***SPOILERS AHEAD! ONLY READ IF YOU’VE READ COLLIDE***
White light filtered through the window, bathing the living room in an unnatural glow. I looked around, my eyes darting around as I tried to make sense of what was happening.
My dad was in the same position he’d been on the couch, his elbows propped on his legs. Jake’s hand was in mine, strong and warm. Eric held onto his hot chocolate, about to take a sip.
They were all frozen, as if someone had picked up a remote and pressed pause.
They were all frozen except for my mom.
“Annabelle.” She smiled, soft and loving, and sat forward on the couch. “I’m sure you have many questions.”
“What’s going on?” I said the first thought that popped into my mind. “Why are they—” I paused, motioning to the others. “Why are they like this?”
She walked over to me, reached for my hand, and guided me to sit with her on the love seat. A glow followed her while she walked… as if she were an angel.
“As you’ve figured out by now, the world that you’ve inhabited this week is not the same world into which you were born,” she started.
“You knew?” My mouth dropped open, and I leaned away from her, stunned. “All this time… this entire week. You knew and you said nothing?”
“I did.” She nodded. “You needed to forge your own path. And what an incredible path that was. You made me proud this week, Annabelle.”
“Thank you.” I wiped away a tear, my head spinning with confusion. “But what is this place?” I asked, lowering my hand back to my lap. “Why I am here? Why are we both here?”
“This is the in between,” she said slowly. “A world similar to your own, but different. More ideal.”
“So I’m dead?” I realized. “This place… it’s not real? It doesn’t exist?”
“It exists,” she said. “All realms exist. This world is no more or less real than the one you were born in. It’s simply the next step on your journey.”
“My journey… where?” My voice caught. “To Heaven?”
“That’s what we think of it as,” she said. “Although I don’t know for sure, since I haven’t been there yet. You see, when I arrived to this world—to the in between—I was also granted the opportunity to live out the final week of my life and right all the wrongs I wished I’d had a chance to fix the first time around.”
“What could you have possibly needed to fix?” I asked. “Your death was an accident.”
“It was.” She glanced out the window, her eyes far off, and then returned her focus to me. “But we’re not here to talk about me. We’re here to talk about you.”
“So it really happened?” I asked, all of the memories flooding through my mind at once. “That night in the gym… I died?”
“You passed from your original world,” she confirmed, and my heart dropped at the realization that right now, in the real world, I was gone.
My dad… Eric… Jake… they must all be heartbroken.
“Both of us—you and I—we were taken from our world too soon,” my mom continued. “We didn’t have the chance to live out our lives to completion. Our souls weren’t ready to continue on to the beyond. So we were brought here, to the in between, for the opportunity to mend.”
“How do you know all of this?” I asked. “Are you an angel?”
“No.” She smiled and brought her hair over her shoulder. “I’m the same as you are right now. I live here, in this world. You see, after I completed my initial week here, I was also given a choice. A choice that you’re going to have to make right now.”
“What kind of choice?” I spoke softly, scared.
I’d expected that something big was going to happen at midnight. I just hadn’t expected that it would be this.
“The choice to stay or continue on,” she said simply.
“I can stay?” I asked, my heart jumping into my throat. “Here? In this world?”
“Yes,” she said. “You can.”
“But what about Annabelle?” I asked, remembering the way Zac had lit up whenever he spoke about her. I couldn’t stay here without knowing what would happen to her—I would always feel guilty if I did. “What will happen to her?”
“Your memories will merge with hers,” she told me. “You and Annabelle will become one and the same.”
I glanced at Jake, my chest hurting. Because what would happen to my feelings for Jake once my memories merged with Annabelle’s? What would happen to my feelings for Zac?
I couldn’t be with both of them. It was going to be a big, confusing mess.
But I would figure it out. Somehow, I would choose.
After all, there were far worse things that could happen in life than having to choose between two incredible guys who loved me.
“And if I continue on?” I asked. “What will happen then?”
“To you?” my mom asked. “Or to Annabelle?”
“You will continue on to the beyond,” my mom said. “Your soul is repaired now, and you’re ready to make the journey. Annabelle will be the same as she’s always been. Everything you did here still will have happened, but the Universe will make the appropriate adjustments to everyone’s memories. It will be like you were never here.”
“What about you?” I asked. “Will you still be here if I stay?”
“I will.” She nodded, although her eyes brimmed with sadness. “But I’ll no longer have the knowledge that I do right now. You see, I retained my memories of our original world because I was here to watch over you. Now that I’ve done my duty, I’ll live out the rest of my natural life here with no knowledge that I’m not from this world. My responsibility as a guide will be passed on to you. When the time comes, you’ll guide someone else through their journey—someone close to you—and will explain everything to them when it’s time for them to make their decision. Then, like me, you’ll lose your knowledge of what this realm truly is and will live out your natural life in peace.”
“Like an angel,” I said. “I’ll be someone’s guardian angel.”
“Yes.” She smiled. “But I know this is a hard choice. So don’t feel like you need to rush it. Right now, you have all the time in the world.”
“I don’t need all the time in the world.” My eyes met with hers, and I straightened, confident that I was making the right choice. “Because I already know what I want. I want to stay.”