Authors: Suki Fleet
His chest was barely moving now. I didn’t know what to do. Why the fuck wasn’t the ambulance here?
“Help him,” I pleaded to no one in particular. “Please, please help him.”
The crowd parted, and a teacher with a first aid kit skidded to the ground in front of us. He had an inhaler in his hand and a black case by his knees. One look at Thomas and he put the inhaler down and opened the case. He took out a small black object, undid the lid, and pushed it into Thomas’s thigh. Everyone was silent. There couldn’t
silence. He couldn’t just slip away. I wouldn’t let him. I needed him to hold on.
“I love you,” I murmured. I said it over and over. I knew it wasn’t a magic spell, but maybe he needed something to hold on to. Maybe I did too.
I had loved. I would never forget I had loved.
By the time the paramedic’s motor bike bounced across the grass, I was sure Thomas had died in my arms. Nothing I’d ever lived through compared to this. It was a hole ripped through me, and I knew if I’d lost him I would feel it for always.
They had to drag me off him. I couldn’t move. I lay where I’d fallen, watching detached as a mask was placed over Thomas’s face and, when the ambulance arrived, the garishly uniformed paramedics put a tube in his arm and strapped him to a stretcher.
The ambulance had gone. It had driven right across the playing field and out into the road—sirens blaring, lights flickering like colored glass. The spectators had dispersed too, making little sounds of shock and grief that didn’t touch me. I lay in the grass alone with my name.
“Sasha? You need to get up.”
But I didn’t. I didn’t need to move. I didn’t want to move.
Jessica Cassidy’s face came into view. She looked very pale, like an actress in an Elizabethan drama.
“You can’t just lie here.”
I turned my head, and her face disappeared. I didn’t hear her get up and leave, but I assumed she had.
“I didn’t know you two were an item…,” she said.
It felt like hours had passed.
An item? How would she know? How would anyone know? A wire-thin pain shot through me, right down my arm into my heart when I thought of him, when I saw him on the ground.
“Sasha? Do you want me to call your mum or anyone to come and get you?”
I shook my head.
“Leave me alone,” I mumbled.
“I don’t think I should….”
But I didn’t care what she thought she should and shouldn’t do. She was a bitch who had put up naked pictures of me on the Internet.
I turned and glared at her. She was closer than I thought, sitting cross-legged on the ground beside me.
“I don’t even know why he was doing PE,” she said.
She must have thought I wanted to talk about Thomas, but that was the last thing I wanted to talk about.
“I know he has asthma, and he never does PE normally. When I saw him stop, I ran over to him to make sure he was okay,” she carried on.
Jessica Cassidy was the figure I had seen stop beside him.
I couldn’t think about it.
“Come on,” she said. She touched my arm. “They might have some news from the hospital if we go back.”
Couldn’t she see that’s what I was afraid of? I’d rather not know than be utterly destroyed.
But when she pulled me, my body obeyed and I stood.
We walked slowly back across the playing field. The way the afternoon sun hit the windows made the school seem full of light, but it wasn’t. Inside it was quiet and deserted. Lessons were continuing as though nothing had happened. I should have been in art. Thomas should have been in art.
had broken loose in the school office. I backed away as soon as I heard Thomas’s name mentioned.
Jessica Cassidy followed me to the small dark area beneath the concrete stairs in the science block. There were a few moldy cardboard boxes and a pile of old textbooks that worked as a stool. Sometimes when it was raining too hard to go outside at lunch, I’d come and sit here.
I didn’t want her to be here too.
“Aren’t you missing class? I want to be on my own.” I tried to sound as bitter as I felt.
“I’m just trying to be nice.” She looked upset. I didn’t care.
“But you’re not.” My emotions were spiraling, and I couldn’t stop them. My grief was consuming me, and I couldn’t hold back. I couldn’t swallow everything down inside like I normally did. “You put fucking naked pictures up of me all over the Internet, and now you think I want to be anywhere near you?”
Jessica Cassidy gasped. “What? But… but you were okay with the pictures. You said you were okay with it.”
“I’m not okay with it. I didn’t know you were going to put them all over the Internet! It fucking destroys me to see them, and people shove their phones in my face in class, and I don’t fucking want to
! I made a mistake.
I don’t want everyone to see.
” I slid down the wall, my hands gripping my hair hard enough that it felt like I could pull it away from my scalp. I wanted to scream and throw up. But I was at school.
“You never said anything. I’m sorry,” she said timorously.
For a moment all I could hear was her breathing and my breathing and the occasional distant car driving around the estate.
She sank down to the floor in front of me and pulled her phone out of her pocket. “I’m deleting them now, okay?”
I didn’t want to watch, but I saw her bring up her Tumblr and click and delete, click and delete.
“I’m sorry, Sasha. I really am. I didn’t know you felt like this. Do you want me to take them out of my portfolio as well? It won’t be shown to anyone apart from the colleges I apply to, but I will take them out of there if that is what you want.”
“The full frontal ones,” I whispered.
“I’ll take all the ones out where anyone can see that you’re fully naked.”
She put her arm around me. I held my breath and tried to use all my willpower not to cry.
“I’ll go and find out how Thomas is, and I’ll come back and tell you, okay?”
I nodded. But as soon as she had disappeared around the corner toward the office, I opened the door that faced onto the playing field and ran.
home. At least I was going to. But for the first time, my sense of self-preservation seemed to kick in, and I ran to The Happy Mart where Corinne was working on one of the two tills.
She stopped in the middle of serving.
I couldn’t answer. I felt as though my knees were going to give way.
Corinne yelled for someone to take over her till.
I leaned against a wobbly shelf of bread at the end of an aisle as she hurried toward me.
“Sasha, what’s wrong? What’s happened?” She gripped my arms and looked me over worriedly, as if she thought I’d been beaten up and she was looking for injuries.
“My friend… had an asthma attack at school.” My voice was barely there.
“Your friend? Thomas?”
“He wasn’t breathing…. They took him to the hospital.”
“Oh my God. Okay, just wait here a minute.” She ran toward the back of the store.
I wondered how bad I must look for Corinne to react like that.
A minute at the most later, she returned with her bag and steered me out of the shop.
“Did… do you know how he is?”
I stopped walking. It was as if I’d hit a wall.
“Oh God, Sasha.” She pulled me into her arms, and I sobbed against her as we stood in the middle of The Happy Mart’s car park. I used to come here to collect glass, but it felt like all the glass was scattered inside me. I could feel their sharp edges, see them glittering darkly in the space where my heart once lay.
I’d cried so hard I couldn’t see straight. The world was a blur of light, so sharp it left me flayed and raw. Corinne took me by the hand and walked me home. She led me up flight after flight of stairs, even though she always took the lift. In the flat she made me a drink of something hot that I couldn’t taste and told me to stay in the kitchen while she phoned the hospital from her bedroom.
I didn’t look up when she came back into the room.
“He’s in intensive care,” she said. “They wouldn’t tell me any more than that, but he made it to hospital, Sasha.”
She crouched down in front of my chair. “You’d gotten really close to him, hadn’t you?”
A few hours ago, I would’ve just nodded and agreed with her. But the glass seal around my heart had broken, shattered apart on a playing field, a boy dying in my arms, and I couldn’t lie.
“I’m in love with him,” I said quietly, staring at my shoes. Maybe Corinne would hate me, maybe she would chuck me out, but it couldn’t be worse than what had already happened.
I heard her take a deep breath. “Oh.”
I glanced up and she smiled, though it was a little too brightly, a little too fixed in place.
I searched her eyes, but there was no disgust there. She just looked shocked. I could understand she might need a minute or two to assimilate what I’d just said.
I’d just told her I was gay. I was shocked myself.
“He seems like a sweet boy.”
Without warning I was crying again. Not even trying to stop.
Corinne didn’t hesitate to enfold me in her arms. This past year she’d been more like a mother to me than our real mum ever had. I’d thought I’d hated it, all her concern, her worry about my attendance at school. Mum had never given a flying fuck about me apart from blackmailing Samuel Felix. But I knew Corinne cared. I knew she was trying to get it right. And the way she had accepted me meant more than I was willing to admit.
I hugged her back, hard.
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled into her shoulder. “I’m sorry I’ve been so fucking difficult. I don’t mean to be, but I know I am.”
I was getting her work shirt all wet. It smelled of The Happy Mart, all garlic and bakery products, and I wasn’t sure I liked that smell.
Her warm hand smoothed back my hair, and she made
It felt like hours later when I pulled away and wiped my eyes. “You’d be good with a kid, you know,” I said, sniffing. I meant it. I could imagine her being a mum so clearly.
“One day, maybe. Wouldn’t want to bring a kid up here. Wouldn’t want to do it as a single parent either.”
“Is it because of me?”
“That I haven’t met any guy who’s not a total loser? No way, Sasha.” She paused. “I’m happy for you. It might not always be easy, but I’m glad you’ve found someone. And I’m so glad he was the reason you’ve been so happy lately. You don’t know how worried I was that you’d got into drugs. I wish he could convince you to stay at school, though!”
“What’s the point? I’m only going to end up working somewhere like The Happy Mart.”
“Sasha, I wouldn’t live like this if I had a choice. You don’t want to choose this.”
“You don’t have a choice because of me.”
“No. I dropped out of school, and I wish I hadn’t. I made my choice a long time ago, and I don’t want you to make the same one. You have a chance. You have potential. Don’t give up on it. Whatever happens.”
I knew she meant
with Thomas. The overwhelming ache in my chest bled through all my limbs.
“Will you come with me to the hospital?”
“It’ll just be family, Sasha. I doubt we’ll be able to see him,” she said gently with a sad smile.
“His gran will be there. She’ll tell me how he’s doing.”
“Okay….” I could tell she thought it was pointless, but it meant something that she was humoring me. “Let me just get changed out of this horrible uniform.”
hospital they wouldn’t even let us up on the ward. I think my inner devastation must have been showing on my face for once, as a nurse took pity on us and said she would see if Thomas’s gran was in with him and ask her to talk to us.
Thomas’s gran came out a few minutes later and, without saying a word, hugged me tightly.
“I’m sorry,” she said when she pulled away. “Not everyone is a hugger, but I needed that.”
Corinne looked at her as if she was slightly insane.
“This is my sister Corinne,” I said, introducing them. “How is he?”
We sat down on a row of plastic seats that lined the corridor.
“Oh, Sasha. It was bad, really bad. But he’s got through the worst of it. They’ve put him on a steroid mix, which he breathes in with his oxygen, and they will keep him on that for a few days. He woke up a little while ago, and he knew who I was, so they’ve just about ruled out any brain damage because of the lack of oxygen.” It made my heart hurt in a good way that she was talking to me like this, like I was included, like I was part of his family. “He would love to see you, but it’s just relatives for today. I’ll try and convince them to let you in tomorrow, though, I promise. I feel terrible that you can’t come through now and hold his hand.”
As soon as she said it, I knew she knew. And I blinked a couple of times to get rid of the shock.
I suspected Thomas might have told her there was something between us, given how open he was.
It surprised me that I didn’t mind.
“Thomas’s parents are flying in tonight. They got the first flight over when I rang them.” She shook her head. “Thomas has missed them terribly, so this is one good thing to come out of it, I guess. Look, I’m going to get back in there in case he wakes up again, but come here tomorrow. Visiting hours are at ten, and I’m not going anywhere until then at least. Catch a nurse when you get here, and I’ll see if I can sneak you in.” She winked at me.