Chapter Thirty-Five

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THE RETURN TO CLASSES was painful for everyone. I'd never witnessed such a saddening morning at Oakwood High. Kids dawdled to the double doors in complete silence, heads down, without that continual chatter or laughter. A thick veil of grief covered the halls but no one dared to mention it. We waited for the bravest person to do it first. I felt like I would burst from this strained void knowing that I played a part in those deaths.

Emma had gone back home last night, but she was too sick to come to school. She could barely walk, now. Luc told me she got tired after five minutes of standing up.

I rolled up in English period and sat down on my chair with a weight on my chest. At that moment, Mr. Kennedy walked in. He gazed at me for a brief second, almost like the blame was branded on my forehead. I wished I could be invisible...

"Morning, everyone." He set his papers on his desk. "As you all know, there was an attack Friday at a Homecoming afterparty. I'm assuming some of you, if not most of you, were there to witness the incident."

I turned my head and locked eyes with Luc in the back corner. His face was devoid of expression save for his hard jaw.

"I am aware that it is difficult being here today," the teacher continued solemnly. "We lost many students and even a pair of officers." At that, a sob escaped Diana Reed. She got up and left the class, not bothering to take her stuff. She must have been close to someone who died. Mr. Kennedy paused to let her leave and nodded curtly, face grim. 

"But it is important to remember that there is life after the people we know leave us, and to have the strength to move on. We will take the time to grieve and hold a funeral for our fellow friends, and we won't forget them."

I wanted to scream. My fault my fault my fault my fault.

I looked over at Diana's desk. The one next to hers was also empty--Rita's spot. She was a part of the students who didn't survive. I thought of how I'd seen her not too long ago, drunk but smiling, and my throat thickened. The class listened throughout Mr. Kennedy's speech, mute and motionless. He told us to stay safe, and we meekly moved on to learning. The cheerless mood made for an exhausting course.

In the hall on my way to my locker, Adam's head poked among the crowd. He spotted me and immediately changed his route. He opened his arms and I jumped up to embrace him, my chin comfortably settling on his shoulder. He sputtered numerous apologies for losing me in the clearing, his arms tightening around my waist as if to reassure himself that I was real.

"It's okay," I reassured. "I'm fine. Nothing happened to me."

He distanced himself to get a good look at me. "And Emma? I heard she just came out of the hospital."

"She'll be all right." I nodded, fighting off another wave of guilt. "Her mom is staying at home to keep an eye on her. She might be back in class by next week."

Adam shook his head. "I'm glad she's okay."

I couldn't imagine the hell it would be like for Emma when she would return as the only person that lived through the attack. People might ask her questions. It will bring her so much attention. The school blog, driven haywire, posted only about the victims and about the police reports. The people on it will certainly talk about her soon. 

Every other period was as depressing as the first. Teachers didn't want to overcharge us with homework, but we weren't particularly overjoyed. No one cared for such a meager consolation. Posters were stuck to the walls of the corridors to commemorate the victims with heartfelt messages. People put notes in their now vacant lockers. 

I'd decided to attend the town funeral with my father, unable to escape the sense of responsibility pending on my shoulders. Melancholy reigned the halls in the following days. The latest posters were adding to the missing kids' faces at the front door. I'd stopped again to have a side look at the patchwork. I knew better now than to think they have all been kidnapped. They'd had the same horrible death--only difference is that their bodies had never been found.

Our Chemistry teacher fell ill. We were left with a mediocre, albeit temporary, replacement. I was watching Oakwood sink into sorrow and hopelessness, and there was nothing I could do.

For the entire week, everyone focused on the attack and on their mourning. The only thing that cheered me up was to come back next Monday to join Emma on the field. She'd lost weight. The textbooks she held looked heavier than herself. She looked like she could be swept away by a gust of wind, and it scared me.

"How are you feeling?" I asked her as we walked to the doors.

"I don't know.... Tired," she said. She wore no makeup. Her hair was left natural. "I'm just glad I got out of the hospital and that I can walk again. I've stayed in bed all week."

People stared, and I wished I could shield Emma from their prying eyes. She hid her face with her hair, shoulders hunched. I couldn't imagine how she felt at the center of the spotlight. Even the teachers had a hard time looking away when she strolled in. Kids whispered in her path; some were angry that no one else had survived. Emma ignored it all, but I could tell it bothered her. At lunchtime, she poked around her food aimlessly.

The police even demanded to speak with her. They hoped she would give them precious details on the murderous animal. Despite their best efforts, they resigned and had to release her. She began hyperventilating and sweating before she could offer a shred of information. She'd never said a word to me about the Wanderers or about what happened to her, let alone be forthcoming with the officers.

Luc and I drove her home from the station. We exchanged a wary side glance as we got into the car. She was obviously not fully recovered and had not gotten over the shock of returning to school. I did everything I could as I stayed by her side, but damn it, I didn't know what to do to make it better. It was excruciating to see her like this.

After Emma shut the door to her house and Luc revved the engine, I sighed.

"I feel like it's just getting worse instead of getting better."

"She needs time," he replied, mouth curving downward. He never admitted it, but I knew he worried about her. Ever since Friday, I hadn't heard a single snide or rude comment coming out of him. He wasn't annoying me anymore, as if it lost its fun. "She'll make it eventually."

"How can you be so sure?" I whispered. "What if she doesn't?"

"I know her. She's silly and innocent on the surface, but she's tough as nails when it comes down to it," Luc told me and stopped at a red light.

He'd known her longer than I have. I hoped he was right. 

The news spilled out of town and received attention from outside media. The next day, a reporter on school ground intercepted Emma as we brisked past the double doors.

"Miss Briggs, could you describe what happened on Friday?" The woman pointed the mic at her, nearly shoving it in our faces.

She wasn't the only one to try. Everyone wrestled to extract her side of the story, but she never spoke. Emma didn't answer this time, either. She lowered her head, and I sent the woman a scornful look for being so insensitive. Part of me wanted to slap her mic away or snap it in two.

Halloween approached, but the locals ignored it altogether, too caught up with fear. People were terrified at the idea of venturing out after daylight hours, and the police didn't announce that they'd captured the animal. They never will. 


  ✩  

A heavy chapter, oof. Also, a speedy one. I just threw a lot of information at you guys, so props to you for sticking around! Well, this concludes my bonus chapter for today. As you can see, sometimes it's harder to deal with what comes after surviving a trauma

Peace out, readers :) and see you tomorrow. 

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