The anticipation of waiting to be looked upon, while not wanting to be seen, caused a slight shudder to pass through Elizabeth’s body. Her history teacher took his time putting his notes back into his folder while the last of the students dragged their feet out of the classroom. He let out a long sigh and Elizabeth felt her jaw clench.
“Hurry up!” Elizabeth thought in a scream inside her head.
“I was going over your assignment and wanted to give you the opportunity, well, in case there was anything you needed to tell me.”
Elizabeth’s eyes betrayed her and rolled, more in relief than annoyance. He took the expression as an admission of guilt.
“Nothing, then?” He pried.
Once the conversation had started and her anxiety subsided, Elizabeth’s mind raced and bounced off the walls inside her skull. “Does he think I’m stupid?” she thought.
“Ok then. That’s ok. You are telling me that this is all your original work?” He waved the paper in his hand like an abusive dog owner about to hit the snout of his unruly animal. “I won’t find anything on the internet you cut and pasted from?”
Mr Cook put the assignment into his folder. He didn’t believe her.
“That’s fine, Elizabeth, you can go.”
“It would have been quicker to search the internet than to question me,” Elizabeth thought without utterance.
Elizabeth had never been accused of cheating before. She thought she would feel wonderful, like she were smart enough that teachers were suspicious of her work, but somehow she felt dirty, even though she had done nothing wrong.
The heat radiated around Blackwater Private and Elizabeth sat down at an old wooden table to wait for her friends to arrive. Drums echoed from a distant music classroom where a student played with more confidence than skill. Hesitation before every beat.
The pain and cramps Elizabeth had felt in the morning had dulled, but she was still aware of them every time she was alone with only her thoughts to keep her company. Thoughts she didn’t particularly elect.
“Why did I yell at mum this morning? It was only makeup.”
As Elizabeth grew older, shame became a more prominent part of her life. She felt ashamed that the way she was growing up was too different to how her mother wanted her to be. The more she matured, the further she drifted from what, Elizabeth thought, Gabrielle wanted in a daughter. The outspoken, strong and independent woman that Elizabeth was supposed to become was taken over by a timid nerd who liked to read under a tree more than to run around on adventures.
The school kids passed by her, going in both directions. Feet dragged, skinny legs ran and zig-zagging past each other, balls bounded on the concrete and kids pushed and shoved each other around.
Through the sea of students, Elizabeth’s eyes locked onto one boy. He walked through the crowd with short strides as if he had nowhere to go. His hair was a mess of brown waves that he constantly moved out of his face. He had a bead necklace under his collared school shirt and pen marks all over his arms where girls had written on him during morning classes. His name was Mike Mathews.
A folder crashed down onto the wooden table. It belonged to one of Elizabeth’s best friends, Lucy Carling. Lucy was two skin shades too light for the Australian sun, and she knew it. Every lunch she would slam down her folder on the table and pull out a bottle of coconut suncream, even though she spent every lunch break in the shade. She lathered it on her arms and face, flicking her long, blindingly-blonde hair out of the way.
Elizabeth looked back over at Mike Mathews to see April Blackburn by his side batting her eyelids.
Lucy looked over her shoulder to see what Elizabeth was watching. April Blackburn leant against Mike Mathews and ran her nails up and down his forearm. She wore dark eyes and long lashes. Her lips were the tint barely allowable in school uniform and her hair flowed in long waves that rested perfectly down her shoulders. Her long legs were barely covered by a short skirt and when she wasn’t glued to Mike, she was glued to her phone.
“She gets dumber every term,” Lucy said.
It was hard for Elizabeth to accept how quickly April moved on from her group of friends. She had sat at that same table, listened to Lucy’s ramblings and played Sarah’s homemade board games. They were a tight group, but no more. Elizabeth didn’t understand if April had taken off a mask, or put one on. She reached into her bag and took out her lunch; A slapped-together peanut butter sandwich with an apple juice.
“Yeah, she’s an idiot,” Elizabeth answered casually.
Lucy took out a small steel lunchbox.
“What subjects will you do next year?”
“I don’t know yet,” replied Elizabeth, “I want to see what Sarah is choosing.”
“Oh, but not me?”
“No, no,” Elizabeth backpedalled, “I know you’re doing eco and business.”
Lucy opened her steel lunchbox and retrieved a ham and cheese sandwich that was wrapped in aluminium foil.
“Well, I’m not sure if economics is an easy A or an easy F, but I don’t want to be alone next year.”
“Oh, I’ll go with you. I don’t mind.” Elizabeth said sincerely.
Just then, Sarah arrived at the table.
“Mrs Jacobs is such an annoying cow,” Sarah Goldman screamed as she dropped her bag by her friends, “She is so boring!” Sarah sat down beside Lucy and took out her lunch. “I can’t wait for Mr Williams to come back.”
As the words came out of her mouth, she realised she shouldn’t have said it. Elizabeth felt a stab in her stomach, but with expert skill, she hid her reaction and threw out a quick question.
“Does anyone know when he’ll be back?”
Sarah shook her head, her black silk hair reflecting the sunlight. Her dark eyes and olive skin made Sarah the Yin to Lucy’s Yang. She was naturally pretty but for the large birthmark on her neck that couldn’t be hidden. Her features made her look quiet and shy, but she was almost as loud and feisty as Lucy when backed into a corner. Elizabeth admired her friends for what she believed to be a flaw – a flaw she envied.
“I heard that he died, but the school is covering it up” added Lucy.
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” returned Sarah.
The music that was coming from the distant classroom stopped in an uneven mess. Moments later, it started up again in an asymmetric rhythm that did not improve the first attempt.
“Do you think the rumours are true?” Elizabeth asked, her face staring down at her lunch. “I haven’t heard anything that, you know, confirms anything…”
The table sat in silent contemplation.
“Nah,” began Sarah, “I don’t think he’d ever do anything like that.”
Lucy let out a sigh, “I’m sure if there were any truth to them, Mr Greene would have let it slip already.”
The students of Blackwater Private could always count on deputy principal Mr Greene to be Mr Greene. Every Assembly, he would get up in front of the whole school and make an absolute fool of himself, not to be funny or to make a point, just simply because he was a fool. In the previous week, he had told the entire school to be better behaved because a teacher had come into his office crying. He then accidentally identified the teacher over the microphone to the entire school.
Elizabeth carefully pulled out a small clear container from her bag and opened the lid just a tad. It was her hermit crab. She then pulled out her history homework and started casually filling in answers while blocking out her two best friends as they debated back and forth about what subject would be more beneficial for them to study next year.
She couldn’t describe it, but there was a growing urge for her to leave. Elizabeth picked at the flaking green paint on the old wooden table and felt a growing hole in the conversation. What was once a regular conversation about her infatuation with Mike had become a source of shame and embarrassment as she watched her best friend from afar experience all the things she wished she could. She felt like a shadow of a unimportant person and the feeling followed her all the way home.
The house was empty most Tuesday afternoons and when Elizabeth finally arrived home, she dumped her bag and went straight into the bathroom, locking the door behind her. Jordan was at his weekly counselling session, Gabrielle was still at work and Edward, well, he was hardly ever at home.
Elizabeth turned on the bath and felt the warm water pass through her hands. She put a countdown timer on her phone for five minutes. The rushing sounds filled the room and echoed off the walls. When her alarm sounded, the bath was full and she turned off the tap. The house was silent all but for the last few drips from the tap. Elizabeth soaked in the silence for a few seconds before dropping a bath bomb into the water that dissolved with a shush.
She entered the bath and felt relaxation pass through her body. She tried to concentrate on the parts of her body that felt good, rather than the parts that ached. She also tried to concentrate on the parts of her mind that felt good, rather than the parts that ached. Yet, memories echoed in the room.
Last week, Elizabeth felt refreshed after a perfectly relaxing bath when Edward screamed. Her entire body tensed up and her wet skin suddenly felt ice cold. She was sitting on her bed, clutching at the towel that wrapped her body.
“Who the hell left water in the bath?” Edward had screamed.
His fists pounded against Elizabeth’s door.
“I just got out!” Elizabeth wanted to scream, but she couldn’t, and she wouldn’t dare. Instead, she held herself tight, half expecting her door to be kicked open.
“I’m… I’m sorry!” She said in a broken voice.
Edward’s footsteps shook the house as he stormed down the stairs.
“It’s not good enough!” He yelled on his way down.
The memory swam in Elizabeth’s mind. She let herself sink deeper into the bath. Her sigh echoed and amplified in the small bathroom. She tried again to focus her mind on something good, or nothing in particular, but it was of no use. The only thought that ran through her mind was, “I must empty the bath as soon as I get out.”
Edward had later apologized to Elizabeth, claiming he had a terrible few days of driving. Elizabeth said it was OK and that it wouldn’t happen again. She remembered the anger in her father’s voice. She realised that day that she had no idea who her father was, or what he was capable of. Regardless, she still loved him and craved a day when their conversations would be more than questions of who was to blame for a problem in the house.
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