“I’ve always loved you,” he whispers drowsily, breaking the silence between them, his voice laced with the soft haziness and scent of a few too many drinks. Kelsey rolls to her side to face her best friend on his oversized bed, her own mind foggy with the effects of their night out. Her lean legs tangle in the flannel fabric of Simon’s sheets as she settles herself into a new position, dark chocolate eyes straining to see his face in the darkness of the bedroom. A hint of a smile tugs at corners of her soft mouth.
Kelsey reaches out with her hand, blindly searching for Simon’s, entrapping his fingers in hers. For a moment, the only sound in the room is the gentle rhythm of their breathing.
“I know,” Kelsey whispers in return, and that’s that.
She awakens the next morning, still lying on her side, suggesting a deep and restful slumber. But unlike the night before, when the tip of his nose had been mere inches from touching hers and the scent of his alcohol breath had splashed comforting and warm on her face like clockwork, Simon was not there. Although this is suggestive of a simple attempt to slip away before sunrise, or perhaps something much more unfavorable, Kelsey had experienced this same situation before. Simon was, admittedly, a much earlier riser than she, and there were many times in the past that she had awakened to a half-empty bed.
Never, though, had she drifted asleep to the echo of his admission of his love for her.
With the sleepiness of the early morning still clinging to her dark eyes, Kelsey pushes the flannel sheets from her body and swings her legs off the bed. She yawns, almost obnoxiously, before pressing her feet to the cool hardwood floor of Simon’s room and making her way towards the bathroom.
Kelsey showers and readies herself quickly, her mind still distracted by her best friend’s declaration from the night before.
Dressing in the jeans and blouse she had brought with her to Simon’s house, she exits the bathroom and makes her way to the well-lit kitchen. Briefly, her thoughts wander to the lack of noise Simon was making this morning – he was infamous for playing his music loudly, no matter the time of day.
She frowns when she finds the kitchen empty and makes a quiet humph sound upon finding that the living room is the same.
“Oh Siiiiimooooon, come out, come out, wherever you are…” Her voice is loud and playful as she makes another round to each room in the house – but still, no Simon.
Biting her lip nervously, Kelsey returns to the kitchen and plops herself onto one of the chairs at the table. She taps her fingertips against the wooden tabletop, her eyes roaming the familiar scenery. She and Simon had been best friends for close to eight years; his apartment was her second home. It was only recently that he had hinted towards feeling more for her than just a generic platonic friendship.
It’s at this moment that Kelsey notices a small notepad on the table. Leaning forward with an outstretched arm, she pulls the stack of paper closer to her and finds that something is written on it that wasn’t there last night.
One more cup of coffee for the road,
One more cup of coffee ‘fore I go.
He had sung the song to her many times before, always on their way to grab coffee from their favorite local spot, Jamocha. Kelsey breathes a sigh of relief, grabs her little black purse from the table and tucks it under her arm before heading outside to her beat-up gray Audi.
The drive from Simon’s to Jamocha took only about twenty minutes on the days that Kelsey wasn’t pulled over by the local police department and ticketed for her chronic lead foot. The roads were scenic, aside from the occasional bag of trash or plastic cup that had been flung carelessly from the window of a speeding car, and today the sun was unobscured by any passing clouds. As she pulls into the small parking lot of the coffee shop, Kelsey notices the scene of a car accident further down the road. Ambulances and police cruisers had just begun arriving; the piercing wail of their sirens a harsh contrast to the beautiful weather, but Kelsey knows Simon was inside waiting for her, and decides she can’t play the role of the curious onlooker today.
Tugging the door open and entering the coffee shop, Kelsey waves to the barista behind the counter. The overpowering aroma of coffee beans and pastries assaults her nose.
“Kels, not to be nosy, but I have a question for you,” Dee says. Kelsey can’t help but smile as she makes her way to the counter – Dee has always been curious and prying. As she reaches the counter and sits at one of the barstools, Dee lowers her voice. “Is everything alright with Simon?”
“What do you mean?” Kelsey blushes, her face suddenly and unpleasantly hot with delightful embarrassment as her mind instantly brings her to Simon’s late night confession.
“Well… He was in here about an hour ago and seemed fine. But I think something happened when I was making the drinks because he just… well, I don’t know, he just swore really loud, jumped out of his seat, and ran out the door before I finished.”
Kelsey furrows her eyebrows with concern. “I have no idea, Dee. He hasn’t called me so I can’t imagine what…” Her sentence fades into silence as a flashback of the car accident hits her. Had she seen Simon’s car? She couldn’t remember. Her body freezes with panic, her mind running through every detail of the collision she could recall.
The cars had both been a darker color, but that’s all Kelsey could remember. Her hands clench into fists and her fingers go numb – Simon’s car is black.
“I have to go,” she mumbles almost inaudibly as she jumps from the stool and bolts for the door to the street, nearly running into a table as she tries to maneuver as quickly as she possibly can.
Once outside of the coffee shop, she breaks into a sprint along the cracked sidewalk, doing her best to ignore the panicky feeling that had welled up inside of her. She reaches the car accident but her view is blocked by one of the three ambulances at the scene. Attempting to get a better view, she ducks between the front of the ambulance and the back of a police cruiser that had been haphazardly parked to block looky-loo’s from getting too close.
“Ma’am, you can’t be back here.” The officer had come out of nowhere.
“Please, officer, my friend…” She attempts to push by him, but is stopped once again.
“I’m sorry, but you can’t be this close to the cars.”
Kelsey clenches her teeth in frustration and pivots on her heels, stalking away from the officer. She rounds the police cruiser, making sure to stay on the sidewalk where other pedestrians were being allowed to walk through, and catches a glimpse of one of the cars.
Her breath catches in her throat. There it was – black, the paint on the driver’s side door marred by the key of a driver who had been angry at Simon for parking too close to his Mercedes a summer before, the same blue ribbon she’d won at a horse show years ago still taped to the corner of his rear windshield even though he was scared of horses and hated the way they smelled. But now the front of his car was smashed and billowing black smoke, his windshield shattered into an infinite number of tiny, jagged pieces.
Kelsey freezes, her dark eyes scanning the on-looking crowd frantically for Simon.
She can’t find him, why can’t she find him? Her frustration builds, growing into fear and anger and hot tears. She watches as two EMTs stand, previously hidden from view behind the wrecked cars, supporting a stretcher. There was a body on it. There was a sheet over it.
She screams in overwhelming agony, her fingernails cutting into her palms but she doesn’t notice, her tears becoming loud, open-mouthed sobs. Kelsey sprints for the stretcher, detained again by an officer. This time he has to hold her back, his strong arms wrapped around her body to keep her from the ambulance, and he offers a soothing voice in her ear, but she can’t hear him. Her blood is pounding too fast and her thoughts are on one thing.
Simon. Simon. Simon.
Coffee. Fleece blankets. Simon’s sweatshirt.
These things surround her but Kelsey doesn’t notice as she curls into a ball on her best friend’s favorite chair in his living room. Her fingers were still numb and her thoughts were nothing more than fragmented ideas rolling around in her head, but she had stopped crying for now. Her brown eyes, still bloodshot, were puffy and uncomfortable. A half-eaten peanut butter sandwich sat on the coffee table in front of her and the room was silent except for her ragged breathing.
Dee had driven Kelsey back to Simon’s apartment after finding her on the ground next to the collision with her hands wrapped around her face as she sobbed uncontrollably. Kelsey hadn’t thought to call any of Simon’s family – she didn’t trust herself to piece a sentence together just yet.
For an hour she sat nearly catatonic, occasionally biting her lip or a fingernail. When there’s a quiet sound at the door, she dismisses it and blames it on her own imagination.
But then there he is. Simon. Alive and well, in one piece, and smiling. He closes the door quietly behind himself and makes his way towards Kelsey, his smile disappearing as she turns to face him slowly and he sees her bloodshot eyes.
She launches herself from the chair, throwing fleece blankets everywhere and knocking her half-eaten sandwich to the floor as she throws herself at Simon with outstretched arms. He catches her, his expression incredulous as she begins to sob.
“I thought you were dead, I thought you were dead, they wouldn’t let me see you, and no one would talk to me. I didn’t know… Why didn’t you call me?! Where have you been? I didn’t know what to do… I thought…” Her voice drifts off and they’re on the floor now, Kelsey in Simon’s arms as she sobs in relief.
“Shhh, it’s okay, I’m here. I’m fine. I’m in one piece. I went to get us coffee when I woke up this morning and when I was inside, some asshole stole my car. He’s the one who wrecked it…I’ve been at the police station, filling out paperwork.” He pauses, rocking Kelsey gently. “Please don’t cry… you know I hate when you cry. I’m okay! I swear!”
A small smile grabs at her lips and she hugs him tight, her tears finally beginning to subside.
“I’ve always told you that you need to stop leaving your car unlocked,” she jokes. Simon responds with good-natured laughter, rustling her hair as he pulls her up to stand with him. They’re silent for a few minutes, wrapped in a hug that speaks of more than friendship. Kelsey’s eyes finally dry.
“I love you,” she whispers.