I always wondered what Jamie saw in those bad girls. Those girls who laughed loud and didn’t care about curfews.
I mean, it’d been awhile since I knew any of his girls, but I always went back to high school. Those days were lodged in my mind like touchstones. Those high school girls, so reckless with their undone hair and chipped nails. Jamie always had one around.
I looked at my own manicure. Gel. Pink. Flawless. I tried chipping a bit off now, as I stared at my thumbs. Nothing budged. I hadn’t been able to look up yet. Couldn’t imagine under the enamel and wood that Jamie’s soft face was there resting as if sleeping in the coffin in front of me. I’d spoken, our family friends had, a handful of people from his boys’ school shifted listlessly though the funeral home.
What a time to die, I thought. Between high school and college. Not enough real, close friends. Kids you were stuck with in younger years filtering in and out, most opting to post on a soulless Facebook wall. “RIP JAMIE”
At ten years younger than me, Jamie was still a baby. Had been. Had been still a baby. His wide, pale face and long dark lashes framing his large, dark eyes. Warm and always almost devilish. His big mouth, soft and almost bloated. A mop of dark hair. Dead hair.
Or was it? Had’t I read somewhere that hair kept growing a bit after you were dead? I tapped the screen of my phone to look it up. Then I stopped.
My fingers looked thin and fake. They seemed dry and nervous. I glanced up at the white casket. It was closed. A car accident wasn’t the way Jamie was supposed to go. And not the way to go for an open casket.
I almost choked on a cough and stood.
Where was I going? An embarrassed hesitation, and I walked outside.
Outside the day was beautiful. It was one of those New England fall days where the sky is so unreachably high and the blue is so crisp, it’s almost fake. The leaves are loud and only seem to rustle when it’s an important pause in conversation or when you notice them, shifting as softly as dying things can in an unshakable, frigid wind.
The marble steps were wide and I sat myself down, looking at the three best friends Jamie had in the last few months. They drank something from a paper bag and nodded at me. I managed a smile but secretly I hated them.
I hated them for killing Jamie. Hadn’t they? Hadn’t they led to his downfall, his partying, his fast days and sleepless nights? I choked myself inside for not being more present. More sisterly. Wasn’t that an older sibling’s job? Take care of yours. And look what you’d done. Nothing. Jamie was dead. Little Jamie in his baggy baby pants and then his blazer for middle school and asking for homework help and looking at you with those pleading eyes and how could you have let him down?
How? Those times he wanted help with the fridge and that time he had pissed in your bed when you were ten and the babysitter laughed. How could you have followed suit? Those times you could have been better. Those times he looked up to you and you were gone. At summer camp. At debate camp. At model U.N. Then gone. College. Boyfriends. Gone.
My idiot brother. Troublemaker. Class clown. Late night drunk dialer, annoyance, so sorry, my brother. Gone.
I rested my forehead on my thin fingers and wept. I kept seeing those faces, those pretty faces of his bad girls who filtered in and out. That one with the black hair and the dark skin who paused before tip-toeing down the back stairs that long-ago night and gave me a look like, “I’m sorry. Not like this, I’m sorry.” She was beautiful. What had they seen in him? What had he seen in them?
My chest hurt and I tried to calm myself. I could feel a few nervous glances but I didn’t care. I let my back shake and my tears hit the edge of my dress. When I opened my eyes, I saw the dark spots on the hem of my slip and breathed in deep. Mascara dotted and speckled its silk. I felt ruined.
And I wanted to see him, Jamie. I wanted to see Jamie like an almost man. Not a little boy. I wanted to see him like those girls who crept in like smoke. Those girls I was so jealous of, those girls who could be themselves. For better or worse. I looked up and the three friends were still there. They were looking away. All were but then, not one. He looked at me, that tall blonde kid with the lanky frame. He didn’t look away. He just turned, and his hand was at once level to mine, closing in a few strides away.
Then it was upon mine. His hand held out a cigarette.
I finally looked up at him. A curtain of fringe fell in front of his grey eyes and blended with my tears and I snatched it. I took that cigarette and I shook.
I wanted to see what they all saw. I wanted to be like Jamie. I held it like I’d seen in the movies. My lips were dry and parted themselves and my hair caught in that fucking cold autumn breeze.
“Do you have a light?”