My first boyfriend’s name was Kyle. He had been two months younger than me, with burly muscles and a killer body. I still remembered the jealousy on my friends’ faces when I introduced him. He hadn’t attended our school, but we were in the same district.
“You’re so lucky, Rose. Only you could have gotten a guy like him,” A friend of mine commented. It had been the summer before freshman year. “He’s so big and he looks like he could crush you…” She laughed. “But he looks
like a nice guy, like he takes care of you.”
And he did, to a certain extent. My taste in guys hadn’t wavered very far from the personality that was Kyle’s… That is, when I first met him. It turned out he hadn’t been very honest with me when we’d first met. He had already had a girlfriend, though he claimed they had been on a ‘break’.
A break that broke my heart.
But first heartaches are supposed to be hard, and they’re supposed to help anyone grow a thicker skin so that, no matter what happens, they’ll be able to withstand anything coming they’re way.
Kyle helped me in so many ways. Without him, I probably would have been ignorant to guys like him, and I may never have met David. I just wished it didn’t have to be this way… I just wished I could have had more time with the perfect guy… I just wished I had been prepared for this kind of heartbreak.
Along the road back to the school, after spending the night at the beach, the three of us entered a rundown house. It had probably already been empty before we went in. That was what Natalya claimed when David had opposed to the idea of going into any building.
“We’ll be fine,” Natalya said with vehemence. “We’re in a crisis, if you haven’t noticed, and I think a few handy tools will do us some good.”
“A few handy tools like what?” David nearly shouted.
I was almost surprised. What happened to the David who wanted to go to the school, and the David who agreed to spend a night on the beach, and the David I knew?
Natalya shrugged, oblivious to his tone. “Like a knife, or a flashlight, or… or I don’t know! But we need stuff! We need knew clothes and blankets and… just survival things! You’re the Boy Scout! I’m just trying to survive. We have to survive, you know? We’re here for a reason.”
“Just cut that crap, will you?”
I would have pursed my lips. They were arguing. I felt a bit frustrated at having to hear them, but a sense of hope was bubbling up in the center of my soul. It was a bit exhilarating. Something was coming. Something was going to happen. Maybe I still had a chance.
Natalya found a tattered bag under a few piles of wood. She hefted it over a shoulder and, with one glare at David, trotted into another room in search of her survival items. She really was determined to go through with this.
David growled in exasperation and hit the wall beside him with a fist. Pieces of debris sprinkled down on him playfully.
“Careful, David,” I said. “If this house falls down, you’ll never find my body. You have to go back to the school if you’re to do that, and you can’t if you kill yourself and Natalya.”
He banged his fist again, and I gave up. “I never knew you had anger problems,” I mentioned casually. Again, no answer. “I know it’s early in the morning, but seriously! Be sad instead. Anger won’t get you anywhere.”
I knew from experience. It was Kyle who had taught me that. Anger was like a disease, spreading to the person being faced with it, and on and on until it came back. The cycle was almost never ending.
“Natalya!” David called out. “Come one!” And he hit his fist again.
She stumbled into the main room, a scowl on her face. “Alright, we’re going.” Her bag was irregularly shaped now. She gestured to the door. “Well? Come on. We should get out of here as fast as we can. You nearly brought the roof down.”
“I didn’t do anything!”
Natalya gaped. “The whole house was moving!”
“So? That wasn’t me.”
With a shake of her head, Natalya stomped out of the house, David following close behind. She said, “Who else could have been hitting the walls of the house over and over again if it wasn’t you? Are you telling me ghosts exist?”
I nearly laughed. Ghosts, souls… They were similar.
“I never said anything about ghosts. Maybe there was an earthquake.”
“Oh, please!” Natalya yelled. “What are you trying to prove?”
David shrugged, his eyes bugging wildly. “I don’t know! Why don’t you tell me? I mean, you don’t seem to even notice what’s happened to the world. No. Instead, you want to visit the beach, and you want to enter abandoned houses, and… It’s like you don’t care!”
“These are survival tools, David,” Natalya said sternly. “For our survival. I see what’s happening in the world and I’m trying to make sure we don’t go too. That’s all I’m saying. I do care, okay? I care a lot more than you know. But I can’t forget that we still have a life to live. We can’t forget that there still may be survivors, maybe across the ocean! We can’t live next to our school for the rest of our lives.”
“I don’t believe this,” David said.
“You better! You’re just going to get killed!”
The sun shone bright again, depriving me of any vision for a second. My soul tried to whisk away from the light. I couldn’t close my eyes. It died down after a moment. David was speaking.
“Well, maybe I want to die!”
That had me speechless, and Natalya looked stunned. Her bag hung loosely by a hand, just barely touching the ground. She gulped visibly and turned away, whispering something only I could hear, “You can’t.”
Before I knew it, David was on his way back to the rocks by the school, going back to the simple life he had gotten used to. I guessed what he was feeling, that going to the beach had been a bit too much, had been a bit too soon.
And he was struggling.
“See, Natalya?” I said softly. “He wasn’t ready. You shouldn’t have pushed him so hard.”
She breathed in deeply, her chest rising high. She told me, or herself, “I have to try.”
She moved more slowly, more unsure than she had been the night before. It was as if all personalities had been switched when the sun came up in the morning. I was no longer brooding, but David was coming to realize the disaster. I didn’t know how long the shock would last. Perhaps forever.
It was too long a time.
“Don’t let him die,” I pleaded silently.
Natalya’s face was a mask of determination. She didn’t say a word, but I knew what she was thinking, and I knew she would get around to David. She had a way with words in a different way than I did, and she was much more stubborn.
I was not in the least afraid of David being close to death. It wouldn’t be right.
The remains of the school came into view, which was when Natalya made a sharp turn around the side. Was she not ready either, to find out the truth?
David wasn’t dead. His foot was twitching up and down, drumming against the floor he sat on. He seemed to be pondering something. He kept on staring in the direction of the place where we had met. I wondered if he missed it, if he missed me. He hadn’t expressed his feelings in a while.
Natalya grabbed a piece of dry wood with contemplation. And then she took out a knife. She had nothing else to do.
After a time, I couldn’t even remember how long, David looked at her, working her muscles, making use of her time like he should have been doing. Once he was over the shock, he would be ready to go to the school to find me. That was all I could hold on to.
”What do you think happens when we die?” Natalya finally asked. The breeze, I thought, would have felt very nice. Only the ruffling leaves told me there even was a breeze.
David shrugged, his gaze wandering away from her. “Ask the people who died. I wouldn’t know.”
“Don’t be sore. You can’t just give up.”
“I want to give up. Life was perfect. And then my brother died. And then my parents died. And then my girlfriend died. And then the whole world disappeared, and it’s only you. There’s no once else but you, Natalya, and it’s lonely. Don’t you see how lonely it is?”
I couldn’t hide the disapproval rising in me at the ruthless way David was lashing out at Natalya. It wasn’t her fault she was alive! “And I am too,” I shouted at him. “Natalya’s right. You shouldn’t be sore.”
And then Natalya was irate. She stood up and threw down the knife she’d been using to carve patterns on her piece of wood. “You can’t feel sorry for yourself. You can’t be so dark. Look up! The sun is out. And the air—it’s fresh for the first time in ages! Don’t think you’re in this alone. I lost my best friend. I lost the parents I hadn’t been on good terms with since before I left high school. I never told them I loved them. At least you shared their final moments with them. That’s something to count for, so please, don’t feel sorry for yourself.”
A strong breeze ruffled Natalya’s long hair, and the silence was unnerving. If only I could have filled it. “I’m not dead, you guys,” I kept wanting to correct. “My soul lives, even though I’m not in my body. You don’t even know that Justin perfected his invention.”
“What do you think?” David said finally, his scowl fading.
“About death. What happens to people when they die?”
Natalya thought for only a second before she opened her mouth. “I think they get judged by God, or whoever runs this world. That’s when they find out everything—if they were talked about behind their backs, if their close ones really loved them, if there was anyone who played a part in where they ended up. They find out the chances they missed and the choices that were right. They know everything. Then they’re sent to their place. If they’ve been doing all they thought was right, they go to heaven. If their soul is corrupt, they go to hell.”
“And those in between?”
“I don’t know. Purgatory. Or, even, remain on earth, but as a lost soul.”
“Do you really think that happens? Souls get lost?”
Natalya shrugged. “I won’t know till I die, I guess. But it would make sense. Maybe a soul just needs a sense of peace before he or she is judged by the… almighty one. You know, everything happens for a reason.”
The repeated statement made more sense now.
David kept quiet and closed his eyes. There were tears ready to escape the corners of his eyes. “I hope Rose knows then,” He said. “I hope she’s seen her whole life before her eyes, and I hope she was told that I love her, and I always will, and I look forward to the day when we’re reunited. I hope.”
“You’re not hopeless,” Natalya told him, placing a hand on his shoulder.
But I was.
For the first time, I faced the possibility that I was dead.