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Meliora

Benny sat alone in his car while friends and family filtered into the funeral procession. He probably should have been one of the first to be there, being that Scott was his best friend, but the courage he thought he had withered away as soon as he had arrived. The last night he had seen Scott, and the morning right after, played over and over in his head. No matter how many times he went over it, no matter how many times he tried to rationalize what happened, there was no good answer. Not a single one. But that wouldn’t stop him from doing it all over again.

Four weeks ago, almost to the day, Benny had arrived at the townhouse he shared with Charlie and Scott after a long day at work. Just a year out of college, the three of them were still getting acclimated to their new jobs. He knew Charlie and Scott were both already home because he could hear them playing video games in their rooms. They spent a few hours apart doing their own things until Benny asked them if they wanted to do some Friday night drinking, and they both said yes. He and Charlie went to the store, got some beer, then went back home where the three college friends played beer pong, Mario Kart, sports games, and card games until midnight came around. The night ended with a two-hour-long fire pit session in their backyard, which they put out before heading to bed.

That Saturday morning, Benny woke at 8 am. Coffee was on the menu and Charlie said he didn’t want any, so he knocked on Scott’s door to see if he wanted some. No response. At the time, Benny assumed Scott was just sleeping in or nursing a hangover and he didn’t want to disturb him. An hour later, Charlie had gone out to the mailbox that the three of them had neglected to check the day before, and he noticed that Scott’s car wasn’t in their primary parking spot where it had been just a day earlier. Scott was the kind of person to always tell his friends what his plans were, so when Charlie knocked on Scott’s door the second time, Benny wondered what was going on. Even though they could have misremembered where he had parked, they wanted to make sure their friend was okay.

“Hey man, we’re coming in,” Charlie had said.

Nothing could have prepared them for what they would see when the door opened.

Everything was gone. Everything. All the dressers were gone, all the shelves were gone. His desk, his bed, his posters, his hung-up jerseys, and even his bed frame. Just gone. The closet was empty, the window curtains were gone, the grey rug that covered the hardwood floor was no longer there, and the grey-painted walls looked as if there hadn’t ever been a nail hammered into them.

Looking back on it, Scott’s room at that moment looked like the day before Scott had moved in. There was only one difference. A single picture lay flat in the center of the floor. And it was a photo of Charlie, Benny, and Scott on the beach in front of the Atlantic ocean during their final spring break trip of college. Scott’s brown, wavy hair was flowing with the wind, while Charlie and Benny’s equally short hair weren’t much affected. The three of them were sunbathed and smiling. The good days.

“What the fuck,” Benny remembered muttering under his breath.

Charlie was silent for a while.

Benny had gathered himself and called Scott’s phone, but the number was no longer in service. Charlie had checked Scott’s social media accounts, all of which were deleted. They called their friends to see if they had seen or heard from Scott. They hadn’t.

All that came after that was a blur. Making the missing person’s report, talking to the police, and the dreaded wait for Scott’s parents to arrive at the townhouse all meshed together. The only thing that remained clear in his mind was the promise from one officer that they would find Scott no matter what. That was four weeks ago. Scott’s body, car, phone, and anything said to have disappeared from his room were never recovered. With no leads and no trace of Scott, his parents waited just under a month before they scheduled the funeral. And now it was here.

Benny sunk into the driver’s seat of his car and closed his eyes. He had offered to say a few words at the procession, and Scott’s parents agreed. He was slated to give the final speech. None of the other friends, not even Charlie, chose to do so. Benny didn’t blame them.

He let out a deep exhale, got out of his car, and walked through the cemetery.

✦✦✦

Once Scott’s parents and siblings had finished their own speeches, it was time for Benny to give his own. Another deep exhale and a few sullen steps later, he was at the podium.

“Hey everyone,” he began, “my name is Benny. For those who don’t know, Scott was my best friend. Maybe he still is, and he’s okay somewhere where he doesn’t want to be found. I would rather think about this whole thing that way than in any other way.

“Scott and I met in our freshman year of college. He, Charlie, and I hit it off immediately. The three of us partied together, ate together, lived together, got in trouble with the dorm’s residential advisor together, and so many more things that are too difficult to think about right now. It’s been—,” Benny was cut off by a mounting pressure in his chest, while tears slowly rolled from his eyes.

“Sorry,” he said. “It’s been over four years since that freshman year. My life, up until four weeks ago, was the same as it had been in that first year, but I never got tired of doing the same things over and over again. That was because of Scott. The time that I knew him was the best time of my life. People always say that the friends you make in college are the friends you make for life, and for whatever reason, that’s been cut short. Ever since he’s been gone, I feel like I’ve lost a third of myself. Sometimes, it feels like even more. I know this feeling might eventually go away, but like all of you, the pain of not understanding makes it feel like it never will.”

Benny grabbed the edges of the podium and lowered his head as he fought back against a second wave of tears. The crowd of friends and family were still and silent, aside from a few who had let their own tears get the best of them. The blazing sun and the clear blue skies made it seem like it was supposed to be a happy summer day. It just wasn’t.

“I want to end,” Benny continued, “by sharing something Scott told me that I haven’t told anyone else. Charlie and I were the last two people to see Scott. The three of us have shared a townhouse for the last two-and-a-half years, and there were many times where we would sit by the fire pit in our backyard and just talk. The last night we saw him was one of those times. While we were hanging out, Scott was talking about how he couldn’t stand pretentious people who used big words or lived by obscure Latin phrases, like how most colleges and universities had Latin mottos. There was, though, one Latin phrase that’s always stood out to me.

“It’s the phrase meliora and it means ‘better things’. I can’t help but think if Scott heard me say this he would make fun of me,” Benny chuckled, as the crowd did along with him, “but I think it represents everything about him. I also think it represents wherever he might be right now. I don’t believe we’ve seen the last of Scott, I believe we’ll all see him again. And when we do, we’ll be experiencing meliora, we’ll be experiencing better things, because a world with Scott is better than a world without.”

✦✦✦

Hours later, Benny went back to the townhouse. He noticed Charlie’s car in the primary parking spot, so he parked right next to it and went inside. On the second, Scott’s door was open and Charlie sat against the wall on the hardwood floor of the empty room. Benny sat down next to him, resting his head against the grey wall behind him.

The two remaining friends sat in silence for a while. This was the last time either of them would be here, as they were finishing up the process of moving into a new apartment together. They couldn’t bear to live in the townhouse without Scott any longer. What had once been a lively, fun place was returning to how it had been when Benny, Scott, and Charlie had first set foot inside it: devoid and empty.

In his funeral speech, Benny had apparently accepted the unexplained departure of his best friend. Now, alone on the bare floor of Scott’s room, he accepted something else. He knew that he had many sleepless nights ahead of him. He knew that he would think of his friend every time he saw someone with brown, wavy hair. He would hope, even pray, that they would turn around and he would see Scott’s face.

And maybe, someday, he actually would.

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Contemporary Fiction, Drama, Fiction, Mystery/Thriller

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