Finally on to new chapters. Thank you, to all those who put up with the delays and have sent encouraging words.

This is dedicated to J.

Chapter 9

Junior year started with me running myself harder than ever. I missed Mary fiercely. We had talked on the phone several times since she left for college, but I could feel her drifting away. I had known it would happen. She was experiencing new things, meeting new people, taking classes, and I couldn't relate to any of it. I couldn't help but feel like a kid every time we talked. I knew it wasn't her intention, but for the first time in the two years I had known her, I was feeling the age difference.

I was also feeling guilty, but I didn't want to consider the reasons for that. Instead, I did my best impression of a three-ring circus.

I spent more time with Brian and Tom, and tossed even more into my schedule to keep myself distracted, but every time I stopped moving reality would smack me in the face again. Somewhere right below the surface a whole witches brew of crap was percolating and every time I stopped the fear that all of it would catch up to me spurred me on again. Busy was good. Exhaustion was better. Thinking was just plain dangerous.

* * * * * * *

Brian decided that we needed to have a camping trip to say goodbye to summer a few weeks after school began. Brian, Tom and I loaded up my car and headed to our usual spot after school on Friday. The canyon was absolutely amazing. It was one of those perfect autumns when everything comes together to make the leaves look spectacular. Brian and Tom set up camp while I got the campfire and dinner started. The two of them headed down the trail to get water from the river and I worked on dinner. I could hear them laughing and joking their way down the trail. This was the most normal anything had felt since Mary left.

Tom and Brian took a lot longer than necessary to get the water. I figured they were just goofing off by the river. I considered going after them, but I didn't want to leave dinner to burn. About the time I was starting to get worried I saw them coming back down the trail, much more subdued than when they had left.

Hey guys. What happened?” I asked as Tom walked past me without saying a word and set to work filtering the water. “Tom, is everything okay?”

Tom looked up at me just as Brian sat down on the log to my right. His expression was unreadable until he looked over at Brian, then there was a flash of something I couldn't identify for certain- pain, anger, disappointment- maybe all of them. When he looked back at me, his expression was once again unreadable. He looked back to the ground and seemed to be considering his response. When he finally spoke, he was so quiet I could hardly hear him.

We're okay, Sam. I just misunderstood something Brian said. I'm gonna go get some more firewood.”

Tom walked off into the woods without a backwards glance. When I turned to Brian he was studying his shoes.

You wanna tell me what happened?”

Like he said, we just had a misunderstanding.” There was a long pause. Brian seemed to be lost in his thoughts, then he shook himself and said, “So, who are you taking to Homecoming this year?”


Something in my expression must have been screaming that I thought he was off his rocker because he started laughing at me. “Homecoming, you know, big dance after the football game. They declare some poor saps king and queen. I'm pretty sure you remember the last two.”

Tom just walked off into the woods looking like a kicked puppy and you want to talk about Homecoming?”

Sam, just leave it. He'll be okay. It was just a stupid misunderstanding.”

Yeah, you've both said that now.”

Brian was looking at his shoes again. He was looking a bit like a kicked puppy too, so I decided to drop it.

So do you think you can find him and tell him that dinner is ready, or should I go find him?” I said.

I think we should give him a little time.”

You aren't going to tell me what happened are you?”

Brian just looked at me. He looked lost and a whole host of other things I couldn't put my finger on. It was so out of character I decided to stop pushing. I just handed Brian his food and covered the rest for Tom.

Tom came back an hour or so later. He was subdued and flatly refused to meet Brian's eyes. Brian made a few halfhearted attempts to crack a joke and act like nothing was wrong, but it just didn't work and we all turned in early.

The situation didn't improve over the next several weeks. Tom and Brian were polite if they had to interact, but for the most part they avoided each other when they could and it was just tense and awkward when they couldn't. I spent my time bouncing between the two. My comfortable, reliable foursome of friends had shattered and I didn't have a clue how to put it back together. I spent lunch breaks and the odd weekend with Tom, and spent the rest of my spare time with Brian. Every time I tried to ask what had happened they both brushed me off.

* * * * * * * *

Tuesday the week before Thanksgiving was cold and clear. The weekend had seen the first major snowstorm of the year, and Monday the weather couldn't decide between cold and snowy or clear and warm. The result was black ice with a dusting of snow on every road. The entire drive in was one long controlled skid and I found myself thanking the heavens for studded snow tires and a car that weighed as much as the average aircraft carrier as I passed accident after accident on the interstate. I passed a tangled mass of metal that only vaguely resembled a car swarming with police and rescue personnel and uttered a silent prayer for the poor souls that had been in it.

I wasn't surprised when both Brian and Tom were late. I finally saw Brian in our Spanish class around 10 am, but he just shrugged when I asked if he'd seen Tom. They weren't riding in together anymore. Tom's car was an ancient, mostly white where it wasn't rusted, VW beetle that he had painted cartoons all over. It was uniquely Tom, but I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd decided not to take the pregnant roller-skate on the roads that morning. None of my classes had been full that day anyway, courtesy. I'd have stayed home too if the prospect had been less odious. I was almost hoping to be trapped at school that afternoon.

Just before noon I was watching the clock, praying for the bell to ring so I could get some lunch and trying not to look too bored with Mr. Powell's U.S. History lecture when Brian's mom appeared at the door. She did some part time work in the main office so it wasn't too strange to see her, but classes weren't often interrupted for any reason. The look on her face had me worried instantly as I started rolling through what might have happened to Brian or Mary. After talking briefly with Mr. Powell she walked to my desk and asked me to follow her. I was convinced that something must have happened to Brian, another diabetic incident or something, when we hit the hall and I saw him standing there, pale as a ghost.

I turned to Mrs. Walker and asked, “Mary?” She shook her head no and I thought she meant that Mary was gone until I heard Brian's shaky voice behind me.


That one word said it all. I was watching Brian's face while his mother described how Tom's car had slid off the road that morning and rolled killing him instantly. It felt like reality split into several pieces. Some part of me was watching the proceedings with a detached interest, another was fighting the urge to become violently ill then bawl my eyes out. In a back corner of my mind I kept replaying the wreck I had driven past that morning, picturing what Tom's car would have looked like. Most of me was watching Brian's face. Wave after wave of pain, anger and blame washed over his features, and then he just went blank. It was as if a light switch had been hit and he shut down. I reached out and put a hand on Brian's arm but he didn't seem to know I was even there. I guess his mom saw the change in him as well because in seconds she had him wrapped in a hug like he was a small child and not a head taller than she was. He just stood there.

Mrs. Walker grabbed my arm and started walking us to the front of the building. She still had her arm around Brian and he was following her but he didn't seem to be registering anything.

As we walked down the hall the voice of the principal came over the P.A. System. “I'm sorry to have to announce that junior, Tom Lloyd, was killed this morning in a car accident. Teachers, please lead your students to the auditorium for a prayer service.”

His voice was choked with emotion. Everyone knew Tom. Everyone loved him. It was impossible not to. We were soon joined in the halls by a somber crowd of shocked students moving towards the auditorium. Mrs. Walker steered us out of the building and to her car. I didn't even ask where we were going - just sat in silence in the back seat behind Brian with a hand on his shoulder.

* * * * * * * *

I spent the next week in a daze. Mrs. Walker had taken me to their house and that is where I stayed. Someone must have run to my parent's house to get clothes for me, but I had no memory of it. Mary flew back that night and we all spent hours in the rec room staring at the floor in silence. I kept expecting Tom to walk in the room and ask why we were all moping around. Mary spent most of her time leaning against me, crying quietly. Brian was simply vacant. He didn't speak. He didn't react to anything. He stared into space, locked in with his own thoughts. Friends, the football team, family and classmates all drifted through in a blur. The only clear thought I can remember was a mental image of Tom looking down on us all and making some smart-ass comment like “Who died?” He would have.

Friday was the funeral. I nearly lost it when Tom's dad had walked over on Wednesday afternoon to ask if we would be pallbearers. Seeing that big strong mountain of a man reduced to tears was just too much for me. I said yes for both of us. Brian barely looked up.

The rosary and prayer vigil the night before the funeral was surreal. The church was beautiful. The altar was overflowing with flowers. The light from the beeswax candles was reflecting off the stained glass of the church and the polished wood of the coffin. The organist was playing Mozart quietly in the background. It was beautiful. It would have been perfect for a wedding. It didn't reflect even remotely on Tom's personality. He would have called the music “that boring shit you play” and all the flowers would have had him sneezing his head off. I could practically hear him making fun of it all.

The morning of the funeral dawned clear and cold. The sky was the deepest blue I think I've ever seen. I listened to the priest's homily as he went on and on about God's will and tried to convince us that somehow this was a good thing. All I wanted to do was scream that there was absolutely nothing good about this. Brian was still silent.

We carried Tom's coffin into the church, then out of the church. We carried him from the hearse to the gravesite. I watched Brian. He was still lost in his thoughts. Somehow he wasn't rumpled. It was the first time I'd witnessed him remain presentable for longer than a few minutes. Standing by Tom's grave, I began to worry that I had lost both of them the day Tom died.

* * * * * * * *

Thanksgiving was a somber affair. I had to return to my family for the day, but I went back to Brian's house that evening. He was still vacant, and everyone was beginning to worry. The following week the principal pulled us aside on Monday morning and asked that Brian and I put together a memorial prayer service for Tom on Friday. I agreed. Brian didn't even nod his head.

I wanted the service to actually be a reflection of Tom. I rooted through the photo archive for the yearbook and found some video of him cutting up at one of the school talent shows. I made an announcement during home-room asking anyone who had a memory or thought about Tom that they wanted to share to write them down and give them to me. By Friday I had a slide show with pictures and video of Tom and had made slides of the memories and thoughts that people shared. Brian had been with me during the entire preparation, but still, he barely spoke.

On Friday, the student body gathered in the auditorium. Father Duncan opened the service with a reading from Psalms 46:1-3, Tom's favorite passage.

God is our refuge and strength,

A very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear though the earth

should change,

Though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

though its waters roar and foam,

Though the mountains tremble with its tumult.


Brian and I were in the sound booth to start the slide show and music. We were alone up there, looking down on everyone from the rear of the room. After the reading I turned on Tom's favorite album: U2's Joshua Tree and started the slide show. As the words to Where the Streets Have No Name began, the slide show came to an end, and the students filed out. On the screen was a huge smiling picture of Tom. I sat in silence with Brian listening to the words of Tom's favorite song.

*I want to run
I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls
That hold me inside
I want to reach out
And touch the flame
Where the streets have no name

I want to feel sunlight on my face
I see the dust cloud disappear
Without a trace
I want to take shelter from the poison rain
Where the streets have no name

Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name
We're still building
Then burning down love
Burning down love
And when I go there
I go there with you
It's all I can do

I could picture him sitting in the passenger seat of my car, the windows open, wind blasting through his dark brown hair as he tilted his head back and sang along. I could practically hear his voice - a low, soft bass – and hear his laugh when Brian tried to join in, out of tune as always.

The silence at the end of the song jolted me back to reality. The auditorium was empty. Brian had been sitting on the floor next to me. As I reached across to turn off the tape, I heard Brian finally break. I let the tape keep playing and went to hold my sobbing friend.

I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, oh God, I'm so sorry”, was all he could say.

He burried his head on my shoulder and clung to me with everything he had. I just rocked him and held him while U2 continued to play in the background.

*I have climbed highest mountain
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you

I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her fingertips
It burned like fire
This burning desire

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I believe in the kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
Well yes I'm still running

You broke the bonds and you
Loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Of my shame
You know I believed it

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for...

* U2, Joshua Tree. Where the Streets Have No Name, and I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.