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The Dusty Room (Part 2)
The next morning, sleep escaped Heather’s mind when the blaring of her alarm clock rang harshly in her ears. Groggily, she pressed the ‘OFF’ button and wished she didn’t have to go to school. But, deep down, she knew she wanted to. At least she’d be able to get out of that house.
Getting out of bed, Heather stumbled to the bathroom to brush her teeth, take a shower, apply her make-up, and finish fixing her hair. She saved getting dressed for last because, at this point, she hated her closet. All of the clothes -- the jewelry, the shoes -- they were all beginning to become something she would no longer have. Right now, they were all something she never really wanted in the first place, but her mother insisted, and so, Heather now had three closets packed full of the latest designer fashions.
Reluctantly, dressed in a black tank top and gray cardigan paired with gray skinny jeans and black flips flops, Heather went to school.
As soon as she walked through the doors, it was pandemonium. While walking to her locker, she heard the whispers, she saw the stares. They were all talking about her. Everyone. Why was it so interesting to them? The past few days had been hard enough for her, and now every single student had to remind her about it 24/7? When Heather got to her locker, she opened it after fumbling with her combination a few times.
“Hey, I’m Josh. My-”
“What? You aren’t gonna whisper like the rest of them?” She was definitely annoyed, and, in all honesty, Heather didn’t want to talk to anyone about anything.
“What? What do you mean? …Whisper like the rest of them?” Heather looked up and was outraged. His face was rumpled, and a dimple had formed on the middle of his chin, he was ‘so’ confused. It was pathetic. Was he stupid? Did he really not see everyone whispering, staring, and the occasional pointing, at her?
“Yes, my father died! He’s dead. He died in a car accident three days ago. It was pretty gnarly. But you don’t have to talk to me about it. Whatever, I’ll get by on my own.” Heather slammed her locker shut after gathering all of her books, turned on her heel and started to walk away. Somebody grabbed her arm. She whipped around and glared,
“What? What do you want?”
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry about your dad. I really didn’t know. I’m new here. Your locker is right next to mine,” she saw him point to his locker, and sure enough he was #227, and she was #226, “and I thought I would introduce myself.”
“Oh,” It wasn’t the best thing she could’ve said. She probably should’ve apologized, or used her wit to crack a joke, but she couldn’t think of anything else. Someone was actually being nice to her.
“So, what’s your name?” He added a smile, obviously trying to lighten the mood. It wasn’t working.
Heather was able to choke out her name and then she lost it. After not speaking to anyone about her father’s death in the past few days, this complete stranger said he was sorry. Sorry, not ‘my condolences’, not ‘he’s in a better place’, not even the simple ‘how are you doing?’. Heather felt more sympathy in the words ‘I’m sorry’ than in all of those other mournful phrases combined. They seemed more real, more meaningful, more heartfelt. And right there, with thoughts rushing around in her head faster and faster with each passing second, she cried. This morning, she had told herself she wasn’t going to do that. But, at this exact moment, she needed to get out these tears. In her heart, she felt as if these tears were truly mourning her late father, and not just her constant loneliness. There was no hesitation at all before Josh had taken Heather into his arms, and hugged her. Again, Heather had a flashback of the past few days, and the hug she was receiving now was also real, just like the words he had spoken. Hundreds of hugs were given to Heather at her father’s funeral, but they were always the kind that said ‘I have to do this’ or ‘I‘m just doing what everyone else is.’ This one hug, from a complete stranger, meant the world to her, and she secretly liked it when he didn’t let go until her loud, obnoxious sobbing ceased to exist.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I really don’t know where that came from. It’s just-”
“It’s okay,” Josh gave a little laugh, and Heather felt the wall she had built around her heart years ago slowly start to fall. “I lost my father four years ago. It’s been tough, but me and my family got through it.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. About your dad. My dad was my best friend, and my mom really isn’t around.”
“May I ask why?” Perfect. He was even trying to be a gentleman. Why couldn’t Heather just melt right there, right then, and take him away with her. She wanted him, and she knew she would get him. She could just feel it.
“Well, it’s not like she left or anything. I live with her. And her and my dad were married. But it still seems like I never see her.”
“That must be pretty rough. My family was there for me throughout my whole experience before. Do you have any family? I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said tha-”
“No, it’s okay,” Heather wanted to talk now. She wanted to spill her heart to him, but she was terrified he wouldn’t have the patience to listen to it all, or he would get agitated and make up some lame excuse to leave. “I have family…somewhere out there. I don’t know them though. My mom’s dad died when she was really young, and then her mom died when I was five. I do have two aunts though, one is married and lives in Florida with her family. So I do have some cousins too. Her other sister lives in Manhattan or something and works for some newspaper. My father was an only child, so no aunts or uncles there. He was an orphan, both of his parents died when he was nine years old. So the only family member I have here with me is my mom, and, like I said, she’s never around.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t know how you’re getting through this. And I’m even sorrier if I keep making you think about it. That’s not what I meant to do.”
“It’s okay,” Heather bit her lip in a flirty way while deciding what to say next. “I needed to talk about it, honestly. My mom wants to hire me a therapist, but I’m not into that. I’ve always been a very solitary child, and then teenager, so I’m used to all of the alone time.”
“How old are you?” He asked. It was so random, and Heather had no idea why he was asking her this.
“16...17 on June 15.”
“So your birthday is in 3 days?” he questioned.
“Oh, yeah, I guess so. With everything that’s been going on, I haven’t even been thinking about myself.”
“Let’s go out. On a date…if you want, on your birthday. It’ll be fun, and I think you need it.”
Normally, Heather would be agitated with someone telling her what she needed, but she knew Josh was right. She also knew that her mother would not plan anything for her 17th birthday because she would be too busy soaking up all the attention she could get for being ‘such a young widow.’ “Yeah, I’d like that,” Heather said with a smile.
“Okay, cool. I’ll pick you up around 5 p.m. on Friday night?”
“Sounds great, but why so early?” On all of the dates Heather had been on in her life, she was always picked up at seven or later.
“I’m gonna plan something special,” Josh smiled, and then the bell rang. They exchanged their good-byes for time being, and headed off to class.