Mike Gerrand was sitting alone at a table in the high school library reading a school assignment when he felt a presence. He glanced up and saw Jodi Harper standing in front of him. She was an attractive Senior and Mike was surprised that she was paying any attention to him.
"Can I show you something?" She asked.
Mike stared at her blankly, confused by her very presence.
"Can I sit for a minute?" She asked when he didn't immediately respond.
He nodded awkwardly and watched as Jodi slid into the seat across from him.
"So, I'm on the yearbook staff," she announced.
"Oh," Mike replied.
She pulled a large manila envelope out of the stack of her books she set on the table.
"We wanted to do something for Will," she said.
"Will?" Mike asked, his throat going dry.
"A dedication," Jodi explained. "I drew the picture," she said. "Can I show it to you?"
"Okay," Mike said nervously.
She slowly pulled out a galley proof from the envelope and slid it across the table so Mike could see it. It was a pencil sketch of Will when he was twelve.
"It's his class picture from that year," Jodi said. "I drew this from that."
"It's quite good," Mike replied, staring at the image of his brother's ghost staring back at him.
"A group of us worked on the inscription," Jodi said.
Mike glanced at the words beneath the sketch:
He was our friend, one of us
With the wish of helping others
He made us laugh
He got us to think
He gave us love.
Though he is no longer with us
We remember him always
Our Classmate, our Hero, our friend.
"Do you think that's okay?" Jodi delicately asked.
"I think it's very nice," Mike replied, sliding the proof back to her.
"Do you think your parents will be okay with that being in the yearbook?"
"I think they'd be proud and honored," Mike let her know.
"So, you're okay with it?" Jodi asked hopefully.
"Thanks for thinking of him," Mike replied. "It's been six years. It would have been easy for you guys to have moved on without him."
"Oh, we could never do that," Jodi said strongly. "He was a great kid."
"Yeah," Mike agreed.
There was a pause in the conversation. Mike assumed she'd be leaving the table now that she had conducted her business but Jodi sat in her chair peering at him which made him feel awkward.
He had seen her around. He knew most of the senior class by face and name because that had been Will's class back in seventh grade when he died but Mike had been in sixth grade in another building so nobody from that class really knew him, even now as a junior.
"I bet you miss him a lot," Jodi said with a sad sigh.
"Every day," Mike replied.
"I used to pretend he was in the bathroom," Jodi told him.
"That first year," she said. "After it happened. When his desk was empty. I'd tell myself he was in the bathroom, only temporarily gone, so I wouldn't have to face the reality that he was dead and never coming back."
"You're the first one who's ever said anything to me about him," Mike revealed.
"Really?" Jodi asked with surprise.
"Kids don't know how to talk about it so they mostly ignore it and act as if it never happened," Mike explained. "I'm just the unfortunate kid with the dead brother but nobody says that out loud."
"And here I am six years later finally talking to you," Jodi sighed.
"It's okay," Mike replied.
"No it's not," Jodi frowned. "How are you doing?" She asked with genuine concern. "It still hurts, huh?"
"It never goes away," Mike confirmed. "But you learn to live with it."
"I saw him the day before," Jodi revealed. "At the pizza house. He bummed a dollar off me."
"I guess he still owes you," Mike replied.
"I was in the car with my parents the next day," Jodi continued. "Coming home from Church. The Blue River Bridge was full of cars and people looking over the rails. Fire engines. Rescue vehicles. Cop cars."
"It was pretty awful," Mike recalled.
"Where were you?" Jodi asked. "When it happened?"
"Hanging out in the neighborhood," Mike answered. "My friend's mother called me from the porch. Told me I needed to go home. I could tell from the look on her face and the sound of her voice that something was terribly wrong."
"What'd happened when you got home?"
"My sister was hysterical," Mike said with a slight shudder. "My parents had already rushed to the river. I remember there was Chili on the stove. My sister told me there had been an accident with the canoe."
"The river was high," Jodi remembered. "From the rains."
"They shouldn't have been out there," Mike said glumly.
"They said it was a miracle the other two survived."
"Does that mean my brother was cursed?" Mike wondered.
"No, just unlucky," Jodi sighed.
"They think he hit his head when they capsized."
"What did you and your sister do?" Jodi asked.
"My uncle came and got us," Mike told her. "Took us to the police station. My father came into the room after a while. He told us Will had drowned. They found his body down by the other bridge, caught in some underbrush."
"My sister fell to the floor like someone shot her."
"I can't imagine what it was like for you and your family," Jodi said sadly.
"No one knows unless it happens to their family," Mike remarked.
"I remember I cried when I heard," Jodi said reflectively. "It was the first time somebody that I knew died. It scared me. Things like that aren't supposed to happen to fun-loving happy-go-lucky twelve year old boys."
"I try not to think about the particulars of those days," Mike said. "It's all a blur. Lots of people coming and going. Food in the house all the time. People were supportive and kind and thoughtful but then it was all over and we were on our own."
"You look a little like him," Jodi observed. "I thought about what he might look like now when I was drawing the picture. We thought about drawing him the way we thought he might look now but someone said that might be sort of ghoulish."
"It wouldn't be real," Mike agreed. "Your drawing of him then is better."
"Thanks." She smiled. "It was nice talking to you," she said as she stood and picked up her books from the table.
"You too," Mike replied, giving her an appreciative look.
It wasn't every day when a pretty high school senior girl gave him any sort of attention. Mike let out a long sigh thinking about poor Will while watching Jodi leave the library before returning his attention to the book in front of him.