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Sophie gazed out the window, staring at the oak tree shedding its leaves. It’s been two months since Sophie last stepped outside the house. Her single mother has long given up trying to persuade Sophie to go to school. Her father, a sergeant stationed in Korea, probably doesn’t even know about Sophie’s problem. She had no one to blame -- not her parents, not her friends, and certainly not Joel -- but herself for what happened.
Sophie met Joel in her sophomore year. The moment she set her eyes on Joel, Sophie knew he was the boy of her dream, the alluring apple in the Garden of Eden. For the next two years, Joel and Sophie were the “it” couple on campus. They did everything together, from cuddling under the blank on a snowy day to watching the sunset on the roof of Sophie’s apartment. Sophie loved him, and she was certain Joel loved her too. On their two-year anniversary, Joel took Sophie to a fancy restaurant. Sophie couldn’t have imagined a more perfect night. On their way home, Joel held Sophie’s hands and whispered the three words she will never forget.
“I love you.”
Those were his last words.
Before Sophie could reply, she saw a bright pair of headlights approaching towards Joel’s side. Then, everything went dark.
Sophie lied on the hospital bed, refusing to believe the doctor.
“You’re lucky to have survived the drink-and-drive accident…”
“He fell in a deep coma…”
“We had to let him go…”
The doctor’s words echoed in her head. Sophie shut her eyes, never wanting to see the light again.
“Hey, sweetheart, it’s dad.”
He rarely called.
“Sophie,” he broke the silence, “let me tell you something I’ve kept to myself for all these years.”
“In high school, I knew a girl, Stella. She was my dream, the girl I wanted to marry. On the night before graduation, we went to a party. The party got out of control. People were doing drugs. Stella…she overdosed. She never received her diploma.”
Sophie heard his voice crack.
“My life shattered after her death. I dropped out of the four-year college I was supposed to attend. I avoided friends and family. I felt guilty for her death. I should’ve intervened. I could’ve saved her life.”
“Sophie, I see so much of myself in you. But I don’t want you to fall into the same pit of despair. Sophie, don’t let Joel’s death affect the rest of your life.”
By then, tears were rolling down Sophie’s face. Though thousands of miles separated Sophie from her dad, she never felt as close to him as that moment. He actually understood her.
“Remember, honey, it’s not your fault.”
With that, the line disconnected.
The clock on the wall read 7:50 a.m. It wasn’t too late.
Sophie put on the oversized red sweater and stepped out the door.
Breathing in fresh air, Sophie whispered the words she longed to say since she last heard them.
“I love you.”