Two:

"I thought I'd find you here."

"Where else would I be on a Monday morning?" Ryan answered without looking up from the tombstone.

Sean felt a pang of conscious arise in his chest. Ryan was so lost and here he was, seeking him out and practically teasing him. Ryan barely ever looked up anymore. His clothes were dirty and though he was in a warm, long black coat, he looked cold. His face was pale and sickly. He's been out here all night, Sean realized. How tragic.

"I'm not going to school today," Ryan said. He turned his head and looked at Sean. "I'm going home to shower. Then I have things to do."

"Of course, that's fine. Everyone will understand. She was your sister--" Sean stopped. Ryan wasn't really listening. He didn't care what anyone thought. He was trapped in his private world of dispair, caught in it so deep that reality was a pale shadow that seemed like a nightmare. Sean knew it because that's exactly what Ryan had told him last week, right after she died.

Sean wanted to tell him that things were going to be all right, that sometimes bad things happened, but people always moved past them and lived on.... Only Sean wasn't so sure that was true anymore.

"See you later." Ryan stalked off silently.

In the cemetary, every noise seemed loud. Sean felt as ifpounding his feet on the cracked pavement of the walkway or whistling to the birds could very well wake the dead. In fact, the idea that a girl--and not just any dead girl, but his friend's sister, whom he'd known--was buried just six feet below him made him feel slightly ill. He held his stomach and pivoted on his right foot. Time to leave.

Out on the sidewalk he could see Ryan's distant silouette moving in the other direction. For a moment, he hesitated to go to class, wondering if he should catch up with Ryan and try to console him. But how do you console someone who just lost the only family member he had? Finally, he headed for the school.

It was no wonder Ryan kept away. Not only was the building full of memories of Karen, who had practically been Sean's little sister as well, but the school was in an uproar over the sudden, tragic death. It seemed to be the only thing anyone talked about anymore. Grief conselours swarmed the campus, though from what Sean could tell, they were utterly useless. No one had really known Karen because she was quiet and kept to herself. These people weren't grieving for a lost friend, they were excited about something happening so close to their own lives.

Sean walked with caution down the hallway to his English class. He was careful not to run into someone who might ask where Ryan was. People who had never lost anyone couldn't understand the pain or the feelings of helplessness. They didn't know why Ryan wouldn't come to school.

"I know just how you feel," a girl had told them at the burial. "My dog died last week." Sean almost hit her but didn't because it only would have upset Ryan more.

Sean stopped right at the door of the classroom. "I heard they found the head down in San Francisco," one girl said from inside.

"Don't be dumb! It wasn't that far away," another responded.

Sean bit his lip angrily. People could be so rude. He was about to enter, correct them, and make them to mind their own business, when another girl, one in a blue sweater in the back, spoke up. "I don't think you two should talk about the dead that way. It's not very respectful."

The other girls looked at her, rolled their eyes, and took their seats. The girl in blue went back to studying the little booklet she had been so intent on before. Sean walked in and sat down, happy that at least someone had some sense.

~~~~~~~~~

Ryan was not at his house when Sean stopped by to deliver his homework. Sean had a key Ryan had given him because sometimes Sean needed to get away from his parents. He was 18 and yet they were always nagging him about something. Ryan lived only with his sister, and now that she was gone, the poor guy was on his own.

The house itself was a small vacation home. It had two small bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen, and a living room. It was on an out-of-the-way road with a bunch of empty summer homes that were seldom used, even in summer. It was a quiet neighborhood, but Ryan always seemed to be happy he didn't have neighbors.

Sean put the homework on the accumulating stack on the kitchen counter. He wondered if Ryan would ever do it, if he would ever go back to school. He got himself a Pepsi out of the fridge and plopped down onto the sofa. The TV remote was sitting right next to a clipped newpaper article. "Teen girl found mutilated," read the headline, "No Suspects Yet." He picked it up and looked it over.

The article described how Karen's body had been found in a dumpster, wrapped up in garbage bags tied with rope, on the other side of town by a garbage man. The head was found a few days later at the dump, also in a black garbage bag. Sean tossed the paper aside, disgusted. Poor Ryan. He shouldn't be reading things like that, even if they were accurate reports.

Sean stood up and decided to go home. Ryan might want his space when he got home from whereever he was and Sean would hate to disturb him. He reached for the paper to put it back where it had been when he noticed writing on the bottom of the clipping. He examined them more closely and realized they were random markings, perhaps doodlings. Tiny lines that meant nothing. Ryan probably made them while on the phone to the coroner or while he read the article.

Outside, squirrels ran up and down one side of a tree. The sky was overcast but some shards of light from the sun managed to poke through the dusty cloud-cover. It would start getting dark soon despite the early hour. That was the problem with winter--it got dark far too early. The grass all around the yard was a faded yellow color and it was overgrown and full of weeds. Ryan and Karen never seemed to care how the yard looked. It wasn't as though the other yards in the area were well kempt and neat anyhow, so it didn't really matter. Sean was busy observing the land when Ryan walked through the small metal gate.

"Ryan, I didn't think you'd be back so I just--" Sean stopped. Ryan looked him as if he didn't know him, his gaze distant and remote. "Are you all right?"

"No... Yes. Well, you know."

Sean nodded although he didn't think that he knew. "You look exhausted. You should sleep or something, man."

Ryan laughed aloud at that. Sean was surprised; he hadn't laughed since Karen's death. "I'll try. But Sean, please, don't come around here anymore. I'll see you at school." Ryan softened his stare and looked him in the eye.

"Don't...? What's gotten into you? I mean, you probably shouldn't be alone all the time right now."

"Listen, it's not safe." Sean raised an eyebrow and then looked away, afriad he might have hurt Ryan's feelings. "I--I can't really explain now. Please just trust me. I'll see you tomorrow. Good-bye." Ryan tapped Sean's shoulder as he passed and headed for the house.

Sean turned around and called to him. "Does that mean you're really coming to school tomorrow?"

"Yes. Good night." Ryan's short reply was cut off when the door to the house shut. It wasn't like him to be so vague, but then, he was dealing with a lot. What right did Sean have to judge his behavior? People in mourning do strange things.

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