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Marcus isn’t in school the next day. I spend most of the day staring out the window, checking my phone, refreshing my text messages, but nothing.
Where are you?
I skate home in a growing daze, trying to push down the growing, tightening feeling in my chest that threatens to crack my ribs and suffocate me in one go. I sit on the stairs leading to the lobby of my apartment building, leaning against the fence as I take a deep, shaking breath and dial his number.
The ringtone continues to drone on and on as I lean against the cold brick, heart racing in my throat.
The world begins to collapse, a singularity, around the name Marcus on the screen, and the sound of no one answering.
I leap to my feet and throw my phone in my pocket after the tenth time of no response and pace the streets, fingers fidgeting, the phone burning like hot fire my pocket.
I pull it out again several seconds later. There are no notifications on the screen.
The world spins relentlessly around me. Somewhere, there’s the sound of rushing water, and I can’t make out where it’s coming from. There’s no water, not around here.
Nothing is wrong.
You are here.
You are not back there, not anymore.
You’re okay. He’s okay.
I grab my skateboard from my front porch and I’m suddenly speeding down the streets, the gravel reverberating through my bones, the houses flying by, the cold air uncomfortable on my skin. I keep one hand around my silent phone, and I can only keep moving forward, barely stopping at crosswalks and carving violently left and right, barely dodging pedestrians and cyclists.
At some point tears congregate around my eyes, and they cut and sting but I don’t slow down until several blocks down. Something in my chest clenches so tightly, like a trapped animal with nowhere to go but deeper and deeper into my flesh and veins.
He’s dead somewhere, or he hates me. He hates me, or he’s dead.
Helplessness. Terror. Terror and the sound of roaring water.
I skid to a stop next to the liquor store and stumble in with skateboard in hand.
Five minutes later I’m out with several cans of beer in my arms. I drag my skateboard to the back alley and I can’t keep my chest from its urgent, desperate rhythm. I crack open a can and lean back, head thumping against the coarse brick, the cold bitter liquid hitting my lips and throat and my phone is still silent and unmoving.
My head is spinning moments later as I dump the empty cans into the garbage next to me and grab my skateboard again, staggering back onto the road. Someone bumps past me, shooting me an accusatory glare before continuing their way down the street.
I scowl and drop my skateboard to the ground, pushing off unsteadily.
I roll down the slight downwards slope, stuffing my hands in my pockets as I grit my teeth, willing the world to stop swaying. Each push is catapulting me further away, away from this sorry excuse of a town, a tragedy away from shattering into an aftermath that I can never face again.
Cars roar indifferently past me and I clatter down blocks that I don’t recognise anymore.
It’s the ringing in the ears or the clattering of the wheels or the deafening silence of my phone, but I don’t hear the car speeding down the intersection until I’m seconds away from it, head still doing summersaults from the alcohol earlier. There is a screech of tires and I swerve on the gravel, jerking my body to the side and willing the wheels to follow me as the bumper of the car shoves into me, sending me hurtling backwards onto the pavement.
The driver honks furiously as they drive away and I lie on the sidewalk, holding my scraped wrist and knees. My entire body aches and complains as I push myself to my feet, reaching for my skateboard lying a few feet away. A few strangers glance at me but I only scramble and sit down in the grassy hill next to the sidewalk, chest heaving and staring blankly down at the road.
It’s not unnerving what nearly happened. What’s unnerving is, sitting here, how little I care about what could’ve happened.
I half limp away from the hill, my skateboard in my arms. The world slows down, gradually, steadily. The nausea building in my chest only grows and grows.
The unfamiliar houses inch slowly by. I dodge curious glances of passersby, nursing my scrapes but feeling nothing from any of it.
Somewhere down the fifth unfamiliar street, my phone buzzes. I jump, my heart leaping in my throat, and drop my skateboard to the side and sit down at the edge of the road. Marcus’ name glows on the screen.
I stare at it for a few seconds before answering.
“Isaac, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”
“What do you mean what’s wrong?”
“You called me twelve times.”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I was just worried.” I can’t keep my voice from shaking and tears well into my eyes, clouding my vision. “I was just -”
There’s a brief moment of silence.
“Isaac, I’m okay. I was at the hospital with my grandparents.”
Shame swells in my stomach and I can’t get the words out for several moments.
“Are-are they okay?”
“They’re okay, dude. It was just a scare last night. I live with them, had to rush my grandma to the hospital.”
I try to quiet my breath but it’s still loud and unsteady.
“Isaac…?” Marcus begins concernedly. A hint of understanding creeps into his voice. “I’m coming to get you. Where are you?”
I open my mouth to protest but I nearly dry heave into the grass. I pause, then glance up at the street sign. “5th and Alder.”
“Alright. Just wait there.”
Marcus hangs up and I sit there holding the phone weakly in my hands. The blood continues welling on my knees.
Marcus skates up twenty minutes later, a concerned expression on his face.
“What happened?” he asks immediately as he stops and bends down, examining my injuries.
It’s several moments before I can speak.
“A car kind of hit me when I was skating.”
“A car kind of hit you?” Marcus protests, indigent. “It looks like it did.”
“Isaac, what’s wrong?”
Tears start running down and I turn away from him, resisting the urge to bury my face in my hands.
“I don’t know. I drank a lot. I just feel like shit and I have no idea what’s going on.” The lingering aftertaste of beer overwhelms my mouth and I nearly throw up, clutching at his sleeve. “I’m so sorry. I’m a mess.”
“Come on.” Marcus doesn’t say anything else as he helps me to my feet.
We stumble awkwardly down the streets, me trailing mindlessly behind him.
We end up at the front doorstep of an unfamiliar, grand single house in an unfamiliar neighbourhood.
“Where are we?”
“My grandparents’ place.” Marcus pulls me forward. “You gotta rest man.”
The inside of the house is wide and spacious, all polished white walls and ornate paintings hanging off at straight angles.
I feel like I’m contaminating the whole place just by being present.
We make it up to his room and he sets me down on the floor by his bed, then leaves, shutting the door behind him.
I bury my face in my knees, trying to keep my stomach from twisting and turning in me. In the quiet stillness, every little pain is amplified; the scrapes and the bruises and the headache and the hotness of the tear tracks down my skin.
I wipe my eyes as Marcus returns with a glass of water and a plate of toast and a wet towel. He places them down before me and sits cross legged in front of me, wiping my injuries gently with the towel for a moment, not saying a word and not meeting my gaze either.
“I – I thought you were dead. I can’t lose you.” I stammer out, needing to provide some – any – kind of explanation.
He looks up in an instant, his gaze meeting mine. He doesn’t nod and his expression doesn’t change but he blinks in understanding, and moves forward to sit next to me, placing one hand on my knee.
“You’re not going to lose me.” He finally says, his voice heavy, but I only shake my head.
“You can’t know that.”
He doesn’t reply this time, and only leans slightly into me, playing with his fingers uncertainly for a moment.
“Isaac, don’t be mad at me,” he begins quietly. “But I think you need some support. And not just counselling. I mean, therapy. Outside of school.”
I stiffen and he senses it, moving back instinctively.
“Before you say anything, just know that therapy saved my life, and even if our situations were very different, it can help you. You can’t be expected to carry the weight of what you’ve seen and gone through alone forever.”
“I’m fine,” I say back reflexively.
He glances up at me. “I know. I know you feel that way. And I did too. Our minds have a funny thing of making any excuse possible to not get help, because getting help is hard man, I know. But even if you feel like you’re okay, having somewhere to work things out, a ground for support from someone who knows what they’re doing – trust me on this, please.” He takes a deep breath. “Isaac, I want to see you better. But I can’t save you. I can’t heal you. You need to take this step yourself.”
My vision is blurring again and I dig my fingernails into my palm, the room beginning to spin around me. My face is damp again, and there’s gravel digging into my hands, my knees. There’s water rushing past rocks, and I grab Marcus’ hand, cold sweat breaking out.
He puts his arms around me and I bury my face in his shoulder for a brief moment.
The alcohol is beginning to wear off and all there is a deep, unshakeable lethargy.
“Okay,” I finally say quietly. “Okay, I’ll find a place.”
A few moments later Marcus helps me to his bed and places a blanket over me. He moves to the curtains and pulls them shut so that we’re in semi darkness, and my eyes begin to close as I burrow deeper into the sheets.
“But…your grandparents,” I begin, trailing off.
“Don’t worry.” He pauses. “Do you mind if I sit?” He gestures towards his own bed.
I shake my head and he sits cross legged next to me.
Despite my exhaustion, my heart is going a million miles an hour inside me, and my hands are shaking underneath the blankets. I’m frozen in fear, in hesitation, in doubt, for a few seconds, but I reach out before I can stop myself. I take his hand and he holds mine gently. Our hands rest in his lap and the last thing I hear is the soft piano music coming from his phone as I drift off into the most comfortable, easy slumber I’ve had for a long time.