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You'll Only End Up Joining Them
… “I wonder what he was thinking,” Liam said in the center of a few quiet seconds.
The boys crossed an intersection and walked parallel to the street lights. Their footprints scarred the snow-covered sidewalk. White houses stood to the left of them. Candles in the windows flickered in the darkness, blind to the emptiness they guarded.
Heath turned up his jacket collar and barely audible, responded, “I don't know”.
Heath couldn't shake it from his head. He was driving when he received the message. He pulled into the nearest parking lot and watched the people exit and return to their cars without worry or fear. Bags full. Children smiling, dragged in their parent's hands. Heath stared down at his cell phone for a while then dialed his girlfriend's number.
“I don't know. I'm in the car with Ashley and someone just sent us the text... Heath, I can't believe it.”
“Are you all right?”
“...I'm in such shock and you were the first person I thought of. I remembered that picture you drew of him. Are you all right, Heath?”
“Yeah. Don't worry about me.”
“Heath, I'm so sorry.”
“I don't understand. I'm so sorry.”
“Listen, I'm gonna' go.”
“Can I at least see you later?”
“If you want.”
“I love you, Heath”
Heath put the phone down and stared at it again. After a few seconds he looked back to the families walking against the snow fall. The snow came down on his car. He hated the way she held onto his name like it was all she had.
Liam turned his head, glancing into the Chinese restaurant. It was empty, save a woman leaning on a counter and a small child seated at an empty table. Liam looked ahead to the narrow bridge that separated the village from the old paper mill. He looked at his friend and spoke again.
“I heard his dad found him.”
“I can't imagine that.”
The snow continued to fall.
“ I heard he was up all night. His girlfriend broke up with him or something.”
“ I don't know.”
“ Man, what the f*** is your problem?”
“ What do you mean?” Heath responded behind a perfunctory smile.
“ I mean you're being a f***ing dial-tone.”
Heath's empty smile faded.
“I'm just tired.”
The boys crossed another intersection, walking away from a gas station. It looked like the only living place in town. They stepped onto Main Street, passing the brick buildings surrounding them. Christmas lights suspended in curved glass. Shaped for window-shoppers of another era. Looking straight ahead, a side door opened out of an apartment. A man with thinning sandy hair and an uneven beard walked out with a young girl. Heath watched him cup her swollen stomach and smile. The girl looked at Heath for a fleeting second and turned her head. The boys passed the couple as the man's eyes met Heath's. When the lovers were out of hearing range Liam spoke again.
“ Didn't he go to school with us?”
“ That's what I don't want to be. I don't want to end up stuck here. I never want to end up like that.”
Heath looked into his friend's eyes.
“ You won't.”
“ Do you think he thought about that?”
“ I don't know, but whatever resolution he thought he'd find, he lost.”
“ What do you mean?”
“ You can't kill yourself to raise the dead.”
Liam looked down. He knew what he meant.
The boys took a right at the end of Main where a red light hung, pulsing and separating a fork at the end of the road. Dark cars parked in front of empty, brick buildings. The boys ignored them and trudged past them, walking the broken, uneven sidewalk. Neither of the boys spoke. They were just intent on making it. They walked the empty street until they reached the house. The porch light was off but a light could be seen coming through the inside door. Shadows of people reverberated off the window blind. Footsteps on wood flooring could be heard, but voices inside were barely audible. Heath grabbed a bag containing a bottle out of his jacket and looked at Liam.
“ Come on.”
The snow continued to fall.