Caleb and Liz sped down the streets as quickly as they could in the rain, but by the time they'd managed to leave the house and be clearheaded enough to drive, Ethan already had at least five minutes on them, and they had no idea where he was headed.
The first place they looked was Ethan's house, arriving just in time to see Ethan's mother standing on the front porch, shielding her head from the downpour and looking more upset than ever. Caleb opened the car door before the vehicle came to a full stop and hit the ground running. He sprinted to the porch and breathlessly addressed Ethan's mother. "Mrs. Pallet."
"Caleb!" she replied, her face stricken with worry. "Ethan just rushed out of here and he was terribly upset. Do you know what's wrong?"
Caleb shared a look with Liz who was standing half out of her car, her hand held over her eyes to more easily see through the storm, ready to either drive again or stay. "He just left?" Caleb asked.
"Yes," Mrs. Pallet confirmed. "Just a minute ago."
"Shit," Caleb said under his breath, looking away from her. He stepped out into the storm, running his hands through his wet hair in frustration. His panting started to become hyperventilation as his mind raced to all the possible things Ethan might do in his current state of mind.
He snapped out of his mental malaise when Mrs. Pallet grabbed his arm and scolded him. "Language, Caleb!"
Caleb didn't bother to apologize. "Mrs. Pallet, how long was he here? Can I see his room? I'm a bit . . ." He took a calming breath and said, "I'm worried about him."
This made Mrs. Pallet forget entirely about scolding him. "Why?"
"He's . . ." he started, but then felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. He pulled it out and saw Ethan had just sent him a message.
As Caleb opened the message to read it, Mrs. Pallet asked with some urgency, "What's going on? Caleb?"
Each word of the text message made Caleb's heart beat faster, and he took several staggering steps toward the car as Mrs. Pallet watched in a mixture of confusion and worry.
I'm sorry. It's too much. I can't live like this anymore. I love you. Please don't try and stop me.
"Liz," Caleb said, handing the phone to her as he reached the car. "We need to go. Now!"
Liz read the message quickly. "Oh, my god!" She cried, then slipped behind the steering wheel again.
Caleb paused briefly to look back at the porch. "Mrs. Pallet, call 911 and have them meet us at the park, behind the utility shed."
"Why? What's going on?"
"Ethan's going to kill himself," Caleb said firmly. "I suggest you get there, too, as soon as you're done calling."
Mrs. Pallet asked another question, but Caleb didn't hear it as he'd already shut the door. Liz pulled out of the driveway, and Caleb was happy to see that Mrs. Pallet had left the porch, hopefully to call 911 as he'd told her to. As soon as they could no longer see the house, Caleb's focus shifted fully to the matter at hand, entirely forgetting Ethan's mother.
"You really think he's going to ki . . ." Liz started, then amended her intended sentence. She knew, just as Caleb did, that Ethan was definitely capable of killing himself, especially considering the emotions she'd seen in his eyes. Instead she asked, "You think he's there?"
"Where else?" Caleb asked. "No, I know he's there. No thinking. He'd want to be somewhere that means something to him, and . . ."
"And no other place means more to him than our spot," Liz reasoned.
The three of them had always been outcasts, though not the kind who get picked on every day. Bullies were common enough, but they usually targeted others. Caleb had a reputation for having once studied martial arts, everyone knew Liz was a witch, and Ethan had always been under their protection, despite being the kid with the strict Christian parents. They were never picked on, but also never included, except with each other.
And they'd been together since seventh grade when Ethan moved into town, met Caleb in class, then sat with Liz and Caleb at lunch. They became inseparable, drawn together more by their shared outcast status than anything else, generating a common desire to be apart from everyone.
That was how they'd found the spot behind the utility shed at the park, a place where a several trees and shrubs had been planted to shield access and visibility from the street, but surrounding a small space in the shade of those same trees. It was the perfect spot for three people who wanted to pretend the rest of the world didn't exist. They'd all loved it, but Ethan loved it best. He always had.
Liz pulled in the nearby lot, and once again Caleb was out the door before the car had stopped, racing across the soaked grass. Deciding it would take too long to find a parking spot, Liz left the car in the middle of the lane and turned on her emergency flashers before sprinting after Caleb.
The final scene in this chapter is somewhat graphic. Reader be warned.
Caleb vaulted over the shrubs, not bothering to circle around to the break, landing heavily next to Ethan and immediately started to analyze the situation. Ethan's back was up against a tree, his arms limp at his sides in the swiftly dampening grass. Blood flowed steadily from the deep furrows Ethan had carved into his forearms. A familiar, long, bloody knife lay discarded in the grass; it was the knife Caleb had given Ethan as a present a couple of years earlier. Ethan already appeared to be delirious, his head lolling from side to side against the tree, and didn't even realize Caleb had arrived.
"Ethan!" Caleb shouted as he knelt next to his best friend. His jeans were immediately soaked from a mixture of rain and blood, a fate his hands soon shared as he reached for Ethan's arms to check the extent of the wounds.
"Caleb, don't . . ." Ethan mumbled, "It's too late."
The rain let up for a moment then, and a bit of sunlight trickled through the clouds. It fueled Caleb's hope and he sprang into action. "No! We can stop the bleeding!" Caleb shouted. He lifted his T-shirt over his head and tore it off as quickly as he could, his bloody fingers painting the flesh of his stomach, chest, and shoulder blades in the process. Once the shirt was in his hands, he took Ethan's knife and cut a slit in the fabric, then ripped a long train of cloth from the shirt. He repeated the process as Liz came around the corner, parting through the break in the shrubs. "Fuck! Liz, apply pressure on that wrist, I'll take this one."
Caleb wrapped the torn cloth around Ethan's wrist, then clamped down hard with his hands, trying to get as much pressure as he could on the wound. It seemed impossible to cover the entire length of the wound with his hands, so he shifted upward in the grass, straddling Ethan's arm with his legs, keeping Ethan's forearm pinned between his shins.
After Liz was done wrapping Ethan's other arm, she discovered the same problem on her side, but instead of clamping the wound with her legs, she placed her forearm against Ethan's and leaned into it, applying her body weight against the wound. Ethan groaned at the sudden pressure, but then his delirium made him forget about it as he turned to Caleb, eyes opening very slightly as he said, "Caleb . . . I love you."
Caleb met those eyes, noticed for the first time the tears which stained Ethan's cheeks. "I love you, too," he said urgently. "I love you, Ethan."
Ethan shook his head in denial. "No, Liz . . ." he coughed. "You love Liz . . ."
"It was just part of the spell, dammit!" Caleb shouted. He could hear sirens in the distance and uttered a prayer to the aether that the emergency responders would make it in time. Following instinct, he sealed the prayer with a pleading kiss against Ethan's lips, begging Ethan to hold on until the paramedics arrived. "Dammit, Ethan! I've always loved you!"
"You, you love me?" Ethan asked, seeming lucid for but a moment before drifting off again.
Caleb kissed him again, more urgently this time. "Yes, Yes, dammit," he said, crying now. "Always have, always will. Don't you dare die on me!"
"I . . . I took . . ." Ethan said deliriously. He looked down at his arms, and laughed hysterically. "I'm d-dying . . ."
"Just hold on," Liz urged as the sirens grew closer. There was shouting in the parking lot. "The paramedics are coming."
"It's too . . . too much," Ethan said, laughing harder. Caleb stoked Ethan's cheek, hoping it would keep him awake, and realized just how cold and clammy Ethan's skin was. "I . . . I took . . . my mother . . ." and then Ethan drifted off completely, his head slumping to the side as he faded from consciousness.
"Ethan," Caleb said, patting Ethan's face gently. He kissed Ethan again but there was no reaction. "Ethan!"
The warning box is to be built as follows:
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