Toby’s funeral was held in Steven’s Point, Wisconsin, his hometown. The First Methodist Church was filled with friends and family as well as flowers sent from college friends that couldn’t make the trip.
The mahogany casket sat in the front of the pews, near the altar. The casket remained closed with a large picture of Toby, smiling in happier times, setting atop.
Seth and Cole sat with Samantha and Jason in the front row on one side of the church while Toby’s parents sat on the other side. Seth was sure that they blamed him for what had happened. Hell, he blamed himself.
The pastor delivered the eulogy and Toby’s younger sister got up and said a few words. Hymns were sung and prayers were recited, but nowhere in the service, as moving as it was, did Seth see anything that reminded him of his friend. It was like his family had known a different person. None of Toby’s college friends had been asked to speak and definitely Seth was not asked. He supposed he was lucky they even allowed him to attend.
After the service they moved on to the graveside and had a smaller service there. Toby’s mother fell apart as they lowered the casket and Seth felt his heart being ripped from his chest.
The four friends had flown into Green Bay and then shared a rental car out to Steven’s Point. They now had the trip back to discuss the events of the day.
“So was there anything in that entire service that was Toby?” Samantha asked as Jason steered the car out to the highway.
“No. It’s like I was at a funeral for some other person,” Seth responded.
“It’s really sad how little his parents knew him.”
“But very typical,” Cole joined in. “What sort of a funeral would your parents have for you? I fear mine would look much like the one we attended today.”
Samantha pondered that thought. “I’d like to think my parents would do better, but you’re probably right.”
Seth decided to change the subject and take time to remember his friend in better times. “Remember the time Toby got lost coming back from ER?” Seth asked, a smile spreading across his face.
“Oh yeah,” Samantha said with a laugh. “You had sliced your hand on a broken glass and he had to take you to the hospital to get it stitched up.”
“Yeah, and by the time we got out of there is was dark. It was our first semester at Green Bay and neither of us knew the city very well.”
“So I get this call from Toby,” Samantha continued, “He says ‘Sam, I think I took a wrong turn and I’m clear up by Howard. Will you get on line and look up some directions to get me back to campus?’”
“Howard is a suburb north of the city,” Seth explained.
“Yeah, and so before I can look up where he’s at and call him back he calls again. They had run out of gas and wanted me to come bring them some, but my car was in the shop so they had to resort to plan B.”
Seth picked up the story there. “So we are out trying to flag somebody down to take us to get some gas, but I still had on the shirt I was wearing when I cut my hand and the front of it was covered in blood. So what happens is instead of some one stopping, some one calls the police and they show up to see what kind of mass murders are standing on the side of the road in Howard trying to flag down their next victim.
“Toby goes over to the cops and starts trying to explain what was going on, but they insist on running our licenses and they even call Toby’s parents to verify that he is in fact in college there because at that time Toby’s car was still in his parent’s name.
“But by the time they were done with us the cops felt so sorry for Toby, that not only did they help us get gas in the car, the lead us back across town to campus.”
“We teased him forever about getting a police escort home,” Samantha added.
“He had that way with people. All his professors at school would be bending over backwards for him. He was like the little lost puppy and you couldn’t help but want to take him home and care for him.”
The conversation went on for the two-hour drive with Samantha and Seth recalling events of their time at Green Bay with Jason and Cole a willing audience.
Once in the city they decided to stop off for a bite to eat.
“I was disappointed that his parents chose a closed casket service,” Samantha said as they pulled into a diner near the airport.
“I don’t think they had a choice, Sam. And thank your lucky stars that you can just remember him the way he looked the last time we were all together. I wish I could get the image of his body lying there in that dank apartment out of my head,” Seth admonished.
“It wasn’t a pretty sight,” Cole agreed.
Samantha only nodded.
“What time is your flight?” Seth asked wanting to change the subject.
“Seven-thirty. We probably need to go to the airport when he finish eating.”
Samantha chewed her bottom lip at the thought of leaving Seth. She had promised herself no crying when she told him goodbye. There had been enough tears over the last few days.
But all promises fell by the wayside once they were at the airport and she slipped her arms around her friend before they parted.
“Promise me that we’ll do a better job of staying in touch,” she said as she tried to pull herself together.
“Promise,” Seth whispered.
“Promise me that you’ll take care of yourself and nothing will happen to you.”
“Promise,” Seth whispered again, still not trusting his voice to not crack.
“Samantha, we need to get to our gate,” Jason said when he saw that she couldn’t pull herself away.
She nodded and gave Seth one last squeeze then latched onto Cole pulling him into a tight hug. “You take care of him,” she whispered in his ear.
“I will,” Cole answered.
Samantha stepped back to Jason’s side.
“I’m glad I got to meet you,” Jason said, extending his hand to Seth. “Sorry it wasn’t under better circumstances.”
“Next time,” Seth answered.
“Next time we meet it will be under better circumstances.”
“You’ll take care of her.” Seth said. Not a question, more of a command.
“Yeah, I will,” Jason replied and turned with Samantha to walk to their gate.
“Ready?” Cole asked as they watched the couple walk away.
“Yeah,” Seth said and they turned to walk in the other direction to their flight home.
After the flight was in the air Jason turned to Samantha. There was something he was dying to discuss with her. This probably wasn’t the best time, but he couldn’t wait any longer.
“Samantha?” he started.
“Um, when we where seeing each other before.... We ah... I think....” This was so much easier when he went over it in his head.
“When we were seeing each other before I think we were looking for different things. I think that maybe you were wanting something more casual.... And I don’t do casual. So if we’re going to try this again we need to make sure we are on the same page.”
“Okay...” Samantha had no idea where this was going but she liked to hear him talk of ‘trying again’.
“If I’m seeing someone I have to think that there is at least a chance for a future. I have to feel that there is a connection and we both want the same thing.... So.... What do you see for us?”
Samantha gave him a small smile. “Jason, you’re right. When I first met you I didn’t think I wanted anything serious. I had just moved to the city and I thought I was ready to take on the world. But some times when you aren’t looking for something, that is exactly when just what you need comes along. And it would be stupid of me to let it pass because I think I want to hang on to some silly college days.
“I know that I really screwed things up with you, but I have realized just how special this is and I want there to be an us. I want us to have a future. I want us to be moving in the same direction too.”
Jason smiled. “Good, because I think I’m falling for you, Samantha.”
Samantha smiled back. “I know I’m falling for you.”
“You okay?” Cole asked for what Seth felt was the hundredth time.
“No, but yeah.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Cole said for what he was sure was the hundredth time.
“What kind of fucked up world is it where a kid like Toby gets hooked on meth and dies of an overdose?”
Cole knew there was no answer for that question so he decided to try and change the subject. “You know, you stay at my place most every night...”
“I know, and you need your space. I’ll start staying at my place more,” Seth interrupted.
“That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m trying to ask is why not save the rent and just move in with me?”
“Don’t you think it’s too soon?” Seth asked.
“Yeah, probably. And we’ll probably end up making it way harder than it needs to be, but I also know that I want to try.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.”
Seth gave a shy grin. “Okay, let’s see how bad we can screw it up.”
He laced his fingers with Cole’s and looked out the window. “What kind of fucked up world is it where a guy like me moves to Texas and falls in love?”