He gets on the bus. I watch him from where I sit in the back rows. He finds a seat near the front.
He's listening to something with a yellow walkman. I don't know what it is, but he looks like he's listening to death itself.
Funny, isn't it? That's what I'm doing.
My hand reaches into my pocket, holding that little plastic bottle of pills I'd gotten from the pharmacy. That was why I was out so late tonight. I was making preparations for my final departure.
And does he know that? Of course not.
Maybe no one would ever know. But I had wanted someone to. When this had all started, I'd desperately wished for someone to come along. For someone to be my hero. After all this time, could it be him? Could it be Clay? I gaze thoughtfully at him. What is it that makes you different from everyone else?
I watch as another pained look crosses his face, and I decide to engage him. What do I have to lose? Let's see if everything about Clay Jensen was "good".
But why do I care? Why should he matter to me when I'd be gone tomorrow? Almost instantly, I know the answer.
Because I think you can help me, Clay. You could be my hero. You might be able to save me.
But who would ever want to do that?
Stepping forward, I take the empty seat behind him, observing as he shuts his eyes in despair. What kind of music is he listening to? I think I already know the answer.
'Miss your stop, Clay?' I ask, loud enough to catch his attention, but not loud enough to disturb anyone else left on the bus.
I startle him, I know that. He turns around, pulling his ear buds out. The instant his eyes meet mine, I remember why I was so in love with him back in 8th grade. But in those same eyes, I don't see the happy light I was expecting. No, his eyes are filled with so many conflicting emotions. Sadness. Anger. Frustration. Guilt. The very same emotions I see every time I look in the mirror.
When he speaks, I can't help but love the way he says my name.
'Miss your house?' I ask again. I haven't spoken to you in so long, Clay, I think. Are you the same Clay Jensen from so many years ago? 'He'll stop if you ask him to.'
He shakes his head politely, trying to cover up his obvious misery. Yep. Same Clay Jensen.
I glance down at his walkman, and through the miniature window, I recognize those tapes of his. When I look back up at him, I know exactly what kind of "music" he's listening to.
He's listening to Hannah's last words. To her final symphony.
Death truly is playing in his ears. He's hearing Hannah give up on herself.
How do I know this? Because I knew Hannah. I knew what she was thinking days before she died because I was thinking the same thing.
'What is the best way to die?'
I'm jolted from my thoughts as the bus comes to a halt and the doors open. The driver calls for anyone wanting to get off at the stop. He looks away from me to notify the bus driver, and I'm surprised to feel a twinge of disappointment. I still need to know if you're my hero, I think.
He turns back to me. 'Where are you going?'
I'm so tempted to say 'Hell'. "I'm going to Hell". Wouldn't that be something to hear, huh? I bet Hannah and her lucky number thirteen would be proud. Darkly amused, I smirk. I find myself staring right into his eyes. I begin to think about how over the years I'd gradually begun to pull away from the rest of society, and how it was the best thing I'd ever done. How I'd learned to frost myself inside out, but that still wasn't enough to save me. If I couldn't save myself, who would? Would it be you, Clay? I keep my stare even.
Wait. What am I doing? Am I trying to make you uncomfortable? Or do I want you to see past my smirk? Can you see past this icy mask I've made for myself?
I finally respond, half expecting to say "Hell" on accident. 'I'm not going anywhere.'
That's partly true. I've got no intention of going home.
He gives me a slightly curious look, but suddenly, I'm beyond caring about that at this point. Are you going to stay or go? Are you going to save me or let me die? I know this is where you get off. I know you're debating with yourself. I also know that we're near Tyler's and Courtney's houses, and that you're following Hannah's map.
If it's taking he's this long to decide, I'm going to guess that I'm not worthy enough for an instant response. I feel all that stupid hope in my chest wither and die. He's not my hero, after all.
Suddenly, I just want him gone.
'See you tomorrow,' I say. But that's a lie. No one's going to see me tomorrow. But I just want him to go away.
He blinks, hesitates, and then nods. He starts to go, and I can't help but think back. Hannah used to say we won't always get second chances, and she was right. But Clay, you blind little boy. Why won't you see that I am your second chance? You might not have been able to save Hannah, but you could save me.
But that's not what he's doing right now.
'See you later,' he says.
He lifts his backpack and walks away. He's walking down the aisle of the bus...He's thanking the driver...He's stepping out the doors...gone. Clay's gone.
I stare at his empty seat, feeling my anger and idiotic hope drain. He's not going to help. He's going to let me slip between his fingers, too. Just like Hannah.
'I don't want to end up like her,' I whisper to nothing. That's what I should have said when he was still here. That's what I should've said when he was listening to me, for once. But he still hasn't finished those tapes. He's still listening to Hannah, even though it's too late. It's too late for all three of us.
'In the end, Clay,' I whisper. 'You'll regret ever letting her go. You'll regret not saying the words you should have said.' Maybe I'll regret that, too. Maybe I already am.
I needed a hero. Now I'm completely sure I'll never find one. But I think you know who that might've been, Clay.
I lean my head against the cold glass of the window, letting my eyes fall shut against the sight of his empty seat. I'm alone.
But it seems I've been alone for a quite a while now. I was such an idiot for hoping he'd help me. I should've known. If he wouldn't have saved Hannah, why would he even bother to save me?
The bus drives on.
I'm still not going home.
It's the day.
I'm not going to school to learn. I'm not going to school to say goodbye. I'm not even going to be there for the entire day.
I'm only going because I want to look back and remember.
I want to look into a classroom and remember all the useless things I'd learned in there. I want to open my locker and remember all the things I'd put inside. I want to walk down a hallway and remember all the crazy gossip I'd heard flying around.
I guess I just want to make sure that I'd lived. That I'd actually existed. After all, memories are the only things one can truly take with them to the grave.
It's been an hour since I've come to school for my last day. Time's up, and I know it.
This hallway. Those trash cans. My footsteps. It's all so vivid. I'm literally walking to my death.
And of course, with no hero to stop me.
But strangely, I'm okay with that. I'm not scared of the fact that I'll be gone in a few hours. One of the stages of grief is acceptance, right? The last one. My hand clenches the bottle of pills tightly.
It's going to be all right.
I'm looking at the far end of the hall.
Everything is going to end soon.
My footsteps echo. It's a lonely sound.
This is my final symphony.
I'm walking even as I hear Clay's name called from behind. I feel my footsteps stop suddenly. Clay Jensen, skipping a class? Unheard of.
Funny. That's what Hannah said about him going to a party.
I turn around, my eyes instantly met by his. Those eyes are tired, worn, and regretful. Told you you'd regret it, Clay. And those eyes are exhausted. They're not telling me to throw the bottle of pills in the trash can.
So I don't. Those eyes aren't going to help me.
I turn away. Despite everything, I'm glad he will be the last person I'll see before I go. This was fun, Clay, I think. Let's do this again, someday. My footsteps continue on their way.
The little pills will take me away tonight. Then the next day, my parents will find what I'd left behind.
If I have a funeral, Clay, I think. I'm sure you won't be there. Once I'm buried six feet under, you won't remember me. I'm not like Hannah. I won't record the reasons for my death and send them out to people. My last song isn't like hers. The sound of each every footstep as I near the end of this hallway...That is my final symphony.
I'm almost there. I'm almost gone. Only a few more last notes before I can reach forward and push those doors open.
Then, different footsteps sound. They fall into the same rhythm as my own, harmonizing strangely. This is not my final symphony. These footsteps are quickening, and they're directed at me.
I know who it is. I suddenly realize that throughout the whole day, ever since seeing him on the bus, I'd still been hoping he would come. And that hope had come true.
And when he finally speaks, I can't help but love the way he says my name.
It's about time, hero.