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My Last Gift to You

by Margot Lambal 10 months ago in Short Story · updated 10 months ago
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the box sat there for months

My Last Gift to You
Photo by Fakurian Design on Unsplash

The box sat in the corner of Arden’s dark room. The layer of dust that had settled over it was thick, and as the rest of the room went to disarray and disgust the box seemed to sit alone untouched in reverence among the grief-riddled carnage. Ovrr the mounting disarray of dirty clothes and stagnant air and old takeout boxes it presided- above all else the wrecked room it demanded Arden’s gaze turn away from it in shame.

Arden knew what the box contained, sealed away from the world.

He hated it. He loved it. He feared it. He craved it.

It nauseated him. It brought him peace.

It was best to ignore it entirely. Thus, the dust.

The box had sat untouched for a month now, and when Arden woke up on that Tuesday, the date dropped in his stomach like a stone.

April 13th

As he pulled himself out of bed, a daily task that seemed each day in insurmountable obstacle, his eyes fell upon that dusty box on the corner of his bookshelf where he’d thrown it haphazardly the night he’d gotten it.

Today would have been Vincent Harlow’s birthday.

The box loomed.

Three months prior, the same room was immaculate. Everything was neatly placed with care, and Arden was proud of it.

He rushed up the apartment steps, taking them two at a time.

Damn, I’m so late! his mind raced.

He’d been held up at work for much longer than he’d anticipated, and he knew he’d get a beating (metaphorical…. probably) from his friends if he was late again.

At his front door, he snatched up a package that lay in front of it, pausing only briefly to scan the label and feel a rush of pleasure knowing what the box contained: a birthday present for Vincent. But no matter, he would open it later.

He tossed it onto an empty space on his bookshelf and hastily set about changing from his work clothes to a more comfortable pair of jeans and a jacket that Vince always said make him look cool.

Once he was dressed, he went to the mirror and combed his fingers through his hair until it lay at just the right angle. He frowned at his ghostly skin and dark circles, but accepted that his appearance was as good as it could get and turned away.

To his surprise, when he exited his apartment complex, a familiar truck was waiting for him, and in its bed were three familiar people.

“Arden!” Vincent shouted, waving with a wide grin.

Maybe Arden wasn't too exhausted to hang out after all. It was strange how even the sight of his friends together could lift his spirits higher than he thought possible. He jogged over to the car as Vince vaulted the side and collided into him in a hug. Arden hugged back, feeling for the first time in hours the warmth that Vincent always poured into him. The others cheered their hello from the car, five other young men who Arden considered his closest friends.

“The hell are you doing here?” Arden asked, but he was smiling widely.

Ben stuck his head out of the passenger window. “Figured you might bail on us if we didn't abduct you,” He grinned around his cigarette. “Get in.”

Vincent broke away and launched himself back into the truck bed while Arden climbed in the cab’s backseat. Evan smiled at him and asked him how his day had been, to which Arden groaned and rolled his eyes.

“It was fine. Let's not talk about it,” He said. They drove to a nearby restaurant that seemed to be the only one they could all agree on that day- a little homestyle place run by an elderly couple whose son had gone to highschool with them.

At the sight and smell of real, warm food, Arden nearly broke down. If he was being honest, he hadn't eaten a real meal since the last time the group went to a similar restaurant three weeks prior.

The boys devoured their meal eagerly, as a table of young men is expected to do. The woman who owned the shop replenished their stock regularly, always with a smile, and once a mention that they reminded her of her three sons.

Ben’s phone began to ring as the food was beginning to finally dwindle. He glanced down at it, clearly meaning to dismiss it, but his face morphed from confusion to concern.

“I have to take this,” He stood up. “I’ll be back.”

He made his way to the front door and slipped out.

No one paid him much mind, apart from a questioning glance or two. The antics at the table resumed as normal until-

Arden’s phone pinged on the table.

A text. From… he checked…. Ben

Come outside, it said.

“Hang on, I’ll be back in a minute,” He said quickly, and made for the door.

Ben was waiting on the corner outside, his arms crossed and lower lip caught in his teeth nervously.

“What’s this about?” Arden asked as he approached, thoroughly confused.

“I got a call from Vince’s mom,” Ben said quietly.

Arden blinked in surprise, not quite understanding what that could mean.

“She, uh, got my number from my mom a while ago, when we were all back in school,” Ben explained. “She wanted to know if I’d seen Vincent around town, by chance..”

Oh ...

“What?” Arden asked, though he had a nasty feeling creeping up his spine already.

“Arden… Vince hasn’t been home in two days.”

For a moment, Arden didn't quite process the words. Sure, he’d had a sinking feeling that that's what Ben had been trying to say, but now that the words were out in the open, they sounded wrong, fake, preposterous.

But no, Vincent was on the run again. It only made sense. The kid was hellbent on ruining his life, from his safety, in the name of freedom.

As soon as the shock wore off, Arden felt anger pricking up his spine, as well as guilt. It felt like his fault, their fault. Vince was so young and his role models were all bums and dropouts like him.

Without a word, Arden turned from Ben and back into the restaurant. He approached the table, at the corner where Vincent was sitting and laughing with their friends.

“You ran away?”

Vincent’s mouth snapped shut and all the blood drained from his face.

“How… how did you…” Vincent stumbled over his words. He looked frightened of Arden as he sank into his seat.

“Vince,” Ben had caught up to Arden at the table, dropping a warning hand onto his shoulder. “I got a call from your mom asking if I’d seen you lately. She said you haven't been home in a while.”

“What does it matter?” Vincent demanded. “Why do you guys care?”

Looking back on the situation, Arden should have recognized the signs. They had cornered Vincent, and set the time bomb ticking. Vince’s fuse was short and set to blow at any time. However, in the moment Arden was blind with anger and didn't see the fuse burning down.

“Come on, Vince,” Arden snapped. He was scared, looking back he new it. He’d already thrown away his chance at a good life, and he didn’t want to see Vincent go down the same path. The kid only had a few months left in high school, and was set on a path to a good college. “This is really stupid, even for you.”

“Even for me?” Vincent’s eyes flashed.

“Yeah, even for you,” Arden responded coldly. “You seemed determined to piss away the life the rest of us would kill for. You’re a spoiled kid that can’t see the opportunity he’s been given. Go home, stay in school. You’re better than this.”

Vince flushed. His fuse burned to its end, and his anger radiated across the table like a fire.

“That’s what you think of me?” He said quietly. “You think this is fun to me?”

With that, Vincent took off, standing from the table in a huff and storming for the door. He was the fastest of them, and the restaurant door swished closed with a mocking tingle of the little bell.

That was the last time any of them saw Vincent Harlow.

Two days later, the news came.

Now, Arden’s finger trailed through the thick dust, leaving a definite line in its wake. It seemed like a kind of hex was broken, touching this last bastion of his connection to Vincent. His stomach felt strange.

He missed Vincent every single day. He would trade anything to see Vincent again, to celebrate his birthday, to give him this stupid present that sat unopened in his room and laughed at him.

Vincent Harlow had deserved everything. Now he was dead.

An accident on the east side, he’d been told. A drunk driver. A kid on the run.

Arden retrieved his pocket knife from the mess on his desk.

The knife slipped through the tape easily, and the box opened for him like Pandora’s itself.

He took a deep breath and steeled his nerves.

He opened the box, finally, and looked inside.

Short Story

About the author

Margot Lambal

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