NOTES AND DISCLAIMERS: Characters, setting etc property of Everwood Utah, Inc. No profit garnered for me, ever ever. Title and quotes from Ryan Adams. Thanks muchly to Sandy, Katie and Amber.



NOTE TO SELF: DON'T DIE


I'm as cold as the stories you told but never sick enough to die


Colin dreamt he died, that he watched everything that happened after he died. Ephram sleeping with some girl, Amy dating some druggie, Dr. Brown falling in love. Colin didn't care about any of it, he was dead.

He wondered, once, tired of watching, if he would go on to Heaven or somewhere he could feel. He wondered, twice, if this was Hell and what he'd done to end up there.

*

Then he wakes up.

Laynie jostles his arm and hisses, "You slept through your alarm. Mom's gonna freak because your ride's here. Clean up and go."

He responds to her urgency and showers, grabs the bookbag already waiting by his bed, runs downstairs without thinking. At the bottom of the stairs, he doesn't feel winded and he smiles at his mother.

She looks coldly at him. She gives him a glass of orange juice with one hand, white pills with the other. He swallows what she offers and waits for her to be happy to see him. Instead she crosses her arms and says, "He's waiting outside."

Colin shrugs and wonders what Bright did to have to wait outside. The sun's bright and the air's crisp, so it's fall, he thinks. Fall. He walks slower because this, he doesn't get this. He remembers not remembering but that was complete. This is different. He doesn't remember anything that happened between the hospital and this morning.

God, if it's another clot, if something just went wrong again, he'd rather be dead.

He doesn't see Bright's truck, he sees Ephram's car. But Ephram didn't have a car, Ephram doesn't have a car.

Ephram has a car and it's the car he had in Colin's dream. Colin closes his eyes and opens them again. There's Ephram in the car, looking at him.

He stumbles to the car and pulls open the door. He feels strong enough to do it, he feels completely fine. He's fine.

Two deep breaths and he pulls on his seat belt as Ephram says, "Why are you late? Your mom and dad were glaring at me from the windows for forever."

"I slept through my alarm." Colin glances at Ephram just as Ephram leans over and kisses him.

Colin tenses. They weren't kissing when he died, they never made out or anything after Colin remembered. Ephram pulls back and starts the car. He says, "Man, they have to get used to it sometime."

Colin wonders, Heaven or Hell.

*

Colin's quiet in the car but it seems like Ephram doesn't notice. Maybe Colin doesn't talk much here.

When they get to school, Ephram says, "Are you okay?"

Colin thinks about saying, "I don't remember this." Or, "I died, I think." But he's not dead and he feels fine, better than he did even before the accident. So he says, "Just, I had a weird dream, I've got a headache, things are weird."

Ephram says, "Headache?" He's frowning.

Colin closes his eyes and thinks that was a bad lie. He can't lie and cover and die anyway over and over again. So this must be Hell. "You know, whatever. I'll go, I'll go to the doctor this afternoon and he'll tell me it's time for eight million more tests and then everyone can look at me just like you're right up until I die. Again. Because this never ends, right?"

"Or you'll just turn into a major drama queen?" Ephram reaches out and rubs Colin's neck. Just like that. He still sounds worried. Colin almost wants to shrug off Ephram's hand, but he doesn't. It's nice. He takes a deep breath.

"Maybe I didn't get enough sleep or too much or something. Anyway, we're here, let's go, okay?" Colin gets out quickly, nearly slamming the door.

He has classes and a locker he can open without thinking and if he just lets his feet walk he gets there okay. He has two classes with Laynie and she smiles when he sits down in the right seat. He stares in bafflement at the quiz in front of him in English, but when he starts to write, he has answers. It's totally creepy.

Colin runs during gym and isn't even winded. His head never hurts. Nothing hurts at all. For a minute he feels sweat on his forehead and doesn't even believe it's real.

But he's not as popular, which is weird. Not everyone says, "hi," he isn't picked first for basketball, and the only person who waves him over for lunch is Ephram. He must have come back from the second operation. You'd think that would've made him even more the golden boy.

Maybe the sheen wore off. Maybe they all saw right through him.

Maybe, he thinks, it's Ephram.

He sees Amy once, sitting on a bench. She looks away when she sees him watching him. He wants to talk to her, he wants her to explain everything. He wonders if he hurt her.

Then Ephram is at his elbow, a little push and he's back in Ephram's car. They go to the Brown house and then upstairs. Colin takes out his books, to see if he remembers anything, to figure out what the fuck he's learned but Ephram pushes the book aside and nudges him down on the bed.

Colin tenses. They did this once, twice. Then he remembered and Ephram was against him, wanted him to stay sick. Ephram wanted Colin to be that guy who was always lost and didn't know anyone. Colin closes his eyes. The funny thing was that the only part of being lost that wasn't painful was Ephram.

Ephram says, "What's wrong with you?"

And Colin doesn't want anything to be wrong with him so he says, "Nothing," and pulls Ephram down on top of him.

He's spent the whole day gliding on panic, unconnected to this world except for that one minute when he was running. Somewhere in the middle of making out with Ephram, after thinking Ephram has gotten a lot better at all of this, he feels all of it. Skin on skin and Ephram's fingers and the sheets wrinkled under them. He's alive and this can't be Hell.

*

He still feels good on Saturday morning. Alive, breathing, no headaches. He doesn't ask questions and he manages everything. But he doesn't remember last year. All he remembers is his dream. The dream where he was dead.

And here, now, Bright's off at college, he, Laynie, Amy, and Ephram are all seniors, he's allowed to participate in gym but not in any sports, he's doing well in his classes. He's dating Ephram and they've been together ten months. His family knows, Ephram's family knows, Amy and Bright know, everyone else just suspects.

Colin doesn't remember why he's with Ephram but it's not too bad. Ephram disapproves of half the things Colin says but Ephram still has that guilty laugh. And he listens to Colin like he's the most interesting person ever.

Colin knows he doesn't want to rock the boat. Go along to get along.

He could be sick again. He could be dead still. Maybe he never woke up from the coma and this is another dream, a twist from the last where he woke up and suffered and then died.

He walks into town because he can. Then he stops in front of Doctor Brown's office. He sees Doctor Brown walking around inside and goes in before he can stop himself. Doc Brown says, "Colin, how are you?"

"Fine, I think." He is. He would swear he is.

"So this is a social call?" No more big smiles this time around. Doc Brown knows about Ephram. About Colin and Ephram.

He doesn't want to die. Again. Or for the first time. He presses his lips together and tries to think what to say. Doctor Brown says, "Ephram said you seemed a little disconnected. Is something bothering you?"

Ephram talks too damn much and Colin is angry enough to say, "A few days ago I woke up and my memory - suddenly I've forgotten some things from this past year."

It's familiar in the sickest way: doctors, tests, MRIs, x-rays in hospitals that Doctor Brown points at and talks and talks about. His parents aren't as cold with him and his dad doesn't drink for three straight days. Laynie sits with him and doesn't run this time but he bets she has a bag packed. Colin wishes he was faking the memory loss for the attention because then he'd get something he wanted out of it.

He lies about how much he's forgotten. He says it's fragments gone, moments. Not the entire year blanked out.

Ephram doesn't say much. He doesn't come to the hospital or wait after the tests.

Neither does Amy. Colin misses both of them about the same.

He doesn't need surgery, it's not a new clot or chips or whatever, it's the medication they have him on. They switch him to a new blue pill. Doctor Brown says his memory will come back, just a reaction, give it time. That's all it was, he never died or dreamed anything, it was just chemicals and his fucked-up, patched-together head.





*


Who do you want to be, figure out and just let me know


Ephram sits on Colin's bed, looking down. He says, "Your dad gave me that look, that better keep the door open look."

Colin gets up and closes the door loudly. "Fuck him." He sits next to Ephram and bumps his shoulder.

Ephram shifts away. He looks at the wall and then the door and then says, "I mean, I'm like Amy now, right?" He stares at Colin. "Here's the thing, Colin, when people say fake it until you make it, they don't mean fake it with people you say you're in love with."

"So we're switching off the drama queen title now?"

"Shut up. Just shut up."

"Ephram, stop shouting, I'm not your dad." He leans back on the bed and nearly smiles.

"Fine, I'm not my dad, and I know when you're lying. Tell me what you actually remember."

"I remember lots. I remember - I remember when that crazy mechanic told you to buy your car. You told me about that." It was in his dream, and the dream was just a reaction to his medication, but Colin tries it anyway.

Ephram cocks his head. "That was when you and Amy were breaking up. Do you remember that?"

He closes his eyes. In his head, Amy is sitting on his bed where Ephram is and she's saying, "Colin, Colin, God," her voice hiccupping with tears. He says, "A little."

Maybe that was just a dream.

Ephram says, "Do you want me to be your cheat sheet, here? Need the whole story again?"

"Why are you so mad?"

"I'm mad because you spent three days lying to me before you finally admitted something was wrong and you told my father first and --"

"Ephram," Colin says. He rolls his eyes.

"God, stop it, stop it!" Ephram is almost crying. Colin takes a deep breath. Ephram says, "You nearly died. You could have died again and you're still fucking not telling anyone. And you - you spent all that time in rehab and everything that's happened last year and you don't even remember. You don't, do you?"

"I do, I remember the first time we kissed after the second operation." As he says it, Colin does remember. "It was here, in my room, and right after we kissed you called me a fuckhead and stormed out." He smiles and waits for Ephram to stop being angry. He doesn't want Ephram to be angry. Another surprise when he thinks it.

Ephram swallows and says, "There are so many more reasons to never talk to you again than there are to go out with you."

"But I'm pretty."

Ephram says, "You are a complete fuckhead, I was right the first time," and he storms out.

*

Colin sits next to Amy on a bench after school. She gives him a small smile and shifts slightly away from him. "So you and Ephram broke up or you're just fighting?"

She sounds quiet. He misses her so much his stomach hurts. Maybe she'd take him back. He won't say those words, though, something in him stops short of asking her that. And he can't tell her about the dream. He says, "What do you think happens we die?"

She blinks, wets her lips, tugs her jacket close around her. She says, "I don't know. I guess we go to Heaven or Hell or Purgatory. That's probably a better question for Reverend Keys or Father Hall." She says quickly, "You're not gonna die, Colin. It was just the pills."

"How did you hear about that?"

"Come on, Colin. Everyone was talking about it when you were out of school. I just asked my dad." She looks back down at her gloves. "But he said you're fine now. You don't need to worry about it."

"Everyone dies."

"Sure. I know." She pushes at her hair and says, "I think when you die, you're at peace. And if you were a good person, that's - peace. Maybe if you're a bad person you get punished. I don't know. I don't think about it, Colin. Maybe you shouldn't either. It's pretty negative."

"Why do you always sit out here? Don't you have a car?"

"I wish I had a car. I'm waiting for my dad who will never buy me a car. Which totally sucks."

He smiles and nudges her shoulder. "I bet he would if you asked right. You have him wrapped around your finger, Grover."

"Well, yes." She grins. "But after all that stuff with my aunt last year, I'm not ready for the big push. I'm thinking somewhere around Christmas, though."

"For the big offensive?" He laughs. "Dr. Abbott and his bank account are toast."

She looks over his shoulder and says, "Ephram is staring at us." She frowns. "Are you just trying to make him jealous? Colin --"

"Amy. I missed you, I miss just talking to you. Okay? No hidden motives here." He stands up. "See ya."

He follows Ephram to his car and then leans against the passenger side. "So, give me a ride?"

"Decided to go back to Amy?"

"We were just talking."

"Trying to make me jealous?" Ephram pulls open his door but doesn't get in.

"No. We didn't even talk about you. I was just talking to a friend since you spent all day ignoring me."

Ephram stares at him. Colin says, "We didn't even talk about you."

"That's awesome, Colin, I feel very - very appreciated now."

Colin rests his head on his hands and smiles. "Well, we could have. That's something Amy and I have in common, you know, liking you." He means it when he says it. He's not sure the next second if he still means it, but it's true.

"Ha ha." Ephram rolls his eyes. But he's almost smiling and he leans against the car, mirroring Colin.

"It's true. You know it."

"She chose you." And that's an actual smile. Colin smiles back. He always wins. He won Amy, here he won Ephram. He really likes winning, that hasn't changed.

"I'm pretty. So give me a ride, sailor." Colin slaps the top of the car and gets in. Ephram gets in a second later.

*

Ephram gets up from the bed and puts on his shirt and pants, throws Colin's shirt at his head. It's Ephram, so he misses by a foot. Ephram says, "Man, Delia'll be home soon. For the sake of me, get dressed before she comes up here to catch us." After Colin gets off the bed, Ephram pulls the covers up and lies on top of them, trying to look nonchalant.

Colin pulls on his shirt and gets back on the bed. He rolls over on his side and looks at Ephram. "What do you think happens when we die?"

"I thought I was the gloomy one in this relationship."

"You said I was more grim than you once. Plus, I just wondered. Conceptions of the afterlife, discuss."

Ephram has his hands on his chest, staring at the ceiling. Colin wonders if he's just been rude because of Ephram's mom. He wonders when he started caring about that again. Then Ephram says, "Well, we die, we sleep in the dust. The end."

"Is that how your people see it?"

Ephram gives Colin one of those "bitch, please" looks that Colin thinks are very New York. "Yes, Colin, that's what every single Jewish person ever thinks about the afterlife. I don't know. I once heard this rabbi talk and he said that if we believe in a just God we have to believe in an afterlife because everyone can see justice isn't done on earth. But mostly, you know, 'my people' don't focus on what comes after. Here and now is the thing."

"My people are all about the angels, I guess. I never paid much attention in CCD."

"Looking at where you are now, I believe it." Ephram leans over and they're kissing when Delia comes into the room, laughing. She runs off and Ephram goes after her.

He comes back a few minutes later muttering about bribes and evil women. He says, "Seriously, you would not believe her. She's blackmailing me now, since we're not supposed to be doing stuff in front of her because Dad's a complete hypocrite and homophobic and won't ever admit it which is about what you'd expect from him."

When Ephram takes a breath, Colin says, "What about parallel universes?"

"Ones where my father isn't a complete dick?"

"I meant, like, in general."

"You mean like in comics or TV or in reality?" Ephram smiles and sits down next to him.

Colin shrugs. "I just wonder."

"I dunno. It's kind of creepy. I prefer to think there's only one of me living through this hell."

"Wow, I feel really appreciated over here, Ephram." Colin laughs and pushes Ephram off the bed. Ephram gets right back on, smiling. They're both smiling.





*


I'm as blue as the ocean is true, it's just reflections of the sky


So Colin was a bad person and he was sent to Purgatory. After serving his time because he wasn't really that bad, he was sent to another life to try again. To make up for things? Colin has two problems with this theory: the idea that the God he was taught about in CCD would think a life where he had a boyfriend was redemptive, and that he's squashed down some other Colin. Some Colin who broke up with Amy and loved Ephram enough to admit it.

Or maybe this is a parallel universe and something happened to shoot Colin into it. Or maybe he's dead still, no matter what he thinks, and all of this is one millisecond of a burst synapse right as he dies. He read somewhere that all dreams only last ten seconds. He might be remembering that wrong.

Or maybe he had a reaction to his medication and forgot everything except his dream. One month on the new pills and he remembers things when he pushes. He remembers the second rehab, walking, talking, all of it. He was a miracle again. And Amy was always there and she was perfect and at some point he just wanted her gone. He remembers she wanted the same thing. He's sure of that.

He remembers talking to Ephram and auditing a class with him. And they were friends again and it was like before, back when he was first brand-new again, back when they were something other than friends. But this time it was just about Ephram and Colin. The way Ephram made Colin tell the truth and didn't trust Colin's charm at all and the way Colin made Ephram laugh.

He knows everything he learned junior year, from English to the last season of Friends to exactly what shade of red Doctor Brown's face turned when he walked in on his son making out with his miracle patient.

None of it feels as real as watching what happened after he died.

He's afraid of sleep for a week. He could have another dream and wake up dead this time or not wake up at all. But he's exhausted and eventually he sleeps anyway. He doesn't remember his dreams.

One morning he wakes up and thinks about breaking up with Ephram. Being in love with Amy felt real, he remembers it. Ephram feels like something he was told to do, something written on a card during rehab. Ephram doesn't push Colin to be who he used to be like Amy did; Ephram pushes constantly for everything.

Then again, maybe he's just an asshole who can't stay with anyone. He was going to break up with Amy before the accident; he did it after she stayed with him through rehab twice.

He remembers her screaming at him that she wanted more and she didn't want him and what was wrong with him. He would swear to it.

He was never in love with Ephram before he died. They made out twice, maybe, and then Ephram was convinced he knew Colin so well. All he knew was that Colin liked dick sometimes. Amy loved Colin.

Maybe he's just an asshole through and through.

Bright comes home from college and they sit on his truck and watch the stars. And get stoned. Bright is high as a fucking kite after three joints. "Dude, when did you start smoking pot and where did you get it?"

"Laynie." Colin laughs. "She started in boarding school and she found a guy here in Everwood. The funny part, he works part-time at the drugstore."

"Drugstore!" Bright starts laughing so hard he's nearly crying. "Dude, this rocks. But I have to get it, like, totally out of my system before I go back. I think there might be drug tests. You know, big time college football."

"Maybe if you cut your hair or something. Don't they test hair?"

"I am not cutting my hair." Bright sprawls over the front of the truck, arms all over the window. "Hey, dude, you and Ephram fighting?"

"Why do you care?"

"Because he's my friend and you're my best friend. Plus you dumped my sister to date him. So if you break up with Ephram, I have two reasons to kick your ass and only one reason not to. And, speaking as a guy going to college, two is bigger than one. And I'm bigger than you."

"Points taken. All of them. It's just, dude. I don't know." Colin takes a long drag from their last joint.

"You knew last summer. You were sure then. 'I swear, Bright, I love him,' waah, waah. I remember, man." Bright slides off the truck and tries to make it look like he meant to. "Anyway, what's actually wrong besides you being unable to commit?"

"Bright, please tell me you're not taking intro psych."

"I am. My classes are way more interesting than high school, it's like real stuff, you know?" Bright leans against the truck and looks serious for about a second. "And you're a classic archetype guy. Which I say as your best friend, but still. It's true."

Colin pushes Bright hard just to watch him fall. Bright springs right up and says, "Dude. Stop it."

"You stop. Shut the fuck up."

Bright steps back out of range because he's smarter than he looks. "Yeah, whatever. I'm allowed to call you on your shit and you've already beaten me up once. So chill."

"Whatever, Bright." Colin slides off the truck and gets inside. "Come on, let's get home."

"Right, I get it. Bright, shut up. Bright, don't be mean."

It's a long drive back to Everwood. When they stop at Colin's house, he says, "Okay, I was acting like a shithead, which I think I've been doing a lot lately. Or thinking about? Whatever. Sorry I shoved you. But it *was* funny to watch you fall on your ass."

"It's always funny." Bright pushes Colin out of the car.

*

Laynie comes into his room and sits on his bed. "Are you doing the problems for Chemistry? Because I think I'm skipping them."

He looks up from the comic book he's reading. Ephram's, he borrowed it because Ephram said it was brilliant. It is pretty interesting. He says, "Yup, I'm doing them right now. This is an amazing study aid. Except you don't really care about that."

"I was thinking of an excuse to talk to you. Pretty crappy one, wasn't it?"

"When did you need an excuse?" She never has before.

She rolls her eyes and says, "This time it's about Ephram, so I decided to tread lightly. Not something I'm good at it."

"Everybody loves Ephram." Colin feels it sometimes, when they're making out, when Ephram talks about music or his manga.

"I don't love Ephram. I thought he was cool before I realized he was obsessed with Amy. But I know you love him."

"If you know it, then it must be true." Colin looks back at his comic book.

"Whatever." She gets up.

"Why would you want to talk to me about Ephram? What is this pile-on, you and Bright. Who's next, visits from Delia and Doc Brown?"

"You're not cute when you're defensive." She sighs and says, "I guess it's just, I don't know. I always thought you and Amy were, like, puppy love and she was --" She makes a face. "I like her better now that you guys have broken up. But I like you better when you're with Ephram. So, really, I'm just being selfish."

"Selfish bitch." He laughs as he says it.

"God, yes. You're the only tolerable person in this house, Colin, so, you know, keep that up." She's like another card in rehab, telling him what to do. He's supposed to do what they say.

*

Ephram has beautiful hands, which Colin thinks is the lamest thing to notice. Like, genius prodigy pianist, duh, nice hands. Ephram's pretty like a movie star and he's sensitive and he cares and he's wounded and blah blah blah. Ephram doesn't think he's attractive so he never relies on it. At least the sex is good.

Colin wishes he knew whether he's here to make up for something or for no reason at all. He wishes he felt like waking up was just a chemical reaction. Then he'd know what to do.

Their one-year anniversary is three weeks away. Colin thinks he should make up his fucking mind before then because it's too cruel to wait until after.

He and Amy were together for a year, sort of.

She sits on the bench every day waiting until the last second to get on the bus. He sits down next to her and says, "Why can't we give you a ride?"

"Oh, that would totally work. We'll all sit together and hold hands. It'll be great."

"It could work. We're still friends, right?"

"Yeah. But me and Ephram? Not so much. You know that, Colin."

If he thinks about it, he does. Ephram and Amy fought back in January. It wasn't over him, so he can't fix it. "That was forever ago, Amy. Maybe you should forgive him."

"Maybe he should forgive me. For someone who spends so much time complaining about his father, he's pretty protective." She crosses her arms and stares at the bus pulling up. "I guess, though, you're right. I mean, I should forgive, too. But you've never pushed this before, Colin, what's up?"

"I like you both. We should all hang out again." He misses her.

"Well, you bring it up with E, I'll work on my part." She smiles and runs off to the bus.

Ephram is frowning when he gets in the car. "Why are you suddenly so buddy buddy with Amy? I thought you two had no future --"

"Dating. No future there. I mean, it was just -- at some point it was all about getting me through things and not the two of us." He says it and thinks it's true. He feels it. That totally sucks. "Anyway, maybe you two should get over the big fight and move on."

Ephram says, "Maybe you should break up with me and stop dicking around."

Colin looks over at Ephram and realizes they're at his house.

He could turn this around. He could smile and make a joke and maybe even kiss Ephram right here in front of the house. He's really good at that, turning things around. Starting over again.

He says, "Fine," and gets out of the car. Fuck it.

*

In the corner of the drawer where he keeps his sweaters, Colin has pictures of Ephram. His mother must know they're there. Maybe no one says anything because they're not dirty pictures.

Ephram wears a lot of black. He's only smiling in half the pictures and they were all taken when they were going out. Aren't relationships supposed to make people happy?

Colin takes a deep breath. He gets on his bike and goes over to the Brown house.

Delia answers the door. "Oh, good, it's you." She rolls her eyes and walks away.

"Is he upstairs?"

"He who?" She doesn't turn around, just sits in front of the TV.

"Ephram."

She doesn't answer so he heads upstairs. He knocks on the door and then just walks in. Ephram is sitting on his bed, staring at him.

"You know, you usually make me pretty happy. And I think I usually make you pretty happy. And, um, usually, it's not even much work." He should have planned something to say. He doesn't have a strategy here; he has a feeling. So he's standing in the door like a dumbass. He says, "I think I suck at that kind of work."

Ephram nods. "Well, sure. You're too pretty."

Colin smiles. "You can never be too pretty. But." He comes in and closes the door.

"I had this dream that I died."

*

By February he starts to forget the dream. The previous year is becoming more real. Maybe in a year he'll forget the feel of watching. Maybe when he's twenty, twenty-one, it'll be nothing. Not even part of the anecdotes he tells people about the fucking accident and the fucking surgeries and the fucking rehab. No purgatory, no redemption, no parallel universe. Just a reaction and a dream, bump in the road.

Part of growing up, Ephram says, dreaming that he died and came back. Ephram says his dad says that everything seems huge and supernatural when you're a teenager.

THE END.

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