The fire had burned for hours before the firemen arrived. It took out most of the first floor of the community college and part of the second story. It had started in the supply closet by what looked like a candle that had tipped over and caught on some ribbon off of a Christmas wreath. There was only one person in the building. A runaway, Adam Miller. It looked like he had been camped out in the supply closet for about two weeks. The janitor said the kid paid him $400 to let him stay there. He was a good kid so the janitor let him on the promise he would stay in the closet and not have visitors. There was a sink he could use as a bathroom and had some blankets for a bed. As expected, the janitor was fired. All that was left of Adam Miller was his military issue black boots and a purple flannel shirt. A memorial was set up in the charred remains of the closet. Holly Weldon had not left the memorial since finding out her beloved Adam was dead. She wore the purple flannel, which hung down to her knees and covered her hands, devastated. She’d been in love with Adam for six years now. She knew he came from a broken and troubled home and it made her love him even more. When he came to her window two weeks ago and said he’d left, the burn marks from his step dads cigarette on his arms still fresh and smoking, she’d let him sleep there for just one night. Her parents wouldn’t let him stay, even in the guest room, and Adam told her he found a place. Nothing more was mentioned. He went to class everyday at school and they spent the weekend together carving pumpkins and picking out costumes. She hugged her favorite picture of Adam to her chest and began to cry once again. Ash stood over her begging her to come on. She had to eat, he said, but she couldn’t move. Ash promised her he would bring her back if only she would let him take her to eat and get a shower.
“I won’t go home,” she said. He promised her he’d get a hotel room but she had to come. It was getting dark and the police and firemen were being more than generous letting her stay as much as she did. Ash knew she hadn’t slept since the fire. She’d stayed at the memorial watching people pay their tribute to Adam. She didn’t speak to any of them. Most of them she knew. Adam was an all around good guy who deserved more than this shit life had given him. He was the first there to help out a friend in need and the last to leave when the day was done. Everyone at the college had been touched by Adam in some way and all of them felt for Holly losing him so young. Ash helped her to her feet. He offered to take the purple flannel but she said no and hugged her body with it. Ash was Adams oldest friend. He couldn’t mourn the way Holly was. He wanted to badly but he felt obliged to Adam to look after Holly. He hadn’t cried yet. He’d been too busy wiping Holly’s tears and holding her at the funeral. Holly was sincere, Ash knew, but it was starting to get to him, the crying, the snot, and the sleepless nights. He paid for a hotel room and let Holly take a shower. He ordered a pizza and watched music television waiting on her. He pulled out his wallet and looked at the picture of him and Adam as kids in their tree house with guns pointed at the camera and serious faces painted for war. He smiled and put it back. He found some anime on the television and barely watched it.
Adam was the first to introduce Ash to anime. He’d bought some Cowboy Bebop at a garage sale and loved it. He found it online and ordered it with some others. Trigun, Slayers, Bubblegum Crisis, and some other more obscure anime with titles Ash still couldn’t pronounce. They were a team. They watched anime and listened to the Misfits up in their tree house safe from schoolyard bullies until seven the next morning. Ash had glasses then and fell prey to the typical four-eyes remarks and swirlies after gym. Adam got it both at school and at home. His mother refused to leave his ass hole stepfather and wore turtle necks even in the summer. Ash told the school nurse but nothing came of it. Adam only ate at school. His mother used his child support money on beer for Bob and only bought Adam popcorn. Ash made him sandwiches and left them in the tree house. They were always gone in the morning but Adam never knew it was Ash leaving them. Adam had told him he had a sandwich angel and Ash let him go on thinking that. They’d saved a baby bird who’d fallen from its nest once. Ash told Adam he should be a vet and Adam made it his life’s ambition to become one. He was brilliant with animals. He had a special touch that seemed to pacify even the wildest of dogs. He was an animal whisperer, Ash knew, though he didn’t brag a lot on it. When Holly came into the picture she fit right in. She already loved the bands they loved, she was wearing loose flannel and Converse tennis shoes when most girls were coming into the age of make up and hair dye. Holly was a one of a kind but others soon followed. Ash tried to find a genuine spirit but most girls were only faking. Maybe their make up didn’t look right or they were too fat to be cheerleaders. Whatever it was they weren’t real. They listened to the Pixies in the car and N*SYNC on their walkmen. He caught his girlfriend, Heather, kissing an A.J. McLean poster when he surprised her by stopping by. It was tough for him to find someone as real as Holly. He never had and envied Adam. He’d never steal his girl but sometimes he wanted to. She wasn’t real pretty. Just an ordinary face with a slightly thin nose. She wasn’t an artist or uniquely talented in any particular medium. She was just Holly, Adam’s girl. Ash thought this was really his first time being with her with out her being with Adam. They met when she came up to Ash asking for a cigarette behind the cars in the school parking lot. She talked to Adam about a concert they were both at in Oklahoma. Radiohead and My Morning Jacket. He’d never seen them apart since. He thought about Adam alone in the junk closet of the college. Sleeping on a thin blanket with his army jacket rolled up as his pillow. He hadn’t even told Ash this was where he was living. He had starting asking to meet at the coffee shop on the main road. Ash didn’t think anything of it. More trouble in Bob-ville, he’d thought. He picked at the black nail polish wearing off on his fingernail. Adam had died with his nails painted black and wearing one of Ash’s Pixies shirts. Ash cursed himself not putting it together. Adam showered at Ash’s and borrowed Ash’s too big clothes. Ash never even thought about it. He had a girl he was working on and spent a lot of time texting with her trying to meet up. She bolted when she found out his best friend died. Dodged a bullet there, Ash thought. How stupid it all seemed now. Holly came out of the bathroom. She was still wearing the flannel, buttoned now, and some pajama pants Ash brought for her.
“Hey, I was thinking about getting some of Adam’s stuff to take to the memorial. What do you think?”
She nodded. He knew she would like that. She believed so firmly she could bring him back if she just prayed hard enough. She prayed over and over for it to be a nightmare. She brushed her wet hair and stared at the TV. She wasn’t watching. She was thinking about Adam. What about Adam, Ash didn’t know. Just Adam. He was thinking about Adam too. Just his face. His curls, his eyes. It wasn’t a complete thought. Just the name Adam and his face. They both ate a slice of pizza when it got there and instantly went to sleep. It had been a long time since either really slept.
The next morning Ash and Holly knocked on Beebe Sack’s door. She answered still in her bathrobe with her make up smudged down the right side of her face. She didn’t smile at them or speak. Bob was sitting at the kitchen table eating cereal. He didn’t look at their accusing faces as they passed. Ash wanted to hit him for all the times he’d hit Adam. Beebe sat across from Bob and poured herself a bowel of Krispie Rice. Ash let his eyes linger on them. A sad picture. Regretful mother, resentful father. Ash couldn’t look anymore and caught up with Holly. Adams room still looked lived in. Nothing had moved. His black canvas bag lay on the bed with his textbooks spilling out. Ash had not even noticed Adam hadn’t had it with him. He must have left in a hurry. His laptop was open but not on. His walkmen sat on the desk next to it. A Green Day tape was sitting on top of it. Holly sat on his bed and ran her hands over his sheets. Gray cotton 1,000 thread count. One of the nicer things Adam got from the divorce of his parents. It used to be on his parents bed and Adam told Holly it was the only real reminder of his parents happy he had. He used to sneak in bed with them in the middle of the night and curl into his dads back. His dad once pulled the sheet under Adam’s chin thinking he was asleep and kissed his forehead. Adam didn’t remember what his dad looked like but he remembered his shadow bending over him and the feel of his dry lips on his skin. Holly picked out some books and tapes to bring to the memorial. They emptied his bag and stuffed as much as they could into it. They didn’t see Beebe as they left. Holly went back in and came out with all of Adam’s clothes under her arm. A hand full of black shirts and a few pairs of pants was all she could carry but it was enough for Holly just to have them. She smelled them and smiled. Ash started his car and dreaded going back to the closet. Holly was staring out the window thinking of Adam. Ash put his hand on hers. She squeezed it. Ash thought about going back later for more of Adam’s things for her. A few cars were in the parking lot as they pulled into the college. Some construction workers were talking with the Dean at the cement picnic table. Ash nodded at them in greeting and followed Holly though the glass doors. Two people knelt by the memorial and smiled at Holly as she knelt next to them. She didn’t go right for the bag. She wanted it to be private. Ash waited leaned against the wall. When the two finally left he was relieved to be getting on with business. The mourning was getting under his skin. He wanted Adam to rest in peace and felt he couldn’t with all these visitors. Holly first pulled out a picture of Adam as a child in a black cat frame. He was dressed as Freddy Kruger with aluminum foil fingers searing at the camera. His dads hand was on his shoulder.
The stir in the ashes wasn’t noticeable.
Next came a Nirvana CD autographed by Dave Ghrol, a green sweatband with a four leaf clover emblem, a pair of purple stuffed penguins, and a black ink pen. Ash noticed the strong smell of copper and something in the closet moved. He took out another picture of Adam dressed in his prom tux and Holly in a black slip dress smiling at the professional photographer. He sat this one on Adams boots propped up next to the wall. Holly put out his walkman and the Green Day tape. This time both of them noticed the movement in the closet. Ash held Holly back and stepped over the yellow tape. He rubbed his eyes in disbelief. It was with out a doubt Adam’s black curls, his pale skin, his deflated chest laying on the closet floor in the ash.
“Holly, don’t, don’t come in here. Just keep putting the stuff out. Tell me what it is when you set it down.”
“Okay,” she said meekly, “his boy scout vest.”
“Oh, shit,” said Ash as he watched more skin appear. Part of Adam’s arm.
“More,” he said.
“Okay, okay. His journal, his Pixies tape, a receipt for this ring, his dog tags, a card from his grandma Lisa, his dads name written on a piece of paper, some kind of address book, what else, what else?”
Ash stood in disbelief. With the journal came two fingers, with the receipt came more of his abdomen, with his dog tags his neck and Adams apple, with the card a toe, his dads name part of his face, and the address book an ear. Ash sat next to him. He ran a finger over the skin of Adams arm. It was cold but real. As he ran his fingers over goose bumps pricked the skin. Ash pulled his hand back in shock. Should he tell Holly? She was emptying the bag with out looking what came out. As she did more and more of Adam came. He was nearly solid. She was crying and threw the bag into the closet in anger. Now Adam was nearly complete. He wasn’t breathing and he lacked a few patches of skin. Ash took Holly by the hand and led her in. She screamed and buried her head in Ash’s trench coat.
“Oh, what is that?” she cried.
“I’m not sure. You touch it,” Ash cautioned. He helped her to her knees. She stroked Adams hair and ran her fingers along his torso. She grabbed him by the neck and sobbed.
“It’s my Adam! It’s him. Oh, I prayed and prayed and its my Adam!” she cried. She placed his head in her lap. He wasn’t burned, Ash noticed. He was perfect. The scars from his youthful acne were gone. The scar on his forearm where he’d been cut while they fought with swords gone. Ash ran his fingers over where Adams ears had been pierced. There was no mark.
“What should we do?” Holly said between sobs. “We have to help him. We have to get more stuff.”
Ash hung his head. This wasn’t Adam. Adam had scars, moles, flaws.
“Where was his birthmark?” Ash asked. Holly blushed and pointed to his left buttocks.
“What did it look like?”
“Texas,” she giggled.
“Is it there?” Holly lifted his lower half off the ground and searched over his cheek.
“No, no it isn’t. Maybe we haven’t put it there yet.”
Ash thought. No, this wasn’t Adam Miller. Adam Preston Miller was gone. Right?
“Put your ring on his finger,” he suggested. As Holly did so the rest of the patches of skin filled in. Holly jumped back and gasped. Just one more piece. Holly stood by Ash and looked down at her beloved Adam laying naked before them. Just one more piece and Adam would be in her arms again. Laughing at her jokes and eating her cooking. They‘d be snuggled under his sheets glowing from the love they‘d just made. She wrapped her arms around herself and thought back to that first time. How in love they were afterwards. How he‘d asked her to marry him just before she went in for her EKG. How he said they‘d be married before she got her pacemaker. She hugged herself tighter remembering how he smelled and felt that day when she knew he really meant it even though his mother scoffed at them. He‘d held her so tight and told her to ignore them. Just ignore them. All of them. He loved her and they‘d be married just as soon as he saved up to buy the marriage license. He was wearing his tight black jeans and his black Bright Eyes shirt. They listened to Phillip Glass and drove out to the peach tree in the graveyard. He asked her if it mattered they wouldn‘t have a big wedding? It didn‘t she told him as she pulled off his flannel shirt and kissed his neck. That was the last time they‘d made love.
“The flannel,” she whispered.
Ash helped her take it off. She was wearing one of Adams shirts. A skeleton drinking a martini flipping off a picture of Beethoven.
“Should we do this?” she asked. Ash held her. She smelled the flannel. It still had his scent. It still had a curl of his hair on the collar.
“Will you love me forever, Adam?”
“ I’ll love you when I’m dead and gone and rotting in a tomb six feet under I’m gonna go on loving you to hell and back, baby. I always will.”
“What if its not really him,” Holly whispered.
“I-I don’t know,” admitted Ash.
Holly pulled the flannel to her face again and breathed Adam in. She knelt down and touched his skin. She kissed his cold cheek. Was this her Adam? Had her prayers been answered? She held the flannel to her chest. Was her Adam in Heaven? Was he in Heaven waiting for her now. Was he resting in peace finally free from Bob Sack and sleeping in peace as he’d not been able to in life? Holly looked up at Ash’s wet face. He was silently crying and looking at Adam’s picture. No, she thought, this isn’t my Adam. She took Ash by the hand and walked out of the closet. She knelt and began putting his things back in his bag. Ash helped her and soon the closet held nothing but ashes. Ash helped Holly carry Adams bag and they walked hand in hand out of the burned building. In the closet something stirred.