Faint sounds of papers rustling, the soft scrapes of pencils swiftly running across notepaper, and the quiet, constant click-clack of fingers beating down on keyboards filled my ears. All was peaceful. All was normal. Everyone was safe. Then the sound of chair legs suddenly scraping against the floor as someone hastily got up from their seat and—BOOM! My head snapped up in time to witness one of my classmates ― a guy named Colby — clumsily fire the first bullet. His bleach-blonde hair was in a frenzy, and he looked feral wearing such a crazed expression. Gone were the sounds of peace and calm that had so easily been replaced by the horrifying, ear-splitting booms of the gun, aimed at no apparent target.
Terror and horror both gripped at my chest in the same second, grasping my lungs so tightly in their unbreakable clutch that I could hardly breathe, my breath coming out in short bursts. Panicked students shoved and elbowed their way through the mass of clustered bodies toward the classroom entry: their only escape. I distantly picked up the sounds of blood-curdling shrieks and the heavy fall of a body, only the voice inside my head demanding me to get up and run was louder. After a few precious seconds of just sitting there, paralyzed by fear, I heard the sickening howl of pain that came from my closest friend's lips as the bullet ripped through her side. I saw the horror and agony that battled to conquer her expression. I knew at that moment that her scream would echo within my head for as long as I lived. Sadie. Gone. Piercing cries of sorrow and full-bore pain reverberated through my mind at the sight and sound of Sadie's careless, vicious murder. My mouth hung open in a silent scream of horror.
A hand seized my wrist and desperately tried tugging me up from my seat but I was planted in my chair, dazed. I heard my name on someone's lips but could not bring myself to acknowledge their urgency and after a while, the hand reluctantly withdrew.
I finally grasped the peril of the situation and, driven by my terror, was already at the classroom door when the final gunshot went off. I quickly glanced back one last time to glimpse Colby, the shooter, fall to the floor with a heavy thud, a bullet buried in his chest. I hadn’t wasted one more second. I tore through the emergency exit doors at the end of the hallway. The glaring sun greeted me with its unbearable brightness. Impossible. How? How dare it shine so bright on such an iniquitous, cruel day? Since I lived so close to school, I sprinted back to my house like I was being hunted by a savage pack of ravenous wolves, not stopping for cars on the street. Blaring horns. The screech of car tires. It should have snapped me back into focus.
Yet all I could think about was getting as far away from Blackridge Highschool as I could and never returning to that god's forsaken hell-hole. Vision blurred from the tears that streamed down my face, I scrambled up the uneven steps of my home. I barely made it to the house before my mom flung open the door in utter shock at beholding what looked like some disfigured thing, doubled-over and gasping for air. All the while, whooshing the air out of me as I wept on her doorstep. Quite a pitiful sight. I had pushed past her and tried making it to the couch, at least, but I was welcomed with the hardwood floor instead. I had curled up in a ball, cocoa-colored hair sticking to my face, and uncontrollably bawled my eyes out as my mom rubbed soothing circles over my back.
“Addilyn… wha-what happened?” she had asked with a tremor in her voice. She spoke with such soothing gentleness as if talking to a helpless, frightened little animal. I couldn’t muster a response so I had pathetically cried in my mom’s welcoming arms until my eyes eventually ran dry.
That was three weeks ago. Now, on a perfectly gloomy Monday, I sit at the same lunch table me and Sadie have been sitting at since the first day we started high school together. Two weeks after Sadie's death, I skipped school and lay in bed, scarcely eating much of anything. The first week after Sadie died, my mom tried to offer comfort and consolation, but I pushed her away. Though her efforts were benevolent, they just made me even more enraged. How could she understand? She didn’t have the person she’s known since forever ripped away from her so suddenly like it was nothing.
She didn’t have to witness that death, did she? She didn’t watch all of the light in her friend’s eyes dissolve into nothing, did she? She can offer no empathy. Does she think that a few offers of condolences and hugs will get rid of the nightmares? The guilt? The oppressing misery and remorse? My friend died while I sat there like an idiot and just watched the mayhem unravel. I sat there while I watched that bullet pierce through her side like it was nothing; Like it wasn’t about to take the life out of not one, but two people.
Why didn’t I move? Why didn’t I see it coming? Why didn't I try to protect her? Why wasn’t my first thought after that gun fired: I need to get me and Sadie the hell out of here. The guilt is nearly as overwhelming and suffocating as the grief. I shouldn't take my anger out on my mother. She doesn't deserve it. I just wish someone could understand. I wish someone could free me of the emotions that crash over me like a tidal wave.
Guilt. Misery. Grief. Rage. I go through this cycle of emotions every day, and when I try to sleep, they infiltrate my mind. Like a plague, they spread rampant inside of my head. She was the only person who understood you, and how did you repay her? You stared at her while the life drained out of her, and then you ran away without a second glance back, my demons hiss in my ear. And they're right. She was the only one who understood why I was so quiet. So shy. Sadie. The name pains me, like sprinkling salt on an open wound. Sadie, the only person in the world who I could speak freely to, the first and only person I confided my 3rd-grade crush to. We exchanged each other's secrets like sharing the candy we used to get from the little candy shop every Friday after school that sat on our elementary school's street. She would—
"Hey, Addilyn..." a musical voice from my left says.
Nileen. No, not her. Anyone but her. She stole Sadie from me. Nileen came into our friendship uninvited. She's the one to blame for the two weeks of tension between me and Sadie. When Nileen came along, Sadie started spending more time with her and less with me, when it should have been the other way around. I couldn't understand what made Nileen so fun. After one week of her intrusion, I figured it out. Sadie needed someone who was like her, outgoing, and always welcoming to people. She required someone who could start a conversation, who could be as gregarious as her. I am anything but that. In fact, we used to call each other our opposites. She was the talkative one. I was the quiet one. We evened each other out, always keeping the other one in check.
Then Nileen took that perfect balance away. This made me dislike Nileen even more. Even if she didn't make me envious and self-conscious, I still wouldn't be able to talk to her because we used to be comrades back in first grade, when I and Sadie didn't go to the same school. Up until third grade, our relationship lasted, and then we grew apart. There is no tragic ending; no dramatic argument. We just grew distant and that was that. It has made speaking to her, or even confronting her, awkward. Therefore, I have been eluding her for years. But of course, she had to creep into my life again and make everything heavily uncomfortable. Then she robbed me of my most intimate friend, and that was the cherry on top of her little ploy, I suppose.
Nileen huffs out a heavy sigh, and I realize then that she's taken a seat right alongside me. I'm also made aware of how long I've just been sitting here without reacting to her greeting. What a fantastic way to make this even more difficult, Addilyn.
Nileen starts first, "Listen, I know you're not fond of me but—" I open my mouth to object but Nileen holds up a hand.
"You don't have to waste your breath trying to convince me you don't. I just wanted to say I'm sorry for your loss. I also know that you are probably sick of hearing that, as am I. I just don't know what else to say. I know what you're going through, Addilyn... I mean, o-obviously not as intensely as you, I only knew her for a couple of months," she adds after she looks at the questionable look I give her. "But I do know what it feels like." I mull these words over in my head, taking in her facial expressions. She looks exhausted, with deep purple crescent moons under her eyes serving as testament.
"Do you have nightmares too?" I ask, so softly I can barely hear myself over the boisterous noises of the cafeteria. Nileen's glacier-blue eyes widen in surprise, but she quickly recovers. Did she not expect me to speak?
"Of course I do, and not just about Sadie. The other two deaths— Tyler and the shooter, Colby." I hadn't even bothered to ask about who else died. I was too caught up in my own friend's death to notice much else that took place in that classroom.
"It was a suicide, I think. At least, that's what they're saying. The whole school's been talking about it. It's just... so haunting, and I can't seem to accept the reality of it, y'know? It's just one of those incidents where... maybe it's just me, but I feel numb. Like when you step into a room with a strong incense, but after time, it's no longer as distinct. Same with emotions, at least for me. Even so, I undergo the full intensity of grief and fury," Nileen shares with me. It hits me then, like when I'm looking for an object but realize it's in my hand. It's something I should have discerned earlier; so much earlier. And now I feel foolish. Nileen understands what I'm going through. Because she was close to Sadie, she knew her, and she cared for her. I tear my eyes away from my half-eaten sandwich and meet her gaze. In her eyes, I see kindness and empathy. A deep understanding that one could only have if they, too, experienced what I endured.
"You understand. You get it. The guilt, you feel it too," I state, bewildered. I look into her eyes once more through a now hazy vision and see Sadie. She was always warm and forthcoming. Always an expert at making people feel understood.
"I'm sorry for the past few months of... ignoring your existence. I-I was jealous of the friendship that had so quickly sprouted between you and Sadie a-and then I just felt forgotten and...lost," I confess to a perplexed Nileen.
"You were jealous of me? I was jealous of you! You've always known Sadie, and you guys have always had such a strong, everlasting relationship..." she says as if in some faraway place in her mind. "When we were friends, I thought we could have what you guys had. But then we grew apart and, it's embarrassing to confirm, but I've never had a truly close friendship with anyone, not even Sadie," she admits. This divulgence presents me with the fact that there must be some hidden purpose buried within. She suddenly becomes very interested in a ketchup stain on the cafeteria floor.
"Why are you suddenly opening up to me?" I ask her. She blows out another heavy sigh. I'm starting to notice she does this whenever she's about to say a lot because after she does this she says:
"Well, I figured we could get to know each other. I mean, you are the only person who I can talk to and you understand the current state of my miserable mind. And just... why not? After everything we've been through, there's no reason not to. I know we have a past, but it's not like we dramatically announced we weren't going to be friends. We drifted apart."
She says this all matter-of-factly, making it sound so simple. Which I suppose it is, after all.
"In fact, why don't we just start right now?" she asks, but after telling her we didn't have that much lunchtime left, we decided on getting together after school over at her house by around 4:00.
I call my mom after lunch, making sure she is okay with this, and absent-mindedly go through my last four classes, thinking about Nileen. She seems to be a lot like Sadie, but she's more quick-witted, in a sense. And then I recall the day of the shooting when a hand made to pull me out of the madness… the melodic voice that spoke my name. It was Nileen, I realize with a jolt. She made the effort to protect me, and the revelation makes me wish I had acted more amiable towards her. When I get to her house she has an impressive array of different snacks on her dining room table: fresh raspberries, blueberries, pineapple, mango, pretzels, popcorn, Oreos (Sadie’s favorite), and all different types of chips and candy.
"I hope you aren’t expecting me to leave your house anytime soon," I tell Nileen. She laughs and we both sit and, as we agreed at lunch, we get to know each other. Suddenly, she feels like a family member I'm reaching out to after a long period of not seeing each other. She feels like Sadie. She feels like a sister. And I think, as we trade off little fragments of Sadie together and stuff our mouths with cream-filled Oreos, that maybe we can fend off our demons together. Maybe the nightmares will cease and wither away into oblivion in the distant future. Maybe we can help one another pick up the shards of our shattered worlds.
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The way you portrayed grief in this was amazing. I especially love how the trauma effected her, and how a new(ish) friend was able to help ease the pain. Overall, great story! Glad you were in my critique this week.
I am thrilled that you enjoyed my story. Thank you so much!