“What do you guys think happened to Romil?” someone asks quietly, not raising their voice over the sound of the radio playing idly in the background. No one in the car breathes for a few beats, letting the silence give their initial responses.
“Shit…” an exchange student called Ciarán McDonald says rubbing his eyes with his sweater covered hands, “To keep it real with you, man… I know he was probably scared. I mean, think about it. His ma, his da... his girl, his whole team. Everybody knew some shit about Romil that he never wanted them to know- never thought they would… and just that is scary.” he pauses for a second looking for the words he’s going to say next before he continues, “On top of all that? He liked dudes and that shit is scary.”
“Sounds like you’re speaking from experience,” Nick Lenzini says before pulling out his Juul and taking a long drag from it.
“Whatever asswipe, blah blah blah,” there’s heavy emphasis on every ‘blah’ he spits out. He says it all with indignance, probably seconds away from punching Lenzini if he says anything more, “So what? I dabble in a little bit of everything and head, is head, is hea-” he says getting cut off by another person in the car. The voice belongs to William Wood, more commonly known as Merlyn to his friends
“Okay, but nobody even knows,” he licks his lips before continuing, “So… don’t you think if everyone really did know, that we would all know who the guy was? I mean, tell me how nobody in this fucking car has any clue who the fuck the guy was who he-”
“Jade wouldn’t let that shit get out, she loved Romil way too much,” Ciarán says quietly, rolling down the driver’s side window and lighting up a cigarette. Nobody talks for a good couple of seconds before Lenzini pipes up.
“Jade was nice.”
“She still is,” Ciarán says almost not believing that Nick could talk about her like she died when Romil did. He’d only been around for half a year but you couldn’t go anywhere in St. Cs without seeing a picture of Jade and Romil being lovey dovey- if you didn’t see a picture you were often times seeing the real thing. People still couldn’t believe he’d cheated on her, assuming he still liked women and wasn’t gay. The truth was, they’d never know what his sexuality was but even then most didn’t want to know and those who did weren’t entitled to the truth.
“You’ve seen her around?” Lenzini says, offering the blunt being passed around to Ciarán who shakes his head and motions for him to pass it back.
“Yeah, like a week ago,” he says immediately taking a drag from his cigarette. He lets the smoke hold in his chest for a few seconds before blowing it out. Someone in the backseat makes a disapproving noise but says nothing to any of them.
“She was at Heaven, that skatepark down the road from school?” Ashlan says passing the blunt to Merlyn. They all know the skatepark he's talking about due to dozens of infamous stories of kids from St. C's getting into fights inside of the gates and all the overdoses from the park surrounding it. It was the closest park to the convenience store down the hill and in the neighborhood right next to St. Catherine's.
“She usually doesn't go there but, I saw her with some different crowd,” He continues. Nobody says it but they all know she'd been hanging around a lot of new kids after Romil's death. Everyone seemingly assumed that it was too much for her to deal with, especially if she had to keep hanging out with all of Romil's friends from the football team. “I could just see it in her eyes, y'know? Like something was missing,” he says quietly, a soft note of sadness lingering after he's gone silent.
“She was probably just high,” Ciarán says snarkily. He thinks they'll be done with the conversation after he says it until Merlyn shoves his arm from the backseat.
“Shut the fuck up.”
“I feel like she probably just doesn't want to be alone, I mean, her and Romil were together for so long,” Nick says leaning back in his seat, “Probably planned out their life out together and shit. It all just got ripped away from her… I can't even imagine.”
“You all sound like a Lifetime movie,” Ciarán says scrunching his face up in distaste at all of their words. He flicks the ash from the glowing end of his cigarette on to the floor of the car before continuing, “That motherfucker killed himself, why can't you get that through your heads?”
The car is completely silent save from the quiet breathing and insect noises from outside.
“He jumped into the pool over some shit he couldn't even handle… I know it's hard to get anybody in this town to like you if you're a little different than anybody else…” he says ending his rant.
Ian drowns everyone else out as he thinks about Romil. Things between them hadn't always been smooth sailing due to a lot of the internalized homophobia Romil had dealt with from his childhood onward. It didn't change how Ian felt about him because at the end of the day, Romil was his Summer, his light at the end of the tunnel. Even when he had to pretend that they were just friends for the sake of coming over when Jade was around and for the 'friendly’ sleepovers they'd have when their parents were home. It hurt that they couldn't be public with their relationship without running the risk of horrible bullying, but when they had each other, being a secret was tolerable. He gets out of the car when Merlyn does, the other sitting on the edge of the minivan as Ian stumbles out to get some fresh air. He stands on the passenger side of the van and locks eyes with Nick, squinting slightly before he looks away. He feels a pang of something familiar looking into Nick's eyes, a sense of deja vu that he can't quite put his finger on. He tries to shake off the weird feeling before he gets back into the car.
After Romil's death everything in Ian's world began to unravel. He was a wreck when he first found out and he refused to leave the house for days, listening to the voice memos where they'd chatted easily about music and school projects they needed to finish. The only time he remembered leaving the house was to drive into the mountains to bury his burner phone after smashing it up and leaving it in a Tupperware container filled with water. Even then, he couldn't stop himself from sobbing once he'd buried it under the tree where he'd first told Romil he loved him. Everything they had was a secret, and he intended to keep it that way.
“This is the first time you've been in school for a few days, is everything okay at home? Anything you need to talk about?” the counselor asked upon his return to school. He sniffled and sneezed. He'd gotten sick from the copious amounts of stress from keeping everything a secret and the insistent thought of living life without Romil.
“I've been out sick the past couple of days… I think I got that bug that started going around last week,” He said, lying through his teeth. He couldn't mention Romil under any circumstances because it was his cover. People thinking he didn't know Romil was the only thing keeping the two of them from being discovered.
He's shaken out of his thoughts by a loud noise. A pop. There's a burning in the center of his chest and he gasps, desperate to get the pain to stop but it only spreads. He's shaking as he doubles over. There's yelling coming from all around him and everyone sounds desperate. The car starts shaking around him and the next thing he feels is dirt under him. His head hurts and every pulse from his heart makes him see red, the blood not pumping properly due to the bullet just under it. He rolls over and sees the stars above him glimmering but his vision is fuzzy and breathing hurts like hell. He can barely make out the conversation the others are having when Nick pulls the gun out from his bag again and points it at him.
“Just do it,” Ciarán says turning his back on Ian. Everyone else does the same, not wanting to face Ian who's barely able to get his voice above a soft whisper- he's pleading for help. Nick barely makes eye contact with him before he too turns away and pulls the trigger.
There's another loud noise and it's all over.
Helmet Boy is dead.