School used to be a happy place, a place where we could all hide away from our home lives for a while. Be anyone we wanted to be. Now, it was a bleak escape from everything, and nothing. My world no longer made sense. What if it never made sense again?
I pushed this thought from my mind as I approached my form room.
Here goes nothing.
I inhaled deeply and stepped into the room, only to collide with somebody coming out.
'Shit, I'm sorry, I-'
My best friend, Jess beamed at me, her smile not quite reaching her eyes.
I glanced down. At her feet were the textbooks she'd been carrying. And something else, dotted with pale pink sparkles.
'This is for you,' said Jess as she bent to collect her things. She straightened, extending a pink, glitter-sprinkled envelope.
My hand hovered halfway to the glistening paper.
Jess' eyes were glazed yet her smile did not falter. She knew what today meant to me, how a once joyous occasion would become a day of mourning, a mindspace that couldn't quite decide between celebration and remorse. Yet it was that smile- her smile that filled me with light, warming my heart and soul enough to reach out and take the envelope from her.
'Thank you,' I whispered.
With trembling fingers, I pulled at the lip of the envelope, paper pulling itself free from one edge. Inside was a folded piece of card- cream coloured and boasting even more sparkles than its vibrant wrapping. On the front, pink and purple splotches of glitter formed into the words, We love you, Kit.
My lips parted but no sound came out. I flipped the card open. Inside were dozens of signatures, the well wishes of my classmates, permanent for the rest of time. Ink of all different colours: black, blue, red, brown, yellow, pink- even some green, had left their mark on my racing heart.
I looked to Jess, her eyes still bright and glazed.
'We put it together this morning,' she explained, gesturing to the occupied seats behind.
One look at the rest of the class and it was clear, they all felt something towards me- not necessarily like or dislike but the type of shared feeling we experience as people, a united band of fellow humans, eager to protect their own.
I gazed upon them, unable to trample down the smile that willed its way to the surface.
'Thank you,' I said, eyes flicking between them all, 'I really needed this today.'
A few of them offered friendly smiles, some guys going red in the cheeks and refusing to look up from their desks.
When Jess tapped me on the shoulder, my body jolted.
'Sorry,' she smiled, 'But a bunch of us also chipped in and got you this.'
I could tell from the bemused glances around our form room that this was purely Jess' doing. She cared more than she let on, a quality that had drawn me to her as a kid.
She produced a tiny velvet box from her handbag and gently placed it in my palm. The moment my fingers brushed across it, I knew it was expensive. I had only ever seen boxes like this in my mum's room, treasured gifts she'd kept from dad.
Gulping, I lifted the velvet lid, about to protest that Jess 'didn't need to do this' when my eyes lit up.
A flurry of emotions danced through me: joy, gratitude, and finally- the despair that simply refused to leave.
'This is for me?' I asked, tearing my gaze away from the soft velvet folds.
'Here, let me help you put it on.'
Blinking back tears, I silently nodded. Jess' eyes said it all, she wanted me to have something nice, something to give me hope on my darkest days.
I watched, spellbound by the shimmering beauty of the pendant Jess pried from the box. It was a tiny, golden treasure of my own.
Jess unclasped it, reaching around my neck to secure it.
'Do you like it?' she asked.
I lifted the pendant from where it rested below the hollow of my throat. I did. I loved it.
As I stared, I noticed a little glass prism at its centre. Inside was a single snowflake.
'Jess, is this?'
'Mm-hmm,' Jess grinned. 'From the same day we all went sledding, remember?'
I did, too much.
Snow had fallen on our town, so much that the local schools had been closed, allowing us to explore one of nature's rare festivities. Our dads had old sleds of their own and had fished them out of their prospective sheds.
Jess' dad was adamant that his sled was better and so my dad had challenged him: which one of their sleds would best pull their daughters around in the snow? There was only one way to find out. Each of us was wrapped up warm and placed into our own father's sled.
We were going on a grand adventure, they'd joked, to see what magical worlds awaited in the snow.
Staring down at the pendant with that single snowflake, I felt free, returned to one of the best memories of my childhood, at a single glance. My eyes met Jess' and I knew she could see: her gift was the most touching one I'd ever received. Nothing could top this. Nothing.
'I love it.' Tears spilled down my cheeks, rolling white tracks through my blusher.
'Hey now, we can't have you crying on your birthday.' Jess lifted the small velvet box from my hand and leaned around to drop it into my drawstring bag. 'Now', she whispered, extending a hand, 'Why don't I fix your makeup before first period?'
I choked as a laugh burbled up my throat.
Same old Jess, I thought, no matter what happened, she would always be there. My best friend.