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The red box is still hidden under my bed, tucked neatly behind the suitcase and a stack of leftover newspapers. I lie on my stomach and push everything to the side, reaching for it, getting an arm covered in dust.
I sneeze and pull it out from its hiding place, placing it gently on my lap, hands shaking.
I stare down at the lid, and it stares back, almost daring me to do it.
Marcus’ name appears on the screen for the fifth time this evening but I turn my phone over and return to the box. Without another moment’s hesitation, I pull the box open. The stack of photos lie there, as untouched as they were on the day Lucas’ mother gave them to me. I gently scoop them out of the box, still face down. Slowly, methodically, I turn them over and lay them side by side on my bed. A mortuary, a memorial. An apology for not having been able to say anything at the funeral or even look at any of the photos here before now.
It’s been months since my fingers have grazed these. My hands are shaking as I remove them, an ache in my chest threatening to bury me.
Scenes of the beach, of the ocean. Our favourite place. Moments, seconds, frozen perfectly in time. Untainted by life, untainted by change, untainted by tragedy. In one of them, there’s Lucas’ shadow, clearly holding a camera. There’s the soft sand and the sea shells and the ocean waves.
A shadow, blurry and undefined at the edges.
My vision blurs. That’s all Lucas is now, a shadow trapped in a photograph, unmoving, untouched. In a perfect world, I shrink himself into the photo, back to the side of my best friend, and I stay there. No time, no change. But in this world, Lucas is dead and I couldn’t – didn’t – do anything.
I continue flitting through the photographs despite everything. Dozens of photos of the sunset painting the sky and water red and orange and yellow. Close ups of seashells, with their intricate patterns against the tiny grains of sand. The waves, white and blue and chaotic, reaching in futility for the smooth seashore.
I drop the photos at my father’s piercing yell from downstairs. I run a finger down one of the photos again then carefully place them back in the box, making sure they’re stacked neatly and comfortably in place. I place the lid on them, my hands still shaking. I wonder if maybe one day I’ll die with them. I can’t ever part with them, but there is nothing I can bear to do with them, besides staring at them and wishing helplessly for a time that I can never return to.
I feel like I’m burying him all over again.
I turn my phone silent at yet another call from Marcus I ignore. I stuff some clothes in my bag, not bothering to check if they’re clean or not. I grab a few of the dollar bills I have stashed in my drawer.
I leave a note for my parents – some weak lie about studying, a sleepover – and I zip my bag shut with a finality.
The door barely makes a sound as I step out into the evening light.
If I can’t find answers there, I won’t find answers anywhere.
Anywhere, anywhere. The thought echoes through my brain as I approach the bus station twenty minutes later, going through the motions fast, mechanically, as to not think about any of it.
The cash scrunched in my pockets. The cash pushed towards the counter. The ticket pushed back. I hug my bag close to me and bury myself deeper into my hoodie.
I board the coach, sliding into the back and leaning against the cold window. The blurred street lights and cold streets stare silently back. At this hour, the bus is almost empty as it rolls out of the station, with only three other people in the seats.
None of us make any noise, and there is only the rumble of the bus engine accompanying me as the coach rapidly turns its way out of the town and onto the long highway.
The lights inside the bus are dimmed, throwing the seats in half shadow. I lean against the grimy window and let the semi darkness of the surroundings rush by, the buildings in the distance quickly rolling into shadowy mountain ranges.
The scenery becomes more and more familiar as the hours roll past. I stare at the darkening landscape, my palms cold and clammy against my trousers. The hills where I flew kites as a kid. The forest where I explored with my friends. The large football stadium where Lucas and I watched countless games on hot summer afternoons before. I turn away, closing my eyes. I sit still until the bus pulls to a stop at the terminal fifteen minutes later.
I heave my bag over my shoulder and walk onto the darkened streets. Blinking neon signs, cold indifferent street lights, the warm glow of suburban houses. I take a deep breath and smell the tang of home.
Or what used to be home.