Carbon

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Chapter 52

I leaned back into my desk chair in front of my desk in the corner of my room. I pulled my arms behind my head and gingerly swept through the information on the computer screen. I whispered the words under my breath, “‘Heath Frey died in a vehicular accident early this morning on Wright Road. Another student from Jefferson-Polk was involved in the one-car accident and was reported to have a couple noncritical injuries. She is suspected to have a full recovery. Heath Frey is expected to have a funeral service at Methodist on Sunday at noon...’” I shook my head and returned to the search engine that led me to this article. I filtered through several different articles, searching for any information regarding the evidence on the scene.

Devin gaited by the doorway, and I aloofly glared at her from my spot. Our eyes met for a second before she continued into the guest room. I heard her release an exasperated sigh and collapse on her bed.

I turned back to the computer and typed, “Where does evidence go?” Several links fell across my screen, some apparently helpful but actually irrelevant and then some sources fairly accurate. I returned to the search engine. “Where does the evidence go after it is used?” Case files became the majority of the links. I gave an exhausted sigh and contemplated giving up. Failures of defendants and prosecutors flooded the responses.

“Ned, just don’t talk to me.”

I turned back to the search engine and typed in variances of the searches to only receive a few different links. I groaned as defeat became more evident in my scouring search. And then I froze.

What if it was given back to his mother?

I snatched my phone from beside my mouse pad and typed in Heath’s house’s number. I heard the dial tone and then the phone ring for approximately thirty seconds before his mother picked up. “Hello?”

“Hey, Mrs. Frey, this is Ned—you know, Heath’s friend?”

Silence.

“Mrs. Frey?”

“Yes, sorry, Ned, I just wasn’t expecting a phone call from you. How have you been doing, sweetheart? I heard about that awful incident at that house. Are you alright?”

“Yes, ma’am, I’m fine.” I considered putting in more courtesy for this phone call to hopefully persuade her into giving me what I actually needed. Want wasn’t warranted for this anymore. I had to know. I cracked my fingers under my thumb as I waited for a response.

“That’s good to hear. I heard about that Devin girl, too. Is she faring well? She was never one to be stable.”

I glanced at my doorway, expecting her to creep up as she often did when her name was mentioned. “No, ma’am, she isn’t doing well. She’s having a lot of issues brought back up by the accident, and she doesn’t exactly know how to handle them, I think.”

“Of course.”

“Mrs. Frey, may I ask you something of importance?”

“I’m obliged to any of Heath’s friends.”

“Did the cops… did anyone find anything at the scene of the accident? Like, perhaps—”

“No, dear.”

“Not even his cell phone?”

She hesitated to answer, and my heart beat against my chest. A doubt did not flutter in my mind as I slowly began to realize she had it the whole time. She had to have had it—she had it. “No, dear.”

“Are you sure?”

“No, sir, I found—it… was… I failed as well as the police failed to retrieve any evidence outside of the vehicle except…”

“Ma’am, did they find anything inside the car?”

“Just—nothing.”

I gritted my teeth angrily, furious she would not abide to her original statement. She was a liar, and she knew it, barely recovering to hide her mistakes. I breathed, “Not even a phone?”

The receiver clicked as she hung up.

I slammed my phone against the table and growled. I ran my fingers through my hair as my eyes scanned the screen furiously. How was I supposed to gain any closure if the one individual who had the power to do so was unwilling to help me? “Goddammit.”

“You know, she’s a real bitch sometimes.”

I glanced at the doorway, and Devin leaned against the doorframe. I just meekly stared at her, stunned that she could actually pull herself together. Ever since we went to Planned Parenthood, she remained either in a stoic trance or a tearful daze.

“You looking for the phone?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Do me a favor.” She sauntered nonchalantly to my desk and leaned against the lip of the desk. She shoved her hand into the pocket of her sweatpants and gently placed something on the desk. “Don’t get yourself arrested.” Her hand peeled away from the object slowly, unveiling a golden key.

I turned my gaze to her, questioning her motives. “Why do you have this?”

“Heath gave me a key so I could sneak out when I knew about appointments or new clients coming in. If my dad managed to tell me that information before anything happened, I would hide in his bedroom until the next morning.”

My eyes fell back to the key, and my fingertips traced the key’s edges delicately, remembering the few times I saw Heath whip out his keys. His house key was plain except for orange on the rusted tip. “Thank you.”

She slid away from me and collapsed back onto her bed, the box spring creaking as she crawled underneath her sheets.

I snatched the key and turned back to my computer screen. I pulled up the hours of Mr. and Mrs. Frey’s law firm, noting the hours of business. I scratched them down on a notepad and ripped it from the binding. I taped the hours to the top of my cell phone, and I restlessly waited a full night before scurrying to drag on some clothes and some couth in regards to home invasion.

Ten o’ clock was my designated time for the invasion, but I awoke at five in the morning, excitement slowly building within my chest. I stared at my television mindlessly until 9:58 glinted against my alarm clock, and I tore away from my bed. I swaggered through the house silently as I knew Lex would still be asleep due to her recent aspiration to stay up with me until two nearly every night—last night she must have done it solo. I slithered by the guest room, the door wide open.

Devin sat with her back facing the door, shimmying out of her pajama top. The curve of her back reflected the dim sunlight as it leaked in from the hallway. She gingerly leaned over and snatched a t-shirt from the foot of her bed along with a sports bra. She wiggled into them both and then glanced at the corner of the room for a second. She turned back to her pillow and lay back down. She twirled a dark strand around her finger and then rested the strand against her shoulder.

Why would she give me the key? Why did she keep it for so long? What was her motive regarding all of this? What had she planned?

I drove to Heath’s home without the radio blasting, without a word coming from me, without the accompaniment of my family or Devin. I parked in the driveway, and I quickly inspected the corners of the house in case it had cameras or alarms. Nothing. A massive two-story brick house sat amidst identical buildings. A gigantic window was in the front façade of the home and allowed light to pour into the foyer. Four windows sat on each side of the window, and I supposed those windows must have led light into other rooms. A black door sat bellow the huge window, framed by two slender windows.

I loped onto the front porch, sticking the key inside the lock, and I tried twisting it. Nothing. I kept twisting and turning the key, nearly breaking the tip off inside the lock before resigning. I pulled the key out and glared at the welcome mat, as if the phrase, “Welcome to Our Little Abode!” was something to be scoffed at. I kicked at the short hairs and turned back to my car. An epiphany eclipsed my thoughts as I saw the windows of my car. I turned back to the home and plastered my face against the glass. Another door across the home could be seen past a shag carpet and luxurious leather-clad chairs.

I hustled to the other side of the home quickly, my breaths falling out of my mouth like vomit. My hands shook as I fought to steady them. I clumsily placed the key into its designated hole with an audible click. I flicked my wrist, and another audible click resounded. My right hand grabbed the door handle and pressed forward. I shuddered as the door gave away to my pressure. I stepped back momentarily and just stared at the agape door, incredulous that I actually would be able to distinguish what really killed my friend, why he was so careless, and why he had to die. I took in a gulp of air and placed my foot inside the home. I positioned my weight forward to move inside but was interrupted with a rugged voice.

“Hello, Ned. Looking for this?” A hand shoved into my view, holding a black cell phone with a full charge. “I charged it for you.”

I followed the stemming arm to the face of the man. His hollow eyes shone with the gleam that was reminiscent of his son’s, and a smile that cloned itself onto Heath’s face. His square jaw defined the difference between their faces along with his ginger hair. His pallor complexion forced me to assume he called in sick at the office along with his sniffling as he nailed me into place. I pulled my foot out of his home and took several steps back onto his back porch. “I apologize for trespassing. I should never have come here. I’m so sorry. I just needed to know.”

Mr. Frey threw his hands in the air and waved them. “No, no! I wanted you to have this… along with this.” He turned to a table lining the wall closest to the exit and grabbed a large black journal. He handed me both the journal and the phone. “I think Heath would want you to have the journal anyway. He wrote a lot about you.”

I sunk into my shoes as I realized his father read it. “I’m so sorry about Heath, Mr. Frey.”

He shrugged. “Have a nice day, Ned. I’m going to enjoy the rest of my ‘sick day.’” He gingerly closed the door and locked it. He glanced out the window and gave me a slight smile and a wave.

I incredulously stood there and reciprocated the wave. I turned around slowly and shook my head and turned back to the phone. I glanced over my shoulder and decided to make it to my car before I further investigated Heath’s death. I was sure his parents must have memorized their son’s last moments ever since they received the phone. I jogged to my car and slid inside quickly. I whipped the phone out—the screen was cracked and near shattered. There was no way I could identify what was going on. I silently cursed.

I plugged the cell phone up to my computer with an auxiliary cord and glanced through the different files on the phone. I clicked through the differently numbered files, and I found the photo history of the phone. I flipped through the photographs, and I couldn’t help but crack a smile.

Us at junior prom.

He and Devin at a soccer field.

Devin giving him the finger.

He and his family at a nice dinner.

He and the high school team.

He and his club team.

Us hanging out.

Him hanging out.

His cat, Edna.

More pictures of us, more pictures of Devin and him, and mostly pictures of Edna.

I shook the nostalgia away as I turned back to my main mission. I patrolled through other various files—music, notes, lists, and every other facet of Heath’s life that was his personal haven. I glanced at his journal on my desk beside my computer from the corner of my eye and wandered what other secrets he found so dark that he hid in a journal. However, a journal is not meant to be found, so how did his parents know of it? I turned back to the computer and finally found his videos.

I scoured through files of Edna jumpimg on top of the kitchen table and hissing at Mrs. Frey. There was a video of the soccer team rapping a song popular during the summer. Videos of Edna and Devin were most of the documented finds, and I smiled as I opened one file.

The view was focused on Devin, and she had a hesitant smile carved into her full lips. She perked as Heath asked, “What did Sushi A say to Sushi B?” She shook her head silently as her smile faded as she cocked a brow. “Wasabi!!!”

She cracked a smile and shook her head. “That’s an awful, awful pun.”

“You love it.”

“Yeah, I kind of do.”

I clicked onto the next file, and I was close. The soccer game. I watched as US conceded a PK, and then the clip ended. I forlornly looked at the last file on the phone and questioned whether I should really peek inside this little piece of Devin’s past. I glanced over my shoulder at the agape door. I pulled myself up from my chair and scurried over to kick it shut. I leaned over to lock it and then returned to my previous position. I clicked on the file.

The camera focused on Heath as he drove. His green eyes focused on the road as his hands clenched the wheel as he turned onto Wright. His jet black hair was a mess on top of his head, and his sharp jaw jutted out from his wild mane. His long, narrow nose was the majority of his profile. He donned a US jersey, supporting one of the midfielders I did not recognize. His hand swept his hair back as he glanced at the camera. He cracked a smile as he turned back to the road. “Devin, stop.”

“Look at the sexy beast in his natural habitat.”

He laughed, “I won’t argue with that.”

“How was the game, Heath?”

He turned to the camera and gave a thumbs-up.

“What was the score?”

“2-1. Close game.”

“You going to sing it?”

“What?”

“Your rendition of the National Anthem?”

Heath glanced at Devin and shook his head with a toothy grin splitting his thin lips. “’O say! Can you see?!—I don’t think so.” He turned to Devin and must have noticed something because he furrowed his brow indiscreetly. “You feeling okay, Dev?”

She hesitated before she slurred, “I’m fine.”

“Did you take your meds?”

“Yes, mother! God, you act like I don’t know how to handle myself.”

The camera tilted down for a moment as Heath pushed it down. “You’re licking your lips again.”

“They’re chapped!” she defended. She batted away his arm.

“Devin, you’re getting aggressive again.”

“Shut up! I’m f—“

“Devin? Devin. Devin!”

Heath shoved the phone out of her hand. The phone lay camera-side down, leaving the rest of the world to the imagination. The speaker clattered as the phone was moved to the side of the chair, and then the camera turned back to Heath as it fell to the floor. Devin’s knees shook violently in the corner of the screen.

“Devin.” Heath leaned across the screen and tried to grab something off of the floor. I recalled he used to keep a pillow on the floor of his Jeep, but he never revealed why. “Crap,” he growled. Heath sat up out of view of the camera. An audible click occurred—the sound of a seat belt being unbuckled. Heath leaned across Devin’s lap as he grabbed the pillow. I supposed he wedged it between her head and the hard walls of the jeep. “Devin, you’re going to be okay. I’ll pull—Shit!!!”

Heath turned his gaze to the road and pulled back into his seat. His hands clenched the wheel as he slammed on his horn. “Get out of my lane!!! Shit! Shit!” He pulled the wheel to the right severely. The wheels on the car squealed as it took the sudden turn. The crunch of the bumper resounded as it folded against the iron barricade in front of the embankment.

“Mother of fuck!” His hands fumbled with his seat belt as he attempted to bolster himself inside of the car.

And then the phone was suddenly on the ceiling of the car and then on the floor and spinning inside the car like an ice cube swirling in a drink. Heath groaned with each impact, and then glass shattered. Heath flew through the window, and then the car rolled for an indefinite amount of time before finally coming to a halt.

Heath’s heavy breaths could be heard as he drowned in his own blood, I assumed. I mean, with injuries like that, what else could have been the cause of death? What else could have truly killed him?

The last image recorded was Devin unconscious, a wound bleeding from her forehead as she was tied to the chair with her seat belt, upside-down to the world. And then the camera clicked off.

Horrified, I found myself covering my mouth with both of my hands. It was her. It really was her fault. I slammed my hands on my desk and stood up, glaring down at the blackened screen. I replayed the clip again…

“Devin, stop.”

I combed through my hair with my fingers hurriedly as this overwhelming sense of doom began to tickle my chest. I heaved a breath as I tried to understand why this had to happen. I pounded the mouse against the desk as I tried to zoom in on different perspectives of the clip.

“I won’t argue with that.”

I shook my head fervently as I glanced at each corner of the film and then across the screen again. He was fine for one minute. He was fine for nearly the entirety of the video except until the car flipped. “What?” I whispered.

Devin’s knee began to twitch I noticed.

“Dammit,” I murmured as I pulled back the tab backward on the player to glance at her dancing appendage again. Sure enough, her knee had been fluttering the whole video. I fell back into my chair resignedly.

It was her fault. It was never truly her fault—was it, though?

I turned to my closed door, waiting for her to creak the door open and creep into the room. She must have known this happened, but then again, maybe she buried it under alcohol and memories. She drowned it out with the only medicine she abused. Then again, she could have destroyed the instances in her mind with stronger drugs. No doubt, she could have simply mentioned any pain she had and would have access to Leslie’s expansive pharmacy. She could have gone much farther.

I slammed open one of my desk drawers and shoved Heath’s journal away, knowing that I couldn’t let her see it.

I launched myself out of the chair and marched down the hallway with purpose. I could feel the blood rush to my face as I fought back the urge to screech or wail, holding back the urge to just disintegrate. I reached the visitor room doorway and just stood there, staring intentionally at her forlornly. I pointed down at the floor as a deep grimace contorted my face. “Please, tell me you knew.”

Devin sat in the middle of her bed, facing me. Her brow furrowed as she stacked the papers she was glancing over into a taut pile. She placed it on top of her pillow before she answered, “Did you find the phone?”

“Tell me you knew,” I insisted.

“Knew what?”

“How he died. How he died, and why he had to die. Just promise me you knew, and promise me you didn’t.”

She languidly shook her head and clenched her eyes shut. She whispered, “What?”

“Heath had to die because he was saving you, Devin.”

A tear trickled down her cheek as she opened her eyes. The veins in her forehead bulged as she swallowed a small yelp. She breathed through gritted teeth, “What?”

I marched back to my room, and she obediently followed. I pulled the chair out for her, and she slumped into it. I clicked the video again, and she fell back into her past, revisiting the true misery she had forgotten. As it ended, she simply buried her face in her hands, her shoulders shuddering as she collapsed into herself.

“Devin, I know this is really hard for you…”

She shook her head into her hands and breathed, “I had a fucking seizure, and that’s why he took off his seatbelt?”

“Devin, it’s okay…”

She sat up and stared at me with glazed eyes. She howled, “No, no, it’s not o-fucking-kay, Ned. I just found out it really was my fault. This whole thing is my fault. The reason why he died, the reason I like you, the reason I’m a failure. This whole thing was and is my fault. I had been defending myself for so long telling people I would never hurt Heath. I would never kill him.”

“You didn’t! You didn’t kill him!”

“Ned, come on! Be realistic. I killed Heath.”

“You didn’t.”

“My seizures sure as hell did, and, quite frankly, that’s probably the biggest part of my identity that’s been constant. The only thing that has ever been constant in my life has been those seizures, and I thought I would be the one killed by one of them. I was so wrong. I was so wrong!”

“Devin… please…”

“No, Ned…” Tears spilled from her eyes, and her face blushed intensely. Her shoulders slumped forward as she dipped her chin, staring down at the carpet of my room. She whimpered, “I killed him, Ned… I killed him…”

I held her face in my hands, and our eyes entwined. I murmured, “Devin, no, no, you didn’t.”

She blinked and then fell into me, sliding off the chair. Her chin dug into my shoulder as I wrapped my arms around her as tautly as I could without hurting her ribs. My fingers combed through her hair as she sobbed into my shoulder. For a moment, I was mistaken thinking Devin had fallen back into at least part of herself. She was at least unfolding her vulnerable side to me. Her nails dug into my back with each intensifying sob, and I wondered how badly this would dissect her identity.

The girl who has seizures.

The girl whose seizures killed her best friend.

The girl who was slowly killing me.

She suddenly tore away from me and just stared at me with those chaotic, blue eyes. They shivered as she bit down on her bottom lip. She stood up and stared down her minute nose at me. I just turned to her and waited for her to say something, dying for her to let me in her mind. Her hands turned into taut fists. Her tongue slid across her bottom lip three times in a row, and her stare suddenly became glazed and somewhat empty.

“Devin, are you alright?”

She whispered, “I don’t know if I’ll ever be alright.” She pivoted on her heels and marched to the visitor room. I heard the door slam, and I feigned relief that she was finally leaving me to grieve alone. However, her embrace was one of the few things that was slowly gluing me back together to finally become a functional human being.

I perked up as I realized she closed the door of the visitor room. I rushed to the door and tried the knob, but it wouldn’t twist. I roared, “Devin, open the door!”

Silence.

I backed up five steps and shoved my leg forward. The ball of my foot collided into the door, forcing it to snap forward. I hurdled inside the room and froze as I watched Devin mindlessly.

“Goddammit… Goddammit!” Her thin fingers tore each of the pieces of paper she had so neatly stacked on her pillow twelve times, counting under her breath. White snow of paper fell across the bedspread.

I focused my eyes upon the papers and finally realized what they were—prenatal instructions regarding exercise and diet. My heart sank as I realized I was a reason the one thing she could truly love was torn away from her. Guilt could not be escaped even though I tried to persuade myself that it was necessary, attempting to alleviate it, but I could not shake the feeling. She gripped a brochure titled, “Baby and Names.” She tore through that one five times before throwing the scraps against the wall. I guess she didn’t have the chance to tear them apart since the abortion. She peeled herself off of the bed and stalked over to the trash can. She gripped the edges of the can and slammed it into the wall fiercely, and shredded sheets expelled from the bin like vomit. She toppled the drawer beside the door, ignoring me blatantly.

“Devin,” I whispered.

She fell to her knees and pounded her fists into her thighs. She finally just ran out of energy and crumpled on the floor. She sobbed, “It should have been me… It should have been me, Ned.”

Devin later described what was going on in her head to me years later according to a Great Gatsby quote. “The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.”

I remembered it. I remembered it all.

“How much longer do you think?” I inquired, leaning across the car to turn down the blaring music so I could ask my question. The Killers had been pounding through the speakers with mighty drum solos and curious synthesizers. I leaned back into my seat with the comfortable volume and closed my eyes.

I ripped through the brochures angrily, caught in a torrent of lies fabricated by my own brain. Lost and confused, I just needed to destroy something—anything—because I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe I was the one to truly blame for Heath’s death.

Heath leaned forward and turned the volume back up. He glanced at the clock on his dash and turned his gaze back to the dark road. He moved in an undulate motion before twisting his face to me and nonchalantly shrugged with a silly scowl on his face. “Don’t touch The Killers, my friend. They’re The Killers for a reason.”

I rolled my eyes dramatically and groaned, “Back to the road, chauffeur.”

I froze, fragments of paper falling across the room like snowflakes. I shook my head frantically, realizing I had no other outlet left. There was no doubt left. I was the true scapegoat, and I deserved it. I stalked across the room and snatched the trashcan, picking it up fervently.

“You know, maybe I should just tell him.”

I turned to him and arched my eyebrow. “Tell who?”

“You know who.”

My heart dropped into my stomach, but a hint of excitement for him also tortured me. I struggled to smile and nod my head, embracing Heath’s new openness regarding his sexuality. At the game, he turned to me and told me, “Devin, I think I’m okay now.”

I slammed the bin into the wall—pieces of debris falling to the floor like rancid sleet. I released a bestial roar so furious and angry, bursting my blood vessels in my eyes, a tinge of red flooding into my vision.

I embraced him immediately in a taut hold, rocking back and forth. I smiled into his chest and hollered over the buzz of the crowd, “I’m so happy!”

I whipped my gaze across the room frantically, scouring for any other way to release my anger. My veins bulged beneath my thin skin as I noticed the redness began to emphasize the slight, hollow curves of my muscles. I stalked to the doorway and noticed Ned standing in the way, but I did not acknowledge him, blinded by the truth, the insatiable truth that was eating my insides. I snatched the edge of the drawers to the right of the door with my nails and braced myself.

“You think he’ll react okay?”

“Yeah, I think so. I mean, I don’t know. I hope so. I know he’s straight and all, but I can’t keep living in secret.” He turned his gaze to me and gave me a large, toothy smile that stretched halfway across his face. His emerald eyes alight with all of the happiness of self-acceptance, of self-love. His cheeks reddened from the stress of smiling, and his one dimple on his left side revealed itself.

I turned back to the road and stared at the horizon, a sad smirk stretching across my face. I could feel the tears begin to well, but I fought back the urge to just allow the torrent to cascade from my cheeks.

I loved him the most I ever had in that moment because I finally had to acknowledge he was not mine. He would never be mine, but I desired for him to be happy. And this, this is what happiness is.

I pulled the dresser from the wall, the drawers sliding forward, slapping against my thighs and shins, begging to remain intact with their home. I wrenched the drawers over onto its side and howled with pain as the reality sank deeper and deeper inside of me.

“I’ve got an epiphany about everything, though.”

I turned back to him, and his eyes locked with mine—my blues in his emeralds. He twisted his gaze back to the road and blindly rustled my hair with his right hand. I swatted his hand away and growled. He patted me on the head and murmured, “Shh, shh, be a good kitty.”

“Devin…” Ned whispered as softly as a specter gliding.

My hands fell to my sides as the tears finally began to pour from my eyes.

Heath smiled at me from across the hall at school the Monday after he and I first had sex as if nothing happened between us. Comforted by the ambiguity of each incident, I continued to befriend him, eventually falling in love with the biggest dork I knew.

I couldn’t catch my breath.

He and I lay in the soft grass of his front yard, staring up at the stars. Our hands rested on our stomachs, lost in the universe, blind to all of the happenings in the world, and maybe even other worlds. I twisted my face to stare at his. A small smile slid across his lips. I whispered, “Happy seventeenth birthday, Heath…”

I collapsed to my knees.

His eyes slid across his whites and absorbed me for a moment. He glanced at his watch, noticing it was past midnight and then chortled. “Yeah, happy birthday to me. Don’t I get like a lap dance or a stripper popping out of a cake?”

I punched him in the shoulder, and then we just both burst into laughter.

As we calmed down, I finally turned back to the stars before Heath interrupted our silence. “You know why I like looking at the stars so much?”

I silently shook my head.

“It’s the most perfect perfection.”

“You’re pretty perfect.”

He shrugged. “Not as much as I want to be.”

I threw venomous punches into my thick thighs as if maybe if I wounded myself enough, everything would be okay. Everything would be back to normal—I would be forced to have sex, but I would have Heath. I would at least have him back even if that meant I would never have met Ned, but I don’t know if I could handle that either.

We drove for another hour, showing up in the middle of BFN—Butt Fucking Nowhere. A tiny gas station consisted of the town and downtown—a single building amidst cotton fields that stretched out underneath the stars as if a mirror to the sky. A sea of green and white. I pressed my face against the cool plastic of the jeep, feeling a little off—not sick but not well.

“You asleep?” He poked my ribcage, making me jolt up.

I hissed, “No!”

“Good, ’cuz I’ve still got to tell you my epiphany.”

I rolled my eyes and propped my chin up with the heel of my hand, staring lazily at him. I released a resigned sigh and groaned, “Oh great sage, please tell me of your prophecy.” I furtively slid his cell phone into my lap, waiting for the perfect moment to catch Heath in all of his enlightening joy, all of his unburdened, unharnessed happiness.

I collapsed on the floor, out of energy. I crumpled into a ball of bone and flesh, staring at the distinct strands and hairs of the carpet. I could already feel rug burn across my forehead as I slid on to my stomach, allowing my appendages to flail out.

“Your sarcasm is appreciated.”

I nonchalantly shrugged and turned my attention to playing a game on his phone. “I try.”

“Well, you know I’ve been reading Emma this past couple of days, and I found a quote that I just really appreciated for the first time. Something that actually made sense.”

I killed him. I killed the person I loved the most in the entire world.

And he was so happy.

“I’ve been working my entire life to reach perfection. I’ve been working my ass off to please everyone I meet and befriend. I’ve been laboriously attempting to fix everything that’s ever broken and maybe even some things that weren’t broken. I’ve tried to create the perfect world so you and I could be happy. I’ve been working so hard for everyone to be happy.

“Yet, I haven’t been happy in a long time. I look at you, and I smile and am satisfied, content. But it’s not true happiness that lights up my soul like right now. Right now, I feel so alive. I’m so happy to be driving, to be with you, to be so in love with everything right now. Like, something clicked in my head, and I’m happy with what and who I am. It just hit me in the middle of the game.”

I nodded my head and confided, “I’m really excited for you.”

He glanced at me and turned back to the horizon, as if he was seeing if I was paying attention. I put his phone in my lap, deleting all distraction from this sudden confidence he had in me. “Well, the point is, I’m just happy with all of my imperfections. I guess it hit me. Like in the game, the players would screw up a pass, but they had to keep moving and tracking back. They had to keep working despite their failures. And here I am, trying to make every little detail perfect, I was going mad.

“I was so focused on protecting you that I forgot to protect myself, you know? I was so wanting to have the perfect life that I almost let that guy take advantage of me. I desired just everything to fall to place like a fairy tale.”

I choked on my tears as I brought my hands to my face, hiding the grief-stricken expression burning my features.

“We’re like chemical reactions—we have entropy, and our energy has value. I was depleting myself of the energy to be happy for once in my life. I was failing because I had an endothermic reaction going on. I was carbon, the whore of the elements, attached to everyone through some strange circumstances and bonds, but I can’t be carbon.”

I hesitated before asking, “What are you trying to say?”

He threw his hands in the air and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t even know!” He burst into laughter and began to dance to the music blaring through the speakers. “When You Were Young” I remember distinctly ripped through the air.

I shook my head and admitted, “You’re crazy.”

I loved him so much.

He braked at a stop sign and turned to me with his goofy smile, putting the car in park. “Alright, you’re thinking I’m crazy, and I am. But I can’t be perfect, and for the first time, I think I can actually accept that.”

“It should have been me,” I whimpered into the carpet.

“‘Perhaps it is our imperfections that make us so perfect for one another.’” He gave me that goofy smile.

I whispered, humbled, “Why are you telling me this?”

“Because you’re the only person in the world who I could tell this to and you’d understand. I needed you as much as you needed me. We needed each other in this weird, wacky way, and I was too blind to see that. Guess what? We may not be perfect individually, but we are really imperfect together.”

“You know entropy—”

“Can be pretty damn sweet.” He leaned across his console and gave me a peck on the forehead and turned back to the road. “Look what you’re doing, Devin, making me late.”

I froze, absorbing the image of Heath, suddenly noticing the slight imperfections, his large, crooked nose; acne-scarred cheeks; freckled, mottled back; and mangled, thin lips. I blinked slowly, analyzing each one of them as I realized they simply just made him even more attractive.

And I pulled out his phone’s camera so I could capture his beauty during this one perfect moment in time. Because I firmly believe in that moment, he was the most perfect being I had ever encountered in my life.

“It should have been me, Ned,” I whimpered.

“Devin.”

“It should have been me. It should have been me.” I pulled my knees to my chest, face-down to the floor, lost in my memories and thoughts. I choked on my tears again and felt my back roll as if I needed to vomit, but I couldn’t. I dry-heaved and hyperventilated as I slowly unwound from my sanity.

Ned knelt down beside me and patted my back lazily, trying to comfort me in any fashion he could. “It wasn’t you, Devin. It wasn’t you.” His lips brushed against my ear as he whispered, “Let’s go get some medicine and go to sleep for a little bit, huh? Does that sound good?”

I shook my head and sat up, my palms still stapled to my face. I whimpered, “Ned, I killed him. I killed my best friend. I killed him, and you sit there like I did nothing wrong.”

“Devin.”

“Please, don’t let this be the real me. Please don’t let this be what I’m really about. He was too young. He was too happy. It should have been me.”

“Devin, come on,” he urged.

I peeled my hands away from my face as I felt his hand manacle one of my wrists. I squealed sharply, “You don’t fucking understand! He fucking died before he could even get that off of his stupid chest. I killed him. I killed him.”

Ned released me and just meekly stared down at me as I collapsed into my hands again and sobbed the rest of the day, too torn and damaged to be capable of comprehending reality.


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