I still remember how it started; I remember how the happiest girl in my class, the happiest girl in the entire school, started to show glimpses of her struggle. No one ever bothered her, no one dared to ruin her day, no matter how they acted towards others. She never showed any signs of weakness, all she did was smile. A smile that could warm up the most frozen of stone hearts, a smile that could reflect itself on your own lips, it was that contagious. She smiled at everyone, even the ones she didn’t talk to, she believed that everyone deserves a smile no matter their history of actions. Some replied with a similar but less significant smirk, others scoffed or plainly nodded for a response, but I just stared. It wasn’t often that she’d talk to me, even if she did it was mostly for a project. But when she talked, she finished with her bright smile and glanced into one’s eyes, maintaining eye contact for a split second before refocusing on her assignment. All I could do was stare when she looked at me and gave me a heartwarming smile, I didn’t know what to reply with whenever this occurred. She was one of the nicest girls, yet no one noticed when her behaviour changed, but it was so gradual like she had planned for it to be that way. Her eyes lost more of their shine for each day that went by, soon they were dull and barely responding to any looks she received. Her smile began to fade into nothingness, her replies were numb if they weren’t plain silence. It seemed like no one noticed, but it was an act to maintain the mood that she had set, the only one who didn’t notice was her best friend. All she ever did was talk nonsense while the girl sat quietly by her side, forced to listen to whatever was trendy as she promptly held back her tears from hitting the desk. Her movements were subtle and barely noticeable, but I saw it in an instant, yet I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t get close to her. Though somehow this changed in a rather surprising turn.
I felt how I was dragged to her like a magnet. It felt like I was the only one to notice how her usually happy aura now had become moody and... depressive. No one else seemed to care about how she was feeling, she expressed no emotions towards anyone or anything, her face had become like a blank canvas, revealing nothing but empty space. Her eyes were dull, they didn’t shine like they used to, her mouth barely moved, hiding her pearly whites, only speaking a few words quietly each time she replied. She didn’t react to anything, she appeared insensitive, but she was struggling on the inside. During lunch I overheard her and her friend Ashley talking while they were waiting in line, but she didn’t sound very interested, it sounded like she just wanted to get away from her friend.
“Sooo… Two years left!” Ashley exclaimed, “how’d you feel?” She looked down at the floor, having her hood pulled over her head, she stood there completely quiet, almost like she was in a trance, “Emily? Helloo?” She tugged Emily’s hoodie lightly to get an answer, as she snapped back, she looked around frantically as if she didn’t recognize where she was.
“Jeez, you can’t even try to engage in a conversation. I said, ‘two years left’, y’know, two years left of high school, then it’s cute college boys and frat house parties!” She squealed as she did a few small jumps from side to side, Emily didn’t look as eager with the whole meeting cute boys and going to frat house parties dream as Ashley was.
“I mean, I—”
“Doesn’t your brother go to college? Is he still cute? Does he play any sport?” She proceeded to lean in and whisper, “does he have a girlfriend?”
“H-How should I know? It’s not like I text him every day, he has his own life, just… stop asking! Okay? You do this all time, as soon as you bring up anything related to college or… or him, you go all frantic and fangirly. You’re really annoying when you do that!” Emily blurted out, she herself wasn’t prepared for what came out of her. She avoided Ashley’s shocked eyes as she took her tray with food and pulled her hoodie further over her head, covering her eyes, “I’m going to sit alone this lunch."
"Tch, sure,” Emily and her friend separated from each other, and she sat down by one of the tables near the cafeteria wall. I sat down on the other side of the room, watching as she pushed her tray away from her and brought up her phone. I wanted to help her. But what if she didn't need help? After a while, she stood up and took her tray filled with food and walked towards the drop-off with haste. I waited a while to make sure that she had left before I stood up and walked out, leaving my tray where everyone else leaves theirs.
I didn't see her outside of the cafeteria at first when I walked out, I went through the corridors and up the stairs to the second floor in the direction of my locker. I was walking along with the closed classroom doors when I heard some voices hollering and taunting. I found myself eavesdropping by the corner. It sounded like guys, from the tones and alternating voice cracks they seemed to be my age, I recognized one of the voices. At first, I thought that they were yelling at each other, but then it would've been more violence and possibly bloodshed. They were yelling at Emily who was sitting on the floor, crying.
“Do you think you'll get attention for this?” One of them said, his hair was his entire personality and he made sure to let everyone know that.
“What are you? Emo? That’s disgusting,” one of the others smirked. The others laughed and agreed, they were the kind of guys who’d cheat on a test and still fail while denying the cheating. Emily was holding her arms close to her chest. She was in pain, a lot of pain. I inched closer, finding myself fully visible to them, luckily enough they hadn't noticed me yet.
“Please... Go away...” She cried and hid her head between her legs “you don’t understand...”
“Oh please! What’s there to understand?” The third one nagged, “You’re a wreck! That’s the only thing we need to know! You’re a wreck who hides behind an innocent schoolgirl with good grades while you’re ruining others’ lives with your narcissism," I recognized him, a light-haired bad looking mullet with so much gel in it that he was practically radioactive.
"You're probably using that guy for his money, what you said to him just proves it!” He used to sit next to me before he punched my jaw for not giving him my homework. He noticed how I was looking at them, but he didn’t care apparently, he didn’t say anything about it. His focus was fully on Emily, “No one would even care if you’d kill yourself right now!”
“Hey!” I heard myself yell, I immediately regretted butting in. But it was too late to run away. The guys were staring at me. “Cut it out!”
“What’s someone like you gonna do huh?” The first guy turned to me, “Why do you even care about her? She's a freak.” The others agreed.
“Just go away, you know Harvey walks through here after lunch,” I said, slightly more confident than I was before.
“Ooh, are ya gonna tell on us? How scary” he mocked.
“No, not unless you start a fight. Just walk away,” I countered, tired of even communicating with those assholes. "Stop harassing her, you don't even know who she is."
"What’s it to you? You don’t know her either," The first guy exclaimed from behind.
"Just stop it. Everyone's done with your shit, go pick on each other instead,” I said with a fierce tone.
“You’re both weird as hell, Jesus...” The guy who had punched me some months ago said.
When they finally walked away, I crouched down in front of Emily. Tears were rolling down her cheeks as she looked down at the floor, the tears fell onto the floor. She didn't move a muscle; it was so weird to see her cry. She was usually so happy and cheerful, why was she suddenly like this?
“Mind if I sit down next to you?” I asked her while the tears continued to slowly roll down her red cheeks.
“Go ahead.” She said quietly, she sniffled and looked up at me as I sat down. I didn’t know what to say at first, I had nothing in common with her, hell I barely knew the girl. But I couldn’t leave her like this, mom taught me to be better than that, be better than dad. She dried her tears and sighed; she was probably as uncomfortable as I was with the situation.
"Assholes," I looked after them as they turned the corner, "are you okay?" She glanced over at me. It took a while before she said anything, it must've been more awkward for her than for me.
Before Emily answered she turned her sleeves over, almost hiding something beneath the fabric, “they overheard me talking to someone, and jumped to conclusions.”
“Oh, jeez. That’s harsh…”
“Yeah,” she took a deep breath, “it’s…” Her tone of voice changed, "been rough," I didn’t want to force myself into her life and what was going on, but it felt rude to just get up and leave. I didn't know what to do, I just sat there next to her, trying to figure it all out. Suddenly she leaned on my shoulder, I froze. What was I supposed to do?
I stood up and held out my hand for her to get up, “Hey, I’m sorry for how some people treat you,” she grabbed it and got up from the floor.
“Thanks… I appreciate it,” Emily replied and cracked a small smile.
This was the first time I'd ever talked to her this way, about something which wasn't school-related. And the longest as well. If she weren't like that, I would've probably never talked to her except for school reasons.
“Hey... Do you mind if I just go to the bathroom and wash my face off before next period...?” Emily asked quietly as I was still holding her arm in a somewhat hard grip.
“What? No, not at all! Take your time,” I said, “I’ll wait here.” She walked off towards the bathroom while I sat down by a couple of tables outside a classroom. After a while, I started to wonder what Emily was doing. Washing her face couldn't take that long, could it? And she didn't wear makeup either so it shouldn't take more than some minutes. Just a quick rinse and done. I wanted to go check on her, but I didn't want to get in on her privacy and I didn't know where she went, except for to the bathroom, but it'd be weird for someone who doesn't know her to go check on her while she's minding her business.
When she finally came back, she looked a bit better, but something was different. She was holding her left arm in a tighter grip than before and tried to hide it, but I noticed.
“You feel a bit better now?” I asked, Emily turned her face away, she shielded her arm from me.
She nodded, “uhm, yeah, I do...” But she lied.
"Why uh, why are there stains on your sleeves?” I knew what she had done, I was hoping it wasn't what I thought it was.
“What? It's just water, I haven’t done anything,” she replied with a snarky tone.
“I don't think water stains like that,” I countered, Emily opened her mouth but closed it just as quickly. She hesitated to speak; she knew that I knew. She sat down on the bench in front of me and looked me in the eyes. Her eyes were dull, it was like looking at a living doll.
“So you did do it,” I mumbled, “why?”
“Are you mad?” She asked. “You should be...”
“I'm not,” she looked down at her sleeves, “I just want to know why.” She rolled them up, nothing could’ve prepared me for what I saw. Several faded scars covered her arms, a fresh one with smeared drops of blood on her skin stood out from the others.
“I…” No words left her mouth, her voice was shaking too much for her to speak. I almost expected it, yet I had hoped it wouldn't be true. I had no idea what to do or how to help, the only thing I could think of was to get a teacher to let her go home.
“Stay here and roll down your sleeves, I’ll be back,” Emily looked at me confused while I walked down the corridor, she covered her arms when she saw Ashley walking up to her from the opposite corridor.
“Em… Are you okay?”
She nodded, “yeah... I'm fine, Ashley.”
“Okay... Just wanted to make sure. I felt bad for earlier, you didn’t answer your phone, so I started looking for you,” Ashley said, Emily looked up at her and sighed.
“I'm okay, I just… I miss him, y’know? It’s really tough without him…” She looked at her friend who leaned against the table, Ashley nodded while she studied her nails.
“Mhm, I understand,” her attitude switched in a second, “by the way who was that guy you were talking to earlier? He just walked away when I got here.” Emily looked at her confused, Ashley continued to look at her nails while glancing over at her.
“What? You mean Mike? He uh… He was just talking to—“ She didn’t get a chance to finish before she was interrupted.
“Isn’t that the Williams kid? He’s in our class, isn’t he?”
“Yeah, he is. Why do you—“
“His hair’s cute, I like curly-haired guys.” Ashley smirked to herself as she looked over at Emily, “Do you- “
“Ashley!” She groaned, “can you stop interrupting me with all these pointless questions?” She stood up and began walking away from her friend in the direction I had walked in.
“The hell’s going on with you, Em?” Ashley whined from where she stood, “you’re being weird!” She ignore her as she kept walking while her friend muttered something from where the table.
I walked through the corridor to the teacher's lounge, I knocked on the door and asked if I could talk to our homeroom teacher, Mr. Harley. After some minutes of waiting, he appeared in the doorway with a stained mug.
“So what do you want to talk about which couldn't wait until class, Williams?” Mr. Harley said while he was sipping his cup of coffee. The only notable thing about him was his patterned ties, especially his flamingo one.
“Well, uhm… It's about Emily. She's not feeling very well, and I wondered if she could go home and rest.” I said quietly, this wasn’t the best idea to go at it.
“Is that so? Hm. Shouldn’t Nourie come and say it for herself then?” He asked before he took a sip from his mug
“Well yes but- Oh… Do you want me to go get her?” I asked while my eyes focused on his tie.
“Well, it would be appreciated, yes,” he said while stroking his tie very proudly.
“I’ll... go get her…” I said and rushed out of the teacher's lounge and back to the corridor.