I hadn't expected the day to be so normal. Having been so withdrawn from everyone and everything, I half expected my peers to hate me. I'd pushed away any attempts to get close to people, or for them to get closer to me.
Ever since dad's death, mum and I had clung not just to each-other but to the fond memories we had of dad. Today, people I didn't even know went out of their way to wish me a happy birthday, no doubt having learned the news through the school grapevine and by that, I affectionately meant Jess.
When the final bell rang, I squinted up at the clock in Ms Macky's room.
3 already? Wheredid the time go?
Jess crept over to me, her smile brighter than the last rays of winter sunshine.
'Some of us are going to Starbucks,' she said, 'Wanna come with?'
A hesitant yes almost formed on my lips. Until I recalled mum's plans.
'Sorry, I actually can't.' For once, I'd begun to toy with the idea of opening up more and would honestly have loved to join them.
I look at Jess and gave a small shrug.
'Mum made birthday plans,' I explained.
Jess' eyes bugged. She tried to hide it but it was too late. I guess I wasn't the only one that thought celebrating the anniversary of a death was grim, no matter what other occasion preceded it.
Jess had insisted on walking me home. She was hoping to say hi to mum, to see for herself how mum was dealing with today's morbid anniversary. Not that she said as much: it was all in her eyes, the way they darted about, from left to right, always wondering. Never letting anything slide.
We passed by the miniature Starbucks on our way, with its glass exterior and brown tiled roof. Half a dozen of our peers had already arrived, holding white plastic tumblers to their lips. They seemed so happy, laughing and chatting as if nothing could ever be wrong with the world.
I bit my lip, wishing I felt strong enough to cancel things with mum. I wanted to be with people my own age, to ride the waves of their own joy.
Jess noticed me glancing back.
'Are you sure you don't want to go in?' she asked, stopping in the middle of the path. 'I'm sure your mum wouldn't mind, if you let her know.'
But I already knew she wouldn't. Mum had clung to me since the day dad died and had showed no signs of regaining her social independence.
'No, I'd best get home.'
With a frown pulling at her lips, Jess nodded.
As we walked, I tried to focus on my surroundings, on the dead leaves circling our path, the tree branches empty of their once green flesh. I missed the warmth of the summer and my mother's natural smile, desperately craving anything besides her feigned joy.
I spied our street at the end of the road.
Here we go. I began mentally preparing myself for the false smiles and frantic, happy tones, for the preferred emotions mum wore as a mask against the world and its cruelty.
'Hey, wait.' Jess put out an arm before me.
I turned to find her eyes narrowed, as though she were trying to pick out some tiny detail.
'Didn't you say your mum was planning something?'
At Jess' question, my heart sank.
'She is,' I gasped, 'Why would you-'