Emmet exited the hospital with anchors in his pockets. His feet trudged along the snow-covered pathway that led to the parking lot. Ice cracked under his boots. He felt the wind collide with his exposed cheeks, causing the odor of disinfectants and alcohol to resurface under his nose.
He had decided against bringing his scarf today. He wanted to feel the cold expand his lungs to their capacity, and maybe then he would be able to handle the hollowness in his stomach.
James had been both a blessing and a curse in Emmet’s life. They met when they were five years old in the neighborhood park. Both of them were equally determined to reach the top of the slide before the other. James had won, though Emmet never admitted that he had let him win because he wanted a friend.
“What are you looking at?” James asked, his brow raised.
“Your face. Do you look mean all the time?” Emmet’s shoulders hunched into a sheepish shrug. His mother had always told him to mind his business. If he didn’t have anything nice to say, he shouldn’t say it at all. Oops.
James surprisingly, and to Emmet’s relief, laughed. “Duh. I have to keep the bad kids away.”
Emmet opened the door of his car. Once inside, he couldn’t be bothered to turn the key in the ignition. Instead, both hands gripped the steering wheel. His knuckles faded to white. His nails left crescents in the leather. This wasn’t how things were supposed to turn out for them.
“Do you think that Stacey will ever notice me?” James sighed, lazily turning to view Emmet. Silence. “Hello?” James tapped Emmet’s shoulder firmly with his pencil.
“Thinking about me naked again, Emmet? I know I’m irresistible, but we have bigger things to talk about.”
Emmet grunted, elbowing James in the side. “You wish, James, you wish. And to answer your question, no. Stacey will never notice you because your ego is bigger than what’s between your legs.”
His forehead was pressed against the steering wheel now. His gaze was focused on the leftover crumbs on the floor. They were from chips or doughnuts, possibly both. He counted them: seven in total.
Seven minutes ago, Emmet still had a best friend.
“We’re going to be all right though, yeah? Even with you so far away?”Emmet’s mouth was curved into a hopeful grin. There was a three hour time difference between New York and San Francisco, but they’d have plenty of time to talk.
James cupped both of his shoulders, nodding without as much as a second thought. “Obviously. You can’t get rid of me that easily.” James laughed, a throaty kind of sound that was interrupted by an announcement, “Flight 47A to San Francisco is now boarding.” James briefly surveyed the sea of people that had begun moving from the nearest waiting area, merging into an already condensed crowd. He took a second to take it all in. “I’ll see you soon,” he said to Emmet as he hurried in the direction of the gate. Somewhere along the way, he tripped and fell over the carrier bag that had slipped from his shoulder mid-haste.
Emmet hadn’t seen that for himself, though he had heard about it the instant James’ plane had touched ground.
Emmet was still in the hospital parking lot. Leaving struck as an impossible option; if he did, it would mean that all of this was real. The distance between them would be greater than a text message, a phone call, a plane ride.
“Hi, this is James. Leave a message after the beep.”
“Hey… uh… I got your voicemail again. I’ve been trying to call you all week, but you haven’t answered. That’s become kind of your thing lately. Anyway… I figured I’d tell you the news this way. I got an internship with that media company I applied to a couple of months back. They wanted me out of five thousand applicants or some crazy number like that. I still can’t believe it and I… I wish you’d just pick up your goddamned phone, James.”
The line went dead.
The line had a rhythm, a rhythm that Emmet could not get out of his head. Up and down, like waves. These waves however, crashed to shore and never rose again. He wasn’t going to wake up, the doctors said. They were sorry, they said.
“Last week, we went for lunch. She was fine.” James was slumped over the couch, hands dragging down his face.
Emmet sat next to him, exhaling a breath. “I know. James… I’m sorry.” Emmet wished he knew of something better to say, something that could ease even a fraction of the pain.
The heart attack had come as a shock and since then everything happened in a blur: James breaking down, James planning the wake, James saying goodbye as his mother’s casket was lowered into the ground. James walked away from the ordeal emptier than before. The light that Emmet was used to seeing in his eyes had dimmed. He wasn’t certain if James would get it back.
“Promise me something.”
Emmet hadn’t expected James to speak. “Anything.”
“If something like… what happens to my mom happens to me—”
James held up a hand. “If something happens to me, I trust you to… do what you think is best. My parents are d…dead. You’re… family, Emmet.”
Emmet had agreed then, believing his promise would never have to be fulfilled. Life chose otherwise. When Emmet witnessed James surrounded by wires and tubes, he knew James wouldn’t have wanted to live like that.
There was nothing left, the doctors had said.
One car. One ignored red light. One shaking hand that Emmet used to sign the release form.
And the heartbeat on the monitor was going, gone.
And all that was left for Emmet was blinding silence and anchors in his pockets.
Megan Manzano is currently attending University in order to achieve a Bachelor’s degree in English. She is a resident of New York City and was successful in gaining her first publication in The Anglerfish Magazine in 2013. Her favorite activities include reading, blogging, fangirling, and expressing her imagination through writing.