“I said no!”
“You can’t stop me!”
This argument had been going on for twenty minutes, and a compromise was yet to be reached. Alex was trying to persuade Isobel to let him go to Lily’s house, but she was having none of it. Six weeks after I died, relations in the Bates household had not improved any. Actually, I think they might have got worse.
“I wouldn’t like to bet on that, Alexander,” said Isobel.
“I know you wouldn’t! You don’t take chances on anything, and you don’t let me have any fun!” he responded.
“Well, not since I discovered what your idea of fun is! Even before I knew about the drugs, Alex, I knew about the drinking, about the girls, about the failing classes. I told you I don’t want you hanging about with any of those people anymore!” she said.
“I’m going to see my girlfriend! What’s the worst that could happen?”
“Oh, where do I start...?” she asked exasperatedly. Alex scowled.
“For goodness’ sake! Fine, all right! Go! But be back here by ten o’clock, and if you put one toe out of line, so help you God...” Isobel said.
I wasn’t sure what was worse, to be honest. Another night stuck in this house, or one spent with the Brainless Wonder. I followed Alex out of the front door anyway, because I had no choice.
He grabbed his skateboard and jogged down the gravel drive, and setting it down on the road, balanced himself. I had to run to catch up and hop on behind him.
He swerved to the left at the bottom of the hill. Lily’s street was away to the right, so I wondered where we were going. I was resigned to my fate of having no say in anything the living did, by then, so I went with it.
It was only when we passed the last housing estate in town that I realised where he was taking us. And I have to say, I hated the idea.
When Alex passed through the gate to the cemetery, I wanted nothing more than to turn and run. As usual, though, my choices were limited- try that, and have my insides ripped out by some malevolent invisible force, or go with Alex. Not surprisingly (but not willingly either) I chose the latter.
He hadn’t been to my graveside yet, so I hadn’t either. I would have been quite happy never to see my grave, but it looked like I wasn’t getting a choice.
Alex searched the rows intently, hunched over slightly to better see the engraved names on the stones. He stopped, reading the name on a clean, white slab of granite. I hung back as he sat down next to it, but my morbid curiosity became too much for me and I wandered over.
The grass had grown over the dirt in patches and somebody- presumably mum- had planted a row of pansies at the base of the stone. They had wilted a little.
Apart from that, it was a tidy enough grave. I guessed my mum had been down a few times. I wasn’t sure what to make of that- It had never seemed to me like she loved me- cared for me, maybe, or was even fond of me- but never loved me. Maybe, as with most things, I was just easier to love when I wasn’t there.
I looked at Alex, putting my pondering to one side. He was tracing the little indentations of the letters in the stone, mouthing my name, my birthday. My death day.
Rory Jay Abram. Born 12 May, 1995. Died 19 January, 2012. Aged fifteen.
How tragic. I wondered absently what strangers would think, reading that. Would they stop to read it at all? Alex was staring at the stone but his eyes were far away and he was barely moving.
He didn’t say anything, not once; he just sat and stared, kneeling on the damp grass. It was cold out, and persistent drizzle fell from the grey sky. Alex’s hair was plastered to his forehead and cheeks, but still he didn’t move. Somebody else wandered up through the graves. An old woman wearing a Rain-Mate regarded Alex with pity as she passed him, clutching a bunch of pink roses to her chest. She looked as if she may have been about to say something, but she changed her mind and walked on.
Finally Alex got up, tearing his eyes away from the grave, and I swear he looked at me- right at my face, and said “Thank you,” clear as day.
“You’re welcome,” I said, as a knee-jerk reaction, but he was already walking back towards the gates, skateboard in hand. I was completely astonished by what he had just done, but a sharp tugging at my chest brought me back to the present and I jogged after him, wondering why he didn’t wait for me.
“Alex!” I shouted. “Alex!” I repeated as he turned his head towards me. “Why didn’t you tell me you could see me? I swear, I’ll kill you too if you try anything like that again!” I yelled, but really I was overjoyed.
He shook his head slightly, and walked away.
“No, Alex,” I said, confused. “Alex, it’s me! It’s Rory! It’s... it’s Rory.”
The realisation hit me like a cannonball. It was more devastating, more crushing, than any mix of emotions I had ever felt before. He hadn’t heard me. He hadn’t seen me. I was nobody.
To have something and have it taken from you suddenly is worse than never having had it at all; so much more cruel. It was like giving a blind man sight and then snatching it away; giving him just long enough to see what he was missing. Of course, for me it was only an illusion, but it felt real, for all that it was worth. It felt more real than any other moment in my life, and any in my death, for the sole reason that I had never wanted anything more.
I wanted to curl into a ball on the ground right there in the graveyard and be left to wallow in self-pity, because sometimes is helps, but I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t do that because even though part of me hated Alex then I couldn’t leave him.
I dragged behind him, testing the boundaries of our weird joining force, seeing how much pain I could stand. It was less than a minute before I gave up and ran towards him.
As we rode away from the cemetery on his board I blocked out everything that had happened in the last hour, locking it away like an old file, to be taken out and examined at a later date.
I hoped we were going back home- miserable though it might have been, I would rather spend the night there in the company of someone with more than one brain cell than with the Brainless Wonder. She seemed to get less wondrous and more brainless every moment I had to spend with her.
So I wasn’t happy when we arrived at her front door. I was especially unhappy when I saw that her family wasn’t in because the idea of being alone with those two was not appealing. It was about as appealing as, say, acupuncture. To somebody with a needle phobia.
I reluctantly stepped into the garish green hallway, grimacing as I was forced to follow them upstairs. Lily didn’t look happy when he walked over to the window and opened it, leaning on the sill and staring out into the dull sky.
She wandered over and wrapped her arms around his waist, but dropped them by her side when he didn’t move. He just kept staring out of the window while she stared at him in turn, looking hurt.
“What’s wrong with you?” she asked, but she sounded more annoyed than she did concerned. He continued gazing out of the window for a moment, then turned to face her.
“Do the words ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ mean anything to you?” he asked. She stared at him blankly, and he sighed, but I was suddenly jubilant. He was going to break up with her! It was about time, I thought. She tapped her bright pink fingernails on the desk, not comprehending.
“I’m breaking up with you,” he said finally. She looked like she might punch him.
“And you’re going to use the excuse that it isn’t me, it’s you?” Lily said. He smiled, but it was strained.
“Exactly. It’s not me, it’s you. A new twist on a classic line,” he said. When this sunk in, saying that she looked like she might punch him... Well, it didn’t quite do her expression justice.
“After everything that happened?” she snarled. Alex shrugged.
“And what exactly is everything?” he asked.
“You know what I’m talking about,” she said, flicking her honey blonde hair.
“I do. But you knew I didn’t love you, and if there’s one thing I know about you is that you don’t love me either. And I don’t want to do anything I’ll regret. So I’m gonna go,” Alex said.
“Like what?” asked Lily, her big blue eyes glistening with crocodile tears over the loss of her favourite fashion accessory.
“Like hurt you. Or ask you to forgive me,” he replied without feeling. Lily grinned, but Alex wasn’t looking.
“What about this?” she asked. He looked like he might have asked her what she was on about if she hadn’t decided to grab him and eat his face.
At least, that’s what it looked like.
Alex, who just didn’t seem to do standards any more, kissed her back. They kind of fell onto the bed, so I was relieved when Alex shoved Lily off and stood up, straightening his clothes and ruffling his hair with his right hand.
“Exactly like that. And some advice before I go- playing hard to get never did anybody any harm. Seeya,” he said, turning around and beginning to walk away.
“Maybe you should take your own advice!” Lily yelled after him, red faced and livid. Alex ignored her, although he did mutter a couple of curses under his breath as he ran down the stairs and slammed the front door shut behind him.
As we walked home in the darkness, Alex’s skateboard under his arm, I was forced to admit to myself that maybe she had a point.