Just Listen

Author: P Hana

Page 70

   

"But the thing is," Emily said, "if something did happen… something like what happened to me, it could help. Make it stop, I mean. Make him stop."

I still hadn't said a word. I couldn't. Instead, I just sat there, immobile, as she reached into the pocket of her jeans, pulling out a small white card.

"This is the name of the woman who's been working on my case," she said, holding the card out to me. When I didn't reach for it immediately, she put it on the table, beside my elbow, faceup. The name was in black, a seal of some sort on the top left-hand corner. "The trial starts on Monday, but they're still wanting to talk to people. You could just call her and tell her… whatever you wanted. She's really nice."

The one thing that scared me more than anything, the reason I hadn't been honest with Owen about what was really bothering me that night at Bendo—she made it sound easy. If I couldn't tell him, the one person I actually thought could take it, how on earth could I be expected to confide in a stranger? There was no way. Even if I wanted to. Which I didn't.

"Just think about it," she told me. Then she took in a breath, like she might add something, but didn't, instead just pushing herself to her feet. "I'll see you around, okay?"

She pushed the chair back into place, then started down the nearest row of shelves. After taking a couple of steps, though, she turned back to face me. "And Annabel?" she said. "I'm sorry."

These two words just hung there for a moment in the air between us, and then she was walking away, disappearing around the empty carrel on the far end of the row. I'm sorry. It was the same thing that I wanted to say to her, that I'd wanted to say ever since that Saturday night at the fashion show. What did she have to apologize for?

But even as my mind grappled with this, trying to work the logic, I could feel it, a visceral reaction to what had just happened, her coming closer than anyone to the truth. My truth. And just like that, I could feel something rising up inside me. I looked around, wondering where on earth I could get sick quietly and discreetly. But then something else happened: I started to cry.

Cry. Really cry, the way I hadn't in years, the kind of full-out sobbing that hits you like a wave, pulling you under. Suddenly the tears were just coming, sobs climbing up my throat, my shoulders shaking. I turned around clumsily, trying to hide myself, banging my elbow on the edge of the carrel, and the business card Emily had left fell to the floor, fluttering end over end before landing at my feet. I put my head in my hands, pressing my palms over my eyes to shut out everything, even as the tears continued. I cried and cried, there in the library, tucked away in the comer, until I felt raw inside.

I was so scared about being discovered, but nobody came. Nobody heard. In my own ears, though, my sobs sounded primal and scary, like something I would have turned off if I'd been able to. Instead all I could do was just ride it out, until it— and I—was done.

When that happened, I dropped my hands and looked around me. Nothing had changed. The books were still there, the dust dancing in the light, the card at my feet. I reached down for it, closing my fingers over one edge and lifting it up. I did not read it, or even glance at it. But I did slide it into the pocket of my bag, stuffing it down and away just as the bell rang and the period ended.

* * *

For the rest of the day, you could just feel the pre-holiday-break restlessness in the air, everyone counting down until vacation officially began.

After finishing my exam late, I headed to my locker, then to the bathroom, which was empty except for a girl who was leaning in close to the mirror, putting on liquid blue eyeliner. Soon after I went into the stall, I heard her leave, and I thought I was alone. When I came out, though, Clarke Reynolds, in jeans and a truth squad T-shirt, was leaning against the sink.

"Hi," she said.

My first instinct was to look behind me, which was crazy, as well as kind of stupid, as I could see in the mirror there was no one there.

"Hey," I said.

I stepped around her, to the next sink down, and turned on the water. I could feel her watching me as I rinsed my hands and pumped the soap dispenser, which was empty as always. "So," she said, as again I realized there was no stuffiness to her voice whatsoever, "are you okay?"

I turned off the water. "What?"

She reached up, adjusting her glasses. "It's not really just me asking," she said. "I mean, it is, obviously. But Owen's wondering, too."

Hearing her say Owen's name was so strange that it took me a moment to wrap my mind around it. "Owen," I repeated.

She nodded. "He's just…" She trailed off. "Concerned, I guess, is the word."

"About me," I said, clarifying.

"Yeah."

Something wasn't right here. "And he asked you to talk to me?"

"Oh, no." She shook her head. "He's just mentioned it to me a few times, so I got to wondering, and… then I saw you today. After lunch. You were leaving the library, and you just looked really upset."

Maybe it was because she'd brought up Owen. Or because at this point, I really didn't have that much to lose as far as she and I were concerned. Whatever the reason, I just decided to be honest. "I'm surprised," I said. "I didn't think you'd care if I was upset."

She bit her lip for just a second, something I suddenly remembered her doing a million times when we were younger. It meant I'd caught her off guard. "Is that what you really think?" she said. "That I don't like you?"

"You don't," I said. "You haven't, since that summer with Sophie."

"Annabel, come on. You were the one who blew me off, remember?"

"Yeah, but—"

"Yeah, but nothing. You don't like me, Annabel." Her voice was even, level. "That's the way it's been since that summer."

I just stared at her. "But you won't even look at me in the halls," I said. "You never have. And that first day, on the wall—"

"You hurt my feelings," she said. "God, Annabel. We were best friends and you totally dumped me. How did you expect me to feel?"

"I tried to talk to you!" I said. "That day at the pool."

"And that," she shot back, pointing at me, "was the only time. Yeah, I was mad. It had just happened! But then you never came around, you never called. You were just gone."

It was like Emily saying "I'm sorry" to me, a total reversal of how I saw things, which seemed crazy and impossible to process.

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