The Things You Leave Behind


Tate lived in a small studio apartment above a hair salon that smelt sharply like chemicals and perfume. He looked bashful as we pulled into the empty parking lot and I gave him what I’m sure was a thoroughly confused look as if for some reason he had dragged me out to the middle of nowhere to murder me and stick me in a river nearby.

“I live here,” he said, his voice gruff as he ducked around the shutting door and I was quick to climb out my own.

“You live in a hair salon?” I said, feeling like a complete and utter idiot, floundering in my words, trying to make up for the stony silent car ride that we just put behind us.

“No,” he said quickly, tucking the frozen pizza under his arm, walking briskly towards the side of the brick building, “I live above it.”

“Oh,” I said. Of course he lived above it though, where else would he live, inside it? Would he sleep in those giant industrial sinks, bathe in the back room; do his homework at the reception desk? I felt like seventeen different kinds of moron as I shuffled along behind him.

“My sister owns the salon,” he explained quickly, pulling from his pocket a set of keys that clanged loudly against each other in the silent night. “She lets me stay above it for half rent.”

“Oh,” I repeated, because I could think of no other words to correctly place in this setting, a setting I never fathomed that I would be thrown into. I had barely said two words to Tate before Natalie died, let alone go over to his house in the dead of night to make a goddamn frozen pizza after we had exchanged secret smiles and painful stories.

We walked in silence until we were at his door, which was at the back of the building and led directly onto a steep staircase that was littered with shoes and his backpack was slung over the railing. Tate wasted no time bounding up the steps two at a time, kicking off his shoes at the top and nearly hitting my leg before he called out a quick ‘sorry!’ I hesitated there at the bottom just a few moments before finally letting out a sigh and climbing the steps behind him, being careful when I took off my shoes and placing them at the top of the steps for when I left. Tate was already at the oven, heating it up and ripping open the cardboard box.

“I didn’t realize how hungry I was until now,” he explained sheepishly, shooting me a small grin that was almost undetectable.

“Me too,” I say, placing my hands on my empty stomach. I couldn’t count how many days it had been since I last had a meal, a real one that was warm in my stomach and that I kept down for more than a few hours. Let my hands stay there, pressing against my gut still holding me together as Tate flurried around the kitchen, the oven beeping and he was placing the pizza in there and shutting it before turning around to me.

“We have sixteen minutes to kill,” he said, his eyebrows raising the slightest bit and then I had one single crazy moment where I pretended that he wanted me to drag him to the bed that was a few feet away and do with him whatever you could get done in sixteen minutes. The thought alone sent a shudder down my back, had me stepping away a bit, our eyes met and I felt our sorrow build up together for a moment in the darkened apartment.

“I’m taking it you don’t need a tour,” Tate said, glancing around the small room, maybe taking everything in and maybe not. His eyes landed on me again and he nodded at the couch where I let my legs give out and I fell down onto it, the fabric was worn and soft as if it had seen many, many years and I immediately wanted to fall asleep there and never have to get up again but instead the couch shifted, Tate’s weight was suddenly beside my own and we were both staring at the black television in front of us. Tate kicked his feet up on the coffee table, and I couldn’t help but notice that his socks didn’t match.

“When Natalie used to come here she would always clean everything,” Tate said after a moment, and his voice was low like he was sharing a secret even though it was just the two of us alone in his apartment in the dark. I glanced around the room when he said it though and noticed the dishes that were left unwashed in the kitchen, the unmade bed and the clutter of things that seemed to gather on every surface around the room.

“She was always a clean freak,” I said, because I didn’t know what else to say, I wasn’t know how I was supposed to feel, sitting there with my dead sister’s boyfriend after dark in his apartment about to eat a frozen pizza. I doubt they had rules for what you were supposed to say in this situation somewhere, I doubt there was someone who could tell me what to say to make him feel better. The only person I could think of was no longer around to give advice, and if she was I wouldn’t have needed it in the first place.

“When I was a lot younger Natalie used to offer to clean my room if I paid her a dollar,” I told him, and I wasn’t sure why but I felt like it was something better to say at least, something not so stupid.

“That was nice of her,” he said, an amused smile halfway spreading out on his face before he caught it there and appropriately killed it.

“Not really,” I shrugged, “She took all my money and spent it on dolls that she wouldn’t ever let me play with.”

He was silent for a minute then, ducked his head down and drummed is fingers on his thighs, “Yeah that sounds like something she would do.”

I nodded, ducking my own head, my bun pulling uncomfortably at the nape of my neck and I stared at my own feet, they were bare, the toes painted a chipped light blue that used to be Natalie’s least favorite nail color.

“God it all feels so weird without her here,” Tate said, abruptly standing, his hands jerking to his sides, his movements stiff as he began to pace the length of the room.

“Tell me about it,” I said, and I felt like I should have rolled my eyes but I didn’t because they were trained on him.

“It feels like nothing makes sense anymore. If you told me two plus two equals four I probably wouldn’t believe you,” he said, stopping in his tracks for the shortest moment to send me a pointed stare.

“Fuck,” I hissed under my breath, feeling like a moron, unsure of what to say or how to say it, unsure of everything because I knew almost nothing about this boy other than the fact my sister and him used to lock lips.

“God I swear it’s turned me into a basket case,” He said, pressing a hand to his forehead as if he had a fever.

“It’s turned everyone into a basket case. My house is like a freaking insane asylum,” I said, standing up too, my leg bumping against the coffee table, leaving an angry red mark on the side of it.

“I don’t understand why death makes us feel this way,” Tate said, his voice softer and lower now, as if he was speaking mainly to himself, “I mean, it’s life that’s the really fucked up thing. There’s not one natural thing you do the whole time you’re alive, but everything you do in death is natural.”

“You do nothing when you’re dead,” I told him, my brow furrowing, crossing my arms across my chest as he stopped pacing.

“Exactly,” he said, whirling around to face me, his mouth opening excitedly as if he was about to launch into a speech before the oven was dinging and he was springing into action and it felt like before I could blink the pizza was sitting on the counter, sizzling cheese and burnt crust and I suddenly wanted to eat the entire thing in one bite.

“That looks good,” I said from where I stood, afraid to come closer in case he was still unstable.

“I know,” he said, and he licked his lips and it made me feel all hot again which I willed to go away.

“Do you ever wonder if she’s in heaven?” I asked when he was cutting up the pizza and suddenly he jerked so violently I thought for sure he was going to cut off his finger.

“I don’t know,” he stammered out quickly, “I’ve never really thought about it,” he said in a voice that made me certain that he had indeed thought about it.

“I mean, I can’t think of anything she ever did that was really evil,” I said, running a finger along the edge of the counter, wanting to sink into the ground and never come back up again.

“I think she’s in heaven if she’s anywhere,” Tate said, pulling a slice of pizza off and sticking it on a discarded plate, the cheese sticking to the pan and creating a long string that looked like it was part of an instrument.

“She has to be somewhere,” I said, taking the plate from his outstretched hands as he served himself.

“Being nowhere can be somewhere,” he took a big bite of his pizza and that was that.

It was not ten minutes later that Tate was stretched out across his bed, his hands resting on his stomach and he was groaning, but not in a sexual manor. I was sitting adjacent on the couch, resting back with my legs in the air, my eyes shut tight and my hands similarly on my stomach, “Fuck I’m never eating again,” Tate said for about the tenth time in five minutes.

“You say that now but by tomorrow you’re going to be hungry again,” I said, even though I was feeling the same way he was. It took us about five minutes to eat the entire pizza, neither of us talking while we were eating because we were too focused on the task at hand, and by the time we finished we were both feeling lazy with food, groaning at our stretching stomachs.

“I could sit here and die perfectly happy though,” Tate said, “Nothing pleases a man more than a full stomach.”

“What about getting married and having children?” I said without thinking and as soon as it was out there I cursed myself, pinching my inner wrist with my one arm for good measure and I officially wanted some divine force to strike me down at that very moment so that I wouldn’t have to endure further embarrassment.

Tate was silent for a while, mulling over the answer before coming up with a good one, “Nothing trumps food, not even sex.”

“Wow can I get that in writing?” I asked, and for the first time in weeks I felt as if I could actually laugh before I realized how wrong that was and I swallowed my feelings, trying to push the sorrow back out from within me, trying to make it known how miserable I was.

“So should I take you home now?” He asked, and I could tell that was the last thing he wanted to do at that moment, but he felt obligated to say it.

“I don’t think driving in this condition is a good idea,” I said, turning my face to the side so it was facing the back of the couch.

“Good call, we’d probably crash and die,” Tate responded and I felt my blood run cold as soon as the words left his mouth. I instantly regretted turning to face the couch, for out of the blackness came the red suddenly, juts a quick flash of it, but it was there nonetheless and it was everywhere in that moment, covering my body, melting into my bones, burning into my eyelids.

“Oh fuck I’m so sorry Reagan,” Tate said, and he was sitting up in his bed now, his eyes wide like a deer and panicked.

“It’s fine,” I said quickly, the words sort of running together in my rush to get them out of my mouth, and I felt the pizza trying to come back up my throat for a second before I took a deep breath through my nose and tried to calm my shaking nerves.

“No it’s not, that was a real jackass thing of me to say,” He said and then there was the creak of the floor, the shuffling of feet across it before I knew it Tate was squatting right in front of the couch, his eyes level with mine, “I’m really sorry Reagan.”

“I told you it was fine,” I said, trying to brush it off, not directly meeting his bleary gaze.

“Damnit I say the stupidest shit sometimes,” Tate muttered, running a hand through his hair again, tapping his thigh with his free hand.

“Everyone’s stupid sometimes,” I shrugged pretending like an invisible weight was rolling off my shoulders.

“We just have to be careful what we say around each other I guess,” Tate said, trying again to meet my gaze but I jerked it back up to the ceiling where it was safe.

“Yeah,” I said, my voice soft like the night light filtering through the window, “We’ll just be careful.”
♠ ♠ ♠
So this is a shorter chapter, but I really wanted to focus on explaining how Tate and Reagan interact, because they have one of my favorite dynamics out of all my characters.

What do you guys think?