Chris stood at the edge of the street staring across the small parking lot of the grocery store at a thin blond girl wearing a Pink Floyd t-shirt and smoking a cigarette. She knew he was there, he was always there, but she didn’t dare to look in his direction. Chris began to walk to her, and as he got closer the smell of smoke grew stronger. He coughed into his hand, which was buried in the sleeve of his hoodie. She put out the cigarette in a puddle of icy water and drew another from the box. She put it in her mouth and hid her face and lighter behind her left hand as she lit it.
He finally arrived at her side. He coughed and produced a shy “Hey”, then sat beside her on the curb. Chris longed to wrap his arms around her and comfort her, but he knew she’d only push him away, so he just stared down at his soggy black Converse.
The air around the two of them was filled with cigarette smoke, the sky was covered in thick grey smoke-like clouds, and a strong fog was visible in the distance.
“This day is beautiful and dreary, just like Alice,” thought Chris.
Alice stared at the sky, as always.
“I think is going to rain,” she said almost in a whisper. He needed so desperately to say something to her. Just something, but he couldn’t find the words. He contemplated telling her how she had always been there for him, or even that he loved her, but when he spoke all he could say was “I wish you wouldn’t smoke so much”.
“Fuck you, Chris!” her words landed painfully on his ear. She blew a puff of smoke in his face too, just for the sake of pissing him off.
He looked up at the sky, trying to find the place where Alice was staring. Chris had never seen a sky he didn’t love, he probably would have if he ever went to a big city. The sky was so vast and beautiful that it made he feel kind of miniscule and insignificant. The fact that his existence might be useless didn’t frighten him, he had thought he was useless long before he’d started coming to this parking lot every afternoon to look at the sky with his best friend.
“Best friends” seems like an odd phrase to describe Alice and Chris, but it was true. They had been friends since they were both six years old, when Chris moved in down the street. Alice was always very bold, with intervals of acting icy and distant. After all the boxes had been moved into Chris’s new home, and some of them unpacked, Alice invited herself inside. He remembered clearly her climbing in through the window in his bedroom, because the front door was locked. Her face was dirty; she was wearing a red dress and a mischievous smile. Her hair was long then, it reached a little lower than her shoulder blades. Although she was never the kindest person to Chris, she was there when he needed her.
Alice felt a drop of water hit her head and she smiled a little. Then another and another till precipitation was beating the ground. She stood up and outstretched her arms, closed her eyes, and leaned her head back. Alice had always loved the feeling of rain. She wasn’t smoking for the first time in hours, which usually would have made her unpleasant, but she was experiencing such euphoria that she barely noticed. Chris thought he might turn into a block of ice from the horrid rain, but it didn’t bother him too much, because Alice looked happy. She hardly ever appeared so ecstatic; it suited her.
After watching Alice enjoy the rain for quite a while Chris saw that it was getting dark and decided he should head home.
“Bye,” she didn’t hear him over the wind blowing.
“Bye,” he said again, this time louder.
“Seeya tomorrow, dude.”
The words still weren’t there. Chris’s house wasn’t far, but he decided to take the long way home. He was thinking about the walks he went on with Alice years ago and how they’d always take the long way home when it rained. He could still hear her saying, “Whatcha so goddamn afraid of Chris? It’s just a little water!” That made him smile. To one side of the road was a deep forest and to the other a steep rocky downhill. Chris was walking in the middle of the road because thick walls of fog surrounded him and he was afraid he might fall down the hill.
He stopped at the spot where he thought Alice had lit her first cigarette. He couldn’t be sure with all that fog around, but he thought he could feel it. Chris remember her pulling a cigarette from the box, and how it felt as though she was unsheathing a sword, a terrible weapon that she would use to take her own life. They were only ten at the time. That was around when Alice had stopped walking home with him. It was also only a few weeks after her father had left her and her mother.
Then suddenly two bright lights appeared only yards away from him. They belonged to speeding pickup truck that had been hidden in the fog. Chris hadn’t heard it because the wind was blowing so loudly. It swerved to miss him and it slid over the edge of the hill. It crashed in the large rocks and rolled till it was a twisted heap of metal. Chris was paralyzed with fear. He was still catching up with what’d happened. Crying he climbed as quickly as he could down the hill. His feet were sliding and sloshing in the wet soil and several times he almost fell on his face. Chris didn’t care. He needed to know if the man was okay.
When he finally reached the car he stared in through the window, which no longer had glass, and saw a dead man in the front seat. It was a gory mess. The worst part was that his eyes were still open, staring blankly at Chris. Chris wept and wept. He fell to his knees and apologized more times than one could count. He pulled his phone from his pocket and dialed 911. He cried so much it was almost impossible for the operator to understand him. Eventually they made sense of what he was saying and sent a few police officers and an ambulance.
Chris waited, shivering with tears and mucus almost freezing to his face thinking of how this was his entire fault. He waited for about ten minutes and then the police and ambulance arrived. The police officers were giants that towered over him ominously. It seemed foolish to be afraid of them, but he was. He described the accident to them and they wrote down a description. The men from the ambulance examined the body of the man and said his neck had snapped in the accident. The police phoned Chris’s mom and told her what happened. They assured her that they would give him a ride home.
It’d all happened so fast. Only a few hours ago he was in the parking lot of a grocery store and now he was weeping in the back of a police car. The officer kept telling him, “Ain’t your fault, bud. You didn’t do nothin’.” But it really wasn’t helping.
He was dropped off at the end of his driveway, and before he could even walk halfway to the door his mother ran outside and hugged him so tight it was hard to breathe. His father wasn’t far behind. Chris’s parents wanted to know everything, but he didn’t feel like talking to them. He went to his room and sat down on his bed. Chris took his phone from his pocket and scrolled through his contacts, he really didn’t have to, he knew her number by heart. He wanted to talk to Alice. She picked up on the third ring.
“Hey, Alice. Oh shit, dude. I was walking and I just didn’t see him coming, ya know? And he swerved off the road and-“ She interrupted him.
“Slow the fuck down. What happened? “
“I decided to take the long way home and.. and there was this guy driving and he died because I was standing in the middle of the fucking road.”
“Shit dude. You okay?”
“Is it okay if I come over, dude?”
“You’re gonna come in through the window, right? Does it really matter if my parents are okay with it?”
“I’ll see ya soon, dude.”
Chris’s parents didn’t like him being around Alice. They said she was a bad influence. They were partially right. Some 30 minutes after Chris called her, she climbed in through the bedroom window. Alice had probably only used the door to his house about three times. She sat down beside him on the bed and lit a cigarette.
“It’s all my fault,” said Chris.
“Didja fucking shoot him? No. You were walking home. You didn’t do shit.”
Chris really wanted to feel better, but nothing was helping him. He wanted to say something, but the words just weren’t there. Chris thought about the crash in a million ways, and no matter his perspective the situation always seemed like it was his fault. They sat silently on the edge of his bed for all of the evening and most of the night. Alice wanted only to show him comfort, but she wasn’t sure how to go about it, comforting wasn’t exactly her specialty.
When she left she told him to meet her in the parking lot in the morning. Chris couldn’t sleep. He stared out the window all night hoping she would come back inside. Even if she couldn’t make him feel less guilty he liked having her around. At seven o’ clock Chris changed his shirt and left for the grocery store. He walked out his front door and saw that the walls of fog had dispersed and the sky was cloudless. The cold wrapped around him like a serpent and tightened more and more as he walked. The trees were filled with brightly colored leaves. Chris wondered if the leaves knew they were dying. Maybe they want to go out with a bang, he thought. He couldn’t stop thinking about the dead man’s eyes staring at him. Chris thought about how when you go to funerals the dead person’s eyes are always closed. He’d never known you could die with your eyes open. Chris hoped he’d die in his sleep, with his eyes closed, but he wasn’t sure he deserved that. He considered suicide. Chris didn’t think anyone would miss him, but he thought he should at least tell Alice that he loved her before he offed himself.
Chris decided to make a quick stop at a local coffee shop before going to the grocery store. Before the building had been a coffee shop it’d been an old house. It was painted sky blue on the outside, and there was a little porch where people sat in the summer and made conversation. Chris didn’t like sitting on the porch in the summer and talking. He much preferred sitting in the disgusting parking lot of the grocery store that smelled of fast food and cigarettes. He liked to be with Alice. As he entered the coffee shop a bell on the door chimed. The sweet scent of the caffeinated drink he needed wafted through the air and entered his nostrils. He took seat at an empty table, and was waiting for a waitress to take his order when he saw an elderly man sitting across the room staring blankly in his direction. He thought of the man from the care accident and was so unsettled that he got up and left.
Chris walked for a few more minutes till he reached the parking lot. He slowly crossed the pavement to where she sat smoking. Alice was looking up at the same spot in the sky as if she saw something no one else could.
“You okay? You don’t look too good.”
“Do I ever?”
Chris sat down beside Alice, the ground was still damp from the previous days downpour. He looked out across the parking lot, there were only a few cars, which was normal for a Wednesday morning. An elderly woman immerged from the grocery store. She had very short silver hair and she was wearing two plaid shirts with the sleeves rolled up and a pair of weathered blue jeans. She walked with a limp and Chris could tell she was struggling greatly with carrying her groceries. He got up and dashed over to her.
“Do you need some help with those ma’am?” said Chris.
“Thank you so much”, she said gladly handing him her plastic bags, “What’s your name, sweetie?”
“I’m Amelia. Well Chris would you care to join me for breakfast? You’re welcome to bring your friend over there.”
“I don’t wanna be burden”
“It’s fine! A lonely old lady needs someone to talk to!”
“Thanks a lot, ma’am. Alice! Come over here!”
Alice got up and slowly dragged her feet as she walked to them.
Alice spoke eloquently as usual, “The fuck is it?”
Chris was embarrassed but the old lady just chuckled and said, “I’m making you two breakfast. My car’s in the shop right now, so we’ll have to walk.”
Alice and Chris followed Amelia as she headed down the same road Chris had taken the night before on his way home. They didn’t speak at all, as if they were holding a moment of silence for the man that had died in the crash. When they passed the heap of broken glass and metal a the bottom of the hill tears began to roll down Chris’s cheeks but he didn’t make a sound.
Amelia was crying too but Alice and Chris were behind her and couldn’t see. Alice grabbed Chris’s hand and squeezed it tight. He glanced over at her trying hard to smile.
Amelia’s house was very old, but well kept. They entered through the front door, which was painted a bright red, and tracked soggy dead leaves onto the deep brown wood floor. Amelia led them into the dining room, which was right beside the kitchen. She quickly wiped the tears from her eyes and turned to face them. Alice quickly let go of Chris’s hand.
Amelia winked at them and said, “What do you two want for breakfast? Eggs? Bacon? Toast? Coffee?”
“Yes, please! Emphasis on the coffee! Thank you!” replied Chris eagerly.
Chris and Alice sat at the dining room table and watched Amelia make breakfast in the kitchen. The walls were covered it a light blue wallpaper with little stars on it. There was a rocking chair in the corner next to a china cabinet, and sitting in that rocking chair was a pillow with “Just keep moving.” crocheted on it.
All of the sudden Amelia began sobbing loudly.
Chris rushed over to her saying, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?”, much louder than he’d intended to.
“My husband died last night in a car crash. I’m so used to making breakfast for two, that’s why I invited you kids.”
Chris was crying too now, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s not you’re fault.”
Yes it is! It’s my entire fault! I was walking home and he swerved to miss me!”
Amelia looked shocked. She grabbed a hold of the counter to steady herself.
After a few minutes she gave him a tight hug and whispered to him, “It’s still not your fault, honey. Go sit down at the table, breakfast is ready.”
She carried two plates of scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, and burnt toast to Chris and Alice. Then she brought them two mugs of warm coffee. Her hands were shaking and eyes were red from crying, but she had a warm loving smile on her face.
Amelia sat down across from them and looked directly at Chris and said, “Sorry the toast is so burnt. The problem with toast is that you can’t un-burn it. You’ve gotta live with it, and adjust your settings, and hope that next time the toast wont be so burnt.”
Chris smiled and quickly ate his food and drank his coffee.
Alice got up and asked, “Where’s the bathroom?”
“Down the hall, first door to the left.” said Amelia.
Once Alice was gone Amelia chuckled and said, “You like her a lot, don’t you?”
“You don’t wanna give yourself something else to regret, you should tell her how you feel.”
When Alice got back she said, “I can’t finish, I’m stuffed. Chris and me better get going. Thanks for the food; you’re pretty badass for an old hag. “
Amelia laughed and said, “Thanks, Alice. I hope I see you two around sometime.”
Alice and Chris started down the long sad road towards the grocery store parking lot, but this time the road didn’t seem so long, and it didn’t seem so sad. It wasn’t quiet this time either. They reminisced about the walks they’d taken together years ago. When they passed the scene of the accident they looked in the other direction.
“That’s all behind us now,” said Alice.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”