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I was walking down the halls of Budburry High, just like I did everyday. I wasn’t the most popular girl, but I most certainly wasn’t one of the Nobodies. I loved high school, loved it with every fiber of my being. I had friends, real friends, and I loved the classes I took.
So when I saw Tilly for the first time, I ignored her. She was one of the girls I saw every day walking down the hall but ignored because I didn’t know her name, grade, or anything about her. She was always shuffling through her locker on my way to Physics. She wasn’t like me – she was lower on the food chain. She was probably as close to being a Nobody as you can get without actually being there.
On the way to Physics on Friday, I saw her again. I was walking with Penelope, one of the girls in my math class. She was going on and on about a boy or something – I wasn’t really paying attention. Boys weren’t my area of specialty.
“And he dumped me! After, like, asking me to homecoming, and making me cookies, and, like, getting me flowers! How stupid is he? I mean, really! I – ” She stopped in the middle of her sentence. I looked at her, curious as to why she had stopped her constant jabbering. “Oh my gosh,” she gasped. “It’s that girl!”
“Hm?” I turned to where she was pointing and saw Tilly, shoving books into her locker as normal. “Yeah, that’s Tilly. She’s our year.”
Penelope lowered her voice. “I heard that she’s anorexic. That her dad was, like, so addicted to some drug that he died, and that she’s really worried about her appearance. Ugh. People like that disgust me.”
I shrugged and looked more closely at her. Tilly was rather thin, but then, so were many girls in high school. Her mousy brown hair was tied into a low ponytail with several loose strands hanging around her face, and her eyes were blue-green. “I doubt it. It’s probably just a nasty rumor.”
Penelope poked my arm. “Are you siding with her?”
I snapped back into reality. “Siding? This isn’t an argument. I’m just saying not all rumors are true.”
Penelope scoffed. “Whatever. Now c’mon, we’re going to be late for class.” She flounced on down the hallway.
I was lucky to have a friend like Penelope. She was the cliché pretty cheerleader that wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but she was kind to me. So I followed her to class, pretending to take interest in her resumed conversation about Johnny or whatever his name was.
When I was walking down the hall the next day, I glanced around to make sure no one was watching and stopped to talk to Tilly. “Hey,” I said.
She turned and looked at me, shock written clearly on her face. “Why are you talking to me?”
“I…am I not allowed to?”
“Um, you’re popular, and I’m…not. It’s not how you b-witches work.”
I smothered a laugh and forced it into a cough. “Us b-witches?”
“Listen, I heard you talking about me yesterday.” She turned to face me full-on then, and I was struck by how thin she truly was. Her ribs and hips stuck out sharply through her sweater and jeans, and her face was angular and narrow. “It’s not true, you know.”
“Uh, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” I began. “I saw you watching us. I knew you heard.”
Tilly slammed her locker door shut. “Then why didn’t you stop talking?”
“Because…it was….” I stuttered hopelessly.
“Because she’s ‘popular,’ and you’re…not,” Tilly finished for her, her lip curling up. “You’re disgusting.”
I was taken aback by how outward she was. I had always imagined she was shy and kept to herself, so I’d never bothered to speak to her. But she definitely had opinions and spoke out.
“Look, I’ve got to go to class.”
“Whatever.” Tilly sighed and opened her locker again and pulled out a thick binder. “Just never talk about me – or to me, for that matter – again.”
“Right,” I agreed awkwardly, and started down the hall. She turned and rammed into me. “Uh…sorry,” I said as her books clattered to the ground.
She rolled her eyes and leaned down to pick them up. The binders had pushed her sleeve up, and as she bent to pick up her books, I caught a glimpse of pink lines on her wrist. She saw me staring and shoved her sleeve down hastily. “What?” she snapped.
“N-nothing.” I left for class then, shoving the think pink lines into the back of my brain and trying to immerse myself in my friends and classes.
It didn’t work.
No matter what I tried to think of, images of the cut lines kept appearing in front of my eyes. I couldn’t fall asleep that night until three in the morning, when I finally managed to fall into a restless and blood-filled nightmarish sleep. When I awoke the next morning, I felt as though I had fallen apart. My mom had breakfast ready and I sat down wearily.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
I could have told her then. I could have told her what I had seen, what I felt like, and how I was questioning myself. But I didn’t. She looked tired, too, and I wasn’t ready to spring something on her that would make her question if I was suicidal or not. I didn’t know what she would think, after all, because I kept dwelling on those little pink lines.
That day, I took the long route to physics class so I could avoid Tilly’s locker. I doubt she would care. I told a little lie to Penelope about how I was on my period so I had to stop by the bathrooms and that she could go ahead without me. I ducked into the pink restrooms and then headed the other way around the school. I arrived to class late but feeling oddly calm, for I had been able to push the image of the little pink lines out of my head.
They came back again, though, at lunch, when I saw Tilly eating by herself. Slowly, cautiously, I went and sat next to her. “Hi,” I managed.
When Tilly turned to me, I couldn’t help but gasp. Her eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep and her teeth were clenched. “Get away from me,” she croaked.
“I…I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m sorry for what we said yesterday.”
Tilly nodded warily. “I…appreciate that. Now please leave me alone.”
I did as she asked and went to eat with my friends, but not without getting some strange looks. I didn’t care. And when Tilly left lunch early, I followed her, saying I had to go retake a test. I felt something was up. When I had seen her eyes…it was like she had decided something the past night, and I was going to find out what it was.
I followed her up the stairs to the first floor, and up the stairs again to the second, third, and then fourth floor. She walked down the hall toward the math hallway. Maybe she was just retaking a test. I sighed in relief and ducked into a bathroom so she wouldn’t notice me following her. I washed my hands and splashed my face.
When I left, I couldn’t find her. I poked my head into each classroom. But as I left Mr. Johnson’s room, I finally caught sight of her.
She had pushed the window across the hallway open and was pushing her face into the clean air. She was leaning far…too far. I screamed and ran to her, the blood rushing in my ears. She didn’t hear me, or at least, pretended not to. Her face was alight with joy, her eyes wide open and a smile on her face. She put one leg over the ledge. Then the other. She was sitting now, with both feet dangling over the side. She positioned her hands to push and let go just as I reached her. White noise flooded my ears and I lunged, grabbing at air until my fist found her shirt. I lurched as she jumped but kept my grip.
“Let me go!” she screamed. I looked down and saw that the joy on her face had fallen away and fright filled her features. “Let me go!”
Water filled my vision and I blinked away the tears. I reached down with my other hand so I could get a better grip on her. “You’re…not…going…anywhere,” I grunted. “Help! Somebody, help!”
A teacher finally came running, just as my fingers had gone numb. I couldn’t pull her back up by myself. She was trying to wriggle out of her shirt now. The teacher screamed, too, and helped me pull Tilly back into the building. Tilly’s wrists were bloody. I turned to the window and vomited, stress and fear building into my involuntary puking.
I was sobbing now, sobbing because of what I had just witnessed. The teacher was restraining Tilly, who was also crying, trying to struggle out of the teacher’s grasp and make it to the window, or, at the very least, to me, to claw my eyes out. With a great deal of difficulty, I forced back my tears and approached her carefully. I ripped two long strips of cloth off of my shirt and wrapped them around her wrists, pressing my hands down on the cuts, trying to stop the bleeding. The teacher was calling for help, but the only thing I could hear was my own heartbeat and Tilly’s heavy breathing.
“I want to help you,” I whispered.
“Why would you want to help me?” Tilly said. But I could see her ferocious protective barrier wearing down. She wanted help – no, she needed help. I could see it in her eyes.
I squeezed her wrists harder. “Because no one deserves to live like this.”
“What would you know about my life?”
I took a deep breath and forced myself to look into her watery eyes. “I know that you must think you have an awful one, or else you wouldn’t hurt yourself.” I removed my hand for a moment, making her look at her own blood. “See?”
She looked away. “What else?” she rasped.
“I know that you seem not to have any friends at school.”
“No one wants to be with me,” she gasped, shaking her head so hard that tears flew. “I’ve tried, I’ve…I’ve tried.” She attempted to worm her way out of my grasp, but I held tight.
“I know that you need help,” I finally said. “You know you don’t have to go through this alone.”
She laughed hoarsely. “What would you know about that?”
“More than you can imagine.” Images of my sister flashed through my mind, her body in the bathtub that was stained red with blood. “More than you can imagine,” I repeated, and then my tears were flowing freely. “You cannot do this alone. And you cannot take your own life. Have you even thought of what it would do to your family?” I cried. “To leave them alone, thinking they could have helped, that it was their fault you died?”
Tilly swallowed. “They never loved me.”
“They may not like you sometimes, I’m sure, but they always loved you. It’s not possible not to with your family. And to take someone they love away without an explanation, without even an offer to help you…they would die inside.”
That was when we heard the sirens. Relief gushed through me. Other teachers were swarming around us, pulling me away from Tilly. A taller teacher hoisted Tilly into his arms and ran down the hallway. “Wait!” I cried.
The teacher that had helped me touched my shoulder. I didn’t know who he was. “What is it?”
“I want to go with her,” I whispered. “Please! I need to go with her. I can’t just…leave…her….” Again, flashes of my big sister, my role model, filled my eyes. “Please!” I yelled.
“Bill! Stop. Take this girl with you.” The tall man with Tilly in his arms skidded to a halt.
I ran to him. “Don’t stop running! Take her to the ambulance. But don’t leave me. I’m coming with her. I need to be there for her.”