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After She Fell

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I don't remember changing out of my rain-drenched clothes. I don't remember grabbing all the extra blankets down from the closets and handing them to Lindsey, Elody, and Ally who were huddled together on the floor. Pale and broken looking. I couldn't look at them, so I didn't.

I vaguely remember going into the kitchen and making hot chocolate. The real kind, homemade with milk, just like my mother taught me so many years ago. The motions feel mechanical and it when I pour the milk my body's shaking so bad that most of it spills all over the counter, splashes on the floor and soaks into my socks. I ignore it and repeat the process as many times as I need to until it's done. It seems to help. If I concentrate on something normal, something warm and comforting, something productive, then maybe everything will go back to normal too. When I grab four mugs down and pour the hot liquid into each one, using both hands in an awkward effort to keep them steady, I don't let myself dwell on the fact that I should be grabbing five.

I bring the hot chocolate to the girls, still shaking and huddled together under blankets, wearing oversized, mismatched clothes from whichever closet in the house. I place the mugs down next to them, Elody and Ally both wrap their hands around the warm glasses, but Lindsey just stares blankly, like she can't even see what's in front of her. None of them take a sip.

I make a point of checking the fire before I grab three blankets from the pile and wrap them around myself. I plop in front of the fireplace, sitting so my back is to the girls and I'm a good twenty feet away from them.

Once I sit down my body feels incredibly heavy, like my blood has turned to lead and is slowly settling, pulling at all my joints and muscles and bones. Weighing me down like I'm walking through quicksand. I feel my shoulders drop and I let my head fall forward. It's then that I realize how cold I still am, pinpricks of pain, like needles, are just starting to shoot through my hands and feet. My hair is still dripping and feels heavy with what I imagine are tiny ice crystals. I pull the blankets tighter around me, grasping my warm mug as I scoot a little closer to the fire. First, concentrate on getting warm I tell myself, in a pathetic attempt to fight the inevitable.

And then someone screams.

I flinch so hard that most of the hot chocolate in the mug I'd been holding splashes onto the blankets. Up until that point, everyone has been relatively silent. The scream comes again, and I turn my head toward the sound. It's Lindsay. She has her head tucked between her knees, with her arms loosely wrapped around her legs, her damp hair hanging down like blinds. She screams again, and the horrible sound seems to echo through the house, bouncing through the empty rooms, piercing everything. It's then that I realize she's sobbing. Crying so hard that each sob sounds like a scream. Ally and Elody curl against her, before falling into themselves. Their voices seem to blend until it sounds like the house itself is crying. The sounds set every nerve in my body on edge, my muscles feel like they could snap with tension, and I can feel the hairs on the back of neck rising like hackles.

For a second, I feel like I should go to them. Like I should wrap my arms around them and try to give them some comfort, even if we all know that there's no support anyone can give. Not now. Maybe not ever. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I think hero, and I forget how to breathe for a second.

I can't get myself to move over to them. I can't even look at them. They're not my friends, and even though we have this horrible moment in common, I don't feel like I can bridge the distance between us right now. Lindsey screams again, or maybe it was someone else, I can't tell their voices apart. I almost want to tell them to shut up or to leave. But I don't. The house would seem to empty if I was here alone. I'm glad their parents let them stay since I can't decide if alone is what I want. But, I also can't listen to that sound. I push my mug aside, pull my knees up to my chest, bury my head between my legs, and press the heels of my hands as hard as I can against my ears. Desperate to block out the grief that sounds too much like the static in my head.

I tense my whole body, trying to lock myself together like a puzzle piece, in an attempt to stop the tremors racking my body from tearing me apart. Splitting me into thousands of tiny pieces that I'll never get back together again. Without thinking I let my eyes drift to the side until I can just see the girls behind me in my peripheral vision. They're all huddle together, nearly on top of each other. Lindsey in the middle still curled up but grasping at Elody and Ally on either side of her, who have their arms wrapped around her, while holding onto each other. I've never felt more alone in my life.

I look back down, shutting my eyes tight as my stomach twist painfully and the lump in my throat threatens to choke me. Looking at them reminds me too much of Sam.

Just thinking her name breaks me.

The whole scene replays in my mind in fast forward. The rose from Sam at school. Our lips and bodies pressed together in my car. Her cryptic messages about "time" and "saving." Following her when I noticed her slipping out of the party into the rain and the woods with such a calm sense of purpose. And then...seeing her talking to Juliet. The bright white of headlights bouncing off the rain making it look like falling needles. Juliet throwing herself into the road. Sam lunging after her. Screeching of brakes and tires on wet pavement, before a dull thunk. Sam's body soaring through the air, arcing in a strangely graceful looking way, like a gymnast dismounting from the high bar. At that moment, I expected her to land on her feet, beautiful and alive.

But when time sped up again, she didn't land on her feet. She slammed into the pavement, with so much force I swear her body bounced. All I remember is screaming her name, running over to her, leaning over her as she lay there bleeding. Touching her, telling her it was going to be alright, even though her skin was already so, so cold. Her eyes were unfocused, but there was a calmness there. A calmness that was more terrifying to me than the blood soaking through her clothes and onto the pavement. At that moment everything came together. She knew. Which meant that it didn't matter that the ambulance was here and that at least five paramedics were surrounding her, trying to keep her alive. None of it mattered.

That's the point my mind shut down. I didn't fight when they pulled me from her because I knew she was gone. My mind was too busy trying to figure out the how's and why's to process anything else. I remember a paramedic checking me over and cops asking me question that I must have answered good enough since they let me go without taking me to the hospital. I remember seeing Juliet shuffled into an ambulance, while someone yelled: "It's all your fault!" After that...nothing.

The feel of a hand on my back brings me back to the present, and I realize that the horrible screaming has stopped and my hands are wrapped around the back of my neck, holding my head down. My mind seems to suddenly register the fact that I can't breathe, and I realize I'm hyperventilating. Gasping for air, my lungs too strangled to expand. I can feel tears sliding down my cheeks like rainwater, but I barely notice them. I can't breathe.

I feel someone wrap their arms around me, but it's like I'm detached from my body. The sensation feels like a separate entity. One that can't touch me where I'm at right now. Someone whispers my name, so softly I almost think I imagine it, but the voice brings me back to myself a little more. It's Elody. I try to control my breathing.

Another set of arms goes around me, and then another until I almost feel trapped. I finally manage to take a deep, shaky breath and release my arms from behind my head. The trapped feeling dissipates a little, and I open my eyes. I'm not sure how much time has passed, but the fire has burned down until it's almost just embers. It feels like hours, and it feels like seconds. I can feel the girls arms around me, feel them shaking and hear the tiny whimpering sounds as they cry against me. Our worlds are colliding because they're falling apart. I run my sleeve across my eyes, even though I know there's no point, since the tears don't stop. Right now I can't even feel the tears; this isn't even the release of anything bouncing around inside me. This is just shock.

As the girls lean against me, their thin bodies pressed against mine, my mind shifts to a kind of desperation. I desperately want to turn back time. To restart the day, go back to this morning when I woke up, and my only worry was trying to minimize the damage to the house during the party and whether or not Sam would show up. Then I start to wonder how things could have turned out differently if only I had known. What if I hadn't let Sam leave? What if I had pulled her into my room, kept her there, kissed her and held her so she couldn't walk out and didn't want to. What if she hadn't even come to the party at all? What if I didn't even have a party, but just convinced her to come over? After all, I only had the party in hopes that she would come. What if her friends, after noticing she was acting strangely, stopped her? What if I had gotten to her sooner?

The questions ricochet through my mind like bullets against metal walls. So many tiny threads woven together, lives and events intertwined, all connecting to create this horrible picture that ended a young life. I want to tear them all apart, fiber by fiber until I find the thread that's Sam's life and stop it from being severed. I was supposed to be her hero. I promised her that. I let her down in the worst way possible. I couldn't save her.

My mind blanks, apparently reaching its limit for a short while, just as Lindsey unwraps herself from me. She crawls over to the pile of blankets and spreads them out on the floor, before laying down on top of them. Elody and Ally immediately follow her, silently moving away from me to curl up next to Lindsey on the floor. It's something so normal, Elody and Ally following Lindsey's lead, that I almost laugh. Just seeing that some things haven't changed is somehow reassuring. I don't move to join them, even though my muscles are cramped from sitting in the same position for so long and my head feels like it's full of cotton balls and paper weights. Instead, I stare into the fire - which is now barely glowing embers - and listen to the girl's breathing until it calms and I know they're asleep.

My eyelids feel heavy, and each time I blink, it gets harder to peel them back open. I lean back and turn onto my side when I can no longer keep myself upright. However, the conscious movement seems to wake my mind up again, and it picks up right where it left off. I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to fend off the desperation and guilt, but every time I close my eyes I see Sam's broken body on the pavement. I see her throwing herself at Juliet-


This whole time I never once thought of Juliet. If I had stopped Sam from going after her, Juliet would be dead. A horrible, selfish part of me whispers that it should have been Juliet. Juliet, who had wanted to die. Juliet, who was the reason Sam was dead.

I stop the line of thoughts immediately. I don't want anyone to die. I don't want anyone to be dead. Maybe if I had gotten there sooner, I could have saved both of them. Maybe if things were different...

But some things I don't want to be different.

I don't want to change the way I felt when I got that rose in Calculus, knowing it was from Sam. I don't want to change the way it felt to be next to her at school. I don't want to lose the feel of her lips against mine or the way her soft, sweet smell of her skin when she leaned into me. I don't want to forget the feel of her breath against my neck in the dark when she told me I was the best kiss she ever had.

I don't want my last memory of her to be of screeching, and headlights, and blood, and her pale body soaring through the air.

Then I remember the calmness in her eyes. The overarching sense of purpose about her in every move she seemed to make. The way she looked at me in the last moment. Calm and almost...happy. The way she knew exactly where to find Juliet and when. How she didn't hesitate when she must have known too, that she would die. Anger towards her blazes up in me so unexpected that my fist clench at my side. How could she leave me after all that? How could she just change my world, kiss me and change me irrevocably? After all this time, why did she have to notice me on the last day of her life?

I'm shaking again, but I clamp down on my thoughts, knowing they're headed to a place I can't face right now. No matter what, I'll never regret knowing Sam Kingston. I'll never forget the way kissing her felt like finding a piece of myself I didn't know was missing until it was back. I try to hold onto the feeling of completeness. Of soft skin and lips and kissing like it was as natural and easy as breathing. I imagine I'm back in the car with Sam, surrounded by darkness, the rain pattering against the hood. The world all to ourselves, a moment that's ours and ours alone.

Eventually, I must fall asleep, since the doorbell and furious knocking wakes me up sometime later. Pale, gray light is streaming through the windows, but I have no sense of time. I force myself up, letting the tangle of blankets fall off my shoulders as I rise. One of the girl's moans and they pull the sheets over there head, curling closer to each other as the incessant pounding continues. I stumble towards the door, having to brace myself against the wall and hold on to furniture since I can't seem to find any sense of balance.

The doorbell rings again as the knocking continues and I try to yell "I'm coming," but it comes out as a strained croak, and I know whoever's on the other side can't hear me. I clear my throat, hoping I can find my voice as I pull open the front door.

I blink at the sight in front of me, I'm not surprised, but I don't know what to say to any of them. Standing on my front porch are all the girl's parents, but I feel like I don't see them. I'm completely detached from my body, watching everything from afar.

It takes a few seconds before I realize someone's talking to me and I force my lips to move, force the words past my the knot in my throat and over my swollen tongue.

"They're in the living room," I say, my voice sounding hollow and far away.

Whoever was talking stops and they all stare at me for a second, before pushing past me as I step aside gesturing towards the living room. I don't follow them. Instead, I stare out the front door, at the snow now coating the ground. The sun is peaking over the trees and through the clouds making the world look shiny and unbroken. It all seems so wrong. How could the sun be shining and the world looks the same after all that's happened?

I look over at the woods quickly, before slamming the door shut. I don't want to see. I walk as slowly as possible to the living room and stand against the wall, glad to be ignored. People are talking to me, and I respond without hearing them. Elody comes up and hugs me briefly, just before everyone leaves.

Once everyone's gone the silence in the house presses in on me like it has physical weight. I wonder if my parents will come back when they hear, or if anyone will try to reach them to tell them. They were only away for the weekend so that I could have this party anyway and since they aren't as socially connected to the gossip as some of the other parents its possible they have no idea what's happened. I guess I should be the one to call them, but I can't bring myself to say the words out loud yet.

Suddenly, the weight of everything hits me all over again. Sam's dead. She's dead, and she's not coming back ever. I'll never kiss her again. I'll never see her walking down the halls or sitting at lunch with her friends, laughing. I'll never hear the melodic sound of her voice again. The way her voice caresses my name like it's a musical note. Worst of all though, I'll never know what more could have happened between us.

I slide down the wall, barely breathing again, gasping and shaking. This is what real sadness feels like. My emotions shift from misery to anger in a second and back again. I'm angry at her for dying, angry at the world for taking her, angry that the day I had a chance the with her was her last. This is what out of control feels like.

Suddenly, I can't sit still anymore. My hands clench into fists at my sides, and I have the desperate urge to scream or break things. I walk into the dining room and pick up one of the large decorative chairs. I throw it and it only lands a few feet from where I stand. It doesn't feel good, but it doesn't feel bad either. I grab the next chair and throw it backward with so much force that it hits the wall, probably leaving a hole. The dull sound as the chair crashes down is slightly more satisfying, and at this point, I can't stop.

I grab each of the chairs, one by one and throw them around the room, pulling them down as I storm past them. When I run out of chairs, I tear through the house, pulling down curtains, throwing and ripping pillows from the couch, breaking the mugs still in the living room. Throwing a vase across the room, going into my bedroom and flipping the mattress off my bed, pulling clothes out of my closet and drawers. The anger and grief and guilt are surging through my veins, turning me into a tornado, destroying everything in my path.

After I've made my way through most rooms in the house, panting and dripping with sweat, I sink against the nearest wall to catch my breath. The sun is shining through the floor to ceiling windows, and the brightness hurts my eyes. I'm in the living room, and I move to close the curtains, but when I look up, I realize I've torn the curtains down. I reach over and grab a blanket off the floor, pulling it over my head to block out the light. I've never felt so exhausted in my whole life. I let myself fall onto my side, keeping the blanket over my head, pulling my knees up to my chest and finally let go. The first sob strangles me as it erupts from somewhere deep inside me, but after that, it's like a dam has burst. Everything comes rushing to the surface, and I'm sobbing and screaming and asking why and whispering her name over and over until it loses meaning and the syllables blur together like watercolors. I still can't get myself to believe any of this is real. I can't get myself to believe that Sam's dead. It's like my mind keeps rejecting the idea, even as I'm curled up on the floor, crying like the world is ending because that's what it feels like.