Disclaimer: Characters are not mine.
A/N: Just to let you guys know, this story continues right after the goodbye scene. So, nothing after that scene will have happened in this story. I have already written this story in its entirety, and I plan on updating it once a week. It is going to be around twenty-five chapters. Hope you enjoy it!
Chapter One: When You're Gone
In her hand, she clutched a photograph; it was of her and Keith. They were standing next to each other, fingers laced, hands locked. Keith was staring straight into the camera. She couldn't take her eyes off of them, of his piercing green eyes…of him.
It was the only photo of them, and she held the picture tightly between her fingers, so tight, that it seemed as if she was afraid someone was going to walk by and tear it away from her, and rip it into millions of tiny pieces. To destroy the only thing she had left of them… of him.
A hesitant voice made Natalie jump. From the corner of her eye, Natalie saw Brooke sit down next to her. "Are you all right?" Brooke asked. Natalie could hear the worry in Brooke voice, but couldn't bring herself to care.
With heavy, sad eyes she looked over at Brooke. "Yeah, I'm…fine." She wasn't though, and Brooke knew this. Brooke smiled sadly at her, and jerked her head towards the photo that Natalie was still holding. Natalie turned to stare at it again. "You and Keith?" she asked. She could see the photo, why did she have to ask if it was of her and Keith, wasn't it obvious?
Natalie gave a tiny nod. "Um, yeah." She swallowed back tears that were threatening to fall.
Brooke took a deep breath. "Natalie, he wouldn't want you to be like this, he wouldn't want you to-to grieve," Brooke whispered, afraid of Natalie's reaction, she quickly added. "He wouldn't want you to stop living; he would want you to live life to the fullest. You know that, right?"
Natalie squeezed her eyes shut, making sure no tears fell. Crying, she wasn't going to, because then it would just make everything more real. More permanent. "You don't understand; you just don't." Brooke would never understand the pain she was in; the numbing, excruciating, aching pain.
Why was Brooke here anyway? She didn't even like Keith. She thought he was a freak—a nobody.
"Let me understand," stated Brooke, trying to grab Natalie's hand in comfort, but Natalie jerked it away, gripping the photo tighter.
"You will never understand," she sniffed, eyes misting over. "He's going to come back, he's going to. He's not," she took a deep breath, "gone. He's not dead." She shook her head in denial. Why was she denying this? She wasn't crazy, she knew, but denying it was better than facing the horrible truth…the horrible reality.
"Natalie, you don't believe that, not really," said Brooke trying to comfort her, "Please, just talk to me."
Natalie didn't respond, only continued to stare down at the photo of her and Keith, a tear finally fell from her eye and landed the photo. She watched as it slid down the photograph, before dripping onto the table and disappearing. She turned to look over at Brooke. "He can't be dead, because I can't live without him," she wept. "What am I going to do? You tell me that he wouldn't want me to stop living, but how can I do that when—when I can't live without him?"
"It'll just take time, he wouldn't want you to be like this," reminded Brooke. "It will take time, but you'll be fine."
"You don't understand," spoke Natalie, eyes narrowing.
Brooke glared, her previous sympathetic look changed to one of anger and annoyance. Before Natalie had the chance, Brooke grabbed the photograph from Natalie's tight grasp. "This is what is causing you from moving on," she said waving the picture in front of Natalie. "You need to stop this, stop staring at this picture, stop remembering. Then, you'll be fine." And before Natalie could prevent it, Brooke ripped the photograph in two—torn it right down the middle, right between Natalie and Keith—separating them.
Natalie's let out a small sob, as she watched the two pieces of the picture flutter to the ground. The two pieces fluttered away, away from her.
Just like Keith. She stared at the two pieces for a few minutes, eyes misting over even more, before the image became too blurry and she couldn't see it. Couldn't see him anymore, couldn't see them together anymore. They were torn apart…
She turned to face Brooke. "Fine, no," she laughed bitterly. "I'll never be fine. He took a part of me when he died; a part of me I'll never be able to get back," she stated, eyes cloudy.
"What's that?" asked Brooke.
A tear finally fell, sliding down her cheek, she didn't bother to wipe it away, more would follow. "He took my heart."
Natalie awoke, breathing deeply, wiping away the tears that were sliding down her face. She gulped back a sob, sat up in her bed, quickly turning on the light.
Keith wasn't dead, not yet, was he? That had to have been a nightmare; Brooke would never have done that…ripped her picture. With shaking hands, Natalie quickly opened the drawer to her nightstand, and breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing the picture still there, still in one piece, whole. It had to have been a nightmare, the picture was still in one piece, so it wasn't true, he wasn't dead.
She had just seen him earlier today—he was still here with her, alive, right? It was just a nightmare. It was not real. It couldn't be real. She still had time left with him, she had to. Running a shaky hand through her hair, she glanced over at her phone every few seconds. He was sleeping right now, she shouldn't call him. She was just being stupid, irrational.
But she had to; part of her worried that it hadn't been a just nightmare and that it had happened, even though the picture was still here, whole, together. That it was real. Grabbing her phone, she quickly dialed his number, willing him to answer…to hear his voice. That's all she wanted, just his voice.
It kept ringing and more tears built up in her eyes, but just before Natalie was about to cancel the call, to give up all hope, a sleep-filled voice answered the phone. "Hello?"
Natalie choked back thankful tears. His voice. "You're here," she whispered.
"I'm here, Natalie," he whispered. "I'm here."
Natalie couldn't believe today was the day—Graduation Day—the day she had been looking forward to since she had started high school. But now, when the had day arrived, she didn't have the same feelings of happiness and excitement that she previously thought she would; instead, she felt dread, pain, and unbearable sadness. Ever since she had met Keith things had been different—were different. And, now, she couldn't bring herself to care about anything other than the fact that soon, she was going to loose him. To her, that was all that mattered, all that she constantly thought about.
"You look so beautiful, darling," sighed her mother as Natalie walked down the stairs in her graduation dress. It was a simple red dress with straps that were beaded with blue and purple gems, it fell below her knees and it flowed gracefully as she moved. She walked over to where her mom was sitting and grabbed her blue graduation robe, putting it over her dress, and grabbing her graduation cap to put on later.
"Thanks," she smiled, but she knew it looked forced.
Her mom noticed. "You all right, dear?"
Natalie nodded, keeping her eyes averted from her mom's powerful gaze. "Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. I just can't believe today is the day."
"We're very proud of you," smiled her mom. "Are you ready to give your speech?"
"Yeah, I have it all ready." She checked the pocket of her robe to make sure it was there, but knew she wouldn't need it. She wasn't going to read what she had written a few weeks ago, no, she was going to speak from her heart.
Her mom stood up, still smiling. "I can't believe my girl is Valedictorian and is going to Duke." She gave Natalie a tight hug, which Natalie weakly gave back. Why was it that none of that sounded exciting anymore? It felt like she was going on the wrong track.
Everything just felt wrong.
When she arrived at the auditorium in which they were holding their graduation ceremony, people greeted her, tried to talk to her, but she was only looking for one person. She was unable to spot him before they were ushered to their seats. She sat down and tuned out everything and everyone around her. She could barely remember walking up, grabbing her diploma and sitting back down.
Her thoughts were elsewhere, until she heard her name being called to give her speech. Had time gone by that quickly? That was the problem now, time was moving by too fast. She wanted to stop it, put it at a standstill and let herself breath, think, live. For just a little while, just until things calmed down. When she got to the stage, the lights were blinding her eyes, but she still trailed her eyes over the students looking for him. She had to find him before her speech; she couldn't do this without knowing he was there, watching her, listening.
And he was. He was sitting in the way back—his gaze right on her, it gave her the confidence to start.
"Hello Class of 2006, I'm Natalie Anderson. I'm sure everyone here expects me to stand up and give a long talk about school, and how it has influenced my life. But, the thing is, I'm not going to do that, because school is just school and trust me when I say that there are more important things out there.
"You see, as far as I can remember school has always been everything to me—I had to get straight A's, join every club. If I didn't do well I would feel aggravated and upset, but the thing was…in the mist of all that, I lost myself. I forgot who I was. That was until one day, I met someone and he showed me what I was missing—life. He showed me how to really live life, and how getting A's and joining every club wasn't everything. I guess I passed everything in my life, but life itself. I failed that course.
"This guy, he always tells me: the sky's the limit, and I really hope he's right. I hope the sky is the limit. Really bad stuff happens to people, really bad, and I just want you guys to learn, if anything, from this speech, that life is the most important thing you have. But, don't take it too seriously, and when bad stuff happens don't stop going for your dreams. Remember don't take life for granted. So, go out there live your life, and shoot for your dreams, because you never know when it will all end. Just like…that."
Students, faculty, parents, grandparents started clapping, but Natalie kept her gaze focused on Keith. She mouthed, 'I love you' to him seconds before everyone threw up their graduation hats and started cheering for the end of high school, for a new journey in their lives, causing her and Keith's gaze to break. When the hats fell to the ground, and Natalie could see the crowd again, he was gone.
He had left.
In reality it had been only hours since Natalie had last seen Keith at their graduation, but to her it seemed like days. Even afterwards, when everyone had been huddled around together celebrating, she couldn't keep from looking for him, even though she knew he had left. Knew he was gone.
Time, for once, seemed to slowly pass by as Natalie and her family celebrated at dinner—the problem was all she wanted to do was go talk to Keith, to be with him. To her, there was nothing to celebrate. Finally, hours later, she was able to escape her family and friends and drive to the one and only place she wanted to be.
Natalie knocked on the front door of Keith's house, waiting anxiously for someone to answer the door, so she could finally be with him. "Natalie, hello," said Mr. Zetterstrom as he opened the door. "Nice speech, I really enjoyed it," he smiled with a knowing look in his eyes.
"Thanks, um, is Keith home?" she asked.
"No, he's not," started Mr. Zetterstrom, but at the look on Natalie's face he hurriedly added. "He's actually at the park."
"The park?" repeated Natalie, making sure she heard right. That was a place he never went, at least he never mentioned going there.
"Yup, went over there a few hours ago, you should go talk to him."
"I'm planning on it," she smiled. She thanked him and he pointed to the direction in which to go.
Natalie walked a few blocks before she caught sight of the park. Soon after she caught sight of Keith who was on a swing, slowly drifting back and forth, he looked to be thinking about something very serious.
"Hi," she said as she sat down in the swing next to him, beginning to slowly swing back and forth as well.
He stopped swinging to look at her. "How'd you—"
"Your dad, he told me."
He nodded and looked away from her, slowly drifting back and forth on his swing again.
"So, um, you left, after, you know," started Natalie.
He stopped swinging, and sighed deeply. He wouldn't look at her. "Yeah, I did. Sorry, about that."
"I understand," whispered Natalie.
He turned sharply to look at her, eyes flashing. "You do?"
Natalie tensed. "We'll, I'm trying to. Are you all right?" Keith tensed as well. "Keith?"
He jumped up, taking deep breaths. Natalie stood up too, not taking her eyes off of him. "No, I'm not all right!" He kicked at the sand and it flew up, sprinkling on both of them. "Everything is just screwed up!" He threw his arms up in the air.
"Did something happen?" she asked, trying to figure out what was making him so upset.
He gave a curt half nod. "Yes! This wasn't how it was supposed to be; how this was supposed to happen."
"How what was supposed to happen?" asked Natalie, keeping her voice calm and soothing.
"I wasn't supposed to care that I am dying. But I do, and I don't like it!"
"Keith, that's totally normal," sympathized Natalie.
He shook his head widely, his eyes blazing with anger, sadness, or both Natalie couldn't tell. "Not for me it isn't. I've told you before, my life was shit I never cared I was going to die. Sometimes, most of the time, I thought it was a good thing. But, now, everyday I wake up I think about all of the stuff that I'm going to miss and I want it to stop, I want it to end!"
He stopped to take a deep shaky breath, his anger subsided and he whispered, sadly. "I just don't want to care anymore." He stopped, breathing deeply, gaze focused on the ground.
Natalie walked over to him and pulled him into a hug. At first, he fought to get away, but Natalie held him tightly and, finally, he gave in, and weakly wrapped his arms around her, placing his forehead onto her shoulder, taking in shaky breaths.
A few minutes, once he controlled his breathing, he spoke. "I don't want to miss anything; I want…I don't know…I'm so confused, so confused," he said the last part in a whisper.
Not knowing what to say to comfort him, Natalie did the only thing she could think of—she hugged him tighter. A few seconds later he lifted his head up, looking into her eyes. "You know what I'm going to miss the most, though?" His voice cracked a tiny bit.
"What?" asked Natalie, voice soft. He lifted his hand, running his fingers through her hair.