It was late. Not two in the morning late, but it was still late enough for almost no one on campus to be out of their dorms. As Emmett was walking out the library and in the general direction of the Year 11 boys’ dorms, he saw a girl he sometimes talked to in Science standing by a lamp post and looking at seemingly nothing.
Being too curious for his own good, Emmett walked towards her, the gravel crunching beneath his sneakers. “Beth?” he asked as he got closer, only a few feet away. She flinched slightly but then started to laugh.
“You scared me,” the blonde girl said, her laughter fading away. “I was just looking at her.”
She pointed to a tree that was almost directly ahead of them. What Emmett saw surprised him.
It wasn’t strange to see someone drunk on school grounds. Even Emmett had done it once or twice. But it was strange to see a girl drunk with a bottle in her hand and one at her side, sitting with her back resting against a tree as she mumbled incoherent words to herself.
“What’s wrong with her?” Emmett asked, trying to not sound too much like he thought she was mentally unstable.
Beth shrugged. “No one knows. She came here about three or four years ago and every year, on this exact night, she’ll drink until she passes out.” She looked at Emmett, who now just looked incredibly confused and sympathetic. “My advice: don’t worry about it. By tomorrow she’ll be fine, acting exactly like she always does.”
With that, she walked away, leaving Emmett to stare at the girl who had put the now-empty bottle on the floor and was drinking from the other one. He could just keep walking to his dorm and collapse into bed, like his body was telling him to do. Or he could go to the girl and see if she was alright. For some reason, he chose the latter.
She didn’t appear to see him as he walked up to her, and if she did, she didn’t acknowledge him. It was almost as if she was looking through him.
“Are you okay?” he asked gently, careful to not scare her like he had Beth.
The girl laughed without any humor, her hazel eyes still seeing right through him. “‘Am I okay?’” she repeated, still laughing. “God, if I had a dollar for every time someone’s asked me that I’d be richer than the richest person in the world.”
Even though it was clear she was too drunk to take anything seriously, Emmett still sat down beside her. “Well, are you?” he asked.
“Do I look fucking okay?” she asked with no malice in her voice. Her voice sounded sad, almost.
“You usually do.” That was a lie; never once had Emmett noticed or acknowledged the girl before now, but he knew that drunken people usually believed the simpler lies.
“Yeah, well, it’s usually not the anniversary of someone’s death, is it?” If it had been anyone else, he would have replied with a smart ass reply about how numerous people had died every day. It was the fact that she seemed so hurt that he didn’t and instead asked, “Who died?”
For the first time since he had seen her, she moved her head to look at him. “Why do you care?” she asked, taking another gulp from the bottle.
“Because you’re sad, and I don’t like it when people are sad,” Emmett said honestly. His brother had told him his trusting and kind nature was his worst quality, but his mother argued it was his best.
The girl gave a short laugh, similar to the one she had when he had first started to talk to her. “Well, shit,” she said. “You wanna hear a story?”
“Sure,” Emmett replied, having a feeling she would be answering his question with the story.
“There used to be this girl. A total asshole who thought everyone was out to get her. To be fair, she had quite possibly the shittiest life you can have, considering the fact her dad fucked off after her younger brother was born, when she was two, and her mum OD’d when she was nine. So, obviously, she had to be raised by her older brothers and sister, otherwise they’d be taken by the CPS and separated. Her older siblings weren’t that bad; they cared about her. But they taught her that if someone’s not family, they want something from you. I don’t think she ever stopped believing that was true.
“She had no friends other than her younger brother; out of her three older siblings, the one closest in age to her was six years older. Then, one day, she meets this girl at school. Complete fuck-up as well, only difference being that she came from a relatively normal family. Decent cash flow, two parents, one sibling, a dog, all that fairytale shit. But she had her own issues; a secret. That secret would get her thrown out if her family ever found out. I guess they sort of bonded over their shitty lives. Well, no, bonded is the wrong word. They more realised they were both fucked for life, so they figured they would be the perfect fuck buddies. And they were. The parent-less girl thought the other one talked too much, and the other girl thought she cared too little. They had a lot of shit like that.
“The younger brother knew. In fact, he was the other girl’s best friend. What he didn’t know was that his un-related best friend was starting to fall in love with his sister. His sister never knew either.”
The girl paused for a second to take a long drink that drained the bottle, and then let it hang limply in her grasp. “After almost a year of just fucking, no emotion, no nothing, they get caught. You see, the rich girl’s secret was that she was bi as fuck. Her entire family was the types who go to pride parades and throw holy water at the people. So I bet you can imagine who walked in on them when he was supposed to be at work. He screamed, and hit, and called her mum, with the parent-less girl taking just as much heat as she was. Eventually, after hours of mental, physical and emotional abuse, the parents allowed the girl that wasn’t their daughter to go home. Their daughter was immediately enrolled in a fancy boarding school; one they said would ‘knock the sinful nature out of her’.
“Once she was finally allowed out of the house, which was about two weeks later, she immediately went to her best friends place. She found him crying in his bedroom. His sister had went and pissed off the wrong people and gotten shot.”
Emmett jumped when the girl threw the bottle and it smashed against the concrete. “She was meant to stay alive forever. She was meant to be the one who would never get hit or yelled at because her family gave a shit about her emotions. She was meant to never leave. But no, she went and purposely pissed off the people you know you should never piss off, but she was Eliza fucking McCoy and she was fucking invincible!”
The girl had started to cry and her voice while still angry, also sounded broken. “She was meant to stick around so that when I finally grew a pair I could tell the fucker I loved her!”
She surprised Emmett by slumping against him, crying into his grey hoodie. Without hesitation, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled the person he no longer thought of as a stranger closer. Her humorless laughter started up again, making her tears look even more painful when she finally pulled away.
“Does getting shitfaced help?” Emmett asked, still having one arm around her.
“I pretend it does,” she said in a quiet voice. “Thanks for not running away.”
“Anytime,” Emmett said with a chuckle. “I’m Emmett.”
And even ten years on, when they had both graduated, gotten jobs and families, they would sit against a tree in a park and Avery would drink and shout and Emmett would be there to comfort her.