First Day of School

My parents started home immediately after they heard. Apparently, they had tried to call, but I hadn't had my cell and the house phone had gotten disconnected sometime during the party. They came home to find the house destroyed and me curled up on the floor, with a blanket over my head, asleep. When my mom gently shook me awake, just the sight of her caused me to break down again. She wrapped her arms around me, and I was never more grateful for her presence than in that moment. Eventually, I was calm enough to get up off the floor and allow my parents to lead me to my room, which was still a mess, but the mattress had been placed back on the frame and new sheets and blankets laid over it.

I fell into my bed and instantly fell asleep, grateful for the soft surface and the exhaustion. For the rest of the weekend, I didn't leave my room. I only got out of bed to go to the bathroom and even that felt like too much effort. My mom came in to check on me every once in a while, usually to try to coax me to eat something. Everything tasted like chalk, but I forced down a few bites each time until my stomach clenched and I was sure I would throw up if I ate another bite.

I wasn't even aware that it was Monday until my mom came in and asked if I was going to school that day. She quickly explained how I didn't have to if I didn't feel up to it and I was about to tell her I definitely didn't feel like going, but at the last second I change my mind. I have the strangest desire to see what school will be like. Somehow I think everything will be different, that the time won't flow the same, that classes won't come and go. How can homework and tests be bigger than this?

The thought makes me want to back out, but I'm suddenly tired of sitting around. I want to do something. Maybe school will just be a good distraction. I pull myself out of bed and into the shower. Slowly getting ready even though I know I'm already running late. I grab my book bag and keys off the table, declining my mom's request to drive me to school, telling her I'm okay to drive. Also, I just want a way out if everything gets to be too much.

I feel almost numb on the drive to school, and I purposefully park in the upper lot so I have to walk. 0.22 miles. My heart clenches. I only know that number, because I heard Sam say it. I only heard Sam say it, because I've never been able to stay away from her, even after she became to cool for me.

I'm so consumed isn my own thoughts that I don't even register walking into the front doors of the school until the sound of hundreds of students talking knocks me back to reality. As I walk down the hall toward my first class, I notice how everyone turns quiet and stares and the whispering starts. I'm almost to my class when all the talking ceases. It seems like all the noise has been sucked out of the space like a vacuum. I turn around slowly, knowing why the noise has stopped, but needing to see for myself.

Lindsey is making her way down the hall, with Ally and Elody flanking her on either side, all of them wearing oversized sunglasses. No one speaks and no one breathes and for a few seconds the only sound in whole school is the sound of three pairs of heels clicking against the tile floor in sync. Then the whispering starts again, growing until it's a dull roar. I wonder if all the rules still apply.

The girls make it down the hall, heads held high and I expect them to pass by me without a second glance. That's what usually happens. That's the rule. But it's not what happens. Instead, they stop right in front of me and Lindsey gives me a half smile and brushes her hand over my shoulder, before the three of them turn away. I watch them walk away, the crowd parting to clear a path for the three of them. I can feel the tension in the air, weighing on everything while at the same time vibrating like electricity.

I turn to go into my class, but not before staring down the halls one last time. Part of me still expects to see Sam walking through the doors or down the hall with her friends. I push the thought from my head, though I'm already thinking coming to school may have been a bad idea.

During first period, the principal voice comes through the loudspeaker and tearfully announces Sam's death. Students who didn't know her immediately start crying and have to be escorted out to the grief counselor who is now available to all the students. My throat tightens and I clench my fist so tight my knuckles turn white and my fingernails draw blood, but I make it through. I don't want to go to the grief consular with all the people who didn't know her. I don't want to sit there with the people who just worshipped her for who they thought she was, who only want popularity and high school fame.

I can't concentrate on anything and find myself drawing aimlessly instead of taking notes. I'm not paying attention to what I'm drawing and have to hold back a gasp when I look down at my paper. I've started to sketch the same picture I drew for Sam to put with her rose on Cupid Day. I rip the paper out and tear it into pieces before balling it up and throwing it away. I interrupt class when I get up and people are staring, but they've been staring all day. I know I won't get in trouble. I'm sure if I just started tearing the classroom apart, I wouldn't get in trouble. Even though a lot of people don't know the full story of me and Sam, they know what happened at my party.

I'm walking to fourth period and I'm thinking about skipping out on the rest of the day. I can't concentrate anyway and I'm already tired of the whispers and the stares. Plus the rumors have started and if I have to listen to lies about Sam right now, I'm sure I'll lose it. I shove open the door to the classroom and it suddenly hits me where I'm at. Calculus. Most people have already taken their seats but they're all turned around staring at that empty desk by the door. Even Mr. Daimler can't take his eyes off it.

Sam's desk.

In movies and books I've never really understood why seeing an empty desk evoked such feeling. I understood that the person used to sit there and should have been sitting there if everything was right with the world, but I never truly understood what it meant. Hundreds of different people sit at the desk. Someone was probably sitting there just a few minutes ago and after this class leaves someone will sit there again. But that's not the point. The point is that Sam should be sitting there right now, like she's done everyday for the past school year. The lone emptiness of the desk is like a stark reminder that she's not coming back. She's not just sick or skipping. She'll never sit at that desk again. I'll never get to stare at the back of her head or her face in profile from my seat in the back of the room. That desk is Sam's desk. And it's empty. It will always be empty.

The blood drains from my head so fast I get dizzy and have to lean against the doorframe to keep myself upright. I can't look away from the stupid desk any more than any one else can. A thousand images flash through my mind in quick succession. Sam as a little kid, grabbing my hand and running through my yard. Sam whispering in my ear. Sam kissing me. Sam's body flying though the air. Sam's blood on my hands.

Tears are falling down my face before I even know what's happening. I pull my eyes away from the empty desk and see that everyone's eyes have turned to me. My mind flashbacks to second grade, when I started crying during lunch because my grandpa had died and Patrick bullied me until Sam came to my rescue. Now Sam isn't here to save me. She isn't here to be my hero, because I wasn't able to be hers. But this time is different anyway. No one calls me names. In fact, a few other people in the class start tearing up and everyone looks broken and confused. Mr. Daimler says my name, but I ignore him and nearly run from the room and out the front doors.

I make it to my car, crank up the heat, and break down for what feels like the hundredth time since Sam's death.