Kody This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

By
The other guys there that night will tell you they saw it all. They saw Kody smile and wave, then go over the edge, hearing the squeal of car tires as he hit bottom. They’ll say they saw his face, meek and pathetic, and almost thought that he was going to jump before he did it. But they’re all lying.

It’s not something I’m proud of. It’s not a story I’d go and barter to all the kids in town for baseball cards and bubblegum. But I wouldn’t trade it for all the baseball cards in the world. I saw Kody Thomas, a normal kid, jump onto the Mississippi Interstate.

Some people ask me how it happened, but I don’t like to talk about it. The other guys there that night – Bobby Kelley, Eric Smith and Evan Simmons – they’re always eager to tell you what they think they know. But all they saw, or heard, was the silence that passed between us after they found out Kody wasn’t with us on the bridge anymore.

“Matt,” Kody said to me that night, eyes narrowed to slits and voice slur-red by alcohol. “You think … that if I fell onto that highway right now, that I would be … missed?” He grinned sheepishly, teetering back and forth ever so slightly on the railing that it made my heart hitch. I grinned back, humoring him, feeling the effects of alcohol surging to my brain. “Y’ think anyone would even notice?” He started laughing then, cackling. He threw back his head, his arms outstretched, right hand still holding the empty bottle, his left jeans pocket holding the keys to his Cadillac.

It was then that I started to get nervous. “O’ course people’ll notice,” I slurred, whipping back my head to chug more beer into my system, ab-solutely entertained by the blinking lights of midnight traffic and the other guys – Bobby hunching over the railing and throwing up a perfectly good dinner, Evan and Eric offering him a drink after he was done.

“What about your parents, Kode? Ain’t they gonna notice you’re gone?”

He laughed again, the horrible cackle that seemed to wake even the sleepiest nerve in my body. Kind of made you want to keep guys like Kody Thomas sad all the time, so he wouldn’t laugh, especially while you were around.

But to keep a guy like Kody silent was a crime, a crime against all nature and the pretty girls up in Jackson. Ko-dy was a sweet talker. He could always get himself or any one of us out of a jam, telling our mothers we were studying at his house, all of us knowing that they wouldn’t bother to call his house and disturb his parents any more than they were already. Got his car from sweet talking; talked the salesman down $300 and into a free oil change. He could have been a car salesman himself, the way he sweet-talked his way in and out of everything. But I guess the sweet Lord had something else planned for Kody than working at some old lot.

“Doubt that, man,” he said, looking out toward the sky, on the bridge that held our small part of Western Avenue over the busy interstate. “They’re too busy bitchin’ and fightin’ to even know I’m still alive.” He went to take a swig from his bottle, but it was empty. He tossed it to the side, watching it shatter on the pavement, its wet glassy shards twinkling from the light of the streetlamps. He looked at the broken bottle, mesmerized at the shining light bouncing off the glass. I never knew what was going on in his head then, but later, I could have sworn to God and Heaven above he was wondering if he, like the streetlight, could easily bounce right off and shine.

“Matt,” he said, his hand digging into his pocket, searching for the only thing he ever leaves there.

His hand returned with his keys. The Cadillac, a legend in our select group, was the wonder of all cars, a luxury not many of us small-town Southerners could afford, much less any car. Kody was the only one we knew our age to have a car, and Kody knew it was special. With that car, he was somebody special. He never misused it, or treated it badly. It was his baby.

Now, I wonder, if he had used that time talking things out with his parents or spending that car money on some girl, if he might’ve felt better that night, that he wouldn’t have wanted to dig into that pocket and pull out his keys, reluctantly passing them to me.

“I want you to take care of that car,” he said, pointing to the ivory beauty illegally parked on the bridge. “Treat it nice. Only the expensive gas, you hear me?” He smiled,



and I wondered then if he had gone delirious from the beer.

“What the hell you talkin’ about, Kody?” I asked, my open palm holding the keys. “I can’t take your car. It’s yours. You worked hard for this, man – ”

A stare from Kody and a slight smile made me stop. “Okay,” I admitted, “you didn’t do jack for the car. But it’s yours, man. You’re special with this car. You’re somebody in this town with that car. You know that.”

He sighed, looking up into the black night, the faint sounds of bottles tinkling and soft laughter next to me reminding me that the other guys were still there.

“Am I really, Matt? Am I really special with that car?” He paused for a second, and in that second I could swear Kody Thomas shed a tear. I knew Kody had cried before; he had cried every day in Sunday School when the big bullies would push him into the baptism pool. He had cried all the time in his little treehouse as a child, hearing the screams and occasional crack of furniture breaking in-side his house. He cried all the time. But I had never seen him just cry. There was always a reason, a big one. Now, he just cried. He blinked back tears, and muffled a sob in front of me, for no reason. He was crying just because.

“Kody, I … ” I didn’t know what to say. I had never been philosophical, never been the guy to come and talk to when you’re feeling down, never the guy who was good with words. That was Kody’s job. And right now, he was the one who needed the talking.

“I don’t got nothin’, Matt,” he said, his voice warbling for a very different reason than alcohol. “Nothin’.”

“Kody, you’ve got a lot,” I said, his words sobering me completely. “You’ve got your car. You’ve got your family. You’ve got us.”

He exploded, his face twisting into a sneer. I never knew what he was going to do, and I don’t think he knew. “I don’t got nothin’!” he said again. “I don’t got no reason for anything, man! I don’t got no reason to do well on tests, ’cause no one’s gonna see it! I don’t got no reason to drink, I just remember every damn thing in my screwed-up life anyway!” He swung his legs around then, quietly, slowly, almost playfully, and moved his body across the bridge’s railing. “I don’t got no reason not to just jump off this here bridge … ”

I tried to stop him, but I never knew what to say. “Kody, you ain’t gonna jump off that bridge, are ya?” I asked slowly, standing up, inching my way toward him. The other guys didn’t know what the hell was going on; later they pieced it all together from what they read in the paper, just like everyone else. They just made it sound nicer.

Kody was smiling, looking down at the steady stream of cars passing under him. His feet bumped against the side of the bridge in time with the cars, one, two, three. He was counting. I didn’t know what he was counting up to, or why the hell he was counting the cars with his feet.

He got up to 20 when he looked back at me again, calling over his shoulder, “You keep good care of that car, Matt,” he said, his voice small against the blare of horns shouting at him to get off the damned bridge. I guess if I had done that, just told him to get off that damned bridge, that his mother would worry sick about him (though she really wouldn’t), he might have listened. Or he might have gotten off the bridge, and done it some other way, one so he wouldn’t get in the papers. Or he might have just kept on counting.

“I’m counting on you, man.”

And with that, a little smile, and a small wave, Kody Thomas let his legs fall out from under him, and there it was: the blaring horns, the screaming tires and then my voice screaming his name, so loud and so long I didn’t even know it was my voice anymore.

“What the … oh my God!” I heard Evan shout behind me, his voice slow and slurred. There were lots of sounds after that; the other guys screaming, shouting, crying like they never had before. The honking horns and frightened people below. The siren of Cooksville’s only police car. But I couldn’t hear it. All I heard was the silence, the silence of the world without Kody Thomas’s evil cackle, the silence of life without the sweet talker, the silence of his Cadillac that won’t ever purr the same again. The other guys cried, but I couldn’t move a muscle, save my hand tightening around the car keys. My best friend had just flung himself onto the Mississippi Interstate Highway, and I didn’t do a damn thing before, during or after. Kody Thomas was dead, and I didn’t feel nothing.

*

*

*

Squeak. I heard it before I saw it, and that was how it always was. Kody was here. Kody came around.

Throwing the covers my mother had so painstakingly tucked around me, I rushed over to the window, eager to see my best friend.

“Kody!” I whispered, hoping he would hear me.

Kody looked down at my back gate, moving it back and forth, creating the most horrible screeches you could imagine. “Your old door needs some oil, Matt,” he said nonchalantly, as he always did every time he came through the back gate. That’s how he was; al-ways with the sweet talk.

“What happened this time?” I asked solemnly. I knew Kody didn’t come around my house at one o’clock at night just to oil my back gate. I knew something had happened with his parents, or he wouldn’t be here now.

Kody looked down again, not meeting my gaze. “They’re just fighting, I guess,” he said. The boy so known for his liquid words was having difficulty talking about it. “They’re throwing stuff again, and I didn’t want to be in there now.” I knew the next question. He had asked it many times before, he was going to ask it long after tonight, and he was going to ask it now.

“Can I sleep at your place tonight?”
I smiled, waving him in. He had already disappeared through the back door to the house. As I knew the question, Kody knew the answer.

“Sure you can, Kode,” I said, as I had said so many times before.

*

*

*

I thought I heard it that night. The back gate squeak. I knew it could have been a million and one things besides him. A stray dog. A hobo. The wind. But none of them registered in my mind. Neither did the fact that Kody hadn’t come to stay for the night since we were 13. I only knew that squeaks meant visitors, Kody or not. I didn’t even fathom the fact that less than three hours before Kody had died on the Interstate.

I raced to the window, everything in the room the same as it had always been. I hoped, prayed, wanted Kody just to be nonchalantly swinging that gate, creating sounds as grating and evil as his laughter. But somehow, I already knew he wasn’t there. That Kody wasn’t gonna come around no more.

“Kody?” I asked, hoping against hope that the familiar voice would tell me to oil that damn gate. But there was just silence. Horrible silence, the silence that haunts you at night, when you know something must be going on somewhere, but you can’t hear it. I felt defenseless, knowing I could have said something, could have tried to get him to stop, and at any moment, the whole rest of my world could be gone, too. That silence sounded deathly that night, worse than all the other nights I had been half-asleep, waiting for any sign of a squeak.

*

*

*

“But I’m not gonna go that way, Mama,” I argued, knowing full well that when I was up against Mary Lau-mont, I was not going to win. “I’ll just take Sotheby Drive. It’s quicker –”

“Oh, hogwash, Matthew,” she said, shaking a hand at me. “It’ll take you 20 minutes more if you take Sotheby. Besides, I need you to go to the other side of town and get some groceries.” So that was her deal. She wanted me to go there. But I couldn’t. And she damn well knew that.

“Can’t I just get them near here?” I asked uselessly. She shook her head deliberately, to make her point. Finally I gave up beating around the bush, “I’m not going to Western Avenue, Mama,” I said, shaking my head. “I’m not a little boy anymore, an’ you can’t tell me where t’ go –”

“Everyone’s going to be there, Mat-thew,” she interrupted. “It’s been a year. You’ve got to mourn. You’ve got to be there with them.”

“I know you mean well, Mama, but I just can’t. I don’t get off on that broken glass and crosses like Kody did …” At the sound of his name, even coming from my own mouth, I closed my eyes tightly and held back a sob. If I didn’t go there, then it wouldn’t be true …

“Now, boy, I didn’t want to get tough with you, but I’m going to get tough with you,” I heard my mother say, her distinctive Cajun accent turning more and more into a Southern drawl every day. I bet Kody wouldn’t even recognize her if he heard it today. “He was your best friend. Now you take that car of yours, and drive on down to that bridge and pay your damn respects, you hear me?”

I heard her, all right, but I only heard her say one thing. Take your car down to the bridge. My car. “But it’s not my car, Mama,” I whispered, not caring if she heard me. “It’s Kody’s. I’m just takin’ care of it while he’s gone.”

Mama took me by the shoulders, her hands firm yet gentle, as she looked me in the eye and spoke words I could only believe were nonsense.

“Go to the bridge, Matthew, and mourn already,” she said. “Everyone else is going to be there. I never wanted to force you, but enough is enough. You can’t keep denying that Kody’s gone. You’re gonna have to face reality some time, and that time is now.”

I looked at my palm, the metal glinting in the sun.

*

*

*

“Well, well, well, Matthew Laumont. Nice of you to grace us with your presence today.” I didn’t look at Evan while he spoke mockingly. I could already tell, before even getting out of the car, its windows tinted and my eyes far from dry, that Evan and the boys had taken a couple more than a few 45s before I had got there. I hadn’t seen them for more than five minutes since last year, and after this, I wasn’t planning on seeing them again. They had changed since Kody died. We had all changed.

“Shut the f--k up, Simmons,” I said, making sure not to slam the door. Didn’t want to scratch that damn nice car. My eyes narrowed behind mirrored sunglasses as I approached the ones I used to call my best friends, even though I knew there was only one best friend in my world, and there would be only one forever. “Just hand me a bottle, will ya.”

“Well, look at you,” he said with the Southern-trash accent he would never shake, reluctantly handing me a beer. I swung my head back, letting the alcohol run through my system. Lord, if I was gonna be on that bridge that day, I needed to be good and drunk.

“Looks like y’all just came from California with those sunglasses and that damn Cadillac of yours – ” I opened my mouth, ready to protest, but someone spoke for me.

“It ain’t his Cadillac,” a rough voice said. I looked up to see Eric, a cigarette dangling from his mouth and a bottle neck between his fingers. His eyes were bloodshot and red, and it looked like he hadn’t shaved in days. He looked the worst of all of us. This year must’ve been hell for him. “It was Kody’s.”

I gazed down, not wanting to look into any of their accusing eyes, the sunglasses hiding any trace of tears. “I’m just keepin’ it for him,” I muttered, my shoe pushing around an old piece of glass. “He told me t’ take care of it and that’s what I’m doin’.”

“Maybe,” Eric countered, “but ain’t none of us ever heard Kody say anything to you about it that night. Maybe you just fancied that car, and you knew the police would believe your story – ”

“Are you saying I did this? What the hell are you tryin’ to accuse me of? Kody Thomas was my best friend, and you don’t got any right to accuse me of anything!” I blew up at Eric. What was he trying to pull? Did he actually think I could have done that? “Y’all didn’t even have the right to say what you said to the papers! Y’all didn’t see nothing that night, and you had no right to say that you did! What makes you think – ”

“That’s … that’s enough.” Bobby Kelley finally spoke up, his small frame coming between me and Eric. He had always been the quietest of the group, and Kody had spoken up for him more than he did for any of us. It felt odd for Bobby to be the voice of reason. Maybe he just felt like someone had to take Kody’s place. “We don’t need to fight here. Kody wouldn’t have wanted us to fight here. He would’ve wanted us to get along, and we’re not. So let’s just get along today … for Kody’s sake?”

I backed off, the sound of Kody’s name reverberating in my head. My eyes darted across the desolate avenue, my vision blurred by my tears as I saw the fake flower cross littering the way. “Who the hell put that there?” I said, not thinking anyone was gonna answer me.

“Kody’s parents.” My head snapped back, my mouth open in amazement. Did he just say that Kody’s parents took time from their busy self-hatred to see what had happened to their son? “His mother was cryin’ and

s--t, sayin’ how much the Lord must love her boy, and his father just kept askin’ how they went wrong.” Evan chuckled, and if it had been a year ago, I guess I would have, too. I would have laughed out loud at that irony, but now, it was just sad. I didn’t feel an obligation to be there. I had to go and get some milk for my mama.

“Oh.” We stood there in silence for a few minutes, looking out across the avenue, hearing the occasional honking of a horn. I could see the pieces of glass from when Kody dropped the bottle. I didn’t even know if that was the same glass, but in my mind, it was. I took another swig as I remembered every word Kody had said the day he decided he didn’t have any reason to live. It wasn’t gonna do me any good to cry in front of these guys. I didn’t want to cry, anyway.

“Is anyone gonna say anythin’?” Evan asked in a small voice. None of us knew what to say.

As if he was some kind of mind reader at a county fair, Bobby spoke for us. “Kody would’ve known what to say,” he said quietly.

We said nothing, but we all knew he was right. We were all lost without Kody, and now, he’d never know. I snapped out of the trance the silence had put us all in. I had to get out of there. I should’ve stopped him from jumping. I would never stop blaming myself, and I couldn’t just go there, have a drink with three guys I didn’t know anymore, and be alright with it. It just wasn’t going to happen.

“Hey, look guys, I’ve gotta go,” I said, already halfway to the Cadillac. There were no objections. “I … have to get some groceries for my mama.”

Bobby’s voice broke the silence. “You gonna be here next year?” he asked, his voice on the verge of hopeful. But he had to know I wouldn’t be there. Like I said, the broken glass and crosses didn’t do anything good for me. It did a heck of a lot to me, but none good.

“Nope.” And with that, I opened the door to the car, put my – Kody’s – keys into the ignition, and roared off.

That was the last time I ever set foot or tire on the Western Avenue bridge, and I haven’t spoken to Bobby, Evan or Eric since then. Haven’t seen them around town, either. Maybe that’s just dumb luck. Or may-be we’re all trying to avoid each other.

I still listen for that familiar squeak on my back gate, even now that it’s been such a long time. Because, just maybe, Kody’ll come around. I miss him. I miss his evil-sounding cackle, his sweet talking; I miss the Cadillac when I knew it was his Cadillac. I miss Kody. Oh, Lord, he’s gotta know that his best friend ain’t doin’ all that well with this silence he’s brought to me. He’s gotta know that he’s gotta come down again, back to Earth on his little cloud Cadillac from Heaven he got from the Lord by sweet talkin’, and come to my back gate.

And I just want him to know that I’ll be here whenever he wants to come around again.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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Imaginedangerous This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Sept. 15, 2012 at 7:32 pm
Wow. That's a very emotionally powerful story. I especially liked the ending.
 
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