I have been writing stories for as long as I can remember. I don’t know why I felt the need to put this particular story up, maybe I was nostalgic. I wrote this in my Fiction Writing class in 2007. It was the first semester after my friends graduated. My first semester after I was supposed to graduate. (I’m a Hot Mess, remember?) Though the story centers around a group of friends who are tragically brought back together after the suicide, it’s really about me. About my fear of losing a friend, about the abandonment I felt being the only one who was still around. I missed my friends and was angry at everything. This was the result.
My professor had several critiques, mostly that there was too much dialogue, not enough action or description, and I needed more verbs. I’ve made some changes, but mostly I like it as it is. It’s raw, and personal. For me, it’s a diary. So, here it is, the first short story I ever wrote to completion for critique. Be nice.
They were all silent on the ride to April’s apartment. It was like they didn’t know each other; there was so much tension in the air that they didn’t know what to do with. Becky sat shotgun and kept changing the radio, she was looking for something new, something worth hearing, but there was nothing to be found. Ashley was staring out the window with her head on the glass, silent tears still streaming down her face. Sara sat behind April, and every so often April would feel her head gently push on the back of her seat as Sara leaned forward to hold her head in her hands. April, however, sat still; only moving in the ways that driving required of her, she barely seemed to blink.
April’s apartment was small, so the noise of the Eagles game on the television filled every room of it. Becky came out from the kitchen with a bag of corn chips in her hand. “McNabb’s a bum. He’s scared since his knee injury last year.” She said, sitting next to April on the couch and opening the bag of chips. The scent of fried corn and salt wafted from the bag and lingered in the air around them, only to be dismissed by the sudden distraction of the bathroom door slamming shut as Sara left it and went into the apartment’s one bedroom. She was carrying her black suit on a hanger and had changed into jeans. When she entered the bedroom she slammed that door too.
The room was cramped, with a full sized bed and dresser, and a desk covered in papers with various tints of writing on them. Sara hung her suit in the closet, next to April’s clothes. She remembered helping April move in before they graduated. It was two weeks before she left for Carolina and the last time Sara had seen Nikki. She sat on the edge of April’s bed and forced the memories from her mind before going out into the living room with the rest of them.
Becky and April were in a discussion about the value of some football player. It seemed that April was in his defense. “Come on, this is his first game back after months of recovery. It’s only opening day, give him a chance, he’ll get back in the swing of things.” She said.
“And if he doesn’t?” Becky countered. “Where will we be then?”
“We’ve still got Garcia. He almost took the team to the super bowl when McNabb got injured.”
“Why are you watching football today?” Sara asked, cutting April off.
“Because it’s Sunday.” Becky replied behind a mouthful of corn chips.
“I know why you’re watching it Beck, you’re a lesbian. I was asking the other two.”
“I like the noise.” Ashley said with a weak voice through her knees that she was hugging to her chest and burying her face into.
“You always had a flair for the dramatic.” Sara said with a snap in her voice and a roll in her eyes.
“It’s the Eagles.” April said, pointing to the television and then to the jersey she was wearing. She said this as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, and to her it was, but she hadn’t even taken the time to look away from the television to respond to Sara.
Sara walked to the television and turned it off like a scorned housewife. Wails of protest rang up from April and Becky. “What difference does it make? They’re losing anyhow.” Sara said.
“Hey, now you’re crossing lines.” Becky said.
“Yeah, no need to get personal.” April added, an air of insult in her tone.
“This is serious guys, we need to talk about this.” Sara said, still standing in front of the television. She couldn’t believe they were acting like this, like they didn’t know what had just happened at the church. “She was our friend, and we need to work on coping with this loss.”
“What are you talking about? We’re Eagles fans.” Becky said, gesturing to the television with a corn chip. “If there’s one thing we can cope with, it’s loss.” April laughed in agreement with Becky and put her hand up for a high five, but Sara’s hands flew dangerously to her hips, so she dropped it quickly.
“Hunh.” April grunted. “Too soon?” Becky shrugged and they both looked at Sara, who didn’t flinch. “Oh, come on Sara, even Ashley laughed at that. You need to lighten up.” April shook her head, and her eyes darted around the couch looking for the remote.
“Lighten up?” Sara’s voice was getting higher and louder. “Lighten up? Our friend is dead. Gone. And in the ground and she’s never coming back.”
“We know Sara, you don’t have to yell at us.” Becky said, trying to calm her down, but her tone was evasive.
“But you’re all just sitting here, watching football and acting like Nikki is going to walk in carrying a pizza at any moment.” Sara said, a plead hiding behind her words.
“I’m not,” April said lightly. “I’m expecting her to walk in and ask me to order a pizza because she didn’t have a job for a long time.” The words sounded cold, against April’s attempts to make them sound casual. She and Nikki were the only ones who didn’t move away from Virginia after graduation, so it was April who had been there for her through everything.
“Well, she’s not.” Sara snapped. “She’s not going to walk in through any door. She’s going to stay where she is and never move of her own free will every again, and you need to come to terms with that.” Her angry words were directed at April who was the only one of the four not to cry at any point in the day.
“I did come to terms with her death. I came to terms with it a long time ago, while you were still in Carolina.” April said, the look in her eyes was menacing. There was a heat in her chest and face and it was hard to tell if she was blushing or just furious. It had come from no where, the anger sprung like a snake and shook her. She felt uncomfortable with it.
“Don’t you think Nikki would want us not to get all stuck on her death?” Ashley asked cautiously, desperate to prevent a fight, but her voice was quiet, weak. She practically choked on the words. She never liked to be close to a fight, and she had never seen April or Sara so angry, especially not at each other. She was nervous of the implications a fight right now would have on them all.
“No, you’re wrong.” Sara said, turning to Ashley. “Nikki wasn’t like that. “She would want us to wallow in our pain.” Sara was walking toward them with emphasis, leaning forward with the thrust of her words.
“Wallowing is exactly what Nikki did and that is the reason we’re in the mess we’re in now.” April’s words were harsh. Her anger kept rising, regardless of her attempts to control it. It was like there was no strength left in her to control her anger, no matter where it directed itself.
“Fine.” Sara said, taking a seat on a chair caddy corner to the couch with exhaustion hinting under her tone. “I guess wallow isn’t the right word. But, we all know Nikki would want our attention to be on her right now. She was always like that, it was like she needed our attention. I think we should give it to her now.”
“Don’t you think it’s a little too late to be concerned about Nicole’s needs?” April crossed her legs, trying to loosen the strain in her chest.
“Come on April, why do you insist on acting like nothing’s happened? Sara said, annoyed. Becky mumbled something about needing a glass of water and walked into the bedroom.
“I’m not; I’m acting like I saw this coming. Like I had the unfortunate blessing of coming to terms with the imminent a long time ago. Trust me, it wasn’t easy and I’ve suffered.” April’s words were so full of anger it was almost possible to hear them shaking from it.
“No one’s saying you haven’t April, we know everything you did for Nicole.” Ashley said putting her hand on April’s arm. The muscles in her forearm were tense and hard, and every few seconds a tremor would run through them. During the fight Ashley’s head would bounce from one of her friends to the other like she was at a tennis match. “Please stop fighting,” she pleaded to them, “we’ve all lost so much already.” But her quiet words were drowned out by Sara.
“I’m not trying to make you angry, it’s just that I think you’re blaming yourself an because of that you’re in denial about Nikki’s death.” Sara’s words were evasive and she turned her head away from April as she spoke.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” April asked, standing up with her fists clenched. “I’m not taking it well? Me?” her voice was getting louder as if on it’s own agenda. “Have you considered that maybe it’s you with the guilty conscience?” Sara’s face dropped when April said this, and in her anger, April felt inspired by her surprise. “Maybe you’re harping on me because you want someone to feel as shitty as you do. You feel guilty because you left. You hate the fact that you didn’t do anything to help her. You were never there for her, not once after you moved.” In desperation to escape their grasp the words spat from April’s mouth.
“I had a lot to worry about with work.” Sara’s voice was high pitched and matched April’s angry tone for the first time.
“Everyone left, except Nikki and I, and I did the best I could. Do you have any idea how hard it is to hold yourself up and have someone else need you to hold them up too? Have you ever gotten phone calls in the middle of the night because Nikki thought she couldn’t take it anymore? Have you ever listened to even one pained word, much less thousands? I’ve been doing it for over a year.”
“I had to move,” Sara’s voice was desperate for understanding, “it was time for me to start my adult life.”
“What adult life?” April’s arms were waving wildly in frustration with no direction. “You moved back in with your parents and you’re a part-time clerk at a movie theater.”
“There’s more to my life than that!” Sara was crying, but the tears seemed genuine now. Not like earlier, at the funeral, when her face was so severe that even her tears looked harsh.
“You’re right.” April said, quieter, but with the anger still bouncing the words through her teeth, “You were obviously too busy to pick up the phone and call your friend who needed you, even when I called you and begged you to call her and let her know you care. I told you how bad off she was and how overwhelmed I was and all I asked was that you call her. But, did you do that? Did you call even once?”
“I didn’t realize how serious the situation was, it’s not like I was ignoring her. Or you for that matter.” Sara’s voice was quiet and she hung her head slightly with the weight of the tears still streaming down her face.
“It’s not like anyone thinks this is your fault.” Ashley said, her words directed to both her friends in an attempt to comfort Sara and clam April.
“This is no one’s fault.” April said, still shaking, but not as much from anger now, “At least it’s not our fault.” Becky came back out of the bedroom now that the tones had turned more civil and stood on the outskirts of the conversation. “Nicole is the only one to blame. She was too weak to stand on her own, and try as we might, her family and friends weren’t enough for her to live for. She was selfish her entire life and her death was the ultimate selfish end to an ultimately selfish life. There was nothing I could do to stop it, no matter how hard we may have tried. April’s voice sounded distant, even to her. There was a sting behind her eyes, but she held onto it. It moved to her throat and when she opened her mouth to speak she choked slightly on it before she could sit down and say, “There. We talked about it. Now, do you mind if I turn the game back on?”