The atmosphere in the hospital is barren even though the spaces are burgeoning with people. Faces are drawn, serious, lined with focus and concern. Inside the building, as my father, my brother, Matt, and I move through the sterile hallway, there is nothing that communicates growth here, only waiting. The waiting room is a testament to it. The tension presses against my lungs, making it difficult to breathe. A glance around the room and I see faces crumpled with tears, neutral with disbelief, or in the act of rejecting the news. I'm bargaining - if I just open my eyes from this nightmare, then Seth being here won't be real; my being here won't be real.
"What's wrong?" I'd asked entering the kitchen. My family was assembled in the room in clumps. "What's wrong?" I repeated and panic replaced the nausea.
"Matt got a call this morning from one of his teammates," Dad said. His arm was around mom.
Mom wiped her eyes with a tissue. "There was an accident last night."
"A car accident," my dad added.
My stomach rolled. "What? Who?"
I shake my head at them the moment his name is said: "Seth." I barely made it to the bathroom to be sick.
Now, I squeeze my dad's hand with mine reassuring myself he's here with me. He offers a comforting squeeze in return and leads me to a thinly cushioned seat.
I'm not sure what I feel. Numb. Everything came out of me when I got the news earlier which has left me feeling strangely empty. It's as if I've become a shell of myself, cracking across seams and with the slightest pressure I will collapse in on myself. Though, simultaneously, I'm antsy, as if I need to move, need to find purpose, need to fix this. I just can't, and that makes me feel useless. The swirling mess of emotions inside me are a building tornado.
I watch the doorway, waiting for Gabe. He said he was on his way. I watch the doorway, waiting for news about Seth. Waiting.
My knees are pulled up to my chest, feet on the seat in front of me, one arm wrapped around my knees and my hand still drawing on my father's strength. Matt is next to me, but he gets up when one of his teammates - Carter - walks into the room.
My heart has sped up thinking it might be Gabe, but sputters when it isn't.
Seth's friend is a ghost of himself. His blond hair is messy, as if he's rolled from his bed and come straight to the hospital the moment he did. My free hand goes to my own hair pulled into a haphazard bun. Carter's usually flush cheeks - colored with life and good nature - are nearly translucent, his lips drawn into a tense line. Near the doorway he and Matt hug and exchange words. I can't hear anything but the low rumble of their transaction, whatever is said meant to be between them. Matt returns with Carter on his heels.
"This is Carter," Matt tells my father.
Dad has stood and lets go of me so that he can shake the other boy's hand. They talk about something familiar and safe: soccer. It's strange given the situation, but maybe not when all any of us want is to return to what is normal. Dad sits back down in his chair and takes my hand once again. I lean toward his stability.
Carter's dark blue eyes meet mine and he lifts his chin. "Hey," he says and doesn't offer anything else.
I acknowledge him with a nonverbal lift of my eyebrows. There isn't much reason to offer any more, and I'm pretty sure we don't think much about it the circumstances as they are. We've been on opposite sides of the social chasm all year and only united in a common concern for a mutual friend in the now.
He sits on the opposite side of Matt from me, and I listen as they talk about soccer - the subdued tone of their words offer a sort of comfort. They move onto discussion about basketball and then video games to fill the space and time with normalcy. There's something comforting in eavesdropping if only to fill my ears with something real rather than the loop of worry in my brain.
Where is Gabe?
"You need anything?" My dad asks me.
I shake my head and glance down at my phone wishing Gabe would text, or call, or something.
People enter the room.
People I know. Some I don't.
Matt speaks to teammates who build a cell around us.
Some people leave the room.
Sara arrives. She looks perfect, the porcelain doll whose edges are soft and rounded, but breakable. Her green eyes stop at me and narrow. I think about what she did because of Seth, my violent response in the cafeteria, and wonder if she's thinking about it too because she turns on her heal and walks to the opposite side of the room.
More people arrive. The room fills to capacity.
Then - finally - Gabe appears in the doorway - tall, beautiful, and I feel myself finally able to take a breath.
His usually caramel colored skin looks ashy, and the corners of his full mouth pulled down with the worry on his face. His bright blue eyes are dull and rimmed red with unshed tears, or tears that have already fallen that he hasn't shared with me. He's in his black sweatshirt though the hoodie isn't up, hands shoved into the front pocket. As he looks around the room - I assume for me - he runs a hand over his curly hair.
Our eyes collide.
I jump from my seat and walk into his open arms.
Martha, his mom, is with him. She lays a comforting hand on my shoulder and then moves into the room toward my father.
"I'm so glad you're here," I say into this chest.
His arms contract, drawing me closer, and I can feel his body fold up around me, his chin fitting into the space near my ear. "I don't know what to do. What to think," he whispers. "I keep seeing him yesterday, after the fight." His voice sounds different, unbalanced and full of regret. He isn't crying, but I can hear the tears wrapped around his vocal chords.
The night before, when he'd arrived on my doorstep after their fight, he'd had a similar, off-kilter sound. Then we'd found comfort in one another's arms and bodies, and the world seemed to reorient, but now everything has changed as if our time together was a temporary reprieve. I don't want it to be true.
"Together," I tell him to combat the lie in my head, "We'll figure it out together," I say, but I'm not sure in that moment I believe it even if I want to. The only thing moving in my blood is fear for Seth even in spite of what he's done, and guilt for leaving him behind.
I clasp Gabe to me afraid that if I loosen my hold we might both slip away.