Of course, it was her.
She was exactly the person Tim hoped and feared would be standing on his front porch at 11:37 pm. Was she there to build on their previous encounter, not more than an hour ago, or to tell him why it could never happen again? The wooden frame screen door creaked as he opened it. She had to know he was there, and yet Julie continued staring into the grove of trees surrounding Tim’s house. He stood on the threshold, waiting for a glimpse of her gentle brown eyes.
While he anxiously anticipated Julie’s reaction, Tim studied the way her straight brown hair climbed down her back. Though the porch was enclosed, her hair was sopping wet. Had she walked here in the October deluge? Their houses were half a mile apart, and she carried no umbrella. Dressed only in a white tank top, her bare freckled arms shivered in the chilly night air. His eyes dropped further down. She wore a maroon pair of pajama pants. Beneath that, the sight of her bare and muddy feet alarmed him.
“Julie, what’s wrong?” he asked, taking a step toward her.
She turned around. Water stains streaked down her cheeks but not from the rain. Julie stared at Tim, her lips trembling.
“He’s gone,” she said.
And with those words, Tim’s previous, foolish thoughts evaporated.
“He’s gone,” she repeated, her voice cracking. “Not even thirty minutes after you left. He closed his eyes...and he smiled. I swear, he smiled. I don’t understand. I don’t understand.”
Grief choked out her words, like a snake that had encircled her throat and now slithered down her torso, threatening her balance. Tim stepped forward and caught Julie in his arms. His strength was now the only force holding her upright. Julie’s sobbing choked out any more words.
For a second, a silent shame overpowered Tim. Shame that in this moment, he had harbored such selfish thoughts. Julie was not the reason he’d returned from college that weekend. Brandon was. His best friend from high school. His best friend who was terminally ill and clung to life by the thinnest of threads. Tonight, that thread had been severed. Shame turned to anguish, as the torrent overwhelming Julie now hit Tim as well.
Tears flooded down his face as the rain kept time with their grief.
The news of Brandon’s passing rippled out, eliciting a variety of responses. Clarissa, his devoted girlfriend, demanded to see the body, then wept for over an hour at his feet before her mother succeeded in coaxing her to go home. Once she gained a degree of composure over her emotions, Clarissa uploaded a video on YouTube documenting the final moments of Brandon’s life and ensuring that, just as news of his illness had gone viral, so would word of his death.
Brandon’s parents, Michael and Eileen Cobb, were inconsolable as expected. After Brandon’s body was taken away, Eileen lay on the couch where he died, soaking in her son’s scent before it faded forever.
Damien Bronson, another friend of Brandon’s, sat on the floor of his bedroom and lit a joint, pleading that the narcotics would enable him to understand his friend’s death or, at least, take the edge off his pain.
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