The day of Aaliyah's funeral and I was far from ready for it.
All through my second to last lesson on Friday I was nervous, twitching, staring at the clock. My hands were clammy and my heart had begun a steady pounding against my chest, threatening to explode. Elijah noticed how keyed up I was and was sensible not to say anything about it, he just did the Photography work for me.
When at long last the bell rang, I nearly burst into tears. It took everything I had to keep myself pulled together. I bit my lip and swallowed the lump in my throat, standing shakily to my feet.
'Let me come with you,' Elijah murmured beside me, slipping his hand into mine.
'Would you? I sighed in relief.
'If it would make it easier.'
'Thank you,' I said, completely and utterly grateful that I had him beside me in those moments. I was dreading seeing how Tom and his parents would be but I had no doubt that Chrissy would be there for them. She had arranged to pick me up from school and then head straight back to the funeral home.
'I know I didn't know her,' Elijah began. 'But it's never easy losing someone so close to you. But I do know that it'll feel like closure this afternoon. Like you're finally letting her rest in peace.'
'You sound like you've been through it yourself.'
'My father,' he mumbled.
'I'm sorry,' I squeezed his hand. 'You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to.'
'Thank you, maybe some other time.'
I nodded, completely understanding. He was right, it wasn't easy losing someone, it was bound to have it's affects. Right now I was trembling in anticipation, my eyes searched the car park for Chrissy and when she finally pulled up beside us, I knew that it was time. This was the time to say goodbye to Aaliyah.
* * *
The funeral home was dark, morbid and had a heavy atmosphere of depression that weighed down on all of us. As we approached the open casket, I drew in my breath, preparing myself. Aaliyah looked...completely haunting. I had never seen a dead person before in my life and Elijah only squeezed my hand tighter, keeping me stable. Her skin had taken on an chalky white pallor, the skin over her eyelids tinged a dark purple. Her once healthy hair hung bedraggled past her shoulders. She was dressed in a smart blue dress, one I remembered that she wore to prom.
'Oh God,' I choked.
'Come on,' Elijah started to lead me away and I obliged, too numb to protest. I spotted Mr and Mrs Parker and headed straight for them.
'I am, so sorry for your loss. Aaliyah was a wonderful friend and she will be sorely missed.'
Aaliyah's mother, who looked terrible, attempted a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. 'Thank you Isobel. It's nice to see so many of her friends here today.'
'My name is Elijah,' Elijah held out his hand to shake. 'I didn't really know your daughter but she seemed like a wonderful person. She was very popular among her friends.'
'Thank you,' Mr Parker told him. 'We appreciate it.'
We left them alone and headed over to Chrissy, Tom and Rhea. Tom had been crying, Chrissy looked completely miserable, only Rhea looked strangely composed. I had the feeling she didn't like to show her true emotions.
'This is going to be hard.'
* * *
The funeral was a beautiful way to say our final goodbyes to Aaliyah. Hundreds of people turned up, reflecting what a well-known person she was. We were all crying, bar Elijah and Rhea, but it was nice to finally have closure on her death. Like she would finally rest in peace.
We were now all sat in Chrissy's car, trying to decide where to go from here. It was eventually decided that Tom would go round Chrissy's house and Rhea was going to spend time with some of her friends. I think she mentioned they were her brother's friends, but Elijah wanted to go with her.
'I didn't know you knew her brother,' I mused, my hand in Elijah's as we both followed Rhea to her brother's house.
'I haven't seen him in years, it'll be great to catch up.'
'I don't think Jamie's mentioned you before,' Rhea put in.
'Like I said, it's been years.'
We finally reached Jamie's apartment and Rhea let herself in. We climbed the narrow stairs to his hallway and I suddenly felt like an intruder.
'Are you sure your brother won't mind me being here?'
'You'll be fine. Just relax.'
She pushed open the door and I inhaled a short, sharp gasp. The room was filled with smoke. But it wasn't tobacco smoke from regular cigarettes, it was like nothing I had ever smelled before and realization dawned on me.
'You do drugs?' I hissed at Rhea. She shrugged casually.
'Course. Don't you?'
'Hey Rhea!' one of the guys shouted through the smoky barrier and I saw a tall, lean guy with bright blue eyes and dark blonde hair head over to her with a spliff in his hand.
'Joey,' she smiled fondly.
'Elijah? Is that you?'
'Hey man. Long time no see eh?'
'Jamie'll be happy to see you. Come in! Who's your girlfriend?'
I blushed bright red, part of me wanting to run back down the stairs but the other part of me wanting to stay and see how this played out.
'This is Isobel.'
'Hi,' I murmured shyly, getting a grin from Joey.
'Jamie!' Joey shouted into one of the other rooms. 'Come look who's here!'
Seconds later, someone who looked just like Rhea with the same dark hair and large dark eyes came into the room. He looked absolutely ecstatic to see Elijah and his little sister, and his eyes lingered on me for a few seconds before hugging Rhea and greeting Elijah.
'It's been too long man!' Jamie had the same soft voice as Rhea and I understood why she spent so much time with her older brother.
'This is Isobel,' Elijah introduced me again and once more I blushed.
'Nice to meet you,' he smiled. 'Come in.'
'Do you do drugs?' I whispered in Elijah's ear as we all made our way into the main living room. To my horror he shrugged.
'I didn't know you were like that,' I murmured, completely unsure as to how I felt right now. I thought this guy was perfect, and know I discovered he hung around with the stoners who, while they all seemed very nice, gave off the wrong vibe.
'You're not put off are you?' he looked so hurt in those moments, so disconcerted at the thought of losing me that I could only manage a short sharp shake of my head, just to see that smile back on his face, to ease his pain.
I didn't know how this was gonna play out.