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Matt Keegan (Sitting Next to Me) MAG
Matt Keegan is sitting next to me. Matt Keegan is sitting next to me on the way back from the annual Boston field trip. Matt Keegan is sitting next to me and his words are echoing through my head. “You’re just scared, Gina. That’s all.” I turn around and look at my best friend, Shane, sitting in the back of the bus all by himself. Matt’s words leave my mind long enough for another thought to enter. “It’s Friday night. How long before Shane’s high?” As that thought lingers, Matt’s words come back. “You’re just scared, Gina. That’s all. You haven’t lost your faith. You’re just scared.”
“Gina,” Matt calls from the seat next to me. I turn quickly. I don’t want Matt to realize I had been staring at Shane. I turn so I can see Matt’s profile. I’ve never really talked to him before. Before today I have probably talked to Matt for a combined three minutes.
I look into the deep brown eyes next to me and stare at the piles of gorgeous soft brown curls. “I can see why you’re so confused,” he says to me. So many girls would die to be where I am sitting now. But I’m not looking at Matt, I’m listening. “I doubted my faith when my grandmother died. She was hit by a car a few years ago. She was in a coma for a week. I just sat there wondering how God, who was supposed to be so loving, could also be so cruel and let her suffer.”
I turn myself so that my back is resting against the bus window and I’m sitting cross-legged on the seat. Matt does the same so we are face-to-face. Our knees are pressed against each other and my long legs are cramped in this small area. His back is resting up against the arm rest. It has to be more uncomfortable for him than it is for me. I know he won’t complain.
“What happened?” I finally ask. I didn’t want to pry, but I want to hear the whole story.
Matt is still for a second. He takes off his glasses and folds them gently. He closes his eyes and rubs the lids before he picks up his glasses again. He doesn’t start talking until the delicate wire rims are perfectly placed on his nose.
“I realized Grandma wasn’t suffering and there was nothing I could do to save her.” A small tear is gathering in the corner of his eye. I can almost feel his pain. “I realized I was the one who was suffering.” He tries to hold in a sniffle.
I try to crane my neck back so I’m looking out the window behind me. “It’s different from watching my friend suffer,” I try to tell him. I can’t look him in the eye anymore.
“No, it’s not,” Matt says. He places his hand on my chin and guides my face back so I look at him again. “Your friend is dying slowly and you have to watch. There’s nothing you can do.” I let out a small, forced chuckle and look back at Matt. “What was that for?” he asks.
I suddenly feel ashamed. It’s almost as if Matt has walked in on me while I’m getting ready for a shower. I’m embarrassed at what he’s able to see, but I’m also ashamed. I’m naked and all of my emotions are out with nothing to cover them.
“You’re the only person who’s ever told me that,” I say. He looks puzzled. I try to explain. “That there was nothing I could do about it. Everyone seems to think that if I were a good enough friend I could convince him to stop. They don’t see how I’ve tried. They make it seem like I don’t love him because I don’t make him stop.”
“I’m not accusing you, Gina.” He puts an emphasis on the word “I’m.” We sit silently. I place my hand on my knee. I feel Matt’s warm hand cover it.
“You’re right,” he says.
I know he’s not talking about whether I can make Shane stop. “About what, Matt?”
“Your suffering is different from what I went through with Grandma.” My eyes stray briefly to Shane and then face back into the deep, mahogany eyes. I wonder why Matt believes this. I don’t even believe it and I’m the one who said it. Matt takes my hand and grasps it tightly. Yesterday I would have died of sheer joy if this was happening, but now it’s just a comfort.
“I never thought there was a way of saving her,” he explains. Something is trying to hold my eyes in his, but I feel I need to turn my head. “You feel you can save your friend. I knew my grandma was going to die. You have to live not knowing whether this will kill your friend.”
I look away, staring blankly at the teachers at the front of the bus. Matt grabs my other hand, interlocks his fingers with mine and places our hands on his knee. I look back at him. He wipes a tear off my cheek. “You’re scared, Gina,” he repeats. He doesn’t let go of my hand as he takes my chin. “You’re scared, Gina. You haven’t lost your faith. DON’T ever lose your faith. You’re just scared.”
This time he lets me look down at my lap. A tear falls into my lap. We stay sitting with our hands resting on Matt’s lap offering each other silent comfort until the bus pulls into the school.
Once I’m home I go straight to my room. I bury my head in the pillows and the tears cascade down my cheeks. I’m crying because Shane is dead. Shane the person is alive and off partying somewhere, but my best friend Shane, the one I knew, is gone.