Summer was William's favorite time of the year. He liked school just fine, but during the summer, he got to spend every day with his best friend, Gabe, at the daycare. Granted, they went to the same school, but Gabe was a grade ahead of Will so he couldn't hang out with him as much. But summertime, from six-thirty am to four pm, William could play with Gabe as much as he wanted without distraction.
So, naturally, summer was his favorite time of the year.
"On the count of three!" Gabe said, the inseparable duo currently in the fenced in playground, rocking back and forth on the swing set. Their long legs pumped in sync, hands wrapped tightly around the red-plastic covered metal chains connecting the floppy seats to the metal frame. "One," Will bent his legs beneath the swing, his body flying back, "Two," he stuck his legs out, leaning back to propel himself forward, "Three!" As they sung forward again, both released the chains at maximum height, flying forward while their swings swung back rapidly; suddenly free of the small amount of extra weight.
Bill landed on his knees in the grass seconds after Gabe did, just barely making it outside of the wooden box keeping all the wood chips around the playground inside. His hands slid in the patchy grass, collapsing down much like a baseball player stealing a base; only his legs were behind him instead of in front and he was on his stomach. After the initial shock of the landing wore off, the pair burst into laughter, two new kids quickly stealing the swings; no one paying much attention to Gabe or William. They were always together and always doing something everyone else considered 'stupid' so propelling themselves from the swings was nothing new.
"You ok, Bilvy?" Gabe asked his younger friend, pushing himself from the ground and adjusting his glasses. He didn't need them to see, he just liked how they looked. William couldn't understand why someone would want to wear glasses if they didn't need to, but he couldn't deny that Gabe did look really cool in the white-framed glasses.
"Yeah," Will giggled, rolling onto his back and looking up at Gabe with squinted eyes as the sun shone brightly down. Gabe smiled and brushed dirt from William's clothes, doing the same for himself a moment later, before turning back towards the swings.
"We definitely flew that time, Bilvy!" Gabe proudly exclaimed, contemplating the distance between the swings and their landing spot. "I think we broke our record!" His face was beaming.
"I like flying," Bill decided, smiling himself. Gabe nodded and pulled Will into a sitting position, brushing grass out of his semi-long hair for him. "Uh-oh; I ripped my jeans, Gabanti." Will frowned, noticing the stretch of holes and strings over his left knee. "Again." he mumbled, not caring about the cuts between the cloth where little beads of blood were surfacing. He was a boy and it was his nature to get bloody; especially when hanging out with Gabe. "My mommy's gonna be mad..."
"Not if she doesn't see it," Gabe said, licking his finger to wipe away the blood accumulating on Will's knee. William hissed very slightly, the small cuts always hurting the most, but let Gabe clean him.
"She's gonna see, Gabey. It's not hard to miss..." Will continued to frown, looking at Gabe with somewhat sad eyes. His mom was a little tired of constantly buying him new jeans because he tore up the ones he had. Getting pants for William was a difficult task because he's so tall but so thin.
"We'll fix it." Gabe promised, looking around the playground for a solution. He hates when William gets in trouble for his stupid ideas. Gabe's mom gave up buying him new clothes all the time long ago. She says he destroys them before she can even get the tags off. Therefore Gabe only gets new clothes when his old ones just become a pile of cloth. He doesn't care though; clothes are only clothes. "Stay here; I'll be right back." Gabe instructed Will, scrambling to his feet and taking off.
Bill watched Gabe cross the playground, stopping in front of two kindergarteners who were sitting in the shade beneath a tall tree, both contently coloring. Gabe bent down to the one sitting up, the young boy looking absolutely terrified that Gabe was talking to him, shaking his head to things Will couldn't hear. A few moments later, the boy removed a scarf around his neck, William wondered how he survived with it on in the heat, and handed it to Gabe before moving closer to the boy lying down. Gabe jogged back to William, smiling victoriously and waving the scarf lightly. He fell back to his knees and wrapped the scarf around Will's knee, tying it into a rather tight knot which he had just learned to do. "There! Now you can't see it!" Gabe smiled proudly.
"Yeah but my mommy is gonna wonder why I have a scarf around my leg." Will continued to frown, looking past Gabe to the boy the cloth was collected from. He had taken to pulling the grass around him up while the other boy decided to taste the crayons they were coloring in.
"It's a new fashion statement." Gabe decided, trying to get William to smile again. "I wish I had a scarf to tie around my leg now! Do you know how cool it looks?!" William looked at the cloth again, slowly smiling because even if it wasn't 'cool', Gabe said it was, which meant it was definitely worth keeping. No one else had a scarf around their legs so now he stood out; not that he didn't before since both he and Gabe were tall for their age. Plus, it covered the rip, and that made him happier.
"William!" Both heads turned towards the door where the daycare director, Kim, stood with a smile. They had a few other people on the playground watching them, but usually Kim was the one who told them all when it was time to come in or go out to play. "You're mom's here, William. Time to go." she beckoned him with a quick wave of her hand. Will smiled and pushed himself up, Gabe standing to hug his friend goodbye.
"See you Monday, Bilvy," Gabe said, not wanting to let Will go. The slightly younger boy was really his only friend; the same going for William. "We're going to Chuck-E-Cheese!"
"Bye Gabanti; see you Monday!" Will said, squeezing Gabe before turning and running towards the door, his knee stinging a bit though he ignored it, pushing his hair from his face.
"Will!" Gabe called right before William reached the door. William stopped to face his friend and see what he wanted, figuring his mom could wait an extra minute. He really didn't want to leave Gabe anyway. "Fangs up!" Gabe called with a smile, throwing his hands over his head.
Will smiled and mirrored Gabe's position, bending his fingers on his right hand slightly then making a peace sign with his left, bending the two fingers and pressing them against his right palm; just like Gabe showed him. They shared a look of understanding, a secret language of friendship, an unbreakable bond between them, as they stood facing each other with the snake-like gesture. "Bye Gabey!" Will called a few moments later, dropping his hands and waving frantically before turning back to Kim and going inside the much cooler building.
He passed the rooms of babies, from twelve weeks to two years, winding through the familiar halls towards the door. The sooner he leaves, the sooner Monday comes. The toddlers were playing on the indoor playground so Will waited by the gate for Kim to let him through, passing the little kids to the other gate where his mom stood. "Hi mommy!" Will greeted her, pulling her attention from the calendar of upcoming events for the school age children. They often went places during the summer; from the park to the beach and even the aquarium.
"Hey baby," his mom said, helping him climb over the gate. "Did you have a good day?"
"Uh-huh," he smiled, nodding.
"What's around your leg, William?" she asked, brow knit as she looked at the scarf on her sons leg.
"It's a fashion statement!" Will chimed, just like Gabe told him to say. "Gabey says it looks cool!" His mother rolled her eyes but smiled, reaching down for her son's hand.
"Sometimes I wonder what goes through that boys head," she said, a bit amused. "Ready to go?" Will nodded, his mom heading towards the glass door leading to the parking lot.
"Bye Mrs. Kim!" William waved with his free hand to Kim who was behind the front counter.
"Goodbye William; have a good weekend." She waved back. Will nearly skipped through the parking lot to his mom's car, getting into the backseat and letting her help him buckle up. As she got in, Bill practiced the 'fangs up' hand gesture just to make sure he was doing it right.
He put his window down when his mom started the car, gripping the door as she began to drive, chewing lightly on his lip until the playground fence came into view. As always, Gabe stood pressed against the fence, fingers laced around the metal. "Bye Bilvy!" he yelled once more, hand near ready to fly off from his rapid waving.
"Bye Gabanti!" William yelled back, laughing and waving more himself. This is how it always went; especially on Friday. William, unlike most of the world, hated Fridays. Because after Friday came Saturday and Sunday; two whole days he had to go without seeing Gabe. Being eight, sleepovers were still a little too scary and Will lived about twenty minutes from Gabe so their parents didn't often take them to each other's houses.
Another reason he loved the summer.
When they were down the road, Will put his window back up so his mom could turn on the air conditioner, singing along to radio and somewhat dancing. William loved to sing, to himself mostly, and could dance if he really tried. His body is just so long and lanky that sometimes it looks weird. But Will doesn't care because Gabe loves his dancing and if Gabe likes it then, yeah, he's going to do it.
Every Sunday, William has to go to church. He doesn't mind really because Sunday school is fun in the morning and he only has to stay for the beginning of service, mainly songs and opening prayer, before going to the other room with the rest of the kids to watch movies. He always likes hearing what people did in the past and how they served God because it seemed so different. Bill wondered if they had daycare back then for kids to hang out with their friends or scarves for when their pants got ripped. His mom wasn't real happy about that when she found it either.
That particular Sunday, they were learning about a very important angel named Gabriel. Will practically jumped out of his seat because Gabe's full name was Gabriel; and it was totally cool that he had the same name as an angel. Angels are the prettiest and nicest of God's creations with shiny gold halos and big, feathery white wings. There were all sorts of different angels, like there are people, each with a special job to do for God.
Gabriel is the messenger angel; he delivers messages for God.
William absorbed every word the teacher said, eager to tell Gabe about the awesome angel he shared a name with, like he does any other time he learns something cool in Sunday school. Gabe isn't big on church but he always smiles and listens to everything Will says, agreeing with how cool it is. This was by far the coolest though. A lot of people seemed to have strange and uncommon names in the Bible, that's the book of God, and William couldn't even pronounce most of them let alone know anyone with the name; beside names like Matthew and Joshua and such. But he knew a Gabriel; his best friend. And Gabriel in the Bible is an angel
Monday couldn't come fast enough.
Their movie was also about the angel Gabriel. He was as pretty as William imagined, despite it being a drawing, and would visit people in their dreams to deliver messages. At first the people were all afraid to see the angel, but after a little while they would calm and listen to what he had to say. Gabriel would tell them things they had to do to make their lives better and things God wanted them to do. Bill was so absorbed in the story that he didn't touch his snack or notice when service ended and his parents came. His eyes were glued to the screen.
That night, William had a dream where he and Gabe were in the music business, really successful, because they both shared a passion for singing. Everyone wanted to be their friend for once and they had a lot of money, living right next to each other so they could play whenever they wanted. There were things in the dream that Will didn't really understand, he's only eight after all, but he was even more excited to get to the daycare when he woke up to talk to Gabe who would be just as excited.
He always was. Anything that made Will smile made Gabe smile; and vice versa.
The entire trip to the daycare, William was bouncing along and singing to the music, his mother shocked to see him so awake at six thirty. He couldn't wait to see Gabe though. Will even stole one of his mom's scarves and tied it around his leg, promising that he wouldn't rip his jeans anymore, eager to get to the daycare. Gabe was usually there before him because Gabe's mom worked farther away than Will's mom. His mom barely got the car parked before William was out and bolting for the door.
Bill yanked the door open, letting it close on his mom, his shoes squeaking against the tile as he looked around for Gabe. The place was empty though, except for Mrs. Saporta and Kim who were talking behind the desk. Will assumed Gabe was in the bathroom or maybe even sick because you can't come to daycare when you're sick. He went up to the counter as his mom came in, giving him a slightly angered, scolding look.
"G'morning Mrs. Kim," he interrupted them, his head just barely going over the counter top. "Hi Mrs. Saporta; where's Gabe?" Mrs. Saporta turned to face him, her eyes red and puffy with trails of wet tears running down her face. Will's smiling instantly disappeared.
"Good morning, William." She faintly smiled, wiping her eyes and walking around the counter to where Will was, bending down and looking at him. She reached out and took Will's hands into her own, sniffing and rubbing his skin. "Gabriel went to go visit his grandma over the weekend with his aunt and uncle while Mr. Saporta and I got some house work done." Will nodded, a little lost; a nasty, heavy feeling taking over his chest.
"He didn't make it to his grandma's though because there was an accident." William's eyes widened. "What happened was his uncle was bad and had been drinking before he started driving. It was raining and his uncle didn't see the truck coming towards them as he accidently started driving in the wrong lane. He swerved to avoid the truck but ended up hitting a wall instead."
"I-is Gabey ok?" Will asked hesitantly, pulling his hands from Mrs. Saporta's. She shut her eyes and shook her head, tears running down her face again. William's eyes suddenly got clouded with tears as he bit his lip and stared at her.
"The car hit so hard that Gabe's seatbelt snapped, it was an old car, and he went through the front window into the wall." The tears started running down Will's face too, his mouth open and body shaking though he didn't feel it. Behind him, his mother was crying, Kim showing her the picture that was taken. "I'm sorry William, but Gabe didn't make it." Gabe's mom barely got the words out, still a complete mess herself, wiping her eyes more.
"No..." Will shook his head, refusing to believe it. "No...Gabey's gonna come play with me..." His best friend wasn't gone; he couldn't be. "It's Monday and...he's gonna come play..."
"They told me that he didn't suffer." She tried to brighten the tragedy a bit. "He didn't feel anything, Will. He didn't suffer. He's in a much better place now." She tried to hug Will but he shoved her away, still shaking his head.
"No!" he angrily yelled at her, crying just as bad. "You're lying to me! Where's Gabey?! I want to play with him! He's my best friend and it's Monday and we always play together!"
"Will, baby," his mother bent down and stroked his head, "Gabe can't play with you anymore. He's an angel now. Remember how you learn about angels in church?"
"Stop it!" William screamed, his voice echoing through the empty building. "He's not an angel! Angels live in Heaven and have wings and halos and...and Gabe doesn't!"
"I know it hurts, sweetie, but-"
"Shut up!" he yelled at Gabe's mom, breathing heavily and crying uncontrollably, shaking pretty hard as well. "I...I want to see Gabe and play with him! Let me play with him!"
"Baby, Gabe's not here anymore." His mother rubbed his back. "It was his time to go live with God in Heaven. He's an angel now, baby."
"No!" Bill screamed again, clamping his hands over his ears. "I...I hate you!" he screamed at them before running past Gabe's mom, the gates not up yet, going straight for the bathroom. He slammed the door shut and turned the lock, falling to the ground, hugging his knees to his chest; crying harder than he's ever cried before.
"Will; open the door!" his mom called, shaking the handle. "I'm going to take the day off and we're going to go home." Will ignored her and continued to cry, choking and gagging, a salty puddle of tears gathering around his head. His best friend couldn't be dead.
Gabe was going to show up and say how it was all a joke because he does stuff like that and William would be angry at him but get over it so they can play. Gabe couldn't be gone forever because he was Bill's best friend and that just wasn't fair.
"William, open this door right now!" his mom demanded, still shaking the handle.
"You can't stay in there all day, William." Kim tried, knocking lightly. "What if someone needs to go potty? They need to get in there." Will didn't care about anyone else at the moment. He just wanted Gabe; his Gabe. He wanted it all to be a joke or a nightmare or anything else but what it was.
"Come on, Bilvy;" Will opened his eyes to the familiar voice, very faintly seeing Gabe standing in front of him. "Fangs up; remember?" Gabe did the hand gesture, Will nodding. "Do it, Bilvy." Will sat up, choking and shaking still, molding his hands to match Gabe's. "I'm always with you, Bilvy." Gabe smiled, fading away more.
"No! Gabey! Come back!" Will cried, reaching towards his best friend.
"Whenever you're sad or lonely Bilvy, fangs up!" The image, probably created by Will's mind for comfort, was gone. But will suddenly felt not quite so sad anymore. Of course he was still crying, he was lost without Gabe, but something felt...lighter.
"F-fangs up..." Will mumbled, doing the little hand gesture again and staring at it, remembering the first time he met Gabe; smiling through the tears. "Fangs up." he said a little more confidentially, getting off the ground and opening the door, letting everyone hug him.
For a week, Will did practically nothing. He would barely eat, couldn't sleep, cried almost constantly, and only moved when he really had to. At the daycare, he sat behind the desk with Kim, legs folded and staring at his lap while she worked, silent as can be until his mom came. Kim tried to initiate conversation, but Will never replied. He was gone; off in his own little world where he and Gabe still flew off the swings or hid from teachers to make them mad or rolled down hills to see who could get dirtiest. Will just couldn't function without Gabe.
There was a funeral, closed casket so no one had to see how destroyed Gabe's body had become, but William refused to go. Gabe was only nine years old and always looked out for Will. He couldn't be dead, inside a small box they would later bury beneath the earth like he did for his pet goldfish a few months back. But with every passing day, every day Will stood with his face pressed against the glass at the daycare, waiting for Gabe to come in, the reality that he wasn't coming back started to become more evident to William; regardless of how much he didn't want to believe it. Eventually, not even his own little world was there for him anymore.
Gabe was truly gone.
Nothing helped him feel better. Not talking, pictures, his favorite movies, favorite foods, or even when his mom took him to the toy store and told him to pick out whatever he wanted. He didn't talk, stared blankly at photos, stared blankly at the television screen, really didn't eat, and politely asked to leave the toy store when he saw a teddy bear wearing a purple hoodie like Gabe always did when it wasn't super hot out. There wasn't much left of William; an empty shell of a body functioning on auto pilot. Whoever thinks an eight year old isn't capable of such feelings of depression and decay clearly hasn't lost their best friend in the whole world.
One moment Gabe was there, smiling and hugging Will, playing with him and making him laugh; the next he was gone. Everything Will had was ripped away from him in the course of a weekend when his best friends drunken uncle decided to go for a drive. William could never really make friends for whatever reason, so when Gabe came along, it was the best thing that could of happened to him. With Gabe gone, Will was on his own again and it felt horrible.
Will didn't go to church anymore either. He didn't want to learn about God because that was who took Gabe from him. He didn't want to learn about angels because that made him think more about Gabe and how everyone kept saying he was an angel. He didn't care anymore. Gabe would never graduate school or drive or sing now.
And that wasn't fair.
At the two week mark, Will had pretty much accepted Gabe was gone. Well, he understood that he couldn't play or talk to or see Gabe again. He would never accept it. A new boy started coming to the daycare named Travis. At first Will was apprehensive and careful of Travis, the boy off putting with his scruffy appearance and stern looks. But Will eventually decided that he wasn't all that bad.
"Why do you here back here all day?" Travis asked, hands in his pockets as he casually walked behind the desk towards William. Kim was off helping someone else. Will ignored him, staring at the blue carpet beneath him. "It has to get lonely back here all day with nothing to do or no one to talk to." Still William ignored him. "I like your scarf; it's really cool." Travis smiled and that made Bill look up, locking eyes with the other boy.
"G-Gabey always...he liked it..." Will whispered, the most he's said to anyone who wasn't his mother in two weeks. "He said it was cool..."
"It's really cool! Wish I thought of that." Travis smiled, proud he got the 'silent boy' to talk to him. William returned the smile, small but the most he's given anyone since learning of Gabe's accident, before looking back down. "So what are you doing all alone back here? In trouble?" Will shook his head. "Sick?" Another head shake. "What?"
"Just...wanna be..." he said quietly.
"Why would you want to be back here?" Travis asked with a scoff. "This whole place sucks."
"'Cause Gabey's gone..." Will painfully mumbled, forcing himself not to cry. He's gone two days without doing so and he didn't want to start now.
"Who's 'Gabey'?" Travis asked with confusion.
"My best friend." Will answered. "But he's an angel now."
"Oh! You mean that kid that died a few weeks ago?" William cringed. Hearing it out loud was awful. "Dude; I'm so sorry. That has to be horrible." Bill nodded. "My grammy died a year ago and it really sucked. I was really sad for awhile 'cause my grammy was the shit."
"How'd you...what makes you...no so sad?" Will looked up again, a little desperation in his eyes.
"Thinking about her," Travis said and Will's face dropped. He didn't want to think about Gabe because he tried that and all he did was cry. That obviously wasn't making him feel better. "But, we also made cards and tied them to balloons and sent them to Heaven."
"But...Heaven's really far away..." Will frowned more, thinking back to Sunday school.
"But balloons are full of air and can go really high." Travis pointed out, smiling and taking his hands from his pockets. "My name's Travis just so you know."
"William," Will quietly replied.
"Well William, why don't we see if we can't find ourselves a balloon." Travis offered his hands to Will to help him up. Bill noticed writing on Travis's knuckles done in probably sharpie marker. He didn't know if he should do anything with Travis because that could really get him into trouble, but he also didn't want to hurt so much. Will took Travis' hands and let the boy help him from the ground; the two sneaking through the building in search of a balloon, paper, and markers.
"Ok, so, tie the card to the balloon and let it go," Travis said, holding the balloon while Bill finished his card to Gabe, wanting it be perfect before letting it go on the red balloon that Travis blew up and tied; tearing his shirt to make a string for the card. Will thought that was pretty cool.
"What do you think?" Will asked, holding the folded, colored paper up.
"Awesome," Travis smiled, giving a thumbs up with his free hand. Will smiled and used a pencil to poke a hole in the corner, Travis sliding the string through and tying it, handing it over to William. "Whenever you're ready," he said.
"Please get to Gabey," Will asked the balloon, staring up at the cloudy sky, praying the balloon made its way through the clouds to Heaven. Taking a deep breath, he released the string, the balloon instantly drifting towards the sky, carrying the card along. It continued to float up, getting smaller and smaller the higher it got.
Will threw his hands up in the air, watching the balloon closely. "What're you doing?" Travis asked, tilting his head in confusion to William.
"Fangs up;" Will answered, concentrating on the shrinking red dot. Travis shrugged and did the same thing, wishing he had a chance to have met Gabe seeing how much William cared about him.
The card the balloon carried held an eight year olds attempt at Gabe as an angel; big wings, a bright halo, a purple hoodie, and the white glasses. On the inside, Will wrote the only thing he could think about, hoping that Gabe could understand it because he's not the best at spelling. When the card and balloon were gone, Will lowered his hands and smiled, confident in it reaching his forever best friend no matter where he was. "Come on," Will said, grabbing Travis' hand. "I'll teach you to fly." He pulled the boy off towards the swing, smiling as bright as he did the last day he saw Gabe.
Te amo, Gabey baby.
xo forever 'n ever,