I spent most of the next day in bed, which wasn’t usual for me. I couldn’t think of anything else to do; my mind was blank. No action presented itself to me that was worth the immense effort it took to accomplish.
But hunger… Hunger is cruel. I’ve had my fair share. It can drive you to do a lot. Even, it seems, to haul yourself out of bed.
I tried to avoid him, but it was an inevitable confrontation. I had to wonder if he’d placed himself in the kitchen for that very reason – it was that or the bathroom, which would have been weird.
His eyes were still sunken, had he slept at all? He leaned on the counter casually, but even I could pick out his slight fidgeting. “Are you going to school tomorrow?”
“What?” I hadn’t thought of school since Beth got hurt. It just didn’t appear on my list of things to be concerned about. There were more important things… even if I wasn’t quite sure what they were yet.
“Tomorrow is Monday,” he said.
“I really hadn’t thought about it.” It just seemed so pointless, but then he seemed keen on me deciding to do something else, if I couldn’t be a pilot.
Actually, he’d said I should stop running away from stuff and confront it. I’d been thinking about that a lot. With being a pilot, I was trying to get away from all the crap, everything. Get to somewhere where you don’t get attacked for driving through the wrong neighbourhood, where parents would spend time with their kids instead of slowly killing themselves in a drug den.
Truly, I didn’t want to get away: I wanted those places to never exist in the first place. How was I going to confront that? How could I confront human nature? Or at least, that’s what it seemed like: selfishness. And I was just as bad as them, in a way.
School didn’t seem like it would offer me any solutions. I could learn math, science. How would that help?
I don’t think Mr. Spencer had been hoping for me to come to that conclusion though, because he continued on, oblivious. “Don’t worry, I’ll drop you off and pick you up afterwards then we can go to the hospital. You won’t have to go anywhere on your own.”
As if that would help. I’d be in school on my own, with not even Beth there.
“Do you need to pop home and get your stuff?” he asked. I guess he was being serious.
“No, I keep it in my locker.” I lied. I could manage without. I’d never had a tablet of my own anyway.
* * *
I’d been daydreaming, watching the street-lights flash by, wondering if Beth would ever be okay. What if she woke up and had forgotten all about me?
We drove with just the hum of the electric motor and the groan of tyres on asphalt to break the silence. Neither of us uttered a word. Too painful for both of us, for different reasons, both related to Beth.
All I had to do was make it through this place. One day. I can do one day.
The squat concrete and glass sprawl that made up the school was intimidating for its contents if not for its posture, which resembled that of a dead animal. A carcass of concrete, slowly collapsing in on itself as it rots.
I wasn’t in a good mood.
And this time there was nothing to look forward to during lunchtimes except everyone who wasn’t Beth.
I resisted the temptation to just walk away. It took a lot to take those first few steps to the door. But I wasn’t alone, and I didn’t want any of the other students to stare at me – I would have been the only stationary figure in a steady stream of people filtering into the building.
So I put one foot in front of the other, keeping an eye out for anyone with their attention on me for too long. Would there be gossip about my absence, about Beth’s? It didn’t matter; I’ve never paid any attention to it before.
It took me a while to even remember what my first lesson was. History. Fun. At least it wasn’t one I considered dangerous; there wasn’t anyone who in particular who didn’t like me.
I took a seat at the back of the class, lucky to be early enough to get one.
People filtered in and sat down, chatting away. An obnoxious murmur filled the room. I caught shreds of conversations, which all seemed so trivial and childish. The major concerns of everyone around me were how much weight they had to lose by summer, who was going out with who. Oh, did you see that TV program last night? Sam totally walked out on Tony!
I didn’t know why it made me so angry. It wasn’t their fault, but fucking hell: Open your damn eyes. There are more important things than who did what in a fiction created for your entertainment.
The same thought crossed my mind about the lesson – why should I bother learning about this? What would learning about early space flight do to help us make this world any better? What could I use about the ending of Moore’s technological era that would serve any purpose here and now?
I was being too harsh. I wasn’t so stupid that I couldn’t see the importance of learning about what had and hadn’t worked through history so we can make better choices in the future.
But fuck, it just seems like all we manage to do is make the bad choices.
The chime calling the end of class couldn’t have come any sooner. And this was only the first…
Fuck this place, why was I even here?
* * *
I contemplated skipping lunch. Hell, I nearly just walked out of school as a whole. Instead, my stomach had a pretty successful go at persuading me to stay.
I could eat as fast as possible and get out of there. I managed to get in early, meaning there wasn’t much of a queue, get a seat in the corner and started stuffing my face. I kept a wary eye on the room, but didn’t spot Haley.
Someone was coming towards me with purpose though.
The hair on the back of my neck stood on end, but then I recognised her and relaxed. The mousey haired girl that had started sitting with us at lunch. Emma?
As she approached I noticed a black eye, covered with make-up. Hastily or amateurishly I couldn’t tell, I was no expert in the stuff. Never had the money or the will to try it. I felt a pang of pain as I remembered that Beth knew about stuff like that.
Emma took the seat opposite. Was there a slight wince as she did?
I gave her a short nod, and went back to eating.
She wouldn’t want to talk about it, I never did. Worst thing is to have someone draw attention to you. Point out that its really fucking obvious someone beat the shit out of you. It’s not nice.
I tried not to show any visual reaction, but my mind was running in circles.
Was it Haley? It would make sense, whatever perverted pleasure she got out of tormenting me would be left unsatisfied with my week’s absence.
Who better to pick as my replacement than the girl who’d started to sit at my table? She wasn’t much taller than me, so she’d make an easy target. Those glasses must cause a lot of trouble if she ever tried to fight back…
That fucking bitch.
I hoped Emma wasn’t thinking I didn’t like her. I don’t think I could guard my expression from letting some feeling leech into it. Must be pretty shitty to come sit next to someone you might want to be friends with and have them immediately start looking pissed off and avoid your look.
Holy shit, someone wanted to be friends with me? This was Beth all over again. I can’t fuck this up! I could have two fucking friends!
I tried smiling at her. No, scrap that. I might look a bit scary, I wasn’t good at smiling. I should practice or something.
I looked up at her and saw she was just blinking at me, with one eyebrow slightly raised in confusion.
God I’m an idiot.
“Hi,” I said. Play it fucking safe.
She smiled, and said hello back. Fuck yeah!
We carried on eating in silence, but I was feeling much more content with the situation, social formalities out of the way
When was the point that Beth became a friend? I hadn’t even spoken more than a few words to Emma. It would probably take time.
A laugh rose above the hum of conversation in the canteen. I recognised it immediately, and I caught the sight of Emma mirroring my wince.
Here we go.
I watched Haley stand, then the girls on her table a step behind. She looked over at me, right in the eye, and flashed a vulpine grin.