Pulling her hood farther down her face, and shoving her thin fingers deep into the pocket on her sweatshirt, she trudged on through the dim hallway of Sandstone Springs High School
Kaya had arrived very early in the morning, or at least to her standards. The sunlight had not yet skipped over the mountains of the valley, and Sandstone Springs remained soaked in a cool, deep shadow. Kaya welcomed the darkness of the early morning like a friend. The daytime would adorn her with an even darker cloak than the one blanketing the mountains.
She kept her eyes down and slouched her back as low as she was willing to. She did not want to be recognized, at least not this early in the day, so Kaya did her best to seem as unlike herself as possible. Very few people had even arrived at the school yet, but most of them needn't know she was there.
Her first class started at least a half-hour later, but that was where Kaya was headed. Why risk staying in the hallway when she could be concealed inside the classroom walls? She trudged down the everlasting hallway, and then climbed the stairs to the second floor, where the world history classroom sat on her left. The lights were still off in the room, which meant that Mrs. Simmons wasn’t there yet. Kaya shouldn’t have been allowed in, but Mrs. Simmons wouldn't mind.
The door swung open without the slightest sound. Kaya pressed a yellow-stained button to the right of the door, and bright, obnoxious lights flickered on. She walked over to a table and pulled out one of the tall, grey chairs. The familiar scent of hand sanitizer and pencil shavings calmed Kaya’s jittery stomach, and the educational posters on the walls waved at her like friends.
She bent down and retrieved the laptop from her backpack. It had been two weeks since she’d last attended school and she had tons of work to do. But before she began, Kaya caught a glimpse of a keychain dangling from the zipper on her backpack, and a hit of bittersweet memories scurried into her vision.
“Kaya, wait! We have one more present for you!” Her mother held out a small, white box with gold swirls that glimmered in the lights of the room. Her mom’s light brown hair was done up in a loose pony-tail.
“Oh, I didn’t see that one!” Kaya said. She slowly grasped the beautiful box, and took a moment to admire it.
“I know. Your daddy and I wanted you to open it last.” Her mom had no makeup on, but she didn’t need it.
Kaya’s dad got up from the couch, and took a seat on the yellow carpet next to Kaya, flashing an encouraging smile. His hair was blonder than her mom’s, and his eyes were a startling blue. Kaya looked down again at the box and moved the lid upward with two fingers. On the inside, she found a blue, rubber keychain.
“We know how much you wanted to come to the concert with us,” her dad said. “But you’re not old enough to go to those yet.”
The keychain read, ‘COLDPLAY’, in bold, purple lettering. Kaya's eyes widened and she displayed her most excited open-mouthed smile.
“Thank you! I love it so much!”
Her parents didn’t know it, but Kaya treasured that present. Years later, she still had it clasped onto her bag. Usually, it was a comfort to her, but she could not bear to see it anymore. Kaya quickly turned her head away and clenched her teeth with sorrow.
After that, Kaya got to work. She couldn’t afford to let her mind wander, which might bring unwanted emotion. So she kept going and didn’t stop until the bell rang.
By then, sunlight was pouring through the second-story windows, and the hallways were bustling with teenagers. Kaya had been so focused that she nearly fell on the floor when the bell came on. Her mind went into an anxious panic. People would see her!
Mrs. Simmons had arrived exactly when the bell started to ring, and so Kaya sat as still as she could. Mrs. Simmons walked right to her desk and set down a particularly heavy stack of papers and other bags. When she continued to whisper a collection of words that Kaya never imagined her to say, Kaya guessed that Mrs. Simmons had not seen her. It took a minute or so for students to start arriving in the classroom- It wasn’t cool to arrive at class early. So when they started to filter in all at once, most people didn’t notice that Kaya was there.
The class was great at first. Everything seemed to be going exactly as planned. Kaya had dressed in very dark clothes, especially compared to what she usually wore to school. She thought that it would be enough to make her unrecognizable, but throughout the day she realized that it probably wasn’t.
During that class, Kaya caught a girl, Katie, staring at her. Even though they had made direct eye contact, Katie seemed unfazed. Kaya tried to ignore her, but it was hard because Katie continued to stare for longer than need be. After a while, Kaya saw Katie grimace and turn away with a worried-looking expression. There was no doubt in Kaya’s mind that Katie had recognized her.
Of course, Mrs. Simmons had noticed that Kaya was there eventually. While she was giving instruction, Mary Simmons had noticed Kaya’s wavy, light-brown hair in the back corner of the classroom. They locked eyes for a moment, during which Mary’s smile straightened out into a wavering frown. But it lasted only a moment, as Mary made sure not to draw attention to Kaya.
Kaya was very fond of Mrs. Simmons. She was the only teacher that Kaya enjoyed being around, even though she was a marvelous student. Most teachers in her school were very rude or unsympathetic to the students, but not Mrs. Simmons. She had short, curly, black hair that she wore in a different style every day. Kaya always thought that her caramel-skin was more beautiful than another skin tone she had seen. Mary Simmons was in her early thirties and was married to a local law enforcement officer.
Mary had heard about the tragedy of Kaya Richards the week prior and felt great remorse for her. Today, however, was not the best time for her to give Kaya her consolation. She was very busy and had an unusually frantic morning on her way to the school, so she decided to consult Kaya when they were both feeling better.
The first half of the day went on as well as Kaya could have imagined. Only a few people seemed to have acknowledged her presence, and soon they forgot about her and focused back onto their own business. It wasn’t uncommon for teachers to welcome her back silently as she entered the room, but none of them said more to or about her for the rest of that period.
Kaya’s luck was starting to fall short; It was now lunchtime. She knew that she could not go to the cafeteria, as she would be seen there. Instead, she brought her pre-packed lunch bag with her into the girls’ bathroom, which, conveniently, was the one nearest to her next class.
She chose the farthest stall from the door, or course. She had seen all of the 90s’ High School movies where the main character had to hide in the bathroom. Perhaps she’d even catch some interesting gossip while she was there! But for now, the surrounding hallways were empty, and Kaya knew that she was all alone.
She set her lunch on her lap and ate her meal, and when she was done she opened up her laptop and checked her email. She hadn’t checked it for a while, so she was shocked to see the 38 new emails that she had received. Even after her long break, that was a lot of emails! Most of them were from teachers and students from her school, all attempting to console her. And that’s when another memory sprouted into her head.
The breeze was warm, which made Kaya happy. Winter was finally fading, and the summer months were drawing near. Kaya looked down and admired her grey shoes, which she had gotten from her friends yesterday. They surprised her with them as a birthday present, and so she showered them all with thanks.
She was traveling over the big walking bridge that she crossed every day. The school day was done, and Kaya was prepared to chill out tomorrow- it was going to be Saturday. Her friend, Bree, walked beside her, and they talked and laughed above the rusted metal, and the fast-moving river.
Soon, Kaya bid Bree goodbye, and they walked in opposite directions toward their homes. Kaya thought that the afternoon was beautiful, what with the birds singing down to her, and the warm sunlight that reached across her neck and made her skin tingle with delight.
Thinking about it now, Kaya thought that the world was giving her a breath of happiness before her world turned upside down.
The door was shut. Everything about her home looked normal. But as soon as she walked in, she knew something was up. She didn’t assume the worst at first, and she thought they might have gone running an errand or something. She waited for hours. Every time she called them, they never answered. And so she curled up on the couch to sleep that night, making sure that the door was in front of her closed eyes.
Kaya realized that she was crying, and so she shut the doors of her mind again. The memories were too painful, and she couldn't dredge them all up now. She was at school, and she was supposed to contain her feelings.
Just like out of a movie, two girls came into the bathroom chatting about their days and their classes. They both used the toilets, and of course, they washed their hands. That's when Kaya’s day fell apart.
“Did you hear about Kaya Richards?” One girl said as they were washing their hands.
“No. Didn't she move schools or something?.” The other girl said.
“Of course she didn’t! She didn’t have any reason to move schools. But anyways, Katie said she saw her in world history class this morning.”
“And Aaron said he saw her in the hallway too. They both said that she looks, like, emo now. I feel bad.” said the first, more enthusiastic girl.
What they didn’t know was that Kaya was listening to every word these two people said. And even worse for them, Kaya knew who they were. The more talkative and, quite frankly, more annoying girl was named Sarah, and she usually found a way to hang out with Kaya, even though Kaya was not so enthralled with her at all. The second girl in the bathroom was Tammy, who was Sarah’s closest friend. Tammy was dumb and didn’t know how to act for herself. Instead, she let Sarah do the talking and the thinking.
“Wow, so she’s like, a different person now,” said Tammy.
“Well, yeah. I guess so. But I haven’t been able to see her yet. We have the same Spanish class later, and I’m probably going to talk to her,” Sarah replied.
“Do we still have to be friends with her? I mean, obviously she doesn’t want to talk to any of us. We can just ignore her,” Tammy said.
“Yes, of course, we still have to be friends with her! We have to try to cheer her up or something, that’s what friends do. If we ignore her, we’ll look like bad people and everyone will think we’re bullies,” Sarah said.
Finally, after excruciating minutes of talk, they left the bathroom. Their conversation had brought some bad news to Kaya. Sarah was going to try to talk to her in Spanish class! Her mind accelerated into an even deeper panic, and she frantically tidied up her things. There was nothing for her to do. She was much too distracted to focus on any school work, and it would be terrible for her to go out into the hallway. Kaya did the only thing that she could do, and let her mind wander away into the mist that was fogging up her thoughts.
There was a knock at the front door. It was soft and solemn, unlike most loud and terrifying knocks. Kaya’s spirits did not rise, they only fell into a deep hole where her heart was supposed to be. If it were her parents, they wouldn’t have knocked on the door. That meant someone else was here.
The last night, before going to sleep, Kaya had texted her grandmother. She didn’t want to worry her too much, and that’s why she didn’t call. She told her that her parents had not returned home that night, and she was a little bit concerned. Knowing her grandma, she probably hadn’t even seen it yet.
And again, a faint “knock” sounded from the door. It was a soft noise, but what Kaya heard was much louder and more menacing.
Kaya got up and opened the door. In front of her there stood a tall, round woman. She had a kind face and light green eyes. Her hair was parted in the middle and pulled back into a loose bun. The lady’s hands were clasped in front of her large abdomen, and her back was straight and proud. Her appearance was soft, but Kaya felt repelled by her presence. Whoever she was, she was not supposed to be here.
“Hello, my name is Marjorie Roberts. I came here looking for a Miss. Kaya Richards. Is that your name?” the lady asked. Kaya nodded.
“Well, I was wondering if I could come inside and talk to you for a minute. I promise, I mean you no harm at all.” Marjorie said in a sweet voice.
Kaya let her in, and Ms. Roberts gave Kaya the news. Her mom had picked up her dad from work at four-o-clock in the afternoon, and they were heading home. They were struck by another car at the stoplight. Neither had survived.
Without a word, Kaya got up from the couch and walked to her room, breathing deep, shaky breaths. Tears were pooling in her eyes and running down her cheeks with a passion that she had never experienced before. She shut the door behind her and locked it.
“Kaya, dear. I know this is very hard news for you right now. I am very sorry for your loss.” She paused, and Kaya heard Marjorie take a deep breath. “I can’t imagine how you are feeling, but you can’t stay here by yourself. Do you know somewhere you could go for a while? An aunt or uncle's house perhaps?”
With a quivering voice, Kaya answered. “My grandma lives on the other side of town.”
“That’s great, honey. I need to talk to your grandma on the phone, okay. After that, I need to drop you off at her house. Pack up some stuff to bring with you. Do you mind giving me your grandma’s phone number?”
Kaya recited the memorized number to Ms. Roberts through the door and promised to get packing. By now, Kaya’s sobs were hysterical. Marjorie would have come in to comfort her, but Kaya had locked the door to her bedroom, and all she could do was call the poor girl's grandma. While she was on the phone, Kaya worked through her tears to open and scramble out the window. It was bright and sunny out, just like yesterday. It was like nature had not heard the bad news.
Then, she ran. She ran as hard and as fast as she could towards the bridge that she had traversed so many times in the past. She curled up a ball, and sobbed and screamed as loud as ever. She lay on the burning hot rusted metal and wood and cried until law enforcement came, and had to pry her hands from the bars.
The bell rang again, which meant that the lunch period had ended, and Kaya had to continue her day.
Finally, after some time, the school day was over. Every student jumped up from their seats and scrambled out of the dreary classroom. Sarah had tried to talk to Kaya, but she had ignored her the best that she could, and Sarah gave up after a few minutes of a one-sided conversation.
The entire school knew that she had come to school that day. Word had spread about Kaya, and especially how she was dressed. But, Kaya still kept her head low in the hallway and rushed to the path behind the school which would take her to the rusted bridge. Kaya wasn't staying at her home anymore, but the closest bus stop was that way. She stomped and squinted in the harsh glare of sunlight. It seemed to her that the big star was laughing at her, taunting her with his brightness that Kaya lacked.
Before she reached the middle of the long bridge, an unmistakable voice stopped her.
“Kaya, wait,” Bree said. Kaya stopped and reluctantly turned around to face her best friend. But it wasn’t just Bree that was standing there. All of her closest friends had come up right behind her and continued forward. Kaya did not move- could not move an inch. She stood straight as her friends drew nearer. One of them, Ava, had tears in her eyes. Ava was always very sympathetic and emotional.
Kaya remained still as they came closer until they were all bunched together in a huge embrace around Kaya. Right then and there, Kaya finally broke down and revealed her sorrow to her friends. And at that moment, Kaya felt better than she had all day.