3 | Eaten Alive By Guilt
1 Year Later:
At a coffee shop, Gray sat quietly at a table alone, a cup in one hand and a phone in the other, busy checking his social media accounts.
Nothing changed about him in this past year. He had the same wavy, brown hair, slightly hiding the left side of his face where the scar remained on his eyebrow. Those big, gentle, silver-colored eyes reflected the light from his screen. His sleeves were folded, displaying more hair covering his arms than when he was a teen.
“Sorry, I’m late,” said Jesse before he took his khaki-green jacket off and placed it on the chair next to Gray. “What did I miss?”
He sat down and peeked at Gray’s phone.
“Hey!” Gray flipped his phone to hide the screen.
“Sorry.” Jesse chuckled. “Old habits die hard.” Jesse turned his head around, watching the door. “So, nobody arrived yet?”
“Yeah, but Liam texted me saying he’s on his way.”
“Good.” Jesse adjusted himself on the chair and leaned closer to Gray. “Then we still got time.”
“For you to tell me what’s your GPA this semester.” Jesse’s eyes sparkled with anticipation.
“I’m not gonna tell you that.” Gray scoffed.
“’Cause you always make fun of me, that’s why.”
Gray tried to sound serious, but he failed to hide his smile. Every time he looked at those ridiculously blue eyes, he would lose himself in them. It was like staring at two pieces from heaven.
“Come on.” Jesse pushed Gray with his elbow in a playful manner. “I’ll tell you mine.”
Gray took a moment to think, pursing his lips, then said, “All right.”
He picked up his phone and logged into his university account. Once in, he viewed his scores before showing them to Jesse with a proud smirk.
“How?” Jesse brought his hands on his head, mind-blown. “How did you ace all your courses this time too?!” He snatched the phone from Gray’s hand. “This semester was like hell, the most painful one so far in business school. Nobody I know got straight As. Nobody!” He looked at him from the corners of his eyes. “Dude, you’re not normal.”
“I’m better than normal.” He waggled his eyebrows and smiled proudly. “Why? What are your grades?”
Jesse shrugged a shoulder and said with a pout, “I’m not gonna tell you.”
He slid the phone back to Gray and stared at the window, ignoring the subject.
“Excuse me?” Gray exclaimed. “We had a deal.”
Jesse took his time before he faced Gray and taunted, “Well, I changed my mind.”
Gray opened his mouth in disbelief, observing how Jesse sat there so confidently while crossing his arms against his chest in a daring way.
Jesse didn’t change much as well, except for his hair, which he dyed an icy-blonde, almost white color. The vibrant blue eyes and pink lips complimented his light, fair skin. He retained the same playful attitude and the same childish behavior, even though he turned twenty a few months ago.
Gray finally shrugged and said, “Fine.” He held his phone and got busy online. “Have it your way.”
Moments later, Gray whistled, getting Jesse’s attention.
“So, these are your grades, huh?” Gray turned the screen toward Jesse.
Jesse’s eyes widened. “Gimme that!” He almost jumped out of his seat but failed to catch the phone as Gray swiftly dodged him. “You know my ID and password?” He stretched his arms to grab the little device that held his shameful grades.
“Of course, I do. You gave it to me last semester to check your grades, remember?” Gray gave Jesse his back and pushed him away as he continued reading the grades. “Wow. You failed a course. Did you know that?”
“Gray, Stop it! Stop reading that!”
“They’re not that bad.” Gray sincerely tried to comfort his friend. “Two Bs, a C+, and a C.”
Jesse gave up. He sat back on his chair with a pouty expression on his lips. He rested his elbows on the table, lowered his face and hid it behind his palms.
He groaned. “Mom’s gonna kill me.”
Gray stopped what he was doing, slowly placing his phone down as he felt sorry for Jesse.
“What happened, Jesse? You were doing so great in high school.”
Jesse removed his palms from his face, but he didn’t dare to lift his eyes to Gray. He sighed and waved his hand to gesture that he wasn’t in a mood to talk about it.
Next, a white guy with glasses strolled through the door of the coffee shop. Once he spotted Gray and Jesse, he beamed and approached them.
“Liam!” Jesse happily got off his seat.
Gray joined him too. “How’ve you been?”
“Hey.” Liam spread his hands.
Jesse greeted Liam with a firm handshake. Then he pulled for a man-hug, patting him on the back.
“It’s good to see you all,” said Liam before Jesse released him.
Gray welcomed Liam in the same manner. “How’s law school?”
“Ugh. It’s killing me, man.”
Before the three friends could sit, a handsome black guy with light-colored eyes walked in.
“Hey, Desmond.” The three waved at him.
They greeted Desmond in the same way they did with Liam, asking him about his department. Then they all sat around the table, drinking coffee and catching up on what happened in their lives since the last time they met.
A few minutes later, Desmond picked up his backpack.
“Guys, there’s something I want to show you.”
He pulled out a set of photos and spread them on the table.
“Check this out.”
“Woah,” the boys admired and started examining the goods.
Desmond added, “My little sister bought a WiFi printer and printed all of her high school photos of her old phone. She gave me these.”
“So cool,” Jesse commented.
“Jesse, look,” Gray said, showing him a photo in his hand.
It was a photo of them at the school’s gate. Jesse’s arm was over Gray’s shoulders. While Gray had a charming, shy smile on his face, Jesse had a big teeth-showing grin with tightly-closed eyes.
“Oh, my Lord.” Jesse chuckled as he received the photo in his hands. “I can’t believe I used to be taller than you.”
“I miss your natural hair color.” Gray stroked Jesse’s perfectly-combed hair, messing it up.
“Well, I don’t.” Jesse shoved Gray’s hand away then attempted to fix his hair. “It was boring.” He ran his hands through his platinum-blonde strands to roll them back into a tidy, slicked-back hairstyle.
“Hey. Look what I found.”
The boys turned their heads to the photo in Liam’s hand.
“Aw. That’s a photo of all of us,” said Gray.
“I think it was taken before that basketball game when Desmond broke his leg,” said Liam.
“You’re right,” replied Desmond. “Look. There’s Kai next to me.”
He pointed at a laughing, tall teenager with orange hair and pale, freckled skin. His eyes looked greener under direct sunlight. He was standing shoulder to shoulder beside a young Desmond. They were both in their basketball uniforms.
The group fell silent for a moment at the mention of Kai.
Sad faces awkwardly glanced at one another, except for Jesse. His sadness was different. It almost felt like shame from the way his shoulders slumped and his eyes locked on his lap, almost as if his brain was playing a painful memory he was keeping buried inside.
Gray whispered, “You OK?”
Jesse fiddled with his fingers before he answered, “Yeah.”
The tip of his nose turned pink. A burning sensation pricked his eyeballs. Tears flooded his eyes, threatening to break free. He swallowed a bitter taste in his mouth. It was sickening. It was unbearable. He felt eyes staring at him and wished he could just storm out and leave, but he didn’t want to draw more attention to him.
“It’s OK, Jesse.” A caring hand sat on his shoulder. “We miss him too.”
Jesse raised his head and met a grieving pair of light brown eyes that belonged to Desmond. Jesse wiped his face as he nervously avoided Desmond’s pitiful stare.
He hated being pitied. It was embarrassing. He wished that the ground would open up and swallow him at this very moment.
As if God was listening to his voiceless prayers, his phone chimed. He held the phone to his face to read the new message then sighed in relief.
The message read:
Jesse, honey. Your cousin Emma is moving into her new apartment. Would you be a doll and help her?
We’re waiting for you in the house.
He cleared his throat and said, “It’s my mom. I gotta go.” He got up and excused himself. “See ya, guys.”
Jesse walked out of the coffee shop, one foot racing the other. He continued walking on the sidewalk during the beautiful sunset of Louisville. Shallow breaths shuddered his chest. A couple of tears slipped away, damping his eyelashes and wetting his cheeks. He found a small park hidden from the walkers and collapsed at one of the benches. He finally released all his grief, weeping and crying behind his palms.