* * *
Steven pushed open the double doors below the stylized Twin Oaks High School sign. He moved down the hallway, staring straight ahead, not speaking to anyone. He was acutely aware of eyes following his movements but chose not to engage. School hadn’t started yet, and the classroom doors were all locked. He walked to his homeroom and leaned his back against the wall next to the door. He slid down the wall, and sat with his legs crossed, his backpack refusing to allow him the simple comfort of leaning his head against the cool cinderblock wall.
Images of that night flashed when he closed his eyes. It was as if he were a celebrity walking the red carpet, flashbulbs reflecting off his somber eyes. But these flashes weren’t simple white light; they were a freak show of horrors. Blonde, red black and pale, pale white. Her hair, the blood, a tank top and her pale, pale skin. That was the sequence that flashed behind his closed eyes. The details beyond those colors were washed out as if they weren’t real.
Running footsteps echoed off the lockers and the polished floor. The footfalls slowed, and finally stopped next to Steven. He opened his eyes and saw Robert’s square face staring down at him. Robert knelt next to him, and hissed, “What the fuck happened?”
Steven didn’t respond, or turn to make eye contact with Robert. What does it even matter? he thought, fighting the horror show in his mind.
“Steven, I saw the news. What happened to Lindsay?”
Steven cocked his head to one side, and finally made eye contact with Robert. There was sorrow in Robert’s eyes. Steven couldn’t tell if it was sadness for Lindsay or for Steven. It was an effort, but he replied in a low voice, “She killed herself.”
Robert’s face fell. Then he fell. His backpack slid off his shoulder and landed with a brutal thump. The hallway was eerily quiet, and both the backpack and Robert’s knees echoed. Steven stared ahead and examined the outline of each metal locker. He heard Robert’s breath and the small sounds he made trying to hide his tears.
Steven felt empty. He felt alone. He was practically an adult. He had emancipated himself two years ago, but he still had to finish high school. Why? he thought, What does it matter if I finish high school? He had a job that paid his rent and bought his groceries. Robert’s sobbing reached a crescendo, but Steven couldn’t be bothered to console him.
“Why did she do it?” Robert asked between sobs. He didn’t seem to care if anyone saw his display.
Steven couldn’t tear his eyes away from the wall of lockers.
“Why the hell did she do it?” Robert cried, his grief and sorrow subsuming to anger.
Steven felt numb. The pounding in his ears drowned out Robert’s sobbing and angry demands. He barely felt hands on his shoulders as Robert pulled on him to face his inquisition.
“Steven!” When Robert’s query was left unanswered a third time, Robert shook him. “What the fuck did you do?” he bellowed.
The words hung in the clammy air. It was as if even the echo demanded a response. Steven clamped his mouth shut. He squeezed his eyes closed, but neither was sufficient to prevent the tears or the shuddering chin. He wailed noiselessly. Mouth agape, wet cheeks, Steven gasped and gasped trying to suck in oxygen.
The sound that loosened from his throat was nothing he had ever heard before. Robert’s grip on Steven’s shoulders relaxed as Steven’s shoulders rose and fell with each great sob.
Robert released him and leaned back. Steven would’ve slumped forward and writhed on the cold floor if it weren’t for his heavy backpack. It anchored him to the wall, and to his new reality.
Robert’s tears began anew. “How could this happen?” he asked in a soft, sad voice. “Oh, Lindsay.”
The dense crowd of students that had gathered left a buffer of a few feet, but their eyes pressed toward the scene in the hallway. Steven could feel their stares. Some were of pity. Some were of scorn. Some were accusing. They had already judged him guilty. The cloud of mesmerism that had descended lifted slightly as the sea of students parted to allow the instructor to walk down the hall. The somber energy faded and was replaced by idle nervousness as hushed voices conversed in whispers. There was no doubt in Steven’s mind that he and Lindsay were at the core of each muted conversation.
Steven wrangled his emotions under some semblance of control. The instructor glanced down briefly, and Steven detected a glimmer of remorse, perhaps of kindness. Now, the door was unlocked, and each student filed past, no one knowing how to respond to Steven still sitting on the floor. Even Robert left him in the hall to beat the tardy bell.
* * *
Steven sat at his desk scratching graphite into his notebook. He was on autopilot, barely aware of what he was writing. The instructor’s lecture was barely perceptible. Robert sat next to him, his eyes darting to him every few minutes. He had provided Steven with much-needed death support. The low murmur of voices that usually accompanied a boring lecture was absent and each accusatory stab of someone’s eyes was a new piercing to Steven’s heart.
Leonard and David sat in front of Steven, a single row separating them. For most of the morning, they grilled Steven on the particulars of Lindsay’s death, but Steven was in no mood to repeat the same story he had told the police. Each time he told it, it seemed to make it more real. Now, his prior interrogators stared at the instructor, their backs straight and their shoulders squared. They didn’t look back at Steven. Their stoic faces were etched in marble.
When the school day finally ended, Steven jumped up and headed for the door. Robert called after him, but Steven ignored him. David and Leonard were waiting in the hallway, and prevented Steven from getting to the double doors of the exit.
“What happened to Lindsay?” David demanded. Leonard nodded, his lips pressed into a straight line.
Robert appeared as David took a step toward Steven, and placed his palm on David’s chest. “It’ll be on the news, man.”
David looked down at Robert’s hand wrinkling his tee shirt. He looked over his shoulder at Leonard and a cluster of curious students. “Yeah,” he said, “we’ll all hear the story then.”