Neither Leona nor I said a word as we rode in the ambulance carrying Tutto’s body home. I was exhausted from crying, and just sat there, hands in my pockets, seemingly staring at Tutto’s pale face but not really seeing anything. Leona appeared to be feeling the same. Her fingers were clasped together, her knuckles were white, her expression was blank.
The ride home logically should have been only about half an hour, but it felt like a week. Despite having done a lot of thinking already at the hospital gardens in the morning, my brain wouldn’t stop working. I thought about how I wasn’t there for the last few moments of Tutto’s life. I thought about how instead of me comforting Leona it had been the opposite, with me crying like a baby and Leona gently patting my back. I thought about the last words Tutto had written down for me, how it had been merely an answer to one of my selfish questions. I thought about how it would have meant more if I had asked him to write down what he really wanted to say, either to me, or to Leona, or to anyone.
I had been thinking so much that I could barely remember what happened that morning as the ambulance pulled up to Tutto’s house. The house was small and old; its framing was a little crooked, and the paint was peeling and molding in all places. However, it was a nice little house, with a beige body and an olive green roof and trimming. Leona opened the front door as the ambulance driver and I carried Tutto’s body into the house. As we passed Leona on the front porch, I thought I heard her whisper in a voice so quiet it was barely there: “Welcome home, Tutto.”
The inside of the house looked just as small as it did from the outside. The tiny mudroom led to the living room, where there was a beaten up leather couch, a desk, a shelf of books, and a small glass cabinet that held many picture frames. Beside the living room was the kitchen, with a stove, a fridge, some cupboards, and a small table that must have served as the dining table. Leona opened a door at the back of the living room and revealed the bedroom, with two beds, each situated on one end of the room, and each with a small nightstand placed beside it.
We laid Tutto’s body on the bed to the left and Leona pulled the covers over him. Although his face was pale and his body was cold, he looked quite peaceful, as if he were only still sleeping. The driver said his condolences and left, leaving Leona and I by ourselves with Tutto. Leona pulled up a couple chairs from the kitchen and handed me a glass of water. We sat down beside Tutto’s bed, both of us deep in thought, yet both of us glad that the other was there.
Leona broke the silence as she got up. “I’m gonna go call my aunt. Let me know if you need anything.” I nodded and she left the room. I found myself alone with Tutto’s body, and all I could do was stare more at him. He had lost all the colour in his face, and without the up-and-down movement of his chest, his body seemed unusually small. To be honest, this was the first time I’ve been close to or even seen a dead body. I felt a bit of fear, but it was not because of the fact that he was dead, it was because he had been alive, but now he was not.
In the living room, I could hear Leona quietly talking on the phone. Her voice was soft with sadness, but she was not choking on tears anymore. She had been crying a lot as well, I guess she was just too tired to cry more.
A few seconds after she hung up, Leona reappeared in the bedroom. I looked up as she walked in and took her seat. Her face was bare of makeup, and her hair was casually tied up into a bun. However, even without her usually stylish do, she was still beautiful.
“You can use the phone if you want.” She said to me.
“Thanks.” I sat there for a few more moments, not sure if I needed to call anyone. I got up eventually. I had called my parents at the hospital last night telling them I was staying the night; I should let them know when I’ll be heading home. I also needed to let my buddies know where I was.
I wandered around the living room and found the phone on the glass cabinet that held the picture frames. After a few rings my mother picked up.
“Hey, Mom.” I said, trying to sound less tired. “It’s James.”
“Oh, James.” I could hear the anxiety in her voice. “Are you still at the hospital, James? How is your friend?”
“He d-” I started, but stopped, surprised at how difficult it was to say that word.
“James?” My mother asked, sounding even more worried than before.
“He passed away.” I finally let out.
There was a long silence on the other end of the line before my mother finally sighed and said, “I’m so sorry, James.”
I nodded, forgetting that she couldn’t see me. “They were saying he didn’t have long.”
“How is his family? Where are you now?”
“I’m at his house with his sister. Actually, his sister’s Leona.”
There was a little gasp. “Oh. So your friend was Leona’s brother?”
“Yeah.” I answered.
“Oh.” I could tell my mother was starting to cry. She had always been the sympathetic type. “Is she going to be alright? What can I do to help?”
“It’s alright. Her aunt is coming to help her.”
“Okay. But let me know if there’s anything I can do.” My mother’s voice cracked a bit. “Will you be coming home today?”
“I’ll stay with Leona till her aunt gets here. She lives quite a ways from here and will need a few hours.”
“Alright.” My mother sniffed. “It’s great that you can be there for Leona. Take your time with her, okay?”
“Thanks, Mom.” I said, ready to end the call.
“Oh, yes.” My mother said suddenly. “Your friend Paul called today. He and your other two friends are wondering where you are. Give them a call, eh? Paul said he would be home by now.”
“Okay. Thanks, Mom. I’ll call again when I’m heading home.” I hung up and dialed Paul’s number.
“Paul, it’s me, James.”
“Hey, man. Where have you been?”
“I was…” My voice trailed off. I realized how difficult it was to explain to them that I was with Tutto. But soon after, I kicked myself mentally at how stupid I was being. Damn it, James. He’s dead already and you’re still worried about what your friends might think?
I was suddenly glad I had called Paul. He would understand.
“Paul, Tutto Freeman had a heart attack last night after the turkey thing. I was at the hospital with him.”
Nothing came from the receiver for what felt like thirty minutes.
“He had a what?” Paul finally said, sounding startled and even a bit ashamed.
“A heart attack.” I repeated. “I was walking over to get some turkey when I saw him and he collapsed.”
“Why? How did it happen?” Paul’s voice became almost a squeal.
I sighed. “Yesterday I was told that he was born with a defect in the heart.”
Another long moment of silence passed.
“I feel horrible.” Paul was not taking this piece of news very well.
“Paul, it’s alright.” I tried to comfort him. “The attack had nothing to do with the turkey thing. It was bound to happen sooner or later.”
“I still feel horrible.” Paul muttered under his breath. “Is he alright, though?”
A chill ran down my spine. My body suddenly felt heavy and I had to sit down on the carpet.
“Paul, I just want you to know that nobody is to be blamed for this.” I started. There was a small gasp on the other end. “He didn’t make it.”
“Oh no.” Paul said, his voice shaking. I recalled what Paul had said to me before he left to help Albert with the superhero moves. He had come to like Tutto, and probably even started to see him as a friend. I recalled how Tutto had actually smiled to Paul’s words.
“He died peacefully, Paul.” I said, not able to think of anything else to say.
Paul sobbed silently into the phone. I would have wept along with him had my tear buds not been exhausted already. I let him cry as I unconsciously browsed the pictures displayed in the glass cabinet. They were all family photos: the infant Leona and Tutto sleeping side by side; the twins, a little older now, playing in the park with their mother, who looked like an older Leona; a toddler Tutto standing in front of his mother, who was holding a picture book; a young Leona, dressed in a pink skirt, looking at the camera with the solemn expression only an adult could carry. The cameraman of the family must have always been the father, for I could find no pictures of him.
Finally, Paul spoke, his voice cracked, “Sorry. I just…it was so sudden I didn’t know how to respond.”
“It’s okay, Paul.” I said.
“Are you alright, Jamey?” Paul asked. “You’ve always been the closest to him.”
“I’ll be fine.” I replied. I wondered if I was lying.
Paul pulled himself together. “Well, you must be exhausted. Go get some rest. I’ll let the others know.”
I smiled into the phone. “Thanks, Paul. I knew you would be the one who would understand.”
Paul laughed a bit before saying goodbye and hanging up.
I picked myself up from the ground and went back into the bedroom. Leona hadn’t moved much since I went out. I sat down in my chair and turned to her.
“I can stay until your aunt comes.”
Leona nodded and smiled at me. “Thanks. For everything.”
“My mom says she can help too.” I told her. “Just let me know if there’s anything you need help with.”
“Okay.” The look in Leona’s eyes was genuine thankfulness. I wanted to hold her, but I was smart enough, and tired enough, to remain outside of her personal space.
I peered over at the nightstand beside Tutto’s bed. There was a green moleskin notebook left casually on top of the nightstand. A pencil lay on top of it.
Leona must have noticed that I was looking at the notebook. “He always doodled in that notebook before going to bed.” She explained. “I guess it was his way of keeping a diary.”
“Mind if I look?” I asked.
Leona shook her head. “Go ahead.”
I picked up the old notebook and slowly flipped through the pages. Most of the drawings were of everyday things such as trees, buildings, and animals. There were also a lot of depictions of people: an old lady getting off the bus; a child eating ice cream; a girl jogging with her dog. I smiled as I admired Tutto’s artistic talents; I never knew he could draw.
As I got further into the pages, I noticed that there were a lot of drawings dedicated to the same girl. She had long, flowing hair, sharp eyes, and fashionable clothes. It didn’t take long for me to realize that they were all drawings of Leona.
“He really liked you.” I said, handing the notebook over to Leona. She gently flipped the pages, looking at drawings of herself: Leona cooking in the kitchen, Leona reading on the couch in the living room, Leona standing at the front door. The pictures were all of Leona doing what she does every day, but the detail put into these drawings, especially the kindness shining through the sharp, penciled eyes, reflected Tutto’s love and gratefulness for his twin sister.
Leona handed the notebook back to me, massaging her forehead as if trying to fight back more tears. “I’ll look at it later.” She murmured.
I continued to skim through the notebook until there were no more drawings left. Instinctively, I let the pages turn until I reached the last page. I wasn’t expecting to see anything, but I saw the corner of a picture sticking out from behind the binding of the notebook. I took the picture out. It was a photograph of a young Tutto, about five years of age, smiling into the camera happily, his orange eyes glistening in the sunlight. Beside him, an older Tutto, also with orange eyes, was kneeling beside the toddler, holding his tiny shoulders.
“Is this your father?” I asked, showing the photo to Leona. She glanced over and nodded, studying the picture for a bit. “I’ve never seen that picture before.” She pointed out.
I looked more closely at the picture, and recognized the place where the two figures were. It was the small stream that flowed through our neighbourhood, where I had hung out alone as a kid, stabbing myself with the nail.
My eyes widened with realization. The stream was also the place where I had met my saviour, who had saved me from depression and sadism and led me towards a cheerful, popular life. I looked more closely at the older orange-eyed male. It was him. It was Tutto’s father.
I smiled. I felt lucky to have had the chance to meet an intelligent and kind person such as Mr. Freeman. I turned the photograph over and saw that Tutto had written something at the back of it.
Tutto knew everyone here
I looked at Tutto lying on the bed. He had said that to me before. When we were at the stream together, and he had told me he used to go there as well, he had said the exact same thing to me. He knew everyone there.
I turned the photo over again and almost yelped as I caught sight of another figure standing in the background. It was a boy, about the same age as the young Tutto in the picture, with dark hair and a dark complexion. His purple eyes were peering right into the camera, as if he had been caught red-handed.
I recognized this boy. It was me.
-羅寗 Michelle Ning Lo