(This story contains drug use and overdose)
There wasn’t any sign that Jordan had been crying alone on the rooftop when Isaac called out to her. No Swift or Sheeran playing at max volume. Just her and the fog and the red glow from the bridge lights on her face. She had one hand in her pocket, the other around a bottle.
Something with a green label Isaac couldn’t make out in the darkness, but he knew it had to be some kind of hard cider. Aaron’s favorite. There were three more bottles on the ledge next to her.
“Is it over?” asked Jordan, lifting an eyebrow. She paused to take a drink and half the bottle looked empty when she lowered it.
“Not yet,” he told her with a shake of his head. “Just came up here to check on you.”
“And to get the hell out of there yourself,” she said, smirking a little. Her braces glinted for a moment.
“True,” said Isaac. He leaned a little over the ledge, watching the fog roll into the bay. A salty rush of air shivered up his nose. Jordan pointed at the other bottle and Isaac grabbed one, but didn’t take a sip yet. He just held onto the cold glass, rolling it from palm to palm.
The sound of waves breaking against rocks filled the silence.
“So how’s the show going?” he asked after a few moments, squinting at the line of red bridge lights curving through the gray.
“Boring,” said Jordan. “Can’t see anything through all this fog. It came in half an hour ago or so.”
“You’ve been up here for that long?”
Jordan nodded as she opened another bottle.
“Speaking of that,” she said, pointing her thumb over her shoulder, “how’s that show going?”
Her voice was almost a whisper now. Isaac tapped his fingers on the side of his bottle.
“Shitshow, you mean. Like a wake I know Aaron never would’ve wanted.”
“Big fucking surprise,” she muttered and he looked at her. She had gone back to staring out into the bay. “That’s what I would’ve said had you found me thirty minutes ago, anyway.”
“What about now?”
She let out a deep breath.
“Well, that you and I both had our time with him. We both loved him for all his ways, good, bad, and definitely ugly. In a way, though, I’d already said my goodbyes way before this went down. But those kids in there, fucked up as they are, are losing him right now. They need this.”
Isaac let that sink in a moment.
“Deep stuff,” he said and she nodded.
“Being up here always brings out the inner bullshitter,” she said. Bottle halfway to her lips, she added, “well sometimes.”
“My thing is that I came to honor my brother’s memory, but something felt off the longer I was down there. It wasn’t until I ran into Elea–his girlfriend that I figured it out.”
Jordan snorted mid-sip.
“Jeez, she’s not Voldermort,” she said. “Just say it. Remember, he and I were cool just being friends again.”
“I think I would’ve preferred Voldy over her,” he said with a small smile. “But okay, soon as I come back from the bathroom, Eleanor was waiting for me. Everyone was quiet and serious, like they were all waiting for this one big moment. Off the bat, she started crying and she tried to apologize to me and I think to you, too, and you know the only thing I’m looking at?”
Jordan shook her head.
“Her arms. I was looking for fucking tracks as this girl was just losing it in my arms about how she didn’t mean to OD my brother. Soon as I got free, I ran.”
Isaac shook his head as he opened his cider and took a sip, and then another.
“That the only reason you’re up here?” she asked him. “Besides to check up on me every five seconds, I mean.”
“Same reason you’re up here, I guess,” he told her as the cider settled in his stomach with a warm tingle.
They both froze.
“I actually like your answer better,” said Jordan. “What are you thinking of?”
“Oh, Fourth of July, 1990, no contest.”
“The infamous Fourth of July, 1990,” she added, smiling. “Aaron always used to act weird whenever it rolled around.”
“So remember when you’d come over and there’d be plants everywhere?” he said, tracing a circle around the rooftop.
“I remember being shouted at for trampling some poppies,” said Jordan, rolling her eyes. Isaac laughed.
“That was all Mom and don’t tell me you didn’t deserve it sometimes. But anyway, Fourth of July rolls around and we get our hands on some screamers. I can’t remember where Mom and Dad were, but it was just us up here. Now mind you, we’ve already moved most of the plants away just in case.”
“We’re popping screamers for maybe half an hour when I look over at Aaron and all I see is fire. The poppies, the lavenders, even whatever the purple and yellow ones were called, all on fire. He’s freaking out, I’m freaking out and we’re just watching this fire burn through Mom’s life. I mean, we could’ve torched the apartment or the BMW or hell, even each other. But not those plants. Never those fucking plants. The only thing that saved the rest of them were Mom’s pitchers.”
“So that’s why you guys came pounding on the door that night smelling like an ashtray.”
“To ask your Dad for twenty dollars,” said Isaac with a nod. “The next day, we ran down to the little plant store and bought every plant and seed packet we could find.”
“And it worked?”
Isaac laughed as he lowered an empty bottle.
“Hell no. Mom figured it out soon as she set foot up here. To this day, neither of us can wear a leather belt and not flinch.”
Jordan kept laughing until she turned red in the face and then laughed some more.
“I get your Mom was pissed off,” she said, gasping, “but why never tell me?”
“Because in the end, I took the blame for it,” said Isaac, staring out into the bay. A boat drifted by down below, its white sail cutting through the red-lit haze. Isaac watched it vanish before adding, “I knew he dropped the screamer, but I wasn’t gonna let him take the fall. Mom still busted us both, but that’s not a big brother kind of thing to do.”
“So he was ashamed,” she said, the laughter fading. “Sounds like him all right. And his clumsy ass tendencies.”
Isaac chuckled, then picked up the last bottle and held it up.
“To Aaron and his clumsy ass tendencies,” he said, his voice cracking just a bit. Jordan nodded and tapped hers against his and together they took a long drink.
“So what now?” she asked when she finished and he still had a little left.
“I’m going to finish this, wait five minutes, and then go down there and tell them stories about who Aaron was before. It’s probably gonna suck, but I know there’s stuff he never would’ve told them.”
“Give me ten minutes and I’ll go with.”
Jordan was staring out into the bay and now he could see the tears sliding down her face. Isaac opened his mouth, then closed it and instead pulled her close.
Out in the bay, the fog continued to stretch until all they could see was gray.
Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Student