After spending the rest of the afternoon sat beside Aaron, listening to him breathing as I read my book I decided to head back home and hide away in my bedroom instead. I didn’t want to see anyone, not even Lisa, because my feelings about what had gone on in the classroom were so conflicting that I couldn’t tell what emotion I was feeling most strongly.
Thinking back over what had been said; I figured that I had overreacted. I shouldn’t have hit him. It was a spur of the moment decision because I hadn’t truly heard what he had said to me. My initial reaction was that he was wishing my brother dead. When the words left his mouth, I didn’t truly hear them and lashed out because of it. He hadn’t said he was better off dead, he had simply stated the obvious that Aaron really wasn’t going to be jumping back into life any time soon…
I was still angry about his phrasing because, come on. Show a little tact, man. But he was right. Aaron’s accident had happened in June; he’d completely missed our final year of school and was now missing college too… He had been in his coma for one year, two months and twenty five days. The doctors knew he would never walk again, but they didn’t know what kind of state he would be in mentally when he woke up… He could be himself or he could…
I didn’t want to think about the alternative…
So, I was at a stalemate with my emotions. I was still furious with Nathan for the way he behaved and was definitely going to make him earn my trust back. But I was still on that same path myself. He may have been joking when he said about waiting years to apologise, but he still had a point. I was earning his trust back too.
When Monday morning came around, I got out of bed with a heavy heart and a twisting knot in my stomach. I was absolutely terrified to step back into that classroom after what had happened. Nathan, I knew, I was going to have little to no problems with… It was his friends and the other people in the class…
I deliberately took my time as I get showered and dressed, rushing only when my mother came into the room and flopped onto the sofa. It was at that point I ran upstairs, brushed my teeth, sorted my makeup and took my bag downstairs. I grabbed my lunch and left without so much as a word to my mother and took a slow stroll down the road to the bus stop. I took a deep breath as I sat down on the horrible plastic seat, looking across the road as the same boys from the other day rode and ran along the street like they usually did. I sighed and looked down at the ground, kicking at stones and glass shards that littered the ground.
There was always so much litter around the bus stop I waited at. It was one of the reasons I hated living in the area I did. It was a mess. The windows of the shelter were scratched to the extent that you could barely see through it and even then there was so much graffiti you didn’t want to look at them anyway. And I don’t mean that really cool kind that should be legal; I mean the horrible kind that makes people get the wrong idea about street art. I didn’t know there were so many ways to spell the word ‘fuck’.
I frowned as I saw my bus coming up the street. Glancing at the time on my phone, I realised that it had shown up early for once. Of all the days I didn’t want it to show up it had to show up freaking early… Showing the driver my pass, I took my seat at the back of the bus and ignored the world by sticking in my headphones and staring resolutely out of the window.
The only good thing about being on an early bus was the fact that Lisa wouldn’t be getting on the same bus as me. I know that that sounds really bad, but at that moment in time I just didn’t want to see anyone. Not even her. I wanted to put off being around those people for as long as possible because the twisting sensation in my stomach was growing to such extremes that I feared I was going to throw up right over the guy in the seat in front of me. The bus ride was long and jerky, the whole thing clattering along as the driver seemed to be incapable of driving in a straight line. He kept hitting the curb and braking suddenly when he realised that he was going way too fast and was almost ramming the cars in front of him. My stomach was doing summersaults and all I wanted was to get off of this death trap and curl away somewhere quiet to prolong having to be near other human beings.
Social anxiety was something that never really affected me until Aaron’s accident. When he went into the coma it felt like a little bit of me had gone with him, and a greater chunk had flown away to wherever it was my father was now… But then I discovered that stupid power and I felt even worse. I could do amazing things for people, but I also knew that people were horrible. You see something amazing happening, you hear of someone with a gift and the first reaction you have is to ogle at them. You try to see for yourself what’s so special and sometimes when that thing is beyond what you were expecting, you get scared and that gift then turns into a curse all because public opinion changed. It is so easy to rally a mob for the wrong reasons and takes something incredible to bring out the good in people, but I knew that if my powers were ever discovered then I would only bring on the bad mobs and that terrified me even more.
Hence why I kept myself in the background. I stopped going swimming and competing because it put me in the spotlight. I stopped going out in large groups just in case I couldn’t control the gift and got caught. I just stopped having a life because I knew that the one person I could actually talk to about this was lying in a hospital bed with no definite time that they would wake up…
Rushing off of the bus and out into the fresh air was a relief. The storm from before the weekend was gone and the sunshine was back out in full force. The sky was a stunning shade of blue and the light breeze was enough to keep the sun from being unbearably hot. The weather presenter on the news that morning had warned that the next week was going to bring in the beginning of a late heatwave that was meant to last for a fortnight. Fat chance of that happening, but the heat was definitely building…
I hurried around the side of the building and into the entrance beside the back car park. It was still very early and not many people were yet much to my delight. I walked down the hallway to the classroom and found that it was locked so knocked on the door for the tech support people and got the door opened. I went over to the seat I had claimed the other day and turned on the Mac. Nothing for Media students was blocked which was a very good plus, so I sat around playing random games on the Internet for a little while until I heard the door open and shut. Bracing myself, I turned around to see who it was that had joined me only to see that it was Nathan who once again had his guitar bag with him. He looked at me awkwardly as he made his way over to the seat beside mine, setting his guitar against the table in the middle of the room and sitting backwards on the seat so that he was leaning with his arms folded on the backrest.
His eyes were the first thing I really noticed about him. Well, his right eye… The bruising from where I had hit him was worse than it had been on Friday. It wasn’t exactly a black eye but it still looked horrible. I could feel myself starting to stare at it so sighed and looked back at Happy Wheels…
“It’s not really all that bad,” Nathan said.
“My eye,” he said, smiling a little. “It stings a little but it’s nothing compared to some of the bruises I’ve gotten from my older siblings in the past. You know, my little sister Sophie decided that she wanted to throw a really big rock into the ocean one time when we went to the beach. Only she wanted to throw it overhead and I was sat on the beach a way behind her. The rock slipped out of her fingers and flew backwards and caught me straight in the eye.”
“So that was why you came into school like that,” I said, remembering the day he had come back into the classroom in Year Six after a bank holiday weekend with a swelling black eye. “You looked like you’d been beat up…”
“I nearly beat up Sophie,” he chuckled. “But she freaked out when she saw me on the ground so I calmed down enough to make sure she was okay… I thought she’d learnt her lesson until we went back there the year after and she did it again. Only this time my reflexes were better and I got out of the way… but the rock hit an old lady on the leg and her husband was not happy with us….”
I laughed. It was the first time in a while that I had openly laughed like that and it felt weird that it was Nathan who’d caused it. I calmed myself down and cleared my throat a little. “Still, I’m sorry for the bruise…”
“And I’m still sorry I said what I did,” Nathan said, raising his eyebrows at me. His expression was earnest. “I had no right.”
I was about to reply when the door opened against and a group of people walked into the room. A few were people in the class who looked at Nathan and I and muttered to themselves whilst glancing none too subtly at us. I could feel my cheeks heating up in frustration. The others were Lisa, Maria and Sakura. Lisa was focused on a conversation she was having with Sakura so didn't appear to see me as she walked along the aisle towards her seat. Either that or she was ignoring me. Self-deprecating thoughts started to flow through my mind until I saw Maria look right at me and hastily make her way over to me. I couldn't read her expression and to tell you the truth, I was a little frightened at that moment... She stopped beside us and shot Nathan a surprisingly dark look then turned to me.
"How're you feeling today, Amie?" she asked. "He's not been a dick while we've not been here, has he?"
"I'm okay..." I replied, feeling too much like a deer in headlights. "And he's not done anything..."
"I could have beat him to a pulp on Friday," she said. "When I heard what he'd said from Lisa... She almost got her hands on him herself. Wish we had now... But she sent him off to find you instead. Honestly, what sick fuck wishes someone’s comatose brother dead?!"
"I didn't..." Nathan started to argue but silenced at the ice in Maria's eyes.
"He didn't," I said. Lisa looked over at us finally when she heard me.
"You're defending him?! But he said-"
"He said that Aaron wasn't going to be jumping back into life anytime soon," I said, looking at her earnestly to get her to listen to me. She stared at us. "I thought he had wished him dead too, but he didn't. Aaron's not waking up yet. That's all he said. And it's true... As much as Aaron is making progress, there's not been enough to warrant him waking up any day soon..."
"He was still a cock," Lisa huffed, folding her arms and glaring at Nathan who had not only shrunk on his seat a little but had started to watch me with an expression I couldn't place. I really needed to get better at reading people…
"He was and he's going to pay for it," I said. "But I shouldn't have hit him and we don't have to chastise him because he knows he's done wrong. Holding grudges is stupid. There is no guarantee that we’ll get another shot at life when the one we have at this moment in time is over and there’s enough hatred in the world as it is… We’re in college. We have two years and then we have a pretty big future ahead of us. Why waste this time hating each other?”
“You’re a bigger person than me then,” Maria said, a small smile playing around her lips. “I’d make him pay through the nose for what he’s done and still not forgive him if he ever did that to me.”
“Aaron is my main reason,” I shrugged. “His life is in the balance and Nathan was right that I shouldn’t waste my own. He went about it in completely the wrong way and as I keep saying, I will be making him pay but who knows how long we all have left? I could die today, tomorrow or way off in the future… Why spend that time hating?”
“God she can get poetic sometimes,” Lisa said, rolling her eyes. She smirked at me and I laughed. She chuckled too but then sighed. “Okay, so what you’re suggesting is just… letting this go?”
“Precisely,” I smiled. Maria nodded and clapped me on the shoulder.
“You’re hanging out with us at break and lunch, okay?” she grinned. “And if he does anything remotely stupid, call me over and I’ll smack him.” She looked round as Antony walked into the room. “I’m gonna go over and get started with Antony.”
With that she walked way. Lisa took her seat beside me and turned on her Mac, glancing at me every so often. I didn’t really know what to say and was very conscious of the looks I was getting from people around the room. Franky was looking over at me every so often and I knew what an arsehole he could be some days… I could just feel the judgement washing over me from all corners of the room.
I didn’t care if people thought that I was making a stupid decision and at the same time I did. It was my life, my choices. No one, not even in all the stories I’ve read, ever makes the correct decision all the time. But it’s still theirs to make. Should Dumbledore have sent Harry back to the Dursley’s each summer when he knew full well the abuse he had gone through his whole life? No. But he still did. Should Bilbo have told Gandalf about the ring when he discovered it? Yes. But he didn’t. No one can ever be perfect and that’s something that my generation has forgotten.
I turned to Nathan who had remained in the same position the whole time. He sat up a little when I looked at him, but remained speechless. I was about to divert any conversation on what had just happened and focus on the project when the classroom door opened one last time and June walked into the room. She scanned around briefly before her eyes landed on us and she motioned with one finger for us to follow her outside. When she looked at me, she didn’t look happy… Nathan and I glanced at one another before getting up from our seats and leaving the room. She’d gone ahead of us and was stood in the corridor, her arms folded and a stern expression on her face behind her half-framed glasses.
“I want an explanation for your behaviour on Friday, Amelia,” she said. “I was told that you hit Nathan round the face and left the building. I can see that was true but I want to know why you did it because you can NOT go around physically harming other students! You are one step away from getting a call home. Any further offenses like this will have you thrown from the course.”
“I…” I started to say but Nathan cut me off.
“No, that’s completely unfair!” he said. June looked at him surprised. “I asked for it. I antagonised her on Friday. We were at a slump in our work and I suggested working later on at her house after hours to get the last bit of our research done… She had plans to see her brother like she always does at the hospital and I went out of line and said some things I shouldn’t have. If anyone deserves a warning, it’s me.”
“What did you say?” asked June, looking between us.
“Well… her brother’s been in a coma for nearly a year and a half and I said he wasn’t jumping back into his old life anytime soon, that she shouldn’t be wasting her life waiting for him and just a bunch of stuff along those lines…”
“I know I shouldn’t have hit him,” I said, jumping in now that I had found my voice again. “I misinterpreted some of the things Nathan had said as him wishing Aaron dead and got upset. But he found me and apologised and we’re ready to get on with our work… It won’t happen again.”
“It won’t,” Nathan said, glancing at me. “I can promise that.”
June took a deep breath and sighed. “Honestly…” she muttered. “Are you two really up for working with one another still because if you cause any more disruptions in that classroom…”
“We’re fine,” we said at the same time.
“Well… okay then,” she said, opening the door again and letting us back into the classroom.
From that point onwards, Nathan and I worked as though there had never been a problem. We spent all of Monday figuring out the last part of our research, taking notes and ensuring that we had all of our points rounded off with enough evidence and reasoning as we possibly could. From Tuesday, we worked on Nathan’s Mac completely. As part of his punishment, it was his job to put together the presentation on the slides and make sure it all looked good. Of course, I gave some input and made decisions on colouring and such but it was all on him to get all of our information in the right place with the right animations and images.
No one could really believe that we were getting on so well with the project after what had gone on but I was determined to prove my point. A life full of hate is a pointless life. And as much as I was enjoying taking the piss out of Nathan every so often, it was in a joking way that he gladly returned. There was no talk about his behaviour. We were just two students getting on with a project and starting to get along with one another more than we had done so in nine years.
By lunchtime on Thursday, we could happily say that our presentation was complete. Nathan and I double checked everything from the spelling to the placing of the information. We wanted everything to be one hundred percent in accuracy because it had become a personal mission for both of us to prove everyone around us wrong. The class still talked about the incident and as much as we wanted to ignore it, we just couldn’t when people wouldn’t let it go. Franky was the main source of the problem – he kept joking about how Nathan was beaten by a girl, trying to poke fun of his black eye even though it was practically all gone now and generally being an arsehole like he usually was. Nathan was getting closer and closer to punching him and as much as I wanted him to, I couldn’t let him after all the warnings June had given us about classroom behaviour.
We’d prove him wrong by doing better than him.
At the end of the day, we were given our orders for who would be presenting when on Friday. As it turned out, Nathan and I would be presenting last. That meant that we had all day to sit around and watch everyone else’s presentations in a classroom that had no air conditioning. The heat wave had kicked in in full force practically taking away all of the air and turning the classroom in an oven. We nearly fell asleep a couple of times.
When our turn finally came around, we could tell that no one was expecting us to have done much… I could see it in the eyes of our teachers and our classmates and it hurt. Taking a deep breath, I tapped the button on the keyboard to turn to the next slide and began our presentation. We both talked – something that other groups had failed to do. A couple of times, only one person was talking and the others stood around like lemons. But Nathan and I spread our discussion out evenly. He talked about the representation of females in the media and I talked about men. We showed our evidence and engaged the classroom into a debate that I was hoping for but had lost hope in when the week progressed as it had.
We had done it.
With the promises of feedback by the middle of the following week, we were all allowed to leave and did so aiming for shade and any source of fresh air and cold we could find. I was about to follow Lisa when Nathan gently held me back. He smiled at me.
“Well done,” he said.
“You too,” I replied.
He looked over my shoulder at Lisa waiting for me. I turned and looked to her, giving her a smile and nodding that I’d be over in just a second. “I enjoyed working with you again,” said Nathan. “It was nice.”
I chuckled. “I enjoyed it too,” I agreed.
“You know, some people won’t be happy about this,” he said, grinning. “I’m a terrible person who shouldn’t ever be forgiven, remember.”
“Well, people need to get over things,” I shrugged. “Everyone does stupid things. Does it really need to be held over our heads what we’ve done wrong in the past?”
“Sometimes you can’t convince everyone,” Nathan replied. He glanced at his watch. “I have to get going. Mum actually wants help today and I’m sure you have hospital time planned.”
“Uh huh,” I smiled. “Lisa and I are going to see him together today.”
“I do hope he wakes up,” Nathan said. “He was a good guy… An arse when it came to defending you, but I’d do the same for Sophie, Aednat and Scarlet. Hell, I’d even defend Bryn and Ryan.”
“Family’s family,” I chuckled, walking away from him. “See you Monday.”
“See you Monday,” he replied, walking in the opposite direction.