My eyes snapped to the door knob of the foyer that connected to the living room as it twisted. The rest of my group remained concentrated on the project at hand. I think it was either Economics or British Literature; I can’t remember. Esther dissected a sentence for the symbolism of each adjective while a kid whose name no one honestly knew but went by “Waffle” argued against the bicameral governments. Brody was busy sarcastically persuading Waffle that his native communist country would soon rule the world due to the domineering power of the government—Brody was half-Korean… and persuaded the idiot he was Chinese. He even burst into a faux rampant rant I think his dad burst into one time we were hanging out after school. “You no pick up clothes. In Kor—China, we chop off feet of people who no do chores.”
Needless to say, Esther and I gave each other the resigned gaze one who is suffering from a group project often experiences—pure unadulterated desperation and compulsion to murder your useless partners.
Her blue eyes met mine and seemed to say, I’ll kill them if you bury the bodies.
I replied, squinting for emphasis, I thought Brody would be useful—not to be racist… but he is Asian.
The door creaked open, and my ears perked. A petite girl walked in, tearing her hair out of a bun, holding bobby pins in her mouth as she tore them away from her large hat and strands. A black backpack that could have probably pulled her backwards onto her butt clung to her shoulders, leaving curves into them as she rotated on her heels to dance around the door. Her icy blue eyes remained on the floor as she held the door open for a large, white beast to enter the house. The gigantic tank of a dog glanced at her once and then turned his gaze to us. “No, Holden,” she mumbled authoritatively.
The brown eyes fell to the floor, and his white tail whipped back and forth as he settled down into a seated position.
Esther did not look up as she inquired, “How’s Taco?”
The girl scoffed, “Baseball team came in again after practice. Smelled like athletic supporters for about an hour, and one thought it would be cute to say, ‘Are you from Tennessee?’”
Waffle obnoxiously shouted without turning away from his intense argument, “’Cuz you’re the only ten I see!”
The girl rolled her eyes. “I’m grabbing a beer and then doing homework, okay?”
Brody whispered to me, “Dude, why don’t we get beer? That way I can stand this freaking kid.”
Esther pulled herself off of the carpet, leaning into the couch Brody and Waffle sat on while she and I worked on the project on the coffee table. Her blonde-brown hair she pulled into a bun fell slowly as we worked, and I wondered why Lily never wore her hair up. “Do I need to check on you?”
The girl knelt down and patted her dog on the head, burying her face in his fur as her arms wrapped around his thick neck. She groaned angrily and mumbled, “You’re going to anyway.”
“Yes, Devin, I am. In an hour?”
“If I’m passed out, call the funeral home.” Devin stood up, and our eyes met for half a second. My heart stopped as I realized she was the girl from Heath’s funeral… she was Heath’s girlfriend, and she was the last person he ever spoke to before he died. I think she realized who I was as she immediately resisted eye contact, tearing away from me. She strolled into the kitchen, and the dog followed her like a white shadow.
“Honestly, he is the best dictator we have ever had,” Brody suddenly interrupted my train of thought.
I hinted, “President.”
My eyes followed the petite pixie as she glided around the island and searched through a cupboard, giving the dog a large bone. Holden held it in his mouth patiently as I guess the girl signaled for him to not eat it by pointing at her own stomach. She turned to the refrigerator and pulled herself onto the island with her arms, the muscles rippling below her thin skin. Surprised at her physique, my eyes must have widened because Esther gave me a stern glare. I immediately turned my gaze away as the girl began to run her fingers through her tangled hair.
Esther asked nonchalantly, “Did you buy more drinks?”
“Yep, a hard ale.”
Esther turned back to the project with an exasperated expression and began to scribble down the different reasons to have certain governments and what the literature had to say about each distinct party in various countries.
I couldn’t help but think of all the things she must have seen that night. She heard the last thing my best friend ever said. She knew what he was thinking when he crashed his car. She knew why the usually safe guy did not wear a seat-belt that night. She saw everything, and someone even told me she saw his lifeless body in the ditch when she pulled herself out of the car. A rumor spread around school that she even began CPR on the scene when all the professionals gave up. Someone said she kept saying, “You can’t do this to me. You can’t do this to me,” over and over again between breaths and compressions.
Funny thing was I thought the same thing when I got the phone call from Heath’s mom.
After a moment, I contrived a reason to initiate a conversation with her just so I could know what happened, just so I could figure out what went wrong when they came back from that international soccer friendly. Something inside me just needed the closure to know why my best friend had to die that night. I had to know.
“I’m going to get a glass of water,” I lied as I pulled myself off the floor and tried to nonchalantly saunter across the room—I ended up stubbing my toe but successfully held back the urge to curse. I think Devin must have noticed but ignored it as the others continued to work on the project or the conversation diligently.
Devin sat on the island in the middle of her kitchen and opened the door of the fridge with her foot, too lazy to actually walk the two feet to the handle. Clothed still in her Whacko Taco uniform of a red apron and large sombrero, her amusing silhouette made me crack a grin. She cautiously leaned over, reaching for an amber ale to the right side of the fridge behind a row of juice and milk. She closed the fridge door and popped the top off the bottle on the edge of the island. Holden’s nose dove to the floor and grabbed the cap, dropping the bone beside it; he proudly paraded around the island, placed it in the trash can, and returned to her feet with the bone at his paws. Her head dipped back as she took a long drag of the beer, gulping loudly with her eyes closed with content.
“You going to share with the rest of the class?”
Her eyes nailed into me. She took the beer from her pink lips and growled, “Buy it with your own paycheck.” She turned back to the fridge and grabbed two more bottles in her other hand. She strolled around the island, clicking the bottles with each step. The monstrous white dog shielded her from me as if she was a princess in need of a dragon.
“You smell like tacos,” I stupidly defended.
“You smell like fish—get that checked out,” she retorted curtly.
“Trich? Really? Bringing up my trichomoniasis?” My hands covered my crotch theatrically, and I crossed my legs, fidgeting as if I was resisting the urge to scratch my theoretically STD-infested region.
She cracked a smile and tilted the neck of her beer bottle to me. “Cheers to good antibiotics, my friend.” She then gingerly led Holden out of the kitchen area and down the hallway around the corner to her room, I presumed.
I silently cursed myself for not interrogating her when I had the chance, but I persuaded myself that it was for the best. I barely began to understand how Heath could have been friends with such a blunt, curt individual. He was so enveloped in maintaining schedules and regularity in his life, but she was a chaotic, indescribable, orthodox mess. Her thoughts were staggered and unmapped—I had known that much from listening to her talk to Heath on the phone or in person. She didn’t make sense but made perfectly good revelations and epiphanies.
Devin was what Heath aspired to be—spontaneous and rebellious.
Esther and I continued working on the project once I grabbed water bottles for the group. Our ideas meshed but contradicted. The group’s thoughts fought angrily about each conclusion saying one was too theoretical or too obvious. Everything was too contrived as we had to force the passion for the project. If I remember correctly, no one gave a crap about that project or even that class—whichever one it was.
My eyes kept glancing to the clock, waiting for an hour to pass since Devin left. I wondered if her sister was deliberately vigilant of the time, too, but she never seemed to catch the time or even worry about it, absorbed in the fallacies and theories surrounding the topic. Finally Esther stood up and said, “Wait a second.” Her eyes met mine, and she offered, “You want to talk to her, Ned? I mean, she hasn’t talked to anyone about Heath... and I don’t think that’s safe. Have you seen a counselor?”
I glanced at Brody, who put his two fingers up to his lips and stuck out his tongue. I quickly replied, “Uh, no,” in a deeper voice than was actually necessary.
“Please just talk her into seeing one.”
I just stared at Esther, terrified that I would say the wrong thing and that I would turn a conversation into an interrogation. The image of Devin sobbing into her legs in her black dress at the funeral on the curb outside the entrance flashed across my mind. How her bruised collar bone stuck out from the lacey neckline, how bruises covered her shins and thighs, discolorations occurred on her wrists, and how the jagged cut across her forehead had a black caterpillar tethering her flesh together. One eye swollen and half-shut. Her blonde hair cascaded over her face as if she knew how scarring her appearance was—ashamed and desperate. It was all kind of jarring.
I gulped, “Um, okay.”
I followed Esther sheepishly behind like a child as she led me down the corridor that branched off the edge of the foyer. The corridor ended with a staircase climbing upwards, but Esther took an abrupt right into a door I expected to be a closet. Her small hands gripped the golden knob and turned in, pushing the door into the room slowly.
Devin lay on the far on her abdomen on her bed. Her saturated, blonde hair fell down the curves of her shoulders and the curve of her back. She had already changed out of her uniform and showered, wearing athletic shorts and a t-shirt that had long since faded in the wash. Her tawny feet rocked back and forth as I noticed her slim fingers flip through the pages of a book, the copper pages obviously not one of a textbook. A large set of headphones sat on her head precariously, tilting a little to the right side as it connected to an old CD player that really should have been abandoned. Her head nodded to a beat only she could hear. Her sheets were neatly folded at the foot of her bed as she leaned her elbows into her pillow.
The three bottles gleamed from the wastebasket by an empty desk.
“Well, she looks like she’s fine. Go ahead.”
“Uh, that’s okay.”
A white face came to the door, his tail whipping back and forth as he saw Esther. She knelt down, said her greetings to the giant of a dog, and twisted back down the corridor. I mirrored her actions, but she immediately stopped me. “No, you go fix that.” She shoved me inside the breadth of the door, and the frosted face bared his large fangs.
“Whoa, whoa, get the Abominable Snowman to chill out first!”
“Holden, no. He’s nice, nice.”
He obediently closed his mouth and dipped his snout. His brown eyes stared apologetically up at me, and his tail slowly thudded against the cabinet to the right of the door. He rubbed his face gently into my thighs, letting out little exasperated moans and groans, allowing me into his territory.
I casually slid into the room. Stunned, I took in the weird characteristics floating around the place—no TV, no posters, no pictures. Stacks of books solitarily lined the walls and tops of cabinets and shelves. A soccer ball and cleats sat in the corner of her room. I strolled up to Devin’s side and half-expected her to turn to me and stop what she was doing. However, she didn’t. She silently mouthed the words she read, the words carving into her lips with each passing syllable. Her fingers danced across the lines she speedily absorbed. Her blue eyes danced across the page rhythmically. A faint sound of melody and song leaked from her headphones, and then the drums picked up and resounded from the speakers, pounding against her ears. Her eyes slowly closed as she let the music flow into her, and I suddenly became uncomfortable, feeling as though I walked inside a diary. I stumbled upon intimacy.
My hand reached out, tapping her soft shoulder, and her eyes immediately snapped open. Her feet swung around and slammed into my side, knocking me onto the floor. Holden began to bark loudly, alerting the whole house. She quickly slid off her bed, and her legs fell to each of my sides, straddling me and pressing my arms into my sides. She pulled back a fiery fist suddenly.
“Wait, wait!” I wailed, my voice cracking.
“I’m so sorry. I’m sorry.” She blinked and recognized me from either the kitchen or any time before. She leapt off of me onto her bed in one graceful moment, apologizing as she scurried as far away from me as she could in the room. She huddled in the corner of her bed and stared at me quizzically, freezing in one place as if I was a fierce predator.
I pulled myself up onto my elbows and tried to catch my breath—a stalemate in this dangerous battle. Our eyes finally met, and I was surprised to see fear mixed in emotions of shock scarring her petite features. Her chest heaved up and down violently, her hand resting on her chest as if the compression would slow down her heart rate. I should have been more scared of her than she was of me.
Holden dragged himself onto the bed and curled tautly into a ball, spilling out of Devin’s lap as she began to pet him slowly, her eyes still glued onto me. “Who let you in?”
“Uh, Esther told me to talk to you.”
Her shoulders and chest fell. Her face relaxed as she inquired, “She wanted me to talk to you about Heath, huh?”
I nodded my head.
“’Cuz he was your best friend…”
“Uh, yeah, I think.”
I pulled myself off the floor and shoved my hands into my pockets, not knowing exactly what to do or even say. How do you talk to someone about such a sensitive subject that happened nearly a month ago and expect a total stranger to open up to you? “Esther wanted me to talk you into seeing a therapist or something about it.”
Her eyes fell to her dog, her hands cupping the side of his face as she rubbed his jowls. “Yeah, she and everybody else I talk to.”
“I’m not going to ask you to do that, though.”
She turned back to me. “You aren’t?”
She glanced at the opposite end of the bed and directed me to sit on the edge. I nestled across from her and leaned against the bare, blue wall. I netted my fingers together as I slowly relaxed my body and stared at the young adult who had suddenly turned into a small child. She grabbed her knees, pushing Holden’s face off of her lap gently, and wrapped her arms around them. Icy blue eyes nailed into me from behind bruised knees. “Are you from the yearbook again?”
I furrowed my brow and confessed, “Definitely not. Does it look like I have a freaking inkling of a fuck to give about that thing?”
“They’ve been pestering me for a quote.”
“That sucks. I’m sorry.”
“They want to portray it as some heroic story that I survived and he died, when it obviously is not. I’m in no way shape or form thankful I lived and he died. It should have been me, you know.”
My eyes fell to the waste bin again, the bottles taunting me. I assumed she couldn’t have weighed much, and three bottles of beer in an hour should be plenty for her to get drunk or at least buzzed. I turned back to her, her piercing gaze still absorbing me. “Why do you drink so much?”
“So I don’t remember.”
“You drink to forget?”
“No, I drink to not remember.”
Stunned at her confession, I tried to nudge her along to get more information about my friend. “What happened then that night?”
Her eyes did not separate from me for a moment as she sluggishly whispered, “I don’t remember.” Her hands tore the headphones off of her head and threw them on the floor beside her bed angrily, the phones bouncing off the carpet and rolling toward the door. The veins in her forehead began to bulge as I noticed I initiated some sort of fury hidden within this girl.
My heart fell into my stomach, and my shoulders drooped and slumped.I furrowed my brow with confusion and asked again, “What do you mean?”
“I can’t remember.”
My voice rose with frustration hinting at each syllable. “What? You can’t remember? Heath died, and no one knows why or gets it. I thought you would be the one to know how or why he had to die. Quite frankly, I don’t mean to be rude, but he was much more of an influence to this community than you ever were. He did community service, he mentored some kids, attended church, coached soccer teams… As soon as your dad went to jail, you shut down and don’t even attend church… you are too busy mourning over Heath’s death to even try to pretend you meant anything to anyone but him. I understand you’re bitter and don’t believe in God or Heaven, but some of us do. It’s all we can do to just accept it, okay? So don’t sit there and ignore everyone.”
“First off, how fucking dare you.”
Guilt poured over me abruptly as I understood the words I spat had little to no truth connected to them. I may have known she did not do community service or attend church, but she may have had no animosity towards anyone. However, the characterization of the villain who killed my best friend really expanded with each new declaration and accusation.
“If you want to play that game, what kind of fruit did Eden consume?”
“False, the Bible does not specify what kind of forbidden fruit she was persuaded to consume. How about Moses, hmm? Did he willingly accept his duties sent to him by God?”
“Yes, because he wanted to help people, Devin, just like you need to help me.”
“False, he argued against God’s decision, so before you ever point your accusatory finger at me again, know that I will snap it off your crooked hand. Anymore questions?”
My eyes widened at this sudden burst of energy.
“Moral of the story: I don’t know what happened that night because I physically can’t recall. If you want to know what happened, you’re going to have to ask Heath, but, wait, I’m an atheist, I can’t believe in your petty crap. Better yet, go find his phone where we crashed. I couldn’t find it after nearly a month, but go help yourself. The last thing I remember is recording his stupid, crooked, smug smirk and his stupid chuckle, you know, because I thought it was cute and funny and he hated me recording him.” Her blue eyes suddenly glazed over as she continued, ignoring me for the longest time and focusing on her own demons. “You know, I wish I remembered what happened—the thought comes across my mind nearly every minute, but I will never know. I don’t get to know and do get to settle in believing I killed him, okay? There’s your freaking testimony.”
I expected her to burst into tears upon the mere mention of his name based upon cheesy movies and materialistic girls, but she was heaving breaths and just staring at me, waiting impatiently for another attack. Her slightly crooked nose flared with defiance, and anger rose in the glow of her eyes.
I stuck out my hand, incredulous of my own action but also accepting because I had no clue as to what else I could possibly do in this situation. I’ve never been or will be yelled at so fervently, and I didn’t know how to handle it. “My name is Edwin Mortis—but for the love of God, just call me Ned please. I guess we’ve never really met.”
I expected a witty retort or a perhaps accusatory curse or I don’t know. Just something other than what she did.
She stared at my hand and cracked a smile. She took my hand, gave it a firm shake, and introduced herself with a wide-eye gaze that resonated warmth and home, contradicting her previous nature, “I’m Devin Sebold.”
Our hands parted, and I confessed, “I’ve kind of wanted to meet you for some time. He spoke very highly of you.”
She rubbed the back of her neck, embarrassed. “I hope you know about my fiery disposition from him, too.”
“Oh, he spoke of you like a bitch.”
She burst into a beautiful laugh that could not possibly be described fully to its potential through word, only sound. “He was the biggest dick I ever met.”
I nodded. “You’ve just met the second biggest dick you’re ever going to meet.”
“Sweet, I can add that to my Bucket List.”
I remember sitting in the back of the classroom, staring absentmindedly at the wall—lost in my imagination. I silently hummed “Creep” and tapped my pencil on my desk as if I were beating against a drum. I began to nod my head to the slow beat, and then I noticed him.
He walked into the class about five minutes late, and I never knew he was in my class—too busy wrapped up in my mind. Too busy to notice. I sat up and hesitated to continue my rhythm. He shuffled into a seat in the front of the classroom, minding to not interrupt the teacher while he lamented on how to correctly draw the stereochemistry of a Lewis diagram. The boy ruffled his damp, dirty blond hair, whipping his head back and forth to get the rain droplets to brush away from him. His green eyes shifted to one of his friends beside him—I think his name was Brody. They gave each other a fist-bump and then turned back to the lesson.
I couldn’t remember his name, and I should have felt bad about it. I knew I should have some reaction to realizing he was in my class, but I honestly didn’t. I hid behind my hair and scribbled down simple lyrics to songs. I combed my fingers through my hair as I stole another glance at the boy I properly met yesterday.
I stole a glance over my shoulder in Chemistry after I heard the abrupt halt of a pencil slapping against the surface of the faux wood desktop. She sat limply in her desk in the very back of the classroom. From the swirling of her pencil tip, I knew she wasn’t taking notes—lost in her own little world. Her blonde hair loosely fell over her shoulders like cascading water. Her blue eyes nailed to the desktop as her hands delicately pushed eraser remnants after frantically rubbing the eraser against the notebook paper. I smiled because I didn’t know what else to do, expecting her to give me a slight glance because of that weird instinct of knowing when someone is staring at you.
I glanced up at the boy and then turned back to my medium. I carefully sketched the curve of his face as he eloquently turned to his profile as he stared at the dated chalkboard. His nose was long and straight—a bump never hindering his appearance. I turned back to the page, and I realized the sloping slant of his eyes were gaffes on his portrait. I snatched the paper from the desktop as the bell rang for the next class. I scrunched it together into a taut ball before grabbing my backpack from the floor. I shuffled to the exit and tossed the portrait into the bin before leaving to the hallways. My eyes turned up as my foot skidded over the concrete tiles, and his eyes met mine. He cracked a smile, and I reflected the small notion. It was what society forced us to do.
He rubbed the back of his neck and stared at the ground. “Hey.”
I nodded my head, my books pressed against my chest with embracing arms, creating a world of security for me. “Hey.”
And then he and I walked our separate ways.