~~My alarm pulls me out of the fog of sleep and I slowly sit up trying to shake away the grogginess that’s trying to pull me back onto my pillow. I scramble around for my phone and press the off button, breathing a sigh of relief as it goes silent again. Taking a deep breath I slide out of bed, ignoring the cold metal floor that my feet touch. I’m used to it. I then robotically go about my morning routine, finding some clothes to change into and pulling a brush through my tangled hair, pulling my trainers on and walking to the bathroom to clean my teeth. As I get there I hear some girls in the shower, one of the voices is definitely Betty. As I run the water over my toothbrush I can’t help but listen to their conversation.
“..yeah I know, seriously I don’t get what he sees in her,” Betty’s voice says.
“Just give it some time, I reckon she won’t last much longer here, her parents aren’t that rich.” Both the girls start cackling and I narrow my eyes at the doors to the two stalls realising they’re talking about me and presumably Tate as well.
“I just wish people would stop feeling sorry for her, I mean the whole feel sorry for Lila thing has gotten so old. So what her brother died? It’s not like we’re that close to our family anyway.”
I glare at the stalls now, clenching the toothbrush in my fist as anger bursts through me. After turning the sink off with a single aggressive twist of my wrist I march out of the bathroom and over to my bedroom, running a hand through my hair. I feel like screaming, I don’t ask for people to pity me, hell I’d rather they’d stop telling me how sorry they were. Every time they do it it’s like they twist the knife inside of me that’s been there ever since his death. I’ll find a moment’s peace then bam, someone tells me what a great guy my brother was and just like that all the emotion comes flooding back.
I look at the clock now and see its 8:50 then realise I’m supposed to see the headmaster at 9:00 which is on the other side of the sector so I’ll have to run. Shaking my head in annoyance I grab my key card then storm out of my room, quickening my pace as I make my way through the winding maze of corridors that are so familiar now I could walk them blindfolded. As I reach the area the Headmaster’s office is though, the turnings become less familiar and I hesitate in some places so it’s already 8:58 by the time I make it to the bottom of the winding staircase that leads to his office. I start to jog up them letting the realisation of what I’m about to do sink in. I can’t think what this is about, I can’t already be in trouble can I?
When I reach the metal door at the top and press the buzzer I bite my lip as I feel a nervous flutter in my stomach appear. After a moment there’s a beeping noise and the door opens for me.
Inside, Mr Carlton sits in his plush armchair at his desk and my mother sits in a wooden chair opposite him, not looking pleased as she makes eye contact with me. “Welcome Ms Daniels,” Mr Carlton says as I hesitantly walk inside the room. He gestures to the other wooden chair opposite him and I walk over, lowering myself so I sit on the edge of the seat, anxiously wrapping my fingers together. “Now you’re here we can get down to why I’ve called you up here.” He starts and I nod glancing at my mother. She’s frowning and won’t even acknowledge my existence as she stares determinedly ahead of her at Mr Carlton. I look over at him, at his grey slicked back hair and stubble free wrinkling face. He looks down at me over the tops of his glasses then pushes a piece of paper towards me. “These are all you scores from the past 5 years,” he starts and I look at the familiar numbers. “The trend is that you were making good, steady progress,” he continues and I nod again, realising where this is leading to. “Which is why you latest score is a problem.” I frown a little, a problem? I think and nods when he sees my face.
“Yes Lila, it’s a problem because before the incident with your brother you were on track to be one of the contenders for a government place next year.” He pauses for a moment to let the news sink in and now I realise why my mother looks so angry. I was on track for everything she wanted me to do, she was close to being able to brag to all her friends about her amazing daughter. I feel a little smug at ruining that for her. “Now we understand that your brother’s death affected you and we’re willing to see through this blip,” Mr Carlton continues and I look back over at him. “So I’ve arranged that you be put back into your normal classes even though your latest score was so low,” he pauses as if waiting for me to express how thankful I am. When it’s clear I’m not going to say anything he clears his throat and carries on. “Take note that we won’t give you a third chance and if you put one more toe out of line you will be rejected.” I raise my eyebrows at him, he can’t do that can he? That isn’t fair! I look over at my mother and she’s frowning at me. I can see what’s she’s thinking in the expression on her face. That look says I better not mess this up.
“Thanks,” I mutter to Mr Carlton and he nods.
“I hope that the next time I hear your name is because you’ve made it into the government programme rather than because your causing trouble,” he says and I nod. I stand up and so does my mother. She turns on her charming face and leans in for a light handshake, thanking him before we leave. As I step outside the office with her I notice her face fall into what she’s really thinking.
“Thank you so much for that Lila. I had to miss several important meetings to be sat and told my child is screwing her life up…” she starts snapping at me and I walk down the stairs trying to tune her out. Our only conversations consist of her snapping at me for what I’ve done to embarrass her, I can’t think of the last time she’s told me she’s proud of me or ask me if I’m ok. When Jason died she left me alone and went out to dinners where she surrounded herself in people who told her how sorry they were, unlike me she liked it. I hate her even more for that, for making Jason’s death into a way to get attention.
We reach the bottom of the stairs and I start to walk towards the hall to go to the assembly. “Lila you can’t just walk away from me,” she protests and I simply look over my shoulder at her.
“Watch me,” I say flatly and continue down the corridor then turn the corner so I can no longer see or hear her.
I arrive late to assembly and the people at the back turn and watch me as I slip inside and sit down on an empty chair. Our head of year, Mr Finley, is speaking so I stare a head at him, ignoring the questioning looks people give me. “…and this year is an important opportunity for you to do that,” Mr Finley drones on and I make a silent sigh, I wonder how many times he’s had to say this exact same thing. He continues lecturing us about studying hard and doing our best to get a high score. He reminds us that our numbers don’t define us, which is a lie, and that we shouldn’t feel disheartened if we didn’t get the scores we wanted. I slump back in my seat and stare at the clock, willing the time to go by faster.
He eventually finishes and we all stand as he and the other staff leave the hall then the room erupts into a noisy buzz of chatter. We all make our way outside and start peeling off to our various lessons. I feel someone tug my arm and I look up to see Tate slipping through a few people to walk next to me. “How come you were late?” he asks and I bite my lip for a moment then shrug.
“I slept in,” I lie and he narrows his eyes. He’s known me too long and can see straight through me but he doesn’t push me for the real answer. “Right,” he says, frowning a little. I look down at my phone, pulling up my new timetable, all my classes are now in the top set. “What do you have now?” I ask him to move the subject on. “Geography with Mr Miller,” he says shaking his head as he thinks about the mountain of work he’ll be set, Mr Miller is known for his strict prep giving.
“Well I’ll see you later,” I mutter as I point to word ‘Maths’ on my timetable. He nods then turns away to walk towards geography while I drag my feet to the maths department.
I walk inside and Eve greets me with a look of surprise on her face. “Lila? How’d you get into this class?” she asks and I shrug, slipping into the seat next to her.
“It’s what’s on my timetable,” I tell her, missing out the rest of the story. Betty marches in and narrows her eyes as she notices me but she doesn’t say anything, just sits in a desk a few meters away.
The day drags on and I manage to make myself go to every lesson and keep my mouth shut. I hate how familiar this routine is and how depressing it is to think about the rest of my life becoming a routine. I’m tired of the system and all the rules so when I finally make it back to my room in the evening after refusing another invite from Tate, all my patience has run out and I feel angry. I pull my phone out as I take a few deep breaths and run a hand through my hair. I click Jason’s name, sitting on my bed as it begins to ring.
“You’ve reached Jason, you know what to do,” his voice rings down the phone and I shake my head. What I was going to say doesn’t come out like it usually does. I normally just tell him I miss him or something but this time the last part of the message gets to me. “I don’t know what to do Jase, you’re gone and I… I really don’t know what to do. I don’t feel like me anymore, I feel like a ghost, I don’t fit in anymore,” I say, my voice trembling a little. Suddenly a flash of anger that I’ve never felt before overcomes me and I scowl. “Why did you leave me?” I demand. “Why did you have to fucking leave me?” It goes as quickly as it came and I hang up my phone, my hand shaking a little as I drop it on my bed. I’m a mess and know I need to get over this. I need to say the words to myself and accept that they’re true. That way I can move on and not look back. Jason Daniels is dead.