Just Once More
Alex quietly walked up to the casket. The funeral home was empty now. Friends and family had cleared out long ago. Even his parents had gone home to rest.
It was just him. Him and his sister. Like it always was. Like how it should have been.
Rain. Muffled, but clearly audible in the silent room. And somewhere, Alex could hear a drip. Water, coming in through a leak elsewhere in the funeral home.
But that didn't matter.
"Mei..." He mumbled her name as he looked at her.
She was the same. His cute baby sister looked like she was just sleeping. Like she would jump up anytime to say it was just a prank. That he was silly for worrying so much.
But she wouldn't.
He knew that more than anyone else.
He wanted to ask her why she did it. He wanted to know why she never told him. He wanted to hold her by her shoulders and demand to know why she didn't say anything sooner. He wanted her to tell him why she didn't rely on her older brother like she did in the past.
Yes. That was what he wanted.
...But he already knew why.
Because his sister... Mei was just like that. Trying her best to cheer everyone else up. Smiling... always smiling. A bright and radiant expression that lit up the room.
And one that he would never see again.
Alex couldn't say anything. His mouth opened and he wanted to say it all. How he was stupid and should have been there. How he would give everything up if he could see her again. How he didn't care about graduating with honors or that damned Ivy League acceptance letter. How he just wanted her to be happy and not worry anymore.
But he couldn't say it. And what was the point in saying it?
Mei was gone. No matter what he said now, what he did from this point on... she wouldn't be there to experience it.
Rain. The sound of water, dropping against the floor.
But this time, it wasn't due to a leak.
Alex brushed away his tears and kept looking at her.
This was the last time. After this, he wouldn't be able to see her again. The moment that morning came, she would be in the ground. Cold. Alone in the dark.
...What she hated the most and her worst fear.
But he couldn't do anything now. He couldn't get a blanket for her or turn on the radiator. He couldn't turn on a nightlight or sit with her in the dark until she fell asleep.
Mei. His baby sister. The one who looked up to him her entire life. Who relied on him and trusted him to keep her safe. Who wanted him to be happy and didn't make a fuss even when their parents had to work overseas.
The one who he took for granted and didn't see drowning while he was on a ship to success. Who he didn't see suffering even while he drove them to and from school for an entire year.
Alex's knees gave out and he knelt in front of Mei's casket. "Mei, I...!"
The words didn't come. The countless emotions, regrets, sorrows... All that Alex could do was sit there in silence.
She was so close. Mei was right there. But no matter what he did, his words wouldn't reach her.
"So someone's still here, huh?"
An aged male voice. Raspy and grating.
Alex immediately stood up and looked towards the speaker.
Like he sounded, it was an old man. Frizzy white hair and countless wrinkles on his face. A slouched posture and a gnarled walking stick to keep support him.
"...Who are you?"
He looked vaguely familiar. And from the old man's suit, he seemed to be here to pay respects. But Alex didn't recognize him.
The old man ignored Alex's question and walked over to Mei's casket, looking down at her. "So young... You must regret it a lot."
Alex winced, feeling a sudden pang of guilt and regret. But he quickly schooled his expression.
The old man shook his head. "No need to hide it, young man." He looked up at Alex and said, "Youth is the time to wear your heart on your sleeve. It gets a lot harder when you get older, you know?"
"...Thank you, Grandpa."
A bare minimum level of respect. Alex didn't know him, but the old man was probably an older relative of the family. Not only that, but the old man was giving advice and trying to console him.
"Grandpa, huh?" The old man chuckled. "I suppose I'm that old now." He placed his hand on his back and pressed it, straightening his posture with a few cracks. But after that he didn't say anything else, only quietly staring at Mei.
Seeing that, Alex ignored him and focused his attention back on his sister.
...They did a good job. Her dark bangs were neatly brushed. Just enough makeup was applied to give her skin color and hide how pale it was when he found her. And she was even wearing her favorite outfit. That frilly dress she made to go to the Anime convention.
...The one that she never wore because he was too busy to take her.
Alex felt another pang of guilt.
Just how many things did he miss? Just how many requests did he turn down with the excuse that he was too busy?
"You regret it that much, huh?"
Alex blinked and realized that the old man was looking at him.
Alex laughed and said, "Regret? No. I'm just..."
The old man shook his head and then looked down at Alex's hands.
Alex was confused why until he followed the man's gaze.
Blood, dripping down on the floor.
...Right. He had forgotten to clip his nails since he found Mei. He barely remembered to clean up in time to see her off.
So because of that, when he subconsciously clenched his fists to contain his emotions...
"Little Mei wouldn't want to see her big brother like this, would she?"
"...No. She wouldn't."
Alex let out a deep sigh and slowly unclenched his hands, staring at them.
His pale skin was stained red. Not only that, but bloody crescent moons were pierced into his palm.
"Here." The old man reached into his suit and pulled out a few napkins. "Picked them up on the way here. Figured I might need them, but it looks like you need them more."
Alex took the napkins and held them against his palms, waiting for the bleeding to stop.
The old man turned back to look at Mei. "It's a tragedy. Dying so young after being forced to the edge. Something that could have been prevented, if only someone knew. If only she reached out."
The old man looked at Alex and said, "It must be worse for you. After all... you were the one who saw her every day, weren't you?"
The old man held up his hands. "Fine. This old man will shut his mouth. But before then..." He turned to Alex and said, "Do you mind answering a question?"
Alex paused. "...What is it?"
"If you could save her, would you do it?"
Alex's heart skipped a beat.