Beth actually came to school on Monday. I saw her in the halls, but of course we didn’t have any classes together considering our age difference. Even so, I wanted to keep an eye on her. I was afraid that people might start bothering her. I did see some people staring at her, but she kept her head down and, as far as I could tell when I was around to watch her, people mostly left her alone.
During lunch, I saw her sitting at a table by herself. This was finally my chance to actually go and talk to her. For some reason, though, I felt a strange sense of unease. I had to force myself to walk over to her and sit down across from her.
“Hey, Beth,” I said softly. It took a moment before she glanced up at me and then she blinked, looking confused.
“Oh… hi. You’re… Hannah, right?”
I nodded my head. “Is it okay if I sit here? You looked lonely.”
“It’s fine, I guess.”
We sat in silence for a bit as we ate our lunch, though I noticed that both of us were toying with our food more than actually eating it. I guess she didn’t have much of an appetite after everything happened, either. It only made sense. I decided to break the silence when neither of us were even eating.
“Look, if my parents ever found out I was talking to you, they’d probably get really mad at me, but that’s why I’m talking to you here.”
Beth glanced up at me. “Oh? Yeah, I suppose so. I think my grandparents are the same way.”
“I wanted to talk to you at the funeral, but I wasn’t able to. Listen, Beth, I’ve always sort of thought of you as… well… as a little sister. Is that weird?”
Her grip on her fork tightened a little, then she relaxed and shook her head. “No, it makes sense.”
I frowned a little, realizing I had just made things awkward. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that I want to be friends with you. If you ever need anything, you can come to me. Of course, if you don’t want to be friends with me, I can understand that, too.”
“No, I-” She paused for a moment, keeping her face down. “I’d like to be friends. I’d like that a lot. I don’t really have any friends.”
“Then we can be friends.” I gave her a smile, and she actually managed to smile back, just a little. “We may not be able to talk a whole lot, especially outside of school, but anywhere we can meet and talk, let’s try, okay?”
“Yeah, I’d like that.”
We finished our lunch, and just sitting together seemed to make things better, even when we weren’t talking. Positive human interaction of any kind can have bigger affects than one might realize.
When the next period started, we said goodbye to each other and promised to meet up before we left school. I went to my next class, feeling somewhat happier that I had finally done what I had been meaning to do for so long. Maybe I could help Beth through these hard times. And maybe, at some point, we could get past all the strife between our families.
I couldn’t wait for school to end, if for no other reason than to have an excuse to talk with Beth more closely. When the final bell rang, I headed out to the steps of the school and waited until I saw her. She came out of the building slowly, surrounded by three other girls who seemed to be harassing her.
“So how did your mom kill herself, anyway? And why, for that matter?”
“Oh, I think we all know why she did it. It’s pretty obvious.”
I scowled and walked toward them. “Hey! Why don’t you little brats just leave her alone?”
They seemed slightly intimidated by me, if for no other reason than I was a senior while they were just freshmen. But then one of them said, “Oh, it’s Fulton! Maybe she knows why!”
“Get lost,” I growled. “I mean it.”
The girl who made the comment smirked and walked away with the others, mumbling things among themselves. I glowered after them then turned to Beth.
“Hey, don’t listen to them, alright? They’re just assholes.”
“Mmh.” Beth lowered her head and let out a deep sigh. “Let’s just go, okay?”
“Do you want to walk home together?”
“Part way, at least,” she said, and she started walking, holding her backpack snug against her shoulders. “Shouldn’t go too close together in case they see us.”
I nodded in agreement and followed behind her, with about a foot of space between us. We were quiet for a time, and I thought maybe we’d make the walk in complete silence, but then Beth spoke up.
“You know, if we hang out like this, whether or not your parents or my grandparents see, people are probably going to start talking.”
“Should we care?” I asked. She shrugged her shoulders, keeping her back to me as we walked.
“So, did you believe that my mom was innocent?” she asked after another moment of silence. “That she wasn’t lying?”
I stopped in my tracks, and she stopped as well and turned to look at me. I nodded my head. “Yeah, I believed her. I was too young when it happened to understand, but when I got older I asked my mom what was going on, why our family hated yours so much. She finally caved and told me. I’m not sure if she believes my dad, or if she knows the truth and is just in a state of denial about it.”
“Yeah, I think my grandparents are the same way,” she said with a sigh. “Or maybe they’re just mad because what happened made our family name look bad. I don’t know. I don’t really care.”
We started walking again. I wanted to ask her something, but I felt it wasn’t right to. But I had to know. I chose my words carefully before speaking. “I know what happened was terrible, but… maybe it wasn’t all bad. After all, you’re here because of it, right?”
Beth glanced back at me, and there was a dark look in her eyes. No, maybe not dark. More like hollow. “Yes, I am. And if I weren’t, I’m not so sure that would be a bad thing.”
Now I felt bad asking at all. I didn’t know what else to say, so I murmured, “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. It’s not your fault.” She took a step toward me and held her hand out to me. “Besides, you’re the first person who’s actually been nice to me about it. Thank you for that.”
I took her hand and shook it lightly. “You’re welcome.”
We walked the rest of the way silently, then about halfway between our houses we parted ways. We waved to each other and each went to our separate homes. I went inside as quietly as I could and crept upstairs to my room. I don’t think anyone heard me. I closed the door and settled onto my bed with a deep sigh.
“Did you make a new friend today?”
I jumped at the voice and looked up to see Cecil sitting in the corner. I groaned and rolled over, burying my face in the pillows. Even after several days with him, I wasn’t used to him being here. “Yeah. What do you care?”
“She seems to have some problems of her own,” he said. He was sitting in a very odd position on my desk chair. His feet were resting on the chair with his knees sticking up, and his palms were pressed flat between his feet so he was in a strange crouched position. The fact that he was so tall and slender just made it look that much more ridiculous.
“Again, what do you care?” I said, trying to ignore him. He looked like some sort of weird goblin or harpy or something with the way he was sitting.
“Well, the thing is, I was sensing something odd about her while I was following you around. Something… demonic.”
I sat up straighter in my bed, eyes wide. “Just what are you saying? That she’s a demon?”
“No, no. Merely that she has interacted with a demon recently. Or perhaps that a demon was there at the time but was keeping himself hidden from me enough that I couldn’t fully detect him. Regardless, this is a problem.”
“And just what are you going to do about it?” I asked, scowling.
“I’m not sure yet. I have to think about this.” He slid out of the chair and stood up straight, towering over me. “Will you be okay here on your own for a little bit?”
“Please, feel free,” I muttered. “Don’t worry about me.”
“Alright. I’ll be back soon. I just need to check on something.”
“Are you going to bother Beth?”
He was climbing through the window, then he paused and glanced at me. “No, not directly. But I do need to go and monitor her for a little bit. I won’t let her see me, though.”
“Fine, just don’t do anything to her, okay?”
He nodded his head then went out. I realized a little after he left that the window had never actually been opened. I sighed and laid my head back against the pillows, closing my eyes. Just what the hell was going on around here, anyway?