“Nice day today.”
The words were for no one. It was just nice to hear his voice, to feel his mouth forming syllables, to taste his tongue caressing his tone. Normally he would argue he had a tenor sound to his voice, but the raspy tremor quivering off his lips hardly sounded like a noise he recognized. Like the voice emanating from his mouth belonged to somebody else.
His bedroom window peered out into his front yard, showing off a snow-blanketed ground, his road littered with slush. A blue jay sat on the gnarly, crooked branch off a dead evergreen tree, pecking his beak at his feathers, hiding his small head in his puffed out, bloated body. He didn’t know how long he spent staring at the bird, but any amount of time could never be enough.
“It’s beautiful,” Chad realized, tightly securing a rope to a pipe running along the ceiling of his closet. It was all beautiful because he was doomed, his fingers scraping at perfection, like a sunrise above the ocean.
Because it would soon be over. And he knew his last times were numbered. He wanted to hear his voice, to walk across the wooden planks of his floor, to see a bird balancing atop a tree branch. He wanted this bedroom, witness to so many cold days and lonely nights, to remember him.
He’d refused to touch his neck for days, knowing what was coming, not wanting to back out of the decision he already made. But now, at what he knew was the end, he allowed himself that small desire. His fingers traced along the tender skin of his neck, his light touch making his skin squirm. He yanked his hand away.
More words. They meant nothing, just colorless vapors of his thoughts.
He tugged at the rope, at the noose he had created as his mind wandered. He thought of his family, supportive, but too immersed in their own lives to rescue their drowning child. There wouldn’t be a note. He was certain of that fact. His reason, his madness, was one that would follow him to the grave, hiding in the shadows of his coffin. He thought of his friends, the hosts of the best years he’d ever known. He smirked at the thought that their arrival began his life, yet ironically brought about its end.
“Here we go,” he murmured, talking just to hear his voice again.
“Fucking cold!” Mike exclaimed at the sky, his eyes widening at the grey clouds billowing along the horizon. His hands balled into fists before he stuffed them in his pockets, his shoulders slightly hunched, fighting the wind.
Chad smirked, always shaving off most of his smile whenever in the company of Mike.
“It fucking is. Be nice to live in Florida right about now, huh?”
“Yeah.” The crisp air stung Chad’s eyes.
Mike stomped on a small hill of snow, his sneaker pressing into the white mound like it was powder.
That was Mike’s way, fantasizing about the future. The what if’s and would be’s that ran wild in his head always astounded Chad. Chad always hoped for the future, but never looked past the next morning. Not like Mike, whose very grin built castles in the sky, whose baby blue eyes welcomed all that approached him with grace and understanding.
Chad gulped, clutching his fists, like that fierce action might squeeze out the taunting thoughts that loomed in his head at the sight, the very mention of Mike.
“You hungry?” Mike asked. Chad knew this as an invitation, a not-so-subtle hint that Mike was ready to eat. Chad stole a glance at his best friend, watching silently as the boy’s unkempt mop of dark brown hair whipped along with the wind.
It was a simple answer, but Mike grinned.
Just another tease.
Another mindless game.
Another failed friendship.
Always rolling on and on, desiring too much, hoping for too much.
Chad would not let himself get angry. Not now.
It was hard to explain to those that hovered along the edges of his life, to those that shared their days with him, of the loneliness he felt. He fiercely bit his lower lip and turned away, glaring at the ground and his snow-speckled shoes. It was embarrassing to admit the devastation one wrong word, one careless look could give him. It was humiliating to consider the way the simplest nuance, when coming from him was enough to get him flushed in the face. “But there’s really only one thing I want,” Chad spoke again to his empty room, already mourning its inhabitant, as he stared out into the beautiful February sunrise. Frost bordered his window and glistened atop the roof as he took a step forward, breathing it all in, devouring the scene before him.
The flat, modestly carved stomach, not the abs of a bodybuilder, just those of a boy in shape, made his stomach whirl.
Water trickled down Mike’s body, as Chad found himself struggling to look away, to ignore the large droplets dripping off his eyelashes, the water running down his tanned arms and legs.
“So, my date with Rachel is this weekend…” Mike brushed his hand through his sopping wet hair. “Where do you think I should take her?”
Chad almost smiled at the nervous shadow in Mike’s eyes. His heart fluttered and slammed against his ribcage at the mention of the girl’s name, at Mike’s vain attempt to appear unworried and unbothered. He looked away, his throat suddenly dry. Mike’s mind was on her again, on a little pink tank top, on long, sun-bleached hair, on fuchsia-colored toe nails.
“Take her to a movie.”
Mike winced. “Kinda cliché, isn’t it?”
“What’d you have in mind?”
“I dunno…is grabbing a pizza too casual?” He reached for the light blue towel draped over a folding chair and ran it through his hair. He sighed, throwing the towel to the floor as he leaned against the wall, slowly sinking to the cement ground.
Chad mimicked his actions, uncomfortable at the way Mike’s wet swimming trunks stuck to him, accentuating the trim build of his legs. Chad grabbed a t-shirt and threw it over his head. The sigh Mike released was hopeful, nervous, exhilarating. It breathed promise; it bred faith.
Chad leaned next to him, the humid air of the indoor swimming pool drawing beads of perspiration to his upper lip even though he was hardly dry. Their shoulders brushed against each other and they exhaled at the same time, Mike thinking of all that lay before him, Chad of all that could never be.
“What’d ya feel like doing now?” Mike mumbled, flicking water off his legs and knees, sprinkling the cement around him like a police sketch. He laid his palm down onto the ground, his five fingers spread wide, his skin drinking in the heat from the floor.
Chad reached for Mike’s wrist, his fingers gently tracing the bone that protruded just below his hand. He felt suddenly sleepy, sedated almost, like he could feel his skin forever, like they could sit in the growing heat, oblivious to the world as it spun carelessly around them.
He hardly heard the voice bring him back to reality, rocking him off the edge of a pillow of clouds, landing him on the hard floor of the earth.
His eyes fluttered.
Mike was louder this time, his voice dangling off the cliff of laughter. “Chad?”
His eyes snapped open with the intensity of a cracking whip.
Mike stared pointedly at his wrist. “I love ya too, man. When’re we getting’ hitched?”
Chad ripped his hand away. “God. Oh my God. I’m…I’m so sorry, I don’t even know what the Hell I was…”
“Hey, hey!” Mike raised a hand to silence him, nervous laughter emanating out of his throat. “Joking.”
“No, no, it’s not…” Running his fingers through his dirty blonde hair, he jumped up, quickly pushing distance between himself and his friend. Quickly shoving air in between them. It was suffocating.
“Chad, what the…?”
“--what, Mike?” He hadn’t meant to lose his temper, but suddenly he was boiling and burbling out of control. Unable to close the pot on the volatile mixture he’d conjured, unable to pour it down the drain, unable to take the poison himself. He sighed. “Just leave me alone.” He whipped his body around, ignoring the way Mike’s chest muscles tightened as he pushed himself off the ground, ignoring the slight cock of his eyebrow as concern flashed across his face.
He kept on walking.
He could never torture himself so much as to leave while he called his name. He turned back, his chest rising and falling beneath his damp t-shirt. He found Mike’s lips, gently parted as he held his breath, rummaging through his head for the right words to say. Next, he saw his eyes, baby blue and wide, searching Chad’s face, fishing for anything he could catch and reel in. But nothing. “See you tomorrow.”
It took all he had to break eye contact and turn away, walking from him like it would be the last time.
It was so easy. Too easy, in fact. His heart thundered beneath his chest, protesting loudly at the crime he was about to commit. His foot almost slipped as he stepped onto the stool. When his quivering body regained balance, he faced out into his bedroom, at his closed door, his neatly made bed, his clothes neatly packed away in his dresser. It was uncharacteristic. His bedroom had never been so neat. But he didn’t want them to find him like this, dangling in his closet, everything thrown around on the floor. The least he could do was pick up after himself. He slipped his head through the noose, his hands trembling as he tightened the rope around his neck.
Sunlight splattered through the window.
He decided to count to three. Out loud. He wanted his voice to be the last thing he heard. Not panicked gasps, not the unending ticking of his clock. Just him.
The loud shrill of the telephone nearly made Chad lose his balance.
Gasping wildly, clutching his chest to calm himself, he stared wide-eyed at the room around him, at the world, the place he was about to leave.
His swallow came down hard, like a thousand knives puncturing his throat.
The phone rang a second time in the empty house, reverberating off the silent walls and empty rooms. No one was around to answer but Chad. Soon, there would be no one at all.
“Three…” His heart pounded in his chest, in his ears, in his fingers and toes. He inhaled, air zooming into his mouth like a vacuum, and when he released, he watched his chest fall. The phone rang a final time, but Chad, inching his right foot off of the stool and into dead air, did not hear.
In the next room, the answering machine picked up. Through the crypt-like silence of the house, the recording of his mother asking the caller to leave a message burst through the walls.
Finally, a warm voice cradled the still house, the quiet rooms.
“Chad, you there?”
Chad held onto the noose tight with both hands as he held his right foot out. The left kicked the stool out from underneath him.