Alex glanced at the clock on the wall. That was the fifth time he’d done it in the last half hour. He still hadn’t told any of his friends that he was leaving school yet, he seemed to be waiting until lunch. I wished he would just get it over with.
Sure, it wasn’t a nice experience- especially because, when you’re as rich as Alex, you’re a really useful person to have around. But he had spent the last three and a half periods looking at the clock, saying nothing to anybody.
They noticed, of course, but nobody was going to say anything, were they? “Hi Alex, you look gloomy today. I know your best friend died while you were there and stuff, but what’s eating you?”
Ha ha ha, no.
Alex couldn’t have been out of the room faster when the bell went to signal the beginning of lunch. In the refectory he sat at his normal table, and our friends all gathered there too. The girl who considered herself his girlfriend, Lily, stood behind him and started massaging his shoulders. I could tell he wanted her to leave him, but he didn’t say anything.
She stooped down to kiss his neck, and he turned his head away. She didn’t notice, and did it again. He moved away, pushing her gently backwards. “Don’t, Lily. Just don’t,” he said. She looked hurt.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“What do you think? Not now!” he replied angrily.
“You weren’t complaining a few weeks ago,” said another girl. She was wrong, actually. He wasn’t complaining to them, but he was sure as hell complaining to me.
“This isn’t a good time for me. I gave it a go, okay,” Alex said, in the hope of ending it painlessly. Lily frowned.
“Are you breaking up with me?” offered Lily.
“Look,” said Alex, “My best friend just died and my parents are making me go to a private school, do you fancy having a girlfriend in that situation?”
That shut them up.
Another one of our friends, Jake, spoke eventually. “You’re leaving? Why?”
Alex shrugged. “Well, my parents know about all the stuff I’ve been doing, now, and they want me to go so some posh school so I don’t talk to any of my old friends anymore. Or have fun. Or, you know, breathe.”
Everybody was quiet. “Wow, man. Your parents suck,” said Jake after a pause.
“You fucking noticed?” said Alex sarcastically. Nobody had the nerve to respond. They all looked unhappy, ranging from Lily’s tears to the frowns of others. Except for Charlie, but that was no change.
Charlie never liked Alex, mainly because he was his only rival for the most popular guy in the year, but also partly because Alex had liked Charlie’s girlfriend, China, for ages, and he was Charlie’s only rival for her affections, too.
He stood at our table with his arm round China, like he always did, and tried not to look smug. I don’t think he was trying very hard, mind you. China looked vaguely concerned, but she didn’t exactly look like she was going to burst into tears, either.
“I’m gonna...Um. Go get lunch,” said Jake finally. A lot of the others seemed to have the same idea too, and left.
Alex brought his hands up onto the tabletop, examining his nails. His white hands contrasted sharply with the blue plastic surface. Lily sat next to him, and put her hand on the table too, silently inviting him to take it. She fancied herself, that one. I suppose she was pretty, in a bland sort of way, but she was dumb to the point of just being plain annoying.
I was glad to see Alex wasn’t taking the bait, but when his message eventually penetrated the one brain cell I had previously been assured she did have, and she moved her hand away, Alex took it. I was confused- he told me he didn’t like her.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I yelled, but of course he couldn’t hear me. His only response was to frown slightly, and make no other movement than lift his hand, entwined with Lily’s, and kiss her fingers.
What the hell was he playing at? We both knew fine well that he wasn’t interested in her, so why was he leading her on like that?
Lily seemed happy enough, and the somewhat troubled look on Alex’s face didn’t seem to register with her- if it did, she ignored it. She just stared at his solemn face with stupid moon-eyes, wondering at her apparent luck. She seemed to have conveniently forgotten the stuff Alex had said earlier.
As the table filled again, she looked at the crowd sulkily. “Let’s go for a walk, Alex,” she said. He didn’t object, but I did not like the sound of that. Of course, I had no choice but to follow.
Lily took us in the direction of the path surrounding the school, instead of the more public courtyard. I didn’t like her, but maybe she was smarter than I thought.
It was cold and still but sunny enough. Their footsteps made crunching noises when they stepped on the little icy puddles dotted around the path. We were surrounded by trees now, and although they were bare of any foliage they were dense, and not much light penetrated through the canopy.
The crunching stopped. I looked ahead again, and it took a while for me to register that they were kissing. I don’t know why it bothered me so much, but I felt like she was taking advantage of him. Yeah, they had kissed before- Alex was a show-off with a weakness for flattery- but it just didn’t seem right.
“STOP it!” I yelled, although I knew nothing would happen. Astonishingly, he pulled away, looking puzzled.
“We should go back,” he said bluntly. Lily seemed happy to, and didn’t seem offended by his tone. After all, she got what she wanted.
Alex dropped her hand, and didn’t walk close to her when they went back. She still couldn’t keep the smug smile from her face when they made their way back to the table. I could see everybody watching Alex and Lily, and the change in their expressions as they came to their own conclusions.
The bell rang for class.
Jake and I followed Alex. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking.
“Nice one, mate,” said Jake, grinning.
“What’s that meant to mean?” asked Alex, teeth gritted. “We’re just friends. I don’t even like her.”
Jake raised an eyebrow, and looked sideways at Alex. “Right, mate. Sure.”
“What?” asked Alex.
“Oh, nothing. Funny how you knew right away what I was on about. Yep. I’m sure you are ‘just friends’,” said Jake. He grinned again at Alex, and, not looking where he was going, crashed into a door.
Alex burst out laughing. It was good to see him laugh, again; a real, genuine laugh. Jake recovered and punched Alex affectionately on the arm. He was still laughing.
As I looked at them, I wasn’t happy. I didn’t know why, but when I stood back a little, and watched them talk together as they walked away from me, I was horrified to realise that I was jealous.
Jealous, because my best friend was having his first happy moment in weeks. I knew it wasn’t right, but I could picture myself in Jake’s place. I should have been the one joking with Alex about his new girl. Not him, not this impostor.
I hurried after him, looking at my feet. He was still talking to Jake when we arrived outside the door to the next class, and he was still smiling. It really hurt, to see him happy without me. And not hurt like a broken wrist. You know the feeling, when you fall out with someone, or get insulted? It was just like that.
It hit me then, as I watched him laugh with his other friends, just how difficult death would be for me.