The Prompt: Your most hated arch nemesis dies. Strangely, they included you in their will. What did they leave you to prove that they truly and deeply cared for you?

Some people call it jealousy; I like to call it preferential treatment. I’ll was born into privilege, yet only my privilege was to live in her shadow. I never amounted to what she became, to what she strove for or what dreams she held in her heart.

Bitter tears filled everyone’s eyes. Eyeliner ran down their cheeks as they padded the salt water from their faces with wrinkled Kleenexes.  My face is dry; I’m black sheep amongst my family and now again amongst the procession.

She was an honor student. 4.0, magna cum laude not just in high school, but college and grad school as a kicker. Aeronautical engineer and a proclaimed ‘prodigy of her time.’  Me?  I went to school. I graduated with a 3.8, but that’s just normal.  Not noteworthy.

My parents were proud of her, they doted on her and talked about her accomplishments as if they were her own. Dinner talk with friends and family were always about her, about getting into grad school, about getting a job at NASA, about working with the team that meant to bring man to Mars.

Here was no different, even after she was gone she was the topic of conversation. “A horrible tragedy,” they called it. “A travesty. She was too young.”  A family friend holds my mother who mourns as if she’s lost her one and only child.

How could I live up to her? How could I become anything close to what she had achieved? They loved on her and treated her as if she was their only child.  Starting my own business didn’t get so much as a glimmer of pride from my father.

Pete’s Woodworking, was emblazoned on the front of the store. I’ll never forget getting the keys to the shop. I’ll never forget the feeling of opening the door for the first time and bathing in the sight of my own accomplishment. I did something, I made it. I started something and I was good at it. March 14th is celebrated in my mind more than any other day of the year. It was the day I achieved my dream.

But were they there? Were they proud of me? Did my parents brag about their son’s booming business?

That same weekend she received the letter that would send her somewhere off world. A letter that would honor her family. Pete’s Woodworking would be nothing more than a side note in the history of our family.

She had showed up the day I bought the unit, she drove up as I was first turning on the lights and inspecting the gamble I was about to make. She snapped my picture in front of the sign and smiled mockingly while she did it.  She brought the letter with her, I hated her for it. She had to outshine my accomplishment, however small it was. I told her to leave, to go away.

And she did.

She left our town. She left our state, our country. She left the world behind.

Cassy was one of four sent on the expeditionary launch to Mars. I never saw her after that day. Frankly, I’m quite alright with that. I turned my back on her and her dreams and got to work.

The doctors say it was completely random, there were no signs indicating a rick for Aneurysm.  They called it a tragedy, I called it karma. Something bad was bound to happen to her, after she was given so much.

And they cry, and moan and complain to whatever God they worship. The priest talks, but I’m not listening. All I can think about is the work orders piling up on my desk while I sit here and watch this sham.

“May she rest in peace, and enjoy eternal life with our lord and savior, Jesus Christ.” The priest finishes. Her casket is lowered into the earth as a line of badged military men salute her. Even in death they worship her.

I shake hands and accept hugs from people who think I’m torn up by her death. Perhaps finally people will notice what I do. They’ll see I’ve made a successful business, that I’ve provided for my family and I’m making headway for achieving my own dream. Doubtful.

Lieutenant Barns makes his way towards me. God, here it comes, another tearful recollection of her life, of her final moments. I put on a pained smile and reach out a hand. He grabs my own with both of his and looks me in the eyes. He was there when she collapsed, just before being caught in the orbit of the moon, an event that would fruitlessly send them back to earth to try and save her.

He wipes a tear from his eye and apologizes, “this must be hard for you, she talked about you a lot,” he says, “she said you two weren’t close, but never said why.”

He stands and waits for a response, but I don’t give one. “She told me to give you this. It was part of her personal belongings left back at launch.”

He hands me a piece of paper and turns away.

I look down at what’s been put in my hands, the back is dated 03/14/2043.

I turn it over and see a picture of myself. I’m standing in front of an empty storefront. SOLD is placed in front of the For Sale sign hanging in the window. I can see her in the reflection of the window.

She’s looking at me and smiling. But not the mocking, sinister smile I saw before.  In my eyes I can see a small disdain for her, yet she exudes content. Her mouth smiles, her teeth, her eyes, her cheeks, her whole body smiles with her. She’s happy.

“Congrats Pete!” I read in her perfect writing. Something catches at the back of my throat as my eyes move down the picture. The words I’ve been waiting for my whole life catch my eye. Words I’ve witnessed and wanted to feel are meticulously written on the photo.

“I’m so proud of you… -Cass”

My lips tremble as I eye the women in the reflection of the window.   I can taste salted water on the corner of my mouth.  The words jumble and blur through tears filling my eyes as I read them over and over again:

I’m so proud of you…

I’m so proud of you…

I’m so proud of you…