May, 1983

I don’t look right in a suit. All that bullshit about dressing up and coming into your own… that’s not what happens when I knot a tie around my neck. Instead I look young and stupid. Scared as shit, too, which is exactly how I feel, how I’ve felt ever since Mama called me with the news. Mama, not Pop. Pop wouldn’t even get on the phone; he couldn’t talk, Mama said. He still can’t, not without tears streaming down his cheeks like the most fearsome kind of storm. I turn my eyes away from his cracked and wrinkled face, his blubbering lips. No one knows where to look, not me, not Mama, not Pop’s friends from the store. We don’t blame him none, though. Everybody loved Billy.

Someone presses my hand and I squeeze back, nodding. I hear nothing but low voices all around and I have to strain to hear what they’re saying. “We’re sorry” mostly, though there’s also an undertone of blame because Ryan was drinking that night. What no one’s pointing out is that everyone was drinking, Billy included. That’s what you do out here, in the middle of bluegrass country. That’s what you do if you’re not working or training horses. That’s what you do when you’re on your way home from your senior Prom, your date riding shotgun and your tux a little too tight and you’re hoping, just hoping that if you can get to the next party you might be able to get her alone long enough to coax that dress up around her thighs and touch the bliss everyone tells you hides between them. You drink, that’s what Ryan was doing and all of them were doing and then that curve, the one Ryan must have taken a thousand times on his way home from Jackson’s Feed and Supply came a little too soon and Billy went airborne.

He’s behind me now, all laid out in that casket and I don’t want to see him because you can tell, when you look close, where his head went through the glass. Everyone keeps talking about what a good job the guy did, how he made Billy look presentable, but they’re lying. His head… you can see where it hit the windshield and I bent down with Mama on one side of me and Pop on the other and I swear I was looking for shards of it, shards of glass, sprinkled through Billy’s hair like some kind of magic dust that could bring him back. But I couldn’t see a thing.

I can feel my cowlick sticking straight up above my ear and I smooth it down with my hand shaking. Sweat threads its way under my collar and I follow the sensation, wanting to close my eyes but knowing that I can’t, I have to be here for Mama, for Pop especially, because Billy was his son, his golden child, and now he’s gone and I’m all Pop has left. That’s some shitty consolation prize, me with my failing grade point average and my piss-poor throwing arm: You throw like a girl, Billy used to say, taunting me, and I’d tackle his ass right to the ground because no one, and certainly not my dipshit kid brother, was going to find me out.

Adam’s here. I knew he’d be here, I knew he’d come tonight and I keep my eyes down even though I’m tracking his progress the way I’d track a mallard through the gray dawn, one eye shut, one eye open wide behind the length of my 12 gauge shotgun. I’m the fallen one, though, and when he gets to me and offers his hand my heart throbs wild and awful beneath my ribs. Hey, he says, and that fast he’s knocking at the front door and Billy’s at work and my parents are gone and there’s something wicked and so pure about the way I lock my bedroom door behind us, the risk I’m taking because Adam and Billy are friends and Adam could fuck me over with one word. Instead he looks at me like I’m the god I want to be, the god I’ve become away from this hick town, away from anyone who knows me, and I show him what to do and he likes it, he comes back for more every goddamn day until I go back to school. He’s seventeen and I’m nineteen and now it’s nine months later and Billy’s dead and Adam’s standing in front of me and I don’t have to look at him to know what I want. My bliss I never could find between a girl’s thighs.

Travis, Adam says. That’s it, just my name and the tears I’ve held back spill onto my cheeks. Hey, he says, his voice so sweet and tender and I give myself his eyes. Blue and fathomless, and for one second, just one second longer I let myself swim.

Then I clear my throat. Thanks, I say, and I turn to the next person in line.

Mama on one side of me, Pop on the other. They’ve already lost one son. They can’t lose another.

Copyright © 2010 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved

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