I stare at the lunch tray before me. Specifically, at the tuna sandwich. It used to be Sam's favorite. I push the tray away, refusing to eat it, but I can't tear my eyes away from it. I turn to Xera beside me, chirping away about who-knows-what.
"I'm sorry. I didn't catch that," I say, prompting her to repeat whatever she had said.
She glares at me and says, "Do you want me to repeat the entire thing or just the last five minutes?"
I blink at her.
"Nevermind, it wasn't important anyway, Zack."
This happens way too much nowadays. I can't focus on anything. I suppose I should get used to it. I poke her in the side. "Come on, tell me."
"No, you wouldn't want to hear it anyway."
I freeze and withdraw, knowing exactly what she is talking about. The Venture to Inbetween. Everyone knows that the world is flat. That there are two sides. This side, the Aboveworld, and the Underside. No one really knows what's on the Underside, but we know it exists.
And then there's Inbetween. It's beyond Earth, but unlike the Aboveworld and the Underside, Inbetween is a myth, nothing but the ramblings of delusional people, but two of those delusional people are Xera's parents. They left her to go to Inbetween when she was six and now she lives with her aunt and uncle. In a few days, Xera's going to sail off the Edge to find something that isn't real. And she's going to die.
I look at my lunch and memories of the car crash that killed my brother come to mind. I remember it with painful clarity. I can never forget, thanks to my horrifying photographic memory. So I look to my right and find myself staring into the eyes of my almost-dead best friend. A groan escapes my lips and I close my eyes, unwilling to face the misery that is my world.
A few days passed without mention of Inbetween after that terrible lunch. I'd spent the rest of the day hungry, but I was still glad I hadn't eaten that sandwich.
The sun paints shadows of the towering trees on the forest floor, twigs and leaves crunching underfoot as our class walks through the woods, Mr. Paisley identifying the different trees and birds. I can't pay attention, my mind refuses to think of anything other than the fact that Xera is leaving tomorrow. I haven't spoken to her all day. I'm afraid if I open my mouth while she's in sight, she'll figure out how much I want her to stay, but I don't want to make this any more difficult for her than it already is.
I glance at the puffy white clouds, but they all look like headstones or screaming children. I shake my head and focus on the grass, only looking up when the students grow silent, waiting for something, probably me.
"He asked you what kind of bird that one is," Xera whispered next to me, gesturing subtly at the bird Mr. Paisley was talking about.
"Oh," I say distractedly. "It's a Baeolophus bicolor, or more commonly, a tufted titmouse." As the words leave my mouth, everything I know about the bird floods to the forefront of my mind. I shake my head again to clear it. It never seems to stay empty anymore. I sigh heavily and return to watching the sun play with the grass.
YOU ARE READING
Zack can't handle it anymore. His brother is dead and still haunting him and his best friend is going to sail off the Edge of the Earth to find her long-lost parents and he will never see her again. He thinks that his life can't get any worse when h...