Home > The Love That Split the World

The Love That Split the World
Emily Henry

1

The night before my last official day of high school, she comes back. I feel her in my room before I even open my eyes. That’s how it’s always been.

“Wake up, Natalie,” she whispers, but she knows I’m awake—if a fly buzzed in the hallway, I’d wake up—just like she knows the drooling, snoring rug of a Saint Bernard at the foot of my bed, the watchdog Mom and Dad got to help me sleep better, will keep drooling and snoring through our entire conversation.

I open my eyes on darkness, push back the covers, and sit up. The crickets are thrumming outside my window, and the blue-green moonlight shines through the foliage across my carpet.

There she is, sitting in the rocking chair in the corner, as she has every time she’s visited me since I was a little girl. Her ancient features are shrouded in night, her thick, gray-black hair loose down her shoulders. She wears the same ash-colored clothes as always, and though it’s been nearly three years, she looks no older than the last time I saw her, or even the first time I saw her. If anything, she might look a little younger. Probably because I’m older, and generally less terrified of wrinkles and age spots than I used to be.

I contemplate screaming—twisting the knob on the bedside lamp, doing anything my eighteen years have taught me will make Them disappear, just to teach her a lesson for leaving me for so long, for letting me think she was finally gone for good.

But despite my bitterness, I don’t want her to vanish, so I stay still.

“Nice of you to stop by,” I whisper. The words hurt my throat, which hasn’t woken up yet. My vision’s still settling too, piecing together the wrinkled details of her face, the laugh lines around her mouth, and the sweet crow’s-feet at the corners of her dark eyes. “Where have you been?”

“I’ve been right here,” she says. It’s one of her typical, cryptic answers.

“It’s been almost three years.”

“Not for me it hasn’t.”

Again—for the thousandth time—I survey her tattered shawl and the threadbare dress hanging on her bony body. “No,” I say, “you’re outside of time, aren’t you?”

Her right shoulder shifts in a shrug. “Your words, not mine. Have any others come to see you?”

I rub the heels of my hands over my eye sockets, stalling for time. I’m ashamed to admit that no one’s come and that I know exactly why. Though I want to be mad at her for abandoning me, it’s my fault I haven’t seen her in three years. I caused her disappearance. But it doesn’t matter whether I admit it or not—she already knows everything anyway. As if to prove that point, she says, “I think Gus farted.”

I lean over the bed and look down at the shaggy dog. His tongue is lolling in his sleep, and his perpetually oozing nose is busily sniffing. One of his back legs starts to kick in response to a dream, and the horrible smell she must’ve been referring to hits me.

I cover my nose with my forearm. “Ugh, Gus. You’re a monster, and I love you, and you’re disgusting.”

I wait for the worst of the odor to pass before I answer her question. “There haven’t been others. They’re all gone. Dr. Langdon thought the EMDR therapy worked. She said that’s why you stopped coming. Apparently any trauma I had was resolved. I’m a lucky girl. Or I was until five seconds ago.”

EMDR: eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It’s a type of psychotherapy used to treat the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and, in my case, to shut out the woman in front of me and the various others who’ve appeared at my bedside over the years.

She thinks for a moment. “You know, just a moment ago—a moment for me, that is, three years for you—I told you something about Dr. Langdon. Did you pass it along?”

I keep staring hard at her.

“Do you remember what I told you, Natalie?” she presses.

I nod once. “You said she would die in a fire.”

“And?”

“She’s still alive,” I supply. “She also suggested I try Ativan, though of course Mom didn’t approve. Apparently this is just a stressful time in a teenager’s life.”

God—the private name I gave her years ago, though she insists I call her Grandmother—laughs and looks down at her weathered hands, folded in her lap. “Girl, you have no idea.”

“Were you ever my age?” I ask.

Her thick eyebrows rise up over her cloudy dark eyes. “Yes,” she says quietly.

“And it was stressful?”

She jams her mouth shut. “When I was your age, I knew nothing. Nothing about myself, nothing about the universe or about heartbreak. I remember being terrified to grow up, afraid of losing my friends, sure I’d lose my mind. Life felt like a blender that wanted to eat me. But the things that happened to me when I was just a little bit older than you are—those things made the blender feeling seem like a bubble bath.”

I look down at the tear in my quilt. Mom made this blanket from a pattern while my birth mother was pregnant with me. It was going to belong to a different baby, from an adoption that fell through. Instead, it became mine when I became my parents’. “I missed you,” I tell Grandmother.

“I missed you too.”

“I thought you said it was only a minute for you.”

“It was.”

For a while we’re both silent, staring at one another. Then she asks, “How are the twins?”

“Good,” I tell her. “Coco’s transferring to a performing arts high school next year. Jack’s still playing football. Mom’s so proud of us all that she’s liable to explode any day now, so that’s good. At the end of summer she and Dad are taking us to San Francisco then up to Seattle.” The trip is a tradition they’ve had since they got married. Mom had never really traveled anywhere before, and her only reservation about marrying Dad was that she knew he loved Kentucky so much he’d never leave. They were poor then, but Dad still promised they’d see the world, or, at the very least, the continental U.S. Thus the annual Cleary Family Road Trip was born.

Grandmother closes her eyes for a long moment, and their corners crinkle prettily when they open. “I thought this year was Boulder down through Denver and into Mesa Verde,” she says. “Jack gets food poisoning, and Coco won’t eat anywhere that’s not a chain after that.”

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