Ryan opened up his email, his heart pounding and his palms sweaty. Please let it be there, please let it be there, he repeated over and over in his brain. His eyes scanned through all of the unopened emails searching for one that would tell him that he had made it. The one that would let him know that all of his hard work had paid off. Finally, he saw something. "Ryan Mallory," it read. "Congratulations..." Ryan let out a small squeak. His eyes scanned over the paper. Once he saw what he wanted to see, he leapt out of his chair. Who should he tell first? He sprinted downstairs, almost falling twice. He skidded across the hardwood floors to where his mom was grading papers on her couch.
"Mom! Guess what!" He smiled, trying to play it cool.
"Yeah?" She said, looking up from her students' quizzes.
"I made it." Ryan grinned.
"You made it?" Ryan's mom leapt up. "Oh Ryan, sweetie, that's amazing!" She pulled Ryan into a hug. "I'm so proud of you, honey!"
Ryan smiled "Thanks mom. I'm gonna go tell Beth now."
"See you later, mom!" Ryan couldn't stop grinning. He wanted to shout out the news to the world.
"Bye, honey!" Ryan's mom smiled.
"Beth!" Ryan yelled, as he let himself in through the front door of his best friend's house.
"Oh hi, honey!" Beth's mom smiled. "Beth's not home yet. Come and have a snack."
"Thanks!" Ryan smiled. He walked into the kitchen and grabbed a cookie.
"Is that Ryan?" Beth's dad's booming voice echoed through the halls. As always, you could hear him before you could see him. He walked into the kitchen.
"Of course it is." Beth's dad laughed. "Why do I even ask anymore. How's it going bud?"
"I got accepted." Ryan smiled."
"Good job, Ry!"
Beth's parents pulled Ryan into a group hug. Beth's parents were like a second family to Ryan. After Ryan's parents' divorce when he was eight and the nasty court battle for custody of Ryan and his younger sister Julia when he was ten, Ryan began to rely on Beth's family to fill in as a normal family. He wasn't too heartbroken about his father leaving. His father was a complete jerk and Ryan wanted to spend as little time as possible with him. He still had to see his father every other weekend. It was a court mandated order, and Ryan hated it. Ryan hated the court that decided what was best for him and his little sister. He hated his father's conniving lawyer that tricked him. He hoped that lawyer was proud that she'd tricked a scared ten year old kid into spending time with his father, who had a temper like a hurricane. He hated his father for putting him, Julia, and his mother through such a horrible court battle in order to force them to spend time with him. But he would rather not think about his father on such a wonderful day a this was.
"Hey Mom, hey Dad, I'm home!" Beth called as she walked through the front door she stopped as she walked into the kitchen and saw her parents and her best friend in a group hug in the middle of the kitchen.
"What's this all about?" Beth asked.
Ryan pulled away from the hug. "I got accepted!" He grinned.
"Oh my god!" Beth yelled as she gave a huge bear hug to her best friend. "Okay, we have to go get ice cream to celebrate. It's on me. I'll drive."
"I can't argue with that." Ryan grinned. They headed out to Beth's car.
"Be safe!" Beth's mom yelled.
"We will." Beth yelled back. Beth turned the key, and the rusty old car sputtered.
"Come on, Rustmobile." Beth muttered angrily. She turned the key again and the car sputtered to life. Ryan and Beth cheered. Beth pulled out of her driveway and onto the street. After a few minutes of chatter, Ryan turned on the radio. Loud music blasted through the speakers at full volume. Ryan jumped, then turned the volume down. "Wow, Beth. Why is this so loud? You're going to go deaf."
Beth laughed. "Wow. What are you, my grandfather?"
Ryan shook his head. "Kids these days with their loud music and their texting."
Beth laughed. "You dork." She teased.
"That's what the government wants you to think." Ryan said seriously.
"What? That doesn't even make any sense." Beth stated.
"That's what the government wants you to think." Ryan repeated, a smug grin on his face.
"You can't just use that as your reply for everything." Beth laughed.
"That's what the government wants you to think." Ryan repeated a third time. Beth glared at him.
"Okay, I'm done." Ryan smiled. He narrowed his eyes. "Is that snow?"
"Wow. It's so pretty." Beth smiled. The snow began to coat the forest with a layer of powdery white fluff.
"Oh the weather outside is frightful." Ryan sang.
"But the fire is so delightful." Beth replied.
"And since we've no place to go, let it snow let it snow, let it snow!" They sang in unison. "Oh it doesn't show signs of stopping, and I've brought some corn for popping, but as long as you love me so, let it snow, let it snow, let it...” Suddenly two huge headlights came into view. And those two headlights were coming right at them.
“Beth, look out!” Ryan screamed. Beth swerved to the right. The truck swerved to the left. It was still coming at them
“Oh my god, what’s this idiot doing?” Beth shouted. The headlights were only feet away. Suddenly there was no light at all. There was only darkness.
Ryan blinked his eyes as the world gradually came back into focus.
"...hope they're okay." Ryan's mother sobbed.
"Oh, goodness, I hope so too." Beth's mother sobbed back.
"Mom?" Ryan murmured.
"Ryan?" Ryan's mom jumped up. "Oh thank god!" She ran over and hugged Ryan. A sharp pain shot through his chest.
"Ow." He winced.
"Oh, sorry honey."
"It's fine, mom." He absently looked over at the cream colored hospital wall. "Where's Beth?"
"She's in another room." Ryan's mom replied.
"Oh. Can I talk to her?" Ryan asked.
Ryan's mom looked away. "I'm sorry, honey." She whispered.
Ryan's heart dropped to the floor. "Is she... Is she dead?" Ryan said, his voice shaking.
"No, thankfully. But she is in a coma." Ryan's mom answered solemnly. Right then, a nurse walked in.
"Oh, glad to see you're awake. I'm Nurse Heather." She said. "I'm sure this has been a very traumatic experience for you. Is there anything I can do to help you?"
"Yeah. Save my best friend." Ryan replied stubbornly.
"I'm sorry, that's not my place. But there are other doctors and nurses working to save her." Nurse Heather responds, bewildered. "But I am here to help you."
"How long will it be before I can go see her?" Ryan asked.
"Well, you need to rest for a few days so you can heal. You got pretty banged up. But after we release you you can go visit her." Nurse Heather answered.
The next few days were the most boring and tedious of Ryan's life. His mom and a few of his friends were with him for hours on end. Random classmates and other well-wishers that he didn't really know at all came to visit him. He watched TV, was checked upon by some nurses and his doctor, ate some mediocre hospital food, and slept. One day a man with a briefcase came in to see Ryan.
“Hello, uh, Brian.” The man looked down at his papers. “I'm Mr. Harold. I'm your and Beth’s lawyer. I was wondering...”
“No.” Ryan said forcefully. “I'm not going back to court. And I don't want to talk to you. Find another witness, because I'm not going back to court.” Memories of sitting in that cream colored room while lawyers, the judge, and family members all stared at him, waiting for him to make the wrong move so they could eat him alive.
“But... But... I'm working for you. I'm trying to help you.” Mr. Harold stuttered.
“That's what they all say. But lawyers are never in it for me. They're in it for the money, and they don't care whose life they tear apart to get money.” Ryan said angrily. “Now, please leave. I'm tired.”
The lawyer stood up. “Fine. I don't need you. It's not your father who’s paying me.”
“Of course not.” Ryan stared out the window.
Finally, his doctor said it was okay for Ryan to leave. He immediately headed over to Beth's room. He knocked on the door.
"Come in." Beth's mother said. She sounded so drained and tired. Ryan walked in cautiously.
"Hi Mrs. Waldeburg." He said as she swallowed him in a bear hug. "How's Beth?" Ryan looked over to where Beth was lying on the hospital bed connected to various tubes and machines. He felt his eyes pool with tears. Here was his best friend in the world lying unresponsive in a hospital bed. He sat down in a chair next to where Beth lay. He put his hand over her small hand. "Oh, Beth. It's all my fault." He whispered. He felt a tear roll down his cheek.
Over the next few days, Ryan stayed with Beth as much as he could. After school, he sat with Beth and did his homework until they kicked him out. He went home, ate, went to bed, and slept. He forced himself out of bed in the mornings, went to school, and visited Beth. He talked to Beth during his visits. He told her about his day, talked to her, told her jokes. She never responded. She just lay there with her tubes and machines. Ryan didn't care. Every moment with her mattered. Ryan had a lot of time to think about what had happened, what could have happened if something went differently. If he hadn't gotten that stupid email Beth wouldn't have been out on the road that night, and she would be fine. It was all his fault.
Two weeks and three days after the accident, Ryan went to see Beth, as usual. There was a flurry of doctors and nurses rushing around the room.
"What happened?" Ryan asked Beth's parents.
"She caught pneumonia." Beth's mom sobbed. Ryan had wondered when Mrs. Waldeburg’s hair had turned so gray. She looked like she had aged twenty years since that horrible day.
Ryan glanced over at his best friend, who was now connected up to more tubes and machines than ever. He hated seeing her like this. At least it was better than seeing her dead. There was still a chance she could get better. A slim chance, but a chance none the less. He sat down next to the Waldeburgs and waited by his friend's side.
Ryan stayed with Beth more than usual the next few days. Beth got sicker and sicker as the days passed. Then, two weeks and six days after the accident, the Waldeburgs were pulled out of the room by a doctor who needed to 'talk to them urgently'. Suddenly, the machines started going crazy.
"Uh, somebody? Help!" Ryan shouted. Nobody came. Where were all of the doctors and nurses? Couldn't they see what was happening? Beth was... No, he couldn't say it. He ran out in the hallway.
"Doctor, nurse, somebody!" He yelled at the top of his lungs. He ran back inside Beth's room. He stopped in his tracks. A dark robed figure holding a curvy pointy knife on a long stick was leaning over Beth's bed.
"Who are you? What are you doing?" Ryan frantically shouted. The robed figure looked up. Where it's face should have been was nothing. Darkness emanated of its body in waves.
"How do you see me? You're not supposed to see me." It said. It's voice sent a chill through Ryan's bones.
"Yeah, but I obviously do. What are you doing to my best friend?" Ryan spat.
"I am Death. It is the end of her time on earth. I have come to escort her to her final rest." It said callously. The robed figure leant down and put one bony hand on Beth's forehead. When he lifted it, a misty see-through version of Beth separated from Beth's mortal body.
"Ryan?" Misty Beth whispered. "What happened?" She looked down at her body. "Am I... am I dead?"
"It's alright honey." The robed figure said. "I'm here to escort you. You're okay now."
"But..." Beth said, her voice small. It reminded Ryan of when they were five and Beth was scared to go to kindergarten. But with both of them going together, kindergarten didn't seem too bad. Kindergarten was nothing compared to this.
"Wait!" Ryan interrupted. Death and Beth both looked over at Ryan in shock. "Take me, not her."
"Ryan, no!" Beth said. "I'm not going to let that happen."
"Neither am I." Death spoke. "If Beth does not consent, then I cannot exchange a soul for a soul."
"I don't consent." Beth said defiantly. "I can't bear to imagine life without you. Maybe I'm selfish. But you have your whole life to live. I'm not going to let you waste it."
"But I can't bear to think of a life without you, Beth! And don't you have your whole life ahead of you too?" Ryan cried. He turned to Death. "Can I come with her then?"
"Ryan, this is my fate. Not yours. I'm in a coma, for goodness sake. You're alive and healthy. So live." Beth said.
"I absolutely cannot take a perfectly healthy young person like yourself. It's against the rules." Death said.
"Can I at least come and say goodbye?" Ryan whispered, defeated.
"Fine." Death sighed. "You see, Death does show pity." Death took Beth's hand and Ryan's hand and Ryan felt himself being pulled up. He looked down to see his body slumped over on the hospital floor. He suddenly found himself in a hallway full of doors.
"Beth, this is your door." Death said. "I will give you two some privacy for five minutes to say goodbye. Five minutes. Then, I will come escort Beth through the door." Death faded away.
"Beth..." Ryan choked. "You're my best friend. I've known you my whole life, and I don't... I don't know what I'll do without you."
"Oh, Ryan." Beth sniffed. "I'm going to miss you so much."
"I'm going to miss you too. We used to see each other every day, and now... Now I'm never going to see you again." Ryan sniffed.
"Hey, Ry. It's going to be okay. Maybe someday when you die we'll see each other again. But I want you to live your life to the fullest. Just because I can't doesn't mean you shouldn't. Do all the things that I never got to do. Do that for me, okay?" Beth smiled, tears rolling down her face.
"We were going to see the world. Discover new places, new things. Do everything. Go on a grand adventure." Ryan smiled sadly.
"I know." Beth sobbed.
"Well think of this as your next grand adventure." Ryan sniffed.
"I will. You better have a grand adventure too." Beth smiled through her tears. "And just so you know, I'm coming down to haunt you."
"You better." Ryan pulled Beth into a long hug.
"Alright. Your five minutes is up. Come on, Beth. Say your last goodbyes."
"Bye, Ryan. Have an amazing life. I'll miss you." Beth sobbed.
"Bye, Bethy. I'll never forget you." Ryan sniffed.
Beth turned her back and walked toward the door. She slowly turned the handle. Beth turned around and smiled at Ryan. "Goodbye, Ryan." She said.
"Goodbye, Beth." Ryan replied. He couldn't believe that he was saying goodbye forever to the girl he'd known his whole life, his best friend who was always by his side. He didn't know how he could possibly survive without her, his best friend, his sister, his Beth. She walked into the room and faced Ryan. Beth smiled one last time at him, the smile that would be forever tattooed into his memory. He watched, helpless, as the door closed behind her.