A Year to the Day - Robin Benway

August 17

365 Days After

ON THE MORNING of the first anniversary of her older sister Nina’s death, Leo wakes up, looks at her mussed, tangled bedsheets, and bursts into tears.

The house is quiet around her, almost too quiet, like it’s holding a secret, or maybe it’s still mourning like the rest of them—missing Nina between its walls, Nina thundering down the stairs, slamming the door behind her before bursting back in a few hours later, her voice echoing into the rafters. It sort of reminds Leo of when her parents got divorced and her dad moved out, his presence making him feel like a ghost even though he was still alive and living just a few miles away with Leo’s stepmom, Stephanie.

“Leo?”

Leo sits up a little and pushes her hair out of her face and wipes at her cheeks. The day already feels warm and bone-dry, even with the windows all closed. “Yeah?” Her voice is scratchy and raw, and she clears her throat. “Come in.”

Her mom opens the door. Her hair is all tangled, too, and she’s got a robe wrapped tightly around her, a mug of tea in her hands. “You awake?”

“Well, my eyes are open, so I guess technically, yes,” Leo replies, but scoots over so her mom can come sit down next to her. In the doorway, Denver, their corgi, peeks into the room and then waddles in before turning around three times and settling himself on a pile of Leo’s dirty laundry.

“How are you doing?” her mom asks.

Leo just shrugs.

“Yeah, me too,” her mom says with a sigh. “It’s like I’ve been waiting for this day and dreading it at the same time.”

“Worst finish line ever,” Leo says, which makes her mom smile a little.

“Your dad texted me this morning,” her mom says. “He and Stephanie are going to bring the baby over a little early just to see if they can get her down for a nap first.”

Leo feels her heart twitch at the mention of her three-month-old half sister, the surprise addition who has become a steady joy. “Cool,” she says. “East said he’d come over a little bit early, too, just if we need help.”

“That’s nice,” her mom says, nodding absently at the mention of Nina’s old boyfriend. “He can maybe help move the rosebush into the backyard.”

They had all gone back and forth about an appropriate tribute for Nina, as if there was anything in the world that could adequately honor her. Leo’s dad had suggested releasing balloons, which Leo and her stepmom, Stephanie, quickly shot down. “That is so not okay for the environment,” Leo had said, while Stephanie took the more practical approach: “Who’s going to transport two hundred balloons from the store to the house, hmm?”

Finally, they decided on a rosebush, and they met at a fancy gardening store to choose one. Leo had had no idea that there were so many different kinds of roses, but she, her dad, her mom, and Stephanie had all finally agreed on the Daring Spirit rose, which was a fancy kind of rose that looked tie-dyed and chaotic. “It’s perfect,” Leo had said as soon as she heard the name, and all of the adults murmured in agreement.

The baby had been there, too, bundled in a complicated-looking piece of fabric that wrapped around Stephanie’s middle, and when they all finally agreed on the rose, she let out a squawk of approval and then fell asleep.

There’s a hole in the ground of the backyard now, waiting for the tribute planting. Leo can see it from her window.

“It’s going to be a beautiful day,” Leo’s mom says, leaning over the bed so she can move the curtain a bit.

Leo rests her head against her mom’s shoulder. “Kind of wish I could just stay in bed all day, though.”

Her mom smiles ruefully, then pats Leo’s knee. “Me too, sweetheart.”

Her mom’s hired a caterer for the memorial and the house is as clean as it’s going to get, so Leo hops on her bike and heads over to her dad and stepmom’s house to keep an eye on the baby so they can get ready. “I’ve never been happier to see you in my life,” Stephanie says when she opens the door. Half her hair is in hot rollers and she’s holding the baby, who looks at Leo with a suspicious gaze.

But once Leo’s inside, Stephanie says, “You doing okay?” and gives Leo a one-armed squeeze as her dad comes around the corner. He looks tired but