That night, I lay in my ancient mahogany bed in my room, like generations of Wates before me.
Books beneath me. Broken cell phone next to me. Old iPod hanging around my neck. Even my road
map was back on the wall again. Lena had taped it up herself. It didn’t matter how comfortable
everything was. I couldn’t sleep—that’s how much thinking I had to do.
At least, remembering.
When I was little, my grandfather died. I loved my grandfather, for a thousand reasons I
couldn’t tell you, and a thousand stories I could barely remember.
After it happened, I hid out back, up in the tree that grew halfway out of our fence, where the
neighbors used to throw green peaches at my friends and me, and where we used to throw them at
I couldn’t stop crying, no matter how hard I jammed my fists into my eyes. I guess I never
realized people could die before.
First my dad came outside and tried to talk me down out of that stupid tree. Then my mom
tried. Nothing they said could make me feel any better. I asked if my grandpa was in Heaven, like
they said in Sunday school. My mom said she wasn’t sure. It was the historian in her. She said no
one really knew what happened when we died.
Maybe we became butterflies. Maybe we became people all over again. Maybe we just died and
I only cried harder. A historian isn’t really what you’re looking for in that kind of situation.
That’s when I told her I didn’t want Poppi to die, but more than that, I didn’t want her to die, and
even more than that, I didn’t want to die either. Then she broke down.
It was her dad.
I came down from the tree on my own afterward, and we cried together. She pulled me into
her arms, right there on the back steps of Wate’s Landing, and said I wouldn’t die.
I wasn’t going to die, and neither would she.
After that, the only thing I remember was going inside and eating three pieces of raspberrycherry
pie, the kind with the crisscross sugar crust. Someone had to die before Amma would make
Eventually, I grew up and grew older and stopped looking for my mom’s lap every time I felt
like crying. I even stopped going in that old tree. But it was years before I realized my mom had lied
to me. It wasn’t until she left me that I even remembered what she’d said.
I don’t know what I’m trying to say. I don’t know what any of this is really about.
Why we bother.
Why we’re here.
Why we love.
I had a family, and they were everything to me, and I didn’t even know it when I had them. I
had a girl, and she was everything to me, and I knew it every second I had her.
I lost them all. Everything a guy could ever want.
I found my way home again, but don’t be fooled. Nothing’s the same as before. I’m not sure
I’d want it to be.
Either way, I’m still one of the luckiest guys around.
I’m not a church kind of a person, not when it comes to praying. To be honest, for me it never
gets much past hoping. But I know this, and I want to say it. And I really hope someone will listen.
There is a point. I don’t know what it is, but everything I’ve had, and everything I’ve lost, and
everything I felt—it meant something.
Maybe there isn’t a meaning to life. Maybe there’s only a meaning to living.
That’s what I’ve learned. That’s what I’m going to be doing from now on.
And loving, sappy as it sounds.
Lena Duchannes. Her name rhymes with rain.
I’m not falling anymore. That’s what L says, and she’s right.
I guess you could say I’m flying.
We both are.
And I’m pretty sure somewhere up there in the real blue sky and carpenter bee greatness,
Amma’s flying, too.
We all are, depending on how you look at it. Flying or falling, it’s up to us.
Because the sky isn’t really made of blue paint, and there aren’t just two kinds of people in this
world, the stupid and the stuck. We only think there are. Don’t waste your time with either—with
anything. It’s not worth it.
You can ask my mom, if it’s the right kind of starry night. The kind with two Caster moons
and a Northern and a Southern Star.
At least I know I can.
I get up in the night and make my way across the creaking floorboards. They feel astonishingly real,
and there isn’t a moment I think I’m dreaming. In the kitchen, I take an armful of spotless glasses
out of the cupboard that hangs over the counter.
One by one, I set them on the table in a row.
Empty except for moonlight.
The refrigerator light is so bright, it surprises me. On the bottom shelf, tucked behind a rotting
head of unchopped cabbage, I find it.
Just as I suspected.
I might not have wanted it anymore, and I might not have been here to drink it, but I knew
there was no way Amma had stopped buying it.
I rip open the cardboard and fold out the spout—something I could do in my sleep, which is
practically the state I’m in. I couldn’t make Uncle Abner a pie if my life depended on it, and I don’t
even know where Amma keeps the recipe for Tunnel of Fudge.
But this I know.
One by one, I fill the glasses.
One for Aunt Prue, who saw everything without blinking.
One for Twyla, who gave up everything without hesitating.
One for my mom, who let me go not once but twice.
One for Amma, who took her place with the Greats so I could take mine in Gatlin again.
A glass of chocolate milk doesn’t seem like enough, but it isn’t really the milk, and we all know
that—all of us here, anyway.
Because the moonlight shimmers in the empty wooden chairs around me, and I know, as
always, that I am not alone.
I’m never alone.
I push the last glass through the patch of moonlight across the scarred kitchen table. The light
flutters like the twinkling of a Sheer’s eye.
“Drink up,” I say, but it’s not what I mean.
Especially not to Amma and my mom.
I love you, and I always will.
I need you, and I keep you with me.
The good and the bad, the sugar and the salt, the kicks and the kisses—what’s come before and
what will come after, you and me—
We are all mixed up in this together, under one warm piecrust.
Everything about me remembers everything about you.
Then I take a fifth glass down from the shelf, the last of our clean glasses. I fill it to the brim
with milk, so close that I have to slurp the top to keep it from overflowing.
Lena laughs at the way I always fill my cup as full as it can go. I feel her smiling in her sleep.
I raise my glass to the moon and drink it myself.
Life has never tasted sweeter.