If it were up to me I would’ve laid there forever. It was all gone. Everything I’d ever felt secure in was torn away. Gone. It was like staring into the fire. Every cloud overhead, every stab of the asphalt under my cheek, every sound in the distance, every blurry sight, every person, every memory, every piece of the world, everything had slipped away. But even the fire would’ve been something. Even the fire would provide some semblance warmth. For the first time in my life, I experienced nothingness.
If the principal hadn’t stopped her car next to me and demanded to know what happened, I might still be laying in that parking lot to this day. But she did, so I tried my best to answer her questions. The words just couldn’t get out through the chest imploding sobs. There I was, eighteen years old, bawling too hard to explain a situation that wasn’t my damn fault. I felt like a fucking child, and in the worst way possible.
With all of my effort, I was able to get a few short words out. “He went, that, way. I tried. I’m sorry.”
She picked up the pistol, then the rifle, and she put them in her car. Then she picked up a traumatized student and set him on his feet. My legs were trembling, but I could stand. She looked straight at me. Her eyes weren’t empty. They showed nothing but understanding.
“It’s okay. Let’s get inside, and you can talk when you’re ready.”
She brought me to a vacant room, and said she’d be right back. Between the four white walls was nothing but a table and a few chairs. It felt cold. I felt cold. My legs shook, and I rubbed at my arms, trying to warm up, even a little. Fuck, it was colder than any winter I’d ever been through. The chill skipped the skin altogether and went straight for the bones.
The door opened and I snapped back against my chair. It was just the principal again, poking her head in. “I called the police, and they’re on their way. They said that if you can answer some questions, they might still be able to find who did this. I also called your mother to tell her what’s happening. Everything’s going to be okay Regis. If you need anything, ask.”
I thanked her, and she stepped out again, leaving me in the coldest room in the fucking universe.
I barely had a moment to think before my mom walked in. It didn’t even seem possible, how fast she got there. And it didn’t even seem possible that with her there, her arms wrapped around me, the room felt just as cold. She tried comforting me and I tried telling her what happened, but my jaw was just too frigid for words to come out right.
Next to arrive were the police, who requested that my mom leave. Before she would take a single step, she asked me if I’d be alright. I couldn’t say anything, on account of the room being so fuckin’ cold, but I managed a shaky nod.
Talking with the police wasn’t any different. They started with broad, open-ended questions. What happened this morning? Do you know anything that might help with the apprehension of those involved? Later they narrowed the questions, and I was able to give some answers: Drake Reddick, west, just me and him. But a majority of what they said didn’t even register. The cold was making my ears numb.
When they left, my mom walked back into the room with a blanket. I guess she could feel it too. I still shivered, and the room still didn’t feel any warmer, but at least the blanket gave me some comfort—some childish distraction. I tried one more time to tell her about it, but she shushed me, and told me to settle down. It almost made me mad. Shit, if I could settle down I would, but it wasn’t exactly a switch I could flip on and off. I wasn’t the monster. I’d tried, but I couldn’t be.
Most of the day was spent in that same freezer of a room. Nobody else was shivering, which confused the shit out of me, since I was curled up under that blanket like I was on the verge of losing a limb to the sheer lack of temperature. And for all I knew, I could’ve been. Reality had changed. At that point, with nowhere left to escape, I was more vulnerable to reality than ever before.
I jerked my head up to see a new pair of people. One man and one woman, both wearing suits. The man extended his arm. I went through the motions of shaking his hand, even if my fingers were too stiff to curl up.
“I like your name,” the woman told me. “I’m Eva Mortensen, this is Br—”
“Roman,” the man interrupted, the corners of his mouth perking up. “Sounds like you had quite an eventful morning. We’re here to ask a few questions about that.”
“I talked to the police,” I said. I was a little warmer, apparently. I didn’t feel warmer, but I could talk again.
“We talked with the police as well,” Eva said, sitting down across the table from me. “But would you mind going over some things with us?”
I shrugged. “Sure.”
Roman leaned against the closed door. “Good. What’s your relationship with Drake Reddick?”
“Are or were?”
“Were,” I told him.
“Sure you were nothing more than friends? We were told about an incident at lunch last,” Roman paused to shuffle through the handful of papers. “Wednesday. Got another friend of yours some detention time. You know him?”
Roman tossed a photo in my direction, and when it landed, I reached out to straighten it against the edge of the table. “Yeah, that’s Mason. He was Drake’s friend, not mine.”
“Recognize this one?”
Another photo was thrown onto the table. Eva snatched it away, but by the time she did, I had already seen it: a picture of Mason sitting in the passenger seat of his wrecked car. The mean monster Mason, slain at last by the biggest monster of them all.
“Roman!” Eva scolded, tucking the photo into her own assortment of papers. “He’s barely eighteen. Regis, I apologize, you weren’t meant to see that. You’re not the one we’re after, and your friend Drake is still under investigation.”
Roman interjected. “Investigation? Don’t lie to the kid; we know exactly what that punk did. Only thing we don’t know is where he’s hiding.”
Eva stood and directed Roman out of the room. While their backs were turned, I wiped a tear from my eye before it had the chance to fall.
Eva sat back down. “Until we have the whole story, Drake is under investigation,” she insisted. “My partner Bret can be insensitive. Do you mind if I record this?”
Eva pulled a tape recorder out of her pocket and held it up for me to see. I only glanced at it, and shrugged once again. “Did anyone but Mason get hurt?”
“Three,” Eva said. She put the tape recorder away. For a second, her voice didn’t sound quite as professional. “Two dead, one with minor injuries. But we don’t know for sure that—”
“What do you want to know?” I asked. I looked up at Eva, showing her no emotion. I trembled no longer. My breath was steady and even. “Record anything you have to.”
She met my eyes, and I didn’t look away.
Life went on whether I was ready for it or not. I graduated high school, and spent most of my summer trying to understand things a little bit better. After all, death had come and love had gone. Alone, I’m sure that either one would take some getting used to, but together, I didn’t even feel like I was in the same world anymore. There were some days when I didn’t leave my room at all, because at least my room felt a little familiar. I just laid in my bed, curled up under a pile of blankets, trying to feel a little less cold. I’d found that it wasn’t just that one room in the school; I was cold no matter where I went.
I think of it this way. For the brief time we were a couple, Drake showed me what love was. He was the only one I loved, and even before that week, he was the only one I wanted to love. But at the end of that week he poisoned it, akin to poisoning an arm. Rather than letting the poison spread, I cut the arm off. I stopped loving. Not just Drake either—I gave up on love for everyone, forever, as though it were no longer a part of me. I forfeited that section of my life so that I could keep trying to live the rest of it, however difficult that had become.
And sometimes I still feel love’s absence, in the form of an unshakable coldness: my own phantom limb.
There were people who helped me along. I was never on my own, even if there were days when I wanted to be. My mom helped. It might sound pathetic, but without my mom there, I really don’t think I would’ve made it. She understood me. In hindsight, maybe she understood me better than Drake did. She did what she could to save me from freezing to death, and there were some days when that possibility came closer than I’d ever like to admit. Then there was Iris. I don’t know if she fully understood what I was feeling, but she’d lost a friend too, so I knew she at least had an idea.
Drake was never found. Every day of that summer, I was living in anticipation of some news, any news at all. Truth be told, I can’t even explain why I cared. It wasn’t like he would come back and make everything better again.
And that was assuming he was even alive.
I suppose it didn’t matter, whether he was alive or not. I should have treated him like I treated my dad: he played a role in my life, but that role disappeared as soon as he left. But some part of me would’ve known that was a lie. My dad was easy because I’d never known him. But I’d known Drake, and I’d loved him, and I at least wanted to know what happened. I wanted resolution.
Since that resolution couldn’t come from Drake, I had to seek it elsewhere. I talked to Adam. It was the fourth of July, and I figured I should get out, even if I didn’t much feel like it. I went to the park where Drake and I had spent some time together before he left. Some part of me hoped to see Drake sitting there on the swing, as though nothing had ever happened, but I knew it wasn’t possible. Instead there was Adam, sitting alone. I don’t know if I’d call it a sign, but it was something, so I sat down on the swing next to him.
He said hey, and asked what was up. He actually didn’t seem to mind that I’d sat down with him. I told him I didn’t really know why I was out, but I sat down because it seemed weird that we’d never talked. He agreed. Simple as the conversation was, I realized that it was the first one I’d had for months with anyone but Iris or my mom.
“So are you going to college?” Adam asked, swatting a mosquito on his shoulder. His face was illuminated as a firework went off in the distance.
“That’s the plan,” I answered. “You?”
“Yeah, not that I know why. I’ll be heading up to Rycroft.”
“Same,” I told him. Another couple of fireworks went off, but the main show had yet to start.
“Hey, not to sound intrusive or whatever, but is there a reason you haven’t been out much? You’re kind of a celebrity around here, but me and some friends were talking about it, and we realized that nobody’s seen you since graduation.”
“Can you blame me?” I asked, swatting at a mosquito of my own.
“Guess not. But hey, I’m glad you stopped by, because I’ve been meaning to thank you. Maybe you didn’t mean to, but when you kissed Drake in the lunchroom that day, it showed me that not many people really cared about two guys being together. Sorry if that sounds dumb. I mean, compared to what almost happened a few days later, I’m sure that kiss was nothing to you. But it meant a lot to me. It helped me come out, and I’m not the only one. So yeah, thank you, you really made a difference.”
And if Adam had stopped talking there, that would have been all the resolution I could ask for. But things can never be so easy.
“Hold still,” he told me. He slapped my back, and I gave him a look. I wasn’t exactly used to people touching me. “Sorry, you had a mosquito. And Regis?”
He kissed me on the cheek. It was returned with a punch to the jaw. Some fucking resolution.
Maybe I should give Adam more credit. He might have left me feeling like shit for many, many reasons, but at least he helped me get back into the world. I started talking to people again, and by the time I left for Rycroft, I was ready to stand on my own two feet. I left behind my friend and family—both singular. There was an aching in my heart and a coldness in my bones, but at least I was alive. At least love’s poison hadn’t killed me.