Chapter 15: Wounded Soldier

I crumpled in the spot we'd sat a week ago. My eyes locked on the floor. Her face was clear in my mind. Everybody else was burying her with her daughter while I sat there. I couldn't bring myself to hear them talk about Carol and I knew I wouldn't be able to if they asked me to. I relived every memory I had of her. The pickaxe in Ed's skull, the awful look on her face at the C.D.C., all of it. She really was everything I had and I'd never even told her how I really felt about her. That would eat at me for years to come. I'd never told her. I didn't apologize to her for being the fuck-up that I am. I couldn't protect her and she was right next to me. She was right behind me and I couldn't even hold on.

The door opened. It was Carl. He kneeled next to me.

"I lost somebody too." He was staring at the same spot I was. "She was my best friend. And then I lost Shane, too. Now I'm alone."

I looked at him.

"I lost my best friend too." I was able to choke out. I'm alone now too.

We sat there like that just thinking for a long time. It was probably somewhere close to an hour. He stood up and left when his mother came to get him. She didn't say anything to me. Nobody did that day. Just Carl. I glanced at the window. The sun was setting. I rose to my feet and opened the door. The camp was all but deserted, everyone was in their tents. I had an idea. I headed for the woods.

I kneeled down, clutching them in my hand. Carol's grave was directly next to Sophia's. The reality really hit me then. I was sitting in the house all day thinking that Carol would come and talk to me, but I was never gonna see her again. She was laying right there in the ground. It was all my fault. She warned me not to leave and I left anyway. The one person I'd cared for was gone. She was never ever coming back. My eyes began to water.

"I'm sorry," I whispered. "I'm so sorry. For everything. For not being able to save Sophia. For not being able to tell you how I feel or what I'm thinking. For not being able to protect you. For never thanking you for everything you've done for me. I'm sorry, Carol."

Tears fell from my eyes. I couldn't stop them. There was no way to. They hit the dirt and soaked into it.

"Yer more than they thought you were, too," I whispered again. "More than just a housewife. I never deserved anybody like you to love me. I never deserved you. I never deserved you…"

My shoulders shook as sobs radiated through my body. Carol's gone. Carol's gone. Carol's gone. Carol's gone. I couldn't accept it. There was so much that went unsaid.

"I love you."

My voice was choppy. I loved her. I only realized it then, but I truly did. I would've done anything to be laying there in the ground instead of her.

"I'm sorry I did this to you. I'll never be able to forgive myself. I wish we had more time. I'm sorry, Carol. I'm sorry."

Something made me look up. The sun was barely peeking over the horizon and stars began to show up in the sky. I imagined Carol and Sophia looking down on me. Maybe even my Momma too.

"I love you so much, Carol. Please don't forget me."

I looked down at the graves. I placed one Cherokee Rose on Sophia's grave and one on Carol's. I knew I'd join them one day among the stars. We could be a family, then.

Just me, the little girl who got lost in the woods and the brave woman who was lost to the dead.