The rope swung, drawn taut, heavy with the weight. It stirred up dust that floated aimlessly, glittered in the dawn sunlight that poured through a murky window.
And I felt like I'd been sitting there forever.
"When can we leave?" I asked quietly, breaking the silence. My sneakers scraped over bits of straw as I drew my knees up to my chest.
"Are you scared?" Josh's voice rang. It echoed through the barn, and I looked up at him as he sat on one of the rafters, casually slouched against an A-frame. There was still blood on his hands and he wiped them against his jeans. His eyes met mine, holding a hard edge that sent a shiver down my spine. "You don't get the privilege to be scared, Kirsten."
Rob stood at the entrance of the barn, leaning against the frame with a fresh cigarette in one hand and a lighter in the other. "We leave once we know he's dead," he said simply.
Josh scoffed. "He's dead, dumbass."
I bit my lip, feeling the corners of my eyes begin to sting. My heart was still pounding voraciously, drumming in my ears.
This wasn't supposed to happen, this wasn't supposed to happen, this wasn't supposed to --
"This is probably the only chance you'll ever get to see a dead body this close, aside from funerals," said Rob, taking a long drag on the cigarette. Its end glowed amber and he slowly exhaled, his gaze flicking to me. "Don't you want to savor the moment?"
Leaning my forehead against my knees, I squeezed my eyes shut and shook my head. I couldn't let them see me cry. "I want to go home."
"This is what you wanted," Josh said suddenly, sharply. His voice raised. "We did this for you, Kirsten, so quit acting like a bitch."
Rob sighed. "Calm down."
"And you don't tell me what to do either," Josh spat. There was a creaking sound, a groan of wood. He was probably coming back down now. "I'm the one that did everything. If it wasn't for me, you two pussies would still be back in the woods, trying to decide what to do with him."
I looked up, watching as he climbed down from the rafters, adroit and agile as if he'd been doing it all his life. His words burned in my mind, in my veins, stamped in and leaving an indelible mark. I clutched at the cuff of my sweatshirt, closing my fist so tight that I could feel my fingernails pressing into my palm.
Brandon's body swung slowly, like a sluggish pendulum. His shrinking shadow passed over me.
"Let's go," Josh said. He crossed the concrete floor and closed the distance between us, carelessly brushing off his clothes. The blood didn't come off. "This place smells like ass."
Rob flicked his cigarette onto the ground and slipped his hands into the pockets of his varsity jacket. "You would know."
"I'll take her," Josh said, reaching for my arm. He pulled me up and I stood, trembling. A chill swept over me. "You can find your own way home," he said to Rob, who shrugged and let off an easy grin.
"Fine, you deal with her."
There was mirth in his tone.
Josh's arm slipped over my shoulder and he stood me in front of Brandon, tipping my chin upwards with his other hand. "Well? Any last words?"
I quickly lowered my gaze and shook my head. It took me a moment to find my voice, and when I did it was quiet; broken. "I just want to -- "
"Leave, I know. I get it." He sighed, then grabbed me by the arm again. "We're going." He led me to the double doors, where Rob still stood lazily, head cocked to the side as he stared at Brandon, unblinking.
The icy morning air set in over us as we stepped through the threshold. I rubbed my hands against each other and glanced briefly at Josh as he disappeared around the side of the Jeep. I opened the passenger door with shaky hands and climbed in slowly as my stomach turned and knotted. He jammed the keys into the ignition, glancing at me.
I nodded meekly as I settled into the seat, leaning my head against the window. It was fogged up and opaque. I could only see Rob's blurred figure and a faint, shadowy outline of the barn.
"If not today," Josh began as the car roared to life, "someone else would've done it. Eventually. Karma's a bitch." He sat back, putting one hand to the steering wheel. "Or are you afraid we're going to get caught? Is that it?"
Closing my eyes, I sighed heavily. Getting caught was the furthest thing from my mind.
"Don't start crying," he mumbled, turning on the radio. The car started to make its way down the narrow dirt path. "You're not allowed to cry."
"Then stop sniveling in the corner."
I shifted and sat forward. "I'm not."
"Then look at me, dammit," he snapped.
His tone took me back and I did as he said, meeting his gaze.
"What am I supposed to say?" I asked.
He remained quiet, stare cold, and turned his attention to the road. I sat back in my seat, drawing my hands into my sleeves in an attempt to warm up.
A moment passed, and then he answered, levelly, "Some sort of thank you would be nice."