After

38 - Sam

'Matt,'

My eyes skim over the handwritten, scrawled words, deciphering them as I go.

'I can't believe I'm writing a bloody love letter. But you need to know that if I don't make it out of here, I love you. And whatever whore gets you next... she better deserve you. I was always devoted to you. You need to know that. Even if I didn't show it. If I ever survive this, you are in no way in hell seeing this. You better be grateful, Matt.

Love, Em.'

She wrote him a letter. I fiercely rub at my eyes. No. I'm not crying. Despite the tear stain that has suddenly appeared on the torn out piece of paper. I swipe it away, as if to cover it up. It only makes the letters bleed more. I curse under my breath before folding the letter up and stuffing it into my back pocket.

True, Em didn't write an exactly sensitive letter. And she was probably in a rush. The coal smears across the paper, fungi from the mines, is a clear sign she wasn't exactly in the most safe place to write it. But Matt is not going without seeing this. I don't know what good it will do. Maybe give him some reason to forgive Mike? Maybe give him some closure?

Maybe we all need that. We've been holding for two years. Sometimes time just doesn't give you all the answers. Sometimes you have to go and get them yourself.

I push myself to my feet, my knee joints cracking like brittle, Fall leaves. My heart feels heavy against my ribs. Full. Like it's holding too much, being relied on too much. And it can't hold much longer. Or it'll burst. And smear blood within the cave of my chest.

"Sammy?" Josh's voice is quiet and raspy beside me. I don't think he understands what's going on.

"Let's find the video," I breathe, sharply turning away. His hand drops limp from my shoulder.

The video is my priority. It always was my priority. I can't afford to get distract.

"Come on, buddy," I shuffle past Wolfie who's thick body is still sat in the same place at my feet, refusing to move. He looks up at me with those big eyes of his, and for a second I think I see my tears reflected in them. I jolt away, shaking away whatever is clinging onto me, it's long, tight fingers swaying from my shoulders.

I focus my eyes on the computer screens. "It's got to be here somewhere," I mutter under my breath, my shivering fingers brushing away ash from the rubble across the desk. "Josh," I harden my voice, though it's cracking like the ceiling above my head. "I'd really appreciate it if-"

"I'm sorry."

His voice is the tiniest thing in the room. And yet it fills up the whole space.

My head shifts of its own accord, swerving around to stare at Josh. He's stood in the same place I left him, his shoulders hunched. His posture makes Chris' clothes look far too big on him, like they're baggy, like he's too scrawny for them. For a second, he's a flash of skeleton. The image of what we all could have become that night.

And then he's lifting his eyes to meet mine. And it's like he's opened the gates. Like I can see the true him for the first time. Before the prank, he'd never really been all there. He'd been hiding a little bit of himself away. And then after Beth and Hannah's disappearance, it had heightened. And he'd all shown us a perfect, figurative version of Josh. A fictional one.

Even when he'd outed himself as the maniac, he was still locking a part of himself away. Even before he was locked up by the state, he'd been imprisoning himself for years.

I think he's put that key in the lock and twisted it. And unlocked it.

"What for, Josh?" I ask. Even if I know the answer. Even if I don't want to hear it.

His tongue slips out of his mouth, skimming across his dry bottom lip. His eyes avert from mine. He sniffs, shrugging his shoulders asymmetrically. "I don't know."

"You do know, Josh," I say, taking a step towards him, my voice tight, my breath hitching. My eyes don't move from his face. Even as Wolfie shuffles back to give me space. The rubble underneath my feet crunches as I take step after step until I'm right under his face. It feels too close. Too warm, too personal.

But it also feels a lot more right than being away from him.

"Look at me, Josh," my eyes are searching for his, but he keeps shuffling them away, like scuttling bugs inside his eye sockets.

He shakes his head. "No," he mutters. His lips are tight. He finds it hard not to listen to me. I can't believe he trusted me enough not to take advantage of that.

"Josh," I say quietly. My hand lifts up on it's own, carefully and slowly. I can't stop it as it rests against Josh's skinny bicep. Josh's eyes light up, like he didn't even expect that. Wolfie whimpers behind me and Josh sends him a childlike glare. Despite myself, a humorous smile tugs at the sides of my lips.

It's short-lived.

"I never meant to hurt you," Josh finally mutters, shuffling where he stands. He can't keeps still. Like his feelings are rattling inside his body like bowling skittles.

A breath escapes my lungs. My whole body relaxes.

And then Josh's hand tugs at something from his bag pocket, shoving it in my direction. My hands are met with a sharp-cornered, plastic CD case. I glance down at it, the silver disc shimmering in the low light. "Is this...?"

I can feel Josh nod in front of me.

"When did you-?"

Josh shrugs, "I'm fast."

I glance at him. His face crumbles in horror. "Not in other things," he splutters out, his mouth cringing into a sideways grin. "Just... so you know."

I snort, shoving him in the shoulder. It's accompanied by an eye roll. He'll never really understand the relief I feel at finally seeing a glimmer of the old Josh. Even though he'll never be fully here. Even though I know there's a part of him that has been forever chipped off. Like his sisters. Like his sanity.

But, for a brief moment, I can forget that I have to say goodbye. At least to that part of him.

"Thanks, Josh," I smile, clutching the disc to my chest – the very last of my hope coming to fruition. His eyes finally meet mine. I don't let him know but I make a mental note to check that this really is the video. Just in case.

I never know with Josh. Not really.

"You too, Sammy."


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