As Jacob pulls out into traffic, I train my eyes on the road ahead of us, unable to think of a single word that I can say out loud. Usually we have a million things to talk about, but I'm finding it harder and harder to be friends; it feels disingenuous, a masquerade, when there's so much more that I want. So instead I keep looking silently out the window, and keep it all inside.
He makes a last-minute turn off Houston, ignoring the furious honking of the cabs behind us, and pulls into a side street. There's an expensively-dressed crowd lined up along the sidewalk and spilling onto the road in front of us; harsh neon lights over a rusted metal door are the only signs that the place they're waiting at is anything other than a block of run-down apartments. The sight of the pub has nerves gnawing at my stomach, being alone with Jacob after a few drinks seems like the perfect way to say something I can't take back.
The shelves behind the bar are lined with all kinds of interesting bottles. Balancing carefully on my very tall and wobbly bar stool, I take in the rows of vials, test tubes, antique-looking bottles, all neatly labeled with names like 'créme de violet' and 'green chartreuse'. One of the bartenders picks up a perfume bottle with a tasseled pump on the end, and mists the shocking green liquid over a drink.
"How are the renovations going?" I ask, turning my attention back to Jacob and setting my glass down. He doesn't answer; one arm slung casually over the back of my chair, he's watching a bartender expertly mixing drinks and I'm not sure he heard me at all. She's tall and blonde, with a smoking hot body. As she pours a drink, her gaze falls directly on Jacob over the rim, and she gives him a seductive smile. His expression imbues a lazy enjoyment, a relaxed but temporary state that could flick into scorching heat at any moment. I swiftly look down into my drink, and concentrate on swirling the liquid so that the ice clinks around in the glass. Jacob constantly and effortlessly attracts so much attention that the idea he's going to want me seems like an impossible wish.
"It's not happening, I'm moving into the city."
"Wow, that's sudden," I say, surprised, "you and Derrick love your place." It's outside of the city, but what they lost in location they definitely gained in size.
"Have you talked to him?"
I study Jacob carefully. "Not for a few weeks." The last time I saw them together, I had thought there might be a subtext that I didn't understand. Derrick was getting pretty wild and the way Jacob was watching him, it was like he was waiting for him to go off the rails or disappear into a haze of frat parties. Concern creeps in, I hadn't thought about that weekend again until now. I was wrapped up in school and took for granted that Jacob would sort it out, the way he and Derrick always watch each other's backs.
"What's going on, Jake?" I ask, guilt and worry lacing my voice.
"Nothing." He tosses some bills down on the bar. "I have to swing by my place to talk to him, want to come?"
The house is mostly dark when we arrive. Jacob goes to see if he can find Derrick in his room, while I walk through the kitchen, flicking on a few lights along the way. I open the French doors to the backyard and step outside, my eyes taking a minute to adjust to the dim light of dusk. The glow from the windows and the flickering pool are the only illumination as I walk along the deck, and I'm right at the edge before I notice Derrick in the water. It takes me another moment to register that he's not swimming, his body swaying gently, the blue lights refracting his shadow against the side of the pool. My mind refuses to process the unnatural way his form is floating, limp and lifeless.
I try to call Jacob to come outside but I can't speak, frozen to the concrete where I stand. I stagger to the side when he runs past me and jumps into the water, I can hear him but can't make out the words over the rushing in my ears. I feel numb. Derrick is flung out on the tile next to the pool, Jacob yelling at him and shaking him. Derrick's arms hang by his sides and his legs aren't moving at all. One of his pockets has come inside out, I want to put it back in. I wonder, as if from a distance, what he was doing swimming in his clothes.
I walk over and fumble with the pocket but my hands aren't working properly. Jacob is in my way, I push him and he gets up. His hands fist in my hair, turning my head roughly to force my eyes towards his, and I realize that he's saying, "We have to call an ambulance Bella," over and over. He's pawing through my jacket and then he's gone.
His footsteps fade and silence falls, filling my limbs with a bleak hopelessness. I lay down beside Derrick, looking up at the sky, his clammy arm cold against mine. Touching his body makes me shiver but my heart still feels like lead, as if nothing will ever move it again. I'm a match tossed into a stream, saturated and unignitable. I don't think I'm intoxicated - or maybe I am, I can't seem to remember what I was doing before this.
A thump from inside the house rouses me and I sit up, staring straight ahead. Finally I bring myself to look at his swollen face beside me; caught in the grotesque horror of it, I can't turn away. His eyes are still open but there's nothing of him in that blank stare. It's strange because I think of my own mortality often. It haunts me at night, my eyes unable to shut for fear of not existing. But in my thoughts it's always me who's a stone cold corpse, soon to decay and disappear.