It was his mother who told her.
Bee knew something was wrong right away, though, as soon as she answered the door early Saturday morning to find Irene Smith standing outside, her car parked across the street, with no trace of either her normally friendly smile or her son.
"Hi," Bee said tentatively. "Do you . . . do you want to come in?"
"Hello, Sabina." Irene had never called her by her nickname. "Can I talk to you?"
"Sure . . ." Bee stood aside so she could walk in. No one else was outside. "Is . . . is Carl with you?"
"No." Irene's voice shook just slightly. "That's . . ." Her lip was now quivering. Bee had never seen Irene Smith's lip quiver, and that was when she knew. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about."
She was still standing in the doorway; Bee was off to the side, hand still on the door handle, and suddenly, she found herself clutching it, leaning against the open door just to stay upright as Irene told her about last night, how Carl had been driving alone in the rain, and the car that had come out of nowhere, swerving out of an intersection, out of control, and ramming into him before spinning off, and how he'd been rushed to the hospital but . . .
"No." Bee's whole body was shaking; one of her hands rose from the door handle to stop halfway through the air. She watched it quiver, hanging in front of her, as though it wasn't part of her. "Please tell me you're joking . . . it's an awful joke, but Carl's going to come through the door now . . . oh, God, please . . ."
But Irene's stoic exterior had broken down, the tears were running down her face, and suddenly Bee was in her arms, and they just stood there like that in front of the open door for who knows how long.
Bee pulled away, finally. Her eyes were still dry, somehow – her whole insides felt frozen over. "Last night?"
"Who else—" Bee broke off. "Have you told his other friends?"
"You're the first one." Irene wiped her eyes.
"Come in." Bee closed the door, still feeling numb. It hadn't hit her yet, somehow. "Sit down." She wondered if she should feel honored that they'd told her first, if it made her somehow special. She'd always wanted to be more to him than just another friend, but not like this – never like this.
His mother sank down onto the couch as though boneless. Bee wondered how she'd managed to stay standing the whole time – wondered if that was all that made it bearable for her. "Where's Gabrielle?" Why wasn't Irene's daughter with her?
"She's at home . . . dealing – with it." Irene's hands folded together in her lap, clenched so tightly her knuckles were white. "We've – we've called his grandparents, and his uncle – and now – I thought I'd better tell his friends."
Beyond her own sadness, Bee felt a wave of sympathy wash over her. "Do you want . . . me to come with you?" she offered hesitantly, wondering if she was overstepping her bounds.
But Irene looked up at her with surprised eyes, and then nodded. "If you . . . if you can, I'd . . . it'd be nice to have some company."
"No problem." In a sort of daze, Bee stood up and walked to her parents' room.
Half an hour later, she was sitting in the front seat of the little blue car, next to Irene, on their way to Andrew's house. Andrew was Carl's best friend ("Aside from you, of course," Carl had always told her, smiling at her and making her insides grow warm), and he would be the second to know.
His father answered the door, and looked a bit confused at first. But obviously he'd met Irene before, and he welcomed her warmly. She opened her mouth, but then closed it again, unable to speak.
"Could we speak to Andrew, please?" asked Bee. Some part of her noted, surprised, how cool and detached her voice had sounded while saying that, as though she was somehow okay, as though her life hadn't just come crashing down around her. She wondered if maybe it just hadn't sunk in yet.
Andrew appeared at the door a few minutes later, first smiling and then confused. Why would Bee be showing up with Irene and without Carl? Bee felt like she could read the confusion on his face.
And then they explained.
His face was blank at first. "You're joking, right?" he asked, looking around the way Bee had, as though he was expecting Carl to jump from around the corner and shout, "Gotcha!" But he wouldn't, he never would – and, Bee realized with a start, she'd never hear his voice again.
"Oh my . . ." Her hand flew to her mouth; she didn't realize she'd spoken aloud until Irene and Andrew both turned to stare at her. Now the tears were coming; she could feel them prickling at the backs of her eyelids, could feel her whole face growing warm. "N-nothing," she choked around the huge metal ball that had suddenly appeared in her throat. "No, Andrew, we're – we're – we're not joking."
"Yes – yes you are!" He looked around frantically, his face turning red, his eyes widening – and then he sank to the ground in front of the door and put his head in his hands.
Bee rubbed hard at her eyes. No, she told herself, hold it in, hold it in, you cannot cry in front of Andrew. She jammed the heels of her hands into her eyes, tugging her fingers through her bangs, biting hard on her lower lip.
Suddenly, Andrew had stood up and he was hugging both of them – first Irene, who clung to him the way she'd clung to Bee earlier, and then Bee herself. She'd never hugged him before, and was surprised at first – but then she realized, it was because they'd lost Carl, they'd lost him, and Andrew loved him too.
His shoulders were shaking against hers, and someone was sobbing, but Bee didn't know if it was Andrew or herself, she just held on because she needed someone to hold on to.
When they finally let go of each other, Irene hugged them both again, and then they went back to the car – this time with a third passenger.
After that, though, it was just the three of them. There were others to tell, and they were devastated, of course – Carl had meant so much to so many – but no one needed to be there the way Irene, Andrew and Bee did. And when they'd finally told everyone who was really important, everyone who needed to know today, they returned to the Smiths' house.
Gabrielle was there, his older sister – now an only child. She sat upright in a chair, face blank, staring around her as though she didn't recognize the room in which she was sitting. Irene went into her bedroom, but somehow Andrew and Bee ended up sitting in the room with Gabrielle, and they made a triangle, a triangle of silence, just sitting there and remembering.
Bee remembered when they met, at day care when they were both only four years old, remembered going to school together for the next thirteen years. She remembered water fights in the yard with her brother and his friend, remembered hour-long phone conversations, staying up late into the night and talking about anything and everything. She remembered when he'd learned her full name and tried to call her "Bean," remembered punching him in the arm and telling him her name was Bee and if he didn't use it she'd show him how hard she could sting. She wondered what the other two were remembering.
Finally, she broke the silence.
"I loved him, you know."
The other two looked at her with no surprise at all. "I know," said Andrew.
She nodded. It seemed everyone had, at school, anyway.
"He loved you, too." Gabrielle's eyes finally focused on her, though they still seemed to be looking somewhere far, far away. They were the exact same brown as her brother's.
"Did he?" Bee whispered softly, brokenly. She pressed suddenly-shaking hands to her cheeks, felt the tears dripping onto her fingertips. "I never – I never got to tell him."
"He did." Andrew now. "I know he did. And he never got to tell you, either."
"He'll – he'll never know."
And that was it – she dissolved. Nothing was numb now, and she wished it were again, because this pain – this sharp, piercing, icy pain – was worse than anything else. Because she'd realized, suddenly understood, that he was no longer here. And he never would be again.
"Bee" – Andrew's arms were suddenly around her again, and then Gabrielle's, and then they were no longer a triangle, but a knot, a knot of love and understanding, and a knot of three frayed strings trying to hold themselves together.