With Deepest Sympathy

It was hard going back to college without George. Usually he'd knock on my door in a morning, then we'd walk up hand in hand, we'd been together for about a year when the accident happened. Just started chatting on the way to college and he'd complimented how nice my eyes were, then I grinned and he complimented my smile too. We both studied English Literature not that George would ever write me an epic poem or anything, he was useless at that sort of thing. I used to do the writing and he used to draw a little bit, he was pretty good too. That was probably the only thing that did survive after his coma, Penelope had mentioned that he liked to colour. Now I wandered up the street alone, the leaves not quite brown but not completely green in the golden September morning sun.

I knew exactly how everyone would be at college. There are always two types of people you always notice when something monumental and terrible has happened in your life. There's the type who avoid you, but secretly they're watching you with their curious, glistening eyes remembering the newspapers, the pictures, the interviews that focus on the words ‘devastated' and ‘distraught'. They imagine how the accident happened, savour every single moment in a drama played out in their heads like they're watching a film. Then there's the other type who actually do come up to you and ask questions about how I'm doing, how I'm feeling, how George is, how life is. I would think the answers are pretty obvious, but people have to ask, and people have to imagine, people have to stare too, to see if I'm reacting normally to the events. No grief-deviance allowed in humanity - it happens, you cry, you're sad for a few months, you maybe go to a counsellor or start a charity in the person's name and then it's all done with, a blip of the past that will barely get mentioned again. Teenagers are even worse, teenagers are gossip-vultures, always longing for news. Well I swore to myself that morning as I walked down the lonely road that I wasn't going to let go of any details to anyone, to save the pitying looks and the glistening eyes. That was all behind me, George was alive in the end. He wasn't himself, but he wasn't dead.

 

I walked into the college and instantly all eyes were on me. The voices (which had been loud before) quietened almost instantly and a hush descended over the students. Being the shy type, I turned my head away and pretended not to notice, I didn't want to get mad at the realisation that they were imagining the accident. And I certainly didn't want to be asked how I was. All of a sudden I collided with a teacher, Mrs Jones

"Sorry" I muttered and was just about to carry on walking to my form room when she stopped me.

"Rosa!" She said in an already over-sympathetic tone. "How are you doing?"

"Fine" I muttered back miserably, the interrogation had already begun. Then Mrs Jones dropped her voice to a stupid level

"How's George doing?"

"Brain-damaged" I replied bluntly and at a normal sound level, it made people turn their heads - but George wasn't a freak show unless they made him that way. The way I said it made the glisten in her eyes turn to shock, I was glad to see the gossip vulture disappear so suddenly like a fire had been extinguished.

"Oh, dear. I am so sorry." Mrs Jones infuriatingly raised her eyebrows at me in a false pitying way and I felt the anger rise in my chest, I couldn't look at her.

"It's fine" I mumbled. "He's fine, he just needs time to recover, that's all. If you'll excuse me, I'm late for registration."

Mrs Jones opened her mouth to ask another question but I pushed past her quite firmly. I didn't want an interrogation, I wasn't a freak-show. Accidents happened all the time, it's not like George's was the first one ever, and he certainly wasn't the first person to be affected by it. Why was it such an attraction? My fists clenched against the table as the anger increased.

"Are you OK?" A voice asked.

"Yes!" I snapped and looked at the person furiously. He looked back in surprise, the face was an unfamiliar one, I wasn't expecting to see it.

"Oh." I uttered.

"Sorry. I'm new here. I just thought you looked a bit..." The boy turned his face away "Never mind. The name's Jason."

The first thing I noticed about Jason were his eyes. They were an odd kind of green colour, covered with flecks of gold, as soon as I looked at them I was calm which I hadn't been for days. But as well as being an odd green colour they were huge and bright as well, like something off a Japanese comic. His hair was black and short, but it still had an essence of untidiness about it. His fashion sense was pretty good, he looked just right with his chequered shirt and jeans, he looked so comfortable in them that someone could have thought he'd been born in them.

"I'm Rosa." I told him.

I looked down at the paper he'd been drawing on and saw odd-shaped weirdly buildings there

"What's that?" I asked, intrigued with his original style of drawing.

"Oh, nothing" Jason replied quickly and to my dismay, screwed up the paper and threw it in the bin. The next few moments were awkwardly silent, it made me start to wish for my tutor to arrive. It was a wish that was never going to come true, Mrs Pennyfeather was always late. Her name seemed to fit her sense of disorganisation surprisingly well.

"So, where are you from?" I asked. My voice came out slightly desperate because I wanted to escape the awkwardness so badly.

"Not far away. I went to the college on the other side of the county before. Then my parents moved and since I hated that college anyway I thought, what the hell, I'll move here." Jason started drawing again, which I was thankful for because it took away some of the awkwardness. Though he did keep glancing at me in the pauses that he stopped drawing.

"I hear that college is pretty good."

"Yeah, for performing arts people" He tittered.

I should have been offended, considering most of my friends were big on the Drama, but the way he said it made me giggle. The laugh surprised me, I hadn't done it for so long it was like a foreign language unbeknownst to me had escaped from my mouth. Jason grinned at me, then went back to drawing. But every 5 seconds his eyes made their way back to me again, it was making me curious to why he kept pausing and looking at me even though we weren't talking. And then I realised.

"Are you drawing me?" I asked, suddenly covering up my face.

"Aww. I'd almost finished too!" Jason was about to screw up the piece of paper but I reached out to stop him.

"No, just let me..."

I realised I'd just touched his hand, I cleared my throat and withdrew my own. Jason's face cracked into an amazingly bright grin that seemed to light up the whole room. I took the nearly screwed up paper from him and looked at the drawing. My first reaction was how freaky it was. He'd somehow managed to draw me all...spikey. He'd drawn my eyes in the shape of triangles and he'd managed to draw my hair way cooler than it actually looked.

"Woah"

"You like it?" Jason asked.

"Yeah, it's awesome" I smiled. "Do you do art?"

"Nah. You can't teach art, it's like if I go someone will be controlling my creative outbursts, as precocious as that sounds."

"No, no, that's not precocious at all. George used to..." I stopped myself and closed my eyes. This was a new person at college, he didn't need to know yet, my perception of him didn't need to change. Before Jason could ask who George was and why I was closing my eyes suddenly the teacher walked in, I silently sighed in relief and thanked the Lord that Miss Pennyfeather was always late.

 

As though to confirm my strong beliefs in Pennyfeather's massive disorganization, the woman did not notice Jason until the end of registration. Just as I was leaving the table to go to English Literature, she pointed me out as Jason's sort of mentor to show him around. He'd thankfully missed the joyful team building excercises I was forced to do at the beginning of year 12, when I'd seen George leading the other boys to victory against the girls. That kind of sexist attitude to team-building had irritated me long since the days when Primary School Summer camps were all the rage. On my way out with Jason, Miss Pennyfeather irritatingly stopped me.

"How are you doing, by the way, Rosa?"

"Fine" I muttered, trying not to get as angry as I had at Miss Jones.

"And how's George?" Miss Pennyfeather smiled hopefully. "I hear he's woken up. I trust he'll be back at 6th Form soon, playing football and wowing the PE Teachers once more."

I shuddered with the horrible mental punch she'd just accidentally delivered. Jason watched me, worriedly as I struggled with myself not to screech at her, after all how was Miss Pennyfeather to know that the word of the gossip vultures had not been entirely truthful, again?

"He...he won't be able to do those kinds of things anymore, Miss Pennyfeather. I'm afraid his brain is irreparably damaged." I had lowered my voice beyond the normal levels in case I accidentally found myself shouting.

"Oh. Rosa I am so sorry! I know how close you two were." She raised her eyebrows in the same way Miss Jones had.

"Yes Miss Pennyfeather" I answered monotonously. In my mind I felt myself ready to screech at her as I had with Miss Jones. The rest of humanity annoyed me for making me act, speak and move a certain way. Reacting to grief was no different, if I shouted at Miss Pennyfeather, she'd probably send me to the college psychologist, and the last thing I wanted to do was talk about my feelings with anyone. I stormed out of the room, Jason in tow. For a few angry seconds I didn't care if I looked like a raging freak to him, then I worried that he'd think all the other people in college were this disturbed. I thought about George's bright blue eyes before he'd had his accident and sighed in relief, if anyone could have calmed me down at that moment it would have been him.

"I'm not going to ask if you're alright, you know." Jason told me, I'd half-forgotten he was following me to English Literature. Coincidentally we had picked three of our four subjects the same. I swiveled round to face him, and saw no gleam of curiosity in his weirdly-coloured green eyes. No false pity being raised on the arches of his brow, he looked sympathetic but not Miss Jones ‘over-the-top sympathy avalanche' sympathetic. "And for as long as you don't want me too, I'm not going to ask who George is, or what happened or how you feel."

I paused for a few seconds, thoughts rushing through my head, what did I need to say to him next? Then I realised I didn't need to say anything at all, I just smiled and he smiled back. Suddenly my phone buzzed, I picked it up and read the text marked ‘Penelope'. It read

"Will you come and see George after college? He keeps talking about the girl with green hair." And as always with Penelope there was a trademark kiss at the bottom.

The End

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