Mountain Dew | Teen Ink

Mountain Dew

April 14, 2015
By electroclysmic, Three Rivers, Michigan
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electroclysmic, Three Rivers, Michigan
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Favorite Quote:
Hatred and sorrow are power. They are yours to control. All you have to do is turn them into strength, and use that strength to move forward.

Author's note:

This piece started as an art project. My teacher had us draw something from a list of prompts. Things like "draw loopy doodles"  and "draw an abstract animal". I had done several of them, so I decided to do the one that included drawing the first drink I had that day. And that was a 20oz bottle of Mountain Dew. Little did I know, she asked us to write a short story based off of the drawing. I was confused. Write a short story about Mountain Dew? I sat down with my pencil and paper and started on an idea. I had no idea I would take it this far. But now, 23 pages later, I have one of my favorite pieces. I hope you all will enjoy it as much as I do. Thank you for reading!

When it really came down to it, our entire friendship centered around Mountain Dew. Not so much as it was the only reason we were friends, but that everything began with it. So many more factors played into what we were, but such a materialistic thing became our sort of logo or mascot in a way. It was second grade, well the summer of second grade. I was an adorable child with thick blonde pigtails that bounced when I ran and grass stained overalls from my days out with the animals. And most importantly, a curiosity that led me out into the woods that surrounded my farm. There was never anything very interesting about them to me, until one day when the towering oaks seemed to mask something. They were a covert ensemble of trees, with thick dark green leaves that gathered in bunches at the tops. I pushed through the dense layer of brush that coated the tree trunks, trying not to get my pant legs caught on the thorns and sweetgum seeds that were hidden within. When I had finally broken through, I looked around at a darkened clearing. Soft bunches of grass grew around my feet, empty from trees. The solid circle of trees had blocked the view of the inner forest. But through my amazement, my eyes became directed at a figure ahead of me. It was a small child with his back turned to me. He was hunched over something that he held in his lap.

    At that age, I walked rather heavy. My knobby knees and ankles added a pack of pounds to my gait, and it was impossible to keep quiet around anyone. I was sure the boy could hear me. However, I yelled out to him. It was a simple “Hey” but my squeaky voice and confident advance made it sound much less defensive and more stupid. The boy turned his head to look at me, waving shyly and smiling awkwardly. He descended from the branch in a polite manner, getting close enough that I could clearly make out the features of his face. His face was very angular, with a pointed chin, square jaw and a refined nose. Jet black hair grew over his eyes, creating a shade on the icy blue orbs that hid below. His limbs were thin, showing prominent bones underneath the skin. As was his chest and abdomen. Staying a good distance away, he was completely silent. He held a book close to his side, fingers grasped on the worn cover. As a seven year old, I didn’t really know what to say. He was so unlike anyone I had ever met. So quiet and so shy. I was used to perky and sociable people like my parents and the other kids I played with at school. There was no innuendo, just my dumb question. “Do you want some Mountain Dew?” I reached into the pocket of my overalls to reveal the two cans I had stolen from my dad’s 24 pack. The boy seemed taken back by my offering. I guess a weird girl who just showed up in the woods offering beverages out of her pockets was a little strange. I reached out a little further toward him until he took one of the cans out of my left hand.

    I quickly lifted the tab on mine, listening for the hiss of the carbonation. I took a large gulp, tasting the sweet soda slip down my throat. The boy just stared at his can, eyes cautious, like something was going to jump out and bite him. I reassured him jokingly, “Go ahead, I didn’t poison it or nothin’.” He smiled gently and took a sip, then another. Quickly, he sucked down another drink before bringing the can down from his mouth. “Good, ain’t it?”, I asked, laughing at his actions. He nodded silently. Time passed slowly, the golden sun slipping away into the horizon. I decided to ask his name. It really was the first time I heard him speak. His voice was a beautiful tenor, with a flow like caramel. It really was developed for someone so young. “Aiden”, he said plainly. I answered in a perky tone, “Well, I’m Caroline but everyone calls me Carrie, so I guess you can too.” Abruptly, I put my hand out for him to shake. He took the offer gently, grasping my hand lightly. He let it go almost as fast as he took it. We talked a while longer, his voice becoming less tense as he became comfortable around me.
“So, how old are you?”, I asked.
“Eight, you?”
“Seven and a half.”
    Our conversation went on the same way, asking simple questions of each other until I knew his favorite ice cream flavor and he knew my mother’s first name. Eventually, the sun hid under the horizon, casting shadow over the land. My father’s deep voice could be heard through the tree cover, gentle and welcoming, “Carrie, come on. It’s getting dark.” I got up and bid goodbye to Aiden, leaving him next to the tree in the middle of the woods. As I ran past the cows and horses, I knew I had found a new friend that would double as a compelling enigma.

It became a pattern. Everyday, I would venture out past the cow lot and into the deep woods. Aiden would be sitting in the crook of the tallest tree, reading a book, or sketching away at a drawing. In my pockets were always two cans of Mountain Dew. We talked for hours on end, really about anything. The woods became our playground; we would play tag and hide and seek and on occasion, the imagination games that every child grew up with. We climbed the winding branches together, racing toward the top. And every day when the sun sank, my dad would call me inside. The empty Mountain Dew cans were placed in rows around the trunk of the tree, adding a foot or two to the circumference. Each month, when the cans had piled up, we would gather them in grocery store bags and carry them to the convenience store on West Avenue, using all the deposit money for candy. Every day it was the same way. Every day we got closer and closer. And every day, for nine years, we followed the same pattern. Until one day, Aiden wasn’t in the center of the woods.

    We were older and more mature. Our playing and climbing faded into just talking and the deposit money was put into savings accounts. We had more responsibilities, and we got busier. And the busier we got, the more often we didn’t meet each other in the woods. But every time, there was a warning; a call or a text message to let each other know. That day there was no call, no text, and no Aiden. I wasn’t worried at first. I called through the woods several times, playfully. “Come on, Aiden. This isn’t funny anymore”, I yelled. He probably was just playing a trick on me or forgot to call. “Aiden. I know what you’re doing. Come on.” There was no answer. I decided to wait a little longer before I got myself all upset. With fumbling fingers, I dialed his phone. There were four long rings before I got the voice message. I tapped out a text message and sent it. There was not reply. As time progressed, I became worried. My calls became more desperate and urgent. I started to run through the woods, pushing through brush and greenery, calling his name at uneven intervals. When I realized I wasn’t making any success, I called one last time, “Aiden.” I was silent, getting ready to go back to my home when I heard the voice. It was soft and very close to me. Muffled and broken, the voice only spoke one word, “Caroline.” Turning swiftly, I faced the bush that the noise had enacted from. With force, I pushed aside the dark leaves and branches to reveal a bloodied body behind. Aiden. I rushed to his side, skidding down on my knees by my best friend. His nose was crooked off to one side, the bridge clearly more visible than normal. Thick streams of crimson dripped from his nostrils, collecting at his cracked and swollen lips. Tears were dried on his cheeks, giving a glisten to his beaten face. A dark bruise surrounded his left eye, which was swollen shut and crusted with dried blood. I looked down to his body, assessing the damage done. He was shirtless, exposing a bruise that covered the entire right side of his ribcage and a razor thin cut that traced from his collarbone to his stomach. Blood was flowing profusely from the wound. Acting on instinct, I ripped off my black jacket and pressed it to his bleeding chest. Leaning on all my weight, I pushed on the wound, trying to stop the continuous blood flow. Aiden was fading in and out of consciousness, his crystal blue eyes rolling back into his head. I stopped pressing on his chest and gripped his face, “Aiden, Aiden!” He diverted his eyes to me and spoke, choked by his tears, “Am I going to die?” As he choked out his last word, he fell faint in my arms.

    As a farmer’s daughter, I had a little built up muscle from carrying hay and cleaning stables. But when it came to lifting 130 pound Aiden without touching his numerous cuts and bruises, I became useless. It wasn’t an option to leave him there, barely breathing and unresponsive. Repetitively, I tried to wake him; shaking his shoulders or gently patting his face, but nothing seemed to break him back into consciousness. Tears were spilling down my cheeks as I tried to come up with a plan. Unable to lift him, I pulled Aiden’s limp body through the bushes into the clearing. From there, I could ease him closer and closer to the line of trees. With one final heave, I got him through the immense oaks and rested him on the grass. Apparently the jolting had broken his unconsciousness, as his eyes opened lazily and the tears recollected at his eyes. He coughed, his lungs expanding against his bruised side and he cried out in pain. “Aiden, you are going to be okay. Relax. It’s all going to be okay”, I said. He shook his head, “It’s never okay.”

    Aiden continued to cough and cry, eventually spurting blood out of his mouth as he did so. I tried to comfort him and stop the bleeding as I dialed on my phone. I considered contacting my parents first, but at the sight of Aiden, I decided to go directly to 911. The operator had a calm and relaxed voice as I tried to explain the situation. All throughout the call, Aiden spoke loudly in the background. He screamed out phrases of terror, “He’ll find out! He doesn’t want them to know!” And later, “Please don’t tell them. Please!” I tried to ignore the saddening cries and answer the questions of the operator. The woman assured me that an ambulance was on its way and that I should not move Aiden from where he was lying. I thanked her and hung up, returning to comfort Aiden. He began to whimper sporadically, looking straight into my eyes and struggling to keep focus, “It’s all over now. They know. He’s going to find out. He’s going to know.” As he broke down, I tried to ask him who this “he” was, but never got an answer.

Soon, I heard the deafening blare of sirens in the distance and saw a boxy white vehicle on the street across from us. I tried to gather myself before the paramedics got to Aiden’s side. But the more I tried to dry my tears, the more they fell. A tall and rather muscular man with sandy blonde hair rushed across the lawn. Without words, he pulled a stethoscope from his shirt pocket and placed it on Aiden’s bruised chest. He listened for a while and murmured to himself, “Heart is slowing.” He diverted large brown eyes to me,
“How much blood has he lost?”
“I just found him awhile ago. Since then, I have tried to stop what was bleeding. I don’t know how long he had been sitting before I found him.”
“Has he lost consciousness?”
“Several times.”
“Are you of relation?”
“Just friends.”
“Alright, ma’am. It’s going to be okay.”

    He beckoned for his fellow paramedics to drive the ambulance onto the grassy pasture. The roar of the engine was loud as the vehicle gathered the strength to push up the hill. When the red and white van had made it to us, two paramedics jumped out of the back with a stretcher. With teamwork, they were able to hoist Aiden onto the bed. He flailed at the men, trying unsuccessfully to push them away. The blonde held down his arm and tried to reassure him repeatedly. A thinner, more lanky man approached me and asked if I would like to ride in the ambulance with Aiden. I crawled into the back, taking a seat next to Aiden’s stretcher. He held on to my hand as the doctors took his vitals. He looked to me with his piercing eyes and spoke, “Promise me you won’t tell him.” I nodded as if I understood as one doctor put an oxygen mask over his mouth.

Later that evening, I found myself waiting outside a hospital door. My sneakers made dull taps as I nervously shook my leg. A pain had settled in the pit of my stomach. An uneasiness, sort of like I was about to throw up. Earlier I had called my parents to let them know where I was. I explained the circumstances and persuaded them not to come. I didn’t need a few more sets of eyes to see me like I was. When my worries got the best of me, I decided to take a walk. There was a bathroom and a vending machine in the opposite hall. While I walked, I mustered up some fragmented pieces of hope and finally stopped my tears. When I reached the wooden door, I pushed it open, revealing a porcelain white bathroom with beautiful tiles and large mirrors. I grabbed a piece of brown drying paper and ran it under the sink. I tried to rub off my melting mascara, but was unsuccessful; leaving the room looking more like a raccoon then when I entered. On my last whim, I approached the vending machine. I rummaged through my pockets for some leftover cash. I inserted the money, tapped the Mountain Dew button and the number two. Both green bottles tumbled from the dispenser and I collected them, carrying one by each of my sides as I returned to the room.

    As I sipped my cold soda and stared gravely at the wall, I began to ponder about what Aiden had said. Who was this "he" Aiden was so terrified of? And what had this "he" not wanted anyone to know? And most importantly, what or who had beaten Aiden so destructively? Although Aiden was shy and kept to himself, there was a part of him that was brave and confident. Never had I seen him cower in fear of someone ever before. This "he" was a threat to Aiden in someway, shape or form. Aiden was one to keep secrets. He never mentioned his family, his home, or really any problem that he had. He bottled up everything inside of him, and never broke open that bottle. I became lost in my thoughts as the time passed, waiting for the outcome of one of the worst days of my life.

    Suddenly, the door next to me opened. A doctor, gruff and straightforward, asked if I would like to come inside. “Aiden is stable, but don’t try anything.” I nodded and walked through the large wooden doorway. The doctor let the door shut behind me, leaving Aiden and I alone. Aiden looked up with his right eye, as the left was covered in a white bandage. He had two thin tubes hooked to his arms, one was an IV, and the other a blood transfusion. Despite his condition, he still had some enthusiasm left in his voice.
“Hey”, he smiled.
    I grinned at his jokingly repetitive answer, and he managed a smirk on his cracked lips. I decided to take the moment, “Want some Mountain Dew?” I held the bottle toward him in a fashion similar to a younger me. He laughed as he gripped the icy cold bottle.
“Shh. Don’t tell the nurses.”
He twisted off the lid and took a large drink. He brought the bottle down from his mouth and looked over me.
“You look terrible.”
“And you look so much better.”
    He laughed, but there was an element of fakeness to it. He returned to his serious composure and took a few more sips of the soda before twisting the plastic cap back on. There was a dismal silence between us, lasting quite sometime before either of us spoke. Thoughts swirled my mind incessantly; my own theories and false accusations of what had happened. At first, I wasn’t going to ask. I felt it was too soon, and Aiden needed to heal somewhat before I could inquire about such a traumatic event. But as I tried to piece everything together, there was an empty piece in the puzzle, and I needed to figure that out. Aiden had relaxed and was staring out the window, his breathing slow and melodic. I cleared my throat nervously, gaining Aiden’s attention and spoke.
“What happened, Aiden?”
“Nothing really. I just tripped and fell in the woods. No big deal.”
“Bruises like that aren’t just from falling. I’m not stupid. Tell me what really happened.”
“I already told you. I just tripped. Leave it alone already.”
“No! I’m not going to just leave it alone. This is serious, Aiden. Who did this to you?”
“No one. It isn’t important, okay?”
“No, it’s not ‘okay’. I guess I just don’t understand why you can’t tell me when I really am worried about you!”
“It’s none of your business.”
“If it wasn’t my business, you would still me lying there is the middle of the woods. If it wasn’t my business, you would have died right then and there.”
“Maybe you should have just left me!”
“You know I couldn’t do that.”

    Aiden was quiet then, his eyes staring away from me. I was in disbelief. Aiden and I had never fought, and he had never snapped at me before. Honestly, I was terrified of the things he had said. Not so much as how they were directed, but that he actually meant them. Aiden lifted the bottle and stared at it, sighing incredulously. Quickly, I gathered my courage and declaratively faced him.
“Why can’t you just tell me? I am your best friend. If we can’t trust each other, then how are we supposed to understand each other? Why are you lying to me?”
“I don’t want to talk about it now.”
“And will you tomorrow? How about the next day? You keep so much inside of yourself all the time. You hide everything from me. How am I supposed to know you when you only show me the parts of you that you are proud of? You only show me the goods to your life when I want to know the bads.”
“You are exaggerating.”
    I began to speak, but was cut off by the room door opening. In it stood a young doctor holding a thin piece of computer paper between her slender fingers. Her serious brown eyes pointed at both of us, then diverted to just Aiden. She spoke with a voice that matched her stature, “Your X-Ray results are in. It appears that two of your ribs are broken. They are slightly pushed outward, so we will have to get them in place before they heal. Your nose is broken slightly. It appears the bridge has crooked over. There is a small fracture near your left eye. The crack is small enough that the bones there should heal on their own. We will wrap the ribs into position, and a reduction will be done on the nose. You are scheduled for that tomorrow.”
    Aiden nodded at the doctor’s words and looked to me briefly. He relaxed into the pillows and looked back to the doctor. The woman turned to leave, giving Aiden a heads-up, “I will be back with gauze to wrap your ribcage.”

    Aiden resumed staring at the wall, and we didn’t talk. We barely even looked at each other. The beeping of Aiden’s heart monitor was the only noise preventing desolate silence in the room. Aiden’s head never moved, his eyes never directed at me. There was a whole new aspect to his usual quietness; fear. Later that evening, the doctor returned with a roll of white gauze tp wrap Aiden’s ribs. In order to push the ribs back into place, she had to pull the bandages tight around his chest. All throughout her tugging and tightening, tears were forming at Aiden’s eyes. He cringed his face often and everytime he did there was a part of me, no matter what he had said, that wanted to help him. The doctor pinned off the wraps and left the room. Aiden slowly sank back into his pillows and released a large breath.

    Eventually the silence became irritating and I decided to go home. Although I didn’t want to leave Aiden there with no one, I had to realize that he didn’t want to talk to me and there was no use of me spending my time there. I rose to my feet, grabbing my soda bottle and cell phone. Slowly, I turned toward the door, never making eye contact with Aiden as I did. My left foot crossed the threshold and I stopped; a voice speaking behind me.
I turned around swiftly to face Aiden, keeping a straight face. His eyes were bright against the contrast of his hair. Shadows from the night sky outside the window darkened his face.
“Please don’t leave me here”, he said.
“And why should I stay? You obviously don’t want to tell me anything.”
“I don’t want to be here alone. Please stay with me.”

    I let my tenseness drop and I walked closer to him. There was a metal chair close to the head of his bed. I took a seat in it and took his hand. It was warm and soft; his fingers grasping tight around my palm. He brought his blue eyes into contact with mine. He spoke very seriously in a clear voice, “I didn’t trip in the woods.” I answered in the same pensive manner, “Who did this to you?”
“You cannot tell anyone. For the better sake of you and me, it is so important that you keep this between us.”
“I promise, Aiden.”
There was a long pause before he answered. He breathed in, suppressing his tears and stared back into my eyes. “It was my dad.”

    When the words slipped out of his mouth, my heart fell straight to my stomach and shattered into a million pieces. Aiden never talked about his parents. He never told me their names, what they were like to him, or what happened at his house when we weren’t together in the woods. I had never visited his house or met his family. And over the course of nine years, I never once asked. I had never taken thought to the things that could have been signs all along. The small subtle bruises that were almost always present on his arms. Gashes that appeared on his knees and face. All the things he had covered up, but I noticed. I had never known the true reality of why he always met me in the woods. Everyday he was escaping from the hell of his home. And every time he couldn’t make it, was a time when there was no way for him to escape.

    Hot tears collected at my eyes as anger seasoned my sadness. Words collected at my mouth and burst out like shrapnel.
“Why didn’t you call the police, Aiden? Why are you letting this happen to you? What were you thinking; letting this go on for so long and not even try to get help. You couldn’t even tell me? He could be locked up by now.”
“You don’t understan-.”
“I understand perfectly. What I don’t understand it why you haven’t tried to stop this. I don’t understand why you didn’t tell me sooner. I can’t help someone who isn’t willing to admit the problem. Or even have called the police? You could have died. Do you understand that?”
“You, nor I, nor anyone will ever call the police on this matter. No one will tell anyone. Do you understand?”
“No. I’m afraid I don’t understand your idiodicy right now. This is your life, Aiden. I will call the police if it means ultimately saving it.”
“No! You call the police and I will die! That’s what he said. If I tell anyone, he’ll kill me and my mother.”
“Your mother?”
His voice was starting to crack, “She is as much a victim as I am. Everytime he is drunk or angry, she tries to protect me. She locks me into a room and takes the beating. She tries to call, but is always stopped. He hurts her as much as he hurts me. And the worst part is, she can’t get away, because he will never let her go.”
“Why did he hurt you so bad this time?”
“Because this time, I hit back.”

That night, I never slept. The staff offered blankets and a more comfortable chair, but every time they did, I refused. All night long, I sat rigid, in denial of what had just happened. I didn’t want to believe it. Aiden had fallen asleep long ago, his hand still encompassing mine tightly. I diverted my eyes several times, trying to stop crying. Slowly, I brushed his tear-soaked bangs away from his face, careful to avoid his wrapped eye. And all night, I sat with the boy that had been so brave and had finally let go of it all.

    The next day, Aiden went in for surgery on his nose. The doctors told me that I needed to leave while they operated. The scheduled procedure would only take a half an hour, but his recovery would be about one hour. I took the time to go home and freshen up. My running mascara had dried onto my face and my clothes were either blood soaked or sweaty. I gave my last dollar to the bus operator and took the ten minute bus round back out to the country. When I entered our large ranch house, my mother was already waiting at the doorway. She insisted that I eat something, so I scarfed down the eggs she had made for breakfast. When I finished, I ran upstairs to take a shower, fix my hair, and change my clothes. I grabbed my keys and went out to my car. The sleek red paint caught the rays of the summer sun, making the seats warm and the steering wheel hot. The drive to the hospital wasn’t very long, so I took the extra time to stop at a gas station and buy two bottles of Mountain Dew. When I finally got into the waiting room, I took a seat across from a woman. She was thin in build, with high cheekbones and long black hair that fell straight on her shoulders. She looked to me and I could make out two bright blue eyes in the shadow of her face. Surrounding one side was a bruise, purple and swollen, that took up a large portion of her face. Similar bruises were visible on her forearms. She looked away from me quickly and pulled down her sleeve. I tried to speak to her.
“So, who are you waiting for?”
“My son. He is in surgery right now. You?”
“My friend.”
“What happened?”
“He broke his nose.”
“Hmm. Aiden?”
I paused, questioningly, “Yeah.”
“I’m guessing you are Carrie then.”
“Yup. Caroline Akers.”
“Aiden talks about you all the time. You really are special to him. I’m Isabelle, Aiden’s mother.”
“It’s great to finally meet you.”
“And you too.”

    Isabelle was shifty and flighty, dodging my questions often and not talking much. There was something off about the whole picture. We were sitting in a safe place. There were phones all over. Why couldn’t she call the police here and now? Both she and Aiden were here and there was no way his dad could get to them. It was yet another piece of the puzzle missing.

    The door to the waiting room opened and Aiden’s doctor stood in the doorway. “Aiden is awake now. You can visit him if you would like.” Isabelle stood up first, thanking the doctor and hurrying past her. I followed a short distance behind, carrying the bottles of Mountain Dew in the crook of my arm. Isabelle walked up to her son’s bedside and hugged him, her black hair blending into his perfectly. He hugged back gently, trying not to get his IV tangled. He smiled before declaratively asking her, “What did you write in the paperwork?”
“Just that you tripped on a branch and fell.”
“Good. Thank you.”
She smiled a sad smile and took a seat across from him. There was silence once again in the room. We exchanged glances with each other every once in a while, awkwardly avoiding conversation. I tried to make a good impression on Aiden’s mother; sitting up straight and crossing my legs. Once she swallowed and looked over at Aiden, getting ready to speak.
“When are you coming home?”
“I’m not sure, maybe tomorrow or the next day.”
“Hmm. Let me know when you find out.”
“How was work?”
“Alright. We got a new stocker and cashier in. Just trying to get them trained.”

    Time passed until footsteps were heard outside the door. They were heavy and quick, making loud taps as they hit the floor. The muscular figure of a man appeared in the window, casting shadows upon the light colored curtains. He made it to the doorway, revealing the details of his appearance. He was drunk in nature, wearing a stained white T-Shirt and jeans. His limbs were long and muscular, a dark tan in color. Brown eyes sat in the middle of his broad face, and thin wisps of brownish hair grew on the sides of his head. Aiden flinched once the man stepped into the room, staring cautiously at him. Without words, the man grabbed Isabelle by the arm and tugged her out the door. I heard arguing as he half-pulled her down the hall.

    I looked to Aiden who had relaxed his shoulders, but continued to stare at the open door. Without looking at me, he murmured, “This is how it always is.” I gave him a sad stare, trying to comfort him. He swallowed hard as he briefly cringed his face. He smiled sympathetically, regarding my stare with playfulness.
“Stop pitying me. I’ll be alright. It has always been this way, I’ve gotten used to it.”
“But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is so much that we can do. That I can do. We can get you out of this.”
“Carrie, I know all you want is to help. I know it hurts you so bad to see me suffer. But it is just how it has to be. Some people are born into a family that loves and supports them. They are born into a life of wealth and prosperity. While others are born into a broken home, a broken future, and an all around broken life. I guess it is just how fate decides. It really is what you deserve. And for me, I deserve this. Fate just decided to let all these things happen to me and there is absolutely no way around it.”
“How can you not see that there is? How can you just sit here thinking there is no future for you? You don’t deserve any of this. How could you even say that?”
“I say it because it is the truth. You wouldn’t understand. Your family loves you and would support you in anyway. They would never hurt you, physically or emotionally. You have never lied. You have never felt envy for someone else. Everything that you could have ever wanted is sitting in the palm of your hand. And I am so happy for you. So happy that you have never had to feel the pain and turmoil I have gone through. You deserve everything, but I am just not that lucky.”

    By then I was crying; thick hot tears that fell like rain onto my lap. I couldn’t come up with the words to make out what I wanted to say. I had been feeling so sorry for myself and how Aiden’s problems were going to affect me. How losing him was going to hurt me, that I never took into consideration how much emotional trauma he was carrying on his shoulders. How much hurt had hit him straight in the heart. He was comforting me when I should be comforting him. He was worried about my needs when I should have been helping him. He was protecting me from the truth when I should have been helping him escape it. I tried to speak, letting all the gasping of my tears take over my voice, “I will help you through this. We will do whatever we can to end this. You need to promise me that you are willing to try. Maybe I am being greedy, but you need to give me that last piece of hope. That is all that I need.” He cleared his throat and held back tears, “I promise.”

The next day, Aiden was cleared from the hospital. His mother called and gave me permission to transport him in my car. She told the people at the hospital that she was too busy to drive over herself, or in other words she couldn’t get out to go get him. The doctors changed Aiden’s wraps and took out his IV, getting him on his feet again. A nurse walked him around the hall, making sure he could support himself. Walking was still painful for him, so he was pushed out in a wheelchair. Aiden’s mom had filled out his discharge form over the phone, and his recovery and care papers were given to me. He was supposed to come over to my house for a little while, or until his mom could properly take care of him without being interrupted. When the nurse got Aiden into the passenger seat of my car, I took my place behind the wheel and drove slowly toward the exit. I waited for traffic and then pulled ahead onto the highway.

    Aiden and I talked quite a bit in the car. We had finally stopped crying and giving dramatic speeches, and talked about the things that made us happy. Our childhood, school, and the woods. He laughed, a bell like tone ringing through the car. The pain and despondency that had once been so prevalent in his eyes was missing and for once, Aiden wasn’t the shy boy that hid everything from me. The trees around us, green with the light of summer, casted a shadow on the car, and everything inside was dark. We were nearly home. Suddenly, the darkness broke into warm light and my family’s pastures came into sight. The cows were lying on the ground, basking in the sun, and the horses chased each other around on the freshly mowed lawn. Aiden looked out the window and smiled, his reflection appearing in the car window.
“That really is beautiful. So relaxed and carefree in a way,” he said.
“I guess it is. I never looked at it that way.”
“Just look at the animals. They are all together. Playing, sleeping, eating. It really isn’t so much as what they are doing, but that they are doing it with each other. Supporting each other like family. Or look at the grass. It thrives because of the rain and the sun. It needs a balance from both to support itself.”

    I pulled my car into the cement driveway, putting it in park and turning off the engine. My dad was just inside the door and quickly opened it when he saw my car. He smiled at me, his thick dirty blonde hair blowing in the wind. Aiden pushed open his door and tried to stand, but quickly sat back into the seat. Dad quickly got to the other side, and helped him back up. It took the both of us, one on each side, to get him up to the porch. He got through the doorway, and into one of the kitchen chairs. I followed and took a seat next to him. He looked around at the spacious room, “You have a really nice house. Big and open, you know?” I agreed and we continued to stare at the sunlit linoleum floor. Soon, my mom entered the kitchen and looked over to Aiden. “Why, hello there.” Aiden swallowed and continued the conversation politely,
“It’s great to meet you, Mrs. Akers.”
“And, I’m so glad to finally meet you. So, how did you manage that?”
“I tripped on my way into the woods. It really was quite the fall.”
“You aren’t kidding. So how long are you staying?”
“A few days, if that’s alright. My mom just needs a little time to get things settled back at my house.”
“Stay as long as you like.” Directed her eyes to all of us, “Well, who’s hungry?”

    Mom laid containers of Chinese takeout on the table; rice, sauce-covered chicken, and crab rangoons. She sat glass plates in front of us and handed everyone a fork. Finally she sat down and we dug in. Aiden ate quite a bit for someone of his thin build, most likely because he didn’t get that much at home. Mom even let him finish the chicken in the container, while Dad got the rice. He took a big drink of the Mountain Dew I gave him and started to stand. He was getting better at doing that on his own. I guess his pain medication was making it a little less painful to move around. With a little assistance he got into the front room, taking a seat on our sectional couch. I sat next to him and grabbed the remote from the coffee stand. I looked over at Aiden and shook the remote a little, “What do you want to watch?”
“I don’t know, something funny.”
    I turned the TV to a sitcom that always ran about that time everyday. It wasn’t really that interesting, but every once in awhile there was a funny comment or gimmick. Aiden wasn’t really into the TV, but continued to stare at various places in my living room. He smiled at a set of family photos, especially at one of seven-year-old me sitting on my dad’s lap. “There really isn't anything like that in my house. There is one picture of mom, dad, and I when I was born, but that is it. I guess the only time we every really treated each other like a family was then.” I checked to make sure my parents weren’t listening in; I had a promise to Aiden. When I was sure they were still cleaning up in the kitchen, I decided to continue his discussion.
“So, why does he do this to you?”
“I guess he really doesn’t know what to do with himself most of the time. Everytime I see him he is long past drunk and when he gets that way, anything can set him off. It seems like mom or I are always in the wrong place at the wrong time, and all that anger is set off on us. He has no actual control over what he does to us.”
“Why does he get himself so drunk all the time?”
“Back when I was about 6, he lost his job at the construction company. His boss was letting people go because the business wasn’t making enough to pay all the workers that they had. So my dad was put on layoff, and then fired. Before that, he was a really caring and wonderful person. He wanted the best for me and we did everything together. He also loved my mother. They went on dates all the time and he surprised her with notes and flowers when she got home from work. But once he lost his job, he took up drinking to make himself feel less horrible about what happened. And he would leave and not return for days, worrying my mother and certainly destroying himself. It wasn’t long after that he started to take out his anger on us.”
“Have you ever tried to make him stop drinking and go out and get a job?”
“Plenty of times, but he never listened. So we just gave up on trying to change it all.”
“So this has gone on for 11 years?”
“I guess it really has.”

    I wanted to cry, but I held it back to show Aiden that I was going to be strong. If I am going to cry, it will be for his sake, and he is not going to see me do it. Soon enough, my parents were done cleaning up the kitchen and headed into the front room with us. My dad was the first to speak to us, addressing Aiden first.
    “Well, son. It’s great to finally meet you, but it probably would have been better had you not be wrapped up head to toe. So, how old are you?”
“17, sir.”
“Woah, you don’t have to be all formal with me. Just call me Mr.Akers. So it has been you who has been helping my daughter drink up all my Mountain Dew, huh?”
“Yeah, I guess we have drank a lot of it.”
“Don’t be so serious. Just a joke.”
    There was a thick feeling of awkwardness between the two. Aiden swallowed, but remained sitting straight up. I didn’t think he was quite ready to trust my dad. My mom was quiet after the encounter, most likely suspicious. Honestly, I didn’t think they could believe that someone as peppy as me could be friends with someone so serious. But underneath that, there was a sense of trust between them. When everyone was getting a little fidgety, especially Aiden, I decided to show him the guest bedroom. His mom had brought a new outfit to the hospital, and the staff there immediately concealed it in a white bag for us to take home. I carried it as I walked behind Aiden. It seemed as though my parents weren’t cautious of me heading into a separate room with a boy, but then again I wasn’t associated with such activities.

    I took Aiden into the spare bedroom that was just left of mine. It was upstairs, so the climbing was a little difficult but Aiden wanted to manage it. We entered the bedroom together; him stopping to stare at the decor my mother and I had worked on a few years prior. The walls were done in a deep, darkish red that seemed to fade into the black wall trim and carpet. The furniture was done in mahogany; the head and footboard of the bed, the chair next to the door, and the dresser. Light poured in from the bay window onto a red window seat that was covered in decorative pillows and blankets. Aiden was in awe of the room, staring at every aspect of the time and work we had done into making the room beautiful. Every room was very decorated, and unique in a way. I put the bag on the dresser, and exited into the bathroom that he and I would share for the time being. I pushed my massive amounts of hair products and body washes away to find the water basin that we rarely used. Warm water filled the cream colored container until it was about halfway, and I added some soap. Grabbing a washcloth, I went back into Aiden’s room. He was sitting on the black comforter of the bed, staring intently at the floor.
“Hey, you gotta clean those cuts and change the bandages,” I said.
“Do you need any help?”
“Maybe with the bandages, but I can get the cleaning done myself.”

    Aiden took the bandage off his chest and began to rub the cloth across the large cut. He winced when the fabric touched, as soap was slightly stinging the wound. Blood began to stain the cloth and I quickly got another with just water so he could rinse out the soap. The other cuts and gashes were much easier to clean and Aiden didn’t have much trouble with them. I unwrapped his head and wiped down his left eye, being careful not to push on the bruise. There was a cut near the bone he had broken that was crusted with blood. I asked him if he wanted to take a shower, but he refused and settled for just washing his hair in the bathroom sink. When he returned, I grabbed a roll of gauze from the hospital and began to wrap his chest. Once again, the bandages had to be tight against his broken ribs. I tried to be gentle, but my tugging still caused him pain. I handed him a new shirt, black with a large skull design, and he pulled it over his head and put his arms through the holes. I wrapped his head again and made sure the bandage on his nose was still intact. Silently, I threw him a pair of red skinny jeans and left the room. My room was bordered from his by a mahogany door with brass handles and decorated corners. Once I opened the barrier, I was taken into the light, pastel colored aura of my room. I laid down on the bed and retrieved my laptop from under it. When I opened the computer, the Internet browser was already open, giving me access to the world wide web.

    Soon, the door creaked open and Aiden emerged in the doorway. He had his signature smirk spread across his face. I sat up against the pillows and folded up my laptop. I tapped the other side of the bed, motioning for him to sit down. He bent his knee and eased up next to me. He crossed his hands over his stomach and took a breath. I didn’t know what to say so I stared at his black Converse shoes. His eyes were closed, and I wasn’t sure he was awake. I heard him swallow and without opening his eyes, began to speak.
“I like it here. Your parents are so kind to me even though we just met, and your house is beautiful. And your help is much appreciated.”
“You are free to stay as long as you like. You know, if you want to.”
“There’s the thing; I can’t stay as long as I like. I don’t think your parents would appreciate me staying here forever.”
    I laughed and leaned a little closer, letting my head rest on his shoulder. It was silent for awhile and eventually I closed my eyes too. His head rested on mine gently and it was comfortable and sirene. The sunlight fell on us, warm and restful, and I became drowsy. Aiden’s breathing was thick with slumber; creating a rhythm that put me to sleep right there.

    I wasn’t sure how long we had stayed there, happy and finally relaxed. I opened my eyes to find a still-sleeping Aiden with his head still gently leaning on mine. The window’s light was gone and the night wind blew the silk curtains prudently. The only luminance in the room was the string of Christmas lights I had hung on one of the walls. I nudged Aiden with my foot and he flicked open his blue eyes. They seemed to glow in comparison to the dark room. He cleared his throat and shook his hair until it was in place. I grabbed the alarm clock that sat by my bed and read it.
“It’s nine o’clock.”
“Yea. I wonder why my parents didn’t come to check on us.”
“Let’s go see.”

    I slid off the bed, landing on the carpet with a thud. Aiden followed me from the other side and we walked slowly to the loft-like hallway that split into two curved staircases at each side. The guardrails were a pearly white with pine decorations, complementing the cream colored carpet of the stairs. We both took the right staircase, Aiden right behind me. In front of us was the living room, spacious and warm. My parents sat in the right area of the room, watching the television. My dad was asleep, but my mom was caught up in her show. Aiden and I passed my dad and started toward the kitchen. Suddenly, my mom’s eyes were directed at us. “I hope you don’t mind. Your father and I ate already. You were sleeping and I didn’t want to wake you. There is some spaghetti left in the pan for you guys.”
“Thanks, mom.”
Aiden added, “Thank you, Mrs.Akers.”
I lead Aiden into our rather large kitchen and grabbed two plates from the cupboard, handing him one. Quickly, I scooped one spoonful onto my own plate and handed him the plastic spoon. He did the same and stood silently, watching my actions. I sat my plate on the counter and reached in the fridge for two cans of Mountain Dew. “Here.” I threw one silver can toward him, and he caught it in his free hand.

“Thanks”, he said.
“Do you want to eat on the patio?”
He followed me out onto the dark patio, taking a seat in one of the cushioned chairs. We ate in the dark; not really saying anything, but simply staring out at the mirage of stars surrounding a luminous moon. For almost all night, we remained in the same place. Neither of us descended into sleep, unable to break the silence that spoke so well.

Aiden spent the next few days as a temporary resident of my house. He had warmed up to my dad, but there was still a sense of animosity between them. His wounds were starting to heal and he was finally able to walk without pain. The day he left, his mother called for me to drive him home. She told me that she would be outside waiting for my car. My dad helped Aiden into the car, and he gave me directions. Once I arrived, Isabelle took Aiden’s hand, thanked me, and quickly rushed inside. In the two months that followed, Aiden was hospitalized once more for blood loss from another cut on his neck and a broken arm. And once again, his injury was covered up as an accident in the woods. The doctors were concerned, but never actually ran an investigation. As summer became fall,  Aiden continued to meet me in the woods everyday he could, often sitting at the tree trunk rather than at the top. His health was failing with every beating and it seemed that his recovery was getting harder and harder every time.

That fall, Aiden was absent from school more often than not. And everyday he was gone from school, he wasn’t in the woods. I called often, but he would never tell me why he wasn’t in school. He rushed the end of our conversations and never contacted me on his own. I couldn’t come up with an explanation for why he was avoiding me all the time. I spent hours in the woods, waiting for him, although I knew he wouldn’t come. I couldn’t think of anything but him. Until one rainy night, I saw a figure standing as straight as a statue on the patio. I ran downstairs, ignored my parents inquiry, and ripped open the glass door. There stood Aiden, soaked by rain and shaking slightly. I ran to him and stopped abruptly. Rain-diluted blood ran down his arms. staining the long-sleeve shirt he was wearing. His eyes were covered by dark,  soaked hair. He started to take a step toward me, but seemed too weak to stand. He fell onto my shoulder, wrapping his arms loosely around me. Tears exploded from his eyes as he rested his head on my collarbone. His weight became too much as he hung from my shoulders and he pulled me down to the wood of the patio. And there we sat, arms entangled, letting the rain soak us. Aiden started to speak, but could barely make out words. “I can’t take it anymore,” he said against my shirt. I felt tears slip down my face as I held on to Aiden. And each moment, he was breaking apart into more and more pieces. His hands tangled into my soaking hair and he held even tighter to me. Sobs shook his body as that of a child. “Don’t ever let go. Please. You are all I have anymore,” he spoke close to my ear before choking on his own tears.

I heard the door open behind us and saw my dad in the doorway. I looked to him with thick streams of running mascara on my cheeks. He nodded and approached Aiden’s side, gently prying him off of me. Aiden yelled out once more, as if he was blind as to who was holding him back, “Don’t take her away from me!” My dad tried to calm him, but he continued to fight until I got into his face and looked directly into his ice eyes, “I am right here, Aiden. No one is going to take me away from you. Nobody.” His shoulders relaxed as he grasped my hand with strength. Tears continued to flow profusely from his eyes. My mother rushed out the door with a large towel. She threw it around both our shoulders and rushed us inside. Once our feet hit the carpet, Aiden lost the will to stand. He leaned against the wall and slid to the floor, me taking the same path. From then on, he stared at the space ahead of him without ever diverting his eyes away, his wet skin warm against mine. Eventually, his eyes shut and he fell into slumber. His hand locked around mine and he held on like I was the only rope that was left to grab onto

After that night, something was completely different about Aiden. That vitality that was once so bright inside of him was gone, replaced by a numbness that seemed to radiate throughout his entire body. His smile, as rare as it was, became extinct and the creative soul flew out of him. Emotional trauma, the doctors said. Most likely Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but there were also signs of severe depression and anxiety. Psychologists tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t break open the bottle of secrets to them. He just met with them and tried to make up a story. He took their pills, but nothing changed. It seemed that every day, new trauma was being pressured into him, until one day he would crack. We still met, but it wasn’t the same. Our talks were riddled with silence. But every time I got ready to go back home, he persuaded me to stay longer. He needed me in his life, and no matter where we were taken on the journey, I was sure to be there holding tight to his hand. Aiden attended school regularly, but he stayed home several times. He spent more nights at my house when he couldn’t deal with what was happening at home. My parents tried to help him as much as they could, and were actually the first people to suggest seeing the psychologist. Nevertheless, Aiden started to stop caring. He closed himself up more than he ever had, and I couldn’t seem to break down the wall he was building. Throughout that winter, Aiden’s soul became frozen in it’s beauty, unable to fight off the darkness that was contaminating it piece by piece.

When spring came around, Aiden met me more often in the woods. He was still broken inside and torn apart, but he had put a new persona in front of him; one that smiled and laughed and was full of life. But every now and then, his mask fell down and he lost the courage and false pretenses he carried with him. And each time, he came to me for comfort and strength. During those times, I had to gather my own strength from the compassion that he had for me. Missing school was a rarity in Aiden then, and he was there almost everyday. His core class grades weren’t the best, but he thrived in the art and music courses. Often, he stayed after school for one of the two to clean up or get some extra practice. But mostly, to escape what he would be put through at home.

Students in our school were becoming anxious with the upcoming of one important event; prom. Girls were already buzzing around dress stores and guys were trying to get enough money to buy tickets. I never had any interest in attending; no one had asked me and I honestly didn’t want to spend a night in a giant dress dancing by myself. Most of my friends were in shock that I wasn’t going and at one point, tried to force me into a dress store. However, Aiden never brought up prom. I knew he wasn’t going to go, he didn’t have the money. Also, he never seemed interested in asking anyone. But I was mistaken, for one day in the woods, Aiden was waiting for me at the trunk of the tree. He was holding a letter in his shaking hands. When I approached with our two bottles of Mountain Dew, he smiled and handed the letter to me. I gave him a confused look as I unfolded the thin piece of notebook paper. It had the soft feel of a paper that had been folded and unfolded many times. Aiden looked around nervously and bent and unbent his left leg as he leaned against the tree. On the letter, in a scratchy dark ink read…

Dear Caroline,
I am going to sound so lame for writing this.
I didn’t make it a big deal. No skywriting or fancy flowers.
Please don’t take this the wrong way, I still want to be friends.
Nothing more, definitely nothing less.
And once again, this is going to sound so lame.
No one really asks this of their best friend.
But, why not be the first.
You mean so much to me, and that’s all that matters.
So, would you be willing…
To accompany me to prom?

Aiden looked up at me when I finished reading, his beautiful eyes tinted with hope. I smiled as happy tears, so rare and new, gathered at my eyes. “Of course, Aiden.” I walked up to him and put my arms around his thin shoulders. He hugged back, tightly and with warmth. He whispered in my ear, “Thank you.” Later that evening, we climbed the tree together. Aiden had a book with him, a collection of Shakespeare’s works. He read to me, in his soothing voice until it became dark. Then we parted ways, me across the fields, and him past another group of trees.

My mother took me to a little dress store on the edge of town. It wasn’t much, but it was where she bought her dress when my dad asked her to their high school prom. An elderly couple owned the store, and the woman made every dress she sold. Pinks, purples, greens and blues decorated the walls. Each dress was unique in its own way, decorated with jewels and intricate stitching. I tried on a number of them, modeling each for my mom and the lady who made them. But for every dress, there was something that wasn’t quite right. Either the bust was too large, or the waist too tight, and every once in awhile I came across a dress that was too long. The woman offered to fit the dresses to me, but prom was too soon, and the work would take her too long. We continued to search that day until, behind a pile of dark blue mermaid gowns, was a metallic red ballgown. The waist of the dress was decorated in swirling lines of silver crystals and a black band. The strapless dress fit perfectly to every part of me, tight enough in the waist and small enough in the bust, with a length that fell just at the bottom of my shoes. We paid up front for the dress and the woman stopped us before we left. She took the silver necklace from her neck and fastened it around mine. She smiled at me, “It looks so much better on you.”

Prom came two weeks later. Our high school cafeteria transformed from the bland tables and scuffed up tile floors into a beautiful ballroom complete with gold and silver streamers and metallic confetti. Aiden appeared at my front door rather late in the evening, dressed in a black tuxedo. His white dress shirt stood out from the dark hues of his jacket. A red tie fell straight from the middle of his neck, ending where his jacket was buttoned. He combed his inky black hair away from his glowing eyes and his chin was clean shaven. My parents answered the door, as I was finishing with the final curls in my hair. The brownish-blonde strands fell over my shoulders, the ringlet curls accenting my collarbone. My makeup was done in a natural bronze with black mascara and eye liner. Nude lips finished the look. When I finished getting ready, I headed into the front room to meet Aiden. He had taken a seat next to my dad, his hands crossed nervously over his lap. I gathered my courage in a large breath and stepped into the room. Aiden’s eyes lit up; most likely because I was the one way passage out of a conversation with my dad. He got to his feet and looked over me, “You look amazing.” I looked down at my dress then back up to his eyes, “Thanks. You don’t look too bad yourself.” My eyes shifted to my mom who was sitting excitedly in her chair. When Aiden stood next to me, she jumped up and spoke perkily, “We need pictures!” She grabbed her camera and started ordering us to pose in different places around the house. In each area, she took about five pictures. Her favorite place was the staircase, where my dress flowed over the steps, and Aiden’s dark appearance was a large contrast to the light stairs. After my mom had her fill of how “cute” we were, she let Aiden drive us away in my car. 

When we got to the high school, we parked in between rows of shiny cars. Boys were escorting girls in beautiful dresses toward the door, taking precaution as to not step on the hem of her gown. Aiden opened my door for me and took my hand as we walked inside. We strolled by masses of people, each dancing wildly to the upbeat music or engaging in certain activities in the shade of the crowd. Aiden and I weren’t ones to dance,  but we did participate in a few of the faster songs. After some time, a slow song played. Aiden grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the door. I was confused, and pulled back. He smiled, “Just trust me.” I did, and let him lead me toward his destination. We rushed down the hall, checking for wandering teachers, until we reached the entrance to the courtyard. He pushed open the door and we were bathed in moonlight. The music could still be heard, slightly muffled, but just as beautiful. I looked around in wonder. I had never taken the time to just observe how beautiful the stars were above our school. I stared for a minute before Aiden took his place in front of me and put his hand around my waist. I looked down into his eyes as I placed my hands on his shoulders. He lead and I followed; letting him take me in small circles around the stone platform. Lights were strung in the branches of the trees, creating a warm luminance around us. I let my head fall to Aidens shoulder and he wrapped his arms around me, swaying slightly. Tears started to fall from my eyes, leaving spots on his black suit. My breath came in gasps and sniffles as the tears became more numerous. Aiden pulled back to look into my eyes. “Why are you crying?” His brow was furrowed in a confused and sympathetic way. Words spilled out of my mouth as they spun around my mind, “I don’t want to lose this. I don’t want to let go of who and what we are. These moments are so rare anymore and it seems that every time either of us fall apart, we both crumble. I don’t care what happens to me. But, I am so terrified that every moment of everyday, I am getting closer and closer to the day that I will lose you. I can’t lose you, Aiden. You need to promise me that I will never lose you.” He sighed and looked down at the ground before looking back into my eyes, “I can’t promise you that, Caroline.”

I let my head fall back to his shoulder, wiping my eyes on his jacket. I knew that it was too much to ask of him, knowing his physical and mental problems. He spoke quietly, close to my ear, “You’re not supposed to cry at prom.”
“But what if I have good reason?”
“That’s not a good reason.”
“And why is that?”
“Because there is no way you are losing me tonight, and we need to start living in the moment.”
I sniffled and backed away from Aiden, getting ready to dance again. He ran his thumb under my eye, staining it with black mascara. “I hate seeing your makeup like that. It seems like everytime it runs, it is my fault.”

    Aiden and I left prom early, taking my car back to my family’s driveway. Aiden bid me goodbye and started to hike across the woods over to his house. My mother waited at the door for me and helped me pull my dress through the doorway. She started to ask me how the night was, but all I could think to do in that moment was to run up to my room and cry. I struggled with the dress up the stairs, but eventually found myself face first on the pillows, surrounded by the frills of the dress. My heart fell apart into a thousand pieces on the mattress, scattering around my pounding head. I cried large sobs into my pillow, muffling them as to not concern my family. Soon enough, my mom opened the door to my room. Her face was concerned and she quickly skittered to my side. She was a perky woman with defined curves and big hips. Clumsy and quirky, it pained her to see anyone cry. She sat on the end of my bed and put her hand on my knee. I looked at her and then back at my makeup stained pillow. More tears ran down my face and I tried to speak, “He-he s-a-ai..” I was choked by the phlegm in my throat. My mom put her arm around my shoulder, “Come here. It’s okay.” I put my head on her shoulder, letting my tears soak her frilly shirt. She continued to repeat “Shhh.” Soon enough I fell asleep in her arms, and we remained there all night long.

A few weeks passed by emptily after prom. There was no awkwardness between Aiden and I, but it became less likely to see Aiden much of anywhere. But every once in awhile, I saw the silhouette of a man standing in between the winding trunks of the trees. And every time I saw that man, he seemed to be screaming out to something, someone. The figure would fall to his knees and put his hands in front of his face. He would bend over until his elbows scraped the ground. And there was a part of me that had to know it was Aiden. Aiden; letting himself break apart further and further. Aiden stopped calling me when he canceled. He just didn’t show up. But everyday I ventured out into the woods to look for him. Eventually, he never showed up. And I continued to look. Until the day that my eyes would stop searching.

    It was a cold day. The wind blew across the pastures and the sky was dark. Rain was frequent that day. It was the last day of the school week, Friday, and Aiden was absent. It didn’t surprise me; he was missing days left and right. After school, I gathered my jacket and started to walk across my yard. The wind howled, almost as if it was speaking to me. The horses were crowded together, trying to preserve body heat. The sun was hiding behind a dress of dark clouds. I pushed open the brush that was the doorway to the woods, taking care to step over the branches from dead trees. I was looking at the ground when I found a crumpled piece of notebook paper, decorated with Aiden’s scratchy writing.

Dear Caroline,
I can’t come to say anything but I’m sorry. I’m sorry for hurting you, and making you watch every aspect of my own problems. I’m sorry I told you the truth. I took away your strength; a right that was not mine. I ruined who you were. A perky, beautiful girl with so much kindness in her heart that she could go anywhere. I filled that with the darkness that is my own soul. I am so sorry, Caroline. This is for the best, you need to remember that. I couldn’t deal with it anymore, and this is my only escape. It will hurt you, I know. BUt, it will prevent me from ever taking anything from you. Tell my mother that I love her, and I never meant to hurt her in any way. And please thank your own family for the fraction of good life they gave me. And mostly, I thank you for everything you have put me through. Everything you have said to me, everything you have done to preserve some fragment of my happiness, and thank you most of all for being the most important person in my entire life. I’m so sorry, Caroline. Goodbye.

    My eyes seemed to know exactly where to look. They seemed to move with a sluggish desire, almost without my control. There, in that moment, I fell to my knees. Ahead of me was a figure. Limp and cold with a frozen emotion of pain and bliss. Aiden. Black hair separated from his face to expose the dead glossy eyes that had once been so bright and beautiful. His neck was crooked to the side, broken, revealing the tight noose that encircled his throat. His pale skin was slightly purple from the hanging. I looked up to the tree to see the rope tied around one of the branches. Tears exploded from my eyes and I couldn’t contain myself. My body felt dead, and I couldn’t stand. I started to scream out to the scene ahead of me. At Aiden, myself, even the tree, “You can’t leave me! Why did you leave me?! I need you! I need you.” My screams turned into blubbering and I found myself lying on the muddy woodland floor. Cold sweat formed at my forehead and chills shook me. My dad must have heard me. He rushed away from his work and found me in the woods. His eyes found the body, as mine did. “Oh my God”, were the only words out of his mouth. I rubbed my face with my hands as I lay helpless on the ground. I didn’t care who saw me. I didn’t care what anyone thought of me. My dad pulled out his phone, and dialed 911. He talked with the operator, quietly as if to protect me. I heard him speak out a one word answer to the operator’s question, “Suicide.” It was then that I fell completely apart. I already knew that Aiden had taken his own life, but when that word was repeated, I felt all my defenses slip away. The screaming started again, and my stomach hurt from how hard the sobs shook me. My dad finished his phone call, and bent down to my side. I felt his hands under my knees and shoulders as he lifted me out of the mud. I wrapped my arms loosely around his neck and continued to cry. My dad whispered comforting phrases to me, but as time sped, a headache developed in the back of my head. It pounded all the way to my forehead, and eventually my limbs ached in chorus. When we got to the house, I was carried past the threshold and sat on a kitchen chair. My dad quickly whispered what happened to my mother, who ran to my side to comfort me. My dad exited to speak with the first responders who began to congregate around our yard. I stared out the kitchen window, feeling a numbness that was new to me. Soon, paramedics emerged from the woods pulling a stretcher out with them. A white cloth lay over the body. The minute I saw the limp form of someone who was so special to me, covered by the medical symbol of death, I once again lost my bravado. I sank down to the floor and buried my hands in my hair, breathing in short gasps. The headache got worse and I started to reach for my mother. “Make it stop!”, I screamed out.

    My mother took me into her arms as she did only a few weeks prior. She held me close to her chest and rubbed my back as I butchered words.
“He left me alone, Mama.”
“Shh...It’s going to be okay. Calm down and breathe.”
“It’s not okay! He’s dead and it’s my fault. I could have done so much, but I just sat there like an idiot because of a promise I made.”
“Honey, there is no sense in trying to save someone that has their heart so set on dying.”
“But you would try to save me if the tables were turned. You can’t tell me you wouldn’t stop me.”
“I would. But that is because I know you can realize that you are so fortunate with the life you have. You see, Aiden was unlucky in so many ways. He had so many problems that he couldn’t deal with. We did everything we could to save him, honey. But at the end of the day, it was his decision and he has every right to make it.”
“Mama, he killed himself because he didn’t want to pull me down with him. He didn’t want me to lose sight of who I was because of the fate he has been given. Does he realize that he pulled me straight into the grave with him? He made the worst mistake.”
“Life is precious, but sometimes we have to give up the most precious things in order to find the most divine things. You will get better. You will let him go. But, Aiden wasn’t going to get better. You need to realize that.”
“I will never let him go. He was one of the best memories of my life.”
For the month that followed, I was unable to forget what I had seen. Memories plagued my mind constantly, and I found myself staying up for most of the night often. My parents were worried about me, as I was home sick with headaches and depression for a large quantity of school. I never felt up to doing much of anything. I lost the will to get up in the morning, go to school, or even spend time with my family. Aiden’s memory was the only thing that often crossed my mind and with each moment, I felt my heart drop further and further into my stomach. It wasn’t until his funeral that I finally found the strength to take another step into my future.

We met at a funeral home out in the country. There were very few people there. Aiden hadn’t made many friends and his family wasn’t interested in him. But there in the front seat was Aiden’s mother. She was torn apart by her son’s suicide, but there was a light in the end of the tunnel. When the police investigated Aiden’s home, she broke out the truth. Aiden’s father was put into jail, and Isabelle was living comfortably in a domestic assault center. I wore a black dress that came just above my knees and black flats with silver accents. The necklace the woman at the store gave me lay over my collarbone. A few people hovered around the open coffin, shaking their heads or wiping their eyes. When I approached Aiden’s limp body, I reached in my purse to reveal a bottle of Mountain Dew. I placed it next to his hand and closed his fingers around the lid. I brushed his cheek and began to feel tears slide down my face. I looked down to his neck and saw thick lines of red from the tight ropes. Slowly, with shaking hands, I adjusted the tie that was loosely hung from his neck to hide the marks. I smiled a sad smile as I mouthed out two words, “I promise.” Later into the service, the pastor asked me to speak. I took a breath and gathered my composure, “Aiden was the best thing that ever happened to me. It has been almost ten years since we first met. And in those ten years, I was exposed to both the happiest and darkest periods of my life. I remember drinking Mountain Dew with Aiden in the woods between our houses and talking about anything. I remember joking around and going to prom together. And I will always remember the day I called the ambulance for Aiden and spent days with him in the hospital. I remember being the shoulder for him to cry on, and shedding tears of my own while leaning on him. Aiden will always have permanent real estate on my heart and my mind. I will never forget him for all the days I live. He was my best friend, and I know he is looking down on me, telling me that I need to let him go and move on.”

Later that evening, the funeral procession moved to the cemetery. Aiden was buried next to his grandparents. My parents stayed with me for about an hour after the ceremony. I stared into the sky and gave my final silent compensations to Aiden. I thanked him for everything he did for me and let him know he was my motivation. It took everything inside me to walk to the car. And that night, I climbed the tree in the middle of the woods and relaxed in the crook where Aiden always used to sit. I reread the note he had left me and stared at the stars. And there in the center of the sky shone a star brighter than the others. It seemed to wink at me through the darkness of night; like the bright and blue eyes that were most definitely Aiden’s. I nodded to the blinking star and felt my eyes close.

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