When I found out Freddie was dead, I was still wearing the sweater of his that I kept cradled over myself throughout my stay in the psychiatric hospital. It was in the early hours of the morning, and most of us were in Freddie’s shed—almost all of us had passed out drunk there after the birthday celebration we had for him that he did not attend. We thought he had run away. But he didn’t. He went to try to save me from a psychotic man who was operating under the guise of attempting to rid me of my psychosis.
I had fallen asleep on the couch in Freddie’s shed, and I woke up to the sharp sound of my phone ringing. It jolted me out of my sleep, as well as some of the others here, although they all just groaned and went back to sleep. I quickly got up, stepping over Naomi, who was wrapped around Emily—her bright red hair was stark and obvious in the little bit of moonlight streaming in through the small windows.
I stumbled out over the threshold and answered my phone hastily, shutting the door behind myself.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Effy, Effy—oh, thank God.”
“Cook?” I asked, the urgency in his voice snapping the grogginess out of my body, replacing it with uneasiness. “What’s wrong?”
After all that happened with Tony, after everything that all of us went through, we had developed a sense of invincibility. Of course, we recognized this as false, but sometimes it seemed true. It seemed true when I attempted suicide and Freddie rescued me. It seemed true during all of the pill popping combined with too much vodka. But it wasn’t. We were, in every sense of the term, just humans. Completely and totally mortal.
“Effy, I don’t . . .” He was crying. My heart dropped.
“Cook, just tell me what happened,” I said, more strength in my voice than I felt as I pulled Freddie’s gray sweater closer around my body.
It was cold, but the moon was bright.
He took a deep breath, and his voice was shaky and tearful when he talked: “Freddie is dead. Your psychiatrist—Doctor Foster—killed him. I went over there, and I knew that something was wrong. I saw Freddie’s bloody things, and he—he tried to kill me too. But he didn’t. Effy, I . . . I killed him.”
I just stood there for a moment, not totally processing his words. Freddie was dead? Doctor Foster had killed him? Cook had killed Doctor Foster? Cook could have been killed, too? I could have lost both of them? I already lost one of them? Everything was spinning. The phone nearly slipped out of my hand, but I kept my grip tight.
“Effy,” said Cook, his voice cracked and defeated, “I need you to say something.”
“Where are you now?” was all I could muster.
“The police station. They’re sorting through everything right now, all of the stuff in that bastard’s house, as well as asking me all kinds of fucking questions that I’ve already answered.”
Everything seemed distant; I felt an incredible sense of dissociation. That was the only reason I was able to remain even slightly calm.
“What do you need me to do?” I asked him.
“Nothing,” said Cook. “There’s nothing left to do. It’s over. I just thought you should know. I’ll be out soon, probably before sunrise, and then I’ll come to you.”
But I didn’t want Cook. I wanted Freddie. I slowly slid my free hand into the pocket of Freddie’s sweater. I felt the photograph and little, imperfect note stashed in there—stuff I hadn’t taken out after getting out of the hospital. Cook was crying on the other side of the line. I didn’t know how to cry over something like this. It was like I had forgotten that I was even capable, that it was what I should have been doing. Freddie couldn’t be dead. He was close, and he would come here and wrap me in his arms and his love wouldn’t drive me into madness again. I had let down all of my stone walls for him, and in doing so, I let the demons free to run around in my head and around me, but we could work past it. We could work on it. I could get better. I was getting better. For him, I could be better.
Freddie was gone, though. He was dead. In trying to protect me from my psychiatrist, he was killed.
“Okay,” I whispered dryly into the phone.
“Are you going to be okay, Effy? You’re not alone, are you?”
I cleared my throat. “No. Everyone is here. It’s okay.”
“If anything goes wrong, call someone. Call an ambulance. I’m not losing you too, do you understand me?” he said with forcefulness. “Effy—fuck, I have to go; they want me to answer more questions. You’re okay?”
“Yes,” I said again, and then I hung up before he got the chance to.
For a moment, I just stood there, looking around at all the winding plants in Freddie’s backyard. I had to go back in there and tell everyone, wake them all up. This wasn’t the kind of news that could wait until morning. I wanted a moment to myself though, before all the tears and disbelief from everyone else—before it was cemented and became real. There was nothing denial could do for me now. It was over; it was done.
I had a box of cigarettes and a lighter in the other pocket of the sweater, and I dug into it with my fingers and pulled them out. I put a cigarette up to my lips and lit the tip. I took a deep drag, inhaling the smoke into the bottom of my lungs. It burned away into ash as I breathed it like oxygen, reddish orange until it died. I dreaded the moment when I would smoke it down to nothing, but I finished it quickly.
I dropped the remnants on the ground, which was rather clean considering that we were all smokers, and turned to go back inside. I stopped after a second, remembering what was in my other pocket.
First, I pulled out the picture. Freddie looked at me, his face frozen forever in a smile on the Polaroid in my hand. His skin was tan and caramel-colored, his eyes sparkling with happiness but dark, and his brown hair was slanted over forehead. That was Freddie. My Freddie. Those lips I had kissed. That body I had felt under my fingertips. That smile I had seen on his face because of me, his mouth forming teasing remarks. He was beautiful. He had known the darkness within me, and it didn’t scare him away.
And now he was gone because of it.
I slipped the Polaroid back into the pocket of Freddie’s sweater and grabbed the wrinkled note. I unfolded it, staring at the three words blankly.
LOVE YOU FOREVER
It wasn’t true though, was it? Because he had left me by trying to save me.
I put the note back as well and then pulled the door to the shed back open. The moonlight poured silver all over the sleeping forms of my friends—these people who had gone through hell with me, and had put me through hell, yet all still fell asleep with me under the same roof.
I flicked on the light and yelled, “Hey!” in one fluid motion.
They all startled awake, reaching up to touch their aching heads and glancing around to try to remember where they were. I was sure at least some of them had lingering tipsiness clouding their minds.
“What the fuck, Effy?” Katie asked with annoyance.
“Freddie’s dead,” I said, because there was no other way for me to deliver the news in my numbed state. I used to same bluntness that Cook had. “My psychiatrist murdered him. And then Cook killed my psychiatrist. So, he’s at the police station right now. That’s all I know.”
They were all just staring at me, trying to process what I had said. I couldn’t even process what it meant either, though. I went and sat down on the couch I had been sleeping on before the phone call, thinking that retracing my steps might somehow be able to turn back time. It was a moment before everyone understood what I had said and that I wasn’t joking, but when they did, there was suddenly a swarm of human bodies around me, pulling me close against them. I still didn’t cry, but they did. They were all crying and asking me a million questions I didn’t know the answers to.
I stared over their shoulders, away from them, and thought that the only person I wanted to talk to, the only person I wanted to have comfort me, the only person who could take away the impending darkness, was gone.