(Dedicated to Anna Nepomucino)
"Hi Anna, how are you today?" My best friend asked as he plopped down beside me on the couch.
"Fine Brad. You?" I said wearily, tired from a day filled with tests and quizzes. He and I were sitting in the middle of the student lounge.
"Hmm. Do you mean to tell me you're skipping?" He looked down at me disapprovingly, cocking an eyebrow.
"Yeah," I grinned sheepishly up at him. "My first time, too." It was time for my last class, and no test had been scheduled. I decided I'd had enough for today, and cut it. Besides, underneath the exhaustion of an unusually busy day, I had the strangest feeling that something was wrong, somewhere. Not with me, but with someone I cared about. I looked around the quiet room and shivered, because sometimes this kind of feeling had been exactly right many times in the past, and I was hoping that this time it wouldn't be. Running a hand through my black hair, I sighed with relief to know that obviously Brad was safe, because he was sitting right here with me. I waited for the conversation to pick up again.
Looking at Brad and admiring the dark hair and eyes, I remembered he didn't have a class at all this period. I myself felt a little strange not learning chemistry this time of the day, and I kept thinking that at any minute Brad would begin to elaborate on just how much he disapproved of my skipping, because we had always encouraged each other to do our best in every subject. But if he was upset with me, he was hiding it well. Nevertheless, I continued to study him closely. I smiled, thinking about my parent's latest attempts to bring up the possibility of Brad and I as a couple. I had immediately brought up the possibility that Brad and Tammony, his girlfriend, would be a couple forever.
I had no intention of ruining that, I'd spent too much time as friends with both of them to ruin all three of our lives. "How's Tammony?" I asked, suddenly curious, because I hadn't seen her in a couple of days.
"She's fine...a little upset though." Brad said, looking down very intently at his shuffling feet.
"Why, what's going on?" I asked, feeling a frown droop over my face.
"Um, maybe its better if she tells you herself. I think she'll be able to talk about it better with you than me." That worried me. Until now, Brad had always told me everything, anytime, no matter what, and I had never had to push him. I suppressed the urge to start now.
"Neat camera." he piped before I could phrase a new question. I swallowed as I realized he really wasn't going to talk about it with me.
"Uh, thanks." I said nervously.
"Uh," he said, and from the look in his eyes I could see he was doing an imitation of me, so I smiled. The tension that seemed to have been building in the air around the two of us faded somewhat. "Wanna take a picture of me?" he asked suddenly. This surprised me, because normally he hated cameras.
"For what? For whom?" I said teasingly using the questions he normally did to get out of a photo opportunity, grinning.
"Everyone. Tammony. You." He replied softly, suddenly very serious again, bringing some of the earlier tension back.
"Sure." I whispered, wondering what was really going on now but still afraid to ask. I used the entire role of film on his better-than-average looking mug. In most of the pictures he just stood around looking stiff and shy, but for a few he struck some very strange, cute, or amusing poses for me. When we finished, he dug into one of his pockets and asked,
"Could you give this to Tammony for me?" handing me a small brown plastic box.
"Can't you?" I asked, perplexed.
"No. Don't worry, you'll understand later."
"Well, okay," I said doubtfully. "Whatever you want." I said, taking the box from him and putting it in my coat pocket. He suddenly hugged me. As we wrapped our arms around each other, I noticed that something about his body felt very different from the last time we'd touched, but I couldn't place what it was. He released me, looked deep into my eyes and smiled, and then he suddenly waved and ran off towards the gym. I remained still for a moment, thinking, wondering why and how I knew that something was changing forever. Then I picked up my bag and loped off towards the theater, where I knew Tammony should be this period.
Halfway there I noticed the sound of ambulance sirens, and cringed at how close they sounded. I stopped suddenly as it dawned on me that that was what had been the odd ringing in my ears for the past few minutes, and I hadn't even noticed. I looked up and saw that the theater doors were open, which was unusual for this time of day. I could see Tammony just inside those doors, sobbing hysterically.
I barely felt my bag drop to the floor with a loud bang as I ran over to her, putting my arms around her as tight--even tighter than Brad had just held me. She grabbed me back and began trying to explain, which only made things worse because she was so out of sorts. As she babbled, she led me to the stage. The eerie feeling of premonition washed over me again, even before I saw what had happened. Through a crowd of ambulance technicians I saw Brad lying there, with broken glass and other bits of the current façade all round him.
I went completely numb as Tammony somehow calmed down and began to make sense. But considering that I had just been with Brad, I believed her story would never truly make sense to me.
"It was about a half hour ago." Tammony rambled. "He climbed up the façade to get one of the props some people had been tossing around. We think his arm touched an exposed live wire, and the shock threw him," She paused, and failed to hold back a fresh sob. "It stopped his heart. They tried CPR forever, but he's gone."
"No!" I shouted, breaking out of my numbness. "He's gone" was echoing in my mind. I began screaming, trying to get the little words out of my mind, because I was so sure they weren't true. "I was taking pictures of him not fifteen minutes ago!" Tammony and I sat on the floor and began to cry together. Aching for something to do, I pulled the little box out of my coat pocket. "He, he asked me to give this to you! He just asked me fifteen minutes ago!" I whispered between sniffles.
Tammony nodded and accepted the box, but at first she only held it tightly, not ready to know its contents. We put our heads on each others' shoulders and cried silently for several minutes. Confused and hurt, I buried my head further into her thick red curls. Eventually she lifted up her head and peered at the box. Then she slowly lifted the top off. Inside was a bracelet of solid white gold. Inscribed on the platelet were the words, "I love you." This time our crying reached hysterics and no one in the theater could comfort us.
After the funeral she and I went to the photo mat. Despite what I had seen I was still surprised to see Brad in every single photo. The proof that he truly had died before that last farewell was in just one picture. In the very last photo, he stood calmly smiling for the camera, and behind him, a pair of beautiful, silvery blue wings jutted out from his back.