Before


He leaned into her, rough and supple lips meeting in a soft kiss. He deepened it, entangling his calloused fingers in her long strawberry blonde hair, sliding his tongue past the barrier her bottom lip created. It was never a battle for dominance; only a harmonious dance. She smiled against his mouth, her dainty hands catching the fabric of his gray shirt, running her hands over every inch of his chest. He pulled back, far too soon by his own opinion, for the air he had neglected to breathe. Though, truth be told, he wouldn't ever complain about the lack of breathlessness. He opened his eyes slowly, watching hers, the ones unsure of whether or not they wanted to be blue or green or some hue in between, as they fluttered open. A love-struck giggle fell off of her lips and into the air, sounding to him like a child's laughter or bells or music; he couldn't pin his finger on it, but, God, was it beautiful. So much so, he couldn't help the way that he began laughing with her.

She stopped abruptly in the midst of her giggles. Her eyes widened for a moment, and she averted her gaze as she shyly admitted, "I totally forgot why I was laughing."

The boy grinned in response, chuckles escaping his mouth as he laid down next to her, taking a strand of her hair around his fingertips to occupy himself with, staring at her flushed face. Such a sight she was. A short girl, whose fiery personality made up for her small stature, sprawled across a cherry red carpet. Her face was pink and freckled, her cheeks lit up by his muted TV, a movie long ago forgotten playing across its clear screen. He pauses, thinking of ways to reply, before saying with a crooked smile, "Well, I was laughing because I'm happy."

She looks puzzled and suspicious before she asks, "Why?"

He smirks, pretending to be in deep thought with his chin in his hand.

"Because my life's perfect," he looks pointedly at her while he says that, watching a new blush paint her cheeks as she looked away, a smile playing at the corner of her lips. He sat up little bit, leaning down toward her and kissing her freckled, sloped nose just as she began to yawn. He smiled at her before saying softly, "Lilly, love, it's late and you're tired. Lem'me take you home, okay?"

He stood up, stretching his arms and looking down at her expectantly. She huffed, reached towards him and asked in the smallest voice she could muster, "Carry me?"

He sighed dramatically, scooping her up into his arms, half scolding himself for giving into her every whim, half loving every minute of it, "Anything for you, darling."

His thoughts were cut short as he heard footsteps drudge down the carpeted staircase. He looked back and saw his little sister, clad in her baggy band t-shirt, small shorts, and thick raven glasses pushed up the bridge of her nose. Her whole presence nearly screamed rebellion. The ever present stoic expression she held was broken by a smirk that danced around her lips. Her tiny black ponytail bobbed as she raises an eyebrow at him as she mocks, "Where you going, darling?"

The boy readjusted his grip on his "tired" girlfriend before answering with a scowl, "Shut up Mandy! I'm taking Lilly home. I'll be home in a few minutes, okay? Don't wake up Gramm with your satanic rituals or whatever."

The young girl scoffed in response, waved him off and nodded as she stole the leather couch, raising the volume of the movie. She looked over at them, crinkling her nose but smiling, "No promises. Bye, Lilly."

Lilly managed to give the girl an animated wave despite her apparent "exhaustion." He slid his feet into a worn pair of sandals, just barely remembering to grab his girlfriend's own pair, stepping into the warm spring night.

She smiled at him, tracing patterns into his chest and whispering in a soft voice, "You're the best, Joshua Elliot."

"The best?" he teased, "Or just well trained?"

She gave a sweet and embarrassed laugh as he buckled her into the passenger seat, discarding her shoes onto the floor of his truck, then climbing into the driver's seat beside her. He put one hand on the wheel, before letting her lean into him and grasping her other hand. She smiled as he peppered soft kisses on each of her knuckles.

"Josh?" Lilly timidly asked, head rested on his shoulder. He looked down at her as she continued, "What do you think we're going to do?"

He looked at her strangely, "What do you mean, babe? I'm taking you home -"

"No." she quickly interrupted. He felt her face get hot on his arm, listening to her meek stutter, "I mean...I mean together. With our lives. Our lives, together."

He raised an eyebrow at her question, before smiling at her embarrassment, his heart swelling in his chest as he answered, "Well we're gonna get married, that's a fact. I'm going to have the hot little lawyer wife I've always wanted, and she's going to be an awesome mom. We'll have lots of kids, of course, with your eyes and smile and my amazing sense of humor. We'll have a dog, too. And we'll have a big backyard with a white picket fence and everything under the sun, quite literally, because we'll be living in California, we'll be getting out of this place. And you know what? We're going to grow old together, and live our lives happily ever after. How does that sound for a future?"

She mulled over his words for a moment, before quietly asking, "You mean all that? You want all that with me?"

He took his eyes off the road to look at her, with her flushed face and hopeful eyes. He looked at her and saw the girl who saved him on the playground in fourth grade, the girl who gave him his first kiss in the seventh grade, the girl who became his first girlfriend their freshman year. He looked at her and saw the girl who helped him disentangle the fork from his braces, the girl that taught him how to slow dance, the girl who made him fall so desperately and hopelessly in love. He looked at her and saw the girl he sought to spend the rest of his life with; he looked at her and saw the girl who embodied everything pure and kind and good; he looked at her and saw the girl that was his whole world.

He smiled at her, completely genuine, lifting his hand from hers to pull the hair away from her face, "I wouldn't have it any other way. I wouldn't have it with anyone else."

The image of her, nose sprinkled in freckles, looking at him up through her lashes, lips barely parted and begging for a kiss was the last thing he saw before the lights of an oncoming semi-trailer invaded his vision.

And then there was nothing.


After


He woke up some time later in a room with white walls. These walls, though, they were not the pretty, pure white that embodied Lilly and all her innocence. It was the sterile, lifeless kind of white, the kind you only saw in hospitals or church chapels.

He slowly turned his head, forced his eyes open, and found his little sister staring back at him. She held the hand of their ailing Gramm, tears welled up in her big brown eyes. She pulled away from the sleeping elder and jumped from her chair, grabbing at his hand, infested with tubes and wires. She squeezed his digits. and he saw the tears rolling down her face as his vision began to clear.

"Josh!" she managed to choke out, "You're awake!"

He paused, staring at her, trying to clear the haze in his mind with a flurry of blinks, "W...Wha...Where am I, Mandy?"

"We're in the hospital. You were in a car accident, Josh, don't you remember? You were taking Lilly home..." she trailed off, the air growing thick, his heart dropping.

"Mandy," he said, his voice coated in panic, "Wh-Where's Lilly? Is she okay?"

She said nothing for a while, but her guilty, tearful eyes spoke for her. She avoided looking at him, his anger rising, his voice so loud he was sure the nurses could hear, "Where's Lilly?"

Mandy opened her mouth, before whimpering and shutting it again, holding a hand to her lips to silence her sobs.

"Where's Lilly?" he screamed, water gathering in his eyes and making his vision unclear. His heart rate spiked, prompting nearby nurses to try and restrain him. The loud beeping and the fluid in his veins almost made it impossible to hear her tortured cry.

"She's dead!"

And that's kind of when his life falls apart.


Denial


He didn't return to school. He didn't eat. He didn't do anything.

He just sat there, on the old leather couch, in complete and total silence, waiting, wanting, wishing, remembering, reminiscing, regretting, unaccepting. Lilly couldn't be gone. She couldn't be gone.

This was an awful dream. This was a bad trip. This was anything but reality because the only girl he'd ever loved, the girl who'd seen every bit of his darkest parts, the girl that loved him through his parents' deaths, the girl who kept him sane couldn't be gone. She couldn't be gone.

He stared at the blank TV screen. He saw himself, playing with the woven bracelet that she'd made him when she went through an indie phase, when she wore long skirts and peasant tops for two months. He saw his face, pale but flushed. He saw his buff eyes, bloodshot and lifeless.

He saw himself sitting. He saw himself sitting and waiting for her.

He heard the cautious footsteps down a padded staircase, but didn't bother to turn.

"Josh," Mandy pleaded in the softest voice,"Come out of here. Please. Can't you come sit down at the table and eat with us? Please? For Gramm's sake, at least. You know how she worries. Please."

"No," he said distantly, shaking his head, "I can't leave, because if I do, I might miss her when she comes back."

"Josh," she looked at him, bit down on her lip, unable to tell him that she wasn't coming back.

"Just let me wait, Amanda."

Wait?

Deny.


Anger


It came to him one Tuesday morning. It was the Tuesday he gave into his grandmother's begging, gave into the threats of truancy and repeating the 11th grade.

He stood statuesque in the hallway in front of his first period. He found himself unable to meet the empathetic glances from his classmates, unable to respond the Sorry she didn't make it, Joshua's and the If you need anything, I'm here for you's.

He had no time for their sympathy. He had no time for anything they had to offer. She was the best thing that had ever happened to him and in one thoughtless little moment she was taken away, the moment he took his eyes away from the road, the moment he didn't see the semi. She was taken away from him in that thoughtless little moment, and it just wasn't fair.

Amidst his internal monologue, he caught sight of some middle-aged janitor making his way toward her locker with a garbage can in tow. He looked remorseful as he opened it, taking everything out and gutting it like a fish. Her favorite books, the pictures they'd taken at the beach, at the park, at the mall, the teddy bear he'd won her at the county fair, everything Lilly owned was being tossed into the black bin. Watching that, watching his whole life's life get literally thrown away broke something inside of him. Something inside just broke and snapped, right down the middle.

It seemed as if a deity toyed with time because everything went impossibly slow. He threw his fist back and let it collide with the man's stubbly jaw. Another collision, and another, and he throws in a kick, or two, or three, countless hits against his unshaven face. He lost count of the punches; it seemed he'd been losing many things.

He felt a few of his buddies that he'd lost contact with pull him off and restrain him, holding him still until the security could take over. He watched as a few other kids lifted the janitor off of the floor and ushered him to the nurse's room. He managed to writhe out of their grip, glaring daggers and betrayal at the crowd that had gathered to watch. He couldn't find any words to say, so he pulled the bear and the books and everything that was Lilly out of the can and walked toward the little exit sign. The stares had just become too much. If he was there any longer, he surely would've thrown up.

He wrenched open his Gramm's car door and threw himself inside. He pulled back his fist and slammed it down against the steering wheel, streams of curses and profanities falling fast off of his lips. He beat the dashboard, but it didn't release his anger. It still boiled in his veins, spreading like poison and unable to be remedied without Lilly's soothing touch.

"Why did you have to leave, Lilly?" He cried out, punching at the center of his steering wheel, ignoring the numbness that overwhelms his fingers and the crimson blooming on his battered knuckles, "Why did you leave? I hate you! Look at what you've done to me, I hate you!"

He paused after he uttered those words, leaning forward so that his forehead was against the wheel. The tears fell faster and faster as he hoarsely whispered, "I'm so sorry, Lilly. I'm sorry. I can't hate you, Lilly. I love you; I love you so much that it hurts, hurts more than anything else in the world. I love you."

He was angry.

But he couldn't be angry at her.


Bargaining


He'd gotten long past his episodes of anger and violence. He reached a point that he just became tired. He became tired and so willing to do anything to get her back with him. He wanted her back with him, living, breathing, filling his empty arms.

He'd never really been religious before Lilly. He had always mused there was some kind of God or divine purpose, he'd supposed. But Lilly had taken him to her church, gotten him to believe. But he's found it harder and harder to believe in a God who took so much away from him.

One night he laid in his bed, staring up at his ceiling. He closed his bloodshot eyes, and spoke so quietly he wasn't sure if he was speaking out loud at all, "God...Please...Please...If you haven't abandoned me. I just want one more day with her. I want to hear her laugh, kiss me, smile, yell at me, cry, I don't care, but I need her. Please, please, God...Jesus Christ I need her. Just one last time. Please."

He paused, thinking, then pleading, "I'll give up anything. I'll give you anything. Anything at all. Food, money, my clothes, my car, my future, anything you want. Just let me see her, one last time."

Bargaining didn't seem to work, either.


Depression


He grew so sick of living without her. His drug addict, deadbeat parents had overdosed a long time ago, leaving he and his sister in the care of their beloved Gramm. It was a short while after that, when he'd transferred schools and moved houses that he'd met Lilly. She showed him what love was. Lilly showed Josh exactly what love was and what love felt like. When she left, she took her love with her. Then, it seemed, Josh didn't have anyone to love him anymore. He didn't know what love was, not without her.

Sometimes, he thought of people and their strange ways of consoling him.

"She wouldn't have wanted this!" They would say, and they were right; but, she wouldn't have wanted to be dead, either.

"It wasn't your fault, sweetie!" He drove that truck. His eyes weren't on the road. It was his fault.

"You're seventeen; you have your whole life ahead of you! The first love is always hard, but it just wasn't meant to be."

That was the one that hurt him the most. That was the one that made him want to scream and cry and wreck everything in sight. How hard could it have been for them to understand that Lilly was more than just his first love? She was his only. There was no one else for him. She was all that he'd known and wanted. Without her, what else was there?

He sat in his room on his disheveled bed. He couldn't go out into the living room, because he couldn't stand to see his reflection, to see himself without Lilly, to see cherry carpet he pictured her sprawled on. He couldn't go to school, not only because of his expulsion, but because everywhere he turned he saw himself and Lilly and their quick kisses and their shared secrets.

Any attempt at interaction from his family went to waste. He wouldn't let anyone in, never again.

There was a shadow in the doorway that caught his attention. He could see Mandy's red-rimmed eyes, and he knew that she'd been crying. She'd been crying over him and his condition, no less. The doctors called it severe clinical depression. Weird, that they had found a word for the emptiness. He looked away from her; it was near unbearable to see her face contorted in such pain and misery.

"Josh," she whimpered. When he didn't look at her, she yelled, "Josh!"

His head slowly lifted, his dull, lifeless brown eyes meeting hers. It took all of his strength to not look away.

"You're killing yourself," she whispered, "You don't know it, but you are. This is eating away at you and you're going to die and I can't lose you, too."

He said nothing.

Her eyes popped open, fury overtaking her features.

"That's what you're doing, isn't it? You know, you know, and you're doing it on purpose, aren't you?"

He kept his lips closed and rested his head in his hands. He could barely find the strength to whisper, "I'm sorry."

She leaned back against the doorway, clutching at her hair and sobbing. He stood, finding himself looming over her, wrapping his skinny arms around her. He said it again, this time louder, "I love you. I'm sorry for the trouble I've caused you, but I have to go."

He released her, and began to walk down the hallway and down the staircase. She stood in shock, then tore after him, screaming, "Joshua Elliot! Where're you going! Josh! Josh!"

But he was already out the door, keys in hand. Opening Gramm's little car door, he softly repeated himself. "I'm so sorry."

He pulled out of the driveway at the moment she raced barefoot out of the house. She ran after the car, which already had disappeared around the corner. He knew that she was trying to fix him, he knew she was trying so hard to save him, but he knew that she couldn't. You couldn't fix something broken beyond repair.

He drove out for hours, until he found the place he was looking for. California beaches were her absolute favorite.

He took his bag out of the car with him, walking toward the beach and stopping amidst the sand. It was a sunny day for winter, breezy and bright without a child in sight. He found that a bit peculiar, but something to be thankful for. He trudged across the sand and to the water. He hesitated for a moment, taking off his sneakers and tossing them back behind him, into the sand. He drew closer, letting the water kiss his toes, then letting it rush past his pant legs, then letting it pull at his waist. He thought he was freezing, and idly pondered how he'd made it so far. Seven months was an awfully long time.

A smile ghosted across his lips. It was December when he decided that he gave up. It was December when he decided that he would be with Lilly again.

He reached into his bag and pulled out a handgun. He felt a pang of guilt when he thought about how his Gramm would cry, how alone Mandy would feel, but quickly reassured himself that they had one another. They would be better off with him there. He wasn't who he used to be.

He cringed when he remembered how Lilly always hated guns. But, it was too late then.

He put it to his temple, clenching his eyes shut, all of the painful memories rushing through his head, and by God, he couldn't do it anymore.

And when he saw her smile, heard her laugh, heard her whisper I love you in his mind, he pulled the trigger.


Acceptance


Such a shame that we never made it here.