Jim stands next to me holding my hand but the pressure of his skin against mine feels uncomfortable. I want to move away but I know that he’s trying to be there for me. The least I can do is appreciate the effort he’s putting in. After all I’ve done in the past month, I owe him that much.
I know what Rory would say if she was still alive, if she wasn’t in the coffin that we’re all standing around.
You can’t ignore the problem forever, Lil.
My grip on Jim’s hand tightens. Sure I can. I can ignore anything for as long as I damn well please.
Yep, no problem there at all.
Even in my head Rory’s still the sarcastic bitch I’ve always known her to be and, considering the grave I’m standing beside, the thought is surprisingly reassuring. It’s good to know that I’ve still got some part of her with me.
Rory Holland was my best friend and she died before her time. The official story is that she had a severe allergic reaction to a bug bite and the paramedics couldn’t reach her fast enough, not with everything else that was going on (of course, the university was very insistent on the fact that, while she had died on campus, it was so not the establishment’s fault).
I know it’s bull and I know that for two reasons:
Reason no. 1 - saying Rory is allergic to bugs is like saying fish are allergic to water. Whether it’s a puppy or a cockroach, you’ll find her trying to commune with the damn thing (in retrospect, I’m surprised I didn’t cotton on to her abilities earlier).
Reason no. 2 - I know for a fact that she died trying to save a building full of students from a cyclone of scorpions (I’m not being dramatic. I’m pretty sure that’s actually one of the official terms for a group of scorpions, if Google can be relied upon).
It’s almost funny how I never figured it out until then. Rory never spoke to anyone when she was in costume as “The Whisperer”, never even gave press conferences, but that’s no excuse. The velvet mask clung to her facial structure so tightly that I can’t believe I never noticed the similarities. I should’ve known. It shouldn’t have taken the scream as her skull was crushed for me to realise the truth.
And yet here we are.
Her parents had to have known, right? But it’s not really the kind of question I feel comfortable asking. Not right now anyways. Not in the middle of my ex-best friend’s funeral.
I try not to crush Jim’s fingers and fail. Badly.
He yanks his hand away. I feel distinctly satisfied and guilty all at once.
“I am not twelve!” I snap.
Jim nods warily, an apology in his eyes that I’m too annoyed to accept right now. For the time being I’ll ignore the hurt look on his face; it’s getting easier for me to pretend that our relationship doesn’t affect me and I know Jim. He’ll probably put my emotional withdrawal down to my best friend dying and all that jazz. He’s not entirely wrong.
“Lil,” he sighs. “We should probably go.”
Most of the others have gone by now. We’re the last people here and part of me knows he’s right.
“Just a little longer.”
Jim shifts uncomfortably by my side.
“Lil, you know I have to be -”
“Go,” I say.
He looks taken aback and I try to soften my voice. It isn’t his fault that I feel like someone’s punched a hole through my chest. She was my best friend. I should’ve known. I should’ve been able to work it out.
“Go,” I repeat. “I want to be alone with her for a while.”
Jim looks from me to the grave, dubiously.
“Are you -”
He stares at me a little longer but eventually seems to see something he agrees with (God knows what) and leaves me alone to grieve.
I sit down on the grass beside the gravestone, reach into my coat pocket and let my fingers drift across crumpled velvet. I don’t quite dare to take the mask out into my hands, even though I know that this section of the graveyard is deserted, but somehow the smooth fabric comforts me. It’s a stark reminder that, to the Scorpionette, Rory was just another superhero to beat into the ground (or, more specifically, into a fire extinguisher).
I won’t be.