Copyright 2017 Christopher Teese
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Sometimes things go really wrong in life. Things that we wish we could change, but we can't. Sometimes there's nothing we can do but cope. Sometimes the story doesn't have a happy ending. Sometimes one chapter of the story ends, and with the greatest of pain, another chapter must take its place.
It was the hardest thing Aaron Henley would ever have to do in his life.
He had looked into the coffin yesterday. He hadn't thought he could have ever brought himself to do so. But it had been surprisingly easier than he had thought. That in and of itself held its own type of horror to him.
He wasn't sure he could do it again today. But he knew he had to. This was the last day that he would ever be able to see Jack.
The thought sent a wave of sharp pain through Aaron's stomach. It was not the first time he had felt it. It would not be the last.
The first, of course, was the when the news came.
Aaron remembered that day so clearly. They had gotten up that beautiful Saturday morning in May. Nothing was out of the ordinary. They were still a family then. Whole. Complete.
Jack and Aaron went about their usual morning banter with each other. Jack left after breakfast to go hang out with some friends. Aaron was going to stay home and catch up on his reading. Their mother, Janet, was off work, and she was staying at home to try and get some painting done like she'd been planning on getting around to for a while. (She’d dreamed of becoming a famous painter in her younger years. Married life, then kids, then divorce, then the necessity of working several jobs had put that dream steadily on hold. Or endlessly procrastinated, at least. But as of recently she had been determined to get back on track and make something of herself. If she could keep herself disciplined enough.)
But everything changed that day. Jack walked out the front door and Aaron never saw him alive again.
Two hours later, there was a knock at their front door. It was a policeman.
Aaron had the strangest horrifying feeling when his mom opened the door and he saw the policeman. He should have figured that it was just Jack pulling some prank and having gotten into major trouble for it. Again.
But that wasn't the way he had felt inside that very moment.
Instantly, he just knew.
The policeman had ushered his mother out to the hall to speak to her privately.
When she had come back in, she had become an instant wreck. Tears were streaming down her face.
Aaron knew, but didn't want to believe.
He asked what was wrong.
Hoping it was anything else. ANYTHING else.
When his mom had had trouble choking out the answer, but was able to get out enough words to confirm his most horrifying suspicions, he had started screaming.
When she had finally been able to fully utter the words, those horrible, sickening words, he hadn't been able to take it. He’d lost his mind.
Ever feel the most horrifying rush of emotions you've ever felt in your life, all happening at once? Like you just want to scream, to explode, to run away, to die, to turn back the clock, to lay down and not get up, to run up to the roof of the nearest highest building and make a running jump off of it, to beg, to plead, to wake up from this nightmare, all these things at once, and not being able to control the torrent of feelings?
Aaron had been in total shock. He’d wanted to do nothing more than run away right there and then, but he also hadn’t wanted to leave his mom alone.
He and Jack had been talking just a short while ago. How had this happened?
HOW WAS HE SUPPOSED TO UNDERSTAND AND ACCEPT HE WAS NEVER GOING TO SEE HIS BROTHER AGAIN?????
He had tried to convince himself there'd been some mistake. Maybe it was some other kid that had gotten hit by a bus running off the road. Maybe Jack really was okay. Maybe Jack would actually come walking in eventually, as if nothing had been wrong.
But he never did.
They hadn't been wrong.
He'd had his student ID on him at the time.
Jack Henley was never coming home again.
Aaron couldn't fathom that he would never see his brother again. Couldn't believe it. It couldn't be true. But it was.
Their home had been filled with family members and friends, including the young friends of Jack and Aaron. They themselves didn’t really know what to say or how to act.
Even crotchety old Terrance, their next door neighbor who had acted like Jack and Aaron were the biggest nuisances on the planet and had been the butt of many of their unfortunate pranks many a times and had more often than not called up their mom running her ragged with details of their latest mischievous exploits, showed up. Aaron couldn’t fathom how genuinely morose and sympathetic he seemed. He came up to Aaron, patted him on the back, and simply said “I’m sorry” and nothing else, as if the whole situation was awkward and he didn’t know what else to say. That Terrance, who had once treated him and his brother as the bane of his very existence, was acting this way, was also horrifying.
Everyone tried to talk to Aaron and offer their condolences. But he didn't want to talk to any of them. Having other people there helped, because without other people around he felt he might truly snap and go insane, but at the same time, it also helped very little. Their words didn't help his pain. Not even a little bit. Their promises that if he "ever needed ANYTHING" didn't do a damn thing to make him feel better.
Aaron felt the somber gathering in his suite minus Jack was one of the most horrifying events he had ever experienced in his life.
He slipped out, letting his dad know where he would be, and went for a walk.
(His dad had made the long two hour drive as soon as he had found out. He was just as broken up as mom was. A sick part of Aaron wanted to feel strangely smug that their dad finally got what he deserved by not spending enough time with the two of them and now he couldn’t ever again and haha serves him right but in the end that was really just the part of Aaron that was in shock and not fully in control of his senses and his mental state talking.)
He walked around the neighborhood and headed for the park. Downtown was a hop, skip, and a jump from there, and Market Street was right there in the midst of it all.
The place was busy and bustling. He thought to himself, how many times had he walked all around this city with Jack?
He took his walk downtown through parts that weren't very crowded. This gave him the ability to squeeze out a number of tears without drawing too much attention to himself.
All he could think about was
not my brother not my brother not my brother not my brother
why God why? why would you allow this to happen? i can't take it witHOUT MY BROTHER!!!!!!!
If you would give him back, God, I promise I'll never take anything for granted ever again! Just let me wake up! Just give me one more chance!
But his words fell on silent ears. Maybe there was no God. Even if there was, there would certainly be no more chances. The world didn’t work that way. Life didn’t work that way.
He passed by the area where the accident had happened. He and Jack had been by here many times before. There was nothing out of the ordinary. You wouldn't even know now that anything amiss had ever happened here. But then Aaron took a closer look at the pavement of the sidewalk near the road.
He could see red. Stained blood. Aaron threw up.
He didn't feel better when he got home. He wouldn't feel better that night. Oh, the first night was the hardest. His brother's bed right next to his in there room. Unoccupied. It would never be occupied again.
He could hear his mother pacing the living room all night, weeping.
He eventually managed to drift off to sleep, maybe somewhere around five or six in the morning.
He had several sadistic dreams. Ones where Jack kept getting killed, but then it would turn out to have all been a dream and Jack was okay. But eventually Aaron woke up for real. And he knew.
Those were the first two words he would think of every morning for nearly a year when he woke up. It was worst feeling he could ever imagine, and he had to relive it anew each day.
He remembered, upon waking that first morning, he was in complete disbelief. For a few minutes, he tried to convince himself it WAS a nightmare. But Jack's bed still sat there, empty, made up, not unkempt like it usually was, and there was no denying reality.
And all Aaron needed to do was enter the living room where mother sat sipping a mug of coffee, eyes bloodshot from having little to no sleep, her painting easel still sitting with its unfinished painting, for him to realize for sure it was all true, and he would start crying again.
Days two and three were not as hard as day one. But that's like saying getting crucified by nails two and three didn't hurt nearly as much as the first one.
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