Becca was sitting in the chair in the corner of her room when I entered.
“Hi,” she greeted me without turning away from the window.
“Hi.” I pulled up another chair so that I was sitting beside her.
“They told me this morning that I could go home today.”
“That’s good, right?” I said encouragingly.
She hung her head so that her hair shielded her face from my eyes. “I guess…I mean, I was happy for a minute, and then, I…” Looking up, she said, “I realized that I don’t have much of a home left to go to. A family makes a home a home…and I don’t have that anymore.”
“I’m sorry,” I whispered.
“Tell me about it,” Becca abruptly changed the subject.
“About what?” I asked gently.
“The memorial service, the funeral, the burial…the others. Everything.”
I shook my head slowly. “Becca, I…”
“The funerals that we went to…they were lovely. We had a hard time, but they were…very nice.”
“Gabriel…?” she whispered, not daring to ask about Doug.
“There were no funerals for them. Gabriel was talked about in several articles—they named him a hero for saving all the kids in his class, but…You can put that together when you get out. I can help,” I offered.
Smiling weakly, Becca drew her legs up underneath her in the chair. “I guess. It’s just a lot.”
“I know,” I replied.
“The others…the kids…How many were there?”
“Becca, do you really…”
“How many?” Becca interrupted.
“Fourteen students, one teacher…and Gabriel.”
She nodded slowly, her gaze drifted back out the window.
I reached out and gently grabbed up her hand. “Don’t do this to yourself, Becca.”
“Do what?” she asked absently.
“Feel guilty. You can’t, honey. There was nothing you could have done.”
She closed her eyes as she squeezed my hand slightly. Just as suddenly as she tightened her grip, she was suddenly pulling away. “I wish…I wish that he would have killed me too.”
“Becca-“ I started to say.
“No,” she snapped, her eyes suddenly dead locked onto mine. “No. Why me? Why did I live? I should have died, Michelle, I should have died, and all of those people are dead and I’m still here. It’s not fair. It isn’t fair.”
“No,” I agreed. “No, it’s not. But you…This is survivor’s guilt, Becca, you don’t need to talk like that. I don’t want to hear you talk like that.”
She rolled her eyes, shaking her head. “Survivor’s guilt?” she scoffed. “Because it’s such a wonderful thing to survive, right?”
“Please don’t talk like that,” I whispered, feeling my face sadden despite my efforts to fight it.
“All those people…they died, Michelle, they died. And I’m still here. What makes me so special that I’m still here, and they’re not?”
I shook my head. “I think…What Doug did, Becca, for the most part…I think it was random. But he loved you. He loved you with all of his heart, and you certainly can’t feel bad that you survived while none of them did.”
“You can’t tell me what I can and can’t feel,” she retorted.
“I can tell you what I feel,” I answered quietly. “I love Lanie with all of my heart, with every breath that I take…but when I see these other parents who’ve lost their children, when I see you…I almost…I feel badly that I still have her. Do you understand?”
Becca nodded. “I guess.”
“Nobody blames you,” I said softly.
“Yes, they do,” she answered matter of factly. “I’m sure they do.” Swallowing hard, she pulled herself up out of the chair and walked towards the door. “Can you…get me out of here? Can you take me home?”
“Sure,” I replied. I didn’t know what else to say.
“Are you sure you want to go to your house?” I asked as we turned down her street.
“I’m sure,” she affirmed. “I have things I need to do, things I…”
“Nothing that can’t wait a little longer if you need it to,” I pointed out.
“No,” Becca replied firmly. “No, I want to go home.”
I pulled up into her driveway, and we walked up her front walk together.
“Michelle,” she whispered, her hand on my elbow. The front door was slightly ajar.
“Let me go in first,” I said, stepping in front of her.
I pushed open the front door, walking forward into her living room. Spray painted in bright red across her white wall were the words, “Their blood is on your hands. Someone needs to pay.”
Becca came up behind me, murmuring the words under her breath. “Nobody blames me, huh?”
I was at a total loss as to what to say, once again. “I…”
“It’s okay,” she said, moving into the kitchen so she wouldn’t have to look at the wall anymore. “I’ll clean it up tomorrow.”
“Let me help you,” I insisted.
“That’s okay, “ she said. “I can do it.”
“But you shouldn’t have to,” I answered.
Her eyes glassed over slightly as she sat down at the kitchen table.
Lanie, Alex and I sat around the kitchen table at dinner, the only sound being the forks and knives clanking against the plates. “How was your day?” Alex asked.
“We went to the memorial service,” Lanie answered.
“How was it?”
“Fine,” she said shortly. “It was fine.” Pulling her napkin off her lap, she folded it next to her plate and pushed her chair back. “May I be excused?”
“Sure,” Alex replied. As she disappeared up the stairs, he said, “How was it really?”
“It was okay. We didn’t stay that long. Lanie actually went up to the microphone, I was surprised.”
“And she was okay?” He set his fork down, leaning back in his chair.
“She was,” I confirmed. “Doug’s girlfriend came up to the mic after her, and we left after that.”
Alex raised an eyebrow. “How was that?”
“It was…interesting. I feel sort of sorry for her. I just…” My voice trailed off, leaving the thought unfinished.
“I understand.” He picked up the dirty plates from the table and started rinsing them off in the sink.
I threw out my napkin, and went to the foot of the stairs. “I’m going to go up and just make sure she’s okay. I’ll be back.”
Alex nodded as he grabbed the dish soap from under the sink.
It was dark as they lay on the rooftop, staring up into the sky. It was a darker dark than one would ever find in the city, and Lanie could pick out several stars that she never would have seen with her feet on the ground. “It’s beautiful,” she whispered, almost afraid to break into the reverie.
She rolled over into Rich’s arms, letting him enfold her against his chest.
“Say that again.”
“You’re beautiful,” he said obediently. “Really.”
“I love you,” Lanie said softly.
Rich put his hands gently on the sides of Lanie’s face, sliding his fingers back so that they tangled in her long red hair. Resting his forehead against hers briefly, he then pulled back and sat up suddenly.
“What?” she asked. “Did I do something wrong?”
He shook his head. “No, no, definitely not.”
Frowning, she questioned, “Then what is it?”
Rich sighed. “As much as I want this…”
Lanie scooted forward slightly so that she could peer off the edge of the roof into the darkness. “You can’t.”
“Yeah. There’s just…a lot of stuff right now. I don’t want to be in any serious relationship until I’m sure I have my head on straight, you know?”
She nodded, even though she didn’t.
“A lot of kids our age make that mistake, they put relationships in front of what’s really important. I don’t want to be one of those kids.”
“Me either,” Lanie replied, knowing that’s what Rich would want to hear.
“So when we’re older, maybe. But not now.” Rich moved forward as well, so that he was sitting right beside her on the roof.
“That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends, right?” Lanie asked.
“We did share blocks,” Rich smiled. Taking off his jacket, he draped it over Lanie’s shoulders. “If we can share well…we can be friends.”
He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, reaching so that he could run his fingers through her hair. “But it won’t be easy. I think I care about you too much.”
“I know. Me too.”
Rich drew her closer again, the signals that his body was sending her completely disagreeing with the words that were coming out of his mouth.
“Rich,” she protested.
“Don’t say anything,” he said, putting a finger to her lips. “Look, one time won’t hurt. One time.”
His lips melted into hers, and Lanie found all of her misgivings melting away right along with them.
Lanie was standing in front of the mirror when I entered the room. Before I realized what she was doing, the scissors in her right hand that she must have been hiding in front of her body, appeared.
“Lanie?” I asked, crossing rapidly to stand beside her. “What are you doing?”
“Just stay away, Mom, let me do this,” she snapped.
Holding up a hunk of her hair, bright red hair that was just like mine, she stuck it between the blades of the scissors and cut. As the foot long tail of hair fell to the floor, I noticed Lanie’s hand starting to shake.
She bit down on her lip, trying not to cry, as she grabbed another chunk of hair to put between the blades. Her hands quivered as she struggled to grasp at the hair, and I reached out gently to cover her hand with mine. “Can I help?”
Lanie shook her head furiously at first, but as she tried again and lost her grip on the hair again, she relented and surrendered the scissors.
I pulled up a chair. “Sit,” I said, pointing down.
She sat in the chair without argument.
“Now,” I asked, “what are you trying to do?”
“Cut it off,” she answered simply. “All of it. I want to cut it all off.”
“Okay,” I agreed reluctantly. As much I hated to cut off her beautiful hair, I would rather do it myself with my steady hands than have her try to do it while shaking. As I started working my way around her head, cutting off hair at the same length as her original cut, I asked quietly, “May I ask why?”
After a minute or so, she answered, “Rich liked my hair. So it makes me sad now every time…When I brush it, or run my fingers through it, or…It reminds me of him.”
“Okay,” I answered.
“I need to get rid of it,” she continued. “I need to cut it off.”
I cut the rest of the bigger chunks off in silence, before grabbing a smaller scissors off the dresser to do some trimming. “I’m sorry I’m not a hairstylist,” I said.
“It’s okay. Thanks for helping me. You didn’t have to.”
“Yes, I did,” I answered matter of factly. “Of course I would.”
Snipping at the ends of her hair in silence, I pulled away and let her take in my work. “Thanks,” she said again. “Mom?”
She shook her head slightly. “It’s nothing. Never mind.”
“What is it?” I frowned, putting down the scissors and leaning against the front of the dresser. “You can talk to me.”
Lanie bit down on her lip, her eyes shifting slightly as she considered words. “Not yet, Mom, not about this.” She stood up, walking towards the door. “Is it okay if I go out for a while?”
“Where?” I asked.
She shrugged, shaking her head. “I don’t know. Just…out.” Without waiting for an answer, she disappeared out the door.
I followed her down the stairs, reaching their base just as she went out the back door.
“What was that all about?” Alex asked, looking up from where he was drying the dishes. “Was her hair shorter?”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “She wanted to cut it off. I have no idea…I think it had something to do with Rich.”
He raised an eyebrow slightly.
“She wanted to talk to me about something…but then, as suddenly as she brought it up, she didn’t want to talk about it anymore.”
“It’ll come,” Alex answered.
I came up behind him to help with the rest of the dishes, and as I picked up a second drying towel, I heard the car start up in the driveway. “Is that…”
“The car?” Alex finished.
I threw the towel back into the sink and ran through the house out the front door, just in time to see my daughter who did not have her license back the car crazily down the driveway and peel away.