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Sixteen Months Previous

The first time I met Joshua Kang, he broke my arm.

We collided, quite literally, at our neighborhood intersection on the first day of high school. The memory only got blurrier with time, but I would always remember three distinct things: how it felt when I was knocked off my feet and onto the pavement, the excruciating pain in my arm, which had gotten tucked up under the handlebars of his damaged bike, and the boy who leaned over me, blocking out the sun as he studied me.

It truly was a monumental moment: freshman year. A crisp fall morning. The neighborhood's newest resident. And part of my fractured radius sticking through the skin of my forearm.

It's funny, looking back on it, how our first encounter was at that crossroads—many of our notable moments would occur there: our introductions (one week after the collision), our pact to be best friends forever (five weeks after that), every school dance date proposal (freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year), our college sendoffs (two months after graduation), the catalyst to everything we knew (three and a half months after that, early on New Year's Day), and, finally, this, here and now (five weeks later, on the first day of February).

"I got your text." Joshua's voice cut softly through the quiet, pulling my gaze to him. He crossed the street to me, kicking a stray pebble as he went, sending it skittering into the curb. It was cold this morning, and his breath fanned out in front of him as he exhaled. He was hesitant when he neared, leaning up against the stop sign post, looking down at the frosty winter ground. "What'd you want to talk about?"

"I just wanted to see you." Reaching out, I placed a hand on his arm. Beneath the thin material of his sweatshirt, he felt sturdy. But he looked fragile, hair unkempt, eyes tired, stubble dusting his cheeks. "How are you?"

"Holding up. You?"

"Hanging on."

He hesitated. "You weren't in court yesterday."

"Court's not my thing. Makes me nervous."

"And here I thought you were just avoiding me."

I offered up a slight smile, then looked away, out at the empty street that stretched before us. "J..." It was hard to form words with the lump in my throat. "You know I love you. You're my best friend. But—"

"But it's different, now. Right?" Joshua kicked at the concrete.

"Jack killed Sungmin. I don't know how things could possibly stay the same."

My best friend was silent for a long while, head hung low. Finally, "Somi, he pled guilty. He's being punished and he'll serve his time. And I really am sorry about Sungmin. He was like a little brother to me. You know that."

"Yeah, well, he was my little brother." My voice cracked a little on the last syllable. "So, do you really think that Jack serving—what was it? Oh, yeah, six years is going to make things any better? Sungmin was seventeen and even he knew better than to drive drunk. I mean, it's pretty basic logic, if you ask me. You drink? You don't drive. Simple."

"I'm—he made a mistake. But I can't—"

I took a step back at this. The void between us had seemed rather large since my brother's funeral the week before, but now it seemed insurmountable. "Your brother plowed into Sungmin, J. On the sidewalk. This sidewalk. He broke his body into a mess of blood and bones. Drunk driving isn't a mistake. It's a choice."

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