Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for mature content.
“Hannah? Hannah Ford?” Ms. Green called out over the din, nodding as she saw a raised hand. “Genesis Hart?” Ash laughed as Genesis popped her hand into the air. As Ms. Green moved on, she lowered her hand and leaned forward.
“As I was saying,” Genesis continued, fighting to be heard over the cacophony that was the classroom. Putting her elbow on her desk and her chin in her hands, she leaned forward. Genesis was really very pretty, with a bright smile, and eyes that twinkled mischievously. She had a round face, with three freckles under her left eye. “What do you think of him?” She asked.
“Truthfully?” Ash said with a smile, mimicking Genesis’ pose. “I think you’re too good for him. And you could probably do better.” Genesis scoffed, tossing her long hair over her shoulder. “Really!” Ash exclaimed “Sammy’s great and all, but he’s not really...boyfriend material.” Seeing Genesis’ face she quickly amended herself. “But if you like him, that's what matters.” Genesis brightened, grabbing Ash’s hand.
“I really do! He’s just so sweet, and cute...” She trailed off, staring dreamily into space.
“Right...” Ash said, gently removing herself from her grasp, wincing as the noise in the classroom reached a particularly high pitch. “If that’s how you feel...”
“Ashlyn? Ashlyn West?” Ms. Green called out. Ash raised her newly freed hand, and Ms. Green checked her off her list. “Eric Young?” Fighting to be heard, she called out once again. “Eric?” Still no answer. Muttering under her breath, she wrote something down on her clipboard.
Ash looked around, searching for Eric. She didn’t really know him, but he wasn’t often absent. After a moment, she turned back toward Genesis, still gushing about Sammy. It’s nothing. She told herself, shaking off a feeling of unease. It’s really nothing.
“Who can tell me the hypotenuse of this right triangle?” Mrs. Stoll asked, drawing a triangle on the board, and turning toward the class. “No one?” Hannah raised her hand, rolling her eyes at her friends. “Yes, Hannah?” Mrs. Stoll asked, happy there was finally a volunteer.
“Um...so yeah” Hannah began “I have a question. When exactly are we going to actually use this...Pythagorean's theorem?”
Giving her a cold glare, Mrs. Stoll answered, her voice chilly. “On your test. Any more questions?” A flurry of chuckles follow her words, and Hannah sits down in a huff. “Again. Who can tell me the-”
“Pardon this intrusion, teacher’s and students.” The intercom interrupts, crackling with age. “Would everyone please report to the Auditorium for an emergency announcement.” Ash glanced around, confused, meeting eyes with her friend Sonya. Ash raised her eyebrow in her direction. Sonya shrugged, just as confused as Ash was. “Please follow your second period teachers in a calm and orderly fashion. Pardon this interruption to your learning time” The intercom continued before clicking off.
And with that, the classroom erupted in a flurry of questions, speculations, and rumors. Ash looked up at the teacher, just as a flash of concern, worry, and devastating sadness crossed her face. What is going on? Ash thought, as the class lined up haphazardly in front of the door, pouring into the hallway with a stream of other students. “Do you know what’s happening?” Genesis asked, appearing over Ash’s shoulder.
“Geez!” Ash exclaimed “You scared me!”
“Sorry.” Genesis said, looking around. “But do you?”
“No.” Ash responded, looking around at the students, whispering with their friends and exchanging glances. “I don’t think anybody does.” Ash nodded silently, padding down the hallway in tandem with the hushed whispers that filled the air.
The two girls walked to the Auditorium in silence, each deeply engrossed in their own thoughts. Filling through the large double doors, they each took their seats with their classes scattered across the Auditorium.
Principal Smith walked onto the stage, his black suit in sharp contrast to the red curtains behind him. Tapping the microphone, he pulled a piece of paper from the inside of his blazer. A loud thump filled the Auditorium from speakers hidden in the walls, and mounted in the corners of the room. “Ahem. Students and teachers, welcome.” He said, waiting for the auditorium to grow quiet. “I know that many of you are probably wondering why we called the meeting at such short notice. I’m afraid we have some devastating news for you.” Pausing to look away and clear his throat, he continued. “I am not quite sure how to say this, but...over the weekend, one of our own, 9th grade student Eric Young, took his own life.” Shocked murmurs filled the auditorium, as Ash sat there, frozen to her seat. She couldn’t quite think. Eric? Eric Young? A growing numbness spread through her body, pinning her to her seat.
“So what?” A voice whispered, startling her out of her revere. “Who cares? It’s not like anyone liked him anyway.” Ash whipped around, looking for the voice. It was coming from Hannah Ford, sitting among her friends, sneering down at the worried faces of the emotional teachers.
Before Ash had a chance to respond, the Principal continued. “We understand that many of you may have a hard time with this news, and we encourage any and all students to get help from our school counselors.” He said, waving toward three administrators standing at the edge of the stage. “Because of this emotional time, we have elected to end school early. Your parents have already been notified, and are on their way.” Another wave of whispers swept through the room following his words. At his words, a loud rumble from hundreds of different voices filled the room as the students milled about, finding friends, and discussing what they just heard. Who was Eric Young? They asked themselves. Those who knew him were pounded with questions. And yet, every single person who knew him, only knew him as an acquaintance. Did he have no friends? Ash wondered.
“Ash?” Genesis asked, poking her in the shoulder. “Come on, let's go.” Ash paused for a moment, before getting up.
“Genesis?” She asked apprehensively, glancing at her friend. “What do you think...” she paused, unsure. “Why do you think he...you know...offed himself?” Genesis paused, looking at her sadly, her usually bright eyes dulled with sadness.
“No one can know for sure, but...” She said, glancing toward Hannah, laughing with her friends as if she didn’t just hear of her classmate’s death. “I can guess.”
“Yeah.” Ash said softly, “I can guess too.”
“Ash?” her mother tentatively asked, looking at her daughter for a second before returning her eyes to the road. “Is there anything you want to talk about?” Ash had always been told that she looked just like her mother. They both had blue eyes and long noses, but the similarities ended there. Her mother had aged wonderfully, with her wrinkles unhidden and displayed proudly, giving her a look of elegance many women her age were unable to capture.
Ash stared at her hands a moment, lost in thought. “Ash?” Her mother repeated worriedly.
“I knew him.” She interrupted, looking up at her mother. “He is-was in my class.” She looked down at her hands again, a wet tear sliding down her cheek and falling into her lap. There it sat, glistening and alone, swaying with the movement of the car. Soon, it was joined by a few more.
A warm hand settled on her shoulder for a moment, then it was gone. He was a good person. She thought, wiping her eyes and leaning back, her breath ragged in her chest. He had a good laugh. She recalled, a brand new tear sliding down her cheek. I should have gotten to know him better. I should have made an effort to get to know him. She thought. A sob caught in her chest, and she held it there until she couldn’t anymore.
And then she cried. She sobbed big, ugly sobs, her breath catching in her chest, and unknown, animal noises came out of her chest. She cried, clutching at her mother, out of the car and down the driveway into the house. She wept, for what was and what could have been. For it is always the kind, and to ones who shine the brightest, who leave this world behind.
“I can do this.” She whispered to herself. Taking a deep breath, she looked at herself in the mirror. Puffy, bloodshot blue eyes stared back at her. Ash rubbed at them, trying to get the redness to go down. She gave up with a sigh, letting her hands fall to the counter. Taking another deep breath, she opened the bathroom door. I can get through it. She thought, stealing herself. I can get through today. Down the stairs, out the door. She could do it. I can do it. “I will do it.” She whispered to herself, before stepping out the door.
Ash traced a name carved in her desk. Who knows how long ago this was written. Was it the name of the person who carved it? Or the name of a loved one? Or perhaps even a tentative hope, a longing for what one cannot have? Was the writer aware that months or even years later someone would come along and see it? Was it a desperate person’s cry to be remembered? To be immortal? Or was she overthinking this?
Ash groaned and put her head in her hands. I don’t even know anymore. She thought sadly. It had been two days since her breakdown, since she heard the dreadful news. There had been no school the next day, and now life was proceeding as usual. It was odd. The world kept
spinning. Life progressed. Smiles and jokes were shared, another celebrity did one thing or another, and people came on the news, talking about this or that.
But why? Why isn’t the world crashing down? A life, a spark in the night, had been extinguished. And yet everything is continuing? Why was the world not on hold, while we mourned the loss of a life so young?
Something hit the desk with a small plunk. To Ash’s surprise, it was a tear. Quickly wiping her eyes, she sat up to face the front of the classroom. A room, filled with people, laughing and talking. No one took any notice of one more empty seat. One that would be filled soon enough. But a human being is not so easily replaced. And yet, everyone had already moved on. And in five years, she doubted anyone would remember his name.
With sadness in her eyes, Ash began carving a letter on her desk. Then another. Then another. Roughly written and wet with tears it read:
“Good afternoon teachers and students. Here are your afternoon announcements.” The intercom droned.
“Quiet!” Mr. Myers yelled as the class begrudgingly fell silent. The intercom continued.
“If you would like more information on the debate team, please contact Ms. Green.” There was a pause, then a different voice filled the room. “Good afternoon. Because of the sudden and devastating event that happened last weekend, we will be holding a memorial service in Eric Young’s memory next Monday, here at the school. It will begin after lunch and proceed till the end of the day. Please be sure to attend.” The intercom finished, shutting off.
“Ug, a memorial service?” Hannah asked loudly. “Fun.” She droned sarcastically. Chuckles filled the room.
Is that necessary? Ash thought, glancing at Hannah out of the corner of her eye. A boy at our school died and that’s all you’ve got to say about it? Shaking her head with a sigh, she began packing up her stuff. Whatever. It’s not like there’s anything I can do about it. Ash paused. When had she thought that before? The blood drained from her face, as a memory surfaced.
It was an ordinary school day, and Ash was staring out the window, only barely listening to her teacher. There were snickers from the back of class that drew her attention. Looking up, she saw Eric sitting there, attempting to answer a question.
“I-I, think t-the answer is um...J-John Brown?” He asked.
“That is not the right answer.” Ms. Rodriguez replied apologetically, as snickers filled the room.
“I t-think the a-answer-” Hannah mimicked. The room erupted in laughter as Eric sunk down in his seat. Ash glanced at him, then returned her eyes to her book. Whatever. It’s not like there’s anything I can do about it.
Ash placed a shaking hand over her mouth. “What have I done?” She whispered.
Wiping a tear from her eye, she hurried out of class. Am I running from Hannah? Or myself?
“Ash?” Her mother called up the stairs, her voice echoing through Ash’s small room. “There’s a letter here for you.” She said, walking into Ash’s room. Her room was a typical girls room, from the bright pink bedspread, to the posters of celebrities on the walls.
“Who’s it from?” Ash asked, looking up from where she lay on her bed, hugging a pillow. “Shelby Young” Her mother replied, flipping the letter over. “Do you know her?”
“No...” She frowned, curious. “Hand it here.” She stretched out her hand from her spot
on the bed. Rolling her eyes, her mother placed it in her hand, muttering under her breath all the while.
Ripping it open, Ash frowned. “I don’t understand...” She trailed off, paling.
“What’s it say?”
“It’s an invitation.” She faltered, folding the letter closed. “To Eric’s funeral this weekend.” “Oh.” Her mother pursed her lips, placing a hand on her shoulder. “You don’t have to go.” “No.” She quavered, shaking her head. “I’ll go.”
Her mother sighed sadly. “I guess we need to go shopping.”
“Yes.” Ash agreed. “We do.”
“Do you want to bring anything?”
“I don’t understand what you mean.” Ash replied quietly, folding and unfolding the letter, leaving it with creases crossing the ink.
“Do you want to bring anything to give to the casket, or his family? Anything that reminds
you of him? Or some sort of flower?” Her mother clarified, her eyes sad as they gazed at her daughter.
“Oh, umm. Flowers would be nice.” She shrugged, continuing to fold the letter nervously.
“Ok.” Her mother said quietly, turning to leave. Pausing and putting her hand on the door frame, she glanced over her shoulder. “I hope you know it’s not your fault.”
“I know.” Ash responded, forcing a smile.
“Good.” Her mother said, leaving. Ash glanced down at the letter. Unsure, she squeezed her fists together. I just don’t know anymore.
“You ok, Ash?” Genesis asked.
“No.” She responded, grabbing Genesis’s gloved hand.
“I feel that.” She murmured, squeezing Ash’s hand briefly. The two of them were standing in a long line of mourners, waiting their turn to say goodbye. A hushed, almost grey silence filled the air, in a way only a funeral could.
The day was a dreary one, even for fall. With overcast skies that neither promised rain, nor withheld it, it set the mood perfectly.
Clutching a piece of folded paper in one hand, and a black rose in the other, Ash waited in the silent line. Until finally it was the girls turn. Quietly placing her rose on the casket, Genesis stepped aside to allow Ash a moment alone. Placing her rose next to Genesis’, she paused for a moment, and placed her paper underneath her rose. The letter was white as snow, untouched except for the delicate black flower resting on top it. Touching her fingers to her lips, she set them next to her letter, right above where his forehead would be if the casket was open.
“I hope you're at peace.” She whispered. “And...I’m sorry.” Ash walked away. Not only from that funeral. But from the crippling guilt that had plagued her all week. That day, Ash changed. No longer did she gaze into the past with a guilty conscience. While Ash would forever feel that she could have done something to prevent that tragedy, she would never again laminate about what she ‘could have done’. From that day forth, it was always what she ‘could do now’.
Glancing back, Ash caught sight once more of Eric’s mahogany casket just as a cloud drifted past, allowing the sun to shine through the hazy sky for a moment. Bathed in light, Ash’s heart filled with peace. Smiling sadly, she turned back toward Genesis, away from Eric’s casket, and away from her regrets.