It still hadn't quite sunk in just yet that Thomas Parker was dead.
I was waiting, waiting for the grief to hit, waiting for the anger, the guilt, the confusion. I was waiting for all of these emotions to catch up with me but it seemed I was incapable of feeling anything but numb. I spent the next few days wandering around in a dreamlike state; everything was surreal. I didn't really speak to anyone, for reasons that I was still unsure of. I couldn't even begin to imagine what Chrissy was going through right now... She was pregnant with her boyfriends baby, her now dead boyfriend, and she's discovered his elicit affair with Rhea.
I know that when Aaliyah died, the grief had been astounding. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. Losing a loved one is the worst thing anyone can experience.
But losing Tom to suicide was a thousand times worse.
It was a Thursday night when I was idly wandering around my room when I spotted it. A photo attached to my mirror. It had been taken the day we had all gone to the beach. Before any drama. Rhea was in the middle of us all, a genuine smile on her features, staring straight into the camera. Elijah had his arm round me, he was kissing the top of my head. Tom and Chrissy looked so utterly happy. Chrissy was resting her head on Tom's shoulder, their fingers entwined with one another. We had gotten some guy on the beach to take the shot, and it was now alone in my room that I began to truly appreciate it.
I didn't know I was crying until my mother knocked on the door asking if I was okay. Then I let it all out.
She pulled me into her arms as I sobbed, mourned for the friend we had all lost. My stomach twisted into a knot of steel, my throat and jaw ached from the crying, it seemed like the seams of my sanity were breaking apart.
Why did life have to be so cruel? Tom was a good guy. He made one bad choice and look where it landed him.
'I'm so sorry Isobel,' Mum did her part, she stroked my hair, she told me everything would be okay. Everything would not be okay though. Tom was dead. And there wasn't anything that could bring him back.
* * * * *
'Isobel, sweetie?' Mum poked her head round my bedroom door Thursday night. 'Work has called me away on business. Your stepfather is out of town. I'm sorry, I know it's bad timing but it's really important.'
'That's fine,' I mumbled.
'Is there anyone you can stay with?'
I thought about staying at Chrissy's, but then realized she would probably want to be alone with her family right now. She was getting the worst of it all. There was no way I could contact Rhea, not just yet. Everything was very fragile when it came to her. I knew it wasn't her fault that Tom had committed suicide, far from it. But I don't think she knew that yet. Besides, I wasn't friendly enough with Rhea to ask a favour from her. That left the most obvious choice.
'I'll give Elijah a ring.'
'Okay. I'm sorry sweetie. I'll be leaving early tomorrow.'
'Kay. Love you.'
'Love you too darling.' She left.
I heaved a sigh, fumbling for my phone. It rang twice before Elijah picked up.
'Hi, sorry I haven't been answering my phone recently. Just feeling rough you know?'
'Absolutely,' his voice was morose. 'It's hit us all pretty hard. I was a little worried about you though.'
'I'm sorry.' My apology was pathetic. 'Listen could I ask for a huge favour?'
'Sure, go ahead.'
'My mum's going away for a few days, for work. My stepdad's out of town and I just...don't really want to be home alone right now.'
'Of course! Did you wanna stay round here? Or should I come round yours?'
I pursed my lips. I hadn't considered that. 'We'll go round yours. It's nicer.'
'Alright,' he laughed. I felt the first smile in days settle nicely onto my features, a slow warmth beginning to rise within me. Elijah really, really did make everything better. 'Wanna come over tonight?'
'Thank you, that'd be nice. Really appreciate it. I love you.'
'I love you too Isobel, remember that.' His voice was earnest and meaningful.
'Always will,' I smiled, before hanging up.
I began to start packing stuff into a bag. Handfuls of clothes, some make up, deodorant, perfume, all the materialistic things I couldn't go a day without. I grabbed my toothbrush from the bathroom before heading downstairs.
'Oh, you going tonight?' My mum was surprised.
'Might as well.'
'Okay, I'll drive you round.'
The journey to Elijah's was silent, a little awkward. It was a relief to wave goodbye to my mother as I climbed out and headed up the huge driveway to Elijah's house. The air had grown cooler as the night grew closer. I pulled my jacket tighter round my body, trying to conserve my warmth and lugged my bags up the steps to his house.
The door swung open before I'd even knocked.
'Isobel,' Elijah smiled, pulling me into a hug.
'Thanks for doing this,' I murmured once he'd let me go. He grabbed my bags and dumped them in the hallway.
'No thanks for asking, I need your company. I've missed you.'
'Missed you too. Things are still very rough you know? I can't imagine how Mr and Mrs Parker feel. They've lost two of their children.'
'I know, it's so...surreal. Aaliyah's death didn't really affect me much because I hadn't known her, but Tom was - ' He faltered. 'Tom was my friend.'
It was my turn to hug Elijah. It broke my heart to see him like this.
'It's all my fault though,' he sighed.
That got my attention. 'What?'
'If only I had made him end his affair with Rhea. None of this would have happened. I should have said something Isobel.'
'Don't say that! Of course it's not your fault! It's nobody's fault okay? This was - this was an awful, incredibly unfortunate thing that happened, but it is nobody's fault alright? Don't feel like that Elijah. Don't blame yourself.'