I was killing guilt through my second bag of Cheetos when Alex Gregson said we  should do something that night. It was already 10pm; the sky loomed eerily similar to  the flat-black pavement that it sank into, and the old Acura Integra we lounged in  reeked of burning pot. I had passed the “stoned” benchmark a while ago, and while I  wish I could’ve blamed Alex or Jameer for this, it was I who had been so quick to grab that smoking pipe.  
“Let’s get some beers,” Alex said nonchalantly. Wiping my radioactive-orange  fingers onto my jeans, I burped before lazily questioning if us being here wasn’t  enough for them. Jameer, taking Alex’s side, asked if this was how I wanted to spend  my Friday night, and when I said yes, he declared me pussy. This was how I got dragged  into a beer run. 
On the contrary, it’s worth noting that this had been no ordinary Friday  night. A girl at our high school had just killed herself. Not that Friday – it had  been around a week or two ago, but that Friday is when we had just come from the  candlelight vigil. After the service, I had been walking home alone when Alex and  Jameer, two older kids from school, pulled up beside me, asking if I needed a ride  home. I didn’t know Alex and Jameer that well. I mean I knew of them through mutual  friends and had seen them play in a handful of the football games earlier that year.  But it was also getting cold outside and their shining smiles and promises were  calling my name. Mom always said to not get into the car with strangers. 30 minutes  later, my brain cells are all but burnt out and simmering on the other side of town.  She’d be disappointed. 
“How are we going to get it?” For some reason I hadn’t thought to ask this  until we were parked outside the store. A glaring neon “Lou’s Liquor” sign loomed over  us illegal perpetrators. They were 18 and I was a year younger. Jameer removed a card  from his wallet and showed it to me. It was dark in the car but I could see that it  was some kind of ID featuring his square face. 
“Watch and learn kiddos,” he grinned as he stepped out onto the pavement. Alex  and I studied Jameer through the glass windows as he disappeared into the cereal aisle. It wasn’t long before he was back holding a 12 pack of Coors in one hand, and  his wallet in the other, walking towards the register. 
Jameer flashed us a smile. He trotted with a confidence that fit his six-foot  frame and for a second, I thought about how cool it was going to be to crack open and  share a cold one with these seniors. It definitely would be something that my father  would be proud of; but before I could finish that thought Jameer took a sharp turn and  busted straight for the door! “Start the car!” he hollered, and the engine roared alive as if this had really been the plan all along. Jameer threw open the car door,  thrusting the pack of beers onto me and jumped into the passenger seat. “Let’s go!” Jameer slammed his door and Alex reversed out as the ear-wrangling sound of burning  rubber offended the air. We sped out of the parking lot with lightning urgency. As the  guys cheered, I couldn’t help but peer out the back window and catch the cashier out  on the sidewalk shaking his fist at us, shouting curses into the flat-black sky. 
Not too long ago, I had been going through a rough patch. I wasn’t eating. I  wasn’t sleeping. Most nights, I could be found in front of a glowing screen watching  whatever movie was rerunning on TBS, as my eyes rotted and brain molded like a  zombie’s. My grades plummeted. I had just begun staying with my father after living  exclusively with mom for the past 4 years following the divorce. I thought we had a  good thing going, just me and her. We ate dinner every night and were nice to one  another but I guess dinner and kindness aren’t more important than a job. At my  father’s I have a lot more freedom to do whatever I want. Not coincidentally, that’s  around the time I started going out more and making poor decisions. 
Over the summer, my best friend, Madeline, had called me self-destructive. I  told her she was really smart for that one in the most sarcastic manner possible,  trying to hide my reddening face. It was one of those gone summer nights and we were  lying in-between the blades of wild grass in Jefferson Park, taking in the cooling  breeze and the stars which seemed to shine for us, and only us. Madeline loved that  park because of its openness that made good stargazing. She punched me on the arm as  if to say shut up. 
“At least I don’t hate myself,” she retorted. I told her to decide if I was  self-destructive or hated myself. Madeline laughed. “Both.” We went quiet, enjoying  the full silence, until she broke in again. “I kind of do hate myself, though.” 
Silence. 
Her comment stunned me. Was this another one of her cruel dry jokes, or was  she being serious? I felt my throat grow hot and rough, and eventually still. It’s not  just that I didn’t understand what she meant. It’s just what can you say to someone  you love in those moments? Tell them that they don’t hate themselves when really you  can’t possibly know how they feel? Get mad that they put you in this position to  decide for them? Perhaps you tell them everything will be alright when you don’t even  know yourself if it will be. I couldn’t.  
“I guess we can both hate ourselves together,” I finally said. We both laughed,  but it was forced and not the same. 
It was around 11:30 and the guys and I were sitting on the edge of a highway  overpass, legs shot through the railings, watching the infinite lights moving, rushing  towards, away, and under our worn-out sneakers.  
“This shit tastes like piss. Warm beer is gross.” Alex said. I had a Coors in  my hand with the lid cracked open but I sipped it periodically, barely drinking. I  didn’t like beer. “I don’t understand why you couldn’t just grab a pack out of the  fridge,” Alex continued as he finished the last drops of his fourth can, crushing it  right after and then throwing it over the railing and onto the highway. I could hear  the howling of horns coming from below. I thought about telling Alex that throwing  things off the overpass wasn’t a good idea, but I decided against it.  
“If you really care that much you should go in and get it next time,” Jameer  said.  
“I would if someone had their license and could drive us,” Alex spat. It was  dark out but I knew Jameer’s face had turned hot as he was slow and unintelligent with  his response. 
“Well fuck you,” he snapped as he grabbed another can, “It’s too cold out for  cold beer anyways.”  
Alex made some sly comment in response but I wasn’t listening anymore. I had  lost interest. I was too busy being consumed by the highway. The lights. The cars.  They all moved in uniform motion. “The flow of traffic” as it was called on my permit  test. But every now and then, a single car would defy this flow and zoom past the others. As if the driver didn’t care for rules and normalities. As if he or she was  too mighty to move with the rest. A rush of vulnerability filled me. I thought about  how if I really wanted to, I could easily slip under the railing and fall into  oblivion. More than anything, I thought about who would try to save me. 
At the vigil, the dead girl’s mother delivered a speech. She was strangely  composed as she eloquently spoke about her daughter and how warm she was to everyone  she came across. “It was no one’s fault,” she said solemnly to the audience, even  though people there would have disagreed. “She put up a great fight, but maybe  sometimes it’s just not meant to be.” It was when she started expressing how much she  would miss her daughter that she finally came apart, beginning to weep. At least  that’s what I was told. I’d been late in my arrival for a reason unbeknownst to me,  and caught the end of the vigil. People noticed and quickly crowded around, clamoring.  I could still hear them and the spinning static of the moment. 
Ryan?  
Ryan, where were you?  
Ryan, I’m so sorry. 
Are you okay?  
Ryan! 
Ryan? 
“Ryan? Dude.” I snapped back to the moment. It was Jameer. “Are you going to  have that last beer?”  
I shook my head, “All yours.” 
Jameer smiled and began to reach for the lone beer, but Alex grabbed it first.  “What the fuck?” Jameer snapped, “I called it.” 
“I don’t think that’s how it works,” Alex said, raising the can to his curved  lips. He wasn’t as tall as Jameer, but he was clearly stronger and Jameer knew it.  Seeing this, Alex became still and smiled behind the can, revealing bleached white teeth. He wagged the beer while pointing at the empty one in Jameer’s hand. “Whoever  throws that empty can farther gets this.” He said. 
“That’s no fair. You’re a quarterback,” Jameer whined. Alex shrugged. Jameer  then turned to me and then so did Alex, resembling how children look to a parent to  decide who gets the last piece of Halloween candy. I shrugged too, still not invested  into the moment. “Fine,” Jameer finally said, but then looking back at Alex and  raising his fist. “But there’s only one empty can.” Alex looked at the ground as if to  ponder this dilemma and then smiled again. He nodded towards rocks straddling the  gutter.  
It was about two months ago when the gutter overflowed and I asked Madeline to  be my girlfriend. By then school had been in session for about a month, arriving and  hitting us both like raging steel trains. Junior year was the most important year, the  adults told us. This is the year colleges look at the most. This year will determine  your future so don’t screw up. And remember, there’s absolutely no return from  whatever happens here. But no pressure. 
We arrived under a bus awning, laughing our asses off. I can’t even remember  what was so funny, but her laugh was sweet music to my ears and I couldn’t help but  join in the warmth. I glanced at her as she wrung the moisture out of her hair which  appeared darker than usual - a product of the rain. A crescent formed from my lips as  the moment became clear to me. Madeline and I had been best friends since freshman  year but lately I had been feeling as if a different possibility was presenting  itself. The way I saw it was that if we were this happy as friends, imagine how much  happier we could be as something more. We only had two more years together before  setting off to college. Why not make the most of it? This was my chance.
The words came out rushed and sloppy, and I regretted it immediately.  
“I just have a lot going on right now. I don’t think I would be able to  reciprocate effort. I’m sorry.” 
I stood there lost. 
I didn’t know what she could possibly be so busy with that I wasn’t also going  through. I knew she had issues at home. She never really cared to talk about them, but  I had them too! I mean my mom had basically dropped me from her life like an old coat to Goodwill. I didn’t know where my dad was most of the time. Effort was the easy  part. I told her it was okay when really I just wanted her to stop so we could revert  back to our comfortable silences. Damaged pride and defeat pulsated through my veins, but she kept on going about how she didn’t want to lose me as a friend, and I hated  this but she continued until I finally interrupted, demanding her to shut up. 
“I asked my mom if I could see a therapist,” She blurted out.  
“Shut up,” I repeated, receiving this as her playing victim. She immediately  looked down and I felt terrible again.  
“She said no.” 
At least your mom wants you in the house, is what I wanted to say. “Are you depressed?” I asked instead. 
She shook her head, and I decided it best to not say anything else. What else  was there to say? And under the pounding heresy of rain and in silence, we moved  towards home and never talked about it again. 
Alex had thrown the rock further. He killed it in 5 large gulps and though we  were now beer-less, Alex’s challenge had turned into some kind of cruel game. The two  of them laughed like maniacs as they took turns seeing who could throw rocks further,  challenging each other to who could hit certain targets first. Cars below sounded off  their horns and my spine tingled with each tire screech. I wanted to yell at them. I  wanted to tell them to knock it off before someone got hurt, but I couldn’t. It was as 
if the air in my lungs had dissipated and my wind pipes clenched. My throat grew hot  again. I was petrified.  
I looked at Alex with wide eyes that begged him to stop. No more please, I  thought. I felt like crying, but I couldn’t show vulnerability to these older boys. If  I did, who knew what would happen. From where I sat on the overpass, I could see as  the cans flew over and then onto the highway, disappearing into the lights and black  pavement. I shrunk into myself, waiting for the scrutinizing boom of metal colliding,  forming into one another. Screams. Pain. Lives changing forever right before my eyes.  Me waiting, thinking about how I could be the hero but how I chose not to. How I could  have saved her too, been there for her more, but wasn’t. 
And then we were back in the car driving home. 
I sunk into my seat as I stared out the window. The guys were talking about  something else, and the tension between them had now passed. It was black outside, and  I couldn’t see anything other than the darker outlines of trees and faceless houses. Those faceless houses that seem like homes on the outside but really are no more than  scattered pieces. I could have felt bad for myself, but I couldn’t stop thinking about  what had just happened. This could have meant disaster and I hadn’t done anything to  prevent it. I just sat there like a passive idiot again. I was given the opportunity,  and I had missed it like a fool. 
“You were close to that girl, huh?” Alex said. I didn’t say anything as I  continued to look out the glass, but he didn’t catch the hint as he went on. “That  sucks, man. I’m sorry.” Jameer looked back at me and when I caught his eyes he quickly  turned away. “You know you probably bought her at least 4 more months? I mean whenever  I saw her around school with you, she seemed happy.” 
I knew I wasn’t supposed to, but I felt it as a single tear ran down my cheek. 
“You can’t blame yourself. It was going to happen either way. Some people just can’t be saved.” 
“Yup.”
We continued to drive across town and before I knew it, I was asleep, captured  by the heaving hands of pot and guilt. As I manifested in my unconsciousness, there  was a jerk and I awoke immediately. Everything was fuzzy and unfamiliar. There was a  flashing of light. A high-pitch wailing that sounded like it was coming from some kind  of trapped animal. I could hear Alex crying to himself. There was a sense of panic in  his whimpers. “I didn’t see him. I swear I didn’t see him.” It was then when I realized that Alex had been slurring his words. Jameer sat dead-still in the passenger  seat, and in the rearview, I could see his wide-stretched eyes. I looked through the  back window once again. We were at an intersection and there was a car, a mid-sized  sedan, wrenched into a stop sign. I opened the door and ran out towards the car. 
I could hear Alex and Jameer calling after me, demanding me to get back into  the car. I turned and looked at them in disbelief. “Let’s go!” one of them said. “We  can’t be here!”  
“What about them?” I screamed, pointing at the wrecked car. 
“Whoever it is, we can’t save them!” Alex said, “We got to go! Cops will be  here soon!”  
I looked at them and then at the car, and then at them again and continued on  my way. Soon, I heard curses and the sound of doors shutting, and an engine starting  and disappearing into the blackness.  
I arrived at the sedan. The driver’s side window was smashed, the edges of the  glass broken, and the pebbling remains sat like cereal in a pool of blood. There was a  man in the passenger seat. The air bag was deflated and covered his lap. His head  resting on the wheel. I grabbed his arm. “C’mon,” I said to him and myself, as I  unbuckled the seat belt and dragged him onto the pavement.  
He was thin, had sandy hair, and couldn’t have been older than my own father.  “C’mon,” I kept on whispering to him, but I knew I was the only one who could hear it. He was breathing but barely and in choppy sequences. I tried to thrust my palms onto  his chest and breathe into his mouth like they did in the movies but it didn’t help. I  found myself choking on my own erratic breathes as well. 
I kept at this. Soon, I could hear the distant sounds of sirens in the  merciless sky, but I knew it would be too late. I held the man in my arms as we sat on  the edge of the world, apologizing, until it really was.


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