Beep beep beep.
“Jay! Over here!”
Jay walked over to Maize’s car, and got in the passenger seat. She had gotten the car for her seventeenth birthday.
“Okay.” He said. “What time is the art show?”
“It starts at seven thirty.”
“Okay. My game starts at six.”
“And we’ve got to get Jill to her play date at five forty-five.”
“So, you’ll get her there by five forty.”
“After I drop you off at the gym at five thirty.”
“Then you’ll come to my game.”
“And I’ll watch you guys win, then leave at seven fifteen.”
“And I’ll shower and change, then Marco will drive me to the showing at seven thirty.”
“Then I’ll win first place, and we go to the diner to celebrate at eight.”
“No, first we pick up Jill, and take her home.”
“Then we go celebrate. Did you take your medicine this morning?”
“Yeah, don’t worry.”
He had started taking medicine for his anger, since he had gotten in a few more fights. He had joined the basketball team, and Maize had entered several art shows. The game that night would determine if they were the best in the district. The prize to Maize’s art show was a scholarship. They always made it to each other's events, even if they couldn’t stay the whole time. Jay’s little sister, Jill, was five. His parents couldn’t watch her that night, so they asked if Jay could take her to a friend's house.
“And then...” Jay said slowly.
“We’ll check the college applications.” Maize said eagerly.
Despite how well they had planned, they didn’t make each other's events.
The art teacher called Maize in as she was heading to the game after dropping off Jill. She texted Jay she might be late, but his phone was dead, and he couldn’t check anyway, since they were practicing.
When Jay realized Maize wasn’t there, he ended up playing horribly. The coach made him stay after, to practice, and by the time he was out of the gym, it was already eight fifteen. He had to ask the coach to drive him to where Jill was, only to find Maize had already gotten her. He figured she had gone home.
He went to her house, but Kathy said she wasn’t there. So, he got his mother's car, and drove to the diner. But the place was closing up.
He went home, and charged his phone, and as soon as he could call, he did.
Voicemail. Again. Voicemail.
That night was when the problems started.
Splash! Splash! Splash!
“So, we’re not going to the same place.” Maize said.
“I guess not.”
The kids down by the lake took turns jumping in, and Jay watched them to avoid looking at Maize. She had been avoiding him, but they were forced together during the summer trip they took every year to a cabin.
He tilted his head towards her, but didn’t look at her.
“Why are you mad at me?”
“I’m not mad.”
“Then why won't you talk to me? I didn’t do anything, you did.”
“I didn’t mean to. I've been trying to tell you that, but you aren't listening.”
“That art show was important to me.”
“The game was important to me.”
“It’s just a game! You guys didn’t even win!”
“It’s “just an art show.'' You didn’t even win.”
“I did. And I was hoping my best friend would’ve been there to celebrate with me.”
“And I was hoping my best friend would've been there to console me after we lost.”
“Why didn’t you text me or something?”
“My phone was dead. You know the coach doesn’t let us check our phones before a game, anyway.”
“That’s never mattered before.”
“This was a big game! I was hoping you’d be there!”
“Just like I was hoping you’d be at the show? Did you even see what I entered?”
“No, because you never showed me-”
“You never asked!”
“You act like your art is too personal to show me!”
“You act like you don’t care about my interests!”
“Because I don’t understand it the way you do!”
“You never try to understand!”
“You don’t try to understand me!”
“I do try. You never want to talk to me about things!”
“Neither do you!”
“Because you’re supposed to know! We’ve known each other since we were kids! You know everything about me, but you never notice anything.”
“What are you-”
“Just forget it. You don’t get anything.”
She stood, and walked off. Jay didn’t follow her.
Ring! Ring! Ring!
Maize? Her and Jay hadn’t talked since their fight. He hated it, but he was still upset about it. He didn’t think about it.
But he thought about her. He thought about her snarky comments, and her jokes about everything, and how she never cared about anyone else. He thought about her strong hugs, and her laugh, and her reassurance, which was exactly what he needed at times.
Still, he ignored the call, focusing on the homework in front of him. College was much harder than he thought, and he hardly had time for anything outside of basketball.
He worked for about two hours, only taking a break when his roommate, Bryon, came by to get some clothes. Once he was finished, he started to get ready for bed, when:
Ring! Ring! Ring!
It was Kathy this time.
Jay frowned. Maybe something was wrong.
He answered the call, putting the phone to his ear.
“Kathy?” He frowned.
“Yes...where are you right now?”
“In my dorm room? Why? What happened?”
“We got a call from Maybel’s school.”
“Yes...about a week ago, May went missing.”
“I haven’t seen her-”
“That’s not it. They found her today, about an hour ago...but...she had gone swimming, and-”
“She’s not-she's not dead.” He almost spits the word.
“I’m sorry, Jason, she-”
He didn’t hear anything else.
She’s not dead. She can’t be dead. She’s not. She’s not.
The next thing he remembers hearing Bryon asking him what happened, and telling him to breathe, and talking to someone else, then lots of footsteps, then hands on him, then nothing.
Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh.
Jay clutched the last flower in his hands, ignoring the tears rolling down his cheeks. He pushed the flower out into the water, where hundreds of others were filling the lake. He had spent all day picking flowers out in the forest instead of going to Maize’s funeral.
He let the flower in his hands slide into the water, watching it float out, slightly rippling the otherwise still water filled with flowers of all kinds. A flame started to eat away at a flower, then another, then another.
He was pretty sure this wasn’t legal, but Maize would’ve liked it so he didn’t really care. She would’ve preferred this to a boring funeral.
Guilt had been tearing at Jay for ignoring her call. If only I had answered. If only I tried to reach out. If only I understood. If only, if only, if only.
He had realized pretty quickly that the death wasn’t an accident. He realized that’s what she meant when she said he didn’t understand. That he was supposed to, but he didn’t notice things.
If only I noticed.
He never asked her why she lived with Kathy, and not her parents. Or why some days she seemed isolated. Or why she sometimes didn’t eat, or why she joked about death. The signs were always there, but he never noticed.
He had gone to her house to see Kathy, who gave him bags of Maize’s things. She said she couldn't bear seeing them anymore.
He found her artwork, and immediately understood why she was upset. They were filled with dark, harsh strokes of pen or markers, creating pictures he had never asked to see. He burned those, too.
Why didn’t I understand? Why didn’t I ask? Why didn’t I see it?
Maize. I’m so sorry.