The fan in his room did little to help the stifling heat that was always present in the trap house. Sam was laying in his bed with Kat, brainstorming video ideas for this week, but they weren’t making much progress. He was hesitant to do another three am challenge, but something like a prank just seemed like too much work.
“Why don’t you do some challenge with Colby?” Kat asked while tracing squiggles on his chest. It wasn’t a bad idea, except Sam wasn’t sure where Colby was or if he would even be home tomorrow. Colby had been going out with Brennen most nights and normally came home completely out of it. But it was probably just because he was finally 21 and could do it legally, and Colby had always been a junkie for excitement. Besides, Kat had been coming over more often too, so Sam had her to spend time with. Obviously, the two of them still filmed together and whenever they hung out Colby seemed normal, so Sam just focused on his own issues.
“Maybe I could-“ The buzz on his nightstand caused him to jump, scaring Kat too.
“Jesus, Sam, it’s just your phone!” Kat said with a laugh. Sticking his tongue out at her first, Sam rolled over and grabbed the object.
“It’s Brennen,” Sam sat up straighter and slid his finger across the screen. It wasn’t a regular thing for Brennen to call him, so he was a little confused. “What’s up, Taylor?”
“Yoo, Sammy Boy,” Brennen’s voice slammed into Sam’s ears along with what sounded like yelling girls and pop music. “You, uuhh, maybe wanna come get your bro. I dunno what he took, I know I was supposed to watch but there was a girl and I got distracted. You should see her, she has this long black hair and big-“
“Brennen, what are you talking about?” Sam was having trouble hearing him over the background noise, so he sat up further and pressed the phone closer to his ear.
“Colby dude! He’s fucked up and I wanna hook up with this girl, so I gotta go. He’s just chilling in the corner, I told the bartender someone was gonna pick him up. I’ll text you the address, maybe you can figure out what he took because he won’t answer me. Peace dude, I’m gonna go get luckyyy!” The call cut off before Brennen finished dragging out the word, but that didn’t cut off the worry building in Sam’s chest.
“What was that about?” Kat asked, peering over his shoulder. That jolted Sam into action, and he stood up to go put on shoes.
“Brennen just left Colby passed out at a club, and if it’s a prank I’m going to kill them both. If it’s not a prank, I’m going to kill Brennen Taylor. He said he didn’t know what Colby took, which means he’s not just drunk. I need to go get him.”
“Then I’ll go with you!” Kat hurried to slip her shoes on too. Colby wasn’t just his friend, but Sam had a bad feeling about her going.
“Kat, as much as I would love that, I don’t know if you’d even be able to get in, and if Colby is on something, I’m going to have to babysit him all night, so you might as well go on home.”
Kat peered up at him through her thick lashes, puppy dog face in full power. Normally, that look would get her anywhere. But all he could think about was Colby being left vulnerable in a club, and that took priority.
“Sorry, babe, I’ll call you in the morning, alright? Text me when you get home,” He said, leaning in so their lips met for a split second. Kat’s eyes were narrowed as she stepped back and her forehead was creased in worry.
“Promise me you’ll call if you need anything, okay?”
“Yes, yes,” his phone dinged in his pocket. “That’s hopefully Brennen, come on, we’ll walk out together.” They locked hands before heading to the stairs and then out the front door. Sam didn’t see any of the other roommates, but it was close to two am, so it wasn’t that odd.
Sam tugged his sweatshirt sleeves over his hands as he parted ways with Kat and headed to his own car. The roar of the engine calmed him down a bit as he typed the address into Maps. Pulling out of the driveway, he started following the directions that were spat out at him.
After about thirty minutes with LA’s perpetual traffic, Sam was ready just to let Colby stay the night at the club. It would be like an overnight video, but drunk and without a camera. Colby would love it. Thankfully the building came into view, and there wasn’t a long waiting line outside of the door. Sam prayed he could just explain the situation, run in, grab Colby, and run out.
Clambering out of his car, Sam made his way to the scary man outside of the club. After a little explaining and begging, the bouncer let him in and Sam made a beeline for the bar situated at the back of the room. It was crowded and loud with bodies pushing into him every step he took. A hand grabbed his arm, long acrylic fingernails scratching against him, but he simply shook it off and kept moving. Sam had one goal in mind and that was all he cared about.
“Hey!” Sam had to yell to be heard above the music, but it got the bartender’s attention. He was mixing some drink that looked like it belonged on the beach. The man paused his actions for a moment, raising an eyebrow in acknowledgment. “My friend, Colby, was left here? The guy who left him said he talked to you?”
The bartender didn’t respond immediately, instead choosing to finish giving the beach drink to a girl a few feet down. Sam gripped tighter on the wood counter in front of him, bouncing up and down to release some of the tension in his body. What if someone else took over the shift? What if Colby had left by himself? Question after question circled around Sam’s head, working him up even more.
“I just have one thing,” The bartender’s voice was surprisingly soft, yet Sam could hear him clearly. “I ask this whenever something like this happens. What does the kid you’re talking about look like?”
Instantly, images of Colby popped into Sam’s head. The first one was Colby from high school, smaller with the same fucking haircut and high-pitched voice. Then there was apartment Colby, slightly taller, more confident but still wearing sweats and V-necks. Last was current Colby, with the same haircut, but more filled out and with more tattoos. For some reason, this was the blurriest one in Sam’s head.
“Uh, he’s about three or four inches taller than me with brown hair in a ridiculous Justin Beiber style? Blue-green eyes and he’s probably wearing black. He’s-“ Sam cut himself off, because that should be more than enough. If the guy didn’t believe that, he could just pull up their fucking YouTube channel and show him that. Or pull up their Instagram. Or pull up some of the hundreds of pictures of them Sam had on his camera roll. But the man behind the counter looked satisfied with Sam’s answers, and he waved him to the right.
“I told the other guy to put him over in this booth so that he was away from most people, and I could check on him. I don’t normally care this much, honestly. He reminds me of my little brother though, and I would hope someone would do this for him.” The bartender told Sam while he led him to a back corner booth. There, with his head pillowed in his arms, was Colby. There was a bruise Sam didn’t remember him having on the outside of his arm. It looked like he had been hit by something, but Brennen hadn’t mentioned anything, so Sam just kept going. Crouching down so he was roughly level with the table, Sam reached in and shook Colby’s shoulder. His body moved like a rag doll’s, swaying from side to side with Sam’s movements, but there was no response.
“Come on, Colby,” Sam reached up and pushed his head over so he could see if Colby opened his eyes. “Oh shit, dude!” The left side of Colby’s face had a bright red patch at the top of his cheekbone that looked like it was going to bruise and his lip was split. His eyes were still shut and his mouth was parted slightly.
“The guy who left him didn’t tell you he got hit, did he?” The bartender’s question left Sam looking at him with wide eyes.
“Nope, didn’t mention that one.”
“Yeah, well right before he left, a girl came up to take a picture with your friend for some reason, and her boyfriend must not have liked it too much. He didn’t hit him that hard, but I’d say it didn’t help matters any. The kid was pretty out of it before that, though.”
“Do you have any clue what all he drank or what he may have taken? Like should I take him to the hospital?” Sam could hear the tremble in his voice when he talked about the hospital, but the guy pretended not to notice.
“No, I know he was already pretty wasted when he ordered his first drink, and then the other friend grabbed some more later on. Past that, I have no clue what they did tonight. But I do have to get back so I don’t get fired. I’d say just try and walk him outside. If you can’t get him moved in the next few minutes, come and get me and I’ll try and find someone to help.”
With that, the man disappeared back behind the counter, and Sam returned to trying to rouse his friend. Eventually, Sam got Colby to the point where he could lift him out of the booth with Colby’s arm on his shoulder and made his way to the door. As he dragged Colby across the room, Sam’s eyes met the bartender’s and the man flashed him a thumbs up, which made Sam feel a bit better.
About ten minutes into the drive back to the Trap House, there was a flurry of movement on Colby’s side of the car.
“Dude dude where the fuck am I? What’s going on?” It hurt Sam to hear how scared Colby sounded, but it meant he was still pretty out of it if he didn’t recognize the inside of Sam’s car.
“Calm down bro, it’s me, Sam. Brennen called me to pick you up, we’re on our way home.”
“Sam?” The blond risked a glance over to the passenger seat to see Colby pressed against the doorframe, chest heaving.
“Yeah, it’s just me. Do you know what happened?”
“I don’t know dude, I think I’m still fucked up.”
“What did you take?” Panic tinged Sam’s voice. If it was something serious then he needed to know. Colby usually was good at being aware of what he was putting in his body, so for him to be this out of it really messed with Sam.
“I mean, we drank a lot of jack before we went in, and then I had a few glasses of something, and then a drink from this guy. We smoked some weed. Nothing else really, bro. Everything’s just really fuzzy and my head hurts.”
The streetlights passing by lit the car with an orange glow, casting weird shadows as they drove. Sam mulled over Colby’s response, constantly going back to one fact. Sure, he knew Colby was bisexual, but taking a drink from someone he didn’t know didn’t sound like him. He glanced over again and saw Colby’s half-lidded eyes peering back at him. It almost seemed like Colby was looking through him though, lost somewhere deep inside his head. The shadows morphed on his face, turning the normally smiling boy into something otherworldly. There was heaviness to the silence around them that was new. Suddenly, Sam wanted nothing more than to be home and out of this car. Then things would make sense. He would put Colby to sleep, set alarms to check on him for the next few hours, and then go to sleep too. Easy.
Easy, except that when they got home Colby was out again and Sam needed to carry him up the stairs.
“Corey! COREY!” Sam felt bad for waking his roommate and probably Devyn up, but he didn’t want to leave Colby on the couch for the night. That would mean he would either have to sleep on another couch or walk downstairs to check on him. Everyone in the house also knew that sleeping on the couches made hangovers 20 times worse because everyone came downstairs and woke you up way earlier than you wanted.
“What?” Corey replied, popping his head over the banister. “Yo, what happened to him?”
Footsteps banged down the stairs as Corey rushed to meet him. Quickly, the other boy slipped an arm around Colby’s back and under his knees and picked him up. Devyn peeked her head over the rail before seeing it was all under control and turning around.
“Brennen got him drunk and high and then left him to hook up with a girl. That’s the short version at least. I can’t carry him up the stairs alone, I’m sorry if I woke you up.”
Corey paused for a moment on the platform at the bottom of the second half of the stairs. “Brennen did what?”
“You heard me.”
Corey shook his head before continuing up the stairs. The house was quiet for once, which meant Aaron must have ended Fortnite early. The only sounds were their feet against the hardwood and the occasional mumble from Colby. They had rounded the corner into the boys’ hallway when Colby woke back up.
“Colby, dude, calm down,” Corey said in hopes of getting the squirming boy to stop. He seemed less aware than when they were in the car, and was putting up a fight in Corey’s arms.
“Get off me, get off me, get off me,” Colby’s pitch went up with each statement, and he began thrashing harder. His movements didn’t have much force behind them since one arm was pressed against Corey while the other was simply not cooperating with Colby. Still, his wiggling wasn’t helping anything.
“Just set him down before he hurts both of you,” Sam rushed forwards to help lower him to the ground. “Colby, it’s Sam, you’re home and you’re okay. Just breathe, bro.”
Colby had scrambled back until he was pressed against the wall and was staring at the two of them with clouded eyes. His cheek had started to bruise over and his whole body seemed to pulse with each beat of his heart. He didn’t seem to recognize either of them, but he kept mumbling things that didn’t make sense, which made Sam think he might still be stuck in a nightmare. It took a while longer for Sam and Corey to convince him he was okay, but eventually he just passed back out, which was still concerning. But Corey just scooped him up and carried him into his room quickly to avoid another fit. Laying him on his bed softly, Corey moved back before looking at Sam.
“You have everything under control?” Corey asked, and when Sam nodded, he continued. “I’m going to kick Taylor’s ass in the morning, for several reasons. Yell if you need me.” Corey said as he headed back out of Colby’s door and down the hall. Sam listened to his retreating footsteps and Colby’s ragged breathing. The brunette boy was laid on his side on top of the covers exactly as Corey had set him down, so Sam went to work making him more comfortable.
Sam had expected it to be a harder task, but the mix of Colby’s current state and his predisposition to be a heavy sleeper meant Sam could probably knock him off the bed and he still wouldn’t wake up. So, he yanked the blanket out from under him, pulled his shoes off, and then moved Colby up the bed so he was actually on the pillows. After tucking the blanket around his chin, Sam made his way to turn off the lamps around the room.
“I don’t know if you’re even semi-awake right now, but goodnight bro. I’ll be back to check on you in a few hours,” Sam said, and then paused when he heard Colby mumble something back. “Huh?”
“I wanna die.” Colby’s voice was muffled by his pillow; so quiet Sam almost missed it.
“What’d you say, Colby?” He was frozen in the doorway, half out of the room. He could choose to ignore it and assume Colby had simply said something like “I’m so high” or “my hips don’t lie”. Anything but that.
“Oh dream Sam, you’re still here,” the blanket shifted as Colby twisted to look at the door. “I thought you would have disappeared by now. You normally do.”
Sam chose to not read into that statement, instead steering Colby back to the topic at hand. “Yeah bro I’m still here, but what, what did you say earlier?”
“That I wanted to die?”
“It’s chill though, I mean, nothing really to be worried about. Can I tell you about it since you aren’t real? I can’t tell anyone else because they’ll think I’m bat shit crazy. I don’t want them worried about me. I mean, Elton has his company, Aaron has buddy, Corey has Devyn, and real Sam has Kat and they all have a load of their own problems.” Colby paused here and stared at the ceiling. Moments passed, long enough that Sam had begun to think he had fallen asleep. But then he started again.
“Really, I promise, it’s not some big deal. It’s not like I’m actually going to purposely off myself. It’s just, I don’t check roads before crossing, or I jump from a ledge without much thought of how high it is. I’d never have enough balls to do something serious. I just can’t help being afraid that one day it’ll actually work. That I’ll be driving and pull the car too far before I can stop myself or I’ll slip off the ledge. But I’m not really sure what I’m worried for. If I slipped, who would care? Like I know it would hurt a lot of people for a while, but my family doesn’t think what I do is real, my fans can move on, and I guess the only one left is Sam. But dream Sam, he has the other guys and he has Kat.”
“His solo channel is doing great, and I know he wants to move away from the stuff we’re doing. I’m always pushing him to go further and do more dangerous stuff. If I’m gone, he has a reason to stop. He’s smart; he’ll either go back and get a degree or just start something of his own. It just seems easier if I’m not here. I feel so alone yet dependent on everyone. I wouldn’t have any of this without real Sam and I just don’t think he wants to be part of this anymore. Which is completely fine, I would never want to force him to do anything. So I go out with Brennen so Sam can be with Kat and I try and make my presence quiet that way if something happens, it won’t hurt everyone as bad. I want to die because it’s all just too heavy and it would only get worse if people knew, so I’ll keep going on like I have for months. And no one will notice, because I’ll get drunk and high and talk to you because you’re always here, unlike real Sam.”
Here Colby sat up fully and side-eyed him, “Not that real Sam is a bad friend. He’s the best. He just has his own life and a girlfriend and doesn’t have time to notice. And I don’t let him. I kinda miss the days when we had to share a tiny apartment, because even if we were fighting, at least we had to really talk. Now I go hang with Brennen when Sam’s with Kat and all Brennen wants to do is get drunk, so the cycle continues. But none of this is really important, because I won’t do anything serious, because I’m not that far. I’ll just think about it and think about it until something distracts me. Or it will pop up and I’ll hide it, but I won’t act on it. I don’t even think I want it to happen, because when I think about it working I get even more scared, but I don’t stop. I still put myself into the positions and feel the pull in my gut to just do it, but I never do.”
“I just wish I could tell all of this to someone real, but then they would worry I was going to fucking off myself when I’m not. So it’s better none of them know.” Colby paused again and looked at him. “This is way more than what you wanted to hear, huh, dream Sam?”
Sam had no clue how to react. Sure the confession had been drunkenly slurred but his best friend of seven years had just told him he was suicidal only because he thought this was all a drug-induced hallucination. Colby, the kid who pushed them to do social media, who seemed to smile with his whole being, had been crumbling inside and Sam hadn’t noticed shit. Sure Colby had always been better at hiding his emotions, from the principal’s office to pranks. But this was another level. This wasn’t sitting indifferently after getting in trouble while Sam yelled with the principal or being collected after Elton takes his passport. This was literally life or death, and no one was noticing him slowly fading away.
“You know Colby, I think you should tell this to real Sam. It might not seem like it, but he would care a lot more than you think. You’re his best friend, his brother, you’re the reason any of this is possible.”
“Uh huh, sure, that sounds nice coming from my head, but I don’t believe me for a second. I’m a fucking idiot.” Colby paused to yawn before talking again, “Now, it’s been awesome talking to you Dream Sam, but I’m really tired and coming off my high. So if you’d like to leave now, I’m gonna try and sleep this off.” Colby’s face returned to its original position smashed into the pillow, and Sam watched as his whole body relaxed. His mind raced to try and comprehend what had just been said to him. How does he even begin to fix this?
Since it was easier than continuing to stare at his best friend, Sam rubbed his eyes harder than necessary then continued across the threshold into the hallway. He considered going into the bathroom and splashing some water on his face to decide if it was a dream or not, but he knew that his mind couldn’t come up with something as twisted as this. So, he headed straight into his own room; flinging himself onto the grey and white blanket, seeping in the comfort it offered, his mind still spinning. The causal tone Colby had used wouldn’t leave his head. He had sounded so okay with it all. Like they could have been discussing the weather or another video idea. Sure he thought he was talking to his own head, but that almost bothered him more. Colby felt like telling him in real life that he wanted to die was too big of an inconvenience to everybody, like it wasn’t his own existence on the line.
The worst part was Sam couldn’t even say he hadn’t completely noticed. Things he’d written off as just parts of his best friend now seemed so much more sinister. His affinity for ledges and his disregard for safety in videos suddenly made sense. Sam had always thought he was just living his motto of “take chances” but if every time Colby climbed up a ladder he hoped he fell, Sam wanted to wrap him in bubble wrap and never let him leave.
A moment from a few years ago came to the forefront of his mind uninvited. The two of them had gone on their first road trip with Elton for TFIL with Corey, and one of the days they had gone to the canyons. It had been a beautiful scene, but one he hadn’t thought about in years. Elton had thought it would be funny to make them think he’d fallen off the ledge, and while that had been nerve-wracking, it was what happened after that shook him up. The three of them had been looking over a huge drop to see if they saw Elton, but they were still some distance away from the edge. When Elton came out and started filming, Corey and Sam backed away from the cliff back into solid ground. Colby, however, stayed where he was and said something to Elton before glancing over at the drop. Elton turned his camera to talk to them, but Sam couldn’t make himself look away from Colby. He was a stark contrast to the bright blue of the sky as he made his way onto the outcropping.
“Colby, get your butt back here,” Corey’s voice had sounded a little muffled in Sam’s ears. Rationally, Sam knew this was normal for Colby and that he wouldn’t go too far, but his heart still beat fast. They all watched as Colby walked out until there were only about two feet of rock between him and a thousand-foot drop before stopping. Then he spread his arms out wide, posed like he was ready to fall.
“How about we do it for real this time?” Colby said with a voice Sam had never really heard before. Normally he was pretty good at calling Colby out on his bullshit, but something in that moment hadn’t felt fake. Ignoring Corey’s continued protests, Colby started to walk out onto a part on the edge that was about as wide as his foot and looked like it had already lost a huge chunk from it.
“Colby, you’re even scaring me now.” He was in the middle of putting his other foot farther out when Elton spoke up. It was in the low serious business tone he only used if pranks go too far or if someone gets hurt. This was close to being both. Suddenly, Colby took a step back and then crouched, causing them all to move forward. But he just kept walking back and seemed to be out of whatever weird headspace he was in. He didn’t stop when he reached Corey or Sam though; he kept going until he was pressed against a rock a couple yards back. For days after, Sam couldn’t get that image of Colby to stop popping up in his mind. It was the way he wouldn’t go back near the edge after, and the way he had kept scooting forwards when he was on it that freaked Sam out. Other times Colby had seemed a bit too fond of heights continued to pop into Sam’s mind until it was all he could think about.
Clearing his mind, Sam stood back up and pulled a soft blue blanket over his shoulders. Then he made the short trip back to Colby’s room, pausing only to look at the “proceed with kindness” sign that they had brought with them from place to place. It had actually been Colby who bought it back in their very first apartment. At the time, they were sharing a room and a job and they never seemed to have time away from the other. They argued about the dumbest stuff before eventually making up after the frustration had faded. Most of it had to do with their shared room. Whether it was because Colby’s side was too messy or that Sam left the light on too long, at the time everything had led to them screaming.
This fight had originally been about Colby’s clothes being on Sam’s side of the room, but it morphed into them making it personal. They had gotten into each other’s faces and at some point; Colby had stopped responding and was just simply taking the words Sam threw at him like punches. They were almost nose-to-nose when Sam shoved Colby back into the wall, yelling at him that he hated him and to just fucking leave. Grabbing his phone and his keys, Colby had tucked his head down and left. After a few moments of heavy breathing, it hit Sam just how horrible what he had done was. They had only been in LA for a few months at that point, and they were the only person the other had. It wasn’t like Colby had never chewed him out, but there was an unspoken line. Telling the other, even in anger, that that you hated them definitely crossed that.
When Colby didn’t come back after a few hours, Sam really started to get worried. He called all of the people they knew and called Colby, but he wouldn’t answer and no one else had any idea. He hadn’t actually come back home until the morning, with nothing but rumpled clothes and a target bag in his hand. Sam had slept on the couch so he would be sure to wake up when Colby came home, but when he finally saw him, he couldn’t figure out what to say. Without looking at Sam, Colby just walked to the door of their bedroom and opened his bag. From there he pulled out the obnoxious yellow diamond and a roll of duct tape, ripped off two pieces of tape, rolled them up, stuck them to the sign, and placed it against their door. Then he had walked into the room without shutting the door and sat on his bed. Sam had immediately apologized and it became a sort of turning point in their friendship. From then on out, that sign had become something of a reminder for both of them. So they kept it in shared places of each of their homes, and if either one took something too far, the other would look at the sign and they would know.
Colby had always been better at fixing things between them though. He constantly listened and observed while Sam acted. Sam was the better talker, but that got him in trouble. Colby was less likely to stand up for himself, but he always seemed to get out of situations easier. But Colby wasn’t here to get advice from, and all Sam could think to do was move forward, so he did.
Slowly he pushed his friend’s door open again, lightly stepping through and making his way to the grey couch against the wall. The sticky notes that still lined the walls rustled while he grabbed one of the throw pillows. Everything was dark except for what little orange light was let in through the window, but that was enough for Sam to see the outline of Colby on the bed. The blanket rose and fell with each breath, and just hearing that calmed Sam down. For a moment, he entertained the idea of simply climbing into the bed with Colby, then explaining that he didn’t want him to die in the middle of the night, but he dismissed it just as quickly. It wasn’t like they hadn’t shared a bed plenty of times, but it would already be awkward enough if he was going to confront him about earlier.
So Sam carefully laid down on the sofa and pulled his blanket over himself, taking the time to match his breathing with Colby’s. It was something he had done as a way to ease his insomnia almost nightly back when they shared a room. The practice had been hard to lose when they moved to separate rooms, but he had eventually gotten used to it. He’d never told Colby, but he was the center of a lot of Sam’s calming tactics. Colby had been a constant in his hectic life and had been there for the roughest times. Even when Sam had treated him like shit with his first girlfriend or when he gave up religion, Colby stayed. They yelled and fought, but he stayed. Not many people did that in his life. Yet here Sam was, worried that Colby would leave him in the most permanent way, and he had no clue how to fix it. His breathing had fallen out of sync at some point, speeding up to the point of near hyperventilation.
Now’s not the time, he told himself, forcing the air to leave his lungs slower than it wanted to. In for four, hold for seven, out for eight. Slowly, somewhere in the counting, Sam slipped past the point of consciousness and entered a world of dreamless sleep.