The Usual

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"I’m here," The text message gently buzzed onto my phone. I sprung from my cluttered, messy bed and glided down the hall, plodding down the stairs. I moved towards my parents sitting on our suede-y beige and rich brown couch, keys jingling in hand.


“I’m leaving!” I said, my rush pushing my words out of my mouth quickly, like always


“M’kay, have fun,” My stepfather said before turning back to the latest 20/20. I hugged him and patted the top of his head before moving to my mom.


“Bye, Mami,” I said smiling and kissing her very softly and slowly on the forehead, theatrically, like always, as she lay tiredly on the couch, a blanket sloppily tossed over her resting form.


“Ciao, ten cuidado. Where are you going?” She inquired with worry.


“Starbuck’s definitely,” I said, smiling lightly, “I don’t know where else. Anyway, I’ll see y’all later.” I gave each of them another hug before dashing out the front door, shivering as the cool night slid into my clothes, through them, permeating my carefully guarded warmth. My best friend Angelo leaned on my car, waiting patiently for me. Tonight I’d be driving.


We did this every weekend. We would take turns driving around, listen to our favorite music, sing our hearts out until they lay sprawled on the dashboard, and talk. We would talk about everything. Things that don’t make sense. Things that made plenty of sense. Gossip. Anything and everything, except one taboo topic.


“It feels like I haven’t seen you in forever!!” I said, rubbing my fingers along the steering wheel, although there was next to nothing different about this week compared to any of the others. We usually went to lunch maybe once or twice a week, and he texts me at least once a day and we chat briefly. Minus the lunch and a portion of the texting this week, it was absolutely ordinary.


He was pensive for a few moments before finally replying,”You know, you’re right. It feels as if we haven’t hung out in a long time.”



All night long, I filled the air with as many words as I could, as many topics as I could, like always. I wondered for a moment why, but I knew all along. Like I’m sure Angelo knew. I would chatter endlessly between cigarette puffs, our only form of teenage rebellion, to fill up the space that needed to be filled.

Ever since he had died, endless banter was something necessary. His death was something that we didn’t talk about but something that we both knew lingered. We needed him. He was needed in order to fill up the empty space, because without him, Angelo and I were two people that were so similar we could practically read each other’s minds, yet simultaneously miles apart. However, we were the ones who put the distance there, ever since he died.


Benjamin, or Benji as he liked to go by, was the marker in between our miles, the one who brought something different to the table, the one who had the opposite opinion. Even though several months had passed and the anniversary was fast approaching, because of him, hanging out with Angelo was the only thing that wasn’t normal anymore. And it hurt. It burned. It festered. It clawed and tore at both of our insides like a cornered tiger, fighting with all its might.


We never talked about the circumstances but we both felt responsible; I could feel the guilt between us, thick and suffocating, hanging like a bitter fog. Maybe if we had paid closer attention, been even better friends, it wouldn’t have happened; Benji would still be here with us; animated, sarcastic, the middle ground.


He had started hanging out with a different crowd. And just like that, his personality practically did a one-eighty. Benji had always been sarcastic and had an ‘you’re-an-idiot’ sense of humor, but he was never an a**hole. However the new Benji was everything I knew the old one wasn’t. Everything about him changed, from his language to his energy, even his face had changed. It wasn’t a physical change. It was an invisible change that you couldn’t see, but feel. I’ll never forget the last time I ever saw Benji.






...


“Corrin, I just got a text from some unknown number. It’s Benji. They said he’s in some s**t,” Angelo said as I slid into the passenger seat. I analyzed his face; he was as white as a corpse and his face was glossy from nervous sweat. I found my mouth and tongue were paralyzed, both of them refusing to move out of fear and apprehension. Angelo threw his car into drive and screeched down the street.


My mind swam as I tried to rationalize the situation. ‘They said he’s in trouble, so it can’t be THAT serious....Could it?’ I thought as I faced out the window but my eyes glossed over as I retreated into the comfort of my own mind as it tried to find reason in all the madness.


We jerked into the parking lot of some crappy, dingy apartments; the entire premises practically screaming ‘Garbage Central.’


“Stay calm,” I faintly heard Angelo say. I realized why when I noticed I was shaking so badly I was practically having a seizure. Angelo looked to his phone quickly before grabbing me by the wrist and sprinting towards a nearby apartment building.


We stampeded up the stairs. Angelo kicked open the door to apartment 321. Immediately, we heard a shout, “F***ing finally!! Get this piece of s**t out of here!!” The shout came from a tall, lanky, grey-skinned young man, clad in dirty, stained Abercrombie & Fitch, probably not more than 2 years older than us. He was standing in front of a group of others similar looking to him. They were all clearly higher than the atmosphere.


I barely had time to blink before Angelo had pounced on them, punching and kicking and throwing them out one by one. He slammed the door behind him. We could hear the muffled shouts of the lanky man, clearly upset he had been thrown out of his own apartment.


The apartment was dark and stank of sweat, booze and drugs.


“Benji?” I called out; I could barely recognize the sound of my own voice. Only silence answered me.


“Benji!” Angelo called out himself, as if Benji would prefer him. Still nothing. After our eyes adjusted, we could just make out a large dark shape maybe 10 feet in front of us.


“Lights!” I called to Angelo as I began walking towards the mass. He obediently fumbled along the wall. I heard his victorious fingers pass across a light switch. It flipped on some lights on the far side of the apartment, casting a dim, pale yellow glow across half the room while darkness blended into the other half.


I recoiled when I saw him. Instantly, I felt distant, as if I were watching the scene comfortably at home in some tragic movie, laughing with Benji and Angelo at the over-dramatics, my life still chugging along on its joyous little track. But this wasn’t a movie.


I fell to my knees in front of Benji, his long body sprawled on its side on the grimy, stained carpet, his arm stretched out in front of him as if he had been reaching out for help; someone’s, anyone’s help. His once beautiful, kind blue eyes were a sick whitish-blue, as if there was frost clinging to them. His usually carefully gelled, shortish brown hair was disheveled; something our Benji never would have allowed.


I bent close to him, stupidly hoping I would hear him breathing, but hearing nothing and only seeing blood trickling from his lips, the crimson painting his straight, tidy teeth red.


I could feel Angelo standing behind me, paralyzed, in shock. I almost thought he was dead too.


I lost control. I lurched forward and slapped Benji’s cold, bronzed, and steadily paling cheek.


“YOU IDIOT!!!!” I shouted, hot tears racing down my cheeks and peppering Benji’s face as I slapped him again and again, then pounding on his chest as if it would miraculously wake him. I don’t remember what happened after Angelo pulled me away from Benji, holding me as I withered away into my own personal hell.






...


I puffed on my cigarette lightly as we pulled in front of my house, my phone indicating midnight. I finished my cig with one last, massive drag before sliding out of the car, crushing the cigarette butt like a roach beneath my heel.


Angelo got out, hugging me before I went in. I started meandering up my walkway, but I stopped mid-stride.


“You know what’s missing... Don’t you...?” I said, almost in a whisper, not looking to Angelo.


“...The usual...” He replied, our eyes meeting for a full minute before he broke our gaze and slid back into his car, driving away.





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