1: Shane, The Moldy Basement
It’s morning…well, it’s probably afternoon, but in summer morning lasts until 4 PM, and my body feels like it needs to be somewhere. Gwen wakes me up, coming down the stairs into the moldy basement I claimed for the night, and sits on the sectional that I decided was my bed. There’s an abnormal amount of sunlight getting in, it hurts my eyes, so I stare down at the bed and think about leaving. She insists nothing is wrong. Our conversation is clipped and short; the smell and the sun make it hurt to talk and I’m not interested in listening.
I walk upstairs; Ryan is lying on the floor, almost the same position he was in when I consigned myself to the smell of mold. It’s in my lungs, probably, forming a colony and killing me from the inside. But they were right on top of me, I had to go somewhere. Killing me from the inside. I kick Ryan’s leg by accident as I walk out the door, the light still hurting my eyes.
2: Charlie, Smoke Break
By the time I wake up Gwen’s house is empty, that’s probably the best I could have hoped for. The afternoon light is making this kind of haze in the living room, like it’s the desert or something, and suddenly I’m dying for a smoke. My Marb Lights follow me onto the back porch and line themselves up on the banister, one, two, three, four, five. The backyard is a jungle, and I stare at it and think about Cali.
There’s a mostly empty bottle of Baccardi sitting out in the knee-high grass, I can barely see the white cap peeking out over the sea of brown. I jump off the porch banister and down into the grass, almost losing the cigarette when I land and wondering if the whole yard would go up if I had. There isn’t enough rum in that bottle to last until I leave, and I’m trapped at Gwen’s house unless I want to walk. Might be better than seeing her again, though. Like a true hobo, I wrap the rum in a hoodie, stuff the Marbs back in my pocket and wander off down the street. Maybe I’ll walk all the way to Cali, maybe I’ll just make it to the end of the block, but I’m gone no matter what.
3: Shane, The Voicemail
It’s Monday and I have to work again, no decent excuse to call in, only I’m sitting in my cube with a brick in my stomach and staring at the screen like I forgot how to read. My phone’s been ringing all weekend, but only Gwen left a voicemail, and only one, so it can’t be anything too pressing. Still, no matter how much I try to concentrate on my screen I can’t keep the words in my head long enough to understand a sentence. I just keep thinking about that orange circle with a one in it, until finally I give in.
“Shane, it’s me. Listen: you need to call me back; Charlie is gone. Gone, gone, no one has seen him since, you know, that day, and his Dad says they need to leave for California and I don’t know what to tell him. I need you to call me and tell me what to do, or find him, or something.”
I hang up the phone and delete the message without even considering calling back; the voicemail is supposed to be off my mind, that was the plan. The words on my screen make even less sense now, though, and the brick in my stomach is bigger and heavier, pushing on my lungs.
4: Ryan, My Fault
Radio silence. Every single one of them has cut me off, like it should really matter than much to any of them. Like my number one priority is to watch Charlie, to worry about Charlie’s feelings. Charlie can go to hell for all I care, I’m not doing a damn thing to find him.
A week ago I was happy, happy for maybe the first time in a year, for maybe half an hour, when I finally stopped thinking and just went with it. Then Shane got up, I realized what we were doing, and now they all hate me. I drive past Gwen’s house for the tenth, I don’t know, fifteenth time in a week, and all the lights are off. She’s looking for him or she’s talking to Shane about how much they hate me, how everything is my damn fault. I hate every last one of them; wish I was the one going to California.
5: Shane, Where the woods used to be
I pull up to our old spot, behind Toys r’ Us, to find it faced another in an endless string of strip malls rather than the woods I’m used to. If Charlie was hanging out there I would have been able to see him from a quarter-mile away–no such luck. It’s been more than a week since he’s been spotted, his phone has been dead for days and his dad says he didn’t show up at the doctor’s.
I suppose it’s possible he’s dead.
The seriousness of the thing had been hanging in the back of my mind for some time, never fully acknowledged, maybe because I was sure he’d be at the old spot when I got here. But that was stupid; Charlie’s gone, and he’s dumb enough to stay gone, all because those two couldn’t keep their hands to themselves for a few more days. I park the car around the corner, hidden from sight, and climb out. There’s still a chance Charlie will show up, there’s a chance every minute, and I’ll be waiting. I don’t care how long it takes.
6: Shane, Spotlight
He’s not coming, obviously he’s never coming, but I can’t think of anything else to do but wait. At some point staring at an empty parking lots turns into staring at the insides of my eyelids, and I’m out for what feels like the first time in a week.
In my dreams I’m back on the couch at Gwen’s house, Charlie is out in the side bedroom, his medication has knocked him out early again. The two of them, those idiots who couldn’t be bothered to just wait until he was across the country, are all over each other. I can’t see them, my head won’t seem to turn that way, but the couch shifts continuously in time with their…everything. Ryan’s back bumps into me, there’s nowhere near enough couch for me to stay here, I need to give up on the idea that my presence is a deterrent to anything. They’ve clearly forgotten I’m even in the room. I get up, off the couch, and trudge towards the basement, making no effort to be quiet about it, the lights flashing weirdly in my face, hurting my eyes.
Said eyes pop open, in the car behind the store again, and the light that’s flashing at me is attached to a police cruiser because of course it is. Half asleep, and not even thinking about the right thing to do, I get out of the car with my hands stuffed in my pockets.
7: Shane, Tachypsychia
“Stop right there! Take your hands out of your pockets, slowly, and put them on the roof of the car.”
It hadn’t even occurred to me until that instant, when I saw the panic on his face. My right hand is closed around my phone, and it’s nice and dark, and all I’d have to do it pull it out of my pocket fast, like I was trying to beat him to the draw, and that would be the end of it. But I don’t really want that, and even if I do I don’t have the guts. Funny, the things you think of in those stretched-out moments.
“You have until the count of three to comply!”
I can see Charlie, in my mind’s eye, in the exact same spot, staring into a barrel and finding it meaningless. But I would have heard of it if he had, suicide by cop would make the papers. I’m apparently unable to act at all now, I just stand there and stare dumbly at the cop as he approaches, only lowering his gun when he’s safely behind me, emptying my pockets like they’re on a mannequin’s legs.
8: Charlie, Twisting My Arm
“You can’t compel me. I have a right to refuse treatment.” My arms are bound, I can’t get them free, I’m tired but I keep pulling. The IV twists in my arm; it hurts with every movement, but that’s hardly a reason to stop. “You hear me? I refuse treatment; get it off me!”
No one is listening. There’s a slamming sound across the room, the door opens a second later, and a hospital bed rolls in with a guy handcuffed to it. With Shane handcuffed to it. Someone beat the hell out of him.
9: Ryan, Martyrs
I’m sitting on the hood of Gwen’s car, I know she has to leave for work soon, and just waiting. All of this silence is starting to drive me mad, it’s like the three of them disappeared off the face of the earth. She walks out the front door, not looking over in my direction yet, and my eyes follow her down the steps, along the path, and to the driveway.
“Any sign of Charlie yet?”
She stops, surprised to hear my voice despite the fact that she’s practically right on top of me. “No, nothing yet. Please get off my car; I need to leave now.”
I jump off the hood and step away, trying to hate Charlie for ruining this instead of myself. “Can’t we just be happy, Gwen? We screwed up, I get that, but we don’t have to be martyrs about it.”
10: Shane, Charges
“They said you’re in for trespassing, criminal mischief, and resisting arrest.” It’s Charlie’s voice that wakes me up; I have no idea how long he’s been talking, he’s not even looking at me. “They got me for drunk and disorderly, public urination, and resisting arrest. Funny how they charge you in threes, isn’t it?”
I try to sit up, but that’s apparently not happening. The last thing I remember is my head being forced forward, into the roof of the car. “Where have you been all this time?”
“You don’t get to ask questions today, that’s your official sentence. Mine is forced chemotherapy, apparently. How long have you known?”
11: Shane, Everything
“How long have I known what?”
“Don’t lie to me, Shane; Gwen told me everything.”
It takes me a long time to think of an answer, and while I’m thinking he’s just staring at me. “I don’t know, a few weeks, maybe.”
“And you didn’t tell your best friend that whole time.” He’s got this bitter smile on his face.
“As far as I knew they hadn’t done anything about it until a few nights back.”
“Right, they were just waiting me out. ‘Charlie’s going to kick the bucket in a few months, or at least he’ll be out of the state, then we don’t have to feel guilty about going behind his back. He never even has to know.'”
12: Shane, To Dump a Dying Man
“It’s not like that.” Or maybe it is, I don’t even know any more. “I mean, yeah, it was horrible, but how would you have handled it?”
Charlie’s staring at me, and I can’t tell if he’s gone even whiter than before, or if I didn’t notice just didn’t notice. His eyes are sunken and he’s really, really thin; and suddenly I’m more keenly aware of just how bad off my best friend is than I’ve ever been.
“I don’t know; I’ve never conspired to dump a dying man before. I’ve never switched teams, either.”
My mouth is dry and I’ve got this profound layer of cold just under my skin, all through my body. “Just go to California, man. Get better.”