I kept scrolling and I kept reading. Preliminary toxicology reports indicated that the driver—Cody—had a blood-alcohol level two times the legal limit. On Tuesday, nearly a week ago, they’d been awaiting a full toxicology report, and I...I saw Cody in my head, reaching for the door handle and missing. I heard him saying as clear as day, as if he were sitting next to me, Jesus. Are you serious? I had one drink. And I didn’t want to read anymore, but I couldn’t stop.
I skimmed the article announcing that Clearbrook High had forfeited the game against Hadley this past Friday night out of respect for the massive loss to the football team. They talked about the boys, about their records on the field. How Cody had been hoping to attend Penn State and Phillip had been planning to go to WVU, the same for Chris.
Another article was posted yesterday, announcing a vigil to be held at Clearbrook High this Friday night, after the football game, when Clearbrook would kick off their “bittersweet” season. But that article mentioned something else—charges.
Charges against—Oh my God. I read the lines twice, stunned and sick to my stomach.
An investigation of the accident is currently pending. Local authorities have revealed that all the occupants in the car were minors and had left the residence of Albert and Rhonda Scott. At this time, it is believed that both adults were home while the party was being held at their residence. If charged, they could be found guilty of endangering minors, furnishing alcohol to minors, reckless endangerment and criminal negligence.
That was Keith’s parents, and I knew they’d been home. I’d seen them inside the house, in the kitchen. And that hadn’t been the first party they’d been well aware of.
Dazed, I got to the end of the article and I...I did something I knew I shouldn’t do, but I did it anyway. I started reading the comments on the article that had announced their names. The first comment simply said “Prayers.” Second comment read “What a waste of potential. RIP.” Third comment was “Seen that Reece boy play. What a damn waste. Surely heading for the NFL.”
“This is why you don’t drink and drive. What a damn shame.”
“Driving that road sober is scary, let alone drunk? Idiots.”
The comments just...just went downhill from there. People, complete strangers, commenting as if they knew them—knew us. Strangers saying horrible, horrible things as if they didn’t care that Cody and Phillip’s friends, or Megan and Chris’s family, could be reading these.
“They made stupid decisions. They died. End of story.”
“Why are we having a vigil for four dumbasses who got behind a wheel of a car drunk?”
“Well, that’s four people we don’t have to worry about repopulating the earth.”
“The parents of the party host should be charged with murder!!!”
“Does it make me a bad person to be grateful that they didn’t kill anyone else?”
“Thank God they didn’t kill anyone else. Dumbasses.”
On and on the comments went, hundreds of them. Hundreds of strangers weighing in, their comments stuck in between the “prayers” and the “poor parents.”
“Lena?” Mom filled the doorway. “What are you doing?” Her gaze moved from my face to my laptop. She quickly stepped around the bed, looking down at the screen. She snapped forward, grabbed the computer out of my lap and closed it as she backed away.
I stared up at her, shaking. My entire body was trembling. My face was wet. I hadn’t realized I’d started crying. “Have you read those comments?”
“No.” She placed my laptop on the desk. “I caught a glimpse of some of them and I didn’t need to read any more.”
“Do you know...what they’ve been saying?”
“It doesn’t matter.” She sat on the edge of the bed, beside me. “It doesn’t—”
“That’s what they think about them!” Pointing at my computer, I struggled to get in deep, even breaths. I knew I needed to calm down. “This is how they’re going to be remembered, isn’t it?”
“No. That’s not how they’re going to be remembered.” Mom eased her arm around my shoulders. “Because that’s not how you’re going to remember them or how their families will remember them.”
But that wasn’t true, because the whole world would forever see them differently. That was all Megan, Cody, Phillip and Chris were now. Four lives reduced to blood-alcohol levels and bad choices. That was who they were now.
Not football stars.
Not undecided college majors.
Not a badass on the volleyball court.
Not a friend who’d drop everything and listen to you whine about a boy.
Not a guy who worried enough about his friend’s future to ask questions.
Not a guy who had the worst taste in shirts.
Not the kind of people who could always make you laugh no matter what.
Instead they were two times the legal limit of alcohol.
They were reckless and irresponsible.
They were people removing themselves from the gene pool.
They brought this onto themselves.
They were dumb kids who made dumb decisions who died.
They were a lesson to others.
That was all they were now.
Their entire lives were now a fucking after-school special on the dangers of drinking and driving. That was it.
And I hated it.
Because it was right.
I heard them downstairs, approximately thirty minutes after school got out. Their voices rose from the first floor. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but I knew my mom wasn’t stopping them.
Panicked, I rose from the bed and glanced at the balcony doors. Could I make a run for it? That was almost laughable. My ribs would fall out of my body if I tried to run, and where was I going to go? I was stuck.
Abbi and Dary were coming.
Every muscle in my body tensed as their footsteps pounded up the stairs. Pain flared across my ribs, no longer dulled by the potent pain meds the hospital had administered. They’d given me a prescription, but I hadn’t taken it yet.
I dropped the binder full of homework and catch-up assignments, the pressure in my chest increasing.
Abbi was the first through the door. She stopped just inside my bedroom. Dary was behind her, but Abbi didn’t move for what felt like forever. Like she couldn’t come into my room, because the room represented everything that was no longer there. Just like I had felt.
Her curls were smoothed back into a high, tight bun. The dark skin under her eyes was puffy. Dary finally edged in around her, into the room, and she looked just as...shattered.
Her wild black hair was gelled back. The white-framed glasses did nothing to hide how swollen her eyes were. Normally Dary was wearing something bizarre. Today she just had on jeans and a loose V-neck shirt. No bright colors. No funky dresses or suspenders.
“You look like crap,” Abbi said finally, her voice hoarse.
My mouth was dry. “I feel...like crap.”
Dary’s face crumpled and she came forward to sit on my bed. Abbi plopped down in the chair as Dary leaned over my legs, planting her elbows in my bed and hiding her face in her hands. Her shoulders shook, and I wanted to say something, to offer comfort.
“I’m sorry.” Dary’s voice was muffled. “I told Abbi I would keep it together.”
“She did.” Abbi pulled her legs up, wrapping her arms around her knees. “She promised me.”
“I just... I’ve missed you.” She pushed her glasses up to her head and wiped under her eyes as she straightened. “And when your mom said you didn’t want visitors, I had to wait to see you—to make sure you’re okay.”
“And I’m trying not to be pissed off about that,” Abbi said, resting her chin on her knees. “But it sucked real bad having to get updates through Sebastian.”
“I’m sorry.” I leaned back, careful to not let the pillows slip too far down. “Sebastian kind of...forced his way in.”
“You wanted space. I’m trying to understand that, but...” Dary dragged the backs of her hands under her eyes. “It was just really hard.” There was a pause. “Everything has been really hard.”