“So…, what do you want to be when you’re all grown up?” I asked Antoine, looking at him upside down from where I lay on his bed; the chocolate brown comforter is soft and plush under me and smells of fresh laundry. We just finished our studying and decided to go up to his room to watch a movie. For a guy, he really does have a clean room, (more so than my own); the bed is made, there’s no dirty clothing anywhere, (that I can see), and his desk in the corner of the room is all neat and tidy ─nothing is out of place. A few posters; ‘Paramore’, ‘Marie-Mai’, ‘Simple Plan’ and a couple of girls in bikinis adorned the steel blue walls forming the room. It’s really a nice room, very comfy.
“I didn’t think that far ahead, we still have time, Del. And beside, I’m more of a live in the moment kind of guy.” He answered casually from where he was kneeling on the dark cherry wood floor facing his TV. The afternoon daylight coming from the window above the bed illuminated the room in a soft glow. “What about you?”
“Maybe a children’s book illustrator or… I don’t know…” I answered, but like he said, we do still have time. He chose a DVD and finished setting it up then turned with a big smile on his face and sauntering over to the bed, he sat next to me.
“A children’s book illustrator huh… interesting.” He said pensively.
“So, what did you pick?” I asked him, referring to the movie. He turned his head and looked down at me.
“Hmmm, impatient aren’t we? Well, you’ll just have to wait and see.” He answered with a big grin. He then stretched over me and quickly snatched the remote from the bedside table and right before the menu screen appeared, he turned off the TV. What? “Why don’t you try to guess?” Eh? Grrrrr, I don’t want to guess, I want to know. Now! I turned on my side and stood on my knees. “Oh, no you don’t.” Antoine said with his hands in front of him and a playful worried look on his face as I launched myself at him and started to tickle him.
He was laughing and twisting about. “Tell me. Tell me, and I’ll stop.” I taunted. He overturned us and I ended up under him. Destabilizing me, he acted fast and became the tickler. It was now my turn to laugh and wiggle helplessly.
“Antoine, Antoine, please stop! I can take no more.” I said laughing and panting. Easing up, he put both his hands on either side of my head and hovering above me, he looked deeply into my eyes. For a moment, I got lost in the dept of his rich whiskey colored eyes —transfixed as if he could see right into my soul. My pulse quickened, his gaze flicked to my lips for a second then back to my light green eyes as if asking permission, before closing them and leaning in. I closed my eyes and a second later our lips met in a hesitant, sweet and tender first kiss that grew more passionate with each passing second. His right hand tangled itself in my light brown hair and I felt his tongue seeking entrance into my mouth. Without hesitation. I granted him access, and threw my arms around his neck.
Almost as soon as our tongues collided, I felt Antoine’s hand in my hair start to droop and his kisses becoming less intense. Until, out of nowhere, he stopped altogether and went slack in my arms. “Antoine? Antoine, what are you doing?!?” I inquired confused. Letting go of his soft brown locks, I grabbed his shoulders and turned him over. I then straddled his waist and shook him. “Antoine!!! Answer me, ‘esti’!!!” I stopped. He was still breathing, his chest still rising and falling but it was very faint. I hurriedly stood up and dashed out of the room. “Mrs. Gauthier!!! Mrs. Gauthier, help!!!” I yelled, panicking as I ran down the stairs, almost falling twice in my haste, looking for his mother. “Mrs. Gauth…!”
Élodie —Antoine’s younger sister of two years— was the one who came rushing out of the kitchen instead. She looked at me with worry in her big brown eyes, so much like her brother’s but instead of their father’s dark hair; she inherited their mother’s strawberry blonde mane. “Mom went to get some stuff for dinner. What’s wrong? Why are you crying? What happened?” She said in a rush, concern etched into her tone. I didn’t even realize I’d been crying.
“It’s, he’s— Call 911, it’s-it’s Antoine, h-h-he passed out!!” She grabbed the phone and sprinted to his bedroom; I followed hot on her heels. He hadn’t moved an inch from where I left him. Seeing him like this brought back a memory that I’ve tried to suppress for years. I froze in horror —my hand went to the small heart charm on my necklace and I clutched it tightly— as I remembered what happened to my first and the only other boy I’ve ever kiss ─Guillaume Boisvert. That’s the reason my mom and I moved to Brossard, so we could start over without me being the dead guy’s girlfriend. Oh, no! I couldn’t move I was paralyzed by fear. Oh please, please Antoine, be okay. I’m sorry. I’m so, so, so sorry.
“Oh my god, what happened?” She asked, from beside him on the bed, as tears made their way down her cheeks. I tried to tell her but couldn’t seem to form words, I just stood still as if in a trance. When she saw I wasn’t about to answer she turned back to Antoine and shakily dialed 911.
Oh gosh, what have I done? This is all my fault. I was vaguely aware that people got in the room and took Antoine away but I couldn’t bring myself to move. I just stood frozen, in dismay, empty —the warm feeling from earlier gone. What have I done?
Three months. It’s been a little over three months, since he left and with time I’ve finally started accepting what happened ─his death. I still miss him but there’s nothing I can do about that. Today would’ve been his birthday, July 3rd, he would’ve been seventeen. School ended not long after his death and now it was summer vacation. What a great way to start the summer ─not.
I added a new charm to the necklace that I never take off. It now counts a total of three— a small heart for Guillaume, one for Antoine and the original oval locket for my dad that died before I was born.
When I got back to school the following week it was the same as the last time it happened ─with Guillaume. The pity glances, the curious looks, the gossiping, it all made me want to run away and hide until they moved on.
He died on a Thursday. I skipped on Friday; I was too shaken up by his death. I was in shock still and felt sad but most of all guilty. I couldn’t believe what happened ─what I’d done, again. It just confirmed what I’ve feared three years ago, that what happened to Guillaume was no coincidence.
I spent the whole week-end in a near catatonic state on the grey living room sofa, staring at the closed off TV. When Monday came and I went back to school, ─I couldn’t skip more since it was the end of the school year and I had exams to pass─ everyone heard about the passing of Antoine. He was a really popular guy, everyone seemed to have known him and now everyone talked about him. They were speculating on what happened, wondering if they could’ve done something…It was a total nightmare. How can you heal if people keep picking at the wound? Newsflash, you can’t.
Lots of people gave me pity smiles and offered me condolences. I didn’t know them but they knew Antoine and often saw me with him ─it made me feel awful like I was a black widow or something, knowing I was the cause of this. My subconscious was telling me that I didn’t deserve their sympathy, that I should be the one doing the apologizing. Instead, I just mechanically went through the motion of nodding and thanking them, feeling numb inside. I couldn’t help wishing it could stop, wishing Antoine would come back, wishing it was me that died in his place. He didn’t deserve that.
Since then I avoided the big corridors like the plague, avoided all the places where groups of people hung out. I bleached my hair to try to move on and spent most of my time at the library. Getting lost in books, I could almost forget the world around me and its woes. Unfortunately I had classes to attend and I couldn’t avoid facing everyone during those, it was hell-ish.
Touching his charm fondly, I remembered with nostalgia and a small smile how we first met. Mom and I had just moved to Brossard from Montreal and I just started school. After what happened to Guillaume, I pretty much kept to myself, tried not to draw attention but he didn’t leave me alone.
“Hi, I’m Antoine.” Said the brunette boy from the desk beside me at the back of Mrs. Perreault’s English class. He gave me a warm smile which I returned with a small, shy one of my own.
“’Sup, I’m Delphine.” The teacher then started the lesson and I focused my attention on her. He started calling my name, trying to grab my attention but I just kept on listening to Mrs. Perreault since I didn’t want to get in trouble. We were to read ‘The tell-tale heart’ by ‘Edgar Allan Poe’ and answer a sheet of questions by the end of class. He persisted on calling my name to get my attention, but I kept my focus on the teacher as she grabbed a pile of paper and started to distribute a copy to everyone in the class. After a while he finally appeared to take the hint and stopped saying my name. The teacher passed me and Antoine a copy then went back to her desk. I was about to start my reading when a folded piece of paper landed on my desk. I looked at Antoine annoyed and he gestured to open it with a big grin. Despite myself I couldn’t help but reluctantly return his smile, until I read what was written on the paper:
So, where are you from? Why did you move here? :)
It was like being dropped in an ice cold bath, images of Guillaume limp in my arms, of him lying dead in his coffin at his funerals, pity glances thrown my way at school, all flashed before my eyes. Blinking back to the present I crushed the paper in my fist before studiously ignoring him.
I started my reading, trying to pay attention to ‘Poe’s’ work and the questions I had to answer but I kept having these morbid flashes. Thankfully, class ended not long after my little trip down memory lane and I somehow managed to answer all the questions. The bell rang, I quickly gathered my things and left hurriedly, as if death was chasing after me. “Delphine, Delphine!! Wait up! Hey, Delphine!!” It was Antoine. People stopped and stared at him and by association me, so to stop his shouting and the staring; I reluctantly came to a sudden halt. “What happened? Why did you suddenly go cold after reading my paper?” He asked after he’s joined me, a look of concern mixed with confusion etched on his face. Here we go.
“Look Antoine I came here to forget about my past and you, bringing it up, it just ─please leave me alone.” I said and tried to get away but his free hand took hold of my arm, stopping me in my tracks. I looked to where he was holding me and he let go immediately.
“I get it. Okay, you don’t want to talk about it. That’s fine but─”
“Hey, Antoine! What’s up!?” Said a tall, burly, boy accompanied by a petite brunette girl.
“Hey, man, Cyn.” He said acknowledging the boy and girl. I tried to take my leave but he grabbed my arm, again. “Sorry, Vince can’t talk right now. Catch you later?” Vince looked between me and Antoine, a wicked gleam in his eyes.
“Sure man.” He said with a broad smile. He winked at Antoine, who playfully rolled his eyes at him, and left with his free arm around Cyn.
When they were gone, Antoine turned back to me. “Sorry about that.” I gave him a tight lipped smile and again looked at his hand grabbing my arm, which he, again, let go of. “Look, I don’t know, it’s just, you seem really cool. And I’d really like to get to know you, if you’ll let me?” He looked so hopeful that I couldn’t bring myself to say no to him.
If I’d known back then what I know today, I would have refused in a heartbeat. Something appeared out of nowhere and blocked the sun from reaching my face. I opened my eyes only to find Élodie standing there by my feet; the sun still shining brightly behind her casted some sort of halo around her blond head. She looked like an angel ─a mourning angel dressed in all black. Sitting, I took a lone earbud out of my right ear —the other one was laying limply on the ground with the foolish hope that maybe Antoine would be listening, like we used to do. I looked behind me at Antoine’s simple black marble tombstone following her stare:
In loving memory of:
Antoine Samuel Gauthier
Beloved son, brother and friend
There were a ton of flowers hiding parts of the tombstone ─he was very loved. I turned back around to face her but she was still staring at the grave. I remember they used to be really close and seeing her this way —this empty, blank, the opposite of how she used to be— brought back the feelings of guilt I’ve did a pretty good job of stifling as of yet. Guess I’d better leave.
I stood and dusted off my pants. I went to depart but just as I passed by her, Élodie said “Del, wait.” I turned to face her but she was still staring at Antoine’s grave. She then tore her gaze from it and faced me. Her eyes were watery but no tears came from them. She then unexpectedly grabbed me in a hug; I’ve never been overly fond of hugging people with the exception of my mother, so I returned it but quite awkwardly. After a beat she released me and I just stood there uneasy under her stare. “I miss him, so much.” She said in a small voice then added: “I like your new hair. It suits you.”
“Thanks. I miss him too.” I said softly. Then after a moment of staring at each other and me getting uncomfortable, I said “I’m going to go. Bye, Élo.”
She mumbled a small “bye” focusing her attention once more on the tomb, while I departed. I heard her talk to Antoine wishing him a happy birthday but I didn’t linger. At the entrance of the cemetery, I stopped and said softly, as I touched his charm on my necklace “I’m sorry, Antoine. I miss you so much. Please forgive me.” I put the earbuds back in my ears and the song on shuffle that came up was: ‘You’ll be in my heart’ by ‘Phil Collins’. How fitting. A small smile formed on my lips. “Thank you, Antoine.” I said under my breath. Maybe, he was listening. “I hope you’re happy wherever you are.” And with a sigh, I left to catch the bus. After the song ended, I selected some ‘Imagine Dragons’ and I then arrived at the bus stop.
A short bus trip to the metro, followed by a long metro ride feeling like a sardine in a tiny little box then a transfer and another bus ride but longer this time, brought me as close to home as I could get ─about an hour and a half later. I got off at my stop, walked about ten feet on Michaud Street and then turned on LaTulippe Street. As I walked the rest of the way home, I saw from afar a man exiting the house mom and I live in. I wonder what he was doing there. He started walking my way and as he got closer I could see that he couldn’t be older than I was, although his clothes would suggest otherwise. He was wearing a white shirt, checked brown trousers with suspenders and a vintage-looking pocket watch hanging from his left pant’s pocket, a bowler hat and funny little round sunglasses. He looked as if he belonged in another century.
As we crossed path, he gave me a tiny nod, tipping his hat slightly and looked at me with a small-crooked-serial-killer-kind-of-smile that seemed to say ‘I know something you don’t’. Usually I’d find that sexy but on him it was creepy. Freaked, I hurriedly passed him, climbed the steps of our small, two storey, earth tone colored house and got inside. I closed the door and leaned against it, letting out a sigh, I heard “Del, is that you?” Who else would it be? I thought sarcastically, like mom were you expecting someone else? It made me momentarily forget about my weird encounter.
“Yeah, mom. It’s me.” I called back rolling my eyes with a smile. I took out my earbuds and stuffed my MP3 in my jeans pocket.
“I’m in the kitchen.” The smell of tomatoes, basil and oregano assaulted my nostrils as soon as I joined her, yum spaghetti. Her caramel hair was up in a bun, she was bare feet, wearing some old faded ripped jeans and an ‘AC/DC’ T-shirt. “What did you do today?” She asked from where she stood at the stove.
“Hmmm, smells good.” I said as I took a good whiff of the tasty aroma. “I returned some books to the library and visited Antoine.” Like I did pretty much all summer. She gave a small sigh.
“Honey, you have to let it go. I know what it’s like losing someone you love but…” Love? Whoa, I liked him very much but… ─And, as if she got over my dad in three months, it’s been sixteen years and even if she does try, she’s still not over him. “You’re going to have to move on. I know you two were close but I hate to see you like this, so sad all the time, so─” Ok, that’s enough. Time to change the subject.
I cut her off mid-ramble “Hey, mom. Who was that ginger dude, with the weird clothes that left the house earlier?” I said as I grabbed some utensils and started to set the table.
“Huh? Oh, right. He was looking for his uncle ─the last owner of the house, he thought he still lived here─ anyway he said he was from ‘Wintershade’, Massachusetts and was visiting family.” She said as she rinsed the pastas in the sink facing the window. “And it gave me the greatest idea of all.” She served us two plates and brought them to the kitchen table. “If you’re not feeling better by the end of summer, I’m sending you to a boarding school there. When I was about your age, your grandparents were always away for work and so, they sent me to ‘Mortis Academy & Boarding School’ for a while and I loved it. In fact, I loved it so much, I decided to finish my high school there, instead of going back and moving around with them.” I sat down taken aback.
“What?” I asked gobsmacked. A boarding school?!? She wants to send me away… ─to a boarding school? But I’m sixteen; I don’t have a curfew and I don’t want one or follow some strict set of rules. And will there be a uniform? I don’t want to wear a uniform and I’m happy here, thank you very much ─well kinda happy, anyway.
Seeing the freaked out look on my face, she quickly added “But it’s not done yet, so relax. Though, I think it’d be a good thing, that you’d be happy there. You know, a fresh start.” I already had a fresh start three years ago, it didn’t change a thing and it ended the same way as to the reason why we moved in the first place ─my ‘boyfriend’ died. “Plus, it’s where I met your father. It was the happiest time of my life.” She said wistfully with a sad, faraway look on her young-looking face. I got a small bittersweet smile; my dad, I wish I could’ve known him, that mysterious man that my mom never got over. Since his death, she tried to move on. Went on plenty of dates, with plenty of guys, but she never called them back, it seemed they couldn’t even come close to compare to him.
“But mom, I like living here, with you. I don’t want to have to follow some strict set of rules and have a curfew, possibly a uniform and all that shizzle. And why does it have to be a boarding school and not just some other high school, somewhere else?”
“Don’t worry about the rules, since you’re sixteen I can sign a form that’ll put you in a section of campus without supervisor. As long as you go to your classes, you won’t have to report to anyone. It’ll be like living in a small apartment with a free cafeteria. Oh and please don’t come back pregnant, I know I did but please, just, don’t.” She added as an after thought. Yeah, like there’s a chance of that ever happening ─not. “I know I don’t have to worry but… you know… it’s just in case. Oh, and there’s no uniforms. And like I said this place brought on the happiest moments of my life and if you go, I really hope it’ll be the same for you.” Well that wouldn’t be so bad, I guess. Except that the only person that was always ever there for me will be miles away.
“Mom, why do you want to send me away?” I said feeling kinda rejected, it feels like she wants to get rid of me, in a way. And it’s always been us against the world and now…
“Oh Del, it’s not like that. I love you, you know that and I want what’s best for you. That’s why I’m considering it.” I could see the sincerity reflected in her green eyes ─the same shade as mine.
After dinner, I went up to my room. I had a lot of thinking to do. I pushed the clothes on my bed to the ground and kicking off my black and white ‘Converse’ shoes, I plopped down head first on my galaxy comforter. I rolled over, grabbed my MP3 from the front pocket of my jeans and listening to ‘Lana Del Rey’, I stared up at the Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling unseeingly ─deep in thoughts.
Maybe I should go. It’ll be a fresh start. I’ll just have to remember not to get too close to anyone, lest they’ll end up dead. Also mom said it was the best years of her life. But I don’t think I deserve it, it’s my fault what happened to Antoine... and Guillaume. I remember reading about her time at ‘Mortis Academy & Boarding School’ in her diary; it seemed perfect, in a tragic sort of way.
I looked at my mom’s diary hanging on the shelf, beside my bed. The last time we moved it fell out of a cardboard box, open, and when I picked it up, I saw my dad’s name and I just felt compelled to read it ─to know more about him, since every time I broach the subject of my dad with her, she clamps shut like an oyster and refuse to talk about it. I don’t even know his full name or if he was the same age as my mom or if he was tall or anything, really. From what I’ve read, their story was like the perfect drama fairy tale, well kinda. I fully intended to give her journal back to her before reading it but since I’ve read it, it kind of became my favorite book, so I sort of kept it. It’s not like she reads it often anyway, if ever. I bet she didn’t even notice it disappeared from the box. Opening the locket on my necklace, I looked at the small picture of my dad inside. “What do you think dad? Do you think I should go?”