The atmosphere in the school was heavy. It pressed down on all of us, creating an unbearable weight for us to carry. Hardly anyone laughed, hardly anyone smiled. The chatter was muted, the ambience was morose. Chrissy spent most of the day with her head hung, her bright blue eyes had lost their usual sparkle and she had grey shadows underneath them.
'I just can't believe it, you know?' she whispered.
'Yeah. It's terrible,' I sighed.
'We have to go to her memorial this Friday.'
'Of course we will,' I assured her. 'Just imagine the turnout, it'll be incredible. She was extremely well-liked. Have you heard from Tom today?'
'Yeah,' she murmured. 'He's gonna take some time off, spend it with his parents. The death has hit them pretty hard.'
'It would, wouldn't it? I couldn't ever imagine losing a loved one...'
'Anyway,' she turned to face me, her expression completely glum. 'I'll see you later, I have English now.'
'Okay, see you later.'
I gave her a long hug before we parted to go to lessons. I had Photography now, but for once Elijah wasn't on my mind. I couldn't stop thinking about poor Aaliyah who's life had been cut dramatically short. Poor Tom who had lost his closest friend. Poor Mr and Mrs Parker who had lost their only daughter at such a young age... I couldn't get Aaliyah's happy face out of my head. Her warm hazel eyes, the way she layered her red-brown hair around her face, how she would never go a day without wearing eyeliner. Then beneath her beauty, her warm loving heart. How she always looked out for everyone, how she always gave everybody second chances. How full of optimism and life she was...
Before I knew it, my cheeks were wet. I had been crying.
It was too late to head for the toilets, I was outside the Photography door now, so I quickly pulled the sleeves of my jumper over my hands and scrubbed at my face.
'Isobel?' I heard a soft voice murmur beside me.
I whirled round in surprise to find Elijah stood there. His expression was cautious but concerned.
'Are you okay?'
'Not really,' I sighed.
'I heard about Aaliyah,' he mumbled. 'I'm really sorry. She seemed like a lovely girl, I just wish I'd gotten to know her more.'
'She was fantastic,' I smiled.
'Did you...wanna talk about it?'
'We have to go to Photography,' I shook my head.
'Well,' he pursed his lips. 'We could skip if you'd like? I'm sure they'd understand.'
'Skip?' Of course, the idea had never even entered my mind. Now that I thought about it, I really didn't want to go in there, spend the full hour and a half trying not to cry, pretending to work. The idea of missing it was deliciously tempting. 'Okay.'
'Come on,' he smiled. 'They won't even notice we've gone.'
I let him lead me back the way we'd come, down the wide steps and through the double doors into the bright sunshine. The sky was a perfect unblemished blue and a gentle breeze ruffled my hair, blowing strands around my shoulders.
I followed him in silence before I realized where he was taking us: the park. This seemed to be our place recently.
He sat down on a bench and I copied him.
'Do you wanna talk?'
'Why are you doing this?' I avoided. 'You barely know me.'
'I don't know,' he sighed. 'You just seemed like the only person who really wanted to talk to me. Everyone else avoided me like I was the plague. I appreciate that.'
'I wouldn't give them a second thought,' I told him. 'You're a great guy. It's just because you don't fit their "standards". I know that feeling.'
'Do you really?' he sounded sceptical.
'I know it doesn't seem like it.' Oh God what was I doing? I was pouring my heart out to a guy I didn't even really know that well. But right there, looking into his earnest blue eyes, I realized that I wanted to; I felt an incredible urge to. And so I did. 'My friends, I love them, especially Chrissy, but... they don't really understand me. I'm not who they think I am.'
'What do you mean?'
'I don't enjoy my life. My mum's barely ever home, my ass of a step dad ignores me and I spend the majority of my time pretending to be someone I'm not. Aaliyah was the only person that really knew that...'
'What about Chrissy?'
'I think Chrissy knows there's more to me, I think she knows I'm not fully satisfied with my life, but we rarely talk about it, you know? I like that though, when I'm with her I just get to spend time away from the reality even if it's just for a few hours.'
He started to say something but paused.
'What?' I urged him.
'Why don't you tell them? I understand that there are certain...status' to uphold when you're popular, but if it makes you miserable, shouldn't you do what makes you happy? That's what I was always taught.'
'Maybe I should,' I sighed. 'Enough about me anyway.'
'You're a good listener,' I told him. 'It felt good to get that off my chest. I don't why though because I barely know you.'
'Maybe you should get to know me? There's more than "mysterious loner guy".'
We both laughed in unison.
'I'd like that,' I smiled.