We sat in silence for nearly an hour. The rain was just beginning to let up, though a slate-gray sky kept the atmosphere dark. Beside me Will was stationary in his seat, only breaking the stillness with the flicks of his thumb on the phone in his hand. Vague shapes passed us by behind fogged windows, but we paid them no heed as the bus tumbled along towards our stop.
“Hey—Aaron reply to the text yet?”
Will’s voice nearly startled me. I was beginning to drift off, but quickly straightened myself and gave a shrug. I took out my phone and checked the lock screen, but no notifications were there. “Nope. Probably hasn’t seen it yet.”
“You sent it to him at lunch, though!”
“You’d think he’d have told us what he needed, sending a message like that. Sounded urgent.”
“If it were urgent, he probably would’ve called.” I straightened my arms out in front of me, stretching the weariness from them. “And if it were urgent, he wouldn’t’ve called us.”
Will sighed audibly, but the turn of his head to the front of the bus was all the agreement I needed. There were several more minutes of silence.
“You bring any of those pills, man? I’m starting to get a headache and this ride is lasting forever.”
“Nope. Ran out.”
Will furrowed his brow. “Don’t you think you should get those filled?”
“I will. I’m seeing him tomorrow.”
“Well damn, man, I probably could’ve just slept through this!”
“You’re the reason I ran out so fast.”
Will gave a quiet snort, but let the subject fall. We were beginning to slow, the quiet whine of the brakes announcing the end of our trip. Aaron’s neighborhood was not too much of a walk from the stop we were getting off at, and it seemed like the weather would refrain for the time being as we disembarked.
Only the sound of our footsteps on rain-soaked pavement accompanied us as we walked the sidewalk, punctuated here and there by the hum of a cars engine and the hiss of their tires through puddles in the road. My leg protested almost the whole way to Oak Grove, the enormous bruise on my shin crying out against any activity.
I kept moving, though, and Will did not notice the slight winces that crossed my face with each step.
Aaron’s house was not grandiose to any extent, but it was reasonable enough for his tastes. With two floors and a dull beige paint job, it stood as the clone of several older buildings put up for sale down the street. It was clear that he had not taken a power-washer to the place for a while, as small dots of mold were beginning to pop up here and there between the exterior paneling. Will winced.
“You’d think Sarah would’ve gotten him to clean the place up. It’s not like her to let it get this bad…”
His words faltered under my withering glare, and he brought a hand up to fix his mussed hair. Though it was no longer raining, a low-lying fog had moved in and was beginning to mist our clothes and skin.
“Sorry, I know—”
“You’re fine,” I said.
“Yeah, but I know it wasn’t cool for—”
“You didn’t care then, why should you now?”
“Dude, it was her choice. And you know it wasn’t like that.”
“It’s fine. She probably just hasn’t seen it yet. His problem now.”
Will looked at me for a little while longer, with an infuriating air of what could have been pity. It did not much matter to me at the time, though, as I was not really paying much attention. I climbed my way up the short flight of steps to the house’s porch, waited for Will to get up beside me, and rang the doorbell.
We waited half a minute, growing colder by the second in the misty weather. Will reached out and hit the bell again. We both heard the tone play throughout the house, but received the same response. I turned to watch as Will checked the driveway again, but Aaron’s blue ford was still parked where I remembered it.
“This asshole better be home. I have shit to do today.” Will shivered and replaced his hands in his jacket pockets.
“Maybe he can’t hear us?” I offered, albeit halfheartedly. I punched the doorbell two more times and waited. When once again answered with silence, Will stepped forward and reached for the door’s handle.
“Why’s he leave this stuff unlocked?”
“It’s Aaron,” I said. Once again, this seemed enough for Will as he gave a deprecating shake of his head and pushed the door wide. Inside there was darkness, and a brief moment when my heart sped up and sweat ran colder than the insidious vapor that clung like a damp blanket. Then we stepped in, and turned on the light.
It was a handsome entrance room, with an open archway to the kitchen on the left and living room on the right. Stairs set into the right wall climbed up to the second floor, and in the middle between the stairs and kitchen was a shortcut to the dining room. Aaron’s shoes were piled beside the doormat, with Sarah’s flats beside them. The walls were painted white, darkened here and there by odd shadows and aged blemishes. Will looked at the shoes quizzically before taking his own off and walking into the kitchen. I turned, setting the door’s deadbolt and hanging my jacket on a nearby hook.
“Hey, come check this out!”
Will sounded excited, and despite my leg I moved quickly to investigate. He was no longer in the kitchen, but the dining room. I cast my eyes around to see what he was referring to, and it didn’t take long. One of the chairs was upturned, lying on its back, and the table was slightly crooked, pushed nearly a foot forward on the right side.
I furrowed my brow. “What’s that?”
Will, who had probably looked around a little bit before calling me, narrowed his eyes and cast them around the room and down the hallway. His voice was quiet, his tone suddenly serious. “You think someone broke in here?”
“What do you mean?”
“Shh! Shit, man, what if they’re still in here?”
“We rang the doorbell four times.”
“Where’s Aaron? Where’s Sarah?”
His steely glare was disconcerting, definitely, and I hardened my expression as well. We stayed in that room for several more seconds as the soft sound of rain suddenly began pattering against the roof. A tree branch, blown by the wind, scratched against the nearby window. He seemed at the same time worried for his friend and scared to leave the dining room.
“Maybe they’re upstairs?”
His words, or at least their tone, were almost pitiful to hear. I had never thought of Will as a coward, but this was a side of him I had not seen before. He seemed genuinely frightened at the thought of going up to look for Aaron and Sarah . . . so much for the bravado he always seemed to show. When he finally moved away from the table to venture for the stairs, I turned my eyes back to the dining room one last time. The chair had not moved from last I remembered, and a low-set bench was still knocked to the side of the room.
My shin gave a throb.
Every step we took stairs creaked under our weight as we climbed the stairs, the carpet on the steps doing nothing to muffle our sound. It was growing steadily darker. None of the lights were on. Every picture hanging from the walls seemed to be watching us. I stopped when I reached the top of the staircase, but kept my eyes on Will as he slowly moved on. My heart racing in my chest, my senses clear, I made an effort to stay silent as I crept after him as he reached the end of the hallway and Aaron’s and Sarah’s bedroom.
I didn’t have to look up to see the scene that kept Will motionless, that brought his hand up to his mouth and held back the words struggling to rise to the surface. I did not have to see the two forms lying in utter stillness on the bed, an expression of confusion and fear frozen on their face. All I had to feel was my aching arm, pushed to exertion twice today already, and it snaked under Will’s jaw and locked.
The phone on the bedside table buzzed in reminder of its unread texts. Will’s hands tried wrenching the arm away, growing weaker by the second. I turned my eyes on the woman in the bed as the body fell limp in my arms, and kept squeezing.
The water-slicked asphalt reflected the slate-gray sky above as the bus screeched to a halt in front of me. Its doors opened, and I climbed in, stretching out my arm and wincing at the pain of each step. I laid my head against the cold, fogged window, and closed my eyes.
It was going to be a long trip home.