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frozen fingertips (keep going on)

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Todd didn’t want to die. Neil already had, and the gaping emptiness that chewed out a hole inside him made it so he could never inflict such a thing on anyone else. Of course, he didn’t blame Neil, of course - Neil hadn’t known the feeling, the all-encompassing experience that was grief. It was the complete and utter collapse of everything that once was. A domino train falling one, and then another, and faster, faster, down until everything that had been standing now lay in ruins upon the snow.

Snow. It fell in boulderous tufts that night and remained in the morning. Snow in which Todd stumbled and screamed, searching for any ground on which to place his feet, any cloud to blame, any Puck hiding behind a frosty tree.

So now, a day, or three, or seven later, Todd found himself again in the snow. Lying in it, sinking into its icy froth, and hoping, perhaps, to freeze all of this away - to freeze time. In his coat, but hatless and gloveless, he lay there, arms and legs spread out like a child making a snow angel. Todd didn’t want to die, just to freeze himself numb somehow. There was, admittedly, little logic in the decision. Only feeling. Only gaping, gnawing emptiness and a frigid burning in his fingertips.

Todd did not thrash, nor scream, nor plea with the universe for his dear friend’s return like before. He simply let his body slip into the cold. Snowflakes - each in their own morbid splendor, for now to him snow was the reaper itself, sprinkled his hair and his lashes, closed, shielding his soul from the world. He could not see himself from above, serene with numbness, floating in the white fluff. Ethereal, surreal, like an angel, perhaps, or a snow prince in his slumber. Why move? Why face people with furrowed brows and sympathetic smiles? Why face stone-visaged teachers, leaning over lecterns like looming gargoyles. If snow were the reaper, the teachers were the executioners. So, then, why move at all?

When the world finally began to drift, he barely had the mind to tell him to stand and find a fire or a blanket; to tell him he must make his marks and make it home for the holidays. His arms and legs prickled and burned, and he could no longer feel his nose, nor his fingers. He could no longer feel that he could not feel these things, and most importantly, he could not feel the emptiness any longer. The snow had frozen grief’s jaws. Thus he did not hear the voices approaching, nor the arms upon his frozen, leaden body, lifting him from the snow. He felt only the cold. At last, to feel no more!

Time passed as nothing but a dream. It stopped, it accelerated, it was all-encompassing, and entirely fantasy. When time regained its rhythm and reality, Todd found himself not in his own bed in his dorm, but Charlie’s bed, stripped of his damp, frigid outerlayers and wrapped in his own blanket. Charlie sat beside him, slightly startled to see Todd’s eyes flutter awake, but terribly relieved, and then went to the door with an uncharacteristic cautiousness to usher the others in. They watched Todd with owl-eyes as they entered, round with shock, sloping in pathetic empathy, shimmering with the whisper of fear.

Fear - fear that they’d almost lost another friend. They turned to each other for answers: Charlie looking to Meeks, whom he held as the bearer of all wisdom, Meeks looking to Pitts, whom he knew for his heart, Pitts looking at the floor, and Knox at anyone or anything for an explanation. Todd looked at no one, for what they must think he’d tried to do. How could he have been so careless? To pile even more heartache onto his friends? He hadn’t meant for it to go this far, he’d meant to stand and go inside after a minute, just to spend a moment in numb, snowy oblivion. Guilt hooked onto his insides, already ravaged with grief, and pulled them sinking down, down. He closed his eyes and held onto a string of hope that they’d think he’d drifted off again, and allow him the privilege of wallowing in his shame rather than facing it.

“Todd,” said Charlie, waving a hand in front of his face, “Todd, you there?”

Realizing the futility of procrastination, Todd went to stutter some utterance of acknowledgement, though it manifested as a coughing fit, and all of them circling round him seemed to come forward in concern and jump back in alarm simultaneously.

“Jesus Christ, Todd.”
“We thought you were going to end up being a damn popsicle.”
"Uncalled for, Knox." “How many fingers am I holding up?” Meeks held up three fingers.

“Three, Meeks, I’m fine.” For not being the one called Meeks, his voice came out hoarse and small.

Todd attempted to break free of his blanket, though upon movement, and much to his face-reddening embarrassment, he realized he’d been reduced to merely his undergarments. A lifesaver, certainly, but an embarrassment nonetheless. So he settled to remain cocooned in his blanket, small under their stares. Their eyes bored holes into his soul through which guilt and regret seeped. They’d been through one tragedy already, and now, they must have thought that Todd had attempted to pull another for his own escape. Here he sat on Charlie’s bed, onto which they must have carried him, and beside which Charlie had certainly waited for God knows how long, waiting in apprehension for him to come to, his mind on his lost friend. Todd couldn’t stand it. It was unforgivable, certainly.

“Guys, I’m fine, seriously. You can let me alone now.”

Just like he waved the others in, Charlie shooed them out again. Then he turned back to Todd, a look stained with something faintly like frustration, or disappointment, or some midway between the two.

“I know this is hard,” he began, “but we have to try to hold together and keep going on.”

“Charlie, I wasn’t trying to-”

“I know you weren’t. I know, but,” he ran a tense hand through his hair, “sometimes we do things without trying to. We’re all having a hard time, you don’t just get to freeze yourself to death.”
The word shocked both of them into silence. Death. The word no one could bear to allow into their ear, for it may slither its way into the mind. Charlie drew back, grimacing at his harsh remark but standing by it nonetheless.

Todd nodded slowly. His vision blurred from insistent tears, but he forbade them to descend.

“I know,” he choked out. Charlie had to be fuming to say such a thing, surely. Surely Todd had ruined-

“Hey,” Charlie placed a hand on Todd’s shoulder, “Don’t beat yourself up over it. We’ve all been beaten up enough already.”

Charlie stood to reach the door, but turned before he could leave. Over his shoulder, Todd could make out a forced and broken half-smile,

“You should put something of mine on for now, it all looks the same anyway. I had to get you out of what you had on, you know, or you’d be an icicle by now.”

He always had a way of breaking the tension. Nuwanda was dead along with Neil, but it was the Nuwanda way, and that, as it came straight from Charlie, still lived. Of course they would never forget, and of course Todd would always be missing a piece right in the middle, but it was a hole that the cold would blow right through. Time could not be frozen, and feeling could not be numbed, but the spirit of the dead poet still lingered, and it would guide the way. They would keep going on.