gasping for air

Shiloh's hands were sticky from the cake she kept picking at, even though she was fifteen and knew better than to play with her food, especially at a restaurant as fancy as La Croix. She hadn't taken a bite of the cake, even though she'd claimed to be starving so they'd stop. It was selfish, but she couldn't go home. She couldn't. The whole house smelled like him--warm, earthy, and heavy, just like he'd always been. The scent made her throat go tight, and she smiled brightly at the people near her. "Remember when," she started, spreading her hands across the bold white table cloth, "when he convinced me that our bird was actually a fairy in disguise and all I had to do to make her appear was to let her go?"

The silence was unbearable for a dead second, but Mom's mouth tugged to the side in a smile, and Dad leaned back in his seat. "The feathers were everywhere," murmured Colt, his chin resting on his chest. She tried to catch his eye, but he stared at his lap unfalteringly. She could only imagine his hands, clenching and unclenching beneath the table. He was angry. Even the slight smile on his face couldn't hide that from her.

"I think I got grounded for half a month before he admitted he put me up to it." She shook her head,
and her hair sent chills up her unusually exposed back. Why couldn't funerals be casual? She'd get more comfort from sweats, chocolate, and fuzzy socks than she'd ever get from a little back dress or a tie. "What else did he get up to? There are so many stories I don't know, I'm sure."

She waited for someone to speak up. Colt didn't look up. His freckles were hidden beneath angry flushed skin. One of Mom's hands crept up to cover Dad's hand, while the other played with the feathery end of her long braid. Neither of them made eye contact with me. My stomach went white-hot, then ice cold. Shame tightened my lungs. I should've just stayed quiet.

"He wrecked the garage door and totally got away with it."


Colt's legs were restless beneath him. He crossed and uncrossed them, jiggled them up and down, took his shoes off and then shoved them back on when he saw a waiter eye him strangely...nothing made him comfortable. Everything about this restaurant felt out of his depth. The stiff black vests, the thick, red carpet under foot, the mellow mood lighting that screamed "Be gentle with us; we're breakable." He wished they'd just stopped and gotten fast food. But of course, suit and tie wasn't acceptable for Mickey D's, according to the North's rules of society.

He bit his lip to keep bitter words from spilling out. Screw the North's and their rules. Screw them all. Screw Ali, screw Kurt, screw Shiloh, screw Jon--especially Jon.

"I don't know what he was thinking," he said quietly, running his tongue over his teeth as he thought out his next words. "We'd just gotten our driver's licenses. Neither of us had cars, and I was driving mom's minivan when I had to. I don't know what possessed me to let him drive--when we both knew I was the more responsible driver." He paused for the chuckle he knew that would draw from them, then continued. "We were going to the park. Mom told  us to walk, but we took the car anyways. He was super confident--"Watch, I'm gonna go on the highway and no one's going to criticize my merging skills."

Kurt gave Ali a sidelong glance, and a blush laced with guilt rose up her tanned  neck.

"I told him we didn't need to go on the highway, so what's the point, but he punched me in the shoulder and said, "If you're that worried about the price of gas, go get a job. Let's live in the moment, okay?'" He swallowed, since his throat was closing up. "His sleeve pulled back as he turned to back up. That's when I first saw his scars."

Shiloh took a sharp breath in through her nose, and he saw Ali reel back slightly. He gritted my teeth. Did she still find that her precious son had consciously hurt himself a disgusting fact of life? Sometimes, he wanted to punch Ali North. Other times, he wanted to punch her son.

"I grabbed his arm, but I grabbed it at the wrong place. His foot was on the gas, and I startled him. The garage door wasn't all the way open yet. The car was okay, but the door was useless." Colt bit his lip. "We didn't talk about the scars, or how he'd flinched when I grabbed him. I just went inside and told mom I'd wrecked the garage door." He forced a smile to his face, shaking his head. "I got grounded so hard that Mom took my day-old license away. So instead of walking to the park like normal people would've, we sat on the curb in silence. Until he rolled up his sleeves." And told me
every time he'd cut himself, down to the minute of the hour of the day of the month of the year. And why. And where.

He'd never reminded me more of his brother at that moment.

Colt looked up, meeting the eyes of everyone at the table unshakably. "And I can't tell you what he told me, because it will break you. And I can't watch you do that again."

Shiloh gulped back something more than words, and Kurt bit his lower lip until it was swollen and throbbing. Ali didn't move, and he wondered if she'd heard me or if she'd blocked everything out, just like she'd been doing for the past three years.

Maybe he shouldn't have told that story. They needed to know. But maybe it was too soon. Was two days too soon? Was three hours too close to home?

Well, sucks for them, because this whole thing was too soon and too close to home.

He looked over at the ghost at the dinner table and wished he'd kept his mouth shut.


Shiloh'd meant to keep the mood up. She'd dreamed of a happy family, reminiscing their lost one's
life. She didn't mean any harm; she just wanted to keep everyone afloat at the same time. He could see her, she was gasping for air. Her parents couldn't see it; they were too busy trying to pretend everything could be normal again. Colt didn't see it, because he was too busy erupting on the inside. He wanted to shove every warning sign in front of the blind parents, but he couldn't. Those warning signs were raw and oozing scabs, even to him. The only person who saw Shiloh's drowning was him.

Colt'd meant to humanize the mood. There would be no idolization, not after he'd seen what he'd seen. His memories were poisonous, and if he didn't let them out, he would asphyxiate. He did mean harm, because he was furious. How could they not see him as he'd been? How could they have been so focused on how perfect their white picket fence, two point five, ordinary suburban family did they miss their own son disintegrating before their eyes? Shiloh didn't see how he was suffocating; she was too busy looking at his hands and trying to meet his eyes. She couldn't read him. She never could. His parents didn't see him, mainly because because they didn't understand how invested the boy was in all this. They saw him as a resident in their home, but they never realized how much his second family really was his family. How much losing his best friend was like a stab to the heart. The only person who saw him gasping for oxygen was him.

The most helpless person in the room.

He wasn't about to tell a story. He couldn't even speak his name. He couldn't open his mouth. They'd torn his larynx from his throat when they had a stranger speak about how precious dear Jonathon was too perfect for this world and that he'd never done anything to  cause anyone to even suppose he might be suicidal. He wanted to scream at the congregation how wrong everything was, but his voice was long gone.

Everything was wrong.

His sister was crying invisible tears, behind the perfect smile. The happy go lucky little girl was gone.

His best friend wanted to punch the lights out of his second parents. The peaceful boy vanished with the casket.

His mother shook hands and accepted "I'm so sorry" like it was the easiest thing in the world. All her pride as a human being slipped down the drain.

His father's laugh broke from hearty to guilty, and his words didn't hold the same confidence like they always had. He was graying to a shadow right before his eyes.

Everything was wrong.

He was voiceless, brainless, heartless. His best friend had just died, and he couldn't squeeze out a tear. He couldn't even say his name. His name. The first name he'd ever learned was just ripped away from him with a turn of the steering wheel. He was falling into oblivion. He was drowning. He gasped for desperately for air.

But no one could see him.


  1. Wow. This is heavy and sad. But it's good.

    Where is Matt though?

    1. Matt is the narrator of the last section--the "nameless" voice. It's sort of hard to tell it's him, but I wrote him that way because he's emotionally distant at that moment. He's functioning in safe mode, and processes everything analytically and without personality. A lot of the blurbs I write during this point in time for him follow this pattern. :)


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