Thanksgiving dinner. School started a couple months ago, and it's alright. I mean, it's better than before, I can guarantee that.
The teachers are complete idiots, basketball is intense, and man, the girls are hot. Well, most of them. There's that weird girl who asked you to the Fifth Grade dance, the one with the red glasses and acne? Remember her? She's got green glasses now, and her acne seems to have repopulated the rest of her face. She looks like she's sunburned half the time.
By the way, did you know your sister's got herself a boyfriend? Don't worry, I checked up on him. In fact, when he came to pick her up for their first date, I drilled him for half an hour, then followed them to their restaurant. I know, it's kind of creepy, but I'm not letting her go off with some boy we've never met! So don't worry, I've got your back on the whole "overprotective brother act".
Look, I'm sorry I haven't written in a while. It's been what, two years? Almost three, I believe. The only reason I even remembered about the absence of letters was when I was clearing out some space in the garage, and found our old box. Remember that old thing? Man, didn't it take us like two months to finally get the hinges on? Then another three to finally carve out the design on the lid. I was going to give it to your dad after you left, but he just sort of awkwardly hugged me and cried onto my shoulder. See what you make me put up with, what with your leaving and all? The least you could have done was leave a note or something. But anyways, guess what I found inside our box? All our "bets". I even found the tally sheet. Apparently, I'm one ahead of you?
I remember our first "bet". I think we were four, and you had just moved in next door. The bet was that I could race down the street faster than you could bike. Or should I say, trike? At the time, it seemed pretty hard, but you have to admit, you looked pretty fierce on your tricycle. With the blue frame, black handle bars, and your red shirt, it wasn't hard to turn you into some sort of superhero. Probably Captain America, or something. I don't remember what superhero I paired you with, but I do remember the sprinkler in your garden, with the green hose. I thought it looked like a snake, spitting out it's venom at me. That's probably why I ran faster than you biked. Yeah, I think that's how our bets began. And they were insane. What with the egging of churches, lighting rubbish, dumping flour everywhere on the street after a rainstorm, I'm surprised that we were never arrested.
Thinking back, all the best moments in my adolescent life were spent on some insane adventure with you, trying to beat you at whatever challenge we were facing that day. There was just that thrill, you know? Like the time we sneaked into the pool at midnight to hold a "moonlight Olympic meet" or the time we raced to see who could paint the most park benches without getting caught. I honestly cannot imagine what life would have been like if I didn't have a buddy to go on all these "quests" with. Right? We called them quests? Man, I'm getting old, I can barely remember.
But guess what I found at the bottom of the box? The old blue envelope. Well, yellowing-blue, more like. I'm amazed it's still holding together, because, man, I thought it was going to turn to dust the moment I touched it. But inside was the "life-death" bet we made. I will come clean and admit that I quite honestly forgot about it. It was after Halloween, freshman year. We went as "miners". Took me forever to get that charcoal out of my ears. I stopped making my own costumes after that year, and just went to the store. No one, even your sister, believed we were miners. Of all the guesses, I think the ashtray was the closest guess, and that's pushing it. We climbed onto your roof with all the candy and some milk. I'm not sure why we got milk, but there were a couple cartons there. The next morning, I nearly vomited into my school bag, it was that bad. But yeah, the bet. It was probably pushing one in the morning, and you turned to me and said: "Where do you think we go after we die?"
I'll admit, I found that kind of weird. You're more of the "how many gummy bears do you think I can fit in my mouth" type of guy, not a deep psychological guy.
I don't remember what I told you, or how you responded, but by the end of the night, we'd come up to the end of the bets, not that we knew at the time. Maybe you did, but I didn't.
I should have seen it coming, man. I should have seen the signs. You stopped answering your phone, you stopped showing up to practice, and I'm pretty sure you stopped sleeping. You started getting these dark eyebags, you lost your appetite, and whenever there was a party, you either left, or didn't show up at all. And even on the night of ... you asked me that question, and I still didn't see it as a cry for help.
Even when we made the bet as to who would live the longest, and you said I'd probably be winning that bet, I still didn't see it.
I watched you grow from that boy on the blue tricycle, to an awkward preteen who led the team to gold, to that teenager on the roof, drinking milk instead of beer, getting high on Mars bars instead of weed. You didn't walk, you biked. You didn't print, you wrote in cursive with a red marker. You didn't go for captain, but everyone followed you anyway. And I think that's how I'll always see you, the boy who went against all odds. And I kind of wish other people would remember you that way as well, instead of the boy who screwed up, the one who gave up, the one who died.
And it's easier than seeing you as the boy who told nobody. I can honestly say that I didn't suspect a single thing. In fact, all I could think about was how much it would suck if you did die, some 80 years later, and left me to rot in some gunky old retirement shelter, with just a head full of memories and an emptiness.
I used to fantasise about winning, you know. At night, instead of dreaming up inglorious battles with dragons, of kissing the cool pale hand of a blushing maiden, of soaring through the air with thick feathers, I would imagine what victory would feel like. I imagined the moment where I won the last bet, of the satisfying feeling that would settle into my chest, like a warm cat at my feet on a cold night.
But honestly, the night you died, sucked, man. So I guess I won. Actually, no. Because the day they told me you died, a part of me died, too.
I watched, you know, from my room, as they carried your body to the ambulance. I watched your mother collapse on the driveway. I watched as your father ran down the street, cursing God, asking where He was when his son died. I watched your sister sit in the kitchen, night after night, alone, with no one to play "horsey" with, to make cookies with, or to help her with her spelling. She still cries. It's been three years, and she still climbs to the treehouse you built her, still sets up a board game on the porch every Sunday, and always sets the table for four, instead of three.
I went back, you know. Your family went to live with your grandma for a while, and I sneaked into your room. It was still the same, your basketball jersey unwashed, biology homework undone, an empty bowl with the ghost cereal sitting on your table.
I almost choked from the toxic fumes emitting from your dirty laundry. The only difference was the carpet. Instead of its usual blue colour, it was a dark purple. A bottle of empty pills lay hidden under your chair, and a stained blade lay tossed to the side, like a long forgotten secret.
Winning sucks. They always make it seem like such a glorious thing, but you know what they never talk about? The losers. How do they feel? What have they lost? Does anyone care? Because I do.
I may have won the bet, but I lost my best bud. And it sucks. And the worst part? I never found out why you decided to end your life. You never came to me, never asked for help, never showed any signs you were struggling. Heck, I thought you were hooked on drugs or something.
You know what? I just want my best friend back. It's been three years man, and it still hurts. Everyday, man. Every time someone rings the bell, calls my name, or tests me, I kind of hope that it's you. And I'm scared I'll never stop expecting for you to come back.
So, I guest that's it then. Wherever you are, whenever you are, I just want you to know that I'm not counting this one. You cheated. You didn't even try, and you know what happens when you cheat. So, I'm declaring a new challenge, but you have to come home first. Please. Just come home.
We miss you, I miss you.
Find out what inspired Grace to write the story here.