The crestfallen face of my best friend is stained to my memory, as the click of the door handle indicates the doctor leaving the room after announcing his dire news. I try to murmur words of consolation to him, but he closes his eyes with a huff of breath laced with resignation. This, more than anything, worried me. Always a ball of hope amidst any sorrow we encountered, to see him like this broke my heart. Once more, I attempt to regain the friend that I knew, but was totally ignored for my efforts. As though the world realised I needed the backup; his mother chose that moment to enter the room.
Quietly conveying her love the way only a mother can do, she crossed the room and enveloped my friend in her arms, him sobbing softly and clinging back on to her. Feeling like an intruder on the private scene, I sat waiting, twiddling my thumbs and staring down at my knees, anything to take myself from the room without actually taking myself from the room. After what seemed like an agonising amount of time, they disengaged from their ball of safety, his mother lowering herself down on to the edge of his bed, choosing that moment to break the numb silence with a loud clearing of her throat.
“The doc asked me to let him tell you alone, Jared. Apparently, in the past he’s found having a moment to yourself before the pity and the hugs wrap you up, helps you come to terms with it” she said, quite matter-of-factly considering the situation. Discounted by her comment, I chose to keep the peace and not react; his mother always had a slight grudge since I got Jared arrested that time. Like it doesn’t take two to tango. Jared always had a honeyed tongue, though, could always talk himself out of anything. This time, however, he stayed silent, causing his mother to sigh.
“Science has come so far, maybe in the future...” she began, until a glare from her son cut her short.
“Don’t, Mum. Stuff like this doesn’t just get reversed, best I can hope for is that we can afford a decent wheelchair with the insurance money.”
Opening and closing her mouth like a fish, I could see she struggled to find the words to alleviate her son’s pain, but came up with nothing. With my earlier attempts falling on deaf ears, I stopped my own words before they left my mouth, letting a deafening stillness re-enter the room. The biggest restraint now was stopping myself from emitting a stray laugh; why is it always my nature to laugh at the most inconsiderate moments? Thankfully, the door opening again saved my intruding amusement. This perked Jared up like nothing else had.
“How is he, Dad?!” he said, the first sign of eagerness since he’d heard of his own misfortune. Jared’s dad just shook his head sadly, sitting down with a thump on the remaining free chair. I did my best to catch his father’s eye at this point, even coughing loudly to attract his attention, to no avail. This one was a surprise; Jared’s dad had always liked me. A strangled cry came from my friend’s throat, choking itself off before it could reach it’s crescendo, his hand clapping over his mouth as his eyes leaked their second tears of the night. Nobody moved to hug him this time, instead letting his grief run its course. Itching to ask a question, my thumb twiddling started yet again – at least the amusement had faded. After an age, his father spoke.
“They say he died practically on impact, that he felt no pain in his final moments. They’re investigating now to find out how the car ended up off the road, but the doctors have got a pretty good idea...”
I could see his father’s furrowed brow compliment his thin lips, letting his disapproval show despite giving what he obviously knew was another blow to his son. I was about to chip in and try to stop my friend's discomfort, when Jared retorted for me.
“I get it, Dad. I shouldn’t have gotten in the car; don’t you think I've paid for that mistake enough?!” he practically screamed, swinging his arms out and narrowly missing my nose in his rage. His father held his hands up in surrender, disapproval instantly changing to concern as a gasp escaped Jared’s mouth and his face went white. Up on her feet, his mother was clasping Jared’s hands again, her now the one to scold her son.
“You know what the doctor said, don’t move more than you have to. You can’t have any more morphine for another hour yet, so don’t over-exert.”
Nodding in what I thought was acceptance, albeit reluctantly, Jared rescinded back in to his pillows, breathing heavily as his face slowly began to regain its colour. I reached over to try to clasp his arm, but he moved at the last second and my hand fell on to the sheets without even making them ruffle. Hiding the hurt I felt at being brushed away yet again, I let my hand resume it’s twiddling of its thumb, rather than make things harder for my friend than they already were.
“I shouldn’t have let him drive” Jared whispered, and looked up at us all with glistening eyes. “I knew he’d had too much, we all had, but it was only round the corner.”
Both of his parents stayed quiet at the comment, knowing that their son didn’t want an answer, that he just needed to vent.
“Oh God, Ben” he cried. Finally, was my only thought as I rose up from the chair and leant on the bed slightly.
“It’s okay mate, I’m here” I heard myself say, though through ears that sounded like I was underwater. Closing his eyes at the sound of my voice, his breathing slowed down to a rhythmic speed. Realising that he’d fell asleep, I turned to his parents and opened my mouth to take my leave, when the door opened for the third time that night. This time, it wasn’t any of his family, but one of mine. At first confused by her appearance, I stayed quiet to let her explain how she even knew we were here; it was the middle of the night after all. But once again, I was ignored as she swept past me to sit in the chair I had just vacated. I could see Jared’s parents almost squirming in their seats, alternating from glances between each other to looking down at the floor.
“It’s alright” my mum chuckles. “You can say it. It’s his fault, he shouldn’t have been driving, he’s always been a bad influence. I know, I know, and I know. I’m just here to see if there’s anything I can do, for Jared.”
A warmth spread through me at my mother’s selflessness, waking up to come to the hospital at this God-forsaken time just to check on my friend.
“Maria, we would never...” Jared’s father started, but was silenced with a harsh look from his wife.
“Maria... those boys were as thick as thieves together. It takes two to tango in these situations, we both know this. I’m so, so sorry about your boy; please, if there’s anything we can do to help, let us know.”
I couldn’t help myself, I snorted at hearing my earlier thought coming out of her mouth; it seemed she did know that it wasn’t just my fault half the time. But the rest of her tirade caused me to shift uneasily, something registering in the back of my mind. Suddenly, my mother began to cry uncontrollably, Jared’s mother seconds behind her, both woman hugging tightly as Jared’s father sat with his fists clenched, the twitch in his cheek the only indicator of how hard he was trying to keep it together.
“My baby boy...” my mother wailed, the sound of it cutting through to my soul like butter. The thing niggling at the back of my mind chose that moment to dive to the forefront, causing me to stagger backwards with its clarity. An image of a tree, the smell of stale beer, Jared’s yell of surprise when I veered of the road as a pigeon hit the windscreen.
“No!” I screamed, but nobody responded. I ran at my mother and attempted to wrap my arms around her, praying that it was my mind playing tricks on me. When I fell straight through the solid form of her, I knew it was real. The reason everyone had been ignoring me all night, the boy they were talking about.
“No, no, no” I babbled. “I’m sorry, Jared, I’m so sorry!”
My tears fell, the ethereal water whisked away before they hit the bedsheets, along with the forgiveness that I could never have.