The entire campus exhaled as the first of many weeks of doom passed and most of us managed to come out unscathed. I passed all three of my exams and my papers awaited grading. In reflection, I was actually grateful for the week. When I thought I was at the very end of my capacity, I called Mom, and in classic Reagan fashion, cried about my inadequacies. Mom, unlike me, believed in me, and as a new week began, I learned to do the same.
As I walked the campus during lunch, clubs were scattered about the school, yet again, recruiting. I never committed to one, two weeks ago when dozens of clubs lined themselves in a row in front of the dining hall, but after a triumphant week, learning to do life around Alex and managing my studies, I stopped by several tents to inquire.
I picked up a couple of fliers, contemplating both poetry and coding. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to practice skills in areas I’d be forced to set aside as my focus became bio. I looked up from the fliers to grab one from the running club, when the ones in my hands were taken from me suddenly.
“Coding? Poetry?” said Alex, browsing the fliers. “Read the poem you wrote to Pierce Thompson in seventh grade. They’d ban you for life.”
I snatched the fliers back from him.
“Figurative language wasn’t my strong suit,” I defended myself, adding a running club flier to the ones in my hands and walking away.
Unfortunately for me, Alex caught up to me in two strides.
“There’s a celibacy club,” he said. “Might be the perfect fit for you.”
“You think I should run for president?” I asked him, eyes fluttering up at him.
He didn’t even try to suppress a laugh.
“You don’t stand a chance,” he answered. “That goober, Marks, has president locked up. VP, however, you’re the ideal candidate.”
“Wow,” I exclaimed, clasping my hands together. “College really is the place where dreams become realized.”
“And sometimes,” Alex added, “you get lucky.”
I flashed him a disapproving look while he gleamed in his victory. He even looked dismayed when he couldn’t glory in it as he watched Silas pull me away from him and into the crowd.
Silas in his purest form and uninfluenced by a substance was fun and free spirited. He also came from a sickeningly affluent family, his father the CEO of a marketing company, and his mother and sister socialites. Why he chose to attend college was as much a mystery to me as him snuggling a pillow in a dormitory across campus from his.
“Here,” I said, handing Silas a bottle of water and a bag of banana chips as I settled into the space next to him on a stone bench by the large water fountain in the middle of campus.
“You,” he said, “bought these for me?”
“You said you like banana chips, right?” I answered him, opening my own water.
“How much did it cost?”
I passed him a strange look, confused by his question about the price of the water and chips, and wondered if it was beneath him.
“It isn’t organic, if that’s what you’re asking,” I answered. “But I can eat them for you.”
I reached for the bag and opened it.
“No,” he snatched them back, uncrossing his legs on the bench. “I don’t remember telling you I liked them,” he said, delicately placing one on his tongue and sighing as he savored the banana chip.
“You don’t remember a lot of the things you tell me,” I told him, taking a sip of my water.
“Usually I’m buying,” he said more to himself than to me. I looked at him, snacking cheerily next to me, and wondered just how accustomed he’d grown to people taking advantage of him for his family’s name and fortune for him to be stumped and awed by the bottle of water and banana chips in his hands. “These are all the calories allowed to enter my body today,” he said.
I smiled as I watched him delight in such a small pleasure in life, sitting there in the middle of the day with the sun on his platinum blonde hair, black leather jacket over a black and white striped shirt, a pair of really skinny light denim pants, and suade beeswax colored boots with what looked like a name brand bag strapped across his chest. He almost looked angelic. I, on the other hand, was the very definition of basic. I looked myself up and down in my small white t-shirt paired with matching sneakers and a thick grey cotton skirt pulled high on my waist with straight black hair brought partly to the front of me and partly to the back and longer bangs that fell freely to the left side of my face. We were quite the contrast next to each other.
I looked up at the familiar face and smiled.
“You have some time on you?” he asked.
“All the time in the world,” said Silas, standing to greet Elliot and pushing the bag of banana chips at me. “Rae Rae, the calories on these could kill a person.”
I gawked at him, slowly standing to greet Elliot with a smile too, “Hey.”
When Silas cleared his throat, I got his not-so-subtle hint to introduce the two of them.
“Elliot, this is Silas. Silas, this is Elliot.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” Silas extended a hand for Elliot to take.
“Same,” Elliot shook his hand.
“I’ve been a fan of yours since last year,” Silas informed Elliot. “I try to make it to all the swim meets.”
“The platinum hair is pretty hard to miss,” he said. “Thanks for your support.”
“Anytime,” Silas sparkled before Elliot fixed his attention on me.
“You’re pretty good at hiding, though,” Elliot directed at me.
A light laugh escaped me.
“Just dying in a corner of my room, studying.”
“Next time let me know and I’ll come study with you.”
My breath caught, my eyes widening at Elliot’s comment, and when they shifted for a second to look at Silas, he seemed to be wearing the same expression as me.
“Sounds like we’re having a group study in your room soon, Rae,” another voice joined the conversation.
I whirled around to see Alex and Samantha approaching us. My face dropped at the sight of them, and in my disappointment, my hands moved up to grab the straps of my backpack so I could pull them together in front of me.
“Hey, L,” Samantha greeted Elliot. I looked at her and back at Elliot curiously, wondering how they knew each other. “This is my boyfriend, Alex,” she introduced the two of them.
Alex shook Elliot’s hand and turned to greet Silas as well.
“I’m Silas,” Silas beamed in Alex’s direction.
“Nice to meet the both of you,” said Alex to the both of them. “I wonder why Rae’s never introduced all of us?”
Everyone turned to look at me, and as they stared, my dagger eyes found Alex’s shimmering ones. He only smiled innocently in my direction, forcing me to ease my own discomfort.
“I was really waiting for this moment right here,” I said to my onlookers. “We braved a week of grueling papers and exams, and now the sun is up and we’re all standing here by this massive majestic water fountain, it just seemed like the opportune time.”
Silas’ distorted face of confusion was the worst, but I cared most about Elliot’s perplexed reaction, and didn’t know how to recover. Thankfully, Samantha did it for me.
“Anyways,” she said, tearing her own awkward stare away from me to address Elliot, “L, I was telling Alex he should’ve tried out for the swim team this year.”
Alex wasn’t nearly as good a swimmer as he was a runner, but still solid.
“I saw you on the track last year,” Elliot said to Alex. “You’re lightning. What happened, man?”
Suddenly it was Alex in the spotlight of discomfort, all eyes on him. No one but I knew about Alex’s overdose that forced him home last year. Samantha wasn’t in his life as his girlfriend until after he returned to school. They must’ve heard the rumors, but could never confirm them.
“That injury in the spring was pretty rough on you, wasn’t it?” I said to Alex. He turned to look at me, his face the softest and most quiet I’d seen it in awhile. He still couldn’t manage to speak, however, so I did it for him. “And now he’s back to his normal confident, loud, boisterous self.”
Everyone turned back to look at Alex.
“Glad things worked themselves out,” Elliot said to him, smiling.
Alex looked at him before his eyes settled back on me.
Spring semester of my senior year of high school was already overwhelming enough, trying to overcome a serious case of senioritis and applying for colleges, but add the frantic, distraught Pastor Mike and his wife Camila to the heightened tension, and it was a crazy time in life.
When Pastor Mike and Camila received a phone call at three in the morning, and I was awakened by voices in the living room downstairs, confused and alarmed, I slowly creaked the door of my room open and quietly tiptoed towards the stairs. From there, I heard the voice of my father.
“It’s not a stretch, Mike,” said Dad. “I’ll go with you.”
Go where? I thought. It’s three in the morning.
“We’d feel a lot better with you there,” Camila said, before her voice broke.
“Camila, we’re here for whatever you need,” Mom consoled her.
At Mom’s words I wondered if it was Alex they were all up for in the middle of the night. I hadn’t heard of or spoken to him since he graduated the year before. He silently enjoyed his summer off and even more quietly went off to college when the fall came.
“Can you help prepare the house and his room?”
It was Alex, and my heart couldn’t help but thunder wildly against my chest.
“Reagan and I will have everything ready by the time you get back.”
We will? For what? And why?
When Mom and Dad met me, sitting at the top of the staircase, Mom informed me of Alex’s overdose and the uncertainty of his status at the hospital.
Frozen, I sat at the top of the staircase for what seemed like an eternity. Why, I kept asking myself. He was an obnoxious creature with an infuriating ability to test the very best of a person with his sharp tongue and blatant disregard of others, but he wasn’t dumb, and certainly not dumb enough to overdose on some stupid drugs, was he? Unless it was that he wanted to? Knowing Alex, I knew which it was, and my question remained the same, Why?
I readied the Everett’s home in a haze, too many questions occupying my mind. I could sense that Mom wanted to delve deeper into the state of it, but she very lovingly provided me space. Even Nathaniel and Ana recognized their roles in the insanity of the situation, and quietly went about their lives to help ease the intensity of everyone’s nerves.
A few days later, when the Everett’s pulled into the driveway, Mom and I stood waiting on the porch of their house. I watched as Dad stepped out first and made his way over to us. My eyes were the first that he met with a look of reservation.
“Alex,” he said, “would like you to leave?”
I blinked at Dad several times over.
“What?” I said, a blaze of emotions swirling inside me.
“He wants you to leave.”
Mom gently put a hand on my arm, but I shook it off of me.
“Why did I think this would help give him perspective and maybe even a little bit of appreciation for the things in life that matter and the people in it who actually give a damn,” I sputtered in fury.
That’s when I saw Camila step out of the car from the backseat where she was sitting with Alex, his face covered by a hoodie.
“Fine,” I huffed, stomping home.
I had no right to be angry, and was well aware that it didn’t help the situation in the least, but I didn’t care. I avoided the Everett’s like they were a swarm of locusts and kept myself confined to school and my room until Mom made a request of me nearly a week later.
“No,” I told her firmly. “I refuse to be his sitter for the night.”
“Reagan,” Mom said just as firmly, “you don’t have a choice here. Pastor Mike and Camila have a duty to be with a family who just lost their mother and grandmother, and I can’t do it because Nathaniel has jiu jitsu and Ana dance tonight.”
“I’ll take them.”
“This is not a negotiation, Rae,” she said with finality.
I grumbled, but walked over to the Everett’s, letting myself in. The smell of jasmine and lilies greeted me like an old friend. Memories of my time there became so potent, the nostalgia fast overwhelming me, I shook it off as I paused at the bottom of the stairs to listen for Alex in his room.
Several minutes passed before I heard him shuffling around upstairs. I deemed that as good indication that he was fine, and went to make myself at home in the kitchen. Though I knew I should’ve checked in with Alex to see if he had eaten, I chose to make myself comfortable at the table and browse television shows on my phone instead.
Half an hour later, I went to listen for him at the bottom of the steps again. When there was movement, I moved to the living room and plopped myself onto a sofa. As I eyed the time ticking ever closer to midnight, I knew the moment was nearing when I would have to ask Alex whether he had eaten or not.
Sighing, I stood and made my way up the stairs. At his door, I stared, my eyes catching the light at the bottom of the door where the crack was, and all I could think about was my desire to be anywhere but there. Taking a deep breath, I knocked.
When he didn’t answer, I rolled my eyes.
“Alex?” I tried more firmly.
“I’m coming in,” I declared.
When I pushed the door open, my eyes met the body of Alex , sprawled on the ground at the end of his bed.
“Oh my gosh, Alex,” I scrambled to where he lay, checking his pulse, one hand moving to cradle his pale face. There was a stream of foam running down the side of his mouth, and I almost went numb, but once I felt the thumping of his neck against my two fingers, feeling came back to me. “Alex,” I shook his arm furiously.
I reached for my phone in my back pocket, but when I realized it was sitting downstairs, I started to scan the room for his, not wanting to leave him. I dove for his phone as soon as I saw it on the nightstand to the side of his bed. Dialing 911, I made it back to Alex’s side, pushing the many empty prescription drug bottles away.
So much of it was a blur. All I could remember was stuttering at the operator, yelling at them to hurry, and maneuvering Alex’s head and limp body into my lap the best that I could. Time seemed to slow as I held him there in his room, wondering if I was going to watch him die in my arms.
“Must’ve been a crazy time in life,” said Elliot, breaking the gaze between Alex’s eyes and mine as I turned to look at Elliot, then at Silas and Samantha, before clearing my throat.
“Just as crazy as this time in life,” I said with a light shrug of my shoulders, a smile on my face. “We should get started on your essays.”
I walked around the circle, Elliot and Silas catching up to me shortly thereafter as we left the company of Samantha and Alex.
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