“I’ve got a theory,”the Colonel said as I walked in the door after a miserable day of classes. The cold had begun to let up, but word had not spread to whoever ran the furnaces, so the classrooms were all stuffy and overheated, and I just wanted to crawl into bed and sleep until the time came to do it all over again.
“Missed you in class today,” I noted as I sat down on my bed. The Colonel sat at his desk, hunched over a notebook. I lay down on my back and pulled the covers up over my head, but the Colonel was undiscouraged.
“Right, well, I was busy coming up with the theory, which isn’t terribly likely, admittedly, but it’s plausible. So, listen. She kisses you. That night, someone calls. Jake, I imagine. They have a fight — about cheating or about something else — who knows. So she’s upset, and she wants to go see him. She comes back to the room crying, and she tells us to help her get off campus. And she’s freaked out, because, I don’t know, let’s say because if she can’t go visit him, Jake will break up with her. That’s just a hypothetical reason. So she gets off campus, drunk and all pissed off, and she’s furious at herself over whatever it is, and she’s driving along and sees the cop car and then in a flash everything comes together and the end to her labyrinthine mystery is staring her right in the face and she just does it, straight and fast, just aims at the cop car and never swerves, not because she’s drunk but because she killed herself.”
“That’s ridiculous. She wasn’t thinking about Jake or fighting with Jake. She was making out with me. I tried to bring up the whole Jake thing, but she just shushed me.”
“So who called her?”
I kicked off my comforter and, my fist balled, smashed my hand against the wall with each syllable as I said, “I!
DON’T! KNOW! And you know what, it doesn’t matter. She’s dead. Is the brilliant Colonel going to figure out something that’s gonna make her less freaking dead?” But it did matter, of course, which is why I kept pounding at our cinder-block walls and why the questions had floated beneath the surface for a week. Who’d called? What was wrong? Why did she leave? Jake had not gone to her funeral. Nor had he called us to say he was sorry, or to ask us what happened. He had just disappeared, and of course, I had wondered. I had wondered if she had any intention of keeping her promise that we would be continued. I had wondered who called, and why, and what made her so upset. But I’d rather wonder than get answers I couldn’t live with.
“Maybe she was driving there to break up with Jake, then,” the Colonel said, his voice suddenly edgeless. He sat down on the cornerof my bed.
“I don’t know. I don’t really want to know.”
“Yeah, well,” he said. “I want to know. Because if she knew what she was doing, Pudge, she made us accomplices.
And I hate her for that. I mean, God, look at us. We can’t even talk to anyone anymore. So listen, I wrote out a game plan: One. Talk to eyewitnesses. Two. Figure out how drunk she was. Three. Figure out where she was going, and why.”
“I don’t want to talk to Jake,” I said halfheartedly, already resigned to the Colonel’s incessant planning. “If he knows, I definitely don’t want to talk to him. And if he doesn’t, I don’t want to pretend like it didn’t happen.”
The Colonel stood up and sighed. “You know what, Pudge? I feel bad for you. I do. I know you kissed her, and I know you’re broken up about it. But honestly, shut up. If Jake knows, you’re not gonna make it any worse. And if he doesn’t, he won’t find out. So just stop worrying about your goddamned self for one minute and think about your dead friend. Sorry. Long day.”
“It’s fine,” I said, pulling the covers back over my head. “It’s fine,” I repeated. And, whatever. It was fine. It had to be. I couldn’t afford to lose the Colonel.