“Secrets carry weight, like lead.”
Iris inhaled the pleasant air which was ripe with the dewy petrichor of the post-rain evening. A cool breeze ruffled the leaves of nearby lofty mango trees, all of which were well endowed with succulent yellow mangoes. The sky was shades of pretty pink and purple pastels.
Making her way down the narrow path between the tall trees, she recollected her memories with Dante, Isabelle, Rhett, and Jax; running along the shore, pushing each other in the sea, and dreaming about sailing the world one day. They would stand and watch the sea crash onto the shore for hours and it'd still never be enough. She remembered standing on the cliff with her friends and taking in the salty sea breeze. When the sun would set, the vast body of water would reflect the warm colors of the endless sky and there hadn't ever been a more beautiful sight. She'd gaze at it for hours, fantasizing about unending aspirations and dreams.
Iris traced the carvings on the trees she used to very much enjoy making with scraps of metal and pieces of wood she mysteriously found every day. She suspected it was Jax, always doing these little things for her that could brighten her day. He could rarely say 'no' to her, which led to them being part of quite questionable activities. She'd once said that she wanted to visit the yearly carnival on her birthday and the next day she found the gleaming golden entry tickets of the carnival on her bed. She didn't really question where he got the tickets from since they cost a lot and he wasn't from a rich family, but she did remember him mentioning a friend who owed him a favor. Isabella and Rhett had been so jealous that day. Iris giggled, recalling the look on their faces.
As she ventured further on the narrow path between the tall trees, the pastel-colored sky started to fade away into the dark shadows; from dusty lilac to indigo and from indigo to inky black. A cool breeze blew, ruffling the leaves of the nearby mango trees which were swaying to the notes of the wind. Iris shuddered, feeling the wind on the bare skin of her arms, She had half a mind to spend the whole night there, but even she knew it wasn't the best decision to invite the dangers lurking in the dark.
Too lost in her thoughts, she didn't notice where she was keeping her foot. Instead of stepping on the hard rocks and stones, she stepped on the muddy soil. Her eyes went wide as she tried to grab a stray branch in hopes of regaining her balance, but, down went she and the stray branch with a 'thud'.
'Dear lord, things just can't go right for too long, is it?!', Iris internally screamed.
Holding on to the bark of a nearby tree she got back up on her feet with much difficulty and brushed off the dirt from her limbs. She looked up at the night sky where millions of stars were in close clusters. But the full moon blazing in the sky was even more beautiful than the stars around. She smiled as she thought of the days she and her friends used to gaze at the moon together and talk about a fictional world that was everyone's personal paradise. Sadly, growing up had burst her bubble of believing that she could ever live in a place where the sky met the seas. With a sigh, she looked at the rich brown soil, patting around to look for her phone. Walking around in the mud, leaving her footprints behind, she heard a satisfying crunch. A shiver ran down her spine, and she visibly shuddered. Believing that the sound was of her own footstep, Iris took a step backward and crouched down. She started digging around in that area, throwing away the twigs, leaves, and lumps of soil she came across till she felt something papery. Scrunching her brows, she pulled up the small piece of paper from the ground and held it in her hands.
The paper was tattered and torn from the edges and dust-laden with a tint of yellowish-tan. She blew air onto it and wiped off the remaining dirt on her white blouse, leaving behind an unlovely stain. It's not like it is clean anymore, to begin with, Iris huffed. Squinting her eyes and looking closely at the paper, she realized it was a photograph. A photograph of a younger version of Rhett, Jax, Isabella, and herself. Huge grins showing their crooked teeth and resting their arms on each other's necks. Those wonderful memories came rushing back to her. But the small smile on her face vanished as she remembered how her wonderful childhood had a terrible turn of events.
* * *
Rhett had always been the golden child in their circle. However, he did have a mean streak to him. Envy rolled off him whenever someone else outdid him. Over the years, harmless cursing turned into aggressive shoving, pushing, and malevolent acts driven by hostility. He was at the point where he used to be jealous even when Jax, Isabella, and Iris used to hang out in pairs sometimes. Isabella called it a 'phase of extreme insecurity'. Perhaps he felt that his friends wouldn't want to hang out with him if he wasn't the best. Perhaps he believed the quote, "Either you're something, or you are nothing at all." a bit too much. Nonetheless, whatever it was, it wasn't going to end well for him if he didn't change his unpleasant behavior. She'd contemplated on staying away from Rhett but Isabella told her that they wouldn't want his situation to worsen. She had reluctantly agreed.
After a few days, Rhett's birthday arrived. Isabella had decided to throw him a surprise party that would cheer him up. Iris and Jax helped her decorate and all of them awaited Rhett's grand arrival.
'Grand' was an understatement. Rhett had arrived, reeking of strong alcohol. Ignoring the presence of Isabella and Iris, he headed straight towards Jax and held him by his collar. His lips curled in disgust as he uttered some unmentionable words. Processing the enormity of what just happened the girls ran towards Rhett to pull him away from Jax. But Rhett already managed to land a punch on the poor guy's face. Escaping the grip of Isabella and Iris, he kept on punching Jax till his knuckles were bloody.
Horrified, Iris grabbed the nearest object which she could find, which turned out to be an iron-made decor and slammed it against Rhett's head. Ceasing his torture on Jax, he brought his hand towards his bleeding head and caught a few drops of blood on his fingertips. He felt lightheaded as black spots started appearing in front of his eyes. In the cold silence that followed, all of them could almost hear Rhett's last heartbeats as he closed his eyes, took his final breath, and fell on the floor with a loud thud.
"He's ...gone.", Isabella broke the silence, her eyes void of any emotion. "I'm sure he's in a better place now." Isabella continued after no one spoke a word.
"What have I done?", whispered Iris, tears threatening to come out of her eyes. It still seemed unreal.
"You did what was right. You ended his reign of terror. Best he be dead than alive.", Jax said, anger evident in his tone as he looked at the ghoulish body of his once best friend.
"Why did he do that to you? Did something happen between you two?", Iris asked Jax.
Not receiving a response she prompted again, "Answer me, Jax! I can't live with the guilt but at least I'll die peacefully knowing that what I've done was for the right reason!"
"Did he need a reason any longer to punch the shit out of his friends?", said Jax.
"What happened between you two?", she asked for the second time.
"Stop asking that question again and again!" Jax said, his teeth grinding together.
"Why?! Don't you realize what has just happened? How can you be so...so- ?" Iris was at a loss for words.
"You know that's a bloody problem of yours! All you and your selfish nature do is present yourself as the victim! Stop making everything about you, Iris! Stop pressuring me. And it's you who has killed him, not us!"
"Oh! Oh, so I should have let him beat you to death is it?! "
" That would have been better than this.", said Jax, his eyes icy as he stomped away.
As if her soul could bleed an ocean through the eyes, that was the enormity of Iris's sobbing. Isabella hugged her, slowly rocking her body as if she was a little child.
"Iris, he didn't mean any of that...He is just upset. Anyone would've felt that way, I'm sure. What you did, it wasn't wrong. It was inevitable. You freed him from the evil inside.", consoled Isabella, who had been quiet all this long.
"How do you even understand a percent of what we're feeling anyway? You didn't do any of this. ", Iris laughed humorlessly. "Rhett was the closest to you than any of us. Didn't you consider him your friend?! Don't you feel the least sad about it? You don't seem to be grieving at all."
"Just because I don't express it does not mean I don't feel it. And Rhett was as much of a friend to me as he was to the rest of us. Would you rather he attain peace through death or rather he continue inflicting violence and chaos on us? "
Iris didn't say anything afterward. The weight of the guilt was heavy. Despair was a crushing force on her chest, constricting her breath and coloring the world around her black as she too, was slowly engulfed by the darkness.
* * *
That is exactly how a tragedy like theirs breaks one's heart, making one believe that the ending might still be happy until the very last minutes...
Iris flipped the photograph, returning to the present day, and read the words she had written a long time ago: Which of us could say we were more sinned against than sinning?