twenty-nine days after

As I walked home from classes the next day, I saw the Colonel sitting on the bench outside the pay phone, scribbling into a notebook balanced on his knees as he cradled the phone between his ear and shoulder.

I hurried into Room 43, where I found Takumi playing the racing game on mute. “How long has he been on the phone?” I asked.

“Dunno. He was on when I got here twenty minutes ago. He must have skipped Smart Boy Math. Why, are you scared Jake’s gonna drive down here and kick your ass for letting her go?”

“Whatever,” I said, thinking, This is precisely why we shouldn’t have told him. I walked into the bathroom, turned on the shower, and lit a cigarette. Takumi came in not long after.

“What’s up?” he said.

“Nothing. I just want to know what happened to her.”

“Like you really want to know the truth? Or like you want to find out that she fought with him and was on her way to break up with him and was going to come back here and fall into your arms and you were going to make hot, sweet love and have genius babies who memorized last words and poetry?”

“If you’re pissed at me, just say so.”

 

“I’m not pissed at you for letting her go. But I’m tired of you acting like you were the only guy who ever wanted her. Like you had some monopoly on liking her,” Takumi answered. I stood up, lifted the toilet seat, and flushed my unfinished cigarette.

I stared at him for a moment, and then said, “I kissed her that night, and I’ve got a monopoly on that.”

“What?” he stammered.

“I kissed her.”

His mouth opened as if to speak, but he said nothing. We stared at each other for a while, and I felt ashamed of myself for what amounted to bragging, and finally I said, “I — look, you know how she was. She wanted to do something, and she did it. I was probably just the guy who happened to be there.”

“Yeah. Well, I was never that guy,” he said. “I — well, Pudge, God knows I can’t blame you.”

“Don’t tell Lara.”

He was nodding as we heard the three quick knocks on the front door that meant the Eagle, and I thought, Shit, caught twice in a week, and Takumi pointed into the shower, and so we jumped in together and pulled the curtain shut, the too-low showerhead spitting water onto us from rib cage down. Forced to stand closer together than seemed entirely necessary, we stayed there, silent, the sputtering shower slowly soaking our T-shirts and jeans for a few long minutes, while we waited for the steam to lift the smoke into the vents. But the Eagle never knocked on the bathroom door, and eventually Takumi turned off the shower. I opened the bathroom door a crack and peeked out to see the Colonel sitting on the foam couch, his feet propped up on thecoffee table, finishing Takumi’s NASCAR race. I opened the door and Takumi and I walked out, fully clothed and dripping wet.

“Well, there’s something you don’t see every day,” the Colonel said nonchalantly.

“What the hell?” I asked.

“I knocked like the Eagle to scare you.” He smiled. “But shit, if y’all need privacy, just leave a note on the door next time.”

Takumi and I laughed, and then Takumi said, “Yeah, Pudge and I were getting a little testy, but man, ever since we showered together, Pudge, I feel really close to you.”

“So how’d it go?” I asked. I sat down on the coffee table, and Takumi plopped down on the couch next to the Colonel, both of us wet and vaguely cold but more concerned with the Colonel’s talk with Jake than with getting dry.

“It was interesting. Here’s what you need to know: He gave her those flowers, like we thought. They didn’t fight.

He just called because he had promised to call at the exact moment of their eight-month anniversary, which happened to be three-oh-two in thea.m., which — let’s agree — is a little ridiculous, and I guess somehow she heard the phone ringing. So they talked about nothing for like five minutes, and then completely out of nowhere, she freaked out.”

“Completely out of nowhere?” Takumi asked.

“Allow me to consult my notes.” The Colonel flipped through his notebook. “Okay. Jake says, ‘Did you have a nice anniversary?’ and then Alaska says, “I had a splendid anniversary,'” and I could hear in the Colonel’s reading the excitement of her voice, the way she leaped onto certain words like splendid and fantastic and absolutely.

“Then it’s quiet, then Jake says, ‘What are you doing?’ and Alaska says, ‘Nothing, just doodling,’ and then she says, ‘Oh God.’ And then she says, ‘Shit shit shit’ and starts sobbing, and told him she had to go but she’d talk to him later, but she didn’t say she was driving to see him, and Jake doesn’t think she was. He doesn’t know where she was going, but he says she always asked if she could come up and see him, and she didn’t ask, so she must not have been coming. Hold on, lemme find the quote.” He flipped a page in the notebook. “Okay, here: “She said she’d talk to me later, not that she’d see me.'” “She tells me ‘To be continued’ and tells him she’ll talk to him later,” I observed.

“Yes. Noted. Planning for a future. Admittedly inconsistent with suicide. So then she comes back into her room screaming about forgetting something. And then her headlong race comes to its end. So no answers, really.”

“Well, we know where she wasn’t going.”

“Unless she was feeling particularly impulsive,” Takumi said. He looked at me. “And from the sound of things, she was feeling rather impulsive that night.”

The Colonel looked over at me curiously, and I nodded.

“Yeah,” Takumi said. “I know.”

“Okay, then. And you were pissed, but then you took a shower with Pudge and it’s all good. Excellent. So, so that night…” the Colonel continued.

And we tried to resurrect the conversation that last night as best we could for Takumi, but neither of us remembered it terribly well, partly because the Colonel was drunk and I wasn’t paying attention until she brought up Truth or Dare. And, anyway, we didn’t know how much it might mean. Last words are always harder to remember when no one knows that someone’s about to die.

“I mean,” the Colonel said, “I think she and I were talking about how much I adored skateboarding on the computer but how it would never even occur to me to try and step on a skateboard in real life, and then she said, “Let’s play Truth or Dare’ and then you fucked her.”

“Wait, you fucked her? In front of the Colonel?” Takumi cried.

“I didn’t fuck her.”

“Calm down, guys,” the Colonel said, throwing up his hands. “It’s a euphemism.”

“For what?” Takumi asked.

“Kissing.”

“Brilliant euphemism.” Takumi rolled his eyes. “Am I the only one who thinks that might be significant?”

“Yeah, that never occurred to me before,” I deadpanned. “But now I don’t know. She didn’t tell Jake. It couldn’t have been that important.”

“Maybe she was racked with guilt,” he said.

“Jake said she seemed normal on the phone before she freaked out,” the Colonel said. “But it must have been that phone call. Something happened that we aren’t seeing.” The Colonel ran his hands through his thick hair, frustrated. “Christ, something. Something inside of her. And now we just have to figure out what that was.”

“So we just have to read the mind of a dead person,” Takumi said. “Easy enough.”

“Precisely. Want to get shitfaced?” the Colonel asked.

“I don’t feel like drinking,” I said.

 

The Colonel reached into the foam recesses of the couch and pulled out Takumi’s Gatorade bottle. Takumi didn’t want any either, but the Colonel just smirked and said, “More for me,” and chugged.

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