He heard the creak of the door opening first.
Then: "What the ..."
The shrill squeak of her slippers made him flinch. Everything was in sharp contrast – the gentle hum of the washing machine, her harsh breath along his cheek. Fingers brushed the matted hair from his sweaty forehead, gentle and soothing – then harder, until he felt the sting of slaps across his cheeks.
"You ... oh my GOD."
His eyes slowly peeled open, the thin film of slime rendering her figure blurry. The sterilised white of the bathroom blinded him, and he squinted, grimy lashes sticking together like old glue.
'What. Is. This.' Her voice was flat, her hand holding the now-empty bottle of aspirin.
His throat burned. "Experimenting?"
It clearly wasn't the most heart-warming gesture he could have thought of: OD-ing on prescription drugs in his dead mate's bathroom. He probably should've tried something that wasn't as likely to get him hospitalised. Maybe crying. Or ice-cream.
He would have kicked himself if he still didn't feel mildly paralysed.
Funny, though, that she would be the one to wake him. She'd made no secret of how repulsive she thought he was, so he was more than a little surprised when she plopped down next to him. And really, a little annoyed too. Was his lying in a pool of his own sweat and stench and stuffy suit more tolerable than his week-old-jeans-and-crumpled-tee look? Because that was kind of sad. And insulting.
She sighed, her breath escaping in a single ooph. Tugging on the frayed ends of her sleeve, she spoke, her words stilted and awkward in the face of her own reluctance.
"Do you want to ... talk ... about it?" She turned green at the thought.
Amused, he nodded. "Sure. You can start."
She tugged on her collar; the panicked expression on her face so similar to her brother's that he almost smiled. He'd noticed the resemblance before, but never had it been so stark – so plain to see. The furrowed brow, parted lips and darting eyes: it was almost like looking at his best friend all over again. He mused inwardly. That face – it should be protected. It was like an endangered animal. Like, a panda.
Her face was his panda.
Her voice wavered a little when she began, but he was nice enough to ignore it. "He ... Ch ... my brother ... he was." She paused. "He was."
He stared at her. He thought men were meant to be the emotionally constipated ones, but hey. She beat him in that regard too. Clearing his throat, he began to talk, his voice echoing in their Ikea-showroom toilet.
"Charlie." He smiled, shaking his head. "He was really something. You'd never have met someone so clueless about their own cluelessness, but he looked so happy all the time that no one ever had the heart to tell him."
"Hey!" She flicked him on his temple. "We're honouring his memory, not insulting him."
"Shut up. I'm on a roll here." And he was. He didn't want to stop, and he didn't mean to, but he just kept talking and talking; like a dam had just burst and all you could do was ride out the rush of water and hope it didn't pull you under.
"You really sucked at footy, did I ever tell you that? God. You were a disgrace. All six foot of this pasty, skinny white boy; chicken legs abound. But you loved it – anyone could see that. Coach saw it too. And ... and I think he was most proud of that. You had half as much skill, but twice the heart – and he needed that. We needed that.
"And maaan, watching you pine after Stephanie Ye was AGONY. She liked you too, you oblivious turd." He laughed, a strangled retch that sounded more like crying than he cared to admit. "The girl was bawling her eyes out at your funeral – bet you'd have loved to see that."
God, he missed him. That stellar idiot, and his stupid grin and his stupid Harry Potter glasses and his stupid tendency to draw everyone to him like he was the freaking Pied Piper.
He continued, his voice thick with something that was obviously heartburn. "But you know, I guess that it all doesn't matter now. You're dead. Dead. And I'm not. And just – it just had to be you, didn't it? Because life is messed up like that. Nicest guy this side of the hemisphere and he dies a kid because driving drunk is still funny to some morons out there, and of course they're just bruised and achy and alive, and of course you're underground and destined to become worm food pretty soon."
His voice cracked, and he was sure it was raining on his face, but he didn't care. This was the most honest he'd been since the funeral and it felt pretty nice. Cathartic, even.
It felt pretty nice having Charlie's little sister there with him too, but he'd never tell her that.
"Just – I hope you're having fun up there. Because it's bloody awful down here."
Over and out.
There was a quiet moment after his explosive display of emotions. Embarrassed, he glanced at Charlie's sister's expression – and froze, feeling something funny climb up his throat. Her face was shiny and pink, and her smile was so huge it swallowed up half her face – and it looked pretty weird, but kind of nice too – and he couldn't help thinking that she looked almost pretty like that. Like she never wanted to stop looking at him, ever.
He squirmed a little. Because he loved her brother, he really did – but he was also certain that death wouldn't stop Charlie from hurling fireballs at him if he tried to kiss his sister.
But, well. He could be pretty stupid too. So he took her hand. Stared into her eyes. Leaned close.
And then he went ahead and threw up on her dress.
Aisyah Shah Idil is a runner-up in The Sydney Morning Herald Young Writer of the Year competition.