Suddenly I was there again. Frozen stupid hearing his moans of pain. I can almost see him. His hair which normally stood up on all directions now unevenly short because of the heat. He was holding on to his face. His tanned face which featured his hazel eyes and sweet smile. But there was no smile on his face now. And there never will be.
The hinges of the door broke because of the current of students struggling to get out of the laboratory. As it is, the room smelled funny-toxic even. The teacher struck the alarm and along with the others, I struggled my way out tugging little Annie with me. I knew Vincent was strong enough to take care of himself. But I didn't think he'd be out a little too late.
I stood by the open door as far as I would dare as I watched him make his way out. I prayed under my breath to gods I formerly didn't believe in. Where were the firemen? What's taking them so long? He can make it. Please, let him make it. He was there. An arm length away from me. But what was I supposed to do? I wasn't given time to think. Before I knew what was going on, a burning piece of wood fell on top of him. That was his end.
The smoke filled up my lungs making it hard to breathe. But I didn't pay much attention to it. I was watching my one and only friend die. In front of me. There's something I can do but nothing I am brave enough to execute. I could have grabbed him out of the fire. He would have lived. He would suffer burns but nothing skin grafting can't heal. He would make it through. He would be fine after a month or even less. He would be alive.
I woke up in my room in cold sweat. My pillowcase was soaked and my sheets were kicked down to the floor. When I sat down, a mixture of salty tears and sweat rolled down my cheeks. In the shelf across the room, the teddy bear Vincent gave me for Christmas looked at me accusingly.
My body felt over a ton in weight but I forced myself to stand up nevertheless. How long has it been since I started having this nightmares? I didn't even have to look at the digital clock, with digits that glowed bright green, to know that the time is more or less a quarter past three. It was a routine. A cold reminder of the guilt that remains heavy in my heart.
I made my way towards the bathroom. It usually took nothing but warm water to shake everything off. It has been three years. Nobody blamed me. But I would bet everything I have that it was my fault. Somehow it was my fault. There was something I could do but nothing I was brave enough to execute.
I took in all the sounds of the early morn as I filled the tub with lukewarm water. There were no birds yet and the crickets are still on stage. The house itself was silent aside from my own noise which I didn't bother cover. My mother would have known and my father wouldn't have cared. My baby sister was fast asleep in her crib and not even an earthquake could make her shift in her sleep.
I stripped, threw my clothes on the hamper and plunged in. It was soothing but my mind kept on telling me that I didn't deserve it. Not one bit, it says. I deserve to be in Vincent's place under the damp earth in Angels Cemetery. I saw it in the eyes of his mourning family though I am very much certain it's my mind playing tricks or perhaps punishment on me.
I plunged in deeper submerging my face completely. All sounds have been muted out with the exception of my heart beating which was exaggerated by water. I suppose even the water thinks it shouldn't be beating. Had I been an inch more daring, I would have stayed underneath until I ceased to exist. But such was not the case. After thirty seconds or so, I got up and reached for the soap and scrubbed myself clean. I was aware of the sobs rising up my throat. But all I want is to scrub myself clean of the guilt of that day. That horrible day. There was something I could do but nothing I was brave enough to execute.
I got out and towel-dried myself. I then headed out and put on the first t-shirt I saw and a pair of jogging pants. I intended to go out for a walk but drowsiness got the best of me. So instead, I climbed back to my bed ignoring the bear that was persecuting me across the room and hoped for another chance at sleep. And as always, sleep has been generous.