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He didn’t meet my eyes completely.
“Hi,” I whispered. He responded identically, his voice a little huskier than usual. I stepped forward and wrapped myself around his chest, holding him like a life preserver. His familiar smell smoothed my breath before my throat could close at the thought of where we were and why we were here. I’d give anything to keep that scent hidden away in a box to pull out when I need it.
I reluctantly removed myself from his arms. I sat down on the edge of his bed as he shut the door behind me. The mattress was too soft, it didn’t feel right as it gave way so easily beneath my weight.
“I brought you something.” I reached into my bag – that he’d given me for my birthday for that same year – and pulled out the homemade disc, handing it to him with the track list and smiling tentatively. As he deciphered the scrawling loops of my handwriting, a grin tickled the corners of his mouth; every song on the CD involved some sort of inside joke of ours.
I watched him reading, but my eyes were really searching his forearms for those tell-tale signs that I hoped with all my heart wouldn’t be there, but knew with all my head would.
Wrong move. He caught my travelling stare. The lingering smile evaporated instantly.
“Do you wanna see?” he asked icily. I blushed deeply but met his stony gaze. I shook my head in minute increments.
“Is that why you came?” he added harshly. “To ogle?”
“I know you don’t believe that,” I matched his bitter tone before softening. “I just can’t understand, hun.”
“Well, if you could, then you’d be in one of these rooms, too, now wouldn’t you?” Resentment filled me for the harsh metallic shield that went up in his dark eyes.
“Why are you being like this?” I asked softly, the hurt plain in my voice.
“Like what? Depressed? Alone? Helpless? If I knew, neither of us would be here right now.” His expression poured bitterness like cold tears.
“No, stubborn. Why won’t you talk to me? You used to tell me everything. Partners-in-crime, confidantes, remember?” Indignation welled within me, rising with the heat behind my eyes and in my throat, threatening to overflow. “What did I do, why don’t you trust me anymore?” He stood up, nostrils flaring.
“What was I supposed to say? ‘Oh, guess what, by the way, I hate myself and wish I was dead.’ Gee, that would be a conversation to look forward to.”
“Well, it would be better than lying! You lied to me, over and over. For months. I didn’t believe a single one, you know, but I played along and let you think you were fooling me. I’d hoped you’d let me in, tell me what was wrong, if I gave you time. It’s called getting help.”
“I can take care of myself,” he declared, like a young stubborn child believing himself independent.
“How is this handling anything? It’s the most selfish thing I’ve ever-“
“Excuse me, but how is this selfish? I’m not someone anyone wants around, I’m doing every a-“
“A favor?!” I completed his thought, as we’d done countless times before, but this time the answer was not something I wanted to hear. The incredulousness made my voice crack. With a deep breath, I spoke softer, anger tightening my throat around my words so that they crawled out slowly and painfully, constrained. “Do you have any idea what it felt like, getting that phone call? Have you ever had someone’s mother call you and tell you they nearly killed themselves? How the h*ll do you think that felt, knowing that your best friend had wanted to end his life and you didn’t even know.” The tears fell one at a time down my cheeks, burning fiery streaks on my skin as they dropped. “What if she hadn’t found you? What if you’d died, what would I do? How could you ever do that to me? I couldn’t do anything again without you. I could never listen to music again, everything would remind me of you. I could never write without you there to read it!” I gasped for air. He stared me down, obdurate, but his anger had dissipated. It must have evaporated into the air around us, because the pause was pregnant with pained tension. My voice was hoarse as I whispered, “You wouldn’t have even said goodbye.”
He suddenly appeared to feel an intense interest in studying the faded linoleum floor.
“I know.” His voice was even hoarser than mine. “I couldn’t.”
“So you’ve got guts enough to die but not say goodbye first?” He didn’t answer me. “I’m not the only one who deserves a goodbye, you know.”
His hands tightly gripped the baseboard of the bed that he was leaning on. “You know you’re my only real friend,” he mumbled.
“Not real enough to keep you alive.” I felt the pain bite my tongue with each word, helpless insecurity washing over me. How sick a world it is when you can never be enough for the one person you truly need.