It's Tuesday and Beck is watching me from down the hall. I'm not sure if he thinks I haven't noticed him giving me the stink eye for 24 hours straight but either way, he's not hiding his disdain.
I think he knows. Maybe he doesn't know but he's catching on. He definitely noticed the looks Andre kept giving me yesterday. He's suspicious, but he's not jealous. He's never jealous. He'd have to actually care to be jealous. He'd have to think that the possibility I'd leave him for good even existed, and he doesn't. He's been conditioned that way. He's too good looking to get rejected. Girls don't tell him no. I will always be there, wanting him back. I will never truly leave.
He's gone the next time I look that direction, but he reappears on my other side in seconds, like magic. He stares at me for a few seconds, looking incredibly confused but a little angry too. I just stare back at him, hoping he makes up his mind soon and either speaks or walks away.
"You slept with Andre?" Ah, soAndre must have told him. Boy's got too much of a conscience for his own good.
I try to come up with some sort of response, but It's none of your business isn't good enough and I'm too tired to think of anything else.
"Are you losing your mind? What are you doing?" Am I losing my mind? Yes. Naturally, wanting to be with someone other than him is a symptom of that.
Andre doesn't tell me to just get over it. He's the only person who lets me grieve. It was a heat of the moment thing. It only happened once. I needed somebody who would try to understand, and I counted on him for that.
I try to make those words come out of my mouth but I can't even part my lips. My throat hurts. I'm not sure that I'm completely awake right now.
Beck stares at me, I stare at him. Eventually he walks away and I come back to life. I go to class, I do my work, I even talk a little. I'm okay, for the most part. I act like I'm fine and it doesn't really feel like acting at the moment, but once I'm alone again on my way home from school, I sink into that hole and tears burn my eyes as the bandages fall off and I break apart again.
It was a Thursday when he came to me at lunch to remind me of why I'm always wrong. I had decided that I was going to sit at a table by myself at lunch for the rest of eternity, but Andre couldn't let that happen.
Tori hadn't even tried with me since the coffee incident in the hall. I suppose she was just giving me my space or something stupid like that, and I was grateful, but at the same time I'd wanted her to keep trying. I wanted her to help me without my having to break down and ask.
"Jade," Andre said as he sat down beside me, "you don't have to sit alone." He tried to make eye contact but his eyes were a little too high. I guess my forehead was less threatening. "Tori doesn't blame you... She probably knows how you feel more than the rest of us do. You don't have to shut her out."
I completely ignored him. I blew him off entirely. It was much too upsetting that she was still willing to try, just not hard enough to do it herself. I didn't want to beg. I wanted to know that I was worth the effort. Apparently I wasn't. She'd tried to make me like her for over a year, stopping at nothing, and then, when I clearly needed her, she finally realized I just wasn't worth it. What timing.
It's Friday and I'm back in Lauren's office while she talks to my lifeless body.
"How about today you tell me what ended your friendship with Tori?" I can hear Lauren talk, but it just goes right through me. I can't comprehend what she's actually saying.
"Jade?" She repeats my name a couple times as I sit there, stiff as a board on her orange couch, but I can't bring myself to move enough to respond to her right away.
"Did something happen?" She asks me a third question and I take a deep breath, slowly pulling reality back to me.
"Yeah," I answer, and I can hear her sigh in relief. "After I left here last week I slept with the only friend I've got left."
"Do you know why?" Her voice is suddenly quiet, soft like she's trying to be cautious.
"Yes. I'm an idiot." That answer's not good enough for her, though, so I spit out some words that might satisfy her. "And I'm lonely...and he's the closest thing I've got to the person I really want to be with." I've been staring at the wall for a while and it takes a moment before her silence hits me. I glance at Lauren and she's not even looking my direction. She's got her eyes closed, but some tears are starting to slip through. Her hand's on the box of kleenex on her desk, but she hasn't taken one yet. She squeezes her eyes shut harder, takes a deep breath, and returns her attention to me.
"I'm so sorry," she apologizes. "My husband and I just found out on Monday that we're expecting our first child together, and the symptoms are really hitting me hard all of a sudden. I guess my hormones are just in overdrive, because I've been really emotional the last few days. I'm so sorry." Suddenly I feel a lot of pressure in my throat, like someone's blowing up a balloon inside of my trachea. I can't breathe, and I just barely choke out a little lie to convince her to move on.
"It's okay." It doesn't work. She rips a tissue from the box and pats her eyes dry with it before she calls me out.
"Jade, what is it?" I consider lying for a moment but my body won't let me, and I start crying - real tears, not my usual hormonal, accidental ones.
"Jade?" She says my name again when I don't answer her, and suddenly her box of tissues is in my face. I take one but I just bunch it up in my fist and open my mouth to spit out the story she's been trying to get from me for a while.
"Tori was kind of...she was the person we all went to when we had a problem, because she was good at fixing things. I thought she was the most irritating person on the planet, but whenever I had a problem...I went to her, and she would just... set aside any bad feelings she had about me and help me with whatever I needed her to...and I guess...well, we became friends when she helped me with something kind of big."
"And what was that?"
"I, ummm... I...got pregnant." Her eyes widen a little at my apparent nonchalance, but only for a second, because she doesn't want me to see her look surprised. The notebook that usually sits in her lap is placed on the desk instead, and she pushes it all the way back.
"Did you...have a boyfriend, or was it a-"
"It was my boyfriend's. Well...my ex..." I can't remember if I've ever told her about Beck. He seems like such a minute detail in the mess that my life's been lately that I probably never thought to tell her about him. "We'd been dating for a couple years, and it just...it was an accident. I was really freaked out about it though, so I went to Tori, because I guess I expected her to do something about it...and she just...she let me inside her house and she patted me on the back, and she called a doctor and made an appointment for me, and she even drove me there and everything...which actually probably wasn't the best idea since she was a really bad driver. But she...didn't judge me or anything. She just helped with whatever I wanted her to, and she was there for me more than my boyfriend was, even." Lauren's eyes are bloodshot and a vein is pulsing in her forehead from holding back tears. The fact that even my therapist wants to cry over my life probably isn't a good sign.
"But then...a few months ago, I miscarried, and...I guess I was a lot more...attached than I thought I was, because I didn't take it well, and I took it out on her, and I was just a mess and..." I still am, I think for a moment, when she doesn't say anything and just sits there, her face all scrunched up and ugly as she tries not to cry over my misfortune.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." She starts apologizing to me and at first I'm not sure if she's sorry for me or for her behavior. "Can you just give me a second? I'm sorry, I'm being really unprofessional, but I'll be right back." Within seconds, I'm left in her overheated, gloomy office by myself. I lie down on my back on the apricot-colored couch and stare at the ceiling tiles above my head.
How long have I been coming here? It feels like forever. Do I feel any better than I did before my first appointment? I can't tell. I don't know what I feel, or if I feel anything at all. My insides feel completely vacant, but at the same time I'm stuffed to the point that my seams are ripping out and I just can't keep it together.
It's been a while since Lauren left. I turn to look at the tiny clock on her desk. Nearly ten minutes have passed. It's almost time for me to leave. Maybe I could just sneak out and go home and take a couple sleeping pills and stay in bed forever. The door creaks and interrupts that fantasy.
"Jade..." She kneels down beside the couch, hand on her flat stomach, before I have the chance to sit up. "I think it might be best, given my condition, if you were to see one of my colleagues instead. I want to help you, but I don't know if that's possible for me to do right now. Would you like me to refer you to Debbie? Or maybe Alison. Either one of them is perfectly capable of helping you."
"I, umm..." I can't take her seriously when she's knelt down like that, talking to me like I'm a toddler or a mental patient. "You know, I don't know if therapy is really what I need right now. It's never worked in the past, and I think, really, that I'll just get over it, like I always do."
"Honey," She's speaking so softly I could almost fall asleep. "It's not good to internalize all those hurt feelings like that. Not dealing with them doesn't make them go away, it just pushes them deep down, somewhere where you can ignore them. It's not healthy. It only hurts you more in the end." My lips start trembling and I can feel tears coming, as desperately as I hate to cry. I don't really even feel sad right now. I'm not sure what I'm feeling, but I can't stop myself from crying, and soon tears are spilling from my eyes and then, for the first time in a while, I do know what I'm feeling - humiliation.
"I just...in the past, my old therapists would read me this crap from all their books, lists of foolproof ways to deal with my feelings, and I tried for a while, but none of them really worked. I mean...I thought they might. I tried taking up running, dancing, even kick-boxing, and it didn't help. I tried writing, and I put my feelings down on paper and I thought it was helping because I'd feel better while I was doing it, and I still love doing it, but as soon as I stop I just go right back to feeling the same way again. I...I tried to distract myself with a social life. I forced myself to spend time with all these people that I have nothing in common with, and I started dating, but then I only ended up spending nearly three years of my life evaluating my own self worth based on however my boyfriend was acting toward me at the time, and I...I just can't be treated with a page from a psychology book." My throat feels dry after my little rant and I start to think about just how much I've shared with Lauren. She knows me better than anyone else and I barely even know her.
"All people deal with stress and pain differently," Lauren forces herself into a cross-legged position on the floor beside the couch, and with a straight face, she keeps trying. "Some theories and techniques work for some people, and some don't. The human mind isn't something that we can easily fix." She pauses for a moment, glancing at the clock so she can see that we're running ten minutes over. "How about we try one last thing. You try one thing for me, and come back next week, and if you don't think I've helped you, we can talk about stopping treatment."
I'm weary to find out what Lauren's idea is, but I know that my parents won't allow me to just stop coming here unless she tells them it's okay. I might as well come back next week. Where else can I sit on a comfortable couch and share my secrets with someone I'll never see outside of this room? What could it hurt, really?
"Okay." A smile appears on Lauren's face for a moment as I agree.
"Alright. Jade, I think that you're still grieving like this for a couple of reasons. Mainly, you're holding a lot of things inside that you wish you would've said to Tori while she was alive, right?" I shake my head in agreement just so she'll stop staring at me. "And even when she was alive, I'm sure keeping some of those things inside caused you a great deal of stress. Well...by locking that all in, you are never going to get better. It's not going to go away if you don't let it out. I know that this might be really hard for you to do, but I want you to visit her grave." My throat shrinks down to half its size. I can barely fit a single breath through. I couldn't even go to her funeral. I can't just go wander through a cemetery looking for her. She's completely ruined those places for me.
"I want you to visit her grave, and tell her all those things that you're keeping inside. Maybe write it down first, but go there and try to do that. It might sound stupid, but I think it'll help you. You can't keep it inside, Jade. You can't just sleepwalk through the rest of your life with this...giant wad of pain balled up in your stomach. You have to wake up now."
It's Saturday and I've asked Andre to go with me, but he sits in the car while I go to Tori's grave alone. It's in the center of the cemetery, beside a couple graves I can only assume belong to her grandparents. There's a handful of empty plots beside her shiny marble tombstone, saved for the rest of her family, and the grass is just barely growing back over the section of the Earth that they dug up to stuff her beneath. I used to love coming to places like this, but now I'm on the verge of throwing up.
"Tori..." I spit out her name as I kneel in front of her tombstone, but I'm not sure what else to say. I can't take my eyes off the stone. Those years are far too close together. They called her Victoria. She would've hated that. Never in my life had I heard anybody refer to her by her full name, for a reason, I would guess.
"I... This is dumb. I'm sorry, I... My stupid shrink made me come here. She thinks talking to your...your smelly, rotting, decomposed body will help me, but I...I think she's the crazy one. Even if I am the one who's sitting here talking to herself..." I close my eyes, trying to remember all the things to say that I'd come up with in bed last night.
"I have...some things I should have told you, and I'm a little late. This is the closest I can get. I umm..." I feel like such an idiot sitting here, and I can't seem to bring myself to say anything more. I start to cry, and soon I'm lying face down on her grave, sobbing with a tiny smile on my face because even in death, she's the only person I can let see me like this.
"I love you." I finally spit something out, throwing the rest of the list out the window because I can no longer remember all the things I'd been wanting to say for her for so long. "I'm sorry I never got the chance to."
A few moments pass. I'm not sure what I expected. To instantly feel better? To get a response? Maybe the first one. I wasn't expecting some huge weight to instantly be lifted off my shoulders, but maybe I was expecting to feel a little relief. To be able to just take a breath, and not feel like I'm inhaling water. Instead I get nothing, so without another word, I stand up and I return to the car, where Andre gives me a sad, curious look and restarts the engine.
"You feel better?" He asks me, keeping his eyes on my downturned face instead of the road through the cemetery.
"I don't know."
I'm not sure what day it is anymore, but I know it's supposed to be a school day. It's past eight o'clock though, and I'm still in bed. I've been sick to my stomach since my alarm went off at six, and this time my mother approves of me staying home. All I had to do was vomit on her spotless living room carpet before she sent me back to bed with a bucket.
My bag is hanging off the corner of my headboard, and I reach for it because really, I'd rather be at school than at home right now and I need to entertain myself somehow. I look inside and start to pull out my homework, because I'm currently under the delusion that I'm in a good enough condition to do something like that. My books hit the mattress with a thunk, one by one, until I pull out a few sheets of crumpled paper. I straighten them out in my lap, taking in the sight of my name in the top left corner, and the smeared red A+ scribbled next to it.
It's my play. The one I wrote days, weeks, maybe months ago. I don't know what day it is anymore. I don't know what month it is. I can't even remember what I did yesterday.
I'm weary to read it but I find my eyes traveling down the page, taking in each and every word, picturing my main character - brown haired, blue-eyed Ericka - as she steals my life away from me and makes a quick descent into madness in much the same way that I have.
She has lost her very best friend. Not the way that I did. she's much luckier than I. Ericka's best friend Veronica - creative with that one, wasn't I? - has gone missing, but no one seems to care. They all think that Veronica has simply chosen to run away from home; she's the kind of girl who would do that, it seems.
Without the assistance of her terribly unhelpful peers, Ericka begins a dedicated search for her best friend, wandering into the deep dark woods that surround her tiny hometown. She immediately loses her way - because apparently she's a moron - and gets stuck in the forest, wandering around without a clue as to which direction she is headed. With no sense of time, Ericka continuously travels in circles until one night, she veers off one of the same paths she's been taking all along and nearly falls into a deep hole, dug in the center of a clearing. The slick dirt lining this pit has been embedded with thousands of sharp pieces of glass, and the reflection of the moonlight reveals what's lying at the bottom - Veronica. Finally having reached her destination, Ericka helps her still-living friend out of the pit, excited to prove to her family and the rest of her friends that she was right.
The play ends with Ericka picking up one of those shards of glass and using it to slit the relieved and exhausted Veronica's pale little throat.
I can't even remember what the assignment was, anymore. I doubt that this play fulfilled it though, and so I wonder about the grade. Mr. Gerrard is one of the toughest teachers at Hollywood Arts - and coincidentally the only one who absolutely refuses to let us call him by anything other than his proper, professional name. It's almost impossible to get an A from him, and so I'm almost positive that I only received such a high grade out of pity.
Why shouldn't he pity me? Why shouldn't everybody pity me? I pity me. Probably even more than everyone else does, actually. It's tragic, really, but what am I to do about it? If I knew how to solve my problems I'd have done that years ago.
It's Wednesday - I think - and I'm sitting in Sikowitz's class, where I'm not taking in a single thing he's saying because I still don't feel very good. My head feels empty, light as air, and I could really use something to eat right now but I didn't bring any food with me and I don't feel much like moving.
Beck stands up to join Cat and a couple of the quiet kids at the front of the classroom, but I have no idea what they're supposed to be doing because I'm too busy trying to motivate myself to get up and go get a drink. Eventually I'm successful and I stand up to leave without a word because my throat is too dry to talk. I get a drink from the fountain down the hall from Sikowitz's classroom, but on the way back my vision blurs, and little black specks start appearing everywhere. I make it into the classroom, though it's obvious I'm not feeling well because everybody stops talking and I can just barely hear the sound of Beck's voice as I try to take a seat. I reach out to grab a hold of it but it's a few inches further away than I expected and I completely miss the chair, hitting the ground hard as everything goes black.