The phone rings and rings, but no one picks up. So, I send a text message. After a few minutes, I could tell that they read it, but they don't reply. It's getting late and I need to get home anyway.
I turn onto the freeway.
Bright lights cut me off.
I feel myself crash against the freeway barrier and my bike landing on top of me. Did I break my leg? I try to move my arms. Nothing. I feel my back crack. The car backs up and speeds off.
I heave. They left me. They just left me there.
Cars stop alongside the shoulder. A few pairs of feet skid to a halt beside me. They're blurry.
The sirens come next and the flashing of red and blue lights.
Ambulance rushing to the hospital.
"Stay with us, Sweetie," they say.
If you knew the person you cared about was going to die today, what would you say? What would you do?
What would the person who died say?
I've never really thought about it while I was alive.
I died last night. Maybe, it was time to consider it.
I woke up today. Woke up is probably the wrong phrase to use. It's more along the lines of becoming conscious.
I became conscious, but I wasn't at the hospital or some limbo state. I'm not even at my own house. No. I'm here, at her house.
I tread across her carpet softly, not like I could make any noise. I stand in front of her window and look out, noticing her view of the street and how she can look straight into her neighbor's living room if they kept their curtains open.
She has papers scattered across her desk. A work schedule and another one probably for her upcoming volleyball season. Her assignments from her last semester were pushed to far corner. The paper on top was marked with a red 87%.
I peek over my shoulder and take another glance around her room. It's been ages since the last time I'd been in here. This last year or so, we found it hard to find time to hang out. With school and work, we barely saw each other in passing. I was busy. She was busy.
She, my best friend, Isa Morales.
She's still asleep. The morning light hadn't stirred her awake yet.
Honestly, how could she not be awake right now? Why wasn't she bawling her eyes out and having a fit over me?
I stomp over to her bed and stare down at her. "I'm dead," I say out loud. "Why aren't you doing anything?"
She lays still, not even a stir.
I look down at her cellphone. No incoming notifications.
She doesn't know. My best friend doesn't know I'm dead.
# # #
She's finally awake and I'm following her down the hall to the kitchen.
She yawns loudly, stretching her arms over her head. Her hair trails down slowly over her shoulder, stopping midway down her back. She told me she was going to cut it.
Her feet slap lightly against the tile floor.
"Charlie." She walks over to the table and kisses the top of her step-brother's head. "You're up before me? That's a surprise."
Charlie stuffs a spoonful of cereal in his mouth. He swallows and then says, "going over to mom's today."
"I remember." She grabs a box of fruit-flavored cereal off the counter and sits down next to him.
They go about eating, like it's any other Saturday morning. I guess for them, it is.
Isa's mom, Regina, comes down the hall and greets them, kissing the top of Charlie and Isa's heads. "Charlie, your mom should be coming around in the next hour or so, make sure you have everything you need."
He nods, his mouth full.
"Isa, are you working today?" Regina pours herself a cup of coffee.
Isa shakes her head. "Have the day off actually. First time in a long time."
"That's good to hear, baby. Maybe you can finally get to cleaning the bathroom, hm?"
I can't help smirking.
Regina sits down at the table across from Charlie and Isa and immediately opens her laptop.
Charlie steps away from the table and sets his used dishes in the sink. He slips away from the kitchen and heads down the hall to his room.
Isa drops her dishes into the sink as well. "Can I at least watch some TV first?"
Regina chuckles. "Sure, but I want that bathroom cleaned today. It's gross."
Isa ambles into the living room and drops down onto the sofa, switching the television on. I walk into the living room after her, stopping by their living room window. After a few minutes of just staring out at nothing but dead grass, a dull green colored Corolla pulls into their driveway.
A weird sense of foreboding fills me. This is it. That stupid green car was mine before I got my bike. There are only two other people who are desperate enough to drive that thing, my mom and my brother. Who was it going to be? Who came on this beautiful Saturday morning to let my best friend know I'm dead?
The car door opens, but the person inside doesn't step out. They sit their, biding their time.
I stand by the front door and wait.
The doorbell rings, making Isa sit up with a groan. "I'll get it."
She pads to the door. "Damn, I'm still in my pajamas."
She opens the door and gasps. "Kei!" She squeaks. She looks around his shoulder, but ushers him inside anyway. "Come in. What are you doing here?"
Kei gulps. I guess he would be the one to come. Mom would probably be too upset. Dad would be on his way home from some business trip.
Kei's eyes go to the floor, but I can't tell if he was staring at the ground or Isa's elephant patterned pajama bottoms.
"I-" his voice wavers.
Isa lays a hand on his arm. He fidgets.
"Kei, what is it?"
"It's Henry," Kei says.
"Is he okay?"
Kei shakes his head.
His gaze moves to her hand and then slowly, he finally gains the courage to look her in the eye. "Henry was in a car accident last night."
She squeezes his arm.
"He didn't make it."
She breathes in and breathes out. "What?"
"He died last night."
She drops her hand from his and takes a step back. "What?"
Just then, Regina walks in, probably wondering who it was at the door. She walks over with a wide grin. "Kei, honey, it's been ages. How are you?"
Kei gapes. "I'm fine."
She looks between Kei and Isa. "Is everything alright?"
Isa shakes her head. Her hair falls beside her face, hiding her expression.
Regina looks over at my brother. "Kei?"
Kei's eyes remain downcast. "My brother, he passed away last night," he pauses, "he was in a car accident."
Regina doesn't gasp, but she looks taken aback. She places a hand on Kei's shoulder. "Honey, I'm so sorry. Are you alright? How's your mother?"
Isa suddenly turns around and bolts from the room.
"Isa!" Regina calls after her. She slowly looks back at my brother.
Kei sighs. "We're all fine. My mom is sad," he shakes his head, "but she wanted you all to know."
"Thank you," Regina says softly. "For coming all the way here to tell us. You should head back to your mother. We're fine here. Let us know if you need anything at all."
Kei nods and quickly scampers out.
I look between him and the hallway Isa ran down. I go after my brother.
Home always felt warm and comforting and noisy. There was chatter, sometimes between my mom and my aunt or my mom and my grandma. Every now and then there was the quiet murmur between my mom and dad, like they were privy to a never ending supply of secrets. The TV was somehow always on and my brother doesn't know how to turn off the stereo in his room, so there's always music playing from within.
Today, it felt nothing like that.
I was immediately overwhelmed by the silence. It was thick and if I was alive, I'm sure I'd be choking on it.
My mother is sitting in the living room in the back of the house. Her usual calm composure is absent and instead she sits with her arms wrapped around a pillow and crying. Her short black hair is in disarray and her eyes are red. I don't see my father, but as I look past the room and into the kitchen I see my aunt sitting at the kitchen table, a phone at her ear.
I move past them and head to my brother's room. The TV is on and I can hear the audio from one of Kei's video games.
I walk inside and see Ben, one of my younger cousins, sitting on the floor in front of Kei's bed. I think he's going to start high school this year. A a video game controller is in his hand.
"It's okay if I play?" Ben looks over his shoulder.
Kei is laying on his bed. "I said yes," he grumbles back.
Ben sighs and continues with the gameplay.
I tread carefully into the room. I couldn't really remember the last time I was in Kei's room either. I was always working and whenever I was home, he was in here with the door closed.
Kei leans over and picks up his handheld. He opens it and continues playing whichever game was currently on.
I look at my brother. He has short hair, but he keeps the strands a lot longer than I did. But it was dark, just like mine. Some strands of his hair fell over his eyes. He'd gotten taller these last few months. I don't know where he got that trait from. None of us were particularly tall.
I glance at his closet and notice his graduation gown heaped in the corner. At least I got to see him walk. He was the smart one. Graduated high school at the top of his class. I barely passed with C averages.
"Kei?" A quiet voice interrupts the tense air in the room.
Kei and I look over to the doorway to see our Aunt Yuna standing there.
"What should I make for dinner?"
Kei shrugs. "I'm not hungry."
Aunt Yuna nods and sighs.
"I want some spaghetti, mom," Ben voices from the floor.
She rolls her eyes. "Yes, sweetie."
She stalks back down the hallway. Kei's attention remains on his game, as if our aunt and cousin weren't just discussing something simple and innocent, like dinner.
His fingers jab at the buttons. He presses on with a passion, trying to finish whatever task his hero is set out to do.
"Damnit." He slams it shut and tosses it on the bed beside him. "I keep dying."
He settles back on his bed and covers his eyes with his arm.
With Kei off to dreamworld, I'm suddenly back at Isa's house. I'm in the hallway, leading to the bedrooms.
I watch Charlie drop a duffle bag down beside his door and then tip-toe over to Isa's slightly open door.
"Isa?" He peaks his head inside.
She didn't answer.
He walks into her room. I follow him in.
Isa is lies on her bed, facing away from the door.
"Isa?" Charlie speaks again. He crawls onto the bed and lies down beside her. "I don't have to go. I can stay here with you, if you'd like."
Isa turns over to face him. Her eyes are puffy and she sniffs. She'd been crying. "Charlie, you don't have to do that. You and your mom have been planning this weekend a long time. She really wants to spend the day with you. Go," she tucks her arm under her head, "you should go."
"Are you sure?"
She smiles. "I'll be fine. I just want to lay here and I don't want you to be bored. Okay?"
Charlie nods. He shifts and wraps an arm around Isa's torso. "I'm sorry about Henry."
Her lower lip trembles. "Me too. Be careful and have fun today." She runs a hand through his curly dark hair.
He nods again. He lets her go and crawls back off the bed. "Love you," he calls out from the door.
She gives him a small smile. "Love you too."
He slips past the door and closes it behind him.
"You're lucky," I say out loud, "you have such a nice step-brother."
I sit down at her desk. "Don't people usually complain about their step-siblings?" I ask her, even though she can't hear a word I'm saying.
Her fingers reach over the bed spread, slowly creeping over where Charlie had previously been. She lets out a heavy sob.