I gazed at him from behind the large pristinely kept sheet of glass with disbelief pouring off of me in waves. I just couldn’t believe it. But there he was sitting at our usual green padded booth with a cup of steaming coffee atop the table. The white steam danced in front of his face. A small pile of white sheets of paper were set in front of him along with a small cup of mismatched crayons. He stared down at the topmost sheet as he began to doodle something, his tongue poked at the side of his cheek from his concentration. But although my eyes saw him with perfect clarity, I just could not for the life of me comprehend what was going on. It made absolutely no sense. It was illogical. It made my head throb.
Geoffrey. My best friend Geoffrey Bennet was inside of Beth’s Café waiting for me to go sit with him and have our usual meal there. And that’s what didn’t make any sense. It couldn’t have been Geoffrey sitting at that booth. Geoffrey was dead. He’d been dead. He should be dead. He had to be dead. I was at his funeral just last month for God’s sake. Yet there he was on the other side of the window bobbing his head and most likely humming along to whatever song the jukebox was playing. The only logical explanation that made any sense was that the guy inside was just some dude who merely appeared very similarly to Geoffrey.
But the longer I stood at that window and watched him, the most certain I was of his authenticity. Tall and lean with arms that girls loved to hang onto. His skin was slightly tanned since his pale skin seemed to be opposed to absorbing the sun’s rays. It was hard to tell from our distance but I’m certain that if I were close enough, I’d be able to see his bright blue eyes that always reminded me of a placid and sunny ocean. And then there was the short buzzed honey brown hair, he never cut it any other way. He wore a dark blue long sleeve shirt with a grey fitted vest over it. That had to be him. There was of course, a chance that it could be a familiar looking stranger, but deep down I knew it was him. I bet that if I were closer, I’d be able to see the stupid anchor that we got tattooed onto our wrists after graduation.
My nerves were a wreck which further aggravated the pit in my stomach that was giving a constant nauseous feeling. It was debilitating and they hadn’t left me since I had found that stupid note earlier today. “I’m not dead. Meet me tonight at Beth’s for dinner. I’ll be at our usual place. Don’t tell anyone.” It was even written in Geoffrey’s large sloppy handwriting. And as usual, it was done with a blue inked pen. But now, seeing him intensified the sensations. Geoffrey lifted him arm up and checked the time before going back to his drawing. May I should just leave. For all I know, none of this was even real. Maybe the sleeping pills I had come to depend on were causing me to have a vivid dream. Or the trauma from losing my best friend had finally caught up and was causing my brain to create a second reality within itself where—
The couple sitting on the other side of the window had finally gotten annoyed with me peering in and tapped at the glass. I immediately ducked down and scrambled away from the windows before anyone else could catch me. My hands were shaking, hell my entire body was trembling. I dashed across the street into the 711 bathroom and emptied my stomach. The pit had finally won against my stomach. I nearly collapsed to the floor as I dry heaved. After regaining my footing, I wiped away the foul liquid from my lips while staggering to the sink. I flushed the rancid taste out of my mouth and splashed the cool tap water against my heated face. I looked up and stared blankly at my reflection in the dirty mirror.
My naturally tanned skin seemed to have lost a lot of its pigment. I can’t even remember the last time that I had ever been this place. My dark brown hair had lost a lot of its volume due to the sprinkle of rain that weight it down. Even my average looking brown eyes seemed a lot duller than usual. I had lost a lot of weight recently, probably because I never feel hungry anymore. My cheeks had lost their chubbiness. I looked older than my actual age of 20. If I were pulled over by a cop, he wouldn’t have believed that the person on my driver’s license was actually me. It was almost as if I were staring at a stranger.
Pushing away from the sink, I dried my face on the scratchy brown paper towels before walking back out into the brisk Seattle air. The wind’s chill bypassed my layers of clothing and muscle, and went straight to my bones. I headed back to the café at a slow pace, unsure of what I was even doing anymore. A group of guys walked out of said café, releasing a cloud of bacon from within. One of them began smoking while walking past me. The smoke infiltrated my lungs, causing me to feel even queasier. But I held it in. It already seemed as if my sanity was slipping away, I refused to lose total control of my body as well. After a few large gulps of air to clear out my airways, I pulled the door open and walked in.
The smell of bacon immediately replaced the cigarette smoke in my senses making my stomach decided that food sounded really good. I made to turn to the left, towards the booths, when a busty tattooed waitress cut me off with a tray of food in her hand. She smiled at me prettily before continuing on her way towards her patrons. I followed suit and was hardly surprised at this point that she was actually delivering food to Geoffrey.
He had ordered our usual. A 12 egg Makin’ Bacon for us to split, along with a Belgian Waffle topped with strawberries and whipped cream for each of us. There was even a steaming mug of hot chocolate placed on my side of the booth. The sight of it all caused my stomach to flutter, though it wasn’t necessarily an unpleasant sensation. I froze in place, unsure of what to do as Geoffrey and the waitress made small talk. My heart began to beat wildly and the butterflies were starting to become overwhelming. The waitress winked at him cheekily before making her retreat. As she walked past, Geoffrey caught sight of me and gave me one of his signature shit eating grins.
“Adrian! You made it.”
I tried my best to return the smile but I’m sure it came out weak. Geoffrey’s smile didn’t falter though and he gestured for me to join him. When I passed by the couple whose window I occupied earlier, they shot me dirty looks which made me cringe. At the last minute I saw Geoffrey move to hug me but I kept going as if I hadn’t seen him. Sitting in the booth gave me a weird sense of nostalgia. Ever since Geoffrey had passed away, I refused to ever come hear the café. It held too many memories of us being here: out after party munchies, our late night drop bys, and the few times we actually showed up during a proper time for breakfast. This was our place to go when we needed some bro time. Time for us to vent to each other. Time for use to reminisce. Time for us to unwind and just be us. I never wanted to feel those feelings again without my best friend.
The last time we had been there was about a week before the car accident. It was about three in the morning and neither of us could sleep so he dropped by and picked me up. Before I knew it, we were at Beth’s in this very booth. He told me that he was changing majors again. He had already changed it four times in the past year but insisted that he was finally settling on becoming an aerospace engineer. When he had dropped me off later that morning, he gave me one of his grins before pulling me into a crushing one armed hug.
“You should definitely come over tomorrow so we can get some bro bonding in before finals kill us in a couple of weeks.”
“Sure. Sure.” I rolled my eyes.
“I’ll call you later then. I love you Adrian. No hetero.” He winked at me with a bright grin plastered on before speeding off back home.
“Adrian, bro. Snap out of it,” I was pulled back into reality and stared back at Geoffrey’s grin. He cocked his head to the side, his blue eyes staring at me intensely.
“Sorry…” I mumbled, mostly to myself.
His grin immediately softened. “What’s wrong?”
I looked away from his gaze. A lot was wrong. There was already a lot going wrong before life decided to kick me down and take away my best friend. And now here he was, apparently alive and kicking. I looked back up when I felt the familiar weight of his warm hand on my shoulder.
“Seriously. What’s wrong?”
“I lost my best friend.”
Geoffrey’s face immediately tightened into a concerned look, his lips were pulled into a thin line. He was still staring at me but I don’t think he was actually looking at me. But I stared back. He looked conflicted. There was definitely something strange going on but I still felt completely dumbfounded as to what that might me. Finally his eyes refocused on me and he put up a passive face. He was worried. Geoffrey had a horrible poker face.
“We’ll talk later.” I just nodded, not really caring. I was beginning to believe more and more that all of this was actually just a dream.
Geoffrey raised his lightly tanned armed towards me, his hand balled into a fist except for his pinky. A small black anchor was tattooed on the inside of his wrist. “I promise.”
I stared at his outstretched pinky for what seemed like ages. A pinky promise. A pinky promise was one of the few things that we continued to do as teenagers and young adults. And we didn’t play around when it came to a pinky promise. A pinky promise signifised that whatever was being promised was absolute. There was no backing our of it, and neither of us had ever tried. Finally I mirrored him with my arm. Our matching tattoos looking at each other for the first time in forever. I raised my own pinky and linked it with his. He promised.
He grinned once again as he pulled back his arm, “Alrighty then bro. Let’s eat up.”
We ate our food in record speed since we had stayed silent the whole time which was unbearable for both of us. We liked to think that we’re excellent talkers and even better listeners. But I was in no state to be conversing, and even if I was, I wouldn’t know where to begin. And we both knew that Geoffrey had a shit ton of explaining to do later so there was no point in trying now. Geoffrey went on to pull the same stunt as before where he excused himself to the bathroom and paid for the bill. I allowed myself a small moment of nostalgia and punched him on the arm like I would have done before. It felt good to be able to punch him.
He followed me into my car and I drove in silence. By the time that we had reached Kerry Park, our de facto place to go when it came to serious conversations, an awkward air had permeated throughout the car. It was suffocating.
Geoffrey undid his seat belt and turned to look at me. “So…”
I mimicked him and stared back. Unconsciously I reached out and poked his cheek, making sure that he was real. The pad of my finger pressed into his fleshy skin while he watched in silence. I pulled back my hand and looked outside the window towards the Seattle skyline shining brightly in the distance.
“What are you doing here?”
“I… Adrian, look at me.” He pulled at my shoulder and forced me to look his way. “I faked my death.”
I didn’t say anything for awhile. Sometime on the way to the park, Seattle had decided to unleash the torrents of rain that it’s known for. The sound of the pouring rain against the metal of my car drowned out everything else and was getting worse. Geoffrey could’ve continued talking and I would never have noticed. I watched a particularly large drop of water slipping down the front of my windshield. At some indistinguishable area, the large drop suddenly split into two. The two drops continued their fall as if nothing had even happened.
“Did you hear me?”
I shuddered from hearing Geoffrey’s voice so near. I had almost forgotten that he was even there. And maybe he wasn’t, but I can only deny that for so long. I turned and faced him. He had moved as close as possible without breaching my bubble in order for me to hear him over the rain, but I wouldn’t put it past him to move even closer if necessary. My nostrils were filled with his personal scent, an odd mix of peppermint and salt water. His eyes were the same as before, starting at me without actually looking. His ocean blue eyes were now a storm of—something. I wasn’t sure. Confusion? Sadness? Love? It scared me how out of touch with him I felt. But then again, he was supposed to be dead.
“Why?” My quivering voice snapped him out of his daydream. His eyes looked at me with renewed clarity, examining my face for any trace of emotion. I gave him none.
“I… I just needed to get out of here, to get away from everything. I needed to get out of my cage and be free. You know? Be free to do whatever I wanted. To see the world. And to just—I just needed to start over.” He looked down at his clenched fists.
“You.” I shook my head slowly. “You needed all of that?”
“You know I did,” he sighed. “I wasn’t going anywhere in life. You and me both knew that. You know how many times I switched around my plans, how often I fucked up. You’ve seen my grades. We were both surprised that the dean hadn’t booted me out of school. And then all of that stupid debt I had. You were right about so many things with it came to life decisions. I should’ve listened to you. But no. I just had to try everything out just to see what would happen.”
Geoffrey looked like he was about to bounce in his seat. A soft smile was plasted onto his face, it looked so foreign to me. The butterflies began to return in full force.
“So I just, you know, killed myself. It wasn’t really that hard, which must say something about our police. I started a new life and everything. I’m now technically ‘Alec Richards.’ And with a blank slate, I’m sure I can accomplish great things. Did you know my name, my real name, means peaceful traveler? That’s kind of what I’ve become. I just travel and it makes me feel a lot more at peace. It’s a lot less hectic than life before.”
I shook my head again, unwilling to believe that this was real. I was unwilling to believe that Geoffrey, my Geoffrey, could do something so… Something so absolutely stupid!
“Did you ever think about what I needed?” My eyes turned sharp and I glared at him, weeks of pent up frustration and emotional stress was finally break out.
“Or what your mom needed? Or your sister? Did you ever once in this stupid place of yours, think about how I would feel without my best friend, my brother? Or your mom without her son? Or Olivia without her older brother?”
“At any point in that asinine train of thought that lead you to fake your death, did you ever think about anybody other than yourself? You know, like everybody else in your damned life? What the hell were you thinking, that nobody would fucking care that you died? Did you think that I would wake up the next day and be perfectly fine having my best friend gone for the rest of my life? That I would take a shot of tequila while standing over your grave, glad that you were gone?”
“No…” Geoffrey’s hands began to turn white from how hard he was clenching them. His face was flushed and his ears were pink. Hot tears fell from his eyes as he glared at my windshield. His mouth was pulled into a deep frown.
“You’re a selfish asshole, you know that?”
He wiped harshly at his face. Geoffrey hated crying. Years of being his best friend had taught me that. If he could, he would have had his tear ducts removed. He always tried his hardest to never cry since it made him feel weak and pathetic, something conditioned into him by his dad. Geoffrey never even cried when his dad passed away a few years ago. Hell, he never even cried during the opening scene of “Up” while I was bawling like a baby. Seeing him in such a vulnerable state made me want to just instantly forgive him and pull him into the biggest man hug that I could muster.
“I thought that you would’ve understood that—”
My glare intensified. “You thought that I would understand how my best friend could abandon everyone who cared about him for his own benefit, leaving everybody else a little dead on the inside?”
“I—“ I jabbed at his chest with my finger. “—fucking cried for what felt like forever while you went out gallivanting at who knows where doing who knows what. Do you understand how that felt? To lose your best friend? I still fucking cry at night and it’s been a month! And of course your stupid ass couldn’t have picked a much more inopportune time to kill yourself than during the week before finals.” I struggled to keep my composure as I felt tears begin to stream down my face.
I turned back towards my windshield, unwilling to look at him anymore. During my outburst, our body temperature clashed against the weather and fogged up my windows. “As far as I’m concerned, my best friend died last month during a car crash. He would never have been selfish enough to intentionally hurt me for such a stupid reason.”
Neither of us said a thing for awhile. The windows cleared once the temperature had dropped inside of the car. The rain pounded against my car, creating a steady rhythm that lulled me to sleep once my tear ducts finally ran dry.
Hours later I woke up and found myself alone. No Geoffrey. No guy who looked like Geoffrey. No one. I drove home in a haze. My brain was unable to offer a logical conclusion for last night. I was tempted to continue believing that Geoffrey had in fact passed away but that same pit in my gut that kept me queasy throughout the whole affair, kept telling me it wasn’t true. This was one of the few moments in my life where “ignorance is bliss” would have been greatly accepted.
Once home I took a long hot shower before sluggishly making my way into bed. My oh so comfortable bed that would never lie to me. My brain welcomed the chance to finally hibernate properly and I shifted until I found a comfortable position. Slowly my eyes began to shut, welcoming the darkness. But right before I could fall asleep, my arm twitched and bumped into something unfamiliar. My brain instantly roared on against my wishes and I reached around with my arm before finding the foreign object in my bed. I pulled it out from under my blanket and instantly recognized it. It was Geoffrey’s favorite khaki jacket. His scent flooded my senses again making me want to cry. I missed that him.
Sunlight filtered in through the blinds, lighting the entire room up. I sat in bed for a moment before reaching towards my phone and shut off the alarm. Day 365 of my life without Geoffrey. I covered my mouth as I yawned passionately. It had been a hard year without him. I tend to shut out the last conversation I had with him, the one after Beth’s. It fucked with the image of Geoffrey that I had built in my head and I’d rather remember him as my best friend than some selfish asshole who didn’t give a shit about me.
I went throughout my day. It was dead week and I had an econ final. I finished my final faster than expected and walked out of the room on high spirits. The hallway was filled with other students traversing to their classes. I was about to walk out of the building when someone bumped into me. I turned to yell at the guy and found no one there, suddenly my nostrils filled with the scent of peppermint and saltwater. I turned around trying to find the source. The butterflies began to flutter in my stomach. Thinking back, I’m certain that I even saw a flash of honey brown hair.
When I got home, I found a package waiting for me on the doorstep. My welcome mat hastily placed atop as if that would keep would be burglars from noticing. I struggled to lift the thing and ended up dragging it inside. I opened it and was suddenly assaulted for the second time with the scent of peppermint and saltwater. Removing layers of packaging, I found a small metal anchor painted black, mirroring the tattoo on my wrist. Buried within the packaging I fished out a postcard with a photo of a beach that matched Geoffrey’s eyes.
I found this and instantly thought of you since you know. You’re my anchor and shit. Thanks for getting my mom that Mother’s Day gift, you’re the best. But I don’t expect any less from my besty. Don’t think you can wiggle your way out of our friendship too, we pinky promised that shit remember? I love you and miss you.
-The Peaceful Traveler
PS: It’s Geoffrey, I mean Alec Richards, in case you didn’t know.
I chuckled as I finished reading the large sloppy handwriting in the blue ink on the back of the postcard. I dragged the anchor into my room and propped it up against the corner, deciding that I’d find a home for it later. The postcard went into a small wooden box on my bookshelf, filled with the other 11 postcards I’ve gotten in the past year. Next to it sat a photo of Geoffrey and I when we we’re children. My mom had gotten a photo of us mid pinky promise that we’d run away together if one of us ended up pregnant. Same blue eyes. And the same shit eating grin.
No prompt for this one, we just had to write a full length short story as our final. I’m not really sure where this one came from seeing as I was originally going to write about a soldier back in civilian life having to deal with PTSD.
I ended up actually writing two endings for this since I wasn’t really sure how to end it and neither did my group members. But because my friend joked that I should just make them gay and make out, or something, that’s what the 2nd ending ended up being. They kissed while in the car and then I had no idea where to go from there since it started to sound too fanfictiony for me so I scrapped that one and came up with this ending instead. I definitely prefer this one more.
Funnily enough, I almost posted that version of the story until the last minute where I looked up as I wrote this note and thought “Kissed, when the hell do they kiss? Yeah.