I still live here. The couple who moved in are childless and I’ve stopped thinking about him.

Sam lived right by the bus stop – he only had to walk twenty steps from his porch. His thermos clanged twenty times in a lumpy backpack as he tottered forth, a miniature sheep swishing back and forth from a chain fixed to its zipper, and when it snowed, his boots made twenty little footprints. In November, we heard sirens and saw blue lights on our way home, and the bus kept pulling over. It drove around the block three times before we turned the corner and pushed our palms against the windows. Outside, his house had opened its doors and coughed up a plastic-bundled person. Sam wasn’t strong enough to force the jammed latches open to slide the pane down, so only our frantic bus driver knew he was yelling until we finally parked, and his father hoisted him, thrashing about, into his arms. They stepped towards his car and trailed behind an ambulance – the first time Sam rode without a booster seat.

My mother put me in a little black suit and dress shoes. She crouched down to face me and wrapped a tie around my neck. Are you gonna be okay? I wasn’t sure, but a dark line of mascara dripped down her face and she hugged me. She straightened my tie and pulled it tight to my collar.

There might still be a picture of me and Sam on his fridge from that year. We’re wearing red caps, all smiles, holding autographed baseballs in clear plastic cubes. Next to us is a flexing Nutzy the Flying Squirrel, who signed our hats after posing with us. Someone is behind the camera and speeding us home to B.O.B., asking if we had fun, flicking the brims of our caps down to our noses, and tiptoeing upstairs to bring us a bag of barbeque chips and a DVD we aren’t supposed to have. It’s midnight in an attic, the TV is humming, and his mother thinks we are asleep. I keep this night like a pearl.

It is every parent’s worst nightmare to outlive their child. My mother squeezed my hand in hers but pulled it back to cover her eyes. Something is wrong. She sobbed louder than anyone, and when I turned my head, Sam’s grandmother was looking at her, and then she looked at me. I feel lucky to have known someone so kind. This was the last time I saw her – it could’ve been that the pursing of her lips was a frown, the pensive eyebrows a scowl, the dry eyes disapproving. I hope I’m wrong. When Sam moved away a year later, she’d refused to go with them and was transferred to an assisted living facility. And started to forget. And sometimes, pressed her thumbs into the palms of tall boys who gave her pills and scrambled eggs, and said It’s been so long since I’ve seen you. 

His brother Cooper screamed You fucking alcoholic bitch at his mom. I cupped my hands over my ears and tucked my head into my sleeping bag, too nervous to wake a snoring Sam. Maybe he was awake, but if so, we never had it in us to talk about plates shattering and loud engines popping down the street. Scorched throats and room-to-room fury. Groaning staircases, jingling keyrings, and scuffed leather boots. Horripilation. I heard three key tones from the kitchen and the click of the phone back into the charging stand. The door must not have made a sound when he slinked back in. 

If someone brings it up, Aidan Chapman will say I was on that bus and David Nguyen will say It freaked my mom out so bad we moved, but neither of them will mention Sam’s dad driving him to school by himself for the rest of the first grade. They’ll say That was so fucked up, not that Sam lost ten pounds and couldn’t eat in the cafeteria with us. When they say This kid Sam-who-used-to-go-here’s brother overdosed, they will not see the look in his eyes when I, adrift in a sea of black fabric and shuffling waists above my head, lit by the lambent blue light of a stained glass window, smacked my forehead against his by accident and sent him crashing to the ground. But I reached down and grabbed his hand. 

I helped him to his feet. Sam stumbled into my shoulder. Neither of us were wearing shoes that fit, and they wobbled while I held him. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them, I made a wish.

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