Chapter 15: Revealed
The unveiling of the memorial sculpture was arranged for seven that evening and I was completely done in. I was physically and mentally exhausted. It sounded such a cliché but there genuinely was my blood, sweat and tears sealed into the structure that was currently waiting in all its glory in the middle of the art room for its official début.
I’d spent the last few days working like a mad woman, like a manic zombie, on the sculpture. I didn’t let myself think about the reason for the project in the first place, but tried to simply concentrate on the process of forming something, allowing the creativity to flow out of my hands and produce something wonderful and unique.
It was supposed to be a whole class effort but no one dared get in my way when I was working so frantically and producing such good work. I guess the rest of the class were happy to let me, the designer, take the lead. They probably assumed I wanted my face all over the school website again, they probably assumed I wanted all of the credit.
They were wrong.
I gripped the red cardboard folder under my arm and studied the monument with my artist’s eye, rather than the eye of a heartbroken, overwrought seventeen year old girl. It was beautiful. We had called it Remember and its three smooth steel legs resembled a tripod that drew the eye up to its apex, where the three legs came to a sharp point. The three metre tall tripod was made out of polished steel that reflected the light, the observer’s face and their surroundings back at them so intensely is was almost too harsh and you found yourself screwing up your eyes to filter out some of the brightness. Suspended between the three legs, at head height, was a bundle of dull chicken wire, steel mesh and wire rope which, at first glance, appeared to be an erratic ball of chaos, a messy birds nest that didn’t quite belong. On closer inspection the observer should see that the disarray was fashioned into a heart shape to represent the idea that beneath a person’s smooth façade, the part of them they were happy for you to see, there might lay a damaged, dark and twisted core.
Engraved letters, the initials of the three suicide victims, stood out boldly under the peak, one set of letters etched into each leg. As I slowly walked around Remember, trailing my hand over the smooth steel I found my eyes, as always, being drawn to the top of the leg inscribed with A.C. I felt the lump in the back of my throat and my eyes burned with tears that felt like acid. My throat physically hurt, it was raw and stiff with the strain of emotion that I couldn’t allow myself to release.
The boards that I had stripped with Mrs. Ashburn the Tuesday before were adorned with our design ideas, planning notes and photographs of us all at work over the last couple of weeks. The rest of the class were milling around the room. Either setting up the trestle table, arranging the nibbles and wine glasses or checking that the sound system was still working. I was surrounded by people who I had shared classes with for the majority of my life, who I had shared this momentous project with, people who I was proud of for the work that they had produced, but I had never felt so alone.
At ten to seven Mrs. Ashburn bustled into the room, her beady, mouse-like eyes scanned the room checking that we were ready. She nodded and her eyes shone. She was a teacher who often bored us to tears, but she was also an artist who acknowledged the sheer power and beauty of Remember and couldn’t wait for the public’s response.
“Beth, is everything okay?” It was funny, ever since my crazed board ripping last Tuesday, Mrs Ashburn had felt the need to double check how I was feeling about every fifteen minutes. She looked at me with a worried expression as she waited for me to answer. I couldn’t really say that no, everything wasn’t okay. That I was in love with a ghost who had left my heart broken, that I had had a lucky escape from the clutches of the local wannabe rapist and that I was confused about how she hadn’t noticed that I was a lump of stone in a pair of shoes and not a human being anymore. It wasn’t really the time or place, and Mrs. Ashburn certainly wasn’t the person to unload my despair on, so I simply said what she wanted me to say.
“Yes, Miss, everything is okay.”
“Well then,” she nipped her bottom lip with her teeth nervously as she headed back to the main doors. ”Let’s set the lights and open the doors, shall we?”
“I’m on it, Miss,” shouted Ian Smedley; he jumped down from the podium that he’d dragged through from the main hall. He’d checked to see if the microphone was working by shouting “One two, one two” into it about eighty-seven times, much to everyone’s annoyance considering it had been in full working order the first time he’d tried. He flicked off the main classroom lights and switched on the spots which hung from the ceiling and, even though I knew what to expect, I gasped in complete and utter awe.
Remember blazed in the centre of the room like a beacon from another world. The lights bounced off the steel making it impossible to stare in one place for more than a moment or two, the only respite was to turn away completely or look into the dark mesh heart in its centre. If you did turn away, the edges of the room danced from the strange shadows and bursts of light that reflected from the structure, forcing you to turn and inspect it once again. That was exactly what we wanted to happen, that no matter where you looked you had no other option but to totally engage with the work, become utterly mesmerised by it.
We all stood around the room in silence, lost in our own thoughts that were brought on by the unearthly authority of Remember. The slight whisper of our breathing was palpable, as if the room knew that at any moment the quiet would vanish and noise would descend upon it, so it grasped at the secure blanket of our unobtrusive sounds. After minute or two we all awoke from our stupor as if some unheard alarm had roused us. We moved quietly into our places, Ian and Claire went to open the main doors and the rest of us positioned ourselves at the trestle table to hand out wine or at the boards to explain our design ideas to the public.
I was one of the students at the boards and I fought hard to not think about how I’d felt when I’d unveiled Drew’s artwork and seen the card with the date and his name on. I plastered a weak smile on my face and breathed slowly, in through my nose and out through my mouth.
As the throng of people entered the room every person without fail faltered in their step as they saw, and felt, the overwhelming power of Remember. My fake smile stretched into a grin, lifting my cheeks, and I allowed myself to absorb the feeling of excitement and anticipation in the room.
Finally Mr. Sharpe and Mrs. Ashburn came into the room and closed the door behind them. I looked up at the classroom clock and was surprised to see that it was exactly seven; everyone must have been waiting outside for the evening to officially begin. The room was packed, there was a frenetic buzz zipping around the room even though no one was really moving anywhere and any audible voices were no louder than a whisper.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.” Mr. Sharpe began, stood at the podium. From my position at the boards I noticed Mr. Sharpe offer Ian a quick thumbs up from under the stand which held his speech. Ian’s chest physically expanded as he literally swelled with pride, like a puffed up cock bird showing off for his flock.
I tuned out from Mr. Sharpe’s words. I didn’t want to hear him mention the names of the students we were here to commemorate, I couldn’t bear to hear Drew’s name now that he was as equally lost to me as he was to the rest of the people stood in the room. I focussed my attention on the sound of my blood as it pulsed through my ears and the flow of my breaths moving in and out. When Mr. Sharpe’s deep voice managed to squeeze its way back into my consciousness I was shocked to realise he was concluding his speech.
“Let’s hope that this memorial will not need to be added to, let’s hope no more young people take their lives and no more initials need to be engraved. Like the town’s war memorial before it, please let this monument remember the three students who were tragically taken from us.”
There was a moment of two of silence as the crowd absorbed the sentiment of his words and then a polite applause rippled around the room.
A squeak of shock burst from my lips as I noticed Mr. and Mrs. Clayton at the back of the crowd, their backs pressed up against the doors. I hadn’t seen either of them since I had been to their house. I felt my cheeks redden and my eyes widen as I took in their expressions. Mrs. Clayton had a glazed look about her face whilst she looked toward the podium and Mr. Clayton looked almost angry. I felt my forehead pucker as I wondered what on earth he had to be cross about and then I remembered how my being at their house to talk about the sculpture had annoyed him; how he had told his wife that it was madness to keep dredging up the past.
Mr. Clayton ran a finger around the inside of his collar, clearly uncomfortable with the occasion and cast his eyes round the room, his attention fell on me and his eyes hardened. Yes, he clearly remembered me, that I was the one who had invited him and his wife tonight and he was clearly still mad with me about it. I tried to shrink back into the board, make myself as small as I could. Before I could tear myself away from his cold stare, his wife turned towards me, obviously puzzled at what had caught her husband’s attention. When she saw me the glazed look in her eyes cleared a little and she lifted her hand as if she was about to wave. Mr. Clayton whispered something in her ear, pulling her hand back down and she nodded, letting her hand stay firmly at her side and the haze return to her eyes. She turned her face back to the podium.
I blinked back tears as I guessed what he had whispered to her, probably something along the lines of ‘that girl must like to stir up trouble because she quite clearly had nothing to do with our Drew’. And in a way he was right, I swallowed hard against the dry lump at the back of my throat and turned my attention to the board, trying to look anywhere rather than at the room full of people in front of me. I fingered a rough edge on the folder under my arm, he was right; I didn’t have anything to do with Drew because he didn’t want anything to do with me.
The smattering of applause came to an end and the stifling atmosphere was shattered by a sharp communal intake of breath, it was so jarring it made me whip my head back to the front of the room.
Mr. Sharpe was stood to the side of the podium steps with his arm stretched out in a welcoming gesture, his face was open and compassionate as he inclined his head to the woman who was moving slowly down the channel that had opened up between the masses. David Pearson’s mother carefully climbed the steps and then, gripping the edge of the stand for support, she gazed out into the sea of sympathetic faces.
She looked terrible; her hair was unwashed and scraped back into a harsh bun at the nape of her neck. Her face was grey with deep lines surrounding her eyes and mouth and, as her fingers flexed around the edges of the wood, it was clear to see her finger nails were chewed down to the quick. She looked terrible, she looked like a mother who had lost her son and I was disgusted with myself for openly staring, for being unable to look away from her tragic face.
She cleared her throat quietly; keeping her eyes locked onto a space on the wall above everyone’s heads, and began speaking in a soft voice.
“Whilst we are thankful and pleased to see such a beautiful piece of art that has been created by the students of Newlington, we are saddened and still distraught by the reason behind its creation. You all know what happened to David and there are no words to express how we feel about the loss of our darling son.”
She coughed again and then leaned forward ensuring that she looked into the faces of every single person stood in the room. She began to speak again but this time her voice was stronger, more passionate as she pleaded with each and every one of us.
“What I have learnt from this is that it is vital to tell the people who are important in your life that you love them, and that you should tell them on a daily basis. Never leave them feeling unsure about it, never let a day go by without letting them know how special they are, because you never know how long you have with them, you never know when your last day with them might be. One day they might be gone, gone forever, moved on to another world and there is no way back, no way to tell them what they meant to you. Never leave anything unsaid.”
Just like a week before, in that very art room, I felt my insides shift and heave. The stone rocked on its footing and the grief, anger, betrayal and heartbreak, every emotion that I had forced myself not to feel escaped from within and poured out into my veins. I found myself drowning in them, and I fought desperately to plug the cracks in the stone, pull it back into its place to seal the overwhelming surge of emotions flooding around my body before I exploded. I hated being the zombie, but it was better than the agony that coursed through me now. Better than the absolute torture of Mrs. Pearson’s words that sliced through my skin and cut me into bloody shreds.
But it didn’t happen. I didn’t explode from too much emotion; I didn’t burst and fall into a heap of blood-splattered scraps on the floor. My body welcomed the feelings that pulsed through me, welcomed the feeling of life again. If anything my body felt more intact, more complete than it had in a long time.
As the emotions settled into my every pore, gluing me back together again, I remembered with sudden clarity what I had thought about myself when I was reading the article about David Pearson’s suicide. I was the kind of person who needed to know the details, and now Mrs. Pearson was telling me that I also needed to be the kind of person who didn’t leave things unsaid.
I gasped as the surge of emotions found its way to my numb heart and kick started it back into life. I pushed my way through the crowd towards Drew’s parents and I thrust the folder of Drew’s artwork into his mother’s hands. I had made the rash and impulsive decision to bring his work with me earlier, but I hadn’t realised why the compulsion to bring it had felt so important, so vital, now I did. It was my way of showing Mr. and Mrs. Clayton that I did have a connection to their son.
“Oh for goodness sake, not you again,” Mr Clayton huffed, a frustrated gust of air brought his words out of his mouth in a rush of agitation, like the blast of steam from an overheated engine.
“Look, I know you think I am weird, or crazy or both. But I don’t care. Mrs. Clayton, you don’t believe that your son killed himself, and I don’t either. In fact I know he didn’t. Don’t ask me how I know, please. But I will find out what happened to him.” I gestured to the folder in her hand. “These are for you.”
Mrs. Clayton opened the folder and flicked through the sheets. The glassy look in her eyes started to slip away as she recognised Drew’s work and she looked back up at me with a mixture of confusion and bewilderment all over face. Her eyes, freed from the haze, were shrewd and shone brightly as she stared at me.
“I knew you knew him,” she whispered. “When you came to my house, I knew it was crazy to think it, but I somehow knew you knew him.”
“I do know him. I know him now-”
“I’d like to invite Elizabeth Sutton to the front to officially name the memorial sculpture.” Mr. Sharpe’s voice boomed out again over the sound system interrupting what I had been about to say.
I tore my face away from Mrs. Clayton’s desperate expression to see Mrs. Ashburn beaming at me from across the room, and Mr. Sharpe holding his hand out in an invitation to me this time. I felt the eyes of the whole room turn to look at me in expectation, and they pierced through my skin like hot needles.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Sharpe,” my voice was surprisingly steady and strong. “There is somewhere more important I need to be.”
“What did you say, Elizabeth?” he spluttered from the front of the room.
Without a second glance to the podium and what I knew would be Mr. Sharpe’s red and disbelieving face, I wrenched the doors open. I stepped into the corridor without looking back, not that I was frightened of Mr. Sharpe, it was because I didn’t want to see Mrs. Clayton’s face, didn’t want to see the confused and hurt expression which I knew would be etched there. I wouldn’t look her in the eye again, wouldn’t speak to her again, until I could tell her exactly what happened the night that her son had died. Mrs. Pearson, as distraught as she was, at least had some closure about David’s death; he had chosen to die and left a note. Mrs. Clayton had nothing.
She had nothing and I was the only one who could do something about that.
I threw open the school doors and ran out into the damp night. The air was full of mist and it clung to me, like a clammy blanket, wetting my face and frizzing my hair as I dashed toward the park. My breath blew out like clouds as my feet ran the familiar route and my chest burned with effort. I’d made myself believe that leaving Drew alone in his limbo and keeping myself in the zombie state were the only options available, the only plausible end results to this whole mess.
But I was wrong.
There were things left unsaid, a crime left unsolved and a boy left hovering between two worlds.
As I ran I realised I was a fool to believe that I could have prevented the end of the story from being played out as it should. Yes, if the world had been turning properly that night then Drew wouldn’t have been killed, but he had. Somehow the world had stopped spinning as it should, it had stuttered and slipped into the wrong position on its axis and a boy had been killed. I had to do the right thing now no matter how much it cost me; I needed to put the world back into its correct setting, its right position and show how the boy had been taken away.
A killer needed to be brought to justice and Drew needed to be accepted into Heaven as a victim of murder not a suicide.
The War Memorial loomed out of the darkness; the mist dispersed just enough to show the lone figure leaning against it. I stopped running and planted my hands to my knees as my chest screamed for oxygen. It wasn’t that the run from school to the park was all that long and that I was entirely unfit, it was the sight of Drew that left me completely and totally breathless.
The damp air had made the ends of his hair curl and the mist had plastered his tee shirt to his skin, showing the shape of his muscular chest beneath. What an idiot I had been to think that I could shut him out of my life, close myself off from him when he needed me. It was five days since I’d last seen him but those days hadn’t done anything to eradicate the way my body reacted to him, my chest tightened and warmed as the flame I had worked so hard to douse reached out towards him.
Drew looked at me for what felt like several minutes with a raised eyebrow, his head cocked to a side; his face was one of surprise and confusion. He could probably see the remorse, hurt and love that were painted all over my face. The space between us crackled with energy and I stood frozen in his gaze, gasping for breath.
“Drew, there is something that I need to say,” I swallowed hard, breaking the charged silence. “I’ll do it.” His face changed as he took in what I had said, the confusion slowly slipped from his features revealing a mask of anger. He had every right to be mad at me, question where I had been for the last week, question why I had abandoned the cause. He opened his mouth to speak but I threw my hands up, palms held out, to stop him. I needed him to understand what I was saying. “Drew, I’ll do it,” I began to walk towards him. “I’ll go back and face Whittaker again.”
The angry mask cracked slightly, he shut his silver eyes and nipped the bridge of his nose with his forefinger and thumb. He drew in a deep breath before opening his mouth, but he kept his eyes shut.
“I don’t want you to,” he said
“What?” I came to an abrupt stop, a complete stand still and he opened his eyes at my outburst. I looked at his angry face in confusion, surely he was angry with me for running out on him and refusing to go back to confront Whittaker, so what did he mean he didn’t want me to?
“I’ve thought about nothing else since you ran away from me. I’m so sorry for how I reacted when you told me about what Whittaker did to you. Would you understand what I mean when I say I had too much Heaven on my mind?” He gave a wry smile. “But I don’t want it, I don’t want this.” He gestured to his jacket, belt and laces which glinted in the evening light. “There is something I want to say too, Beth. I want you. I want us.”
“But, Drew-” my recently brought back to life heart swelled in my rib cage cutting off my words.
“If finding out the truth means I have to leave you Beth, I won’t do it,” Drew said defiantly.
My swollen heart skipped a beat, making my ribs ache. “Drew, we have to. We need to.”
“We don’t need to do anything, Beth. I love you.”
I could have wept. It was the first time he had actually it and those three words spoken out loud meant everything, but at the same time the meant nothing, because they couldn’t change a thing. His face became more determined as he took in my crestfallen appearance.
“I won’t leave you, Beth. I’ve never felt more alive than I have these last few weeks, even when I was alive I never felt like this.”
Here we were again.
Drew was declaring his love for me, a love I thought he no longer felt, and I was telling him it wasn’t enough even though it was all I had wanted. I had to sacrifice the happiness I felt from hearing him tell me he loved me in order to find out the truth and re-set the balance of rightness, re-position the scales of justice.
The irony and unbelievable frustration of it all made me want to scream out loud and shake my fist in fate’s twisted face.
“I love you too, Drew,” I said. There was no point denying it. His mouth began to lift at the corners and I had to speak fast to crush the happiness that was starting to show on his face and brighten his silver eyes. “But it’s not enough. We need to do the right thing now.”
“The right thing for who, Beth?”
“For you,” I murmured. It was just a whisper, a soft sound that vanished into the mist as soon as it had left my mouth. Two little words that said no matter how much I would regret it I had to reject his love so I could be strong enough, focussed enough to do the right thing.
“Look Beth,” he said in an urgent tone. “What happens if solving this isn’t what we are supposed to do? What happens if the reason I was hanging round the market for fifteen years was to find you? Maybe that’s what these blues and greens mean,” he gestured to his clothes. “Maybe you were supposed to bring me back to life.”
I shook my head and held my hands over my ears, refusing to listen to him. This was not how it worked and I would be a selfish fool to listen to him, my heart screamed at me to agree, to allow him to talk me round but I knew why we had been brought together, I knew what we had to do. Our love was the bizarre consequence of an event that happened fifteen years ago, neither should have happened, his murder or our love, but they had happened and we had the responsibility of putting both things right.
He gestured to his jacket, his laces, even to his eyes.
“I don’t want this. I want you.” He looked at me with pleading eyes, but a hint of defeat had started to cloud them.
My heart managed to somehow swell and break at the same time and I felt the mask of composure on my face crack. I fell to my knees on the wet grass as hot tears of frustration ran over my cheeks and I scrubbed at them with the back of my hands, angry with myself for showing Drew my pain.
Drew’s face crumpled, his silver eyes burned with anguish as he took a step towards me. He leaned forwards, reaching out his arms and then let them fall uselessly to his sides. There was no way he could soothe the agony inside me, nothing he could do to heal my bruised and battered heart. As if the pain I felt wasn’t unbearable enough the flame in my chest intensified and licked towards him, greedily trying to touch him, reel him in, the closer he came towards me. The flame seared my skin and I flattened my hands to my chest, trying in vain to smother the blaze before it burnt me to ash.
“Beth,” he crooned softy. “I’m sorry; I don’t want to hurt you like this. I love you.
“Please, Drew, just stop,” I replied wearily, not daring to look up at him. “There is nothing you can say to change the situation. Nothing you can do to change what has to happen.”
Suddenly I felt a tight pressure on both of my shoulders. I snapped my head up to see Drew leaning over me, his hands gripping the tops of my arms. My mouth fell open. It wasn’t the white hot prickle that I had felt the time before when he had reached out to touch me, it was the genuine pressure of two physical hands holding me.
“Drew,” I gasped, my eyes wide matching the shape of my mouth. He flexed his fingers and I could feel the pressure of each fingertip as his hands pulled me up onto my feet.