Carter slowly placed the box on the table. The box wasn't anything special, just a cardboard box, nothing flimsy, but it wasn't anything special. There wasn't anything on the box, just a stream of numbers and a name. His name. And Carter's.
Carter pulled a chair out from under the table and slowly sat down. He leaned against the wood and laced his fingers together. He watched the box. In return, the box didn't do anything. Carter heaved a large sigh and shook his head. He slowly pulled himself out of the chair and over to the fireplace to pull a jar off the mantel. The jar was intricately decorated, but the paint was starting to wear away after years of being stuck in a packing box. Carter had pulled it several weeks ago and had made several attempts to clean it, to bring it back the sparkle and glory that it once had. None of the many chemicals that he had dumped on it had worked all that well, so he had simply placed it on the mantel and left it as it was until it was needed.
As Carter cleaned, he never thought it would come that soon. He thought there would be plenty of time, long enough for him to forget that he had put the jar there, maybe even to forget what it's use was for.
Carter slowly walked back over to the table and sat down again. He groaned slightly. He placed the jar on the table and pulled the box towards him. He slowly eased the top off and put it off to the side. He flexed his fingers slightly, which had been sore for years from constant cello playing. Now, they were practically useless, riddled through with aches and pains as well as having a nice bought of carpel tunnel.
Carter peered into the box.
Inside was a fine grey powder. Carter didn't move for a few minutes until he reached into the box and ran his hands through it. It was grittier than it looked. It wasn't a fine powder. It was almost like sand, grey sand. It was dust. He hands shook slightly as he drifted his them through the powder, more from age than anything else. Carter wanted to feel sorrow, sadness, anything, but he couldn't bring himself to. All he could feel was a soft emptiness and a little bit of distant affection that still flickered far within him, protected by walls of years and memories. Carter scooped up a bit of the powder and let it drift through his fingers. He was thankfully that none of it caught up on the breeze coming in through the window. He didn't want to think about what would happen if even one grain of the dust was lost within the house, to be caught up in the vacuum or dustpan and to be banished to some horrid fate in the trashcan.
Carter licked his lips and scooped a little bit of the dust in his hands, feeling it sift through his fingers back into the box. He licked his cracked lips and smiled at the dust. This was the closest that he could get now. This was it. He leaned forward and kissed the heel of his hands. He sat back up with speckles on his lips. He licked them again and felt the grains in his mouth, little bits of dust. It tasted like a smoky fire, something that he could just barely smell. He shook the sides of the box until the dust inside it flattened out, and he slowly drew a smiley face in it. He wished he could keep it like that for forever. That's what Ethan would want. Ethan was always like that, smiling happily, even in the toughest times, even in the worst weather, even when he was lying in the hospital, oxygen tanks scattered around him, IV needle in his arm. A big cheeky grin spread across his face.
Carter smiled at the dust and shook it clean like an Etch-A-Sketch. He drew another smiley face in it, better than the first. Yes, he missed him. He missed him badly. He was a part of him that was gone forever, someone he would never meet again. But there was something that ran deeper than that. A gratitude for having known him, for having been with him. Carter didn't know how lucky he was to have met Ethan; he didn't know how many people found someone with whom to spend their entire lives. Most of their friends consisted of the pathologically single, or the pathologically taken-but-never-married or so they weren't always the best group to take a sample on for anything long-term.
Carter let his mind wonder some while he drifted his hands around the box. He felt as though he was waiting for something to happen, even though there was nothing he planned on happening. He picked up the jar and slowly undid the top, which had sealed shut after years of settling. Some of the paint cracked as he opened it, but he tried to move as slowly as possible to reduce the damage. He soon got the jar open and put the lid on the table. He moved the chair forward a bit.
He scooped up some of the dust and slowly poured it into the jar. It slid down the ceramics with a soft sound much like a rain stick. He continued filling the jar, letting every speck of dust pass over his fingers. With every handful, he wondered, What part of him is this? Was that handful his silliness? The desire to bring the happiness into every situation regardless of how bad it was going? How about his paranoia? That he would go bald? That he drank too much prune juice? That he would mummify from the amount of Pop-Tarts that he ate? Maybe that handful was his sure determination, to live how he wanted regardless of his family telling him otherwise. The courage to drop out of school to pursue his passion of photography and painting. His daring to oppose people who opposed him and who he was, and to never give in to what others wanted.
He filled the jar and picked up the box to slowly pour the rest of the dust in. He screwed the lid back on and stood up. He walked over and placed it on the mantel. He stepped back.
That's where he would remain: on top of the mantel. Always there. He would never have to leave for work or for some meeting anymore. He wouldn't be at the hospital sick anymore. He would be at home all day... just for him.
Carter heaved a sigh and went to sit on the couch. Those past few weeks, leading up to the day where he finally...
At the time that it happened, he was in a concert. He had bought two seats, even though he knew that the other seat wouldn't be occupied. It remained empty next to him for the duration of those two hours. His phone had rang in the middle of the concert, right after they rejoined from intermission. He had slowly pulled the vibrating phone out of his pocket and quietly listened to the the doctor, right in the middle of the concert. Afterwards, he remained seated until the orchestra was done. Ethan would no longer be waiting for him, so there would be no reason to waste his seat. The concert was rather good as well. Ethan would have enjoyed watching it.
Carter always wondered if he felt regret over not leaving the concert. He couldn't figure it out, but he eventually told himself that there wasn't anything that he could do now. It was in the past now. There was no reason to regret some little part of the past when there was so much of the past to live in and love and enjoy. Carter closed his eyes and took a deep breath, breathing in the soft scent of the house that they had lived in for many years. It still smelled like him, and Carter suspected that it would always smell like him for many many years. Even after Carter himself dies, and another family moves in and lives away their lives with birthdays and kids and Christmases, there would always be Ethan.