The prologue is now up on either of the sites, or just below.
You think this has to be a tragedy but it doesn’t.
The ocean waves push and pull me back to the present, salty tang on lips, a cold breeze brushing through messy tangled hair, numb fingers gripping the camera hanging from my neck.
I can’t bring myself to capture a thing on this beach. He’ll be missing on the logs, he’ll be missing by the water, he’ll be missing by the sand, and nothing will turn out right.
You think this has to be a tragedy but it doesn’t.
I can’t bring himself to believe that.
“He was my best friend.”
The words echo around and around the courtroom and in my head. His mother’s eyes are on me. My mother’s eyes are on me.
My voice breaks and I look away, turning so that Victor disappears from my peripheral vision.
The judge turns slightly to me, eyes sympathetic. “Take your time, Isaac.”
I take a shuddering breath and blink the blurriness out of my eyes.
“The opposition rests.”
Victor doesn’t meet my gaze, his hands clasped in his lap.
My stomach is a ball of ice and I curl my fingers, digging my nails painfully into my palms.
“We find the defendant guilty of involuntary manslaughter.”
Across the room, Victor closes his eyes, shaking, and my breath catches. The room blurs around me, and my mother pulls me in for a hug.
The tears begin running down my face, and I don’t make a move to wipe them away.
“Lucas!” I scream, my knees wet from the rock and face damp from the spray of the mist.
There’s no response.
And the river roars on and on.
Lucas’ funeral is a sparse event, littered with too polite people I don’t acknowledge.
All of them say nice words the types you’d say at networking events, and I imagine punching each and every one of them in the face.
All of them on the podium with long, eloquent sentences about life and death and God’s plan.
Whatever this is, this isn’t God’s plan. And if this is God’s plan, I hate God. I hate whoever high above allowed this to happen, leaving cruelty alive and well and my best friend dead.
I leave my seat and march out through the church door, making my way around to the field in the back. I exhale and lie down with a thump on the damp grass. There’s something tight in me and I can’t breathe, can barely keep my body responding to me. It’s miles away. It’s at the bottom of a river.
I cross my arms below my head and stare up at the overcast sky, ready to sink into the earth, waiting for the soil to just open up and pull me underneath, never to let go.
I lie underneath the sky and I imagine drowning.
“He would’ve wanted you to have these.”
I exhale, steadying myself, before taking them. I turn the photographs over so I can’t see them, and I slide them into my jacket pocket. I stand there looking at nothing at all, Lucas’ mom trembling before me.
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
My words are hollow and almost nonsensical, and I can barely find the breath to string sounds into a sentence.
Lucas’ mom reaches out and envelops me in a hug, pulling me close to her.
My fingers brush against the photographs in my pocket.
My hands are shaking by my side as I tread quietly, a one track vision and one track mind, following Joseph around the bend of the school.
There are bags underneath Joseph’s eyes but within those eyes are the same, undaunted sharpness, and I want to tear that sharpness out of him. I want to throw it to the bottom of the river bed, hold it down until it drowns and is never found again, and I hate myself for it.
I step out from the corner and in an instant, I grab the back of Joseph’s head and I shove it violently downwards, dragging him away from the water fountain and against the wall.
Joseph’s nose is bleeding and his eyes are watering as he grimaces, attempting to shake out of my death grip on his collar.
“What do you want?” Joseph spits, but I only curl my fingers together and I send another blow at the boy’s face. Joseph’s head jerks back and smashes against the brick wall, his gaze unfocused now.
“You just stood and watched. You laughed.”
“You don’t know what you’re doing, man – ”
“If I could, I’d kill you right now. I’ll fucking kill you. Are you even sorry?”
“Listen, man, I’m sorry.”
There’s a pain and ache that grows in my chest that starts to make its home there. It digs into my ribs and curls around them, crushing bone and resolve into fine dust. It’s darkened and filthy and reaches out my throat and threatens to choke me until I’m unable to catch a breath at all.
“It was an accident. He was always a weak kid.”
Red floods my vision and the ache in me explodes into my nerves and muscles, into my fists, and before I can stop himself, I’m throwing Joseph against the wall and then to the ground and my boots are colliding with nose and mouth and head and there’s red and red and red, so heavy, until I’m not sure if it’s coming from me or him.
Someone is crying for help but I can’t make out where it’s coming from, from the mess before me or from the river, Lucas’ cry echoing again and again and I’m there, reaching out but helpless, hopeless, useless.
“Isaac Chen!” A sharp voice cuts through it all and I back away, falling back into the grass, staring at the blood on my boots as Joseph lets out a weak groan and tries unsuccessfully to get to his feet.
I look up as the teacher marches over to me. The tears start coming and won’t stop as I cover my face and lie back onto the grass, chest heaving.
And the ache still hasn’t disappeared. Hasn’t bled itself dry into the grass. Hasn’t escaped through my taut skin and eyes. Has only grown in the meantime, rooting itself there, heavy and unmoving. And I’m scared, terrified, that it will make its home there forever.
Lucas was a tragedy. And lying there, I’m certain that I will be too.
“Expelled?” My dad demands. “Expelled, from the only school in this god forsaken town?”
I’m curled up in the corner of my bed. It’s been days but the red of the blood still fills my vision. I still want to throw up. I still taste the mildew tang of the river in my mouth.
“Do you know what this means for the family? Can’t you think of anyone else other than yourself for once?”
“Peter. Leave the boy alone, he’s just lost someone very important to him.” My mother appears at the door frame, frowning, bags under her eyes, voice heavy.
“You’re just lucky you weren’t arrested, son.”
My dad glares at me and my mother in turn, then stalks out of the room.
“Isaac, honey,” My mother begins. I jerk away from her gaze and hand.
“Leave me alone.”
“You can’t keep going on like this.”
“What do you expect me to do then, huh? Just get over it, back to life as usual? You want me to fucking do that?” I’m suddenly whirling around and staring my mother down, hands clenched at my side.
I sit down in the middle of my room; everything is laid out everywhere, along with two open suitcases. I hold Lucas’ photos in my hands, trembling slightly. They’re still turned upside down. I run a finger down their edges and I wish they can bring back anything but grief.
I lean over and grab an empty red shoebox from below my bed. I hold it on my lap for a moment before gently placing the photos down into it and placing the lid firmly on top.
I climb the hills behind the neighbourhood, ignoring the sharp, cold wind cutting into my face. I pull my jacket closer to myself and exhale, breath billowing in the air. I reach the top of the hills and turn around; the small suburban houses, red brick of the school, spanning green expanse of the forest, the cliffs and endless ocean, stretching out all around me.
Lucas is everywhere, walking by the diner, sitting by the ocean, running into the forest, sitting behind the school, holding his camera in his arms.
The wind picks up but I don’t move. My tears sting on my skin and I rip at the grass around me.
“I have to get out of here, Lucas.”
The wind carries my words up into the air and sky and all the way down to the ocean to be drowned out by the waves.
The car windows are slightly stained by grime and dirt; I lean onto the cold glass and wipe my hands again and again on my jeans. With the car radio off and neither parent speaking, I squirm in silence, blinking faster than usual in an attempt to keep my eyes dry. I adjust one of my legs so it’s no longer cornered uncomfortably against one of the many suitcases jammed into the car.
Familiar trees and houses flash by as the car engine’s rumbling keeps us company down the road. My dad is driving slightly faster than usual. My mother keeps glancing backwards at me.
I scowl and continue staring determinedly out the window, watching my childhood, my life, flash away, fading, melting into the past. A past I’ll never get back.
“This place will be a new beginning,” my mother explains, glancing again at the rearview mirror and making brief eye contact with me.
“If it is, I don’t want one.”