Phantom Limb

Chapter 4

Story by Ray




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“Well that was the most uncomfortable experience of my life,” I told Drake as we left the lunchroom. “At least Mason didn’t say anything, but still, it felt like he was staring a hole through my head.”

“And then there was Iris, trying to act like everything’s normal.”

“Mhmm. If you want to know the truth, I’m not even that mad at her,” I admitted. “I just wish she’d own up to what she did.”

“Well you should talk to her about it,” Drake said. “She can be half as stubborn as me sometimes; she could go the rest of her life without bringing yesterday up.”

I shrugged. “I guess I could catch her after school. And can I just say, in spite of everything going to shit, you seem a lot better today. Anything special going on?”

“Not really, it just feels like a good day.” Drake paused, and then he laughed, saying, “Shit, maybe I really am crazy.”

“You’re not crazy. You’re optimistic.”

“And optimism is the most insane thing I’ve ever heard of. Can you even imagine a world where everything works out in the end?”

“Okay, fair enough. I have to get to class, but hey, let’s hope everything works out just this once.”

Drake leaned in close, and he whispered, “I think it will. I really think it will.”

I looked at every face as I walked through the halls that day, trying to find a reason to kill even one of them, but I couldn’t do it. None of them had gone out of their way to make my life any harder, and to nullify things even further, I just didn’t know most of them. I’d grown up with these people, yet most of them were strangers. And back then, I was too insanely optimistic to dislike a stranger.

I took Drake’s advice and found Iris as she was walking home from school. We walked side by side for a block, and she kept her eyes locked straight ahead the entire time. She sped up, but I matched her pace, so she sped up again, and it got to the point where she might as well have been running.

“Hey, slow down, alright? I’m not mad, I just want to settle this.” I wasn’t expecting her to listen.

“So he told you,” she observed, slowing down.

“He did tell me,” I nodded, “and it made me a little angry at the time. But I’ve forgiven him, and I’ve forgiven you.”

“Oh, you forgive me, well isn’t that nice,” she said, speeding up again.

“Hey, I’m trying to work things out. Why are you being like that?”

“Because maybe I don’t want to work it out. Maybe I’m still pissed at both of you.”

“I’m sorry, what?” I asked as we started the passive-aggressive footrace yet again. “How are you mad at us?

“Because Drake doesn’t really like you, okay? He just likes the idea of dating another guy. It fits his whole, ‘I’m secretly different than other people’ thing, and it disappoints me that you can’t see that.”

“I know you think you’re looking out for me Iris, but I seriously doubt that. I doubt he decided to get with a guy just because most people wouldn’t, and I doubt he turned you down just because having a girlfriend is normal.”

We were nearly back to running all over again.

“So then,” she said, “all that really leaves is that he thinks I’m some unattractive bitch—”

I grabbed Iris by the shoulder and spun her around, stopping her on the spot with a kiss on the lips. We stood face to face with each other, just like we had all those years ago. Except this time I wasn’t locked up in anxiety, and this time she wasn’t crying. “I doubt that too.”

We started walking again.

“You didn’t have to do that,” she said. “You could have just told me.”

“It got the point across though, didn’t it? Besides, you seemed to enjoy it.”

Iris started to lie, but she was never very good at it, because she would always end up blushing or giggling. That time she did both, and admitted, “Yeah, I liked it. So does this make you and Drake even or something?”

“Maybe to you and him, but I’m about ready to throw up. Not because of you personally—I just don’t, well, you understand.”

“Sure do,” Iris said. She and Drake both had this unique talent. In all my life, they’re the only two people I’ve seen who could smile with the corners of their mouths turned down. Those are the most legitimate smiles I’ve seen too, because they’re the ones that they tried to suppress, but that fought through the stubbornness anyways. One of those stubborn smiles broke through on Iris as she added, “And thanks, I know that must’ve been hard for you.”

“Don’t worry about it; I just want to keep you close. When Drake first told me what you two did, I won’t lie, I couldn’t help but be mad at you. But then I thought about what it would be like if you and I weren’t friends anymore, and it made me sad.”

“Dammit Regis, do you have to be gay? The only two guys I’ve ever wanted to be with, and they’re more interested in each other. Still, I’m sorry I kissed Drake. It won’t happen again.”

“Who knows, maybe him and I will break up someday and you can give it another shot.”

“Aw, don’t say that. You make a cute couple.”

I couldn’t blame her for being upset before. If she’d been the one to end up with Drake, I probably would’ve been upset too. I was just glad she could get past it, because when I told her that the thought of us not being friends made me sad, that was the absolute truth.

“Hey, I’ve been staying at Drake’s place for the week, and I was probably going to head over there pretty soon. Wanna tag along? It’s been a while since just the three of us had the chance to hang out.”

“Yeah, that last weekend really does feel like forever ago,” she said, and I couldn’t tell whether she was in agreement or whether she was mocking me. Still, she said that she would like to hang out, so we kept walking side by side.

Along the way, I thought back to the photograph sitting on Drake’s dresser. We hadn’t changed at all. Iris and I were still wrapped around Drake, Drake still didn’t smile much, and Mason was getting further and further out of the picture. I decided to ask Drake if I could borrow the picture, so that I could bring it home to my mom and see what she knew. If anyone could remember the details surrounding that picture, it would be her.

We arrived at Drake’s house and I tried to open the door, but the handle didn’t budge.

“That’s weird,” I noted as I knocked.

“What?” Iris asked.

“It’s locked. He never locks the door.”

Iris turned to leave, saying, “I guess he went somewhere.”

I locked up.

“You alright?” she asked.

“No no no, shit,” I mumbled as I shook the door handle. I treaded back and forth for a moment, then turned to Iris and told her to help me find a way in.

“What? No, if he locked the door then he doesn’t want us in there.”

Exactly, now help me find a way in!” I pressed as I paced around the house, eying each window. Iris followed. When we got to the back, I found that the door there was locked as well.

“This window is open,” Iris said, capturing my attention. “But it has a screen over it.”

“Good, let’s tear that down and get in there.”

“What’s gotten into you?”

“I’d really rather not say. Wait here, I’ll be right out.”

“Okay, you do your thing… I guess.”

I tore through the mesh screen and stumbled inside. I prowled through every room in the house, but didn’t find Drake in any of them. Cursing, I rushed to the basement, nearly tripping over myself as I flew down the stairs. The washing machine was exactly how I left it, and reaching behind it, I found two guns. I looked them over, trying to decide whether or not anything was out of place.

They looked fine. I worked on getting my breath back to normal. My hands shook as I set the firearms back behind the washing machine.

I walked back up the stairs, and made my way to the window I’d entered through, but I paused as I passed by Drake’s room. It wouldn’t hurt to borrow the photograph right then and there. Besides, there was no point in acting like I hadn’t dropped by; I’d made my presence pretty clear with the torn apart window. I took the picture out of the frame, tucked it into a pocket, and got the hell out of that house.

As I climbed back through the window, Iris asked a pretty reasonable question. “Anything I should be worried about?”

“Apparently not.”

“Ever going to explain what just happened?”

“Probably, just not right now. If you don’t mind though, there’s one more place I want to check.”

“Listen, Regis: I don’t know what’s happening, and unless you can tell me, I’m probably going home. This is just getting creepy.”

I looked back at the torn apart window. I thought about the photograph of children that I’d more or less stolen. To top it off, it sunk in that I’d kissed someone who I wasn’t even attracted to, and who hadn’t wanted anything to do with me at the time it happened. Clarity wasn’t giving me a break that week.

With a sigh I said she was right, but that I still had to find him. She just nodded, and said an uneasy goodbye before we went our separate ways.

Drake wasn’t at the house he’d gone to with Mason. I stood on that porch, knocking on the door and trying to call him, but he wasn’t anywhere to be found. He worried me. Even if he’d been having a good day, I didn’t know where he was anymore, and it just plain worried me.

Maybe Iris was right though. It was getting creepy. I’d become the textbook definition of an obsessive partner, and even given the circumstances, I realized that I was going a bit far.

I returned home for the first time in days, and my mom wasn’t shy about showing how happy she was to see me. Hell, I’m not embarrassed to say that I was happy to see her too.

When she brought her infant son to Foxboro back in the nineties, she must have left everything behind her, because I rarely heard about her past. Maybe she was escaping. And I wouldn’t have guessed it, but by showing her that picture of me, Drake, Iris, and Mason, I was uncovering a part of her past that she’d made it a point to avoid.

“Oh, Regis, where did you find this?” she asked, gently taking the picture from my hands.

“Drake had it,” I explained, looking on with her.

She continued to stare at the picture, while speaking softly to herself. “I can’t believe this ended up at Drake’s house of all places. I wonder how it ever could’ve gotten there. Regis, do you know what this picture is?”

I shook my head. “I was hoping you could tell me about it.”

“I took this picture for your father, so he could see that you were growing up alright. I never sent it to him though. I always meant to, but I could never send it.”

I was stunned. It had always been one of those unspoken things. A subject to avoid. I just assumed that for some reason or another, she never really knew him.

“You know… where he is?”

She nodded. “More or less. I always felt that it was better for both of you if you didn’t know about each other. He had a dream to follow, and I didn’t want to hold him back. And you, well you turned out just fine without him, and I’m proud of that.”

She hugged me as my mind rushed with all of the information. For a moment I forgot about Drake, about shootings, about nothingness, and about escape. I didn’t lock up because I hadn’t done anything wrong, but, still. I could barely move.

“If you want to know who he is,” she said, “I think you’re more than old enough.”

He could have been anyone. Maybe a friend, or maybe an opponent. Clearly a stranger. Not someone I could care as deeply for as my mom. Someone who, under any other circumstances, I wouldn’t have cared about at all.

I shook my head. “Right now mom, I think I’d rather not. But if you still want to send him that picture, I don’t know… maybe he deserves to know about this.”

She nodded, and said she was glad to have me back home. I was glad to be with her too, but there was just too much on my mind for me to act like things were normal.

I spent the rest of the day in my room. My entire life, I’d been led to believe that I didn’t have a dad—at least, not one who mattered. Then a random photograph made my mom tell me otherwise. If she hadn’t seen it, would she ever have told me? And if she hadn’t told me, would it ever even bother me? It was too much, considering how preoccupied I already was with Drake. I just needed some time to sort things out. A thousand years would have been nice, but one night would have to do—the next morning at five, Drake pulled up in my driveway.

“Holy shit, what happened to you?” I asked, looking at him from head to toe. “You look awful.”

His forearms were tinted red, and looking closer, I saw they were covered in cuts and scrapes. His face wasn’t in great shape either, with a massive bruise turning part of his clean-shaven cheek purple. I could only wonder what kinds of wounds hid under his clean black T shirt. He looked exhausted, but his breath came steady and even.

“There was an… actually, it’s nothing, forget it. Are you ready to go? I can give you a ride.”

“Sure, but on the way you have to tell me what happened. And seriously, I have to know; do you ever feel pain?”

I tried getting Drake to talk about why he looked like he’d been through Hell and back, but he remained dismissive. He kept his calm, and the whole way there, he wouldn’t answer a single question. When he parked in the farthest space from the school’s entrance, he looked me in the eyes. His expression told me nothing as he handed me a revolver. I didn’t have to look down to know what it was, or where he’d gotten it, because it was the exact revolver I’d tried to hide from him.

I stared, unable to blink out of fear that I’d miss something in that fraction of a second.

“Drake. I need you to tell me right now what this is for.”

“That’s up to you.”

He reached behind the passenger seat and retrieved an assault rifle, along with a handful of loaded magazines. He stuffed four into his pockets, and slid a fifth into his weapon. He got out of the car and began walking towards the school, leaving me behind.

With him facing the other way, I looked at the revolver in my hands. Fumbling with the cold black metal, I opened the cylinder to reveal six loaded chambers. As I closed it, I looked around the parking lot. The sun had barely even risen, and nobody was in sight but Drake. After shouting profanities and punching the dashboard, I got out of the car. He was halfway across the parking lot and showing no signs of stopping.

Gripping the revolver in my hands, I took aim at Drake. A tear fucked up my sight, because I knew that I had to find a reason to kill him. I’d known him all my life. He would never try to hurt a single living creature, because behind that outer layer of indifference was the most compassionate human being on the planet, and for as long as I could remember, I had loved him. Even as he walked towards the school toting a loaded assault rifle, there wasn’t any doubt in my mind; I still loved him. Nothing could change that.

I let out a scream that shook my throat raw, and I threw the pistol. Bitter contempt guided its path, and the cold black metal struck Drake in the back of the head. He fell to the ground and I sprinted for him, seeing nothing but blurs. Drake stumbled to his feet, loosely clinging to the rifle, but he wasn’t even up before I smashed into him with all of my weight, knocking both of us to the ground. The rifle left Drake’s hands and skidded beyond reach, but the pistol was still right alongside us.

Drake reached for it, but I kicked it away. The two of us grappled at each other as we crawled over the jagged pavement, each of us certain we had to reach the revolver first. I looked into his eyes and saw nothing—no hint of remorse and no sign of guilt. Complete and total apathy.

Drake took hold of the pistol. He rose to his feet, pointed the revolver down at me, and didn’t say a word. I rose to my knees, but no farther. Neither of us moved. I kept my eyes locked to Drake’s, trying to show him nothing. Trying to be as indifferent to his actions as he was to my life.

It broke him.

His lip quivered, and the revolver shook in his hand. Driving the pistol forward, he yelled, “C’mon! Do it already, gimme a fuckin’ reason! Gimme a damn fuckin’ reason already!”

No feelings. No expression. Breathe.

It almost made the lifetime of escape feel like time well wasted.

Drake tried to return his face to its perfect neutrality, but the effort didn’t last. Scowling, he dropped the revolver to the ground. He turned his back to me. He staggered away, and in his absence, I collapsed. The rough surface of the pavement dug into my cheek, and my gasps of breath came in infrequent spasms, and I tried to accept that the love of my life was the monster. It had never been Mason. Mason was nothing compared to the one I’d given my heart to—the one who left me bleeding in the vacant parking lot. He never pulled the trigger, but it was all the same. He left me bleeding.


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