"It’s no longer a question of staying healthy. It’s a question of finding a sickness you like."
When I woke up, it was still dark. It took a minute for me to remember what happened a few hours ago, but when I did, it hit my stomach with almost physical pain. Sebastian was in my room. Sebastian - my best friend who I had rejected and hadn’t spoken to for three days was sleeping in my room - and had been crying. I knew that I was a magnet for awkward, but this was a new low.
I rolled over as quietly as I could, peeking over the edge of my bed at the pile of blankets on the floor. They were empty. “Sebastian?” I hissed. Bolting upright, I threw the covers off my legs and hurried from the room. “Sebastian?” I whispered again as I navigated through my darkened house. There was no sign of him anywhere.
As quiet as I could, I eased open the back door and headed outside, the breeze chilling my bare arms. I was glad I had exercise pants on that went past the knee - at least half of me wouldn’t be freezing. Barefoot, I padded out into the tiny backyard, finally spotting Sebastian under the same tree I had been sitting under when we first met. The grass cushioning my footsteps, I headed his way.
“Hey,” I said, taking a seat next to him on the hard ground.
“Hi,” Sebastian replied, shredding grass with his fingers. “Sorry if I woke you.”
“Nah,” I replied. “I didn’t hear a thing.”
Sebastian nodded, but didn’t seem to be really listening. “I just needed some air.”
“My room has a window,” I tried to joke. It fell flat. “Do you want to talk?”
For a moment he didn’t reply. “I owe you an explanation.”
“You don’t owe me anything.”
Sebastian looked over at me, and he looked so far from his normal self that I almost shied away. His normally cheerful eyes had lost their shine, and when he smiled, it just seemed sad. “I owe you a lot.”
There were no stars in the sky, only clouds. We stared up at them anyway. My tired eyes wanted to close, but I wouldn’t let them. Sleep was so far from important. It seemed like an eternity before Sebastian started to talk, and when he did, it was in a strange monotone, like he was reading from notecards.
“My older brother was the golden child,” he began, plucking a fresh handful of grass to shred. “He was smart, popular, responsible… He was the kind of person you don’t believe exists. My parents adored him - everyone did. He was my role model, he was… everything. We were close. Really close. Until high school, and then we kind of… drifted a little. I was a freshman, he was a senior. He was going off to college soon, and I realized I was going to have to find friends of my own. I couldn’t hang off him forever.”
Sebastian swallowed, let the dead pieces of grass fall from his fingers. “I was never unpopular. I made some friends. They invited me to this party, and there was alcohol and drugs and stuff. I didn’t tell my brother, because he didn’t like stuff like that. He used to tell me that I was better than that. He didn’t want that kind of life for me - he thought it was a stepping stone to a lifestyle that I would end up regretting.” He gave a half shrug. “I never said he was wrong. But I went anyway.”
Tentatively, I put a hand on his arm, and he leaned into me a little. “He found out. One of his friends at the party sent him a picture and I was in the background. It was really late; he had just gotten off a night shift at the library where he worked. He was exhausted, but he jumped in his car and came to pick me up, chastise me, take me home.
“I was furious then,” Sebastian muttered quietly. “Now I’d give anything to hear that whole lecture.” He closed his eyes and drew in a breath. “We were arguing on the way home. He was tired. Neither of us were paying attention to the road. He ran a red light - didn’t even see it - and we were t-boned by a pickup. He died on impact.”
“Oh my god,” I breathed. Nate Reynolds - I remembered hearing about him. I had never made the connection. God, I was so self-absorbed in high school. “Seb, I’m so sorry.”
A tear traced a trail down his cheek. “I felt so guilty. If I’d just told him I was going, he would’ve made me stay home. And I would’ve hated him for it, but he’d be alive. Or if I hadn’t gone, he’d be alive. I just…” He choked up and hung his head.
I don’t know what made me wrap my arms around him then, but I did. Physical affection wasn’t my style, but there was nothing else to do in that moment. Sebastian leaned his head on my shoulder, shaking a little as he cried. “I’m sorry,” I muttered. “I can’t imagine…”
I truly couldn’t.
After his breathing calmed, Sebastian pulled back. “I… I don’t usually tell people the whole story. They just pity me more, and I hate that. You’re the only one of my friends who knows it was my fault.”
I nodded, not knowing what else to say. I didn’t want to pity him, but it was hard not to. “It’s not your fault,” I insisted. Sebastian didn’t reply. “So… tonight?” I prompted gently. I didn’t want to push him, but it seemed like there was more he wasn’t saying.
“Tonight’s the anniversary,” Sebastian admitted. “And my parents…” he paused for a bitter smile and a humorless huff of a laugh, “well, he was the perfect son. He had a dozen great schools after him and a steady job. I got Cs and Ds and cared more about football than scholarships. Which one would you rather have survive?”
I stared at him. “Seb, that’s awful.” My hand tightened on his arm. “You can’t compare the two of you like that. Grades don’t mean you’re any less amazing. They’re your parents. They shouldn’t make you feel guilty like that - that’s not right. Or fair.”
Sebastian closed his eyes. “Hana, do you really think I don’t agree with them?”
If I had half-wanted to cry earlier, it took all my strength not to now. “Sebastian Reynolds. I, for one, am glad you’re here. You.”
“Thanks,” Sebastian whispered. “I’m sorry to lay this on you like this. I’m usually really good at burying it. I just… They were fighting again and it was all too much. Usually I just wander around outside, but tonight…”
“I understand,” I replied. “It’s okay. Whatever I can do to help.”
“Thank you,” he said again, and it had more weight than those two tiny words could hold.
A breeze swept through the air, and I shivered. I stood and offered my hand. “Come on,” I said. “Let’s go back inside.”
Sebastian accepted, pulling himself up and following me inside. We headed upstairs, and this time I stopped him before he made it to his pile of blankets on the floor. “Wait, um. About the other night, I really am sorry. I promise you didn’t do anything wrong, and I owe you an explanation for that, but… something tells me that can wait for another night.”
He nodded. “It’s okay. Can we just be friends again?”
“Please,” I replied, relief coloring my tone. “That would be amazing.”
Sebastian smiled, and it seemed genuine this time. “I’m glad.” He headed for his spot on the floor again, but I stepped forward.
“You know, sharing a bed… it’s not something that has to be romantic.” I felt more nervous than I had in years. “I have room, and you’ve had a rough night, and I can’t make you sleep on the floor. You need… like, hugs and shit right now.”
A little bit of Sebastian’s normal spark crept back into his eyes as he looked at me. “Hana Lau-Shaw, are you offering platonic cuddling?”
I was vaguely certain that my face was the color of a candy apple. “Only if it doesn’t make things… weird.”
“Weird? What even is weird?” Sebastian replied, smiling again.
It was only a little awkward as we both climbed into bed and settled under the light summertime covers. At first I wondered if I should just give him space on the other half of the bed, but when he offered his arm, I curled against his side. It was strangely comforting to feel his warmth and the rise and fall of his chest. It wasn’t like this was the first time I had ever been in bed with anyone, but it was never like this - safe, sober, and easy.
“Thank you, Hana,” Sebastian whispered before I drifted off. “Talking about that… I think it really helped.”
I smiled against his t-shirt. “I’m glad.”