At first, Isabella wasn’t sure whether she wanted to join her friends when she caught sight of them in the English room. The morning was full of potential, and she had planned to find Cassandra so they could talk. But as she hovered beside the doorway, contemplating checking in at least once so they didn’t think she was avoiding them, she heard her name. And she realized William had said it.
Her face flushed as it did now any time she thought of William and what she had let him do. Every time she remembered she wondered if that had really been her. Surely she, Isabella Colbert, dedicated-albeit-reluctant girlfriend of Timothy Kearne, had not had sex with his best friend.
It couldn’t be so. And she couldn’t be happy about it, or wish she could spend more time with William. It was all wrong.
She heard her name again, and this time she was sure Constance said it. “I don’t believe it either, don’t worry,” Timothy replied, his voice muffled by the wall separating them. Finally, she couldn’t stand it anymore, and slipped inside. They gathered around an island made of four desks they had pushed together. Perched on it was a tri-folding board with words that she couldn’t quite make out through the wall of bodies. Art supplies were strewn about.
“Hey, guys,” she chirped cheerfully. “Breakfast in the cafeteria, anyone want to join me?” She kept her back to William, who was slightly apart from the rest of the group. A ring of stony, impassive faces met her, and when she finally looked at Timothy, he looked away. He looked pale, a little gaunt. “What’s going on?” she asked nervously. It felt like she was being poked with hot irons.
“Why do you look so guilty?” Chloe asked. Isabella gulped and tucked her hair behind her ear to resist the urge to wipe the perspiration from her face. “Do you know what story Iron Will here cooked up?”
Isabella breathed ice water, or perhaps liquid nitrogen. She thought that if she stayed perfectly still, she could freeze time.
“No, what?” she finally asked, feeling the blood rush to the surface of her face.
“See!” Timothy exclaimed, jittery relief settling on his face as he turned to her. “She doesn’t even know what we’re talking about. Tell him, Isabella. Tell him that you’re my girlfriend, and you would never cheat on me.”
What was that rapping inside of her skull? Could it be a scream, begging her to let it out? She knew that William bored holes into her back with his eyes. This couldn’t be. She had trusted him, looked forward to his gentleness every day for the past few months. He had been the one person she had always hoped could really see her.
He snorted, and came into view. She was struck by how different he looked in the broad daylight, so much fiercer than in the twilight. A fierceness that she had always thought burned for her. “Don’t flatter yourself, Big Tim. We talked about you. We talked about you, and she still chose me over you.”
No! she screamed. That’s not it at all! I didn’t mean for it to go this far.
No one seemed to hear her. The hopefulness in Timothy’s face floated away, and she knew it had never been very firmly attached, anyway.
“Of all people,” Constance said quietly, shaking her head at the tragedy. “We never knew you were like this, Isabella.” She left, Violet and Chloe in tow.
William reached out to touch her arm, and the usual shock went through her. It was too much of a customary response to mean anything, like the contractions of a spider’s legs after it was dead. Though she knew how it must look when she didn’t pull away, she found she could not do anything more than frozenly watch her life get sucked into a void. The void was Timothy’s eyes, as they disengaged and hardened against her. “You’re not all that, after all, Timothy,” William spat at him, then squeezed her hand and grimly held her paralyzed gaze. “You don’t deserve her at all.”
He moved to leave, and at last, Isabella could see what they had been working on. “Food for Thought”, read the headboard of the trifold. “Support the Italian War Victims Today.”
“What is all this?” Isabella was surprised when the words came out. She had been so certain she was no longer alive.
“Food drive,” Timothy muttered, leaning against a desk, speaking to his right shoulder. “It…it was for you. I realized how important the whole ‘helping others’ thing had become to you, so I convinced the gang we should at least try it before we diss it.” He sounded so tired, and so old, all of a sudden. Isabella tried to remember all the times he had whined to her, bossed her around, said selfish things that made her want to claw his face off. All the memories flew away, and she remembered the class ring, his love for his sister. His warning about William.
She fell against the doorframe, trying to make her head stop spinning. A hiccupping sob escaped her, and Timothy stood to help her, then stopped.
“What can I do, Isabella?” he asked, showing her his empty hands. His torn expression cut her. He wanted to go to her, she could tell, but she turned and walked back into the hall.