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Long Walks in the Middle of the Night
The soil was wet against my bare feet. I could feel tiny pebbles pressing lightly into my skin. The black high heel shoes I borrowed from my mother dangled lightly in my loose fingers. The summer breeze was cold and caused the hairs on my body to stand, as if repulsed by the warmth of my body. He walked beside me, almost in the middle of the road, looking down at his shoes and his hands stuffed in his pockets. His blazer was left behind and forgotten, leaving his white, long-sleeved shirt exposed with a black tie flapping against his left breast repeatedly from the wind. I wondered what he was thinking, unable to tell what was being held within his deep blue eyes. The tips of my toes were beginning to get slightly blackened by the wet dirt from the recent rain as I stared down at them. Another wonder struck me: what was I thinking? The answer was unfathomable, despite the thoughts being my own.
I was running out of places and spots to glue my eyes to. I raised my chin slowly, as well as my eyes, and focused my vision on the long road ahead of us that seemed to stretch on to infinity. Despite the scarce street lamps, it was rather dark and the asphalt ahead was surrounded by an even dimmer darkness. I know why I didn’t want to look there, into that blackness. There was nothing comforting about it, despite the company right beside me. That’s where Eliot was, in that place. I felt the urge to cry; it looked like the darkness would swallow me whole.
“Do you think they’ll be upset?”
I blinked. I looked over at him, coming back to him. I couldn’t look at his eyesâ€”couldn’tâ€”so I looked at the bridge of his nose, feeling ashamed. From my peripheral vision I could see his eyes looking at my neck from beneath his lowered eyelids. He was avoiding my gaze, too. I blinked again, “Who?”
“His parents, our parents,” he said, his blue bulbs back to lighting up his shoes.
I stared down at my feet. “I don’t know, Eddie.” It was a quiet murmur. “Probably.”
His silence returned.
Honestly, what would I do without Eddie? A nervous laugh almost left my lips at the thought as I recalled asking myself the same question, except the name I used had been Eliot’s. Where would I be now if Eddie hadn’t come to the funeral? He had said he wasn’t sure if he could make it, though I knew what he really meant. Eliot was there, sure, but he wasn’t much help lying there. I flinched a little, seeing that image of him in the casket again in my mind. My eyes darted over to Eddie again, but he hadn’t noticed. He just kept walking, his head facing the ground. I felt selfish. Here I was thinking about myself, despite knowing that Eddie must be feeling the pain a lot more brutally. He really loved Eliot and he was blaming himself.
I had been best friends with Eliot first, so I was the one he came out to when he confessed his wild crush on Edward Muze. At that time, Eddie was the only player in our school that was gay. Before I even thought about it, I gave Eliot a flat out “No”, knowing what a player Eddie was. It was only after Eliot had started crying that I realized how nervous he was, his face reddening in embarrassment, hidden in his shaking hands. Once everything had calmed and settled, he told me he still really did like Eddie. He looked so vulnerable that I couldn’t do anything but wish him luck, but I couldn’t really stop there. I was too worried about Eliot’s unstable state to leave it alone. I stopped Eddie in the hall the following day, you know, just to say hi and maybe suggest that all a person really needs in life is to have an open mind. It was something along those lines. In the end, my worries were superfluous. With Eddie’s bold and open persona and Eliot’s shy and timid oneâ€”it turned out to be so natural and sweet that I became rather bitter. So I had a pretty hard time accepting Eddie into the circle, (and, okay, maybe I still had a little crush on Eliot) but our chemistry was inevitable and thus our trio was made.
It was interesting to see how personalities could change from a relationship, especially Eliot’s and Eddie’s. Suddenly, Eddie became shy around Eliot, smiling and laughing nervously around him. And Eliot became a bit bolder, more protective of Eddie. If it wasn’t for my friendship with the two lovebirds, I would have been sickened by their lovey-dovey relationship. The first sign of trouble they had was when Eddie asked to come over and meet Eliot’s parents. Eliot froze, not saying anything, just looking at the green grass of the park we were strolling in.
“If you don’t think our relationship is at that level yet, I get it,” Eddie said bashfully, his cheeks getting pink but his eyes staring straight at Eliot.
“I haven’t really…said anything,” Eliot forced out. I deliberated whether or not I should get involved.
“I’ve noticed,” Eddie gave a nervous smile.
“Noâ€”I meanâ€”,” Eliot tried again.
“He hasn’t told his parents yet, Ed,” I told him sensitively.
“Oh,” was all Eddie said. From that, Eliot’s face broke out into a tortured expression that tortured me. I nudged Eddie in the ribs and he saw it, too.
“Eliot, it’s okay,” he consoled. “It’s not a big deal, really. Don’t worry about it, Elle.” He wrapped his arm around Eliot’s neck as if in a headlock and dragged him through the rest of the park. Ever since that day, Eddie knew it was a delicate topic, and he really didn’t mind it so much. He understood what Eliot was going through and didn’t want to pressure him. In fact, it was even tougher on Eliot because of his parents’ Pentecostal religion. None of us wanted to go there, so weâ€”Eddie and Iâ€”decided to leave the subject alone.
Eliot and Eddie would always joke that I was their long lost daughter. Eliot with his tawny eyes, Eddie with his blue, and my green eyes, the result of their divine conception. So, I thought it would be clever if I got Eliot a (one size smaller than his actual size, of course) “Proud Daddy” T-shirt. I was about a week early for his birthday, but so what?
What I didn’t understand was why, when I was passing his yard to get to the door, I saw a pool of blood spilling from around the back on the concrete. Or why I had started screaming before I even realized it, somehow knowing that salty and rusty liquid belonged to Eliot’s bloodstream. What I did understand was why I had blacked out and, by the time I came to, Eddie was holding me on his lap on the ground, crying. I didn’t want to believe it. He had left a noteâ€”Eliot had always been the cliché typeâ€”but we didn’t read it. I wouldn’t be able to bear it. Every time I thought of Eliot’s smiling face, his hazel eyes crinkling around the edges, I feel like it’s the end of the world all over again.
I snapped out of my reverie, back on this road I was walking with Eddie. He was still in his slouched stance, staring at the ground as he made each step forward. I looked up at the black but clear sky, expecting rain. Then I touched my face and rubbed the wetness from it. I glanced back at Eddie, harboring the awful feelings I knew we both shared. I joined him in the middle of the street, grabbing hold of his hand for comfort. He abruptly jerked his hand away from mine, and it burned as if singed by the sharp emptiness. “Eddie?”
“He did it the same way, you know,” Eddie said to me, his eyes glazed over with moisture. He was acting strangeâ€”I didn’t understand.
“Who did what, Ed?” I asked softly, afraid that he might suddenly explode.
“Eliot,” he almost whispered. “He jerked his hand from mine the exact same way.”
“Eddie, what are you saying?”
“I didn’t mean to!” He burst, near tears now. “I thought I could walk him home one day. He didn’t think it was a good idea from the start, but we walked home together anyway. I just wanted to hold his hand, you know? I never asked him for much, don’t you think? Don’t you think so?” His eyes were dripping with salt-water now, pleading, and his face was scrunched up, contorted from whatever pain he was attempting to express to me. His eyebrows knitted together sadly and made me want to cry, too. He was scaring me. “He told me we were too close to the house, to get away from him. He told me…to get away from him. I’m so horrible, I snapped. I screamed at him and asked him why he wanted to hide me. Was he ashamed to have me? Did he think I was disgusting? I called him so many terrible things, called him scared and weak. But I couldn’t stand it! I was disgusting towards him. Disgusting… Am I disgusting, Em?”
Eddie fell down onto his knees, the sound of bone hitting the asphalt was clear. He sobbed openly in front of me, not bothering to bury himself in his hands. I stood there, having begun to cry as well. I was at a loss for all the words I needed, for all the words I didn’t need. Eddie’s agony was so immensely evident, that I almost turned away from him, unable to bear that sight of plain misery. “Eddie,” I managed. “No…That was nothing!” He stayed there on his knees, breaking into sudden intakes of breath. “Eliot didn’t die because of you. He was worn and tired. He was weak, Ed. We can’t always be strong; we need to have our weak moments, too.” I walked over his slumped figure and sat down next to him. “Eliot was struggling is all, and he just wanted a break. It’s not your fault, Eddie. Sweetie, I swear it’s not your responsibility.” I wrapped my arms around his head, hugging him to me. His sobs stopped, but I could still feel him shaking. I rubbed his back soothingly, to calm him down.
I could see the tear stains on his face more clearly and looked up to see that we were directly beneath one of the street lamps. It never even registered. As I sat there looking up, rain drops began to hit my face in swift motions, coming down all at once. “We have to be strong for Eliot. We’re all he has left to show everyone who he was…” I took a long, deep breath. “Eddie. Let’s go back.”
Eddie paused for a minute, but nodded. Slowly, we got up, not letting go of each other. Our footsteps seemed heavier than they were before, but we continued on, hopeful of Eliot’s possible words to us in his letter. “We have to be strong for Eliot, Eddie,” It sounded like I was trying to convince myself this as much as I was trying to convince him. “And we have to be strong for us, too.”
I didn’t know if I was underestimating what was waiting for us back at the funeral, but I hoped we’d be able to take it, whatever it was. Take it, hurt and cry from it, grow and learn from it. As painful as it was and would be, I didn’t want to let go of what I had there. I knew that and I didn’t need to know much more, besides that I still had someone beside me, even if someone else was gone.