Evan's palms were clammy as they gripped the table. He swallowed what felt like a mountain in his throat, locking eyes with Larry, who nodded at him; Cynthia, who seemed desperate for any memory of her son; and Zoë, whose gaze hardened when he met it, respectively.
He had always wanted to be an author. This wasn't the kind of situation he expected to debut a piece of fiction, though; sitting at a dinner table with a family who had recently lost a son and a brother -- and who happened to believe he was the boy's best friend.
How had he gotten himself into this?
He took a deep breath, and began to recount the story he'd rehearsed with Jared earlier that day.
Connor was much too happy for this.
I suppose I was, too; I should've been in hysterics, begging the universe not to let me die. That was usually the case, at least when you weren't looking forward to death.
There was always a catch, I suppose.
He laughed, taking my hand and pushing open the creaky gate. I winced a bit at the noise it made as it swung open, just another reminder that this was all real.
What I was about to do was real. But so was everything I'd ever done, every embarassing thing I'd said, every medal I'd won in an elementary school sports league, every mean comment I'd ever made about somebody who didn't deserve it. And the world would be the same if they weren't real. So does it really matter?
Me and Connor, we were like trees in the forest; blending into the background, and when we fall, nobody hears us. They'll pretend to care, though, wear patches about saving the environment without ever doing shit.
Well, I wasn't some fucking charity. 'Activism' my ass.
I stared in awe at the towering trees. Usually I'd be able to identify them, but the world felt blurry. All I could register was trees tall, head hurts.
Why did my head hurt?
It didn't matter. It wouldn't hurt anymore in a few minutes; nothing would.
I'd never been here before. The orchard's beauty struck me, and I felt kind of sad that I'd never see it again. It almost made me rethink my decisions, but then I chastised myself; imagine your lifeline being a few trees -- pathetic! Plus, what would Connor think if I flaked out now? He'd probably figure I was a pussy. (I wasn't.)
I steeled my resolve. I was letting my anxiety get the best of me.
"Are you ready?" Connor asked, almost gently. I glanced at him.
It was funny. Connor didn't seem like the kind of guy that did drugs or threatened his sister or kept guns in his dresser. He was actually pretty nice. Maybe those were just rumors after all.
I swallowed my fear. It felt like I was swallowing my manhood, my life, along with it. "Yeah."
His stupid half smile made me too happy for somebody who was about to kill themself. No one smiled at me much anymore, besides teachers when I actually managed to turn my schoolwork in on time. This, though, this felt genuine.
I felt myself smiling back. Maybe this summer wasn't so boring, after all; it isn't every day you die, is it?
Connor took his sweaty hand and began running, pulling him across the orchard to the tallest tree in sight. Looking up at it made Evan feel dizzy, but also excited in a sick way. Excited for this all to be over.
The next thing I knew, I was grasping onto a tree branch seven feet above the ground. I felt almost like a kid again, climbing a tree in the forest after wandering away from the bonfire site. My heart was beating so loud that if I didn’t know better, I’d think it was the tree’s heart pounding, echoing around me. But trees didn’t have heartbeats.
If the trees could see me now, what would they think? What would they think as they saw my body drop to the ground, shortly following Connor’s own? Would they be sad, guilty they couldn’t reach out their mighty branches and lift us up, out of our sorrows? Or would they be relieved, two less people to clamber on their bodies and breathe their oxygen and cut down their families?
I shook my head, focusing on each step. Dread built in my stomach as I got higher, like the feeling as a rollercoaster climbed to the top of the big drop and you began to regret getting on it in the first place. I wanted to shout, “Stop the ride!”, but I reminded myself that the drop was always fun. I never regretted it before, why would I now?
Connor climbed faster than me. He seemed less bothered by it, the concept of dying and never coming back and never making another sound again, than me. I envied him and his steel resolve.
Finally, he reached a height he seemed satisfied with, and sat down on a fragile branch. It looked like it would crack under his weight any second, so of course I was hesitant to join him myself. I took his hand, however, my muscles screaming in pain -- this was the first workout I’d given them in far too long, opting to just lay in bed most days.
I looked down and vomit immediately began climbing up my throat. I forced it down (even though I could just puke over the edge onto the ground and nobody would be the wiser, nobody was here, I was going to die and nobody was here and nobody would know--) and looked to Connor.
“Count of three?” I asked. My voice was hoarse, even though it had been fine minutes before.
He nodded. There was an odd glint in his eye. Suddenly I began wondering if this was a trick. If he had a parachute or something, and he was gonna pull it out and watch me splat on the ground and listen to my bones crack as I landed and -- no .
“One,” Connor began. Time seemed to slow.
What would Mom think when she came home to find my room empty, my meds untouched, and my phone abandoned on my nightstand.
“Two,” he continued. He glanced at me. For the first time, I noticed fear in his eyes.
She wouldn’t care. She’d probably be better without me; she wouldn’t have to worry about me feeding myself or going to school or taking my meds anymore. She could focus on her job, get promoted and get a new house without the memories of her first son, and remarry.
Before I could contemplate it anymore, I leapt off the branch.
‘Think before you leap?’ I’d spent my entire life thinking. I’d spent my entire life thinking instead of doing, and it had gotten me nowhere. Nobody knew my name, and if they did, they didn’t give a fuck.
Maybe now people would care.
The wind was in my hair, it was pushing into my eyes and making them teary. Or maybe I was crying.
And then time sped up, like I was traveling back to Earth from space, catching up with all the time I’d lost.
There would be no catching up for all the decades and centuries I was about to lose.
Then I slammed, full force into the ground. I couldn’t feel my body, and my vision was fuzzy, if I was even seeing at all. Was this heaven?
But when I blinked a few times, I found myself in the same orchard as before. I tried to sit up, figuring that my injuries would disappear in heaven. But my entire body was on fire, protesting as loudly as it could, begging me to lay back down.
And, I mean, who was I to argue with my body? I relaxed back down, closing my eyes and praying that when I woke up I’d find myself in heaven.
It was only then a terrifying notion shot through my chest -- what if I was in hell?
This was definitely hell. Zoe’s suspicious glare, Larry’s unimpressed gaze, and Cynthia’s desperate eyes, rimmed with tears, all fixed on me.
I hoped my story was satisfactory.
I hoped they didn’t figure out what really happened.
(Had it happened?)