Trigger warning: Mentions of suicide, depression.
The words loomed in front of her, in the dramatic, over the top but quite necessary bold red font.
He'd been gone since Wednesday. That was the last time I'd seen him. She could remember, they were riding their bikes home, after their church youth group had thrown a Halloween party. It'd be complete with punch, cookies, and half the group dressing up in costumes, while the other half thought they were too cool, too old, for dressing up.
It turned out that it was hard to ride a bike home in the dark dressed as the grim reaper (her mother hadn't wanted her to dress up as the bringer of death to a church event, but they couldn't afford another costume, and that was the only thing she had that fit her). She kept having to lift her short legs up away from the pedals so the black robes wouldn't get caught in the spokes of the wheels.
"Maybe you should've bought some clothes to change into." Wyatt smirked at her. She tossed him a glare, but a smile crept onto her lips at his teasing.
"That would've ruined the effect. I'm supposed to be terrifying." she said back. "If anyone saw me outside my costume, my reputation would be ruined!" she joked. Wyatt laughed. Whenever he laughed, he would snort and throw his head back, giggling loudly.
They came to a stop in front of her small, one story stone house. "This is me." she said. She turned and looked at him. "Do you..... you want me to ride home with you? It's awfully dark...." she muttered.
"I'm good, but thanks." Wyatt shrugged. He waved to her. "See you tomorrow, Gabby!"
But he hadn't shown up at school the next day. Or the next. So on Friday, during lunch, she approached Jefferey Thomas, Wyatt's cousin, next door neighbor, and (second to her) closest friend. She tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?"
Jeffery rolled his eyes and stood up. They stood awkwardly, side-by-side in a corner near the cafeteria’s giant trash cans.
“Is Wyatt okay? I haven’t seen him in school.” she said tentatively. She knew that Jeffery didn’t like her. Not after what had happened. She sighed internally and shook the thoughts away.
Jeffery scowled at her. “You’re crazy.” he muttered to himself. He shook his head, turned, and marched off.
"I'm serious!" Gabby said, grabbing his shoulder, but he merely shook her off.
“Thanks for being a jerk!” Gabby shouted back. Several heads turned to glance at the freshman, yelling in the middle of lunch. Jeffery’s face turned bright red. He muttered some curses under his breath before sitting down at his table, leaving Gabby standing alone.
She then decided that Ms. Finely would be a better option to ask. Gabby was her favorite student, and was both Gabby and Wyatt’s math teacher. Ms. Finely never got angry at any of the students, no matter how many times they giggled about her southern Maine accent, or her overweight size, or how sometimes she spaced out during the middle of lesson, or went on a ramble about some book that she’d been reading, as she had wanted to be a literary professor, but to Gabby, these were the things that made her unique.
“Excuse me, Ms. Finely?” Gabby asked tentatively. Ms. Finely looked up from the romance novel she was reading and quickly tucked away the risque front cover of a shirtless man and woman passionately making out, arms tangled around each in soft white sheet covers, with the classic, soft colors fading into the background.
“Oh, yes, Gabriella.” she muttered. “I didn’t expect to see you…. Especially since your math period is for another hour. But,” she straightened her black, cat eye glasses. “What can I help you with?”
“Do you know where Wyatt is today?” Gabby asked. “I haven’t heard from him.”
Ms. Finely cocked her head to the right, in confusion. “Wyatt?”
“Yeah, Wyatt Moss?” Gabby shifted uncomfortably. She glanced down at her worn out red sneakers. “He’s my best friend. He’s sits next-”
“Gabriella, I’m afraid I don’t have any Wyatt’s in my class.” Ms. Finley's voice was laced with concern, and a soft pity that Gabby didn’t like the sound of. “Are you feeling alright? Perhaps-”
“No, no! I’m good.” She smiled. “My mistake….. I’ll go now….” Gabby muttered, her face pinking as she swiftly walked away. She tried the principal, Mr. Bakes, for an answer next, with no avail.
“Miss…. Uh…… Gonzalez, no student with that name attends Carol High School, as I said.” he said, looking over a set of student records Gabby had insisted he look over. “I suggest maybe you get your memory checked. Were you possibly referring to Ryan Moss? He’s a high school senior-”
“No.” Gabby snapped sharply. Ryan was Wyatt’s older brother, and the point guard on the basketball team. She cleared her throat and mumbled “sorry.”
Mr. Bakes glared. “I should put you in detention for your disrespect and for wasting my time. However,” he flipped through a folder. “You’re a top student here, no bad records, and I’d hate to sully your record. Off you go.”
“Right. Thank you for your time.” she replied and left.
Even his own family insisted they didn’t know where he was, they weren’t going to look for him, and that maybe Gabby should go talk to someone.
“You could come in and talk to us, you know.” Wyatt’s mother said gently. “I have some baked goods, and I could make lemonade. Ryan’s here too.”
Gabby shook her head. “No, I’m good. I got…. I gotta find him. Have a good day.” she said. She heard Wyatt’s mom call out for her but she ignored her, and kept walking. She had work to do. She used the library’s printer, found Wyatt’s school photo from eighth grade, last year, and printed them.
That’s where all this landed her. Halloween night, instead of trick or treating, hanging up missing person flyers.
Because no one seemed to remember him. The photos were there, the memories were there, for her at least. But now, he was gone. And no one knew where he was.
No one knew him.
She studied the picture, of his dusty brown hair that barely fell in front of his dark eyes, and his face, of his smile that he always said he hated but Gabby thought was lovely and made her smile too. She pinned another poster onto a telephone pole and sighed. “I miss you. Please come back.” she whispered, resting her forehead on the pole.
The night grew dark. Children in costumes of the stereotypical monsters, the main characters of the latest movies, and the occasional crazy, over the top, high-budgeted cosplayers all flooded the streets. Gabby walked with her head down, pressing past them all, though she occasionally paused to hand someone a flyer. Some nodded, their foreheads creased with worry and nodded, reassuring her that they’d keep a look out, and, if adults, holding their child closer to them, for the fear that they’d be snatched up and vanish along with Wyatt. But most either shook their heads and said that no one named Wyatt Moss lived here, or balled it up and laughed, or looked at her like she was a lunatic and kept walking.
Somehow, Gabby found herself at an old park, standing on a black empty sidewalk next to a dark, rippling lake, the silence almost choking her as she let the remaining papers drop and scatter on the pavement.
Gabby spun around and let out a cry of happiness. Wyatt stood a few yards away, hands tucked into his dark grey hood, standing awkwardly in the wet grass. She sprinted over to him, letting the tears drip down her cheeks and threw her arms around him. “Wyatt! I- I missed you.” she cried. She stood there in silence, listening to his heartbeat. The warm, soothing comfort of a hug wrapped around her, whispering in her ear You’re safe. “I’m so happy you’re back!”
Wyatt hugged her back and waited for her to finally pull away. He looked at her sadly. He had always been taller than her. “But…. I’m not back.” he said to her.
“Yes! You’re right here!” she grabbed onto his hand. “We have to bring you home, so I can-”
Wyatt shook his head. “Gabby,” he whispered. “I’m dead. I killed myself last year.”
Gabby’s heart dropped into her stomach. Her breathing quickened and her hands shook. “No, no….. You’re alive! You can’t be dead! Why did you do it?!” She grabbed his hoodie and shook it. “I tried! I was there for you! Why wasn’t it enough? WHAT COULD I HAVE DONE SO YOU WOULDN'T LEAVE ME?!” she screamed. Her knees decided to give away and she dropped to the floor, sobbing hysterically.
Wyatt knelt down next to her. “I don’t know,” he said. “You were….. There for me, though. That’s all you could’ve done.” He wrapped his arms around her neck and she cried into his shoulder. “But now, you have to let go.”
“I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” Gabby repeated. “I care about you too much….. I should’ve done something different-”
“Gabby.” he made her look him in the eye. “You don’t have to forget me. But you can’t hold this guilt forever. You need to go on with your life, Gabby. You were…..” he swallowed hard. “You were one of the only things that kept me going as long as I did. But now, you have to face the fact that I’m not here anymore.” His hand slowly began to fade away into the cold night air. Wyatt pulled her into a hug…. The two of them….. Best friends….. One last time.”
“I love you so much.” she whispered. “I just wish I’d said it sooner.”
“I love you too, Gabby.” Wyatt said back quietly. He faded away, and Gabby was left, holding nothing but air in her arms. She pulled her arms close her chest and cried softly into the silence.
Then a hand rested on her shoulder. Someone sat next to her quietly.
“I’m sorry. I was terrible.” Jeffery said out loud to her. “I should’ve known that this would be harder on you….. You were closer to Wyatt, and I guess maybe that’s why I was always so cold to you.”
Silence from Gabby, so he continued. “This night is…… painful.” he whispered, remembering how his mom had told him what had happened to the only person he considered a close friend, this night, one year ago. “I wish I could go back."
"I know how you feel." Gabby said. "Now I feel..... empty. Like I'll never feel anything but the weight of all this sadness ever again. And that, nothing anyone says will fix it."
Jeffery sighed. "I feel like the right words don’t exist, to make something like this all right.”
Gabby looked up and nodded. “Sometimes….. The silence speaks more than words.”
Jeffery nodded and they stared up at the bright, pale crescent moon, and they said nothing.
Because, sometimes the silence was, indeed, better than words.
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