There are no bird chirps, no horns honking from the street, no sounds as I make my way up to the large, fancy doors. The world is quiet, almost standing still, as if it knows what I am doing, why I am here. I open the door slowly, in hopes of not disturbing anyone inside. No such luck, a few heads turn. I take a seat in the back row, and listen to the minister as he continues talking. I look around. The coffin’s in front, with her picture enlarged beside the minister’s podium. I can’t bear to look at it. Instead I look at the fixtures on the ceiling.
The fans are on, which is quite weird considering it’s the middle of December. The lights are dim, I wonder if they did that on purpose, given the situation and all. My eyes follow the arches in the ceiling. It’s amazing how the architects are able to get them so even and clear, all intersecting at one spot. The smell of perfume and tears fill my nostrils. The smell wasn’t there before. I turn to my side to see who sat next to me… it’s her best friend.
“What are you doing here?” she asks in a tearful voice.
“What does it look like I’m doing?” I reply. She looks at me, her eyes blood shot red. Any makeup she’d put on was now runny, smudgy and wiped all across her face. She had large blue and purple bags under eyes and her hair was stuck to the tears that had been falling down her face. I look away unable to see the pain that I have cause. Wait, what am I saying? I didn’t cause this pain, she did. The girl in the photo did. Not me.
“It looks like someone’s feeling a little guilty.” She says in an angered tone, turning her attention back to the minister. I tug at my collar, it’s getting hot, Thank God the fans are on. Look at that, what a coincidence, “Thank God” and we’re in a church. What’s wrong with me? I’m nervous, I’m itchy, I can’t stop moving. Funerals were never my thing. Why am I here?
“I don’t know what you are talking about. I’m here to pay my respects, just as any other person.” She turns to me angrily.
“‘I’m here to pay my respects’? You’re unbelievable, how can you even sit here after what you did to her?” Before she can say anymore, I get up from my seat and bolt out the door.
I take off my coat and throw it on the ground. It’s so hot; I’m sweating through my layers. I rip off my tie. I didn’t mean to. It was never supposed to end this way. onestly, I’m a nice person. Just ask anyone. I didn’t want it to be this way; I wish they would understand…
Two weeks before:
“Hey, Russell! Man, you ready for that party tonight?” Chris asks.
“Sure, man, who’s going?”
“Oh, everybody on the team, the cheerleaders. Oh! And we invited that Alyssa chick. You know, the one that has that huge crush on you?” I groan.
“Why would you do that?” I ask in disbelief.
“Why wouldn’t I do that?” Chris says with a wink and a mischievous smile. He’s got something up his sleeve. The bell rings, and I go to A.P. Physics. It’s last period on a Friday, the second semester of my senior year and all I can think about is going home. Senioritis is in full-swing. I walk into class and sit next to Alyssa, my lab partner. She’s pretty, sure if you could get past the pimples on her face, her big dorky glasses, her greasy hair, the breath that smells as if she ate tuna fish as soon as she woke up and forgot to brush her teeth and the horrible, smudgy “emo” makeup job she attempts. She pulls her long sleeves over her hands shyly and smiles a cheesy-yellow shy smile as I open my book.
“Good afternoon, Russell.” She says quietly. I grunt at her, and she looks down sadly.
“Good afternoon,” I say hurriedly, hoping I didn’t hurt her feelings too much. She smiles a thinlipped smile and begins doing the assignment.
I turn my attention to the front of the room to Mr. Jameson. He writes down notes, but all I can feel are the eyes of Alyssa, boring holes into the side of my face. I begin to flush as I believe to feel her eyes even more. I don’t know how to tell her to stop, she watches me every class. I try to ignore it, but her crush becomes more and more apparent with every passing moment. I turn my attention to the clock, class will be over soon and I won’t have to worry about her until tomorrow.
I could hear the music halfway around the block, before I even got to Chris’s house. I walked right in and saw Chris on the couch with some of the cheerleaders cracking jokes. I walk into the kitchen and see some teammates attempting to make a pyramid out of beer cans. I shake my head and grab a Pepsi from the fridge. If you were to ask around about me, you would probably hear about how I party hard and get all the girls. But that’s not true; in fact it couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’m a total straight edge, as straight as they can be. I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs, never picked up a cigarette, not even in the off-season. If I’m not playing the game, I’m usually studying, I want to be a doctor someday, and nothing can get in the way of that.
I go back into the living room, just in time to see Alyssa and another girl with long red hair walking through the door. I look around for a quick escape, but it’s too late; she’s seen me and she’s heading straight towards me with her cheesy smile.
“Russell! Hi, Russell! It’s soo weird to be together out of school, huh? Since we run with like different crowds and all. Oh! How rude of me? ” She laughs nervously. “This is my best friend Natasha.” She looks around. “Wow, this is really different than I thought it would be.” She tugs at her sleeves nervously. One of the cheerleaders, Kristee come over and says,
“Look who’s here! Tuna-breath.” Everyone laughs, I roll my eyes. How original? Alyssa looks down, embarrassed; Natasha looks angry. Chris calls me over. I leave reluctantly, knowing how brutal the cheerleaders can be. Chris pours a drink and hands it to me.
“Here give this to her.” Chris whispers. I look at him suspiciously.
“What is it?” I ask? He shrugs.
“Lemonade.” He says nonchalant. I stare at him.
“Is there liquor in it?” Chris smiles. “No, I’m not going to do that.”
“I’m not going to be responsible for her getting drunk. If she wants it, she can come get it herself.”
“No man, give it to her. She should try new things. She’ll only trust you.”
“And you wonder why?”
“Hey, man. You know what?” Chris says starting to get angry. “Who’s backed you up all this time? Huh? Do this one thing for me. It’s all I’ve ever asked of you.” I grab the cup reluctantly and make my way over to Alyssa.
“Here’s a drink.” I say. “I thought that you might be thirsty.” She grabs it and smells it. Natasha looks at me skeptically.
“There’s liquor in this, isn’t there?” Alyssa asks; I shrug. “I don’t want it.”
“It’s good, try it.” I say, but she shakes her head. “Look, just try a sip, okay?” She shakes her head again. Kristee pushes her.
“C’mon! Try it! Don’t you want to be a part of this crowd?” The cheerleader says. Alyssa looks at me.
“Hey, leave her alone. She doesn’t want to.” The first words out of Natasha’s mouth.
“Just try it! Try it or I’ll….. I’ll tell Mr. Jameson that you cheated on the test we had on Wednesday.” She looks at me horrified. Natasha gets in my face.
“What the hell is wrong with you?
“But—But I didn’t,” She stutters.
“Hey, I’m not talking to you,” I tell Natasha. I turn back to Alyssa. “Yeah, well who’s he going to believe?” She looks at the cup and back at me and the cup again. She takes a sip. The cheerleader tips Alyssa’s cup higher.
“All of it!” she chants, spilling half the cup on Alyssa. Alyssa chugs the rest and holds the cup out to Chris.
“More?” she asks. Chris laughs.
“Alright!” The party has now begun.
I sit down on the couch. It’s a few hours into the party and Alyssa is completely wasted. Natsha’s by her side trying to drag her out of the house. I feel horrible for making her drink it, but she seems to be liking it, so it must be okay… right? Uh, oh. Now she’s dancing on the table with all the guys egging her to take her clothes off. I jump up.
“Alyssa, don’t you think that it’s time to go home?” “But it’sshhh jusssssshhhh shhhhharting.” She slurs at me.
“C’mon man, leave her alone. She’s having fun!” Chris says.
“Dude, she’s drunk. Back off.” Down comes a shirt.
“She’s having fun,” he says again, taking out his phone and snapping pictures. I look at him in disbelief. He continues snapping pictures and I leave the party to go home.
My phone vibrates in the middle of physics. I look around for Mr. Jameson to make sure he doesn’t see, and I open it up; it’s a video from Chris. I open the video and it’s Alyssa stripping at the party. I look over at her. She looks like she still has a hangover. I turn the phone away from her.
“Wat the hell is tht!?” I reply.
“I need ur help.” He responds back.
“N hows tht gonna help u?”
“I need answers! N fast!”
“Im horrible at calculus. ur askin the wrong person.”
“No im not askin u. Im askin Alyssa.”
“No way, ask her urself.” My phone vibrates again. Another picture message. This time it’s me holding a beer. I become horrified. The caption underneath says “if u dont ask her, coach is gonna c this pic.”
“I wasnt holding a beer. it was a plastic cup.” “Photoshop doesnt lie.” I turn to Alyssa.
“Chris needs your help with Calculus.” I whisper.
“Umm, well I can stay after today and tutor him.” She replies.
“No, he needs it now.” I take a look at Mr. Jameson. He’s still writing notes on the board.
“Why now?” Then it clicks. She whispers. “He’s taking the test, isn’t he? I’m not going to help him cheat.”
“Shes not gonna do it.” I text back to Chris.
“Show her the video,” he replies. I sigh and turn back to her. I hand her my phone. I turn away as she watches it. She keeps my phone for the rest of the class. When the bell rings she tosses it back at me.
It’s Friday again, and all I can think of is taking a nap again. I guess I started to doze off because I jerk up from the desk at the sound of laughter. They all are pointing at me and laughing. Was I drooling? Was I snoring? Wait, they aren’t staring at me! They are staring at Alyssa. They’ve all got their phones out and I can hear the video from the party playing. I look at Alyssa, she’s keeping her head down but I can tell she’s crying.
“”This is what you get for making me fail, bitch’” One of the students in the class says.
“What did you do?” I asked her.
“I gave him the wrong answers on purpose.” She says through her tears. She runs out of the room crying, not without somebody tripping her first, and the class bursting into another fit of laughter.
I go home without a second glance at anyone.
To my surprise I see Alyssa coming down the hall Monday morning. Her head still down. Everybody still laughing at her. As I am about to go talk to her one of the guys push her again the wall, tugging at her shirt.
“Want to show us some more?” He taunts at her. She pulls her shirt down and attempts to escape. I come over and pull him off her, giving him a death glare.
“What, man?” He asks nonchalant and walks away. Before I can talk to her, she’s down the hallway making her way to the bathroom.
She wasn’t in physics that afternoon. Nor was she the next day. And it was during physics when Kristee was telling me about how a boy followed Alyssa into the bathroom yesterday around third period, when we got the news.
“Class, class, please settle down. I have some startling news.” Mr. Jameson says. Before he opened his mouth again, I knew what he was going to say. “Our fellow classmate, Alyssa Houtten, took her own life yesterday afternoon. She was found this morning in Riverwood Park.” The class fell completely silent. Tears were shed, even by those who didn’t know her. Kristee leaves the room hysterically.
“How… did she do it?” One student asked. Mr. Jameson looks around unsure.
“Umm, with a gun.” He replies. A gasp fills the room.
“Who found her?” Mr. Jameson shakes his head sadly.
“One very young child, whose life will never be the same.” That is when I walk out of the room. ************************
I walk home in nothing but a tee shirt and slacks. It’s starting to snow but somehow I’m sweating. Or maybe it’s my tears. I can’t tell anymore. I get home and get the mail. There’s only one letter, with no sender on the front, only addressed to me. I open it up. There’s only one word: