Ashes

The ceremony with the luminaries is very similar to last year’s, except that I am feeling the pain of loss a lot more acutely. My face is somber as my eyes scan the table filled with drawings, letters, and memories of those we’ve lost.

As we gather around the bonfire, Francis begins to sing: “We rise again from ashes, from the good we’ve failed to do…” His voice is sweet and pure. One by one, people step forward and toss their luminaries into the flames. “We rise again from ashes, to create ourselves anew…”

I decide not to read my letter to Kimberly aloud; it’s too private. In it, I admit that right after she died, I was really angry with her for not being safer. I tell her how much I miss her salacious grin and goofy jokes. And I promise her that that I am going to make the world a better place, in her honor.

In the surrounding silence, Francis’ voice sounds louder than it actually is. “If all the world is ashes, then must our lives be true…”

When it’s my turn, I step forward, clutching my luminary tightly. I pause and take a deep breath, my heart aching, before throwing it into the flames. I watch them envelop the paper bag, my words scorching and turning into ash and smoke.

“An offering of ashes, an offering to you.”

Max’s Mistake

I am sitting on chair on the back steps with a white paper bag and a marker, writing a letter to Kimberly on my luminary when sudden shouting jars me from my thoughts.

“HOW FUCKING DARE YOU!” I look up to see what the commotion is. Santiago has climbed on top of one of the picnic tables, and her fists are flying.

Without thinking, I scramble over and physically pull her off of whoever she’s pummeling. “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Several others have also run over to pull the two apart. As Sorrento, Enrique and I pull Santiago down from the table, Joani and some other Saratogans have appeared to help Max.

“You stay the fuck away from me! How dare you! You’re the reason she’s dead!” Santiago is yelling. I place myself physically in front of her to keep her from jumping on top of him again. “He asked me where Kimberly was,” she says loudly to the rest of us, still glaring at him. “It’s his fault she isn’t here! He’s the one who claimed he used a condom and then didn’t!” She’s shouting again.

Max is escorted away by his friends to another table as Sorrento and I lead Santiago a few feet away onto the wet grass. “What the hell was that?” I ask.

“I told you,” she says angrily. “He asked where Kimberly is. It’s his fucking fault she’s not here. Everyone knows how he told her he was wearing a condom and then didn’t. And she’s dead, and he has the fucking gall to ask where she is?”

I sigh. “Okay. I understand.” I stand there quietly for a few moments as her anger subsides and the chatter around us resumes. I quietly sneak away back towards the bonfire as Santiago and Sorrento are engrossed in conversation, my eyes scanning the partygoers. My eyes finally rest on Max, who is sitting across on the other side of the fire.

“Hey, Max?” I say casually as I stroll over. “Can I talk to you for a sec?”

He blinks up at me, looking surprised. “Yeah, sure.”

I raise an eyebrow when he doesn’t move. “Alone?”

“Oh! Umm, sure.” He stands up from the table.

I look around for a quiet place to chat, and settle on walking a few feet into the dark by the trees, just out of earshot. I turn to face him. He looks at me expectantly. I take a step closer to him and poke my right index finger into his chest as I speak. “Look. I don’t know what the fuck you were thinking, but you’re lucky that all she did was punch you,” I spit. “You have some fucking nerve, asking her about Kimberly like that.”

He pales. “I’m sorry,” he says, shrinking away from me.

“I don’t care if you’re sorry. You stay the hell away from her. Because next time, I won’t stop her.” My anger is cold and controlled, surprising even myself.

“I–I’m s-s-sorry,” he stutters again. He cowers a little.

“Sorry doesn’t bring Kimberly back from the dead,” I hiss. He recoils as if I’ve slapped him. I am still poking at his chest for emphasis. “It’s your fault she died.” Max is quiet, cowering wide-eyed in front of me.

“Stay the fuck away from me, and my family.” I glare at him again for another second before I turn on my heel and stalk away without a backwards glance, leaving him in the shadows.

I head back to Santiago, who is still chatting with Sorrento over on the grass where I’d left her. “Max won’t be a problem anymore,” I tell her.

“What? What do you mean?” she asks.

“I took care of him. He won’t be bothering us again.” I shrug at the suspicious look she gives me. “I just told him to stay away from you, is all. I’m gonna go finish my luminary.” I go back to my abandoned paper bag and pick up my marker to finish the letter I am writing to Kimberly.

A Happy Beginning

As the dinner bell rings and everyone files in, I keep checking my pocket obsessively, feeling for the ring. I grab a burger and sit with Charlotte.

“Are you sure the speech is okay?” I ask nervously.

“It’s fine. You’re gonna be fine,” Charlotte says, patting my shoulder.

“Should I do it now? Everyone’s here. But they’re not sitting.”

“No, you should wait until people are sitting and eating,” says Charlotte, looking around.

I take a bite of my burger and immediately feel nauseous. I can’t eat. I’m too nervous. God, my hands are shaking. What if she hates it? What if she says no? Santiago catches my eye from the table where she’s sitting with her Literary Circle friends and smiles at me. Oh my god. I can’t do this.

I look around. “Now?” I ask Charlotte.

She glances around the room. “Yes. Now.”

I take a deep breath, stand up, and stand on a chair. “Excuse me! May I have everyone’s attention, please?” A few people have glanced up and begin hushing each other. “Could we turn the music off for a few minutes, please?” I call over to Tony. He complies.

I take another deep breath and begin to speak. “As you all know, it’s been a rough couple of years. We’ve all lost people who are dear to us: Simon, Leon, Trevor, Abner, and of course, Kimberly.” I pause. You could hear a pin drop.

“But with tragedy comes change,” I continue, “and rebellion, and friendship… and love.” I look around the room at the familiar faces, of friends I’ve known for years and years. “I’ve given each of you a sticker to remind you that we are not friends.” I pause for emphasis. “We’re family.”

I rush into my next line, sensing applause and not wanting to lose my flow. “Speaking of family… Artie and Charlotte have been my rocks for as long as I can remember.” I smile at each of them in turn, holding a hand over my heart. “But I couldn’t have gotten through the last year without Santiago.” My voice shakes slightly as I let my eyes finally land on her. “Can you come up here, please?” I watch her expression change from one of pride, to surprise.

I hop down from the chair as she stands up and makes her way over to me. “Katherine, what are you–” she whispers. I step backwards before she can finish, reaching into my pocket.

“I love you,” I say clearly, my voice surprisingly steady and confident. “And I can’t imagine life without you.” All traces of doubt gone now that Santiago is finally in front of me, I get down on one knee. “Will you marry me?”

Her eyes widen and her hands fly to her mouth as the crowd erupts into chaos. I can’t make anything out; all I hear is noise and the rush of blood in my ears.

She says something, but I don’t hear her over the sound of my own heart pumping. I look at her blankly. She steps forward and pulls me to my feet. “Yes! Katherine, yes!” She pulls my face to hers, and I wrap my arms around her. I’m dimly aware of people hooting and hollering around us as our lips meet. When she finally pulls away, I take her hand and slip the ring onto her finger.

A Test You Can’t Study For

I almost miss the opening ceremonies again. I hurriedly shove my lipstick into my purse leave the bathroom, wading through the crowd to find Charlotte and Santiago. A couple of people do a double-take as I walk past, and I grin. I’m wearing a long-sleeved gold-colored shirt with decorative cut-outs around the collar. The shirt stops just above my midriff, and I’ve matched it with a pair of plain black slacks. It was not my usual style to show so much skin, but I am having fun showing off a little. Besides, I no longer have a job that I need to “look professional” for. What I didn’t tell people was that the shirt had actually been a loan from Kimberly, and this was my way of making sure she attended the party with us, at least in spirit.

This year, Terrence has arranged for HIV testing to take place on-site. Santiago and I decide to head over and get it out of the way at the beginning of the party. There is a long line of folks ahead of us. We’ve both been safe since the debacle last year, but sitting in the waiting room is still nerve-wracking. I am next in line when I see Sinclair rush through the waiting room. He doesn’t even notice us sitting there. A moment or two later I see Nate rush through the room after him. I turn and give Santiago a worried look, opening my mouth to speak.

“The doctor will see you now,” says the nurse.

I stand up, and Santiago also stands. I turn to her. “It’s okay. I can go by myself.”

“I’m coming with you,” she says. Her voice is insistent.

I sigh. “I don’t need–” I stop when I look at her face, seeing the fear behind her eyes. I nod. “Okay.”

The nurse leads us into a room where the doctor is waiting. “Hello. Please have a seat. Can you confirm your name?” His bedside manner is cold, brusque. I pretend that I’m not bothered by it, and cover up my nervousness.

“Katherine Stockton.”

“And why are you here?”

“For the AIDS testing,” I say.

He studies me. “Hmm.” His face is expressionless, but I can’t help feeling judged. “Tell me about your habits.”

I take a deep breath. “Well, I’ve had some unprotected sex over the years, since the outbreak started. Mostly with women, but last year there were a few men…” my voice trails off. I’m still embarrassed about that night, especially with Santiago standing next to me.

“I see,” the doctor says. “And this is your girlfriend?”

“Yes.”

“How long have you been together?” he asks.

“About three years now,” I answer.

“And you’re exclusive?”

“Well, no… but it’s pretty much just women.” The doctor is scribbling in his notebook and nods without looking up.

“We’re going to do a few tests.” He takes a few vials of blood and hands them to his assistant. The assistant leaves the room while the doctor scribbles some notes and Santiago and I wait silently.

A few moments later the assistant returns, handing the doctor a small slip of paper. The doctor reads it and then looks up at me. He is not smiling, and my heart skips a beat. “I have good news,” he says. I breathe a sigh of relief and sag slightly in my chair as he tells me that my results are negative. Santiago squeezes my hand, and I stand to let her take my seat.

The doctor goes through the same questions with Santiago, and takes her blood. I know that I’ve been riskier than her, so I’m pretty sure that she is fine… but I still let out a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding when the doctor tells her she’s negative.

We walk back through the waiting room into the hallway, giddy with relief. “Let’s wait for Charlotte and Sorrento,” Santiago says, gesturing towards the window that shows who is still waiting.

I nod. “Of course.”

A few moments later, Charlotte walks out. “Negative.”

“Thank goodness!” I hug her. “Santiago is just waiting for Sorrento, and then we can–” I stop when I see Claire over Charlotte’s shoulder. She’s walking slowly, looking dazed.

“Claire?” I ask. She looks up, and her face immediately crumples. Oh, no. I embrace her. “Oh, honey.” I stroke her hair. “It will be okay. We’ll take care of you. We all will.” I step back and Charlotte and Santiago also hug her, trying to sound reassuring.

Charlotte walks Claire back towards the party while I wait with Santiago for Sorrento. When he finally comes out, we look at him expectantly. He starts talking about something else when Santiago interrupts him. “So are you…”

He hesitates for a few seconds. “Oh! Yeah, I’m fine,” he says, shaking his head. “Negative.” I turn away to roll my eyes at his nonchalance.

Spending Pink Dollars

In the time between 4th of July 1983 and New Year’s Eve 1984, there was a string of events that were not played out by actual scenes, but were decided by the players. Katherine decided to not only print one article in the Times, but to go out with a bang: she paid off some of the staff at NYT to help her publish an entire Sunday edition dedicated to educating people about the ongoing AIDS crisis. The front page headline splashed, “NYT Editor Katherine Stockton Comes Out As Lesbian”. Sinclair Everett also came out publicly, and the infamous interview with him was included in this issue. (He consequently was divorced by his wife Mary, who was awarded custody of their two young children.) There were obituaries and memorials for Simon, Leon, Trevor, Kimberly, and Abner – though oddly, Katherine never was able to find a copy of Abner’s poem that she’d promised to publish. Before Kimberly died, she headed out to San Francisco along with Eli and Dawn for a project photographing people in poverty and those who were sick and dying from AIDS. Sadly, she died before the project was finished – she got sick while on the road and passed away shortly after flying back to New York. Katherine included many of those pictures in the paper as well, along with a long memorial dedicated to her friendship with Kimberly. Included in the memorial was a picture of Katherine holding Cassandra Kimberly, Charlotte’s infant daughter, whose middle name was in honor of her late “Auntie.” Katherine was of course fired from her post at the Times, but she had been expecting it and was prepared. She freelanced a few articles for Out magazine with Nick’s help, as well for an LGBT magazine called The Advocate. When she wasn’t freelancing, she was writing grant proposals for the new Saratoga Center, and was spending most weekends on-site helping out with whatever needed doing. She had far less less money, but far more passion for her work, and she felt more alive than she had in years.

No Escape From Death

I honestly don’t remember a lot about the morning after of 1983. It’s pretty hazy. I remember the ominous music, and I remember the Agents of Death demanding thirteen names instead of ten this time. I remember giving them three tickets again, especially since I’d been unprotected not only with women, but with men. I remember holding my breath as I listened to Pepper calling out people’s names. More than half of them were people that I knew and had recently interacted with in some way: Evelyn, Pen, Enrique, Mr T, Steven, Ruben, Abner, Trevor, Nick, Walter, Claire, Max… and Kimberly.

I remember my shock when I hear Kimberly’s name called, and my denial. There’s no way she’s going to die, I thought. She’s part of my group, one of my girls. I’m going to go down to the funeral field and she’s going to be fine. I think I really believed that, too… right up until I saw her laying in her coffin.

I remember waiting as the music continued playing, the only sounds in the room sobs and people shuffling about as they hugged and consoled each other. I remember the feeling of suspense as I wait for the Agents to come back and escort us down to the field where we would learn who passed. I remember the feeling of dread as I pause to peek into each coffin. The first one I stop at is Abner’s. I barely knew him, but he was a friend of Santiago’s, and I’d recently chatted with him about the possibility of including one of his poems in the Times alongside Sinclair’s interview.

I fling a flower onto his chest angrily. “Fuck you, Abner. And I’m still going to print your–” my voice cracks, “–stupid poem.”

I know before I even get there. Kimberly is nowhere to be found… she’s in one of these other caskets. I find her just behind Abner’s and look down for a moment, sobbing. I place a flower gently on her unmoving chest. “You fucking moron!” I gasp out between sobs. “I told you to be careful!” I am crying so hard that I can barely get the words out. But… it doesn’t matter.

The Agents call us back to begin the funeral. The Angel of Death stands before us once again. “We are gathered here today to mourn the loss of Trevor.” It’s the same as last year: people hugging and sobbing. “We are gathered here today to mourn the loss of Abner.” Grief, fear, determination, anger, sadness… all are present. “And we are gathered here today to mourn the loss of Kimberly.” As tears stream down my face, all of my emotions war for dominance.

I wonder which one is going to win.

Sleeping Alone, Again

I head back to my cabin, finally ready for sleep. I’ve just finished changing into my pajamas and brushing my teeth and arranging my blankets when Kimberly comes in. She gathers up her blankets and pillow.

“Where are you going?” I whisper curiously.

“To sleep in the Pillow Room,” she answers. “It’s more comfortable sleeping on the floor than on these horrible bed frames. Besides,” she flashes me a grin, “there are people to snuggle. You should come!”

I pause. “That’s… tempting.” I glance from Kimberly, to my cot, and back to Kimberly again. I yawn and take another step toward my cot.

“Seriously, you should come,” she says again.

“That is very tempting…” I say again. I take one more glance at her, then say, “Okay, fuck it. Wait for me.”

I gather up my blankets and pillow and follow Kimberly across the lawn, barefoot in the darkness. When I arrive, Santiago is there, gathering her things and putting on her shoes. Fernando lay in a corner, Nick massaging his back. Kimberly disappears into the private room.

“Hey, babe.” I greet her with a kiss. “I decided to sleep here. It will be more comfortable than the cots, and there’s so much room to snuggle! You should stay here with me.”

“Hmm, that sounds nice… but I promised Sorrento a quick chat before bed,” she says. Seeing my face fall in disappointment, she quickly says, “but I’ll come back. When I’m done.”

“Okay.” I kiss her again. “Goodnight.” I lay down and close my eyes, knowing full well that Santiago won’t be back tonight. My mind whirls, replaying the events of tonight over and over again in my head. I fall asleep to the sounds of Fernando and Nick whispering in the corner, feeling lonely and wishing that my girlfriend was there with me.

Trouble in Paradise

I am sitting in the back of the main cabin drinking some water to avoid the hangover that I know is coming tomorrow morning when Santiago appears.

“Hey, babe. I’ve barely seen you tonight! What have you been up to?” she asks, kissing my forehead.

“Oh, you know… the usual,” I reply evasively. I have a feeling she won’t be thrilled with me when she finds out exactly what I’ve been up to in her absence.

She grins. “The usual, huh? Okay, so, who have you been up to?”

I chew my lip nervously. “Well, I was with Kimberly and, uhh, some others, in the Pillow Room.”

“Which others?” she presses.

“A few guys? I don’t remember. I was really drunk.”

“Katherine!” she says, exasperated. “You don’t remember? And you were with guys? Did you have sex with them? Were you at least safe?”

I avoid her eyes. “I don’t remember,” I say softly.

“WHAT?!”

“I mean, I was really, really drunk. I definitely made out with Kimberly, but I don’t quite remember the rest.” I crack a smile. “On the bright side, I think I was actually too drunk to do anything, so there’s that.”

Santiago doesn’t smile back. She looks upset.

“Look, I’m pretty sure I didn’t. I remember laying down on the cot, and room was spinning a bit. I don’t think I was able to do much of anything,” I say.

“Katherine, that is really dangerous. You know what it’s like out there.” I am silent. I can’t argue. “Are you sure you didn’t do anything?”

I shrug helplessly. “No.”

She sighs again. Without warning, my eyes well up with tears. I hate it when she’s disappointed or angry with me. She’s the only person I could ever allow myself to be this vulnerable with, and I’m suddenly terrified that I’ve ruined it. I clutch her hand and whisper, “Don’t leave me.”

“What?” She rolls her eyes. “Don’t be stupid. I’m not going to leave you.” She sits down next to me. “Katherine.” I look up at her. “I don’t care who you fuck,” she continues. “You know that. I just want you to be safe. It’s scary out there.” I nod miserably, ashamed of myself. “Please just be safe.” She kisses me, smoothing my hair reassuringly. “Do you promise?” I nod silently, still looking down at my lap.

Long Time Coming

I’m drifting around aimlessly, taking a swig from the drink in my hand every now and then, when I spot Kimberly along one of the paths. She grins lasciviously at me, and I grin back. Kimberly has now hit on me more times than I can count. She’s good-looking and definitely wild; just my type – well, for a casual hook-up, anyway. And, because of Charlotte, I know for a fact that she’s a firecracker in bed.

Charlotte is the main reason I’ve rebuffed all of Kimberly’s advances. They were mostly monogamous, as far as I know. The breakup was over baby drama: they couldn’t agree on who the father should be. C’est la vie. Things were rocky in our little group for a little while, but we’re finally stable again. Charlotte and Kimberly are no longer a couple, but they’ve managed to remain friends. And thank goodness: Santiago and I knew all along that they wouldn’t last, but Kimberly really grew on us. We were both happy not to have to choose sides. For better or for worse, Kimberly is one of us. And now that she’s no longer attached to Charlotte, she’s fair game, I thought.

I curl an arm around Kimberly’s waist and pull her close. “Wanna check out the Pillow Room?” I purr, my face very close to hers.

She pauses. “Uhh,” she says, looking surprised.

I laugh. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you speechless before.”

She laughs, too. “And I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this drunk before.”

“Well, why don’t you accompany me over there? Keep me safe. You know…  just in case.”

“In case any wild lesbians decide to jump your bones?” she teases.

I wink at her. “Something like that.”

The Pillow Room is surprisingly empty when we arrive. Removing my shoes, I sit on one of the few cots that still has a mattress on the springs instead of on the floor. Kimberly sits down next to me. “So–”

I cut her off by pulling her face to mine. I kiss her aggressively, my tongue eagerly exploring her mouth. She answers by wrapping her arms around me.

I jump when door opens. Pepper bursts in with Kohana, who is one of the Saratoga hippies and Joani’s spouse, along with some other guy not too far behind them.

“I’m telling you, they were transcendental balls of energy!” Pepper is insisting to Kohana.

Kohana gestures to Kimberly and I on the cot. “Are they transcendental balls of energy, too?”

Pepper scoffs. “No, they’re lesbians. It’s different.”

Kimberly and I burst out laughing and sit up. Kohana and the other man join us on the bed while Pepper mutters more about transcendental energy and gesticulates wildly.

I glance at the stranger and stick my hand out. “Hey. Katherine.”

“Jerred,” he says, shaking my hand.

“So, what’s going on?” I ask.

Kohana answers, “Pepper’s taken… something… and now thinks that people are balls of energy.”

I glance at Pepper. “…huh. But not us, eh?”

“No,” Pepper insists. “The others were transcendental balls of energy. You guys are just people.”

“Are you sure?” I ask, bemused. Pepper cocks his head, contemplating me.

Kohana takes in our disheveled appearance. “I’m sorry, did I interrupt something?”

“Well, yeah,” I say. “We were just about to–”

“But it’s not exactly interrupting if you’re planning to join us,” Kimberly interrupts me.

I open my mouth to protest, then close it again. Oh, what the hell? I think to myself. It might be fun. My philosophy has always been that some dick every now and again can be fun, as long as it doesn’t happen too often, and the dick doesn’t want a relationship afterwards.

“Whaddya say, Katherine?” says Kimberly, a gleam in her eye. In response, I lean over her and begin making out with Kohana.

Soon there is only a tangle of bodies and limbs, and even I can’t tell who’s who.

Empty Bed, Empty Heart

We are still enjoying the afterglow, lying wrapped in each other’s arms, when Abner walks in. He freezes mid-stride when he sees us. I grin widely and make a peace sign with my fingers, “‘Sup, Abner?” while Santiago bursts into laughter at the shocked look on his face.

He stammers, “I’m sorry… I can come back later, when you’ve finished… commencing.” He turns and is halfway to the door in the amount of time it takes me to open my mouth to speak.

“No, it’s okay,” I assure him, “we’re done.”

“But you’re lesbians. Can’t you… commence… several times?”

“Who says we haven’t?” Santiago challenges him, and then it’s my turn to dissolve into laughter. Abner sits on his cot, seemingly unsure what else to do.

“So, uhhh. You two, huh?” he says awkwardly.

“Yup!” I smile brightly. “So, what’s going on out there?”

We make small talk for a few minutes, Santiago and I snuggled up against each other under a blanket.

Just then, Kimberly bursts in. “What are you guys doing?! Charlotte is crying.”

What?” I exclaim. Both Santiago and I sit up and make a mad scramble for our clothing.

“What happened?” I demand, fastening my bra.

“She ran off,” Kimberly says evasively.

I sigh, slipping my feet into my shoes. Before we leave the cabin, Santiago grabs me and kisses me again. I relax against her, the entire world melting away.

“You guys! Your friend is crying! This is no time for making out!” We break apart guiltily and rush from the cabin to look for Charlotte.

We split up to look. First I check the main lodge, which is almost completely empty. I walk around just to make sure she isn’t hiding in a corner somewhere. Next, I check the bathrooms. “Kimberly?” I call out. It’s silent. No one there, either.

When I peek into the Darkroom I find Kimberly topless–well, “topless” at least in terms of clothing. She’s laying on the floor with Sam straddling her, pinching one nipple while slapping the other breast. I pause in shock. Her words from just a little while ago echo in my head: Your friend is crying! This is no time for making out! Well, this explains why Charlotte is upset. Kimberly catches my eye and grins at me. I shake my head in exasperation and turn around, walking silently back outside to continue my search for Charlotte.

I’m about to head toward the Pillow Room when I spot her across the path, walking with Dawn and… Max, I think his name was? Santiago spies her from across the field as well, and we arrive at the same time.

“Charlotte!” I call out.

She stops and looks at me. “Hey,” she says glumly.

“Are you okay?” I ask. “I heard you were… upset.” I choose my words carefully, glancing at Dawn and Max.

“I’m fine,” she says calmly. A bit too calmly.

“Are you sure?” I press.

“Yes. These two lovely people were about to show me a good time.”

I am taken aback: casual sex is not usually Charlotte’s style. And what the fuck  happened with Kimberly? I exchange a Look with Santiago. “Oh. Umm… okay. You’re sure you’re okay?” She nods. “Okay, well… have a good time, then.” I watch her skeptically as she disappears into her cabin the with two strangers.

I sigh softly. “I hope she’s okay.”

“I’m sure she’s fine,” Santiago says. “She’s probably just blowing off some steam. Lord knows, she could use it.”

“Yeah. Well… I’m going to bed. Are you coming?”

“I’m going to stay up a little while longer,” Santiago says. Oh. My face falls. I know what that means.

“Okay… have fun,” I say, trying to sound cheerful.

“Thanks. See you later,” she says, heading back across the lawn.

I head back to the cabin, feeling strangely empty. The last thing I see before I fall asleep is Santiago’s empty bed.