June 16th, 2016
I would find myself constantly flicking through One’s diaries, reading them over and over again until I knew how she felt on a particular day. I read them like school textbooks; I studied each page. I tried to put myself in her position; I delved into her psyche. But sometimes I would read things that I was sure I would have written myself. Then I wasn’t sure if I would do the things she had done. I wasn’t sure if I really am a unique being, or if I’m One in another life – in different circumstances.
I’ve always hated this idea of alternative universes. The fact that I’ll never know about what never happened. What could have happened – what should have happened. The fact that different possibilities spiralling out of one single event like tributaries of a river can’t ever exist simultaneously annoys me.
I decided on how I should execute the mission. I would drive down to Presley, book a hotel and stay for a week at most. I would find a way to meet Bret. I would find a way to convince him that I’m still around. That I never left.
I decided to add him on Facebook using a made-up profile; Gertrude Joy. I was surprised to see him accept the request, despite us sharing no mutual friends. I got to see more of his life – where he works, how he lives. Though he was from a rich family, I didn’t see him stunting and balling anymore like he would or like he used to. He looked like he lives comfortably by himself. He looked so unbothered. Something needed to shake his world.
My hand trembled as I pressed his mobile number into my phone; I got access to it once I was accepted onto his profile. It’s quite scary how easy it is to obtain personal details of somebody. Then again, most people don’t live thinking they’re being stalked or examined, so it does make sense.
Of course I had hidden my caller ID. To him, I would just be Unknown.
Until he heard my voice.
My parents always had a habit of saying how much I reminded them of my ‘deceased sister’ back before I knew the truth. They would tell me how much I act like her. They would tell me how much I sound like her. They would sometimes call me Rose – a habit they still occasionally trip over. Looking back at old tapes of One (which I also found hidden in the attic), I can understand why they can’t wrap their heads around me being someone else. I watch the videos and it feels like I’m staring down at a film of myself that I wasn’t aware was being filmed. Our voices are identical, and easily recognisable when heard over the phone.
“Hello?” a voice boomed curiously down the line. My heart was racing so fast – I felt like I could hang up without thinking. I could see myself freezing over. Say something, I thought. Oh God Oh God Oh God this was not a good idea, is all that swung through my mind.
“Bret?” I managed to utter. My tongue felt heavy. My mouth was dry.
“Who is this?” he asked, concerned. Unaware. Stupid idea. Stupid. Stupid stupid stupid
“Bret, do you remember me?” I sat on my bed, hands quivering. Parents were out. I was home alone. Even still, the hairs along my neck crept up like the house was full of apparitions.
“I’m sorry, I have no idea who this is.”
“Rosie. It’s me, Rosie.”
“Jennifer-Rose. It’s me. Don’t you believe it?” I hoped he could hear One’s voice. I hope he felt something. I hoped he fell for it, however absurd it may be.
“I’m not in the mood for games. Who the hell is this?” he answered more sternly. I could hear the fear. The confusion. The doubt; the hope.
“I already told you. It’s me, Rose.”
I heard him sigh on the other end of the line. He was frustrated, and completely flabbergasted. He was not sure what to believe. I was scared, because I realised that I’m messing around with a stranger’s emotions. I never knew this man, and I was going to play this out like I do. I know diary entries. I know photos. I don’t know him.
“There is so much we need to catch up on, don’t you think?” I asked him softly.
He didn’t answer. I just heard his heavy, confused breath. “I’m sorry…” he goes. It’s his tic. To apologise, when he’s under stress.
He’ll say sorry for days if he’s ever upset. Diary entry, April 15th, 1999.
“It’s OK. It’s OK, Bret. Just clear your thoughts. Gather yourself. Know that I’m here for you. I’m here,” I found myself saying. My palms were moist with sweat, clinging onto the phone for dear life.
“I’m sorry.” He said again.
He hung up.
November 21st, 1999
It had been four days since Bret got the news that Jennifer-Rose’s Life Support was switched off. Since then, he had barely left his house. He didn’t know how to deal with it, and he was afraid he would do something stupid. He hadn’t even spoken to his friends, and he had even been neglecting Sofia. He hadn’t seen or spoken to Naomi since the day she called up. But he needs to handle his grief; he needs to grab it by the horns and wrestle it to the ground. He’ll have it in the palm of his hands, and he will crush it up.
Jonesy came to his house the day after the phone call with Bret. It was the first time he had ever seen him cry. A lanky, self-assured stoner break down and cry. It’s the first time he has seen a lot of things. It’s the first time he has finally understood that human beings do not last forever. No matter what, they will wither away. They will drop into the soil. They will be sucked into the skies. They will cease to exist. No matter whom, no matter how much you love them, human beings die. They die.
Mr. and Mrs. Middleton haven’t been picking up their phones since. He knows they’re just mourning, and he should give them space. They had to do it eventually - they had to turn it off. They had the time to say goodbye - to let her go. She didn’t die on the spot like the rest of them, so it’s better than nothing. But he still feels upset that the only communication he got from them concerned the news of the death. They knew that Rose was very close to her small group of friends, including Bret. But it’s almost understandable, under the circumstances of her death, why they would want to keep at arm’s length with any of her associates at this point. He wants to talk to them - to let them know they are not hurting alone. He’s not sure if Naomi or anyone else has talked to them yet. Probably not.
He makes an impulsive decision to drive down to the Middletons’ house in the late afternoon. He kept thinking of Rose and trying not to break down for the millionth time that day. He kept sliding apart, quickly putting himself back together and composing his emotions before they got the best of him. He needs to talk to Rose’s parents. He needs to let them understand how much he’s hurting.
But when he arrives, nobody answers the door. The lights are on – there are definitely people inside the house. There is no doubt about that. He even suspects to hearing her sister Jamie’s voice, somewhere in the belly of the building. He knocks twice, but still, nobody comes to answer. They know that it’s him, most likely; his car is parked right in front of their view. Mrs. Middleton would always smile through the window before opening the front door. That’s how it’s always been. Not anymore.
Just before Bret turns around to leave, he looks behind him. There is movement from the corner of his eye, causing him to look up. A curtain moves in a bedroom upstairs. He swears she saw Rose’s mother looking down at him. Just before she hid, she was watching Bret.
They are avoiding him.
He wants to believe that they are just mourning; that they don’t want to speak to anybody for a while until they recover. But the families of the other victims of the shooting didn’t turn a cold shoulder to people like the Middletons have. They came out to candlelit vigils and thanked strangers for their words of comfort. He’s sure the whole community is willing to console the family, but they’re avoiding them.
Bret feels uncomfortable about something. He doesn’t feel that they are in pain. No, not pain. They are avoiding people.
They are hiding something.