Evan sat at Adie’s desk, the letter in his hands.
It had been a month since he’d seen him last. A month since he’d died.
To say that Evan missed him would be an understatement. He’d spent the past four weeks sitting around numb and bored, full with regret at all things he’d never had a chance to say. His face was pale and grey looking from a lack of sleep, his cheekbones angled and pronounced from simply forgetting to eat. He’d more recently taken to wandering, walking down to the beach early in the morning and then up through the village to stop in front of Adie’s house, sometimes only for a few minutes but often for longer, time stretching out endlessly before him as he stared blankly at their front door. He was unable to escape the thought that one day, the door would swing open and Adie would swagger out onto the driveway, as though he’d never been away at all. Of course, deep in the back of Evan’s mind he knew that this would be impossible. Adie was dead, and it was his fault.
On this day in particular, Evan had been sat on the low stone wall opposite Adie’s house. It looked like the kind of house you’d draw when you first picked up a pencil: the front door was set in the middle and there were five white-framed windows surrounding it. Chimneys were set on each end of the slate-tiled roof, sandy brick against the fluffy white clouds of early summer. The lawn stretching out before it was green and freshly cut, bordered with pansies of every colour and sunflowers stretching up against the yellow-brown stone. A gravel driveway snaked away from the garage to meet the road, edged on either side by borders of low shrubs.
Four of the windows were empty. The last had the curtains drawn to create a space where the window seat was, a haven between the glass and the rest of the room. Adie’s sister Megan was curled within the space, her usually bouncy yellow curls pulled into a messy bun on the top of her head. Her face was bare and pale, her eyes bruised and sunken into her face. She leaned against one side of the window frame, her forehead pressed against the glass and her eyes half-closed against the outside world. Evan knew it was wrong to watch her, that she’d locked herself away in that space to be away from the rest of her family, away from the emptiness that Adie’s death had left within their home. But he couldn’t stop himself from looking at her, couldn’t escape the guilt that welled within him, the inescapable feeling that this was all his fault.
He’d known Megan since the first day of secondary school. She’d turned up with her unruly hair forced into a strict ponytail, her crooked teeth wide in an excited smile that spoke of opportunity and fresh beginnings. She’d brought with her a reluctant twin brother, who was the opposite of her in pretty much every way you could imagine. He was shy and quiet and taller than his sister and had neat hair and eyes the colour of mud, and he tried with all his might to make himself invisible. But Evan had noticed him, and something had stirred within him that made him never stop noticing. That was the day he fell in love.
Evan blinked, dragging his eyes away from Megan and curling in on himself to rest his forehead against his knees. He could feel himself falling and twisting and spinning through nothingness, and he knew that if he let himself go he would never be able to get up again. He was just about to stand up and leave when he felt a gentle touch to his shoulder. He gasped, and his lips formed his name before he could even think about what he was saying. “Adie?”
“I’m afraid not,” the stranger said. At some point in the past few minutes, a gleaming black car had pulled up in front of him. The stranger had clambered out, and now sat on the low stone wall beside him. “Are you alright?”
Evan blinked, feeling the pressure in his chest that had been there for four weeks now, the urge to cry and scream that just continued to build without ever being let out. “I’m fine.”
“You must be Evan,” the stranger said. Evan blinked again, more than confused at the sudden apparition of the man sat next to him. He was tall, with a slightly wrinkled face and grey hair that didn’t quite match his eyebrows. He wore a dark grey suit over a white shirt and a black tie, and his shoes were pointed and polished and new. He stuck out his hand for Evan to shake.
“Yes,” he replied simply, taking the gentleman’s hand and shaking it. “Evan Goldsmith.”
“And you were a friend of Adie Blackwell?”
“I guess you could say that.” He looked back up towards Megan’s window, expecting to see her still curled against the glass like a broken porcelain doll. Instead he saw only the backs of her red curtains brushing against the window seat, the space in between empty and cold.
“Well then,” the gentleman said, following Evan’s gaze up into Megan’s window. He got to his feet, picking up a clear plastic bag from beside his feet and striding confidently towards the road. “You’d better come with me.”
He strode up to the front door and Evan followed, confused and more than a little bit anxious. Before he had chance to ask who the stranger was, or why he was there or why Evan was involved, the door had swung open to reveal Adie’s father stood in the hallway, a tearstained Megan standing a couple of metres behind him. “Don’t let him in, Dad. It’s his fault,” She said over his shoulder, looking directly into Evan’s face. “He killed him.”
Her usually sparkling eyes were dull with hatred and ringed with tiredness. Her sleeves were damp, and she held them over her hands as though she was trying to hide something. “If you’ll just allow me to explain,” The man interrupted, placing his foot artfully over the threshold as though he’d had a lot of doors closed in his face in his time and was not inclined to let it happen again. “I’m here to talk to you all, as a family. And it concerns this young gentleman here as much as it concerns any of you. I am, of course, here to speak to you about your son.”
Adie’s father’s face blanched. “What gives you the right?” He asked, seeming to shrink back into the shadows. The stranger took this as an invitation into the house, and he stepped confidently over the threshold, through the tiny hallway and into the kitchen as though the house was his own.
The stranger turned slowly around to face him. He drew his plastic bag from his side and dropped it onto the kitchen table, then deposited himself in the closest chair and sat with his hands folded in front of him. “Mr Blackwell,” the stranger said, raising his still-black eyebrows pointedly at Adie’s father. “I’m here to talk to you about your son and I will not let you simply shoo me away. I know-”
“No, you don’t know how I feel. How dare you try and tell me that you do. How am I supposed to come to terms with losing my son when people like you keep coming here to talk about him, or hanging around my house all sad-eyed and sorry when it’s your fault? He’s dead, and I don’t even have a body to bury. How am I supposed to say goodbye to this?” He waved towards Evan, then dropped his arm. His pale face flushed pink, his eyes burning into the stranger sat at his kitchen table. He either wouldn’t look at Evan or he couldn’t, but it was obvious that he was avoiding him. Megan stood in the corner of the room, biting her lip looking as though she’d rather melt into the floor than stay standing there.
The stranger simply sat there with his hands folded on the table top, looking up at Adie’s father with his eyebrows raised. “I know more than you might think. If you really want the closure you’re asking for you’ll sit down and listen to what I have to say.”
Mr Blackwell seemed to sense that the man wasn’t by any means kidding, and left the room to fetch his wife. Megan on the other hand crept forwards and deposited herself at the table, her fingers running absently over the tiny indentations in the wood where she and Adie had sat and drew together at the age of seven, their pencils pressing too hard against the paper. Evan was still standing in the middle of the room, examining his shoes.
It was another few minutes of dreadful silence before Adie’s parents returned, sitting silently and obediently in the seats opposite their daughter. The chair that would have been Adie’s sat empty next to her, a symbol of their loss.
They all looked expectedly at the stranger, waiting for him to speak. He simply looked up at Evan, his expression soft but stern as he rose his eyebrows and waited for him to take a seat. The only chair left was Adie’s, and he couldn’t sit there. He didn’t deserve to, and yet the stranger continued to stare at him in determined silence until he moved to perch awkwardly on the end of it, burning guilt surging through his veins. He folded his hands under the table and sat there looking at them, feeling the watchful and accusing glare of Adie’s family as he did so. The silence seemed to stretch out infinitely, nobody wanting to be the first to break it.
Finally, after looking at the miserable and slightly angry faces of his assembled company, he spoke. “My name is George Hastings,” he began, his gaze moving between each of them as though deciding who to address first. Evan was still looking at his hands: his thumbnail appeared to have some dirt lodged beneath it, and he was suddenly very interested in dislodging it. “First of all, please allow me to tell you that I am sorry for your loss. I know what it is like to have your son taken from you too early and I can imagine the pain you have been in for the past four weeks. Secondly, I can only apologise for not having visited sooner, however it is policy that we wait a certain amount of time-”
“Just…” Adie’s mother waved her hand. She was pale and looked as tired as Evan felt. “Get it over with.”
“Very well,” Hasting said. He looked rather taken aback at the request but obliged anyway, unsealing the plastic bag and removing its contents one by one, placing them on the table. Evan recognised each object immediately, right down to the underwear he’d been wearing on the day he’d died. “These are the items that Adie had with him when he passed away,” he explained, tucking the bag underneath his chair and resting his hands on the edge of the table. There was a folded t-shirt, jeans, underwear and socks and a pair of shoes. There was the black backpack he’d taken with him, the contents laid out carefully on top of it. “I’m sorry that we had to keep these from you for so long.”
Megan reached out numbly, taking Adie’s phone from the pile of belongings. The screen was smashed into a million pieces, but it looked as if it might still work. She cradled it carefully in her hands, as though it was a part of Adie himself.
Nobody spoke. Evan was still very interested in the state of his hands: he’d just discovered a hangnail on his middle finger, and was particularly invested in pulling it off with the fingernails of his other hand. He glanced up to find Hastings watching him carefully, the older man’s eyes lined with concern.
“As I’m sure you’re aware, we are all presented with many choices in our lives. This just happens to be the one that Adie chose.” Evan went back to looking at his hands: he’d successfully solved the hangnail issue and cleaned the dirt from under his thumbnail, and he was running out of reasons to look at them. Instead, he ran his fingernails along the lines in his palms, tracing them over and over again to avoid having to look anywhere else. “Several years ago he submitted an application to my department to take part in what we refer to as a ‘life deferral program’. To put it simply this means-”
“He volunteered to be frozen so he could go live in the future instead of living the same boring life as everyone else.” Evan said, still gazing at his hands. He could sense Hastings looking at him again, so he lifted his head to look back. “I remember him submitting the application. It was all he would talk about.”
Adie’s family looked blank, while Megan shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “Well, yes.” Hastings said, “Although that’s a very simple way of putting it. We offer a kind of life deferral service, which essentially gives people the chance to freeze themselves for a given period of time. The older you are and the greater the period of time you choose, the higher the risk. You must also be over the age of twenty-one, though we do accept provisional applications from people over the age of eighteen.”
“So what are you saying?” Adie’s father asked. “Get to the point.”
Hastings sighed. “Sorry. Basically, because Adie had submitted an application and received provisional approval, we were able to invoke the ‘death exception’ clause. It’s essentially a rule that means that an applicant under the age of twenty-one may be put into a state of suspended animation if there is an immediate risk of their death. Following his accident, Adie fell into this category and as such, your son is not technically dead.”
All four of their heads snapped up at this. “You mean…?” Megan asked, her voice full of hope.
“He is not technically dead,” Hastings said again, digging his hand into the inner pocket of his jacket, “but he is not technically alive either. Adie had been planning to join our program for some time, and we found these letters among his possessions when he was brought to us at the university. There is one for each of you.” He fiddled with the string holding the envelopes together, and then handed them out with shaking hands.
Evan looked up again, his eyes finding Hastings’. “So?”
The older man had a sad smile on his face, and Evan knew what he was going to say before he said it. “In his application, he signed up for a four-hundred-year contract. From a legal perspective, we have to respect his wishes. He’s essentially in stasis, so while he won’t deteriorate it is unlikely he will heal. If it helps, you can think of it as a very long coma.”
“Four hundred years?” Adie’s mother asked, her eyes wide with horror and her hands raising from her lap to cover her mouth.
“It’s his choice. The longest period we recommend is one hundred years, but applicants have full freedom to choose whatever length of time they’d try. We make the risk absolutely clear and this is the decision he’s made.” He dropped his head, took a deep breath and lifted it again. “I appreciate that this information may not be of any comfort to you, but we assure you he is not in any pain. We are doing all that we can to help him so that when he does wake up, he is healthy and well. I know it is not easy to lose a child, but I hope the knowledge that he is not suffering is enough for you.” Hastings got to his feet. It was plain that he had said all he had come to say, and his tucked his hands into his pockets as he walked, hunched, back towards the hallway.
“Can we see him?” Megan asked, still cradling Adie’s phone. She looked up from the envelope set on the table in front of her, her eyes wide with hope. “I want to see him.”
“Of course,” Hastings said with a smile, digging in the breast pocket of his suit jacket and taking a couple of long strides back across the kitchen to drop a couple of business cards on the table. “We ask our applicants to provide names, dates of birth and contact information for people who they want to be able to visit them. I’ll check Adie’s file when I get back to the office and see what I can arrange.”
And with that, he strode from the room, down the short hallway and out of the door.
Adie’s family turned to look at Evan, accusations written in their faces. “I… It’s not what you think.” He stammered, looking down at his envelope and running his finger lightly over his name. “He just… he jumped to conclusions. We were going to go together. I persuaded him to postpone until he was 25 so that we could spend time together and so he could have at least some kind of life. I gave up my family for him. I loved him on the day we met and I’ve never stopped loving him since.” He got up, clutching his envelope to his chest. “We fell out over something stupid… and he wouldn’t listen to me when I tried to explain… and he left… and then he was gone.”
He turned his back on Adie’s family, walking out of the kitchen and up the stairs. He let himself into Adie’s room and collapsed in his desk chair, pulling out the letter and dropping the envelope onto the desk.
Remember the day we met? I was sat in the library, hiding in the corner behind a stack of comic books, and you came over and said hi. I was trying to not to stand out, but I guess that didn’t work, huh? Because look at where we are now. Look at how far we’ve come.
You’re reading this because it’s finally happened. I’m in the future. Or like, on my way there, you know? I know you’ll know about this, and I know you were probably there this morning or something, but you might miss me at some point right? I mean, you’re going to be off living your life: you’ll get yourself a new boyfriend and you’ll have kids and get a good job and go be you, and you’ll probably forget all about me. But this is just in case you decide you miss me. I’m still here.
I don’t really have much to say, except that I really do hope you miss me. Is that selfish? Probably. I know I’ll miss you, though. I don’t have to worry about it for a good four hundred years, sure, but I’ll miss you. I miss you every moment we’re not together. I want to be with you all the time, hearing your voice and breathing in your smell and sucking on your dick.
Sorry, that was inappropriate. I mean, it’s true, but it’s inappropriate. You’re probably like, eighty or something. You’re growing old with your husband and you’re all grey and wrinkly and you’re sat there reading about me wanting to suck your dick. Hey, are you still ginger? Anyway, if you are eighty then I take it back. I’m not really into the wrinkly stuff. Or worse, what if you’ve already died and your kids have found this when they were clearing out your house, and they’re really grossed out about this guy from the past talking about sucking their dad’s dick.
(I’m not sorry).
Okay, I’ll try and be serious here. This is my last goodbye, right? I’ve got to make it mean something. The truth is, I’ve loved you since the day we met. I never believed in love at first sight, but that was because I was eleven and I’d never really seen anyone worth loving like that. Then we met, and I felt something within me and I couldn’t really tell what exactly it was. Remember our first kiss? We were fifteen and awkward, and we’d just been surfing for the first time in our cove. We were sitting on the sand drying off in our wetsuits and watching the sun fall towards the horizon, and then you leaned in and kissed me on the cheek, and then I turned around and kissed you back. Those are the kinds of memories it’s worth remembering. That’s the kind of memory I want to wake up to.
Evan, I want to be honest with you. I want to tell you everything I haven’t been able to tell my family, not even in these letters. I want to tell you everything I never managed to say to your face, but I know there’s not enough paper in the world to tell you how much I love you. Wow, that was soppy, huh? It’s true though. There isn’t.
But that’s not it. I also want to tell you that I’m scared. I’ve never been more scared about anything in my life. I’m even starting to have second thoughts. This has been my dream since I was eleven- remember that flyer that woman gave me? It wasn’t even a real thing in the end. It turned out to be an advert for an all-ages immersive theatre experience in the West End. Hilarious, right? But then I found out that it wasn’t true and I went searching and searching for an alternative. I’d spend hours every night trawling through both sides of the internet, just searching for a way to make my dream a reality. Then two years ago, I found it. It was just in the beginnings back then: they’d just refined the technology and successfully woken up this pig they’d kept in stasis for years, and they were ready to test it on humans. I followed it constantly, checking for updates every single day until applications opened, and I applied straight away without a second thought. But now… I can’t help but think I was being stupid and rash and acting too quickly on dreams that might not even turn out to be true. Nobody knows what will happen, if I’ll wake up at the end of it or if my brain will turn to mush a couple of years down the line. I’m starting to wonder whether I’d be better off just living a normal, ordinary life in the present, because well, then at least I’ll be with you.
Okay so, that got soppy really quickly, but it’s true. I’m terrified, and it feels like it’s been my dream for so long that if I give up now I’ll be letting myself down. Of course, if I do change my mind then chances are you’ll never read this, because I’m pretty sure I’ll read it back and decide to rip it up straight away.
When I applied, there was space on the form where I could put in the details of people I’d want to come visit me while I’m asleep. That’s how I’m looking at it anyway: a big, long, sleep. I put you on there, without even thinking about it. I guess if you ever miss me, you can come hang out in the basement with your old, frozen boyfriend. I’ll probably appreciate the company. I can imagine it gets pretty lonely down there.
I think that’s all I had to say. I know things haven’t been too great between us recently, but we’ve been through tough patches before and we’ve always come out the other side okay. We’re just busy, but it means that every moment we get together is twice as special, you know? I mean, I’ll accept that I’m kind of breaking up with you by freezing myself for four hundred years to go explore the future. When I say it like that, it’s just kind of dumb, isn’t it? It doesn’t sound like it should be a real thing, but it is. It’s real, and I’m doing it. It’s crazy.
I love you, Evan. I can’t say it enough. I love you now and I’ll still love you in four hundred, five hundred, six hundred, a thousand years’ time. I’ll love you to the end of the universe, and if I never wake up, I’ll love you until the end of time itself.