Requiem For A Friend
Had you not known what you were looking at, you would have never guessed it for a grave. The mound of soil was still dark and moist, flattened at the edges from the spade used to move it. The rich scent of it hung in the air, not quite hiding the smell of death. It was a modest grave, hidden within a strand of pine trees. He knew that it would lay undisturbed and unknown until the end of his days. Above him, unseen in one of the trees, a lone bird sang a lament. He glanced up, trying to find it only to see nothing. It sang once again before flying off with a rustle of feathers and tree branch.
He sat down, not caring that the long grass beneath him was wet with dew that would last all day. Drawing his knees, up he rested his head against the fabric of his trousers and fought the need to sob. He'd buried too many friends over the years. Each one hurt just as much as the first. He wondered how many more would enter the earth because of him. Time passed without him noticing. The sky grew light and another day was born. The thought gave him no pleasure. What good was another day when your gift became a curse to those you loved?
Behind him, a twig snapped under the weight of someone's foot. He was on his feet before he even knew that he'd moved. She stood in the shadow of the trees like some kind of ghost. He feared that she would be all too soon.
"Hi." One word that held so much meaning. She said it quietly, but not hesitantly. As she stepped into the shade with him, a shiver passed over her body. This was not a place that she wanted to spend much time. Seeing the grave and knowing who it was for, she said a prayer for Chas' soul. She hoped he had gone to heaven. Somehow, she sensed that he had. She wondered if that fact would provide any comfort to John.
Reaching for a cigarette, he sat back on the grass without answering her. His fingers found only cloth in his pocket and he reminded himself that he'd quit. She crossed and sat next to him, laying a cold hand on his arm. He tensed as if he wanted to pull away, but didn't move. She took that as a good sign. She let him sit in silence for a while before standing and pulling him to his feet. Surprisingly, he didn't resist. He let her lead him into her waiting car. Once he was into the light, she almost gasped. He looked terrible, with smoky bags under his eyes and skin so pale that it looked like marble.
She put a hand to his forehead. He was clammy and cold from being in the open all night. It was still far too early in the year to be out all night. Even though she is warm, she turns the heating up in the car. Once he starts getting warm shivers race through his body. He closes his eyes and slumps in the seat, not moving. His eyes were closed, but she didn't think that he was sleeping. It was more like he wanted to deny the world by blocking it out of his mind.
With one breath, she silently curses him for being so stupid. With the next, she switches to concern about him. Driving a little faster than the speed limit, she makes it back to his apartment in record time. Opening the car door, she finds his keys before helping him out. It was scary for her to see him like that. He'd always been the one in control, the one who couldn't relax. She struggled to open the door and they half-walked, half-fell into the main room.
Throwing the keys onto the table, she kicked the door closed behind them and dragged him into the bedroom. Once in the safety of his own home, he seemed to be more like his normal self. He was still too quiet and withdrawn, but he got undressed by himself without a problem. Once dressed in only his trousers and socks, she handed him the sweatpants she's found and left him to it.
He came into the kitchen five minutes later, looking like the man she knew. The tee-shirt might have belonged to him, but it hung on his slender frame like a rubbish sack. She could tell that he was a little bit embarrassed by his behaviour.
"Hi. Sorry for…" He shrugged awkwardly.
"It's okay. You lost a good friend yesterday. I understand." A pause and then, "I wasn't the most mentally stable person when Isobel died." She exhaled in a rush.
"It was stupid of me to leave you like that. Anything could have happened." He had always taken responsibility for the world. It was hard not to when you saw the things he did on a daily basis.
"It didn't. You should give yourself a break. You died, were saved by the great wager on your soul and saw your best friend die. It's hardly a normal day, is it?"
"I feel stupid because of the way I behaved." His voice was low, but even.
"You feel stupid because you were human for once?" She asked with a small smile. "Let yourself feel, God knows you're entitled." She winced a little at the unintended pun.
She knelt beside him on the cold stone floor and took hold of his hand. His fingers were still freezing and absently, she rubbed them to warm them.
"I miss him already." The admission was the barest hint of a whisper, but she heard it. Not knowing what to say or even if she should talk, she simply squeezed his hand to let him know that she was there. That she cared. "He was always on my case, wanting to help more, but I stopped him. I think… I think I knew that something like this would happen. I… was scared for him." A short breath and he asked "Do you think I did the right thing?"
"I don't think it was your choice. He died doing something that he wanted to do, it's all that any of us can ask." She glanced up, noting that he'd turned his face away from her. No doubt the tears he'd fought for so long were finally starting to fall.
She had a feeling that it was going to be a long night and had no intention of spending it kneeling on the floor.
"Come on," She said, standing. He helped, pulling her to her feet with ease.
"Where?" He was still facing away from her and she found it strangely endearing that he didn't deny his pain yet chose not to share it with her.
"You need to sleep. I need somewhere softer to sit." Once again, she led the way to the bedroom, letting him settle on the bed before sitting next to him with her back against the headboard. He lay flat on his back, with both arms tucked under his head. Weak daylight streamed in from outside and she knew he wouldn't sleep. It didn't matter so long as he talked. She could still see the tear tracks on his face. He had his eyes closed, letting her study him at will.
"Chas didn't die because of you. He loved you. He loved working alongside you. He wouldn't have changed that for the world."
"I sent him to hell." A simple statement, but one with a lot of power behind it.
"No, you didn't." She was just as forceful. "Chas is in heaven."
"How do you know?"
"I saw him. He's happy. He doesn't blame you. He wants to thank you for putting up with him over the years." She smiled "He doesn't forgive you for the car though- did you really drop a mirror on it?"
A kind of peace settled over John's face. He could sleep now.
Just as he slipped away, he murmured "Thank you."