Depending on who—sorry, whom—you ask, I may have killed my three best friends.
If you ask Blake Lloyd’s grandma, Nana Betsy, I think she’d say no. That’s because when she first saw me earlier today, she grabbed me in a huge, tearful hug and whispered in my ear: “You are not responsible for this, Carver Briggs. God knows it and so do I.” And Nana Betsy tends to say what she thinks. So there’s that.
If you ask Eli Bauer’s parents, Dr. Pierce Bauer and Dr. Melissa Rubin-Bauer, I expect they’d say maybe. When I saw them today, they each looked me in the eyes and shook my hand. In their faces, I saw more bereavement than anger. I sensed their desolation in the weakness of their handshakes. And I’m guessing part of their fatigue was over whether to hold me accountable in some way for their loss. So they go down as a maybe. Their daughter, Adair? Eli’s twin? We used to be friends. Not like Eli and I were, but friends. I’d say she’s a “definitely” from the way she glowers at me as if she wishes I’d been in the car too. She was doing just that a few minutes ago, while talking with some of our classmates attending the funeral.
Then there’s Judge Frederick Douglass Edwards and his ex-wife, Cynthia Edwards. If you ask them if I killed their son, Thurgood Marshall “Mars” Edwards, I expect you’d hear a firm “probably.” When I saw Judge Edwards today, he towered over me, immaculately dressed as always. Neither of us spoke for a while. The air between us felt hard and rough as stone. “It’s good to see you, sir,” I said finally, and extended my sweating hand.
“None of this is good,” he said in his kingly voice, jaw muscles clenching, looking above me. Beyond me. As though he thought if he could persuade himself of my insignificance, he could persuade himself that I had nothing to do with his son’s death. He shook my hand like it was both his duty and his only way of hurting me.
Then there’s me. I would tell you that I definitely killed my three best friends.
Not on purpose. I’m pretty sure no one thinks I did it on purpose; that I slipped under their car in the dead of night and severed the brake lines. No, here’s the cruel irony for the writer I am: I wrote them out of existence. Where are you guys? Text me back. Not a particularly good or creative text message. But they found Mars’s phone (Mars was driving) with a half-composed text responding to me, just as I requested. It looks like that was what he was working on when he slammed into the rear of a stopped semi on the highway at almost seventy miles per hour. The car went under the trailer, shearing off the top.
Am I certain that it was my text message that set into motion the chain of events that culminated in my friends’ deaths? No. But I’m sure enough.
I’m numb. Blank. Not yet in the throes of the blazing, ringing pain I’m certain waits for me in the unrolling days ahead. It’s like once when I was chopping onions to help my mom in the kitchen. The knife slipped and I sliced open my hand. There was this pause in my brain as if my body needed to figure out it had been cut. I knew two things right then: (1) I felt only a quick strike and a dull throbbing. But the pain was coming. Oh, was it coming. And (2) I knew that in a second or two, I was about to start raining blood all over my mom’s favorite bamboo cutting board (yes, people can form deep emotional attachments to cutting boards; no, I don’t get it so don’t ask).
So I sit at Blake Lloyd’s funeral and wait for the pain. I wait to start bleeding all over everything.
Copyright © 2017 by Jeff Zentner. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.