What Private Griefs…
is a dream a lie if it don’t come true
She slides up on the hood of the car, stretching her long tan legs, letting eyes settle in upon her. I have seen her like this before, remember her sliding the straps of her bikini across her shoulders and letting the straps and then the entire top fall loose upon the dirt before running and diving into the water. She knows that she is beautiful, drop dead gorgeous, god awful sexy, whatever term you might wish to choose. Her long dark red hair is pulled behind her in a ponytail and she is dressed to the max as the little summer sex kitten with a black tank top and fairly short khaki shorts. She might be the most beautiful woman I have ever laid eyes upon. True to the role I am expected to play, I keep my eyes upon the car.
“This is yours?” Bruce asks. He stands and stares in amazement as I slowly make my way around the car. It’s a 1996 Honda Prelude VTEC which has only just come out. It’s a gorgeous deep red sports car and it matches her perfectly.
“What do you think?” she asks. Bruce looks up at her, his eyes straying along her legs before they come up to her face. With Jenn on the other side of the car and unable to see my eyes I let mine linger on her legs as well. They are well worth lingering on. A quick glance at her eyes and I know she’s got that same glow she had down by the river that day, the dusk reflecting in her eyes as she takes the world in her hands.
“Well, it’s fantastic,” I say. “But you don’t need me to tell you that.”
She laughs a little as she slides off the car and into the arms of the man she loves. I look in at the odometer and confirm that they haven’t done much more than drive it up here today from Coronado.
“I presume you’re taking her out for a spin,” I say, still eying the car.
“I am,” she replies.
“I was talking to Sean. And you were the her in that sentence,” I say. Rachel takes a playful swing at me but I’m out of reach before she even puts her hand in motion.
“Oh, I had a whole summer of that,” Sean replies and he’s not fast enough to avoid her hand when it smacks him upside the head.
“Be polite or I will take Bruce when I take the car out for a spin,” she says, a devilish look in her eyes.
“This car doesn’t look like it will lend itself to much in the way of action,” Jenn says and it makes us all turn. Apparently we’re all a little catty today, a virus of sarcasm running through all the returning juniors.
“I have a single this year, Jenn,” Rachel says with a smile. “Who the fuck needs a car?”
This time Sean starts to blush a little while Jenn laughs and Bruce stifles a smirk. Sean grabs Rachel and pushes her into the driver’s seat.
“Come on, sexy.”
“Sorry guys. Have to go test some things.”
“You have a 1965 black Mustang, Barton,” Sean says to me. “You’re not one to get jealous of anyone else’s car.” He leans his head out the window and adds, “I suppose you also have Jenn.” Jenn makes a grab for Sean but he ducks back inside and Rachel brings the engine to life. The headlights rise from the body and we stand washed in light. She backs out of her spot and slowly moves across the parking lot. The growing darkness of the dusk air starts to slip in as she moves out into the streets.
“It’s a town full of losers. I’m pulling out here to win,” I softly sing as she guns the engine and disappears down College Drive.
“Springsteen again, dear?” Jenn says as she takes my arm.
“Now and always.”
“I guess it is appropriate. Seems all he sings about is cars.”
“No, darling, you have it wrong. He doesn’t sing about cars. He sings about the people in the cars. Everyone out there looking for a promised land.”
“Sean and Rachel are hardly looking for a promised land.”
“Well, of course not. They found it in Coronado.”
Bruce turns and looks at Jenn, shaking his head.
“Don’t bother. You’ll never win. Kyle doesn’t lose arguments.”
“He does if people know the right thing to say,” she says with a smile.
“And what might that be?” I ask. She whispers in my ear. I smile.
“I don’t think that really counts as a win for you. More like a draw.”
“That’s what you called it last time.”
“I was under considerable pressure last time.”
“If my guess is right you were under about one hundred and twenty five pounds last time. I’m not sure that counts as considerable pressure,” Bruce says without turning around. Jenn and I both stare at him, surprised, wondering, smiling, hoping that he’s managing to go on and leave her behind, that life hasn’t ended for him just because Jessie’s gone.
We’re still staring at him when Rachel turns off Lake Road and back onto College Drive. I hear something off to my right and turn and see a Camaro roaring down Oak Drive. Rachel’s still around the corner coming towards us, can’t see him yet, probably can’t hear him with the way she blasts the radio. The Camaro weaves across the center line then snaps back violently. I recognize the face in the window, one of the DKS drunken fucks who call themselves a fraternity.
“Rachel!” I start to yell and begin to race across the grass. Jenn and Bruce follow me as I move as fast as I can. It’s no good. I can see Rachel coming to the corner and the Camaro isn’t slowing down for the stop sign and . . . Oh fuck.
I can almost feel it, am no more than ten yards away when the sickening crunch of metal and glass reaches my ears. There are no screams from the cars. The only human sound is Jenn’s scream from a few yards behind me.
I can see Rachel’s car fly backwards and sideways as the Camaro rips into its side. Both cars slam back into the movie theatre, smashing through the doors. Glass falls like rain across the twisted metal as both cars grind to a halt against the wood, the front end of the Camaro embedded in the driver’s side of the Prelude.
I leap the guard rail and launch myself seven feet down into the parking lot by the art building. I race across the lot and into the street. Santiago Oaks is such a quiet town in these last few days before classes start that at dusk on a Monday night there are few cars on the road and even those few have come to a halt. I move through them without stopping, only slowing down when I reach the remains of what had been the theatre. I stop and stare in shock at the shattered remains of all those dreams I had the first time I saw her, so young, so beautiful.
“Kevin, you need to stop.”
His voice is so sly, so innocent, the nice little habit he has of playing around.
“Let me answer the phone please.”
“Let the machine get it.”
“That’s what you have a machine for. Come on. Kiss me again.”
I give in and let my lips softly brush against his. My tongue slides out and runs slowly along the edge of his lips. His back begins to arch and his entire body presses up into me and I can tell how well this is working from the hardness of his body. I stop when the machine picks up and try to ignore my voice, the sound of which from a machine has always made my skin crawl.
“This is Kate. I can’t answer it right now, probably thanks to Kevin.” I look at him when the machine says this and he arches his eyebrows and smiles. “I’ll call you back when I get him to leave.”
“Kate, it’s Kyle. Pick up the fucking phone right now!”
I look at Kevin for a second and then reach over and grab the phone. Kevin just stares back, not sure what to say. My first thought is Michelle, something bad, something awful, that he’s killed Gary Wagner in revenge and that he’s in jail.
“I need you over here now, both of you.”
“Kyle, what the hell is . . .”
“No questions. Just come. Now. Please. Kate. Come.”
“What’s going on?”
“I can’t fucking talk about,” comes the shout and I drop the phone. I can’t handle this, don’t want to know what is so awful, don’t even know where he wants me to go, just know I can’t deal with this. I try to sit down, miss the bed, end up on the floor. I pull back into myself, curl up into a ball, think that if Paul were here he could make everything all right, could make all the bad things go away, wish he wasn’t in San Francisco today, wish he was here now, so I don’t say anything, just stare into blank space as Kevin picks up the phone.
“What the fuck did you say to her? What? Right now? Kyle . . . No. Where are you? What the hell are you doing there? Oh fuck. How bad? Are they . . . Okay. We’ll be there in a few minutes.”
Kevin lets the phone drop from his hand back into the receiver. I see the tears start in his eyes. I see the rage that Kyle lets loose, but something different, not blind hatred, just rage at not being able to deal with whatever is going on. He rips the phone from the wall, throws it across the room. He falls down next to me, the tears flowing freely.
“Sean,” he whispers. The next sound from him is a scream, a cry of pure force pushing out of his lungs and away from everything.
I hate this place. I hate everything about it. I hate that it is so much smalltown. I hate the dirty white walls of the waiting room. I hate what it even means to be in a place like this. I hate to be waiting, to be wondering, to have to listen to what someone you love is going through. Santiago Oaks Hospital is a cold and lonely place and I hope I never have to be a patient here, hope I can find some other place to go when something is wrong and hope that all is good and that the wait will soon be over.
We sit huddled together along the wall, the six of us, Jenn and Kyle, Bruce, Laura, Kevin and me. Paul and Sharon are still in the Bay Area. Michelle isn’t back at school yet; no one even seems certain that she’ll be back. No one seems to know where Jim or Sarah are. And Jess, oh God, I can’t imagine who will have to tell this to Jess. Probably poor Bruce.
Doctors are in with Sean and Rachel. Kyle won’t say anything, just paces back and forth and Jenn’s eyes won’t separate from him. His silence frightens me, maybe more than anything else, the knowledge that he seems to have that this will all be for nothing. Kyle and Jenn are the most alive couple I’ve ever known. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s Sean and Rachel.
All eyes come up in hope as a doctor walks in through the swinging doors. Out beyond the doors, down the corridor, are all the things I don’t want to ever think about. But he’s back through the doors now and he’s with us.
When he pulls the mask from his face he turns and looks to us all, the six of us against the wall. I wish Paul were here, because it’s Paul who always seems to know what to do. And I need to know what to do because I know that look in the doctor’s eyes, the same look Kevin had when Michelle was raped, the blank stare of nothing good left in the world.
“Oh God, no,” I hear Bruce whisper. I don’t know what to say. I’ve spent my whole life believing that if you’re good and you do everything you’re supposed to then good things will come your way. All good people go to heaven, don’t they? But maybe the song’s right. Only the good die young.
“Are they both dead?” Kyle asks as the doctor looks at him.
“No. Your two friends are alive.”
“But . . .”
“You’re a very cynical young man.”
“But . . .” he says again, this time with more force.
“Keep hoping. Keep praying. Your friend Sean, he’s going to be okay. He has a bad concussion and a number of broken bones. But he’s going to live.”
“Your friend Rachel has had severe trauma to the head. We’ve already alerted the lifeflight crew and they’ll be here soon. They’re going to take her down to Sacramento, get the best help we can.”
“But you don’t know if she’s going to live or not.”
“For fuck’s sake, Kyle, stop!”
We all turn to look at Laura as she screams at him. He turns to look at her, his fists clenching instinctively. Jenn steps to him, whispers in his ear. He closes his eyes, clenches and unclenches his fists. He turns away from all of us. He stands still for a minute, then, clenching his fists as hard as he can, he walks away. I turn back to the doctor.
“What are her chances?” I ask.
“I can’t say.”
“You can’t say or you won’t say?”
“Head traumas a tricky thing, far beyond the kind of medicine I practice. We just simply don’t know enough about the human brain to have any idea of what this could mean. I’d like to be able to tell you that she’s gonna live, that she will go back to laughing and enjoying life with you all in a week. But I just don’t know.”
“So we imagine the worst.”
“No. I wouldn’t. You imagine the best. You hope for the best. You pray for the best. Yes, you better be prepared for the worst. But don’t imagine the worst. Just imagine what you want and hope and pray. The world’s a strange place. Sometimes prayers are answered.”
We watch him walk around the parking lot as the moon rises over the Oaks. He just keeps walking around, around and around in a circle, clenching and releasing his fists like he doesn’t know anything else to do. I wish I could help him, wish I could go with the helicopter when it arrives, wish I could save the world, wish the world didn’t need to be saved. Tonight I will dream of a world where none of this can happen but I’ll still open my eyes to find Kyle still walking and the tears in streams down his cheeks.
Why, I can hear him muttering, why is this happening. They are words that have no answer, words that have no place in our lives. There should be an answer, an answer for him, for me, for all of us who ask the questions. If any of us know the answers, any person here, it would be Kyle. He’s been there, walked the streets out among the dying, watched the faces of people without hope, seen things I can only imagine, can only dream don’t exist; yet even he can’t understand this, has no answers for all the terrible things in this world.
I remember the night, another night with Paul, without Kevin, just me and Paul and Kyle and Sarah and Bruce and Jessie and Kyle’s words when we were playing truth and dare and he took a truth and Sarah made him confess to the worst thing he had ever seen and he whispered in the darkness of winter ‘I saw someone dying once, hanging on, letting it all go, little by little, inch by inch,’ and none of us knew what to say, how to respond and I’m kind of glad Jenn wasn’t there to hear that but I also know that because she hasn’t heard, a whispered truth he’d never let loose before or since, that Jenn doesn’t know the words to say to him, doesn’t know how to bring him in and calm him down, but I was there and I don’t know either.
I wish I knew what to say. Kyle always knows what to say, knows even more than Paul, knows the words to make people understand, made me see how much I loved Kevin, let me see how much I wanted Paul and couldn’t have him because love has to overcome desire. But he can’t find any words right now. And I don’t know how to help him find the words. If I could just do that, maybe all of this would go away.
“I got your fucking point!”
The noise the shout makes me turn. There’s a guy standing in the doorway of the hospital arguing with one of the doctors. There’s a cast on his wrist and he’s moving with a slight limp. He has some slight cuts to his face, which in the darkness looks vaguely familiar. I turn away and catch Kyle out of the corner of my eye in the turn. I stop. I remember, can still picture the afternoon, seeing Gary Wagner walking across campus, catching Kyle’s expression, the look in his eyes, more hate than I can understand. I see it now, remember the look. I turn back and look at him again and know him, one of the DKS, one of those drunken fucks lead around on a leash by king asshole himself, Gary the ringmaster, the soccer star they all follow around. My first thought is of Michelle but Kevin said, swore, that it was all over, that we wouldn’t have to go through anything more over that.
“My brakes failed, man. I didn’t plan to run the stop sign. You don’t plan for those things.”
“You need to wait and talk to the police,” the doctor tries to say, but the asshole is already rambling on.
“I don’t have to wait for shit. If they want to arrest me, they can come find me. It was an accident.”
The guy turns away from the doctor just as Kyle slams into him. The force of the collision slams the guy into the front hospital window. Kyle pulls his fist back, then slams it forward and sounds like the guy’s nose breaks on contact and he goes sprawling on the hospital lawn. I start to run towards him, can see Kevin and Bruce reacting from the waiting room. Kyle punches him again as the doctor tries to separate them. Kevin and Bruce are holding tight to Kyle, keeping him back just as I reach the scene. The guy sits up, blood running down his face.
“Get that fucking asshole away from me!”
“You fuck! You stupid fuck!”
“I’m gonna sue your ass, Barton!”
“I’m gonna kick your motherfuckin ass!” Kyle screams and tries to lunge at him. Bruce and Kevin start to get pulled before they can grip him tighter.
“Kyle, get a grip!” Kevin yells.
“He killed her! He fucking killed her!”
“What are you talking about?” Kevin asks. Kyle slips out of his hands and lunges forward again but Bruce manages to hold on long enough for Kevin to grab him again. The DKS asshole moves back out of reach.
“Keep him away from me, Yale. Keep him back!”
“What the fuck is going on?”
“That drunken fuck killed Rachel!” Kyle screams. We all turn to look at him as his name finally comes to me.
“You better run, Scott.”
“Kate, he . . .”
“Get out of here, now. Or we’ll let him go.”
For a second he does nothing, hesitates, sits still on the grass, keeping out of reach.
“Go, you stupid fuck!” I yell as the tears come. “Go before I kick your ass!”
He takes one last look, then turns and runs off. Kyle tries to break away from Bruce and Kevin, to try and go after him, but they hold tight.
“Let me go.”
“Let it go, Kyle. Let it go.”
“He killed her.”
“She’s not dead yet,” Jenn tells him. She and Laura have come out in response to all of the screaming.
“She’s as good as dead.”
“Don’t give up hope, Kyle,” I say. He turns to look at me and I wish I could turn away, not have to face whatever words he has, whatever his eyes may hold.
“Hope is lie, a wish is a lie, a dream is a lie because it can’t ever come true. So don’t tell me to hope, Kate. I’ve tried that before. For all the fucking good it did me.”
Kyle turns and pulls himself out of their hands and walks off into the darkness, away from Scott, away from everything.
I watch him walk through the parking lot, fading out of the light, the same as I’ve been watching him all night. Kevin comes and holds me. Bruce stands with Jenn, looking at her. Laura stands on her own. We all watch him go. The last sound I hear in the night, the last thing I can remember is his dark howl in the night, a lost haunted primal scream culled from the depths of his soul.
I turn away when the helicopter lifts away from the hospital and turns west where it will follow the interstate down to the capitol. I reach out my hand for whatever is there and I find a hand that wraps itself around my fingers. It is not Kyle’s, not the hand of my boyfriend, my lover, my love. But I take the hand because I need something to hold onto.
Kevin and Kate are already in a car and headed down to Sacramento. Laura has headed back to the dorms in the hope that Paul and the others have come back. My love is still out there in the darkness somewhere, wandering around town. I keep my hand interlocked with Bruce’s and we find our way through the night.
“He just needs some time,” Bruce says. I turn to look at him but he’s looking away. I wonder if I know Kyle as much as I would like, if I even know him as well as Bruce does.
“How are you?” I ask.
“What do you mean?” he replies, still down the road, yet not letting go of my hand.
“How are you dealing with being alone?”
He looks forward, not towards me, but enough that I can get a good look at his face. There doesn’t seem to be anything that screams out for Jessica, nothing that shows he needs anyone else.
“As well as can be expected, I guess. She had her own place to be.”
“If you don’t want . . .”
“Fuck it. I’d rather talk about Jess than think about what we’ve seen tonight.”
“Jess isn’t coming back, is she?”
“Anything is possible but I am no longer holding out hope. It just seems like a lie.”
“The idea of her coming back?”
“All of it. Just a big dream that turns into a big lie. Is a dream a lie . . .”
“Don’t,” I whisper, amazed at how much of my strength fades. He turns, lets go of my hand for a minute, puts both hands out to me.
“Just, not right now. No Springsteen. Not right now.”
This time I turn away from him. We’ve come to the park across from the Catholic church and I make my way across the grass to the seesaw. I let myself find a seat, let it gently push to the ground and close my eyes. Then I feel myself pushed up into the air and I open my eyes and see him sitting, balancing on the other end.
“Kyle’ll be back. He just needs time. Anger is his way of dealing with life.”
“Makes it hard to find true love,” I say.
“You looking for true love?”
“I don’t know. Don’t Sean and Rachel look like true love to you?”
“Westley and Buttercup had true love. That’s pretty much the extent of my belief on the subject.”
“You weren’t looking for true love with Jessie?”
“Never had hopes for that much. Why? You looking for true love with Kyle?”
I push slightly with my legs and propel myself into the air, letting him sink towards the grass.
“I don’t know,” I say after a time. “I guess I think of what we have as being more of a modern love.”
“Modern love. Walks beside me. Modern love. Walks on by. Modern love. Gets me to the church on time,” he sings in a voice low enough to make me wonder if it’s my imagination. I look down at him and he pushes back up. I keep my eyes on him as we switch places and I go down.
“Are you making fun of me?”
“You laugh so you don’t cry.”
This time when I push up and we pass he looks me straight in the eyes. I wonder what I would have seen there before she left. Or even before tonight.
“You are a lot tougher than anyone gives you credit for,” I tell him.
“People don’t give me a whole lot of credit, do they?”
“You and Jess, it never made much sense to anyone.”
“I loved her. We made pretend like she loved me. I got what I wanted for two years.”
“And now she’s gone.”
“Yeah. Now she’s gone.”
“Not true love.”
“Modern love, I guess? Whatever the hell that means. It didn’t get me anywhere near a church.”
“I think what I mean is the way things work nowadays. You meet someone, get to know them, get to feel them, first the kiss, then love, then sex. Or maybe in a different order. And then, afterwards, I guess, come other things. But true love is what you read about, what you watch movies about, what you sing about. That instant powerful true attraction between two people.”
“And what are you looking for in the afterwards from Kyle?”
“I don’t know,” I tell him and it’s not a lie. I don’t know what I’m looking for, nor what I expect. So I simply start to talk. “What happened tonight, I don’t know if it scares me that he tried to kill Scott or that he didn’t say anything to me, almost not a word since the accident. Something’s missing, something I wish we had but I don’t think we do.”
I stop, look out in the darkness, wonder if that’s him standing at the edge of the park, watching us, if there’s really anyone there at all or if it’s just a trick of the light. I think I can see something in the outstretched darkness. It’s a small little park, just a little block in the heart of a smalltown, a couple of tennis courts, two swingsets, two seesaws, a little gazebo and the requisite number of trees to give some shade, add some depth and darkness, a little bit of green across from the brown of St. Anthony’s, one of the forty-seven churches, the number that’s put this town in the Guinness Book of World Records (Most Churches Per Person: one for every 200 people in our little town). I want something different than this darkness, something that will make me want to reach for life, to be glad I’m alive. I turn back, catch the look in his eyes, those dark brown eyes set back under the dark brown hair and the only thing I can think of is not love but lust and all the thoughts and desires that go along with that.
I don’t want to think about love or beauty or any of the other truths in this world, don’t want to wonder if Rachel is gonna die, don’t want to think about what’s gonna happen with Kyle and I, just want to think about sex because it seems to bridge all of this and it doesn’t seem to mean so much anymore, just a fun little diversion from the real things of life, something we can talk about and make us feel good inside.
“Did you ever sleep with Jessie?” I ask and I’m not sure I even know why. Before I can even react he has begun to laugh, a full and beautiful laugh from somewhere deep inside and I manage to force myself to smile for the first time tonight and it doesn’t feel as bad as I think it should.
“What’s so fucking funny?” I ask.
“Nice choice of words.”
“You know what I meant.”
“Why so curious?”
“I don’t know. Maybe because you weren’t true love, you’ve been where I might be going. Because when you think about it, love is real but sex is really trivial. Because it’s something to keep me from thinking about everything else. Hasn’t anyone else ever asked?”
“No. That’s why I laughed.”
“Never? No one has ever asked you that?”
“Kyle knows, I’m sure. I don’t know that I ever actually told him but it’s one of those things that’s been hinted at enough that he should know.”
“No else knows?”
“Rachel might know. She and Jess are pretty close.”
“Oh my God. I didn’t even think about that. You should call her.”
“What do you think I was doing when Kyle called Kate? You didn’t notice me on the phone for all that time, crying, whispering, holding on?”
“I didn’t even think about it.”
“Not even curious about me holding on in desperation while on the phone but wants to know who I fuck. Curious girl, you are Ms. Gabriel.”
“You slept with her.”
“I slept with her.”
“And none of these assholes has ever asked you about it?”
“Who would ask? Paul seems to know everything. Jeff and Jim know enough not to actually ask about something like this. Kevin’s too embarrassed about sex to ever think about discussing it, let alone asking someone about it. Sean was always so dismissive of my relationship with Jess that I’m sure he never would have considered that we would have slept together. So no one has ever asked.”
“How was it?”
“Are you asking me for a description of the act itself? Because I’m almost certain you’ve slept with Kyle and you know what it’s like. Or am I supposed to assess how she is in bed?”
“How was the experience for you?”
“How was it for you, Jenn?”
“It was amazing. I mean, the first time wasn’t great, it was a bit painful. But after that, good lord, it was wonderful. It’s like I die but in a beautiful way.”
“Then there you go.”
“How was it for you?”
“Nothing like that.”
He lifts himself from the seat, lets me fall back to the ground. Before I can stand he is by my side, his arms wrapping themselves under my body, pulling me up and close to him. I am in his arms and I can see how hard he is breathing, how scared he is, can feel his heart through his shirt and I can feel my skin tremble against the touch of his. He walks with me in his arms to the carousel, sets me down on my knees facing him. He kisses me softly on the forehead, a more gentle kiss than perhaps any I have ever experienced. He turns us slightly, kicking off with his foot and we revolve through the park and I forget all the strangers on the edge of the darkness and lose myself in his eyes and everything else is just a blur on the edge of vision and reason.
“I made a mistake the first time I slept with her. Just after I came, when everything is supposed to be so peaceful, there I was, making sure she was okay, that it hadn’t hurt too much, when I caught a look at her eyes and it was like a ghost passing through, just blank stare from someone who’s doing you a favor that they don’t really want to do. Her virginity was just such a burden and she didn’t want it anymore, wanted to be rid of it before she went off to Boston. I was there and she knew I loved her, would never hurt her, would do everything I could to be gentle and so she let me be the one. She let me be the one. There were more times. Not a whole lot more, but there were other times, my cumming inside her, maybe even me getting her to cum as well, but I never again made that mistake of searching for her eyes. I could search for eyes all the other hours of the day. But all that happened when I looked was that I knew what everybody kept saying was true, that she was on her way out of town and was leaving me behind and wasn’t planning on looking back. So I never got the beautiful things that you’ve had. Kyle has his own issues, has things to deal with what makes the world very dark in his mind, but you and only you can decide if you will let that disrupt something’s that beautiful. I never got anything beautiful, have never experienced beautiful. I know you don’t want to hear it, don’t want to think about Springsteen, but it’s like he said, you spend your whole life waiting for a moment that just don’t come, don’t waste your life waiting.”
“Time,” I say, an instinctive habit to correct what I think is wrong.
“Don’t waste your time waiting.”
He reaches in and presses his lips to my forehead again. Before he can pull back I pull him in and press my lips to his, give him a kiss that he’s deserved that Jessie could never really give him, the moment you spend your whole life waiting for, a moment that can come if you have a little faith, if you just believe. But even if you have faith sometimes it still helps to get a little reason to believe every now and then.
“It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive, Jenn.”
I reach out and let my hand flip up against the back of his head, a small little smack that brings a smile to his lips.
“Did Kyle teach you every Springsteen quote ever?”
“I knew a lot of them before we had met. But, yeah two years of living with him can do interesting things.”
“You should try sleeping with him some time.”
“Sure. Why not? Could be interesting.”
Bruce and I both turn to see Kyle, leaning against the tree, a man all in black, hidden in the shadows, just outside the edge of light. Bruce moves smoother, more quickly than I have ever seen, a slight kick to the ground, a turn of the wheel to make us slide around the grass to face him, just a couple of feet away, where the light can almost help us to make out his features.
Bruce slides out from inside my arms, finds a place next to me, up on his feet, kneeling down beside me, a defensive position, ready for anything that might come next.
“You taking care of her?” he asks. Bruce nods slightly, just a slow subtle move of the head a little up and down. Kyle tries to force himself to smile and something almost comes, some semblance of happiness almost breaks through the surface before drowning back under the weight of anger.
“How are you?” he asks me.
“Been better,” I say, my voice dropping softer than I expect. Maybe we’re all in a defensive posture tonight; all of us individually preparing for the worst that may be yet to come.
“I gotta go,” Bruce says. We both turn, make a motion for him to stay, a plea for us not to be together alone.
“You don’t have to go,” Kyle says, almost a whisper that isn’t there, a deep little prayer between best friends, between those who understand each other.
“Yes,” he says. “I do. All sorts of reasons call me away. I need to talk to Jess again. Someone should be at the hospital when Sean wakes up. Information has to get out beyond our friends. Kevin called Rachel’s mom, but there is still the school to be dealt with. And I can only do so much here. The rest has to be between you.”
He stands and allows a place for Kyle to find a seat. Kyle stands, staring, almost in fear, afraid to let go, to be alone, to come to terms. Bruce’s head comes up again, coming down again in another slight nod and Kyle replaces him on the carousel.
“Hey,” I say to Bruce as he tries to disappear out into the darkness. He stops and turns and waits to hear my words. “Fuck the rest of them. You’re stronger than any of us.”
He smiles at that, a nice middle finger to the rest of the world and then he is gone, vanished into the night the way Kyle suddenly appeared and we are alone.
I turn and find Kyle staring at me and I can see the edge of tears in the corner of his eyes, so strange to see, something I have never been privy to before. Sex and love, fucking and sucking, laughing and screaming, but never tears.
“Are you okay?” he asks.
“I’m not so sure,” I say, my voice strange to my own ears, a desperate little push and holding on to keep from screaming.
“Are we okay?”
“I hope so. I want us to be.”
“I’m sorry. I should have stayed. For you.”
“Please. No Springsteen. Not right now.”
“I wasn’t meaning it as Springsteen. Just saying what I know. I should have stayed for you, if for nothing else.”
“Did you find Scott?”
He looks down, shakes his head. I put out my hand, reach almost to his hair as it shakes in the bare glimpse of light from the street, then pull back before he can see it.
“I didn’t look for him. I didn’t want to find him. I almost killed Gary, wanted to kill Gary, maybe should have killed Gary. And if Sean hadn’t been there I probably would have. No Sean tonight. I catch up to Scott, I’ve got blood on my hands. I don’t want to deal with that, not tonight.”
“It would have evened the score,” I spit out.
“Rachel’s not dead yet. If she dies, he’ll go before a judge and a jury and they’ll figure things out. Best way to do it, I guess.”
“I wish Kevin and Bruce hadn’t been there. I wish you’d kill him.”
His eyes come up to mine, inches away, lips almost together and I can see the question forming.
— When did you get so hard, Jenn? When did you get so cold?
— I’ll tell you when. When life forced me to be. When my roommate was raped and I helped her clean up. When the drunk fuck couldn’t control what he was doing and smashed his car into my friend. You have to be cold to survive.
— God, I’m sorry. This shouldn’t have happened. Not to you.
— Isn’t it what Paul told us, back on that first night? All the dreams, the idealists, the young and the innocent. And he said that within a few years we would be the failed dreamers, the cynics, the skeptics. And you know something? He was right.
— But it shouldn’t have happened to you, Jenn. Some people get to keep that sense of innocence forever. You deserved that.
But those aren’t words that are said, just thoughts in the head, words that don’t get passed between two lovers and other words come instead.
“Where is everyone?”
“Down and around. Kate and Kevin went down to Sacramento. Laura went to try and find Paul and the others.”
“Any more news?”
“The helicopter came. She’s on her way down to Sacramento. She might even be there already. I don’t know how fast those things go.”
He turns away, takes his place out in the darkness, lets his eyes roam anywhere they won’t find mine. And so it goes, on into the night, into the rain, the wind. Hearts wait for the connection to bring them back together. People wait for a sign that they are not alone. Two lovers sit together alone until the lights are gone and only the darkness remains.
My hand closes around the doorknob, turning, finding it unlocked. I push the door open, take a step inside. This is not the room where she’s lived for the past two years, the room where you would usually find Rachel and Jessie, with high odds on Bruce, fairly good odds on Sean, decent odds on Kate and Kevin and not so bad odds on any of our other friends. This is a new room, a single room for a different kind of life. And it’s empty.
She and Sean came back yesterday so the room is already much as her old room was. One wall is marked by a poster of Harrison Ford, a dashing Indiana Jones turned to face the camera, the young adventurer who knows he can survive anything. He doesn’t look so much different in that poster than her father does in the picture by her bed. She never met her father, his plane going down in the jungle before she was even born. But his resemblance to Harrison Ford has been remarked on by anyone who has seen the picture. The poster is not really a memory, though, not a hope to recapture the past, I guess, as much as it is a hope that her father can look over her and keep her safe. It’s always nice to wish for good omens. Sometimes the world doesn’t account for them, though and sometimes the world is just too awful a place to bear.
The mainstay of the second wall is the Casablanca poster. There were weeks when she begged any and all of us to go with her to San Francisco, to make the hours drive just so she could search through some more stores and try to find one. She finally got a chance to find one walking around in Berkeley when she saw a display of movie posters and there, in the middle, between posters for Much Ado About Nothing and When Harry Met Sally was the poster she had dreamed of, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in all their splendor. Thirty-five dollars later and it was hers and a few hours after that it had found a permanent place on the west wall, a stunning reminder of the hopes for love and the dreams that can come when it’s gone.
The wall over her bed, the north wall, is the most important. It’s her memory wall, just over her bed, like they were in her old room. There are pictures there, pictures of her mother, her sister, one of her whole family just before her father died, with her still just a spot in her mother’s uterus, one with her grandfather from just a few weeks ago. Then there are the pictures of her and Sean. They’re together at Sean’s house in Seattle, together in Coronado, together down by the river, so alive all up and down the west coast.
I remember that day by the river, the day she twirled around and stripped away her clothes in front of a bunch of guys all dying with love for her, Sean’s smile the biggest of all because he knew he had her for life. There’s a picture of all us together that day, curled up under the tree and you can almost see the sly little smile on Rachel’s face as if she already knew that twenty minutes later her clothes would be dropped down by the banks by the river for all the world to see.
There’s a picture of her and Kyle up at Mountain Lake. There’s one of her and Jessica in their old room, with Bruce lying behind them, reading a book. In one picture she’s tackling Sharon to the ground as Paul tickles them both and another with just her and Sharon. The final two are of the foursome, her and Sean and Jessie and Bruce down at the Capital and down at the banks of the Sacramento River.
A DAY IN THE LIFE . . . Those are the words above the pictures. But it wasn’t a day. It’s her whole life. I sink under the weight of the memories, slide down upon her bed and close my eyes against the world.
The sun coming in through the window forces my eyes open. My eyes drift to the clock and I realize I’ve slept several hours here in her bed and that dawn has arrived. My eyes stray to the pillow and the tear streaks I have left behind before they settle once again on her pictures. One of the pictures is missing.
I go to move and I see him asleep, lying next to the bed, his hand resting close to where my hair must have been. I climb slowly out of bed, careful not to wake him. The missing picture is in his hand, the one of him and her up at Mountain Lake.
The picture is an oddity. Kyle does not like to have his picture taken, works hard to keep it from happening. When the rarity does occur he almost always keeps himself hidden in shadows, a scowl or straight face making the picture a somber occasion. In this picture he is smiling. They are both smiling, with their arms around each other, just happy to be alive. Maybe he’s right, maybe his rock and roll god is right, it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive. Kyle is sleeping peacefully, another rarity in his life, for once not haunted by dreams or waking. I leave the picture where it is. I lean against him and close my eyes against all of the horrible things in the world.
Her voice cracks over the phone, breaks into tears that I wish I could brush away, that I wish I was close enough to see, to taste, to remind me that we’re both still alive and that we should thank God for that. I can’t talk to her for much longer, need to go in and see Rachel while I still have the chance. Kevin and Kate are worn through to the edges and I think Kevin wants to get back for Sean. Rachel’s mother is hopefully on a plane by now but there’s only so fast she can get here.
I love you Jessica, I want to say. I love you and want you and need you and you should be back here for me if not for her, but you can’t come back and even if you could hop a plane from Logan I’m not sure if you would be here before anything happens. And what good could you really do? I could taste your lips, hold you in my arms, but all your prayers, all your hopes, all your love won’t actually make Rachel wake up, won’t bring her back into our arms laughing and smiling and maybe even stripping.
I love you too Bruce, I know she wants to say, know she should say, know she believes, I hope at least, but there’s no use in her saying anything either. It won’t wake Rachel up. And it’s not enough to make her come back.
“Keep her safe” are the words she actually does whisper, “go in there and keep her warm and make her know she’s loved and that our thoughts, our prayers, our hopes are with her. And take care of yourself, Bruce,” she says in a throated whisper between tears before I hang the phone up and turn towards her room. Kevin and Kate are walking from the room, Kevin headed straight for the door. Kate comes to my side.
“Were you talking to Jessie again?”
“Any word on Rachel’s mom?”
“Paul talked to her. She was going to get a flight first thing. But I can’t imagine she’ll get here for at least an hour or two.”
“Is it just you here?”
“Paul thought we should do this in waves, not overwhelm things. He and Sharon are coming down as soon as Sharon wakes up.”
“Well, we’re headed back. Kevin’s about to crack and I don’t know how much longer I can stay awake.”
“Go ahead. Get him back. Watch over Sean. He’s gonna need someone there when he wakes.”
She reaches over, takes my shoulder in her hand, gives me a squeeze. I try to almost smile, give her some sign that maybe the world’s not so bad, that things will be okay and that by this time next week this will all be a bad dream.
She’s a smart girl. She knows better. She sees through the smile. She lets my shoulder go and puts her arms around me and pulls me in tight. I don’t return the embrace, but simply allow myself to be held by her for a minute. Then, with a quick kiss to my cheek, she turns and follows Kevin outside.
The door to Rachel’s room is open. I walk in slowly, feel like a stranger intruding. I have seen her at her most basic, all clothes and emotions stripped away. I have seen her sleeping softly, kicking the covers off her soft body. I have seen her rapt with emotion and stripping away the clothes, dropping her suit to the ground before leaping into the air and the sunlight and splashing among us all in the river. I have held her in my arms, letting my lips gently touch against her forehead in a soft kiss of friendship with her tears running down into my hands. But I am not the holder of her secrets. I am not the true love of her life. I am not the best friend a million miles away. I am not a terrified mother soaring 30,000 feet above the valley, hoping to be in time. I am not the cynical bastard racing through life with a scowl only to smile for her for one perfect picture. I am not the leader of men, the one a year older than the rest, showing all the others the way. I am just the one who is here.
I sit down by her side, look at her broken body. The bruise by her head is awful, a horrible place where they have shaved away her hair and her head curves inwards. The doctors here have told us that they had to perform emergency surgery, that her brain was swelling too much, that they had to remove a piece of her skull. And they had to take away all her beautiful hair to do it. There are scars every place that I can see, all across her face and down her arms where the glass and metal cut into her poor body. I am glad that Sean is still out, that he is up in the mountains an hour away, that he can not see this awful thing that has happened to her.
I take her hand in mine, as gently as I can. I almost drop it, it feels so cold, so unlike her. But I need to hold on to it, hold on to something. I close my eyes and hold as tightly as I dare.
I don’t know if you’re listening. I don’t know if you care. It hurts to say it, hurts to think it, because I have always known before, have spent my whole life knowing. Or, at least thinking I knew. But a person I care for, a person I love, she’s lying here in pain. And I don’t know if she’ll ever get to laugh again, ever get to walk again, ever even get to open her eyes again. But there must be something you can do. I know there’s something you can do. I know everything happens for a reason, have never tried to sort out the explanations behind the universe, have never attempted to mix logic with faith, to try and understand the plan. I try not to question what I see. I take the things in life and I understand that there are reasons that things happen and I try to roll with the punches as best I can. But don’t do this. Don’t leave her in a no man’s land where no one can touch her, feel her, love her.
I turn at the sound of the door opening. It is the doctor walking in. I stand up as he walks in and closes the door behind him. He walks over and looks at her, then looks at me.
“You’re one of her friends from school?”
“Any word on her mother?”
“She’s flying up from San Diego. But I don’t know what time she’ll get here. She’s probably in the air by now.”
“One of your friends said that she was with her boyfriend in the car.”
“Yes, they were both in the car. She was driving, he was next to her.”
“Is he up in the Oaks still?”
“Yes. You know Santiago Oaks?”
“I went to school there. Majored in Bio before going to med school at UCSF.”
I turn away from him, looking back down at her.
“You’re really good people,” he says, “you and your friends. She’s lucky to have you.”
I wish I could take comfort in that, take comfort in something. I look down at her and notice that her chest has stopped rising and falling. Her chest isn’t moving.
“She’s not breathing,” I say in a hurried gasp. I start to shake, my fear starts to take over and I want to be anywhere else, don’t want to have to watch this anymore, wish I had Jessie here with me, maybe Jenn, just anyone, please.
“It’s okay. The body stops sometimes. The machine will breathe for her. She’ll be fine as long as her heart keeps up for right now.”
Please God, don’t do this, don’t make her go through this, don’t make me go through this. Please. Stop. Don’t leave her like this. I’m asking, praying, hoping, begging, just this once. Kill this pain. Please. Do something. Make this all stop.
I turn at the sound of his voice, my eyes focusing on the machine and I see the line spread across the gauge, pressing down into a flat green line on a black screen. The doctor moves, immediately picking up a phone and calling for help. He leans over, tries to get her to breathe, tries to get her heart to respond. I back out of the way, fall back into the chair, just out of reach of her hand, watch as the people come and go. The tears come freely and all I can do is watch the monitor, watch the line continue to stay flat, to continue resisting all hopes and pressure to make anything better.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper, soft even that even without the noise in the room no one would be able to make out the words. “I just wanted you to be free, Rach. I just wanted you to escape all the pain.”
By the time anyone thinks to realize that I am still in the room I am headed out the door, tears holding me back. The sun is shining outside and it’s a beautiful late summer morning in the heart of the capital. Everything looks beautiful today. I just wish I couldn’t see it all. I wish that today all the good things would disappear and let the cold and the rain come and sweep down across the mountains and down into the valley. I stumble over towards a garbage can but realize I’m not going to make it and I turn into the bushes. Everything I have eaten over the last twelve hours comes spilling out of my stomach. I fall to my knees, let the last remnants of food in my body splatter into the leaves. I lean back and let the tears come. The sun really is shining brighter than I have ever seen it. There are even birds and I can hear them singing. It really is a beautiful day.
I feel a hand on my shoulder. The hand shakes my body and I turn and open my eyes. I am not terribly surprised to see Paul, who has spent so much time in the last few months making my life a more enjoyable experience. He is not smiling. I try to get my bearings and remember that I fell asleep on his bed after such a long night of tears and waiting. There are going to be more tears today. I have a feeling there is no more waiting. Better, I suppose, for all of us who have to learn to go on in such a case.
Jennifer has pulled herself into a ball, sitting at his desk. Kyle is standing by her side, his hands on her shoulders. Paul is staring at me and I know what the words are before he says anything.
“Bad news, isn’t it?” I whisper and I surprise myself because my voice doesn’t crack. Paul doesn’t say anything, just puts out his hand, brushes a few stray hairs back from my forehead. My eyes settle on Kyle and he nods, slowly lifting his head and dropping it softly.
“She died this morning,” Paul says, his hand still brushing my hair. I put out my own hand, brush his hair from his face. I try to find some way to smile, to fight back against everything that makes me want to scream.
“Does Sean know yet?”
“No,” Paul says. “He hasn’t woken up yet. Kevin and Kate are there.” He turns slightly, catches Kyle’s attention. “Are you two headed over there?” Kyle nods. Paul gives a quick response with his head and then turns back to me.
“Are you okay?” I ask
“As okay I can be, I guess. Listen, hon, her mother’s not there yet. You and I should get down to Sacramento as quick as we can.”
“Who’s there now?”
Paul nods. I stand up, not even registering my complete absence of clothing. I pick up my clothes from the neat little pile that Paul has left folded on his desk.
“You’re right. We should go.”
We manage to make it, not long before Mrs. Darcy does. We are still talking with Bruce, I am still holding him in my arms, letting him cry everything away with the same tears I have spent the last hour shedding in the car, when she walks in. Her eyes fall upon Paul, whom she has known longer, who seems to know everyone and know all the words for all the places in our lives and he needs no words, just a soft dark look reflecting in his eyes and she knows everything she could ever need. She turns slowly away from him and into the arms of the man following her through the door. I remember him from just a couple of weeks ago, Rachel’s grandfather, a long lost part of her life that she just recently found. She settles herself into the arms of the man and he brings them in to comfort her and I can’t bear to look, must not be looking and I turn and I am in Paul’s arms again and his arms are around me in much the same manner. I catch sight of Bruce, my thoughts flitter to Jessica, how much he must need her and I reach out and take him into our embrace.
I’m just two months past my twenty-first birthday. I am just starting my senior year of college. I’ve slept with exactly one person in my life and that was just a few weeks ago, the first time anyway. Rachel Darcy was a friend of mine, a beautiful young woman barely a year younger than me, someone I shared interests with, shared tears and laughter with, a wonderful spark in my life that I fully believed could never be extinguished. Life doesn’t end this early. Life doesn’t cut off before you even reach the prime. The good don’t really die young, that’s just a pop song platitude. Good people live forever, work their magic on everyone that comes into their life, make the world a better place. Beautiful people, good people, the best people, don’t have their light go dark before they can even begin to make an impact on the world. The world just doesn’t work that way. Life can’t be that cruel because if it is then what’s the point of going on?
It seems like such a stupid gesture, a futile little gift to the world that means nothing but it’s the only thing I care about in the world right now and I pull back from Paul, let the tears fall where they may, not caring about anything except making sure he hears and understands my words when I say to him, “the first time we have a little girl, her name is gonna be Rachel.” He has no tears, does not let himself fall apart in the ways that others do, but he nods, shows that he understands, that he agrees and maybe sometimes stupid futile little gestures are the only way to get through the day and sometimes the hope in making these gestures is a reason to keep on living.
I am sitting behind him, his body pressed up against mine. I can feel the muscles in his arms tighten and move as he picks at the strings on his guitar.
“She’s gone,” he says. “It doesn’t seem like it’s real. That she could possibly be gone. That we won’t ever see her wrapped around Sean again. That he red hair won’t ever blow in the wind. That we won’t have a chance to see her . . .”
“Stripping down in front of a group of guys all madly in love with her?”
He turns towards me when I say it and almost manages a smile.
“No. Never that again.”
“Or hear her laugh,” I add, softly. I lean down beside him and kiss his cheek. I let my eyes wander across the room. We’re all together in the common room, trying to find ways to heal. We’re not all here, of course. Sean is still down at the hospital, with Rachel’s mother and grandfather and his own grandmother. He knows now. Jeff is down there with him. Jessie is in Boston, though she says she’ll come for the funeral. Michelle is still at home, her mother says she has strep throat and can’t even talk but that she’ll be back at school as soon as she can be. Jenn and Kyle are sitting in one of the windows. Behind them, out the window, I can see Kevin sitting on the roof with Kate. Bruce is in the corner, trying to pretend that he’s reading. Laura, Jim and Sarah are trying to play cards. But what we’re all really doing here is healing. Learning to heal. Learning that life doesn’t stop. That some things go on.
Paul starts to pluck at his guitar again. I guess it makes him feel a little better, to have a release that none of the rest of us have. Or maybe it’s not a release, but just an option, maybe the only option left for someone who doesn’t know what else to do. Kyle looks up, his glance aimed at Paul. I can see the darkness in his eyes and I brace myself for whatever might come next. I am surprised when he does begin to speak.
“You gonna just pick at that thing all night Barrett or are you actually gonna play something?”
Paul looks up at Kyle. Then, slowly, he nods.
“Everyone does what they think helps them heal,” Paul says. “So you think of all the happy things in the world, all the beautiful things in the world and how she made them all better. And then you sink into your own memories of her, your own private world where no one else can walk.” Everybody is looking up now, wondering what Paul is getting at, but he continues. “Think about her, remember her. Think about the way she used to pick up a spoon, a stick, anything that looked like a microphone and think of how she used to sing the same song over and over again.”
He looks down and his hands form themselves into chords and he begins to play.
“And here’s to you Mrs. Robinson. Jesus loves you more than you will know. Whoa whoa whoa. God bless you please Mrs. Robinson. Heaven holds a place for those who pray. Hey hey hey. Hey hey hey.”
Here’s to you little Rachel D. Jesus loves you more than you will know. God bless you please, little Rachel D. Heaven holds a place for those who pray.
Hey hey hey.