I expected her to come over eventually, but it was still a bit of a shock when she finally knocks on the door. After what happened last week, I thought I would never be surprised again. But this—tiny, tentative taps on the wood—dumbfounds me. I think in amazement: I am still alive.
Then I answer the door.
Considering all that has gone on, Mrs. Woolman looks surprisingly normal. A little tired, yes. But she isn’t dressed in black and she doesn’t look ravaged or anything. She smiles at me a little as I let her in, and she’s even wearing makeup. It was as if the recent events had had no effect on her at all. Then I see her eyes and change my mind. I’ve never seen eyes like that before. I hope I never do again.
“I’ve been meaning to tell you,” I begin awkwardly, before she can say anything. “I’m so sorry about Bobby. I wanted to stop by,” I lie, “but I didn’t know if it was appropriate. I didn’t know whether to come or stay away. So I sent that card. Did you get it?”
“Yes,” Mrs. Woolman says. She is extremely calm. “It was very kind of you to send it, Andi. I know Bobby and Christine must be on your mind constantly.”
“Yes, ma’am. Um…would you like to sit down?”
She sits on the sofa, where my suitcase was just an hour ago. I just got home. As soon as I heard the police were looking for me, I left and went to lay low at my cousin’s for awhile. It was my parents’ idea, actually. But I decided that was stupid, and came home. The cops will find me one way or another, and I don’t think I’m in trouble—not like Christine is, anyway—I just don’t want to talk to them. But I can’t hide forever.
“Is Christine out of the hospital yet?” I ask. It seems like I had to ask something.
“Unfortunately, yes.” Mrs. Woolman purses her lips. “She’s in the regular section of the jail now. Sharing a cell with a woman who’s in for prostitution. I’m still trying to have her released, even to just attend Bobby’s funeral. I don’t want her in there, Andi. She’s just a little girl.”
“She’s eighteen,” I remind her gently. Just a month older than me. We’ve been best friends since we were six.
I wonder if I will ever see Christine again.
“She’s a child,” Mrs. Woolman says, as if she hadn’t heard me. “And you wouldn’t believe what the police are saying about her. They told me she could be in jail for a very long time.” She sighed. “I don’t see why. I mean, it’s not as if she meant for Bobby to die. It was an accident, just a tragic accident, and now she’s lost her brother and I’ve lost my son. Haven’t we been punished enough already?”
“I’m so sorry,” I say again. But I don’t think Mrs. Woolman is listening. I wish I could tune out too, but it doesn’t seem fair. After all that I’ve done, I should at least listen to what she has to say. “How exactly did Bobby die?” I ask, though I already know. It was in the papers.
“An overdose,” Mrs. Woolman says, and her voice trembles a little. “I guess Bobby and Christine were drinking and drinking codeine cough syrup, and they passed out. Christine woke up. Bobby didn’t.”
“It’s not a bad way to go,” I soothe, trying to comfort her. “He didn’t suffer at all.”
“No. He didn’t suffer.” She takes a breath and begins again as if she’s never spoken before in her life. So much verbal vomit. “I don’t believe Bobby ever used drugs before in his life, Andi. Or Christine. I mean, they are—were—both such excellent students. Christine is supposed to go to college in the fall. I never saw any signs—I don’t believe it for a moment. And Christine told me so, too, and she wouldn’t lie to me. Not about something like that. They’re just naïve kids, Andi, they got in over their heads. It was an accident. I wish they’d let us bury him and go on with our lives. It was only an accident.”
As far as I know, Bobby started using drugs when he was ten. That was the year Christine was sixteen (me too), and Mrs. Woolman decided she was old enough to baby-sit Bobby when she went away on her business trips. Christine was hardly going to let her little brother interfere with her partying, so she just took Bobby along and let him do all the things we did. It didn’t seem dangerous at the time. It wasn’t like any of us were shooting up heroin or anything. And we always kept and eye on Bobby, and he was happy to do whatever we did. We figured it would be fine.
We were really stupid.
“What exactly is Christine being charged with?” I’m trying to turn the topic away from Bobby. I don’t want to think about Bobby. The last time I saw him, he told me he loved me. Then I laughed in his face, patted him on the head and told him there would be others. Just because I was his first didn’t mean anything.
“Manslaughter,” Mrs. Woolman answers, staring at her shiny high heels. “Basically, murder without intent. She could face twenty years, Andi. Twenty years. Christine hasn’t even lived twenty years yet. And all for an accident.”
“I don’t understand. If it was an accident, why is Christine being charged with killing Bobby?”
“Christine got the cough syrup, supposedly. And the alcohol. Christine gave the drugs to Bobby…” She shrugs. “Who knows? If Christine is guilty, then whoever gave her the cough syrup is guilty. And the man who sold her the liquor. Pushers, both of them, taking advantage of naïve kids. Just little kids.”
I don’t understand why Bobby died. We’ve done codeine and bourbon before with no problem. I heard in health class that it wasn’t safe, but Christine only snorted when I told her that. “We’re all gonna die sometime,” she said. I don’t think she could have guessed that for Bobby, “sometime” would be at twelve years old. Not even in junior high yet. Bobby. I was his first.
I take another stab at not thinking about Bobby. “Is Christine okay? I mean, mentally, physically? Does she want me to get her anything?”
“She’s as well as can be expected, I guess. She’s upset about Bobby. She feels terrible about it, and very guilty, even though it was an accident. And she’s upset about being in jail. I’ve hired her a good lawyer, and I hope she comes home soon. I’m hoping they’ll drop all the charges, but the lawyer says that probably won’t happen. She was supposed to go to college in the fall…”
I myself was actually away visiting a college the night Bobby died. If I hadn’t been there, I would have been with him, and would be in as much trouble as Christine is now. I wish I had been there. I could have prevented Bobby’s death somehow. I know CPR, Christine doesn’t. I could have saved him.
“What about you? Are you all right?” She doesn’t look all right. I’m seeing all sorts of things now that I didn’t see when she first came in. Like tiny cracks in a wall that looked solid at first.
“Dr. Norton gave me something to help with the stress,” Mrs. Woolman replies. “I don’t think I’ve absorbed the impact yet. I’m fighting for Christine now and arranging Bobby’s funeral and I’m trying not to think about it any more than I have to. I’m going to see a therapist, and Christine will see her too when she gets out.”
“That sounds like a good idea.”
Her first question: “Have the police talked to you?”
“No. I bet they will soon, though. My mom says they’ve been trying to get hold of me. But I’ve been at my cousin’s since I heard Bobby died.”
“They’ve talked to Mark. He told me they had. He tried to visit Christine in the hospital, but they wouldn’t let him in cause he’s not a relative, only her boyfriend.” She looks me right in the eyes. “You’ll tell them, won’t you?” she pleads, her voice soft and squeaky. “You’ll tell them Christine is a good girl? And that Bobby—was—a good boy? That it was just an accident?”
“I’ll tell them the truth,” I answer, honestly.
“I hope they believe you,” she says, kind of huffy. “I’ve tried to tell them but they say mothers are the last people to know about these things. But you’re Christine’s best friend, almost her sister. You know her better than anyone.” For the first time she looks like she’s going to cry. I can see tears glistening in the corners of her eyes.
I can’t take it anymore. “Mrs. Woolman, my mother made some wonderful pound cake last night. Let me get some for you. Something sweet might make you feel a little better.”
“Thank you very much, Andrea. You’re a sweet girl.”
After I get in the kitchen I take a bucket of ice cream out of the freezer, set it on the table and press my face into it. It’s so cold, it hurts. I wish it would hurt more. I wish it would hurt so much I wouldn’t be able to think. I don’t care much about Christine right now, but I can’t get Bobby out of my head.
I had always wanted to be some guy’s first. I never had been before. I was usually their fourth or fifth. Once I was one dude’s second, close but no cigar. And the last time I saw Bobby, I told him this. Christine was inside with Mark, doing what they always do, and Bobby and I were lying on the grass in the backyard, staring up at the stars. We’d been drinking and smoking a little weed, and Bobby had taken a tab of LSD and was giggling, talking about the different things he was seeing. “Your eyes are flashing different colors right now,” he said, and snuggled up against my chest, his arms wrapped around mine. I looked at him and it was like I was seeing him clearly for the first time. I noticed that he was kind of old for twelve. He already had a few hairs on his upper lip. He was more like fourteen or fifteen than twelve. I told him I had never been anyone’s first and he said, “You could be mine.”
Afterwards Bobby told me he loved me. Just like that: “Andi, that was awesome. I love you. I think I’m really in love with you.”
And then I patted his head and ran my fingers through his long hair, and laughed out loud. I laughed because it seemed like he meant it, and no one ever really means it. “You’re just saying that because I was your first,” I told him. “There’ll be others, and you’ll love them like you love me now.” I put finger quotes around the word “love” and leered at him as I said it, so he’d know what I meant.
“But I really love you,” he said, sounding a little hurt.
Then Christine came out and interrupted things so Bobby and I never had a chance to finish. Later when I told her what happened she burst out laughing. “He really said that? He really did?”
I was his first, and he was my first first, if that makes sense. Now I’ll never see him again.
After ages, I come out with the pound cake and see that Mrs. Woolman has calmed down a bit. She’s smoothed her hair and her skirt and put on her Businesswoman attitude. “Thank you so much, Andi,” she says, taking the cake from me. She takes a bite. “It’s delicious.”
“I wish I could do more for you,” I say honestly. I wish I could repay her somehow for the damage I’ve caused. I know Christine caused more but I had my own part in this, even though I wasn’t there and I didn’t know. How do you repay a woman for contributing to the death of her son? You don’t. You can’t.
“Just be a good friend to Christine,” Mrs. Woolman says. “You aren’t allowed to visit her—it’s family, lawyers and clergy only. But you could write to her, wouldn’t you? And tell her you don’t blame her for Bobby’s death.”
“Yes,” I say. In my mind I’m only acknowledging what she said, and not agreeing to take her advice. Because I do blame Christine. And I don’t want to write her.
“And you’ll tell the cops the truth, when they come around.”
“I will most certainly do that.” If only the truth weren’t so terrible. If only I wasn’t so guilty. Maybe not legally guilty, but guilty all the same. A twelve-year-old kid had no business doing all the things Christine and I did. I should have told her not to bring him. I should have told Mrs. Woolman what was going on, so she would have hired a real baby-sitter. But I was having so much fun. I didn’t want Bobby to spoil that fun. I am a selfish bitch.
“I should go,” Mrs. Woolman says after she finishes the cake. “I just wanted to talk to you, let you know what’s happened. What you see in the papers is not what is really happening, you know?”
She stands up and reaches for her coat, then adds, as if it’s a trivial thing, “One more thing, Andi. Christine said that you slept with Bobby a few weeks before he died.”
Why the hell did she tell her mother that? What else has she told her? For a second I’m frozen. And I thought nothing would ever surprise again.
“Well?” Mrs. Woolman looks at me, questioning, quizzical. “Did you?”
The lie withers and dies in my throat. She’s been lied to so many times. I can’t do it again. Even if it means I’ll get into trouble. I deserve to be in trouble anyway. “Yes, ma’am. I did, and I’m—” I start to say I’m sorry, but she cuts me off.
“Oh, Andi, don’t be sorry. I’m actually grateful for it. You made my son happy, Andi, and you made his death a little more bearable.”
I can’t believe what I’m hearing. “What?”
“I’m very glad Bobby didn’t die a virgin. Thank you for that.”
This is based on a true story. A friend of mine really did sleep with a twelve-year-old boy. My friend was then sixteen or seventeen. The boy died of a drug overdose a short time later, and his parents visited my friend and thanked her for ensuring that their son lost his virginity before he died. I wrote this in part to try to figure out what kind of parent would be pleased by that. I'm still not sure I know...