Part Two : Franklin

It’s taking up our time, we can’t go back, we can’t go back at all…

It was always an effort to drag herself out of bed in the morning. No matter how many hours of sleep Cacey managed to get, she was still as tired as if she hadn’t slept at all. Even caffeine didnt go very far in making her look less like one of the living dead. Her mother had stopped commenting on it anymore.

So Cacey was surprised when she asked, Are you feeling sick, Cacey?

She was stirring too much sugar into her coffee and didnt immediately reply.

Im fine, mum.

Are you sure?

Yes, Cacey said, hearing defiance creep into her tone. She knew she probably looked like crap - hell, she felt like it - but she was not in the mood to be questioned. She tugged her fingers through her choppy hair in an attempt to make it lie flatter, but she knew the shadows under her eyes and her too-pale skin were lost causes. If she was one of those girls with an endless supply of concealer, or foundation, or whatever concoction it was that most of them at her school applied liberally to their faces, she might have been able to hide them. But she was definitely not one of those girls.

So she sipped at her drink in silence until her mother had finished packing her bag and left. If she was expecting a response to her shout of ‘’Bye! Have a good day at school! then she didnt wait for one before letting the front door slam on her way out.

She knew Cacey wouldn’t have a good day, so what was the point of saying it?

With one of the world-weary sighs that seemed to come out of her with alarming regularity, Cacey dumped the cup into the sink and shrugged on her monochrome patterned backpack without bothering to check if she’d put the right school books in it the night before. She knew she hadn’t. She didn’t care.

Cacey had to catch the bus to school from the stop around the corner from her street, and she usually arrived a minute or two before the bus. Today, when she turned the corner, the bus was pulling up to the stop. She began to speed walk, clutching both straps of her backpack tightly. The kids from her school who were sat at the back in a fug of cigarette smoke were watching her with smirks on their faces, hoping for the driver to pull away.

She swung through the doors before he could close them and dropped the fare onto his plastic tray, not looking back as the doors hissed shut and not looking forward at the jeering school kids. She flopped into an empty double seat close to the front of the bus and inserted a white earbud into each ear, cranking up the volume to drown everyone else out.

Five minutes later the bus pulled up across the road from the school gates. Cacey waited in her seat for the others to pass in their jostling crowd along the aisle, bringing with them a nasty smell of smoke that wasn’t masked by the stale scent of cheap perfume, before she got to her feet and followed them off the bus.

There was a teacher from the history department manning the gate. She felt his eyes follow her as she walked past into the school and stiffened her shoulders. She hated people staring. He had been in the counsellor’s office when she was called there last year, and he always looked at her in a different way since then.

“Don’t look scared, Cacey, I won’t bite,” the counsellor smiled widely in what she probably thought was an ingratiating way, but in fact contradicted her statement, because her teeth were rather large and far too white to be naturally that colour. However she managed a weak grin in response.

“Mr Barker was just dropping by,” she aimed a soppy smile in the history teacher’s direction, and Cacey’s insides shrivelled. Everybody knew he was dating the school counsellor, but still. It was weird.

“So, a few of your teachers have voiced concerns about you in the past month or so,” she said in a businesslike tone, indicating the padded chair opposite her which Cacey reluctantly sat on. She was trying to keep her expression carefully blank, but it was like a slap in the face to hear that people had been talking about her behind her back. “It’s okay, Cacey. It’s just that with what happened this past spring, they feel that you might not be managing as well.”

Mr Barker had been on his way out, but he stopped and looked over his shoulder. Cacey didn’t turn her head in his direction but silently willed him to leave already. This was none of his damn business. It was humiliating enough without him eavesdropping.

“Cacey? What do you think?”

She blinked slowly. “I think... that I'm doing fine."

The woman looked disappointed. With her lips closed, it looked as if somebody had drawn the pale pink lipstick frown onto her face. What did she want Cacey to say?

“Really,” she said, and it wasn’t a question. “Well, I don’t think you are, Cacey. I want you to be honest with me, do you think you‘re coping with the death of -”

“Is he going to leave?” Cacey interjected irritably. She was trying to stop herself from sounding heated, but she was getting angry. When she got angry, a lump swelled in her throat and her eyes started to sting. She was not going to humiliate herself further with this.

The counsellor looked up, arranging her face into surprise when she saw Mr Barker was still half in the room.

“I’m sorry, de -”

“No, I’m sorry, for wasting your time,” Cacey said as cordially as she could manage, but still her voice sounded strained. She ignored the counsellor’s protests and shouldered her way past the intrusive teacher. She ran back to class before either of them could call her back.

Cacey had flushed a little at the mere memory. Unsurprisingly she had ignored all of the letters the counsellor asked requesting meetings in her office and had not returned since that incident.

The bell rang and she sped up her pace, sliding into her seat at the back of the room a few minutes late but unnoticed. That was the way it went pretty much every day, actually.

For once Cacey didn’t bury her head in her arms to have to avoid eye contact with her classmates. Nobody stared in her direction anymore. Like she had said to Scarlet at the start of the summer, she had ceased to exist. There had been a minor interest the first day of school when everyone had been wondering if Scarlet would be coming back. It had become evident that she was not, and once again Cacey faded into the background because it was easier for them to ignore her than to try to make awkward conversation.

She observed them silently. They were normal. Perfectly ordinary, too loud chatter, music blaring illicitly from phones while the teacher didn’t even bother to try to make them quiet.

Cacey sighed again, a lot louder than she had intended to. One of the girls at the desk in front turned around at the sound and Cacey stared at her like a deer caught in the headlights.

“Ohhi, Cacey,” she said in a chipper voice as if she had suddenly appeared there without warning. Amelie had been one of the girls who spoke to her and Scarlet regularly last year. She was the girl you could rely on to talk to or be your partner when your other friend wasn‘t there. She had stopped being even that when she averted her eyes from Cacey in the corridor and avoided her. That had hurt Cacey more than she would ever admit. Amelie hadn’t meant much to her, but being slowly cut out of everybody’s circle did not induce warm fuzzies.

“Hi,” Cacey replied shortly, trying to keep the frost out of her voice. Amelie was probably thinking about the way she’d treated Cacey too. She opened her mouth to say something, then closed it again and tucked loose blonde hair behind her ear.

“Well, I’ll see you in history class.”

Cacey was walking down the corridor between classes when somebody’s shoulder slammed into hers, making her stumble back and hit some unused lockers against the wall with her back. For a second she was too temporarily stunned to shout “Jerk!” after whoever it was like she usually would have done. It wasn’t just the impact that had stunned her, it was the fact that someone had walked right into her.

The high school had its fair share of jerks, but nobody had gone close enough to bump into her in a long time. Since spring she had walked through the halls with a small bubble of space around her that nobody had encroached on. Not even once.

She blinked twice and looked up at the guy who had sent her into the lockers. He was a head taller than her, so he must have been in her year, but she’d never seen him before. That explained it. He didn’t know what had happened. He didn’t know that Cacey was to be avoided at all costs. She almost smiled, but checked herself before she made herself look an idiot. Well, some damage had already been done by her locker slam, and the way she was staring wordlessly at the guy, who evidently felt terrible about the whole thing, as he was staring back at her with an apologetic frown. Could have been worse. She’d done at least one faceplant in front of most of the faculty in her time at this school.

“Listen, I’m so sorry,” he offered, holding out the hand that wasn’t balancing a folder and stack of papers in supplication. “I wasn’t looking where I was going, and I just

“It’s, uh, it’s fine,” Cacey managed to say, tugging her backpack straight. A few people around them were watching their exchange as they passed. The people who knew who Cacey was, and what her connections to the past were, downright stared. Cacey resisted the urge to give them a one-finger wave and brushed her fringe out of her eyes with a weak smile. “I wasn’t really paying attention.”

“No, it was my fault,” he said earnestly, rubbing at the back of his head awkwardly. His dark hair was just a little too long, falling over his ears and into his brown eyes. The sudden absence of chatter and general noise made them glance around. There were no other students in the hallway, the last of them having gone to class already. “Oh, man, I’m sorry again,” he muttered, looking genuinely distressed, “now I’ve made you late too.”

“It’s okay,” Cacey couldn’t help letting a smile creep across her face. A real smile? Wow, it had been a while. “I’ll see you around.”

“Maybe you’ll be in some of my classes,” he said, visibly brightening as he shrugged his bulky black backpack off and wedged the bumper-sticker-covered folder in before zipping it shut and swinging it back onto his shoulder. “I’m new here. If you hadn’t already guessed.”

He cracked a smile, and Cacey returned it fully. She couldn’t help it. This was the first conversation she had had with anybody but her mother and Mrs Summer in too long a while.

“I’d say it was nice to meet you, but I’m not sure you’d agree considering the circumstances,” he said amiably, holding out a long-fingered hand with biro graffiti all over it. “I’m Dom.”

“Uh, Cacey,” she replied a beat too slowly, slipping her much smaller hand into his for a brief shake. It felt odd, too formal, but easily comfortable.

She tried to read the words across his hand before they let go, but she could only read “the end is coming” and “hold on if you‘re ready“. Nice.

He followed the direction of her gaze and shook his sleeve out over his hand with a smile. “Hopefully, I will see you around.”

He gave her a half-salute before wandering off down the hallway, quite obviously not knowing where he was going. She noticed he was wearing battered old black Chucks, almost identical to the ones on her own feet. Her smile widened a little more.

“Hey,” she called after him suddenly. “Where are you supposed to be?”

He stopped, pushing his hair back from his forehead with one hand and looking as if he had been caught out at something.

“History II,” he answered grudgingly. She allowed herself a smile.

“It’s that way,” she pointed in the opposite direction. “Upstairs and second on the left.”

He blew out an embarrassed sigh. “I knew that.”

“Of course.”

When he was level with Cacey, he said, “Well, thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

Cacey wandered down the hall towards her class room in a half-daze. The short interaction had left her with a sort of buzzing in her brain. She shook her head to try and dislodge the distracting sound and consequently almost walked into Mr Barker.

“Cacey Leighton?”

“Uh, uh, yes, sir,” she stuttered, feeling like an idiot. He turned his head and gave her a sideways look; she felt her insides shrivelling. Why did it have to be him?

“Where should you be right now?” he asked after a beat of uncomfortable silence, during which she thought he might reprimand her for improper school uniform (the beat-up Converse were unsurprisingly non-regulation). She tilted her head towards the door to the chemistry lab a little way behind him, which he had to turn round to look at. She considered bolting while his back was turned, but that was a little juvenile. She wasn’t against a bit of divert-attention-and-bail, but she wasn’t sure she could manage to look Mr Barker in the eye next time she saw him if that was added to the list of her embarrassments which he had witnessed.

“Well, hurry up,” he said tonelessly, and turned to watch her open the door and walk in. She felt his eyes on her back until she closed the door on him and turned to face the classroom.

Twenty-five faces stared back at her.

She felt a dull flush creep up her cheeks as the chemistry teacher pushed up the safety goggles she was wearing while she conducted a demonstration experiment at the front desk.

“Um

sorry I’m late, Miss Huxley.”

“What’s your name?”

Cacey felt the blush deepen as she told her. The teacher was new this school year, but since it was October now she had learned the class members’ names already. Except hers, because Cacey was the invisible girl at the back, and she was having to admit to that now in front of everybody. They watched her relentlessly until the teacher had edited the register on her laptop and snapped the custom-made goggles back into place.

“Sit down, Miss Leighton.”

She sat down.

By the time lunch hour rolled around, Cacey felt drained.

Mostly the days dragged by at a fairly constant speed, tiring but bearable. Today felt like it had been a week. It was only Tuesday.

She flopped into the empty cafeteria table in the furthest corner from the door, which she had appropriated at the start of the year. So far none of the younger students had tried to steal it, which they usually did in an effort to impress their short classmates, as if it demonstrated their brains and strength and earned them a rep for being one of the tough kids. Yeah, that was being young these days. Cute.

She could never be bothered subjecting herself to the inevitable stares she would receive from being in the lunch queue - even the people who didn’t know her would look at her because she was so obviously by herself - so she usually brought something of her own to eat. Today she had -

She sighed and slapped her face into her palm. Of course, she had forgotten to shove something in her bag this morning. All she had was yesterday’s half-drunk bottle of orange squash.

“Something wrong?”

Her head snapped up as she wondered who the hell would breach the unspoken rule to see what was up with her. Of course it was him - Dom.

He was holding a laden tray and hovering by the opposite seat as if waiting for an invitation. She was suddenly scared. Even in this removed corner of the room, the cafeteria crowd could still burn holes through her with their eyes. The new guy and the girl-you-left-alone sat together would definitely draw attention, and the way today was going, she certainly did not want more of that.

Screw it.

“Just thinking about stuff,” Cacey said and made herself smile. He gestured to the seat, causing the tray to wobble dangerously, but he managed to prevent any of the food from sliding off.

“You waiting for someone, or is this free?”

“Uh,” Cacey couldn’t help it; she blushed. “No

it’s all yours.”

“Great,” he grinned, and the smile began to feel less forced. He slid into the chair, dumping the tray carelessly and swinging his bag off and onto the floor. He had a few pin badges, but not as many as Cacey had on her bag. Hers were sarcastic slogans, cute pictures, and band badges. His were for a few obscure bands she’d never heard of. The bag was scrawled on with luminous marker, tangles of quotes and lyrics from what she could tell. Just like his hand. She looked at his hand as he tipped back the bottle of Coke he was drinking, but he had wiped the writing off.

“Sorry for intruding on you like this,” he said suddenly as he set the now empty bottle (how did he drink it all at once?) down on the tabletop. His brown eyes, which seemed almost black in this dim corner of the room, were serious. She shook her head quickly to insinuate that she didn’t mind at all, and dropped her eyes.

“It’s just, it’s hard flying solo when you’re the new guy,” he continued, and she heard the crinkle of paper as he unwrapped his sandwich. She slid her half empty squash bottle from one hand to the other across the table while he talked. “And you’re the only person I’ve met.. Well, that I’ve actually spoken more than few words to, anyway.”

Cacey looked up then, and one side of her lips quirked up into a half-smile. “That qualifies as us being best buddies, right?”

Instead of taking her comment as a sarcastic one like most people who didn‘t get her odd humour might have, he nodded and held up his free hand for a high five.

“For life.”

She reached up and slapped his hand. His was much larger than hers.

“Do you play piano?” she blurted out suddenly. Scarlet’s brother Jason had long fingers like Dom’s, and he had always said they were ‘’piano fingers’’. For a moment Cacey wondered if Jason would have been able to get Scarlet out of her misery, if he hadn’t had to leave for college almost a year ago. She mentally shook herself out of it as she realised Dom had actually replied.

“No

I went to lessons for a while when I was younger, but I gave up pretty early. Realised guitar was my thing,” he smiled, leaning down to flick the guitar pick that was hanging on a chain from the bag zip. “Do you play anything?”

“I have an acoustic,” Cacey admitted. She was finding it far too easy to talk to this guy she barely even knew. “To be honest, it’s been gathering dust in my closet for a few years now,” she said with a laugh. She laughed? “Scarlet bought one at the same time, and we promised we’d learn to play them together, but

She trailed off and the smile faded. God, it was like Scarlet was dead too. Every little memory or mention of her reminded Cacey that her best friend wasn’t in her life anymore.

She realised she’d just cut off talking, and that Doom was staring at her with his eyebrows raised as if to prompt her to go on.

“I guess we just never got round to it,” she finished lamely, taking a sip from her bottle for something to do with her hands. She felt his gaze on her but wouldn’t meet it. He probably knew that there was something she wasn’t going to say.

“So, where’s Scarlet now?” he asked the question she had been anticipating but dreading at the same time. It was inevitable he’d ask, but she had clung to the hope that he’d change the subject. She sighed.

“She’s at home today,” she said simply, as if it was only the one day Scarlet was missing and not most of the school year. He nodded, but she could tell from his expression that he knew there was more to it than she was going to tell him.

“So” - at last, the conversation was changing direction - “aren’t you going to have any lunch?”

“Um.. Huh?” she offered by way of reply, stupidly. She cringed inwardly and pulled a face, swigging the last of her drink and tossing the bottle at a nearby bin. For once her aim was on target and it dropped right in.

“Points,” Dom grinned. “That all you’re having? You’re making me feel greedy here.”

He indicated his meal on the tray, biting into a cookie.

“Well, you’re a growing boy, right? You need the protein and all that.” She looked at the dinner-plate sized double chocolate cookie. “Though I doubt that’s gonna be any good for you.”

“What can I say, I’m a rule-breaker,” he smiled and leaned back in the chair. He was evidently relaxed, though talking to a total stranger on a first day at a new school would have made Cacey highly uncomfortable. Even as she thought that, she realised that the tight knot of tension that usually resided in her stomach throughout school had faded. Even if it was only temporary, it was clear what had made it go away. Just who was Dom, and why did he have this effect on her, when she’d been locked inside herself for so long?

“So, why did you come here?” Cacey asked, entwining her fingers so her hands were clasped in front of her. She realised it might sound hostile, but he obviously didn’t take it that way. He’d finished his cookie now and had moved on to the slice of pizza.

“My family moved down here during the summer break,” he said after a pause while he chewed. She gave him the option of telling her why they’d moved without asking him directly. Cacey was more aware of the effect sensitive topics had on people recently. The only explanation he offered was, “We’ve got relatives down here, and they had some difficulty earlier this year.”

She nodded, trying to look appropriately sorry. She hated it when people did that, acted as if they were sorry for something that they knew nothing about and had nothing to do with them, but she didn’t know how else to respond. She didn’t push him any further, just as he hadn’t pushed her about Scarlet. They both knew there was more to what the other had said, but they were both satisfied to leave things where they were for now.

The bell rang overhead and the chattering crowds began to disperse as the students abandoned the tables.

“Oh, man, time already?” Dom groaned, standing up and dumping his leftovers in the same bin Cacey had thrown her bottle into. She slung her bag over her shoulder as he grabbed his own. She didn’t know if he wanted her to wait for him or not, so she sort of hovered for a few seconds, before saying, “Um, well, I’ll see you around.”

“See you around,” he smiled, a full charming smile that made her want to just stand there and stare at him. She gave a small wave, which he answered with a salute, and hurried from the almost empty cafeteria.

It felt like she had barely slid into her seat in history when the bell rang for the end of the school day. She revelled in her distraction as she gathered up the blank notebook and stationery on her desk. Usually she sat there, mind numb, as the seconds crawled past, with nothing but her thoughts to help her pass the time.

It was strange how meeting someone new could occupy your thoughts enough for the ball of anxiety to go away and for time to pass right by you.

She only realised she was smiling like a fool when she had to stop walking because Amelie was in front of her.

“Are you feeling all right,, Cacey?” she asked, eyebrows furrowed as she fell into step beside her on their way out of school.

“Um, I’m fine, why?” Cacey asked, erasing the inane grin at once and trying not to make it obvious that she was looking for someone as she browsed the floods of students exiting the building.

“You just look

I mean, you seem - nothing,” Amelie said. Cacey knew what she meant, though. Yes, she did seem happier than usual today. She couldn’t help it. A chance encounter in a corridor had made her day a better one than she’d had in a long time.

“Well, see you tomorrow,” Cacey called over her shoulder as she darted away to the bus stop, unravelling the earphones from her iPod as she did so. She lost sight of Amelie in the crowds and climbed aboard the waiting bus, sliding into the seat she usually occupied and turning the music up.

She spotted the familiar landmark of the town library as the bus shuddered to a halt at the stop across from it. Before she knew what she was doing, she had suddenly left her seat and was stepping off the bus with the rest of the disembarking passengers.

Today had left her feeling weird. Meeting Dom and all that it had entailed had left her sort of

buzzing. It had been like having a real friend, like having her friend back. Dom seemed so comfortable with himself and with others, with the air of quiet confidence that he would take whatever life had to throw at him, even though he had some darker secret than he had shared with her. Cacey admired that, just like she had admired that attitude when Scarlet had it. Maybe that was it, what made her so comfortable around the guy she had only just met. The fact that he was such a similar soul, to herself and to how Scarlet had been.

She started walking, her feet hitting the pavement in time to the bass of the song she was listening to. The feeling that maybe everything wasn’t as bad as it seemed, that it really might get better, and that it could do so sooner than she had ever thought, filled her like it had that day at the start of summer. That was the last time she had even felt such optimism.

And again, her feet led her to the same place. She came to a halt in front of the Summers’ house; when she flicked the off switch and the music cut off, the silence seemed to be deafening. She swallowed back the bitter taste that accompanied the revival of the pessimistic thoughts, which stirred again in her moment of doubt, and knocked on the wood of the door.

A few beats passed, and it was pulled open. She was tucking the music player into a pocket when a familiar voice said, “Cacey?”

She looked up in shock. Scarlet stood in the doorway.

Scarlet. Dressed in her favourite t-shirt, with her hair as wild as if she had just rolled out of bed. In that instant, stood in the empty doorway and looking so vulnerable, as if Cacey were going to attack her, Scarlet reminded Cacey of the past more than ever.

Screenshots flashed through her head. Of them as children - scarfing down the pancakes drowned in syrup that Cacey’s dad made. Lying on their stomachs feeding the fish in Scarlet’s pond. Sombre in black at Cacey’s father’s funeral, faces blank with sorrow at the age of just ten. The first day of high school when they had been too afraid to speak to anyone else. Trying hard to actually complete their homework under the tree. Staying up all night on themed-movie marathons, annoying their parents with screaming when they were horror picks. Holidays, countless schooldays, weekends. And when he had come into her life, and consequently Cacey‘s too, and when he had left it.

But she was still here. Scarlet was back.

You remind me of a time when we were so alive, do you remember that?

 

 

 

 

The End

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