Josh Nichols was of above-average intelligence.
At least, that was what his transcript said. Black ink formed into manmade squiggles and characters marked him as a gifted student. Straight rows of the three lines making up the letter 'A' proved his diligence, intelligence, and whatever else mattered in the scholastic world.
Mere black ink on frail paper. That was all his life amounted to. Seventeen years, and he could only take pride in the geometric 'A's and the words "gifted and talented" printed in black ink on flimsy paper.
Water made ink bleed and run. Water made paper tear. Water was falling from his eyes, splashing mockingly onto his hands, onto his brother's soft brown hair as he clutched the limp body close. Fragile paper. Fragile life. Would the tears erase the existence of the boy he'd come to love, just as they could erase the pathetic existence of black ink?
The transcript lied. The sheet of paper was only scrap. He wasn't above average. He wasn't smart or prepared. He could only sit in helpless, dumb uncertainty, holding the broken body like a lifeline, as if believing that he could bind spirit to flesh with willpower alone.
He didn't have the answers. He failed the test. A feeling bordering on hysteria bubbled up, and he wanted to laugh aloud at the irony. The most important test of his life, and he'd failed it. What was the point of passing all the others ones? What was the good of being able to draw correct lines in correct orders on a piece of paper?
He wanted to scream.
"Drake, Drake, hang in there. They'll be here soon. I'm sure they will be."
It came out a whisper, a pitiable sound, rough and hoarse. It was a lie, too. He wasn't sure, not of anything, not anymore – certainty flew out the window the moment he laid eyes on his brother's battered body.
What has his life amounted to? Surely there was more than school and grades. It was possible to live without the attendance trophy or the honor roll certificate. Has he been chasing after the wrong things all this time?
"Drake, stay with me. Stay for me, Drake."
There was no sense in talking to someone in the deep sleep of unconsciousness, but Josh had ceased to care about sense. It was a necessity that he kept talking. Talking was something, and something was infinitely better than nothing. Something was real, and real was solid, and he could lean on concrete better than sand.
At this moment, he swore that he'd give up anything in exchange for the promise that Drake would pull through this, that tomorrow he'd see his brother with his patented sheepish grin and some ridiculous excuse, or that he'd hear the soft breathing drifting from the bunk bed in the middle of the night. He'd give up his grades, his acceptance letter into Stanford – even his Oprah.
Seventeen years and he's been chasing after emptiness, after black ink on fragile paper. But he knew now. Now he held a piece of life and meaning in his arms. Friendship, brotherhood, memories – Drake's existence was intertwined tightly with his own, and he refused to let go.
Flashing lights flooded the room, pouring in from the window, announcing the arrival of the ambulance.
Josh held on to paper-thin fragility, to life dripping onto the floor in a trail of crimson liquid.
"Paper-width" was definitely meant to be a one-shot...but although these can both stand on their own, it felt more right to put them together. Maybe this'll end up as a set of anecdotes or something. We shall see.
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