It was a day before Spring Break, when Batch 5 and 6 decided that they didn’t feel like studying much after recess. The hallway was lined with lockers, breaking only when there was a door in the way.
Max, an intelligent looking boy with dark blue hair had calculated that they had about three minutes before Ms. Camilla showed up and if they had to do something, they had to do it now.
The kids rushed out of class and pushed all the lockers in front of the classroom door after which they crawled back into class from the windows that opened into the ground.
The class was silent, waiting anxiously as their hearts beat in anticipation, straining their ears for the telltale sound of Miss Camilla’s heels. Joey watched from a small gap between the lockers that concealed the door to the classroom. The heels clacked against the floor and the sound drew nearer, stack of papers ruffling in her arms, she walked right past the row of lockers and almost walked into the wall.
There was a brief, confused pause. The row of lockers ended and gave way to the class door. The entrance should just be there. That’s how it had been since forever. Ms. Camilla decided to go back and retraced her steps, walking right past the entrance again. She took two steps forward and then back tracked, stopping to gaze at the lockers, a frown on her face.
The door is right there. She stared at the corner where the class door was supposed to be, as if she stared long enough, she could will the door into existence.
Camilla shook her head, turned on her heel and went back the way she came, checking if she was in the right corridor. She returned, frowning and biting the inside of her cheek, brows furrowed in thought. Camilla finally looked at the floor, where she could see small the small tires not in their usual position. They’d been moved.
The heels retreated in a rush, and returned in five minutes with two more sets of footsteps following her. She stopped in front of the lockers. “See!”
The silence was broken by a failed attempt at repressing a laugh, followed by loud, booming laughter.
“Won’t you do anything about this?” Camilla asked.
The two teachers laughed. A loud impressed laugh, “Nice!” a voice let out, finally having found the exact place where the door was. There was the grating sound of the lockers being pushed out of the way and the three teachers walked into class, where everyone was silent and bent over a book.
The two other teachers, Mr. Brady who taught Math and Wesson were pursing their lips in attempt to look serious. Camilla nodded and threw up her hands in surrender, “Fine” and walked right out mumbling a “Class dismissed.”
Students looked up slowly, making eye contact with the other teachers who after three seconds of pensive faces, broke into laughter, doubling over and thumping each other on the back, “Nice.” Wesson repeated and the kids started laughing too, exchanging high fives and packing bags.
Joey just turned to look at Rachel and held her fist up, “We. Are. Awesome.”
She couldn’t agree more.
The classroom was empty except for Joey and Rachel, who were the last to go. Joey picked up her bag, a proud smile on her face, “Dude, how good are we?”
Rachel lifted her face and made eye contact slowly, her face contorted in pain.
“Raich?” Joey’s voice a hushed whisper.
Rachel let out a shaky breath, “Raich, you okay?” Joey put her bag down and took a step closer.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Rachel nodded hurriedly.
“Rachel, you’re crying.”
“What?” Rachel brought a hand up to her face, “I’m not-” her hand came back wet.
“Raich, what’s wrong?”
Her vision got blurry, tears started streaming more freely. Rachel started shaking violently and taking heavy breaths. Joey’s eyes went wide, panicked, she threw her arms around her, pulling Rachel in. Rachel’s body went limp and she collapsed to the ground, Joey went down with her, “Rachel. Rachel! What’s wrong?!” Joey asked again, her voice loud and panicked.
“I-don’t-know.” Rachel said between breaths.
“What do you mean you don’t know?!” Joey sounded harsh.
“I said-I-don’t” Rachel was laughing between the tears, “Know.”
Rachel closed her eyes and continued to sob into Joey’s shoulder, “Shit. Rachel… breathe. Deep breaths, Raich… I should take you to the nurse’s station – you need help, Fayne.”
“No! No. Joey, please. Stay.”
Joey reached behind her and grabbed her water bottle, shifting and turning Rachel around so that the two of them were leaning against the wall, Joey’s arm around her, “Drink.”
Joey kept moving her hand up and down her arm, shushing her and trying to get her to calm down. The tears stopped flowing but she was still shaking.
“Should I get you a blanket?” Joey asked, eyes still focused on Rachel’s face, watching for any signs of … she wasn’t sure what exactly.
“Can we … go back to my room?”
“Yeah… yeah. Let’s go.” Joey got up, holding her hands out for Rachel to grab. Rachel stood, legs still shaky. Joey threw her arm around her, holding her up as she led her out of class and out the back way.
Joey pulled her phone out: Me n Raich wont be round for Math or Eng. Make sumthing up. Sumthing gud Connie.
Joey helped her up to her room and to bed, “Need a blanket? Anything?”
Joey left the room and Rachel slid down her bed until her face was hidden by the blankets. She closed her eyes and let out a sob. Her door opened, “Asleep?”
Joey pulled the blankets away and handed her a juice box.
Her friend looked awkward, unsure of what to do. She stood there for a few seconds before toeing off her shoes and asking Rachel to scoot, “Wanna talk about it?”
Rachel shrugged, “I guess I’m gonna have to now.”
“Yeah I’m not leaving.” Joey fluffed up a pillow and made herself more comfortable.
They were silent for some time, “How long have I been here?”
Rachel sighed, “I feel … weird. Umm, hollow? Lost? Confused? Bordering on crazy?”
“I don’t know why I’m here… I feel sorta” she searched for an adequate word, “Trapped. I guess.”
“Trapped.” Joey echoed.
“Yeah, surrounded by the mystery that usually didn’t bother me till I thought about it too hard. Kids had parents I … had Nanna and Nate. That was fine by me, y’know? And now I’m here and I have neither….” Rachel stared up at the ceiling, “I feel empty cause that place where Nanna used to be is gone, man. Capital G, Gone. I don’t know why my dead dad wanted me here and why I can’t just go to Nate and Hannah and pester them till I go to college and fall in love with someone and get married and just live and die.”
Joey bit her lip in thought, “I’m not gonna be much help here …”
“Rachel, we don’t always get a choice. These are the cards you’ve been dealt and you either play the game or ...”
Joey shook her head, “Quitting means killing yourself. Literally or metaphorically. Of course metaphorical death would destroy you enough to make literal death a pretty simple possibility.”
Rachel took a deep breath, “I think about it sometimes…”
Here goes, “Killing myself.”
Joey stiffened, then turned around sharply, eyes meeting Rachel’s, “Hey, no. No. Rachel … That isn’t an option.”
“Sorry…” She looked down at her hands, the scars on her arms and legs had long since faded. She missed them sometimes.
“No, don’t apologize … if you’re still apologizing that means you don’t quite trust me with you yet. The real you yet, anyways...”
“I just … still haven’t made my peace with things. Haven’t made my peace with Nanna leaving, with leaving home and settling down here, with life…”
Joey was the one with the trembling lip, “Rachel please don’t hurt yourself.”
“My aunt killed herself. The one who was supposed to be taking care of me? She killed herself.” Joey blurted. Expression closed off, eyes distant, replaying some horrific memory.
“Joey, I’m sorry I didn’t...”
“I feel guilty. Feel like a burden and I can’t shake off the guilt no matter how many therapy sessions. But I’ve gotta deal with that.” Joey blinked a couple of times, before taking a deep breath, “I am not going to lose you to suicide.”
“If you kill yourself, Fayne, I –“
Joey’s hands were shaking, Rachel took them in her own, “I’m not going to, Joey. I’m sorry I’m sorry, please stop.”
Joey brought her knees to her chest and put her head on her knees, her voice came out muffled, “Death is out of the question.” She repeated.
They were quiet once more.
“I let you know me. I give you my journal to read into my head, to let you see me … I think I deserve a little something in return.” Joey spoke slowly, surely and then straightened her legs, getting out of bed. She slid her feet into her shoes, “Let me in, jerk.”
“Why the hell not?” Joey sounded angry. This was the first time in four months that Rachel heard rage in her voice.
Rachel looked up at her, “I’m not fine. I’m not okay, okay?! There. There’s your answer. There’s everybody’s damn answer. I’m not okay.”
Joey was silent, “Was that so hard? Why didn’t you say anything before?”
“Because …. Being ‘damaged’ and ‘broken’ is too mainstream.” She almost pouted.
Joey rolled her eyes in annoyance, “Why are you so insistent on being okay?!”
“I’m supposed to be cool and totally fine and totally stable which by the way is the opposite of how I actually feel.”
Joey’s eyes were dark and her brow was furrowed, the lines on her forehead were defined, “Rachel, you know all you have to do is ask right? Just a little, ‘Yo, Joey, I’m not feelin too great, care to hear me out?’”
“Yeah, well … no.”
Rachel swore she heard Joey growl, “Why not?”
“Because people get too close and then see right through you and then I’m predictable and boring. And then people act like they know you so well.”
“Get that stupid assumption out of your head! I don’t know who pumped that supposedly intelligent head if yours full of absolute trash, but you can trust me. The least you can do is let me see you for … you.”
Rachel didn’t need this. She doesn’t ask for this. She didn’t choose Joey for a friend. She took a deep breath, time to be the jerk then, “I don’t owe you anything, Rivers.”
Joey was stunned into silence, then she opened the drawer of the bedside table and took out her own journal, “Talk to me when your head isn’t full of crap.”
Rachel didn’t flinch when the door slammed shut.