This is a story I just wrote this week at a virtual write-in, for the following prompt: “A friend has disappeared and no one seems to notice or recall their existence.”
I don’t know where this came from, I just wrote for 30 minutes and ended up with this. I will likely change the title at some point, and I may expand the story later, too. But, we’re due for some spooky fiction this week, no?
Jamie wasn’t like other guys. Other people, really. He was happy. And I mean, always happy. No one’s always happy. Like, you’re either a morning person, or a night owl, right? At some point during the day, you’re going to want to turn everything off, shut everyone out, not smile. But Jaime? Never. I’ve seen him at all hours of the day (and night), and he’s never lost his optimism. It’s not fake, either, like he’s trying to impress you or hide some really dark shit.
At least, I’m pretty sure. Or I was, until he disappeared — and no one said a word.
We weren’t like, an item, Jamie and I. But we were really close. As close as you can get in a year and not date, I guess. I think? Anyway, we were friends. Are. I think.
Last year he showed up at school on the very first day of sophomore year like he’d been there all along. Like he’d lived in this town all his life. Which he hadn’t, because if he had — even if he’d been homeschooled — I’d have known. I won’t lie, he’s pretty good looking. But not like, in a movie-star-Greek-god kind of way. The subtle kind, which probably helped him fit in right away.
On the first day, he arrived just long enough before the bell to nab a seat half-way back, two spots over from me. He didn’t start conversations but carried them well enough when anyone asked. Had no problem introducing himself to the class, but wasn’t a prick about it. Not a goody-two-shoes, not a wallflower.
In a word, perfect. For me.
I don’t remember what we first talked about, but a month later I was literally crying on his shoulder over my grandma dying. And he wasn’t flippant, but he wouldn’t let me just be sad all day, either. He smiled really softly and asked me to tell him about her. Before long we were laughing, and somehow everything sucked a little — maybe a lot? — less.
So, we were fast friends. He played basketball, solid second string. Picked up the guitar, and he wasn’t lousy at it. He made time to go bowling or see a movie with me and some of each of our friends — they didn’t really mix, at first, but soon it was like we were playing matchmaker with half of them and complaining to each other about whatever half of a given couple had us on speed dial — but we also had our own lives.
Then, last week, he was fake happy. For the first time. He knew I knew something was wrong, but he wouldn’t say anything about it. He’d walk away or just stop talking altogether. What’s weirder, I had to remind our friends who I was talking about when I talked about him.
“Like the novelist?”
Yes — no, like our friend.
“Right. Right. Duh! So what about him?”
And when I urged them to comment on the change in his behavior, they just shrugged.
I was getting really worried.
I’d never met his parents, but I’d talked to them on the phone and they seemed normal enough. I called them that night and they said he was “probably just tired.”
Nuh-uh. Jamie was never too tired to talk to me.
I decided to wait it out, though. Figured he was finally acting like a normal human being. Sure, I was a little sad about it, but I was also relieved. I thought, hey, even Jamie has his days. It made us more equal.
But then he vanished. Just a few weeks into junior year. Wasn’t at school, wasn’t answering texts, and no one picked up at home. When they didn’t call his name during roll for Algebra, I asked the teacher after class if he’d dropped out.
He gave me a blank look.
Jamie Salinger. You know, brown hair, blue eyes, basketball player?
I kept myself from adding “husband material.”
The teacher looked at his roster. “Are you sure he was in this class?”
I just stared at him for a second, then ran to the bathroom as if there was more air in there.
There wasn’t. Just despair. And some seniors who gave me various looks of disdain for invading their space with my hyperventilation.
A teacher is one thing, right? Maybe he had early onset dementia. But our friends? Same deal. Every single one. Even my parents only had a vague recollection of Jamie, and they’d seen him and talked to him more than a few times.
So I went to his house, just an hour ago. Or, what I thought was his house. Or, where it used to be. Now, there’s a gaping hole. I think. But it’s so black at the edges, I’m not even sure it’s a hole. It feels dark and powerful in an honestly insidious way. In an alluring way.
I just might jump.
Copyright © October 30, 2020 by Caitlin M.S. Buxbaum