She looked like an angelic statue standing in the middle of the empty hallway, except her eyes were trained towards the ground rather than towards heaven as one would expect an angel's face to be. He wished he could see her eyes, rather than her back and her cascading blond hair. It was hard to tell exactly what her utter stillness meant even though he had a pretty good guess.
The bell had rung ten minutes ago, and everyone else was safely in their classrooms with the doors shut, shrouding them in a serene silence. He didn't want to disturb her as he walked down the hall behind her. He had been sent out to retrieve her, but he hated the idea of disturbing her solitude. He may have had as much right to be there as she did, but he still didn't want to make anything harder for her.
She didn't even hear him slip though the open doorway to stand beside her. He could see her eyes now, focused on an all too familiar spot of floor, eyes hollow and vacant, an expression she'd been wearing far too often in the past couple of years. It was with deep regret that he reached his hand up to her shoulder.
It didn't matter how quiet he had attempted to be, he still startled her. She jumped, her entire body springing back into life or something like it, her hair whipping as her head turned to look at him. She brought a shaky hand to her heart as she gaped at him. "God, Toby, you scared me half to death."
And like that, the silence was broken, the trance ruined, and they were back in a hallway that the older students gossiped about and the younger ones gawked at and those who were too close usually avoided. His own eyes traveled to the spot she had been transfixed on earlier and looked back to see Emma's cheeks coloring.
"Mr. S sent me out to find you."
Emma's face darkened, tinged with a bit of bitterness. It was an expression that had increased with the years and Toby thought its existence was a tragedy. "I'm surprised he didn't send Manny for fear I was holed up in the bathroom."
"I think…" Toby bit his lip, unsure how to broach the subject with someone who was once counted among his best friends. "I think he wanted to send someone who got it."
The bitterness faded and she was left looking tired and lost. A shaky hand pushed back at her blond hair that had been displaced when he startled her. "Yeah. I know."
Her eyes returned to the spot they had been on before and his followed her gaze. Toby could have sworn he could see the pair of boys falling to the ground as a pool of blood began to leak out from beneath them. Just a ghost of the image, but the image all the same. He shook his head and looked back at Emma. "Last year when they were doing the memorial and everything," her voice was soft, and faded, like the memory she was retelling. "I just wanted to forget. I thought it would be better if no one said anything. It could all just go away."
She broke her gaze away from the spot and back to his face, her brown eyes looking particularly broken. "I was wrong, Toby, this is worse. Standing here and thinking about it and having everyone avoiding it and you. Like it didn't happen."
"It's been two years. For some people that's a lifetime."
He wasn't sure if he was arguing for it, or just pointing out a truth. It was wrong. But so many people forgot. Forgot that Rick had been a human being, his best friend. People forgot who their friends were, who they'd loved. Sometimes he wondered if Kendra Mason ever thought of him, or if she remembered him well. Sometimes he wondered if he'd forget Rick or JT. All of them.
"Mom and Snake have been trying to pretend like everything's normal. Except they had my favorite breakfast this morning, let me see Sean before school, didn't ask me to watch Jack at all today, like it's all just how every day goes. They've been walking on eggshells too."
"Yeah, I got the favorite breakfast food thing too. And then Kate insisted Ash and I be home for dinner, and wants Jimmy there too. Not that anything is going on or anything. When Ash asked why we had to though, she flipped out, like I'd never seen her flip out before and then she apologized."
Silence fell as they both contemplated it. Emma broke it first.
"It's so weird."
There was no explanation of what she meant. Toby supposed that was because far too much of it was weird.
Toby's eyes traveled back down the hallway. He could envision Rick, still covered in yellow, his hair hanging heavy from the water he'd attempted to wash himself with. His hand was in the backpack, his eyes detached. Toby recognized him and didn't all at once, just as he had two years ago.
On impulse, which was so rare, he turned to Emma, "Let's get out of here."
"What?" she blinked, clearly missing his exact words as her brow and nose crinkled. The confusion covering her face was a clear sign to him of how far apart they'd drifted. Or perhaps of how little she really knew him despite the years they'd been friends. "Toby?"
"Have you paid attention in any of your classes today?"
Her face became nearly blank before she looked at him again, "I don't remember a single word."
"Me either. So let's just go."
"Who are you and what have you done with Tobias Issacs?" she asked, confused but amused.
He wanted to be amused too, but couldn't find it in him. The emotion's he'd been banking down on all day were bubbling up. "I…I can't be here today Emma. Rick's been gone two years, JT a month and I…"
It wouldn't be the first time he'd skipped with a girl this year. He was starting to accept the fact that it might not be his last. And this building was starting to become suffocating. He just needed to not be here.
She nodded, and a small smile drifted on to her face. "Yeah, let's go."
They walked down the hallway together, reminiscent of the old friendship they'd had and Toby could almost feel the stirrings of that long ago crush that he'd managed to push out of his mind. They walked down the corridor the way their attacker, their friend, had come up it two years prior. It was almost like a museum, preserved as it had been on that day. You could, if you looked hard enough, imagine you saw where the blood had been.
They turned the corner, away from their own personal hell and caught sight of another in his. The wheelchair was not immobile, as Emma had been. Instead its owner sat there, occasionally popping back on the wheels. Ashley's voice flitted into Toby's head just for a second, curious if that was safe. He could hear the occupant's laughing response to it, and didn't say it out loud. "Jimmy."
The wheels came down with a clatter, hands gripping them to keep him steady, and Jimmy pivoted seamlessly. "Hey. Ash didn't send you out looking for me, did she?"
"No. Not yet."
Jimmy shifted a bit uncomfortably as if he'd been caught being a crappy boyfriend. Toby wasn't sure that anyone could label Jimmy as a crappy boyfriend. In Toby's opinion he'd put up with enough of Ash's drama to be sainted. "She's been great, really."
As much as he loved his sister, Toby could understand the sentiments exactly. "She's still Ash," Toby offered.
A grin split across Jimmy's face, a sign of the friendly camaraderie they'd been rekindling was getting stronger. "Hey, you said that, not me alright?"
Toby nodded and watched as Jimmy's smile faded, eyes traveling down the hall. There was so much he wanted to say, but he had no idea of how to get them out.
"Toby and I are getting out of here. You want to come along?"
"My Bubbie let me drive her car," Toby offered.
Both Jimmy and Emma shot each other a look. Apparently they didn't like this idea. Emma dug around in her purse and pulled out a pair of keys. "I have Sean's car."
"Emma wins." Jimmy said conclusively. "Let's go before Ms. H or someone starts wandering by."
Jimmy turned and started wheeling down the hallway in the lead, expecting Toby and Emma to follow. Toby wondered what people who didn't remember what the date was, or any of the specifics, would think of their odd trio. Or anyone who didn't know that in seventh grade Jimmy and Emma had been two of the most important people in his life.
And in some ways it was odd, that they were brought back together this way. He wasn't sure they had really talked that much since the shooting. Emma had come back after getting rid of Peter, and with JT's death and reuniting with Ashley, Jimmy'd been a presence in his life again. But this wasn't something they'd ever really talked about.
It was something that happened, something the lived with-but not something they ever talked to each other about. It couldn't be healthy. But then, none of them had really been talking that much at the time anyways.
"Is Ash going to kill you?"
"No. She's been really understanding, but she wants to talk about it and I…I don't know how. It's hard to explain it to someone who wasn't there."
"Sean and I haven't talked about it."
"What?" Toby asked, surprised at Emma's quiet admission.
"We haven't. I mean, we've discussed things like Sean having to leave and my occasionally hideous behavior after it happened-the ways it screwed us up. The aftermath. But I haven't managed to even begin to discuss with him the events of that day. You'd think, with us both having been there, and being together again it would be easy. I just don't know how to open a conversation with, 'So, about the time you stepped in front of a gun for me.'"
"That's how you'd start it?"
"It's the phrase that reverberates in my head. Today, I took his car, met him at his place and we just sort of discussed plans for the day and drove. We didn't talk about what today was, or what we remembered. And while it's what I wanted, it's not all at the same time."
"It's easier not to talk about it."
"For us. Everyone else could talk about it after it happened, and then last year was about rebuilding and moving forward and now…it's like they've dealt with it. But it's easier to deal with if you were locked in a classroom and didn't see anything until afterwards."
"Knowing that if things were different you could have died is not the same as standing there knowing you'll probably die."
Toby and Emma nodded at that comment.
"And that's not easy to explain. Ash can start off a million times with how awful it was—but I really don't remember much. Just the before, and the after, and when everyone else was loosing it I was unconscious."
"We all were," Toby observed, remembering the hazy floating feeling that had come over him when the cops and paramedics had swarmed in and whisked himself, Sean and Emma to the office, "in our own way."
In their own way, a little bit of each of them died with Rick when he went down. They were unconscious with Jimmy. Guilty, terrified, terrorized. They'd been lost in the ugliness that no one else could really understand.
And it was awful and unexplainable.
Emma took over the lead as they pushed their way out into the brisk fall air. The wind whipped her hair around and she brought her arms up around her to hold in some warmth. Toby took up a spot next to Jimmy as he wheeled himself along. He looked down, which still startled him that he had to look down to find Jimmy.
The sound of Emma's shoes on the pavement came to a halt, causing Toby to look up to where she was ahead of him. There was someone leaning on the hood of a red car. Now her heels started clicking faster as she made a beeline for the man, whose head was hanging down, hands stuck deep into his pockets. With a few more steps Toby realized it was Sean.
"Sean?" The head came up at Emma's question, and it was definitely Sean. Surprise flitted over his face, but only for a moment when Emma's hand landed on his arm. "What are you doing here? Why aren't you at work?"
Sean's gaze fell to her feet. "Nearly took my hand off in an engine." Emma gasped softly and Sean's eyes lifted to hers again. "It's fine really. After my boss reamed me out I explained…everything. He gave me the rest day off. Wandered around the city for awhile and ended up here. I didn't feel like getting Ms. H on my case so I figured I'd wait out here."
"You could have come in rather than look like a stalker sitting on my car."
"It's my car, says so on the registration."
"Didn't they have to keep this for evidence?" Toby asked curiously.
Sean sent him a bit of a glare. "Not when you plead guilty, no." He turned away from the guys and back to Emma, his expression lightening. "So you guys are skipping?"
Emma pointed a finger in his face, and the smile on Sean's face expanded. "Don't look at me like that."
"Like what?" he asked her, as if she wasn't glowering at him like a dark storm cloud.
"Like you're amused."
"It's not the first time you've ditched."
Emma walked away from him and started around to the driver's side of the car. "Thank you for that news flash. Are you coming this time?"
"Where are we going?"
That was the eternal question. Toby watched as Emma and Jimmy cast around for a good answer before piping up himself. "There's some place I'd like to go, if you guys wouldn't mind."
Silence fell over the group again, but there seemed to be no protests. He just hoped no one would ask outright where he wanted to go first. He had a sneaking suspicion if he said anything, everyone else would say no.
"Sure," Emma said finally, "Just tell me where we're going—" Emma raised a finger upon seeing Sean move towards her, "and no, you still don't have a license and you're not breaking parole on me." And with that she slid into the car and shut the door so there would be no arguments.
Toby got into the front seat himself, settled himself in and pulled out the directions he'd written down nearly two years ago.
"You need any help with the transfer man?"
Toby turned his head. He hadn't even though to offer, mostly because he was far too used to Jimmy pushing off any advances save Ashley's. But Ash was a steamroller. "I'm good," Jimmy responded, per prediction, his voice clipped.
"I only asked because it's low."
"I'm fine," Jimmy snapped back.
Sean stepped back and allowed Jimmy to make the move himself. He did however, collapse the chair and place it inside Emma's trunk. "I'm surprised you don't have your own set of wheels," Sean said, slipping into the back seat behind Emma. "I'd figured your dad would've set you up with a car."
"I have a van."
"That you drive? I mean, it's not too hard of a mod to install, hand pedals."
"Wasn't saying—" Sean held his hands up and turned to look out the window. "Whatever."
Toby kept his own mouth shut as he kept fidgeting with the crease in the paper he had been hanging on to far too long. The roar of the car coming to life echoed in his ears and he looked down at the looping scrawl that he hadn't seen in a long time. The car started to move and Emma asked which way to turn out of the parking lot. Toby told her to take a left, and they started on their way.
Or perhaps, they were just continuing the journey they'd started two years ago.