Again she felt that brush of warmth, but there was nothing she could hold onto. “I’ve never had another friend like you. I want you to know that. I think about you all the time. I still miss you.”
“I don’t know how you could ever forget me. Not with this where you see it every day.”
Cassie felt that warm touch on her wrist where she had Katy’s initials tattooed inside a wreath of roses. “My mom made me wait until I was eighteen. I was so mad at her for that. But on my birthday she went with me.”
“I know. I was there. Sort of.”
“I’m glad. Sort of. But I wish you’d really been there.”
“If I had been whose initials would you have gotten?”
“No initials. Remember when we used to talk about that? We were going to go together for our first tattoos.”
“And backpack through Europe after high school—“
“Room together in college—“
“Open a restaurant.”
“I did all that,” Cassie said wistfully. “Except for backpacking through Europe. I did it without you.”
“You didn’t have a choice,” Katy reminded her.
Cassie sighed. “I wanted to be the kind of person you’d be proud to be friends with. I thought if I was it would make up for killing you.”
“Oh, Cassie, you didn’t kill me. You lost control of your car and I died. It’s that simple.”
“It wasn’t simple. It made everything so hard. That one moment that I can’t remember, that I can’t change.”
“I know. Everyone grieved because I was gone, but I was sad that you were still there. You had to live with it. I didn’t.”
“Katy, I love you. I always loved you. I never could explain how important you were to me to anyone. They never understood what losing you did to me.”
“I know you do.” Cassie sighed. She closed her eyes “It’s so peaceful here. I’m so tired.”
“Do you want to see your little girl again?”
With an effort Cassie opened her eyes. “Riley.”
Katy grinned. “I still can’t believe you named your daughter after my dog. That was dumb.”
“You loved that dog.”
“I did. He was a good dog.”
“Is he here? Your mom told me he died.”
“I haven’t seen him. He’s probably romping through a field somewhere digging up bones.”
Cassie closed her eyes again.
“You didn’t answer my question. Do you want to see Riley again? Do you want to see her grow up?”
Cassie blinked, trying to keep her eyes open. “I do. But I’m so tired. I don’t know how to get back there.”
“You have to fight. You have to want it. You’ve got a place to go back to. I didn’t. It’s not easy to get out of here, but you can do it if you want it bad enough.”
“I’ll try.” Cassie felt like she was fading away.
“My mother had to live without her daughter. Don’t make your daughter grow up without her mother.”
“I won’t. I’ll try. I promise.”
“Good. And Cassie?”
Cassie felt that now familiar warmth close to her ear and words taking shape and floating from there to her heart. “I forgive you.”
A soft moan escaped her lips when she became aware once again of the pain, the scent of the hospital environment, the blip and whir of the machines that monitored her life.
A strong hand wrapped around her fingers and she felt a touch against her temple. She struggled to open her eyes, to fight for her place in the world as Katy insisted she must. Tyler smiled and squeezed her hand. “Someone here wants to see you,” he told her softly.
He bent down and the next thing Cassie felt was the press of Riley’s lips against her cheek. Cassie closed her eyes as more tears leaked from them. “Don’t cry, Mommy. “ Riley’s tiny finger brushed at a tear. “Don’t be sad,” she whispered.
Cassie smiled and opened her eyes again. “I’m not sad, honey.” Her gaze took in the two people she loved most in the world.” Behind them she thought she saw a blurry form waving to her. “I’m happy.” She made herself focus again on her daughter and her husband. “For a moment there, I thought I’d never see you again.”