Till the first friend dies, we think ecstasy impersonal, but then discover that he was the cup from which we drank, itself as yet unknown.Emily Dickinson
Surreal, the week following Shana’s suicide left Phoebe disassociated and wary of everyone’s motives, in large part due to Death’s demon Kazmir, who whispered potential torment and loneliness in her mind. The first page in Death’s how-to manual focused entirely on separating a soul from others. Dr. Dina Pressman, with her sympathetic grey eyes, furrowed brow and soft questioning, would never know the depth of her despair or she’d keep her locked up, damage her brain with electroshock treatments or worse. As it was, the doctor seemed overly concerned when Phoebe asked if Dr. Cooper and Farwin were real or if nightmares might possibly be a side-effect of whatever medications they’d given her. This line of questioning resulted in an extension of Phoebe’s 72-hour stay for an indeterminate amount of time, until her psyche “calmed down” as Dr. Pressman put it. Kazmir littered her thoughts with a “I abandoned Shana” mantra. Seeds of anguish and regret sprouted anew in her heart every day thanks to his persistence, but at night she returned to a dreamless sleep in a crystal cube on an unknown beach under a sheet of stars and awoke cleansed of everything except grief. A heavy sadness that gained weight every moment, made her head hurt by noon and rendered her silent unless asked a direct question. Kazmir found Dina’s guardian angel attentive and strong, but assigned a demon to check the lovingly healing perimeter of light around her every hour. Sacrifices were often required to secure a bigger prize, yet he still chose one who’d been easy to turn with fame and power. The mid-level demon groveled and begged, for it had hoped to return in the vessel of a politician in it’s next lifetime. “Master, I promise to exalt you and bring you souls of thousands of my followers. I will do ANYTHING for you.” “Do not fret, my dear. I will find you”, Kaz lied. There was little threat this one would serve humanity as a fledgling light body, even with repeated exposures to Dina’s healing aura. Kazmir would have to get to Phoebe through Doyle, with her greedy attorney’s help and anyone else they could influence to stress her from as many directions as possible. Kaz hungered after his own torment, salivated with anticipation for one of the best prizes ever brought to Hades.
Doyle’s dreams were not of Shana alive, but nightmares of the night he’d returned and found her hanging by her tights from a bathroom door in his suite wearing only her boots. He’d bought mushrooms from the same nerdy girl on campus, however she’d promised that particular variety would produce a deeper experience, would annihilate their egos and leave them entirely exposed to one another. Doyle would be the one to finally break through her memory so together they could expose a wound she didn’t even know she had. They’d been on a tipping point, one he’d misjudged badly. He hypothesized if she remembered and revealed what happened shortly before her parents’ deaths, she’d bond with him in a novel, and lasting, way. It took longer to gain her trust than the others, almost a full year thanks to Phoebe’s friendship. It took almost all of that time to convince her the bond with her best (and only) friend was simple enmeshment and codependency, “basic psychology” in motion. Craftily, he’d whittled away at their little rituals, interruptions welcomed by Shana, but never by Phoebe. When she wanted to call Phoebe to let her know she’d be staying over or going out to dinner, a walk in the park, or a movie, Doyle made fun of her and said he wished she was more independent. Shana introduced him to belladonna tea and cleared a path for his psych experiments with her own adventurous spirit. He dared her to keep their illusory world between the two of them, a lover’s secret, and then gave her a sensory experience beyond possibility, time slowing to a creep as he forged a path of kisses that began at her ankles and ended at her forehead. Shocks sparked up her spine as she sat on Doyle; co-imagined roots protruded from their arches and grew deep into the earth until they met in the center on a dancing sea of lava. In one another’s eyes they saw flames and felt heat flow skyward out of their crowns of dark ebony and white blonde. As their breathing labored with their bodies, they discovered themselves in another time for a few moments, Shana’s muslin skirt hefted above her waist as she leisurely rode atop Doyle, laid out on a forest floor of moss and pine needles, the sound of a rushing stream nearby. Shana told Doyle she wanted to find that stream and go skinny-dipping the next time.
Afterward, Doyle lay stunned and for the first time appreciated how he might also be changed by his psychoanalytical “experiments”. He easily persuaded Shana to schedule another forest date for a dose only a few days later. With his last subject, Yasmine, her feelings swung in wide arcs every day afterwards, from guilt to joyful satisfaction to disgust and back again, his agitation prying her psyche so wide open her eyes were glazed over at times. Kazmir helped Doyle with a curated experience for Yasmine’s proudly moralistic persona, one that changed her and would live in her memory forever. Unfortunately, she refused to see him again after Doyle suggested she had additional inhibitions they could explore together. He still smiled at his memory of her, eyes cast down to hide tears, a “sorry… I can’t, just can’t” barely audible followed by his quick, “No problem, Baby.” Doyle gave her a meaningless light squeeze around her shoulders and told her, “take care of you”. He had noticed Shana weeks before, but Yasmine pursued him and Kaz convinced him a little detour with her could be more revealing than it had been in reality. Shana’s predictable co-ed schedule gifted him with chances to study her and make note of her restraint-only half a muffin, a single cup of tea, four pairs of pants and two skirts. The rose-embroidered cowboy boots surprised him, but she didn’t buy them for herself. Shana may be the opposite of Yasmine and just what I need, he thought at the time. She didn’t wear much makeup, but occasionally had a copper shimmer either swept across her cheeks or her eyelids, never both, and she turned down men as if they weren’t all that important to her. She possessed a self-assurance much like his own, or so he thought, and reminded him of his mother although he had very little memory of her, just an unsmiling photo of an attractive blonde woman under an apple tree with her equally unattractive husband. When he was a teenager the photo disappeared from their mantle; ten years of remembrance was long enough to his father and he knew better than to ask about it.
Doyle placed a brown cardboard box of Shana’s cremains on the stained formica table. He’d paid for her cremation as soon as a judge signed the conservatorship for Phoebe’s trust. Rent was paid by her trust attorney, as was tuition, so he just needed to get her more lemon chicken soup, tea, and tissues. He steeled himself to face her. He’d present himself as her best option because he knew trusting him was not on the table. Hopefully Dr. Pressman’s support would count for something.