Contest #235 shortlist ⭐️


Coming of Age Fiction Friendship

This story contains sensitive content

In Memoriam Flight

by Adam Ryan

(Note: This story deals with survivor's guilt from the death of young man, suicidal thoughts, and alcohol/recreational drug abuse)

On the way to Will’s house, you and Danny smoke a thousand cigarettes, but don’t talk much. It’s tense. A couple in a fight with kids sitting bug-eyed in the back. But that’s not it. You’re not a couple and neither of you say anything because there isn’t anything left to say – you may be headed to a party but you both know what it really is.

A funeral encore.

There’s a roach in Danny’s ashtray, so you spark it, hit it, and hand it off. He takes a pull, but it doesn’t hold, implodes, and embers fly around the car like a thousand flaming doves. You laugh. Danny doesn’t. His coughing fit almost sends you into a telephone pole. Which would be ironic.

The hit doesn’t help. Gobs of adrenaline percolate through your system so feverishly that your legs quiver and you can’t stop cracking your knuckles.

Danny notices and digs into his pocket. “Here,” he says, handing over a yellow pill. “I was at my mom’s earlier.”

It’s a benzo, 5mg, just enough to coat your heart with a reedy layer of apathy. Maybe enough to make it survive this.


“I got more.”

Then, silence again. Just the wind blowing through Danny’s fucked up Toyota.

A block from the house, Danny asks, “Should we have worn suits?”

“No. It’s not a funeral,” you reply, suddenly aware of how wrinkled your shirt and pants are. “The invite said ‘celebration’ anyway...”

“But what if everyone else is wearing suits?”

Fighting the urge to scream and rant about the whole situation, how fucked it is, how horrible it’s going to be to tear open scabs that never healed and relive the pain, you close your eyes and say, “Then we’ll be the two assholes who aren’t wearing suits.”

All things considered, it’s a beautiful night. Cloudless, no humidity, the sky brushed crimson like blood across butcher paper. Not too different from the night after Will’s funeral.

Danny parks down the block and lets the car idle. You both light cigarettes and stare at the house.

Danny asks, “You good?”

And you say, “Not at all. But fuck it, let’s go.”

The first thing you see when you walk into the backyard is a tent. Underneath it, someone playing acoustic guitar, moaning into a microphone. Next to the tent is a portable bar with a guy wearing a tie. Scattered around the yard are tiki torches and flower arrangements and folding tables draped with white linens. It looks exactly like what it’s supposed to be - a party. For Will. Except Will’s not here. And unless they know something you don't, he's not coming.

So you and Danny stand around like assholes until Frank walks in and joins you, eyes bulging like he’s watching a trainwreck.

He mouths, “What the fuck?”

You shrug.

The backyard is packed with neighbors, cousins, friends, friends of friends. Everyone seems happy. Even Will’s parents make the rounds, smiling and laughing.

Then you turn and see the portrait.

Propped on a tripod in the middle of the deck is a huge photo of Will. People use grab sharpies to write messages on the it.

When Danny sees this, and sees you seeing it, he elbows your ribs. “This is fucked, bro.”

Grady and Matt stumble in a few minutes later, reeking like Fordham hydro. But through the fog, the scene draws the same reaction from both of them.

Before you lose it, you decide to take a breather. Go piss. Splash water on your face. Drink Drano. Something to pucker up.

But as soon as you walk inside, you see Will’s sister, Colleen, backing into the hallway. She's mid-conversation with Kelly, Will’s girlfriend.

Kelly smiles. Colleen smiles. Big bright smiles. They hug. It looks like Colleen is crying but powering through it. She squeezes Kelly’s arms and whispers something into her ear, then walks into the kitchen. Kelly turns and walks the other way. She doesn’t see you seeing her. Lip quivering, neck spasming, her eyes closed so tight it looks like it hurts.

You know what’s coming.

She looks ready to collapse, so you reach for her, and as you do, she falls into your arms, hands over her face, and unloads a guttural sob.

Face mushed into your shoulder, Kelly mumbles, “What the fuck is happening, Charlie?”

You stutter through a bunch of words, but you’re at a loss too.

She asks again, “What is this?”

“I have no clue.”

“I shouldn’t have come.”

"Me either."

"Then why did we?"

“Because we’re idiots.”

She wipes her eyes, sighs, laughs a little. Sort of looks embarrassed because maybe she’s realizing how low her guard is.

Finally, she pulls away, sniffles, and looks up at you. “Sorry.”

“It’s all good. If I wasn’t so fucked up right now, it might have been you catching me.”

Kelly laughs again and then takes a deep breath, wipes her eyes with the backs of her hands and settles. But a cackle in the kitchen startles her.

So you say, “Let’s go get drunk.”

And she nods, but you know it probably won’t make a difference.

The bar is surrounded by familiar faces. Everyone trying their best to play their part, pretending like they aren't inhaling booze to accelerate takeoff and not have to relive something that nearly destroyed them two years ago.

And they start doubling-timing their intake as soon as they see Will’s dad walking over.

He scans the group, nodding to people, shaking hands, but stops when he gets to you and yells, “Charlie!”

You reach your hand out to shake his, but he playfully smacks it away.

“Still playing grab-ass with these bums? I thought you went to college to get away from here.”

Everyone laughs awkwardly. It’s not only a shot at you, but them too.

“I tried. It didn’t take.”

He smiles again, the same way Will smiled when you entered self-deprecation mode. Amusement shaded with disappointment. Then he turns to the bartender and asks for a tray of shots in little plastic cups.

“They’re only here for the free booze anyway!” He booms.

When everyone has a cup, Mr. McGrath aims his toward the sky and says, “To my beautiful boy, William Patrick McGrath. I know he’s here with us right now. With me. With all of you. And of course, with Kelly, the daughter-in-law I almost got.”

Kelly takes it in stride. She smiles, rubs Mr. McGrath’s arm, leans her head against his shoulder. Then takes the shot back without blinking.

Everyone follows suit.

The whiskey is smooth and heavy and settles in your stomach without causing a riot, finding crooks and crevices to ignite little pockets of fire.

For a moment, everything feels settled. Or at least less weird. Mr. McGrath moves on and the rest of you do what you do - drink more, smoke more, wait for the chemicals to fuck and create something magical. As they do, everyone finds their rhythm.

Except for Kelly.

She laughs when it’s time to laugh and frowns when it’s time to frown, but withdraws as soon as the conversation returns to Will.

If you could reach into her heart and surgically remove some of the pain, you would. You’ve always been good at eating pain and keeping it down, even if rots your insides.

Because Kelly doesn’t deserve this. She is, was, and has always been an enigma. Short, pretty, witty, athletic, fun. No drama. No theatrics. Also, she can keep up with everyone’s burns, ready to clap back when the barrel turns her way. Because Will told Kelly everything, she plays with a loaded deck. She knows about Frank's naked night in the drunk tank at the county barracks, Matt getting gonorrhea from a massage parlor in Morris Park, Grady's weird fear of birds, Danny hound-dogging it since birth.

And she knows all about you too. How you pummel yourself because sometimes it's the only way you can feel anything.

One time Will told you that Kelly got very melancholic whenever your name came up in conversation. She said, “Watching Charlie stumble is like watching the ocean take back a sandcastle that someone spent so much time and effort building.”

At the time, you shook it off. But it was a sticky memory, and even after all these years, the residue is still there.

You turn to check on her, but Kelly’s gone. So you wander to the front porch and find her sitting alone at a small table, smoking and staring at the sunset. You pull a chair over and grab one of her cigarettes. The menthol taste makes you gag, forcing out an elongated “blegh” which makes her laugh.

“I still don’t understand how you smoke these.”

“I quit for a while, then started again. But I have a good excuse, right? Regardless, I’m gonna quit for good when I turn thirty.”

“Why not sooner?”

Her eyes follow something you can’t see and linger. “I’m just tired of being forced to quit things.”

The two of you shoot the shit, keep it light. But then, because you’re smooth as sandpaper whenever an awkward silence hits, you blurt out, “You still dating that cop?”

She frowns and flicks your cheek. “No, I’m not dating that cop.”

“Why not?”

She’s quiet for a second, then asks, “Honestly?”

“Of course.”

She exhales a plume of smoke that floats like a cobweb caught in a breeze. “Because he isn’t Will.”

Which makes you regret asking.

There’s another long pause, so you scramble, flipping through a rolodex of shit to say, until Kelly blurts out, “Did you drive here?”

“Nope. Danny did.”

She nods, then snubs out her cigarette and throws the pack into her purse.

“You leaving?”

She exhales so hard it sounds like she’s cooling a spoonful of soup. “Want to get out of here?”


“Let’s go. Somewhere else. A bar. Anywhere. I don’t care where we go, but I gotta leave. And to be honest, I don't want to go alone. When I’m at a bar alone, the vultures start circling. I don’t feel like getting hit on tonight.”

Before you can stop the words from tumbling out of your fat mouth, you say, “How do you know I’m not gonna hit on you?”

A wry look. A look from someone who knows your game inside and out. “Because you’re Charlie.”

“Damn, that's cold.”

“Not a bad thing.”


She rolls her eyes. “Are you coming or staying? Either way, I’m leaving in about ten seconds.”

You think about the yard, the photo, the sadness behind Mr. McGrath’s smile and say, “Fuck it, let’s go.”


The bar is out near Croton, off a county road lined with mile-high pines that crowd the fog lines, then abruptly dip like a rollercoaster toward the river. It’s nothing like your proverbial haunts – inside it’s all clean glasses, fully stocked speed racks, polished bar top, harmonious jazz. Outside, a bluestone patio draped with string lights, café tables filled with people laughing and eating dinner.

If you squint hard enough, maybe you’re even further away from reality. Maybe a portal opened up and without realizing it, Kelly drove you into it. And within this new plane of existence, there’s an enchanted spell that will life the pain and anger and sadness that’s been holding you hostage for almost two years.

But that’s not how life works. Because as soon as you and Kelly grab stools at the bar, Kelly unloads. “I still can’t believe Will’s dead.”

Her words are breathless, like she’s been holding them in forever.

“I say that to myself at least once a day.”

“It’s like this weird blockage in my brain.”


She sighs. “It’s weird to say, but you don’t just learn to live with it. Like, what am I supposed to do about it now? Should I cry at his grave? Where a black veil around town?”

Before you can respond, the bartender slides over, rubbing his hands together quickly, then holds his palms up like you missed the payoff of a magic trick.

Kelly orders without asking. “Two shorties of whiskey with a Bud back.”

He nods and moves down the line. Kelly starts unwrapping straws. Like ten in a row. Which makes you wonder how broken she really is. You might have known Will longer, but you weren’t planning to build a life together only to lose the necessary half that makes a pair. It must be like someone who loses an arm – maybe they figure out how to manage, but that doesn’t mean it ever gets easier opening a can of soup with their toes.

“Can I tell you something?” She asks.

“Of course.”

But she pauses. Peeks over the cliff. Toes the edge. You can see her brain contemplating the leap.

“Right after it happened,” she says slowly, deliberately, each word more delicate than the previous one. “I thought about killing myself.”

The confession hits you like a tsunami. Every orifice jammed with dirty foaming water full of broken bricks and splintered wood.

Kelly sees you grimace and grabs your hand. "It was only a passing thought. But it did happen. I was sinking so fast. Everyone telling me it would be okay, Will was in a better place, all that nonsense. No one ever asked me what I thought, how I felt.”

You nod, at a loss. Her hand lingers. She notices, blushes, and pulls it away like you’re smoldering.

“I just wish I had a little more time with him, that’s all.”

“Join the club.”

The bartender returns with the drinks. You beat Kelly to the draw and throw cash down. She frowns, scoffs, but doesn’t argue. You both take small sips and sit in silence for a while, the sounds of the restaurant calking the gaps.

When she turns back to you, somehow, she looks better, freer, like unloading the burden allowed her to come up for air.

“I still remember the first time I met you guys.” She says, her voice back to its normal cadence. 

“Oh yeah?”

Her eyes trail off, past the patio, to the silhouetted tree line, searching dusty boxes and bins for the memory. “The train trestle at the reservoir. You remember it?”

“Of course. We lived there for like three summers straight.”

“I think Frank invited me, Diana and Jackie Harris.”

As if spreading by osmosis, you can see what she sees. “Eighth grade, right?”

“Eighth grade. My brother dropped us off. No idea how I convinced him to do that.”

And that’s when you feel it - the pressure on the door, pushing against the jam. Turning the knob. She wants to open it. Air it out. Let the room breathe. And you're going to let her because you want to go back there right now too.

You smile. “I want the Kelly Rizzo POV. Paint me the picture.”

She closes her eyes, bites her lip, searching for the perfect palette, brushes, colors. “You guys were skinny little shits, thought you were so bad ass.”

“We were.”

She laughs, but continues. “You and Frank were yelling at each other about something. Danny made a beeline for Jackie - he always had a thing for her.”

“I'm sure Danny had a thing for you and Diana too.”

Again, she laughs. “Matt was dipping, tobacco juice dripping from his lips. Gross. You and Frank yelling at each other. Grady sitting on a pillar with a boombox, bobbing his head, doing Grady shit. A few other people were there too but I can’t remember who. Just a bunch of angsty boys. And that's what you guys were - little boys. But then I saw Will, off in the distance, observing like he always did. Grinning like he was hot shit. But the display worked, because I remember thinking, who is that guy? I know it’s cheesy to say, but I fell in love with him right there. Like head-over-heels.”

“He always knew what he was doing.”

“He sure did,” she whispers, smiling about something you’re not going to pursue because whatever it is, it’s between her and Will and locked away forever.

But then she grabs the shot and holds it toward yours. “But wanna know something else?”


A devious grin. The rebels breaking free from prison and running amok. “You were my backup.”

Then she winks.

The shot disappears and she closes her eyes and laughs so hard it makes the couple sitting next to you flinch.

Time disappears. The restaurant empties out. It starts to feel like you’re keeping the bar open longer than it should be.

By osmosis, Kelly must feel the same way, because she starts collecting her stuff. “We should probably go.”

You nod.

As she stands up, there’s a different kind of pit in your stomach. The kind that metastasizes when something good is about to end.

“Wait,” you say.

She turns, eyebrows raised.

But have nothing. So you laugh. And Kelly laughs. But something in her eyes shimmers.

And before you can think of a reason to keep the night alive, she asks, “Want to go swimming?”


“You know where.”

There’s another look. It’s distant, but it’s there. You might not know what it means, but you decide to chase it. “Let’s do it. I’ll drive.”

And then you’re gone because, why not? Life is shorter than people think. This is the time to do things like this. Dumb stuff that makes no sense when you’re old and brittle, but all the sense in the world when you’re young and untethered and fighting to keep the lights on.

You can’t run forever. But while you can still run – run.

February 03, 2024 04:44

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Howard Halsall
10:36 Feb 08, 2024

Hello AR, I enjoyed your story very much and loved the rolling tension you created throughout the piece. One intriguing image that sent shivers down my spine was in the line, “Watching Charlie stumble is like watching the ocean take back a sandcastle that someone spent so much time and effort building.” Wow! That’s a reaction I use with caution, but, wow. It worked well given what we learn about Charlie and somehow encapsulated both the theme and the story. Your cast felt strong and fully formed despite their dubious character traits. Mr Mc...


16:46 Feb 08, 2024

Thank you! Really appreciate you taking time to give it a read. I saw some too after I posted - ugh - and didn't realize I couldn't edit. But again, thank you for noting them, I definitely want to give it another look.


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Philip Ebuluofor
19:14 Feb 11, 2024

Fine work. Congrats.


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Kristin Chambers
01:16 Feb 11, 2024

I read a few stories from this prompt and I put yours at the top of the list. The dialogue sounds very natural and does some work, like dialogue should. It evokes real nostalgia for both the characters and reader. Sadness isn’t the overriding emotion which makes the story more powerful as the characters share feelings and ask questions. Your ending ties it all up beautifully.


02:21 Feb 12, 2024

thank you for the feedback, it really helps to know what does and does not work!


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Alexis Araneta
13:21 Feb 10, 2024

Great first submission deserving of a place in the shortlist. I love how you built tension and the raw feel of the story. Great job!


02:20 Feb 12, 2024

Thank you!


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Marty B
01:01 Feb 10, 2024

I liked the conversations between Kelly and the MC. There was caring there, and understanding. Losing someone is painful, and I liked how you described it in this line 'It must be like someone who loses an arm – maybe they figure out how to manage, but that doesn’t mean it ever gets easier opening a can of soup with their toes.'


02:23 Feb 12, 2024

Thank you for the feedback! Was definitely on the fence about that analogy. Sometimes I spin a little too far out of orbit and confuse myself haha.


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Mary Bendickson
19:04 Feb 09, 2024

Congrats on shortlist. Well done.


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David Sweet
17:00 Feb 09, 2024

Congrats on being shortlisted this week. It was a heart-felt story that really caught the reader's attention. Howard’s comments were also spot-on.


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David Sweet
16:54 Feb 07, 2024

This story feels so REAL. Great character development and natural dialogue. Great job with your inaugural piece with Reedsy. Welcome. Hope all your writing projects are going well.


17:17 Feb 07, 2024

Thank you! Very much appreciate the feedback.


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