Short Story

Loving John Wilson

In memory of Chris

“John’s dead, Maggie.” Ann stood in the doorway, her voice hollow and her cheeks streaked. In the two years that she’d been my roommate, I’d never seen her cry.

I dropped the handful of silverware I held.

“What?” It had to be a different John. Not my John.

“He died this morning.”

Our dinner grew cold as the clock on the wall ticked into the silence. Ann pulled me into a hug, her sobs pounding over and over as my heart tried to catch up with my brain.

John is dead. John is dead. John is dead.

I opened my mouth to ask—what? How he died? Yes.

“How—?” I choked. How does anyone die?

Ann backed away and shook her head, her eyes wild.


“He shot himself.”


I can still picture John Tucker Wilson’s dark hair and beard, tall build, and the ex-military muscle rippling along his arms as he strode toward me in the college library. If I try, I can hear his soft, firm voice too. He invited me, a brand-new freshman, out for pizza. And in front of David McConnell, no less, who turned another page in his book and pretended not to listen. I glanced at him sideways, wondering if he cared what I answered. We’d been friends since tenth grade, but he’d never had the courage to ask me for anything more than a spare pencil. So when John took the chance, his expression hopeful, a yes easily slid out, along with a smile that matched his.

At the end of a date filled with shy but comfortable conversation, John suggested we try the Chinese place next week. I opened my mouth to say no, to shake off the weird feeling crawling around my skin. I shouldn’t have wanted a stranger to kiss me after one date. But I did. And I nodded.

Two dates became three, then four, and I finally got that kiss. My first, and worth calling Mom about. When she asked why my voice quivered, the trickle of tears changed into a flood that lasted fifteen minutes. I couldn’t tell her that I longed to kiss him again, and it scared me.

The most awkward situation was when John moved in with David. They’d started working out after classes on weekdays and running together on weekends. When Tom Wells flaked out, John offered to split the rent. After that, wherever John was, David usually showed up. I avoided going to their apartment because I never knew how to act when both guys were in the same room. Was I supposed to pick sides? What if I chose the wrong one? Or lied to them—and myself?  


I fled to my car as Ann crawled into bed, her body trembling with more emotion than mine. My headlights sliced through the darkness, but not brightly enough. The night was too deep, too overcast. I wasn’t angry or questioning the meaning of life. Not yet. Nothing reached my senses, not even the worn rubber of the steering wheel. Only the massive weight pressing in on the center of my chest. When I think of John now, the knot still twists my insides.

Continue reading this short story on the Story Embers website


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