I slunk down Tom's stairs, or the stairs that had been Tom's. This house was the wrong place to be. I tried to shut everything out until I got out of their yard, but a voice stopped me. It was... Elijah?
He'd just seen the shouting match upstairs, the screaming and crying and blood and, oh god, the body. He probably was about to make his own accusation, and I just didn't want to hear it. Not from him. Not from somebody I respected.
I turned around slowly, preparing myself.
He hugged me. I was caught off guard, and as I slowly, awkwardly patted his back, I realised this was the first time I'd really touched him. Exhausted, I began to relax and tears welled up in my eyes. No. I couldn't do this here. Gently pushing him away, I said, "Yes?"
He looked me dead in the eye. "It'll be okay. This is not your fault." I choked. How could he have known what was going through my head? Oh right, he'd heard every word Chrissy had been screaming at me from the moment we walked into that room.
I looked at him. "Thank you." I said simply. And as an afterthought, I added, "It's not yours, either."
His gaze dropped. I knew I'd struck a chord. Awkwardly, I put my hand on his back. "Really, it's not. It's normal to blame oneself, but you couldn't have known what he was planning. So you couldn't have stopped it."
It was Elijah's turn for a sincere thank you. It came in the form of a weak smile, followed by a question. "How did you know what I was thinking?"
I couldn't come up with a lie fast enough, so I opted for the truth. "You're too much like me." I smiled weakly then turned away. "You better get back inside or Iso will think you're banging me."
He didn't know what to say. "It's a joke. I'll see you in school."
I turned and walked away. When I got home, I was weirdly proud of myself. I'd blocked out the images for the whole walk home. But as soon as I opened my door, they all came flooding in.
Myself on the couch with Tom. On my bed, in his arms. Laughing in my driveway. Screaming at him in my room. Hugging him on my front porch. Kissing him in the janitor's closet. Joking and talking with him in his car. The images piled on, faster and faster, until I was suffocating under the weight. It was so surreal. He couldn't be gone.
And then the last image hit me. There was no way he could have lived through that head wound. I ran into my room, with tears finally, finally pouring down my face.
I lunged at my drawer, my last lifeline to sanity. Scrabbling in it frantically as panic set in, I finally flipped it over onto my carpet.
There was nothing. It wasn't there. I had nothing to get me high. I sank down by the mess on the floor and leaned against the bed, thoroughly drained. The tears flowed from me like blood, but they did nothing to wash away the feeling.
After a hour and a half, I screwed my courage to the sticking point, and grabbed the phone.
"Jamie? Come pick me up." He knew from the tone that it wasn't a request.
"Okay. And I have a surprise for you, Sissy."
Somehow, I fed my mother before he came. The car ride was silent, but as we parked I finally got the courage to speak.
I told him everything. Everything except for Joey. Neither of us were touchy-feely at all, but he held my hand, and somehow that gave me the strength to pour out the words. And almost as if they were pus flowing from a wound, I felt cleaner afterwards. Clearer. Like I could almost breathe. That horrible, horrible feeling hadn't left, but I could almost manage it now. I think I'd squeezed his hand blue.
After an hour, we got up and went inside. There was no-one there. I almost collapsed on the couch, but a familiar voice from the kitchen startled me.
"Surprise." And there was Joey, standing in the kitchen on crutches with a broken arm.
I wasn't prepared for the emotions that overwhelmed me. Joy. Pain. Anger. Relief. Ecstasy. And there, tinging it all, was Guilt.
I sank my face into the couch pillows. It wasn't the reaction he'd been looking for. I heard him move towards me, then stop. Jamie hissed something in his ear, and he moved forward again, sitting down, then picking me up from the seat and pulling me across his lap and into his arms.
I'm not big on touch, but it was exactly what I needed. I cried a while longer, for everything.
Suddenly I sat up with a deep breath, and pushed my emotions back for long enough to make a request.
"Get me stoned."
A look passed between them, and Joey reached for his knapsack.