*****ANGST ALERT*****ANGST ALERT*****ANGST ALERT*****
That says it all, really. If you're looking for Cheery, read Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett. There ain't no cheerfulness in here.
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by Jayne Leitch
"It's my fault."
Chuck Fishman felt his hands begin to shake, and he quickly set down the plate of cold meat. "I don't ever want to hear you say that again. Got it, Gar? Not ever."
"Why not?" His best friend's voice issued calmly from the shadows under the stairs. Gary had parked himself there practically as soon as he'd got up, and had been sitting silently, staring out the window. This was the first time he'd spoken all day. "I'd read the article. I knew what I had to do to stop it from happening. And--" there was a sound as Gary gestured listlessly, "--It happened anyway. Because of me."
Chuck closed his eyes for a second, forcing the tears back. "You couldn't have known. Not if the Paper didn't want you to."
"The Paper?" Now there was a humourless little chuckle. "The Paper doesn't know anything. If the Paper had wanted me to save the bus, it wouldn't have sent me to the bar with--" Gary broke off, then continued slowly, "The driver didn't even see us. Just. . .kept coming."
Chuck folded his arms and forced himself to stare into the gloom where his friend sat. "There must have been a reason. All those people--Gary, you know that Marissa understood the risks--"
"Understood?" The quiet word sent shivers up and down Chuck's spine. "How could she? She thought I had everything under control, that the bar was just another stop on the way back here. I hadn't even told her about the bus--"
"Gary, it wasn't your fault! Why can't you see that?" Quickly dropping his voice back to a quieter tone, Chuck continued, "Look, if the accident was supposed to have changed, it would have. You stopped the drunk from getting into his car--"
"But I took his place."
"--But maybe you were supposed to!" Frustrated, Chuck began pacing. "The article changed! The drunk didn't cause the accident, and neither did you. It was the <bus>, Gary! You couldn't do anything about it!"
"I could have looked at the Paper after putting the drunk in the cab." Gary's voice remained calm, detached, as if he'd been through the scenario hundreds of times and numbed himself to it. "If I'd seen that the article was still there, I would have gone after the bus. On my own."
"And left Marissa standing on the curb?"
Gary shifted again in the shadows. "Chuck. . ."
"No, I mean it, Gar." Chuck took a deep, steadying breath. It wasn't Gary's depression over not saving the busload of people that was getting to him--it wasn't even the fact that Marissa was gone. It was Gary's complete lack of care over what had happened to him. *It's as if everything happened to everybody else, and he came out. . .fine.* "You could've got Marissa a cab, and then headed off to stop the bus and you'd still end up like this. It was the brakes on the bus, Gary. If your car hadn't been at the intersection, somebody else's would have. The bus still would have gone through the stop sign, and the people still would have died. It doesn't matter that it was your car. It <doesn't>."
"It does." Chuck shook his head, but Gary persisted, "It does matter. If it hadn't been my car, Marissa would still be alive."
"And if she was alive, what would she tell you?" Inwardly steeling himself, Chuck leaned forward and met his friend's eyes. "She'd say that things happen for a reason. We might not be able to see what it is, but the Paper's got a reason for everything."
There was a moment of silence. Gary broke the eye contact, and Chuck barely managed to suppress a shiver at the lifelessness he'd seen in his friend's eyes. Then, Gary spoke.
"The Paper doesn't come anymore."
Chuck felt a chill race through him. It had been said so brokenly, so bleakly. . . "What?"
"I didn't get it in the hospital, and I haven't seen the Cat once since I got back." Gary's voice wavered slightly, and he cleared his throat. Then, slowly, he wheeled himself out of the shadows and looked up at his speechless friend. "So if it wasn't my fault," he asked quietly, "Why haven't I had a chance to make amends?"
Chuck waited until the wheelchair was through
the door. Then, trembling slightly, he slid to the floor and cried.
Email the author: Jayne