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“You can come over and cry on my shoulder, if you want,” Rose says, “There’s nothing interesting on TV.”
John chews on his bottom lip and blows a stream of air into the telephone receiver. She sighs loudly from the other end and takes a bite of something. Chips, maybe, or a poptart.
Ten long seconds later, she swallows and starts to talk again. “Look, John, he can apologize all he wants, but he’s the one dying, not you.”
“I can see it now. The two of you will have a huge falling out because he doesn’t know what it feels like.”
He twirls the phone cord around his finger and props himself up against the counter. “So we’re screwed because I don’t have the guts to commit suicide.”
She pauses, and after a minute or two she makes it clear that she isn’t going to answer. The chewing resumes.
“I think I’m in love.” John says. Rose doesn’t answer.
It’s like this: John and his three best friends, Rose, Jade, and Dave all played a game. A game that was supposed to be a fun time between friends, but brought about the end of the world. They won, only by a bit, and got stranded on the Earth without the friends they made and without the people that raised them.
Dave took it the hardest, and all John can remember is the police sirens, the red bathwater, and the blood splattered across their new white towels.
Things haven’t felt right in the longest time, and John has yet to go to the hospital to see him. All he wants to do is rip the IV catheter open with his teeth and spit on it.
EB: you’re telling us we aren’t good enough.
Jade has yet to leave Dave’s side, and Rose is the only one damaged enough to understand.
“It must be hard,” she says, “not being able to reach someone only a few feet away from you.”
“It’s hard and no one understands.” John jokes, but neither laughs. It was a joke they got from their friends, the grey ones no one talks about because it hurt too much.
It had been three days since Dave slit open a vein from elbow to wrist. Three days. No one heals in seventy-two hours.
And so John gets into his (Dave’s) car and leaves the apartment they share at exactly 8:43 and drove over to Rose’s small one story house. Her girlfriend, the one Rose never talked about, answered the door.
“Thanks,” he said, and she nodded and left.
Rose is sitting on her creme couch, knitting something red. John’s mind flashes back to three nights ago. He swallows, pushes the memories away, and clears his throat. She looks up at him, pressing her painted lips together in a sort of grimace-like smile. Long ago she gave up the black lipstick, instead switching to dark burgundy. She’s just as elegant as ever, even though she’s dressed in black sweatpants and a tank top that matches her lipstick.
He sits down on the loveseat across from her, and listens intently to the click-click of her knitting needles before she finally speaks.
“It’s for Dave.” He looks up. “When he feels better.”
“If he feels better.”
“Don’t speak that way.”
John glares at the wall behind her. She glares back. The needles don’t stop moving.
He notices she drops a stitch, and doesn’t go back to fix it.
“You said you loved him.” she says, looking back down at her knitting. She still doesn’t fix it. “Explain.”
John knows she isn’t going to push it, she never does, and it would be so easy to lie and say that he was kidding.
“I think I do.” he says instead. “I guess I’m a fag, then.”
Rose sighs through her nose. “The technical term is a homosexual. You, of all people, should know that best. Especially seeing as how you went out of your way to proclaim it to whoever would listen back when we were kids.”
“A fag.” John repeats. “You know, the night before Dave tried to- the night before Dave had to leave, he kissed Jade.”
“Did he?” she says in a way that shows that she isn’t surprised at all.
“Yeah.” John looks at his hands, rough and bruised, folded in his lap. He remembers once he worked a dead-end construction job with Dave. It was illegal, but they needed the money so they lied about their age. He sawed the skin off his fingertips with a belt sander, and Dave slung him over the back of his motorcycle and floored it to the hospital. He had to close his eyes to breathe properly with the wind running through his hair.
He stands up and asks her where the bathroom is. She points wordlessly.
There was something about the detached sterility of Rose’s house that made him itch beneath his skin, and want to spill something. It didn’t look lived it, not a bit of dust or a magazine out of place. Her hallways are filled with ebony bookshelves, black as the hair on his head, but not a single book. Rose’s house, La Casa de Lalonde, Dave called it, makes him crave medications he doesn’t need. It’s calm and quiet.
It’s almost like they’re suspended in the limbo between consciousness and coma, water too thin and pale to drown in.
Her bathroom is small and much-too-clean, and the pale pink curtains cover the window.
After washing his face, John proceeds to climb out the window and head to Dave’s car.
(Rose watches from the doorway, shakes her head, and locks the door.)
John tears down the street, his tires squealing. He sees Dave’s backpack in the side seat, and throws it out the window. It rams into the stop sign. Papers fly everywhere, but John doesn’t see it because he’s going 100 mph and f*** everything. Jade is calling his PDA, and he picks it up the moment it buzzes.
“Where are you?” she asks, and is about to add to the question when John yells into the phone that he’s going places.
“Who cares! McDonalds, Derse Park. Away!”
He rolls down the windows, and his phone shatters against the pavement.
The smell of gas intensifies, and the motor whines shrilly in protest.
Where are you going? Jade’s voice echoes.
“Shut up, John, I’ll get you there!” John says to himself. He must be going 120 or 130.
Dave’s truck is thick and armored against vandalism and drunk drivers. Indestructible, he said, even in suburbia. The back is a huge, cavernous bed, deep enough to be buried in.
John sees the stretch of road end, a couple hundred feet ahead. He speeds up.
The wind is screaming into his ears, but he doesn’t roll the windows back up. He was free. John had always been careful. He kept his cards the same, playing by the rules. Dave didn’t. Dave stacked his deck. Dave knew how to cheat.
Dave had always refused to confine his dreams of significance and transcendence.
Time slows. Each second is stretched out like a map in front of him. The noise vanishes, and John closes his eyes and takes his hands off the wheel.
Dave, you a******, I’m not sorry I hurt you. You deserve your pain. You deserve your suffering, he thinks.
“Now you’ll know what it feels like.” John says.
A second later, he flies off the road.
When he opens his eyes, he can’t move. The florescent lights burn his eyes, and he is briefly reminded of Rose’s house.
John turns his eyes, and Rose is sitting there in the hospital chair. “The impact almost killed you.”
“If it did, I’d be flattered.”
Rose smiles, and pats his hand.
She leaves to tell the nurse he’s awake, and Dave comes shuffling in. He waits until the door shuts with a click, then stares at John for a long moment. He isn’t wearing his glasses, and his eyes are like magma. Dave looks sick and pale in his hospital gown, and he’s still bleeding between the stitches.
“I f***** up.”
The stitches are small and thin and black, like butterfly legs. Butterfly stitches.
He looks like he’s about to fall over, leaning on that thin rickety metal IV stand, barely standing itself on four tiny wheels. John wonders why he would put all his balance on something so collapsable, and then he realizes it’s the best he has. He chokes up and turns away; life is still plunging forward, that the world hasn't stopped turning since The Game ended.
“I get it.” Dave says. “I won’t do anything like that again.”
“You better not.” John snaps, and scoots to the side. Dave climbs over the guard rails and drags his IV up next to John’s. His face is hard, pale and chiseled, not holding any of the preteen chubbiness it used to have. They aren’t children anymore, John realizes suddenly.
They're not children, and it's been too long- they aren’t Gods; they're mortal. They're not allowed take-backs, they're deficient, they're already seeing car crashes and the wrong ends of razor blades.
And they're sixteen. God, it's been a hundred years between then and now, and they're only sixteen.