Fighting for Forever - J.B. Salsbury


Four years ago . . .

It’s cold. Way colder than I thought it’d be. Even as my bare legs quake and I shove my hands into the pockets of my shorts, I’m shocked at how it’s possible to be so cold and yet sweat simultaneously.

Lana would hate this. She despises the cold.

Reality washes over me in a sickening wave, intensified by the stagnant smell of death mixed with the pungent stench of formaldehyde. Lana can’t feel the cold. Not anymore.

“Miss Langley.” The chill of the coroner’s voice is absent of emotion. Sterile, just like the room. “Are you sure you don’t want to wait for your parents.”

“No. They . . . they aren’t coming.” Her body has already been identified through dental records. There’s really no reason for me to even be here, other than the fact that I just have to see my sister to believe she’s truly gone.

“The remains are”—he fumbles with a set of keys in his coat pocket—“disturbing. I just want to make sure you’re fully aware of what you’re about to witness.”

The remains?

“Her, not the. My sister is a her.” A twinge of anger boils behind my chest as I glare at the middle-aged man. His hair is short with only a few hints of silver that give away his age. His slim stature and thick glasses combined with the formal way he speaks would classify him as a nerd. A dead-body-studying nerd. “I’m aware.”

He nods. “Very well, follow me.” He directs me down a short corridor to a private room that is intended for family viewings. Motioning to the door, he studies me when I don’t move through it. “I’m happy to stay, or I can leave you if you’d like.”

I nod, staring blankly at the wood panel that separates me from Lana. Not Lana, but her corpse.

He clears his throat. “Miss Langley—”

“I’m good,” I whisper. “I’d like to be with her alone.”

He stalls for a few seconds before walking away, the only sound the squeaking of his shoes against the linoleum, which plays second to the pulse in my ears.

I lift my hand to the door and watch in eerie slow motion, as if my arm isn’t an extension of my body. Deliberately, inch by inch, I push into the room. A stark white sheet draped over a table reveals the telltale lumps of her body. First her feet then the dip of her legs, belly, chest, and finally the contours of her face all shrouded in white.

I’m stuck. My hand braces the door open, but I’m unable to move. Images of the last time I saw her flicker through my mind. She was headed back to campus after having dinner at the house. It was chaos as dinners usually are, and she was smiling. It was rare, but she was smiling. Dad walked her to her car and prayed for her safety as he always did.

He prayed for her safety.

I pinch closed my eyes and shake off the fury that wants so badly to be released to the surface. That was the last anyone ever saw of her.

She never made it back to the dorms. Her roommate assumed she’d stayed at home for the weekend. We’d assumed she was too busy studying to call. It wasn’t until almost forty-eight hours later that we got the phone call.

Her car had been found.


Along with her body.

Her body, so warm and full of life when she left, now lies still in a cold room, alone.

I force my feet to move and they carry me in. I fight the urge to squint against the bright light that bounces off the bleached surroundings. My legs lock up just before my belly hits the table.

“Svetlana?” My voice shakes; nerves and emotion have me rattled. “It’s me.” My eyes tear up, and my heart lodges in my throat when she doesn’t reply.

Even though I know she’s gone, I’m so desperate to hear her voice just one more time that I close my eyes and try to conjure it from memory. Yet nothing comes.

I blink open my eyes and scrutinize her form. I step closer. Her face. Even under the sheet, something’s different. Off somehow. My hand hovers just above her chest, and I flex my fingers, taking in the lack of warmth. She’s really gone.

Why? A single tear escapes my eye, followed quickly by another. Why would a God so full of love and grace take the only real blood connection I have?

Other than the three years between us, we