This is Issue #7 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to find ‘A Beginning’ which is the aptly-named start of this story.
* * *
The next week passed in a haze for Jet; he did his readings, went to sessions, attended chapel meditations, went to and from the dorm room. He slept in his own bed, alone, staring toward’s Kieron’s side of the room, as though he could bring the boy back, simply for wanting it.
The rug in the common room was taken and cleaned, and after many washings and beatings, the stain of Kieron’s blood had finally come out, and so it was put back, somewhat faded, but otherwise unharmed. The one table and lamp broken in the scuffle had equally been replaced. The only thing that remained of Kieron was his messy bed, his uniforms, his notebooks and toiletries. None of them had much in the way of personal items, and Kieron was no exception, and so Jet had left everything the way Kieron did, undone and mostly a mess, as though he’d only just slipped off, and would be back, at any moment.
One evening, he came back to his room to find the bed tidied, and everything from Kieron’s side removed. His books, his toiletries, an errant sock that Jet imagined might have been his. The bedding look fresh, and on Kieron’s old nightstand, a new academy chapbook. It was as though Jet simply hadn’t had a roommate. He stood in the doorway for a long time, a peculiar tightening in his chest, unable to go forward, unable to move, until someone cleared their throat behind him, and he had to take a breath, he had to acknowledge time, had to come back to this here and now, where he was alone. He turned around and saw Professor Garrett, and simply lifted his eyebrows, as though to say “Yes, what is it?”
“You had left your materials in my office after the study group,” Garrett said, offering them out.
“Oh,” said Jet, looking at the notebooks, and only taking them after a moment. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s fine,” Garrett murmured. “I just know you’d want them before class on Monday — is everything all right, Harrington?”
“Sir?” Jet looked faintly confused, as though he couldn’t understand why he’d asking.
“You look a little peaked, son,” the professor said, concerned.
Jet turned, looking back over his shoulder at the room, at Kieron’s empty bed. He then looked back to the professor, and plastered on as reassuring a smile as he could. “I think it was dinner, sir. The meatloaf here never agrees with me,” he said. “Thank you, for bringing these.” He gestured to the books, then backed into the room, and shut the door in Garrett’s face, even though it seemed the man would’ve liked to say more.
He stood there, back to the room, for some time, leaning to press his forehead to the cool wood of the door, as though if he stayed there long enough, when he turned around, everything would be as it should.
When he finally grew tired of holding his books, he turned, and moved to set them on his desk, and went on with his evening ablutions. He tidied the room, put everything back where it belonged, but touched nothing of the new bed, as though the furniture itself had betrayed them.
Lights out felt as though it came far too late for Jet — he laid in bed long before it, simply staring at the ceiling, willing himself to sleep. When it simply refused to come, he finally got himself up, and went down the hall and into the common room, where all the lamps had been turned off, and the fire was banked. He knelt near the edge of the new rug, where Kieron had fallen from that first punch, and he pulled the rug up, gripping the fringe and lifting to roll it away from the stones. It was hard going — the carpet was held down by a number of small tables and heavy chairs, and the edge at which he pulled was one of the long ones. He worked at it, growing frantic, breaking out in sweat as he moved furniture, and then uttering a giddy sort of cry as he got it moved, finally, and found what he was looking for.
The surface beneath the carpet was still dark, and would likely be, forever — stone remembers blood, even if all that covers it does not. Jet pressed his fingertips, then his palm to the center of the crimson black stain, as though he could feel warmth, as though seeking the heartbeat of his far away friend. He dug his fingers against the stone, until his still-healing nails protested, and then he simply laid his cheek to the surface, and wept until he fell asleep.
* * *