David laughed. “And your honesty is one of the other things I like about you.”
I shook my head. “But it’s not honesty. It’s horrible. I mean, it’s not like I don’t care about people, but, I…I never really place them first.”
He exhaled. “And you think that makes you a bad person?”
“Okay, so maybe you’re selfish. I still like you.”
I couldn’t help but smile at that, but dropped it quickly. “What if…what if my selfishness went so deep it cost someone their life?”
He rose to his knees and shuffled closer. “Then you have to take a risk, right now—you have to put faith in our friendship, and just know that when you tell me what you’re going to tell me, I’m here—for you. Not for anyone else. I don’t care about Emily or her trivial conversations either, Ara. Not right now.” He grabbed my hand. “Right now, I’m here with you, my little friend, and you’re going to tell me what’s on your mind.”
I stole my hand back and pressed both palms to my now cool cheeks, swallowing the tight lump in the back of my throat.
“Ara,” he said softly, cupping his hand over mine, his fingertips resting just beside my ear. “I can see you holding back tears.”
“I know. But if I let them go, I’m not sure I’ll stop.”
He clicked his tongue. “Can I tell you something? A little story—a legend among my people.”
I nodded, resting my hands in my lap.
“They say that the tears one cries for loss are the Tears of the Broken. We call them the Devil’s Liquid because, for each one you shed alone, you sacrifice a piece of your soul.”
I sniffled, looking up at him.
“And they also say that for each tear shared, you give a piece of yourself for someone else to safeguard until you’re ready to see the sun rise again.”
“And you…” Hot tears doubled my vision; I blinked them out. “You want to be that someone?”
He stared at me, his round eyes unmoving. “Ara, I am that someone.”
Only a short sniffle passed before it all fell to pieces. “She shouldn’t have been there, David.” I covered my face, inaudible gusts of explanation dribbling through my lips. “She should’ve been in her bed, sleeping.”
I nodded into my hands. “It was my fault.”
“It was late.” I swallowed. “I called her to come get me. I could’ve walked home, but—” I wedged my thumbnail between my teeth. “It was so stupid. I’m seventeen. I’m not a child. But I was angry and all I wanted was my mom. I just wanted to go home.”
“So you asked her to come get you?”
“And that one act makes this your fault?”
“Because, I—” I looked over at the lake, at the ducks splashing about, without a care in the world. I wanted to be them; brown and ugly, but free.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” I explained, using my hands as if to animate my words. “The memory has, like, faded or something. It all looks like it was filmed on some camera with this blue filter. I can’t see it all as clearly as I did before. I just…it’s like it happened to someone else.”
He sat down, his feet flat to the floor on either side of my legs, our faces almost touching. “But it didn’t. It happened to you, and I need you to talk to me about it, Ara.”
I nodded. “It feels silly—like, no matter how I paint the scene, you just won’t understand—you won’t get it.”
“Then don’t try to make me understand. Just tell me how you feel.”
“I feel…” I closed my eyes for a second. “Alone. Lost. So, so empty and so full of this incredibly strong…regret.”
“Regret for calling her or for what you’ve suffered?”
“My baby brother. He…I got in the car—I shut the door and the first thing I did was look at Harry. He was pale. He’d been sick for a week or so, and he just smiled at me. Two teeth, all gums. So bright. So happy.”
“And now? How do you feel to look back on that memory?”
I closed my hands around my face. “Dark. Hollow. I can’t see his face anymore. It’s like…it’s just so dark. And a part of me still feels scared—like I’m gonna get in trouble from my mom when I get home, you know—for all the bad decisions I made that night. But, for that one moment, when I got in the car and she smiled at me like Harry did, I felt like I’d made one right choice. Just one. And then…” I couldn’t say it. I just couldn’t bring myself to say the words out loud. It wasn’t until right then that I realised I’d never had to. My dad broke the news to everyone, while I stood, numb and silent.
“Keep talking,” David said, with the insistent tone of an adult.
“All I remember was pulling away from the stop sign, then feeling this incredible jolt. Mom’s hand grabbed mine for a second, but…everything shook—like the most violent roller coaster I’ve ever been on. My arms, my head, everything just…” I searched for the words. “I felt pain, but it was the rush—the speed of things I really remember. I heard Harry crying; heard glass; heard my mom’s scream get cut off suddenly, but that’s it. I shut my eyes, praying for it to end, and when I opened them again, we’d stopped. The crying had stopped. The noise, everything.
“I didn’t even know I was upside down until I tried to undo my seatbelt. But it was stuck. I was stuck, and all the blood was making my head tight, making it hard to breathe.”
“Breathe now,” David said, placing his palm firmly against my ribs.
I took a long breath, releasing it slowly. “I didn’t even realise I was holding it.”
“I know.” He smiled softly and pulled his hand away.
I focused on my breathing for a second until my head stopped spinning, then looked up at David’s incredible green eyes. “I haven’t really thought much about the accident. I…I forgot a lot of things—things I’m remembering now.”
“The silence.” My eyes narrowed into the memory. “The way, after we stopped rolling, it was like the world stood, staring on, completely hushed for a moment, maybe waiting for our souls to leave the earth.”
My lips turned down tightly, quivering. “I didn’t want to hear him cry. I didn’t want him to be hurt—lost somewhere I couldn’t get to him. I was glad he was quiet. But I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know it meant…” My words flaked away as thoughts that rushed through my head when I looked into the backseat and saw nothing came flooding back.
He sighed, his hand coming up on my shoulder as he pulled me in, cradling my face against his chest.
“His blue beanie—the one Mom knitted when we found out he was a boy—it was still there. It came right off his head. It…I wanted to grab it, but I was afraid.”
“I don’t really know. Maybe that I’d see blood or…maybe worse.” My voice trailed down to a whisper on the end. “I didn't know what to do. I…no one came. I thought people would come running, but no one came. So…I just…I screamed. I knew it wouldn’t help, but I couldn't stop it. And something I learned that day—” I looked up into David’s eyes. “It doesn’t matter how loud you scream. There is no such thing as the worst things can get. There is no rock bottom. There is only a deep, endless pit of hell that you can fall through. You always imagine, like the movies, that you scream and someone comes—they come and they save you and they stop you from screaming. But…I stopped because my throat went dry. I screamed so long—I stopped because my body couldn't scream anymore.” My eyes filled with tears. “Where’s the humanity in that?”
“There is none,” he said, drawing me into him again.
I closed my eyes and pictured the eerie dimness of the streetlights outside the car window, how, in the cold, the glow seemed to settle on the footpath like fog; the endless silence broken only by the hollow ticking of an indicator lamp—distant and lonely in the dead of night. “If it had happened on another road—maybe where there were houses, we would’ve…someone would’ve come sooner. But—the drive home was down this freeway. If I’d walked, I could’ve cut through. I could've—”
“Shh.” He stroked my hair. “Don’t go there, Ara. Just don’t let yourself go there.”
I studied the pattern of his denim jeans and the contrast of my white knee, nestled right into the underside of his upper thigh. He was slowly moving closer and closer, and I only felt safe and closed-in. “I never believed in God. My mom tried to make me. I just never really believed. But, in that moment, when everything was dead quiet and I couldn’t see my mom, didn’t know where Harry was, I prayed. I leaned on my elbows to hold my weight, clasped my hands together around all the blood and glass, and begged God to let Harry be okay. But he…”
“How can you say that? Harry was my world, David. Ever since he was born, all I ever did was talk about him, play with him…and…how can you think it’s okay that he's dead?”
“I didn’t say that. I said he’s not suffering anymore.”
I looked down at my lap, sniffling. “I didn’t mean for any of this. I didn’t mean for them to die.”
“Ara, of course you didn’t, sweetheart.” He wrapped me in his arms, turning me slightly so my shoulder rested against his chest. “Of course you didn’t.”
“But even still, it was my fault, and I know I shouldn’t think like that, I really do. But I feel like a murderer. I—” I looked back on the memory of the empty backseat and the feeling of everything being gone. It was like lying flat on a steel bed, having someone hit your soul with a rubber mallet, sending it in black splatters everywhere; each piece reaching out to something tingly, making you shake. I had no control. I didn’t know where Harry was and couldn’t get free to make him okay. “He was just a baby. What if he was awake? What if he was cold and wondering why we’d left him there? What if he wanted to go home?” I burst into tears. “Oh, David. I just wanna take him home.”
“My love. I wish I could make you better. God knows, I do. But, I know, so much better than anyone, what that feels like—to lose something precious—and that there’s nothing I can even say.”
I nodded. “I just…how can he be gone? I was there. I was squeezing my mom’s hand when he was born. I was the first person to hold him. I suggested his name, David. How could all that be gone?”
“I know. It’s like…It’s like creating something; like crafting it and painting it, then, in one stupid move, dropping it to the ground.”
He rubbed gentle circles over my back. “I know, but I also know that by talking to me, you’re taking the first step toward healing.”
“I don’t know about that, David. I just feel like I’ve been lashed with something big and hard, and I can’t make that go away.” I touched my chest where it always hurt. “I tried to tell myself it wasn’t my fault. I tried to make amends, pray for forgiveness, but it doesn’t matter what I do. This pain, it doesn’t go. I feel choked-up and so damn sorry.”
“You know you don’t need to be sorry, Ara. You know this wasn’t your fault.”
My face crumpled. I truly wished I believed that. “I’ve been through every one of Vicki’s books—trying to find a way to make sense of the guilt. And I know all the facts. But science doesn’t measure grief, David. It can’t, and it can’t make sense of it. In my heart—” I touched the base of my ribs. “Way down here—I think, maybe my soul, I can’t put the guilt away.”
“Time, Ara.” He hugged me close again. “Time is all that can heal.”
“But I get so angry. Sometimes I really think I’m okay, and then I get so angry at myself. I hate myself for making that phone call—for going out that night. I just—sometimes the anger is so much stronger than the grief.”
“What are you angry about, Ara—just that you called her?”
I shook my head. “So many things. I think the powerlessness, you know, the feeling like I had no control, and that it was my life. My goddamn life, but I was a kid; just a kid who had to do as she was told.”
I bit my teeth together, folding forward as the feelings I’d pushed down rose up in me again, making everything tight in my core. “They took me away; they came, and they leaned into that car and all they said was this one’s alive. Then they took me away. They wouldn’t let me go; wouldn’t let me find Harry. I was fine. I wasn’t hurt. Just glass and cuts, but I was fine. If I could’ve—if they just let me look. I might’ve found him.”