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Crossing the Shadows (Chapter One)

"A horrible tragedy has just happened and it is Charlie's first day back to school."
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I looked at the wide double doors of Pittsford Area High School. The black paint over the metal seemed to mock me in a way I couldn't understand. I knew kids would stare at me, whisper to each other and snicker at me. It all had happened so fast that I wasn't sure if I could get through the whole day without breaking down.

I reached for the metal handle and it tingled the senses throughout my arm. I gave a soft tug and it opened. As I walked in the voices filled my ears, my head down and my eyes staring at the puddles of water along the door. I tried my best to hurry, but it was no use. I heard my name being called from the office behind me. I sighed, turned around and looked up. The principal stood in front of me, his green eyes peering at me over his thick, black framed glasses. He ran his fingers through his shaggy brown hair and then rubbed the brown beard that wrapped around his chin.

"I am sorry for what has happened," he said softly. His voice told me he didn't really care about me, or what had happened. I faked a small smile and tried my best to seem okay.

"Thank you Mr. Humel," I said softly, though I didn't want to talk to anyone. "I have to get to class now," I added, hoping he'd leave me alone. He just nodded as I headed back up the stairs. My footsteps echoed throughout the hallway and when I reached the top the voices came to an abrupt halt. I felt their stares burning into my side. They didn't even consider what I was thinking about the whole situation. I hurried to my locker, trying my best not to lose it. Everything was so overwhelming. I stared at my locker, pictures filling the inside of my door. I smiled a little to myself. It was such a better time then. I ran my finger over a glossy picture, my finger traveling down the middle of it and stopping at the cold metal of the door.

"Charles?" I heard a voice. I took a deep breath and turned around. A man stood in front of me. Mr. Stevens, my art teacher, was looking down at me. His dark blue eyes were filled with sorrow as he cleared his throat. "I want you to know that if you ever need someone, you can talk to me," he said softly. I smiled a little and nodded as I tried to swallow the lump in my throat.

"Thanks," I said. He just kept looking down at me, hoping I'd continue our conversation. All I did was rub my arm and look down at the floor.

"Alright, see you in third hour," he finally said after what seemed like forever. I gave him a fake smile and he walked away. When I turned back to my locker my heart felt even heavier than it had when I woke up. I heard the whispers, they started up again, and these people thought that I couldn't hear every goddamn word they said. I slammed my locker door shut and the whispers stopped. I grabbed my bag and walked down to the end of the hallway and into a warm, bland room. I picked a desk at the very back as I heard footsteps coming down the hallway. When I looked up I saw Mrs. Synder looking at me, her eyes filled with grief as they caught mine.

"I didn't expect to see you today," she said simply, her voice as cold as ice. I shrugged my shoulders.

"I have to come to school," I said plainly. She set the stack of papers she had in her hands onto her desk. The noise that her high heels made against the tile flooring echoed throughout the room.

"So soon after the accident?" she asked. I had to close my eyes for a few seconds and take a deep breath. When I opened them, tears had filled up in them, blurring my vision. I wiped them away as she put her hand on my shoulder.

"I don't want to miss too much," I said softly. Her mood had seemed to change, I could see she felt sorry for me and I wasn't about to accept her pity.

"If you need to, you can walk out of class anytime," she said. I nodded as the first bell rang. I heard the sounds of locker doors shutting as the classroom began to fill with kids. Their stares burned into my skin once again as their whispers began to fill my ears once more.

Lunch finally came around and now my day was finally half over. The whispers still came when I walked by, but they weren't as often as something else became more interesting to talk about. I had been avoiding my friends all day and they seemed to be keeping their distance. Although, at lunch they'd talk to me because we sat together everyday. I grabbed my tray and walked toward our table, being the first one there, I at down and laid my head on the table.

"How are you holding up?" Ella's sweet voice asked me. I looked at her and shrugged my shoulders a bit. I picked up my fork and moved the corn around on my tray.

"Alright I guess," I said with a soft, fake smile. I felt a hand on my shoulder and I turned to see Jonah's brown eyes looking at me with compassion.

"Everything's going to be okay," he said cheerfully. I looked at him and shook my head gently, knowing that what he said wasn't true. The way it was going, nothing would ever be okay.

"I don't know," I said, my voice cracking as I tried to fight back the tears.

"Talk about it, maybe you'll feel better," I heard Michael suggest. I laid my head back on the table and shook my head. I knew they were just trying to help, but it was hard for me to talk about it. I grabbed my tray and got up form the table. As I walked away I heard their whispers, asking each other what really happened and if I was going to be okay. It was like I wasn't standing there as they asked each other if I was strong enough to keep living.

The bell rang for the last hour of the day to start. It was science and Mr. Jackson was at the head of the class, looking at us as he rubbed his hands together. I found my seat in the back of the class and laid my head on my book.

"Alright," he called. When I looked up to see Mr. Jackson looking back at me, he looked away quickly. "I think...considering what has happened, we'll just take it easy for today. We'll continue tomorrow," he finished. A few of the kids cheered and were glad for no class today. I just sat there with my head down on my book. I felt Ella's hand on my head, playing with my hair.

"Are you okay Charlie?" she asked softly. I looked up. Her green eyes were clouded with worry. I smiled and shook my head gently. She was my best friend. She had long, beautiful brown hair and was pretty every day. She was about 5'5" and always worried about her appearance.

"I'm fine," I said with a soft smile. She looked at me, her hand rubbing mine. She could tell when I was lying, but she never pushed me to tell her the truth.

"Are you sure? Want to come over tonight? Mom said it's fine," she offered. I nodded. Most of my days were spent at her house with her family, seeing as I was barely noticed at mine.

"I'd like that," I said with a smile. I put my head against the wall and closed my eyes. Talking filled my ears and once of the voices made me cringe as it came closer to my desk.

"So, Charlie..." I heard a deep voice say. I opened my eyes to see Richard. He was, in simple terms, a bully. He loved messing with me and I was never sure why.

"What do you want, asshole?" Ella snapped back. Richard smiled and laughed at her. Richard did have a crush on Ella, but she never gave him the time of day. Maybe that was why he always picked on me.

"Sit your ass down, I'm talking to Charlie," he snapped back. I just sat there, too tired to really fight with anyone.

"What do you want, Rich?" I asked. His dark green eyes met mine and a wicked grin came across his face. Why he loved making my life a living hell, I will never know.

"I want to know what really happened," he said as he crossed his arms over his chest. His friends nodded in agreement. He had a group of loyal followers who always agreed with whatever he said.

"It was in the paper. You know what happened," I said as I blinked slowly at him, my eyes heavy with sleep. He smiled, chuckled at me and shook his head.

"I want to know from you, seeing you are the reason he's dead," he snarled at me. My heart ached when he said this, I missed him so much.

"It was not his fault!" Ella snapped. I could tell her heart ached as well; I felt horrible, and she shared my pain.

"Hell yes it was! It's his fault that Josh was even out that night," Richard grumbled. As Ella began arguing with him, my mind blocked out their voices and the memories came back to me.

It was my fault, and I knew it was. If I hadn't texted Joshua, asking him to come over, he'd still be here with me.

Joshua was everything to me. We met back in the fourth grade and we became best friends from the start. Ella was his twin sister and I adored them both so much. As we got older, Joshua and grew closer. We did everything together. When he confessed his feelings for me, they were mutual. When we began dating I was never as happy as I was with him. I was surprised to meet such a wonderful person in such a small town like Pittsford, Michigan. He made me laugh, gave me the strength to do anything and made me feel like the most important person in the world. He was taller than me at 6'0" with beautiful brown eyes and shaggy brown hair.

The night he died I had asked him to come get me. My dad had been drinking again and was fighting with my mom. I wanted to leave and he said not to worry because he'd come and get me. It was raining that night and I could barely see outside my window to the street. The police say he was only a mile away from my house when he turned the corner. The rain had slicked up the road so much that there was nothing he could have done. The car flipped over and crashed into the metal safety rail. When paramedics got there, it was too late, he was gone. He suffered major injuries, including a gash to the side of his head. If I had just been a real man and dealt with my parents, he would be alive.

"You are such a dick!" I heard Ella growl. I blinked, coming back to reality. I stood up and looked at Richard.

"You are right, Rich—it was my fault. If I hadn't told him to come and get me he would be alive. I won't deny it, it's true. I was the reason he was out that night. Nothing you can say can hurt me as much as how I feel," I said. Richard looked at me, his eyes gleamed with satisfaction as Ella shook her head.

"It's not your fault," she said softly as Richard and his friends walked away. I sat back down and looked at her.

"Yes it is, Ella. If I hadn't sent him that text, he'd be alive," I said, the tears slowly making their way back into my eyes.

"Honey, he loved you. He would've gone out in blizzard if it meant to help you. He took that curve too sharp. It's not your fault," she said sweetly. "Plus, the police say that car might have been at fault too," she added. I just looked at her and then looked away. I wanted to leave.

"How are you holding up doll?" Ella's mom, Mrs. Parks, asked. I just smiled at her, she was more of a mother to me than my own mother. She loved having me over and was always happy to see me. Although, she was like Ella. I blamed myself for what had happened to her son, but she didn't.

"I'm holding," I said with a soft smile. She nodded, walked behind me and grabbed something from the fridge as she began working on dinner. The smell of chicken began to make my stomach growl and my mouth water.

"I know you blame yourself," she began, her back toward me. I stared down at the crackers that Ella had gotten out to snack on. "Please don't," she added. I looked up to see her walking toward me. Her arms wrapped around me tightly and she kissed the top of my head.

"Joshua loved you so much. He was so set on you two being together forever and he did what he did out of love for you. People know about your father and mother. He just wanted to be there for you. It wasn't your fault," she said as her hand ran gently up and down my back.

I held her tightly, she meant a lot to me, as did the rest of Ella's family. As I let her go I excused myself and headed upstairs. I looked toward Joshua's bedroom door and reached for the metal knob. As the cold metal hit my hand all the memories flooded back through my mind. I turned the know and pushed the door open, as I leaned against the door frame I could see it now, like a movie inside my head.

"Quit it!" I squealed. Joshua shook his head as he continued to tickle me, his body weighing down my own against the floor. "You are such a jerk," I grumbled while laughing. He pinned my hands over my head and looked down at me, panting as he caught his breath

"But you love me, right?" he asked sweetly. I smiled up at him, his beautiful eyes gazing into mine as his fingers gently rubbed against my wrists. I nodded, of course I loved this fool.

"Of course," I said. He smiled down at me and pressed his lips gently against mine. He finally let me up and I crawled right into his bed, cuddling under the blanket as he looked at me. "What?" I asked, and he shook his head gently.

"Can you believe we graduate in two months?" he asked.

I closed my eyes and yawned as I cuddled deeper underneath his warm blanket.

"I am excited" I said, slowly drifting off. I felt him crawl into the bed next to me and wrap his arms around me tightly. He kissed my cheek and pulled me close to his chest.

"Me too, we can go to college," he said softly as he ran his fingers through my hair, tugging gently at a few stray pieces. I giggled as his other hand ran down my back.

"And we'll be together huh?"I asked sleepily as I yawned once more. He chuckled and nodded his head.

"Forever," he said softly.

I wiped the tears that began swelling in my eyes as I stared at his room. It was cold and lifeless but everything remained the same. His parents hadn't moved anything. I walked into the room and looked around, I missed him so much. Why did he have to listen to me? Why did I have to be such a baby? Why was it all my fault? I sat down in the middle of the floor, hugged my knees, and began to cry.

"You know," I heard a deep voice. I jumped up, wiped my tears away and looked toward the door. Joshua's father stood in the doorway. Mr. Parks was an intimidating man, standing at 5'11". He gave Joshua his brown hair and thick voice. He was a nice man once you got to know him, and through the years has become my father figure. "The night Joshua had his accident," he continued, "he came downstairs and told me he was going out to get you. I told him to be careful." He spoke softly, his voice cracking at the memories. He walked over to Joshua's bed and ran his hand over a few posters on the wall. I'd had never seen Mr. Parks cry until the day the cops called us.

"I'm sorry," I said softly. He looked at me and smiled. He reminded me so much of Joshua that it hurt. He had the same comforting voice and sweet smile.

"Helen tells me you blame yourself for what happened," he said as he coughed, wiped his eyes on his sleeve and kept looking at me.

I moved my gaze down to the floor, rubbing my arm as I nodded.

"Charles, I know how my son felt about you. He would have done that in any kind of weather," he said. I heard him open Joshua's closet door and go through a few things as the clothes hangers rattled. He came back over to me with a red and white jacket in his hands. It was Joshua's sports jacket, the one he never took off. "I want you to have this," he said softly as he put it in my hands. I shook my head, but the cold fabric felt nice in my hands as tears rolled down my face.

"Mr. Parks, I can-" I began. He shook his head and smiled a teary smile.

"You will take it. Josh would want you to have it," he said. I swallowed hard and nodded. Mr. Parks patted my shoulder and left. I was now alone in Joshua's room once more, his jacket in my hands. I began to unfold it and slip my arms through the arm holes. It was huge on me, but I felt safe in it. It still smelled like him and it gave me comfort. I walked toward the door and grabbed the knob and pulled it until the door shut. I looked at the white door and ran my hand down the middle of it. It was hard knowing I'd never get to see him again.

"I love you Joshua," I whispered softly as I let my hand fall back to my side. I cuddled into his jacket and made my way back downstairs. 

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