Underneath the Waves: Chapter 9

Every Friday, the kids of Blackwater Private would gather in the quadrangle for a morning assembly. From where she was standing, Elizabeth could see Jordan standing a few feet away from the bulk of his class with his head down. To everyone else, this was normal, but Elizabeth could see he was in pain. It was the breathing. The breathing always gives it away. 

“He’s going to be fine,” Elizabeth thought to herself, “No one else knows.”

The teacher’s voice echoed from an old PA system that distorted with every announcement.

“The cross country is approaching soon and we encourage you all to start running in your own time to really give yourself a leg up.” 

Elizabeth noticed Mike smile at this announcement. He was last year’s winner and would probably win the quickest time again this year. 

Now was the time that the students had been patiently waiting for. Every student in the assembly adjusted their footing slightly to get a better look at Mr Greene. Like ripples through water, smiles of anticipation passed through the sea of students. Something was being whispered to Mr Greene as he stood to the side of the microphone. Something important. Something the other teacher was certain Mr Greene understood. 

He didn’t. 

He stepped up to the microphone. 

“Good morning everyone. Earlier this week, a lady drowned at Black Stone Beach. I’m sure you’ve read it in the papers. I’ve been told it was a parent from this school. So please, be sensitive and mindful towards your peers.”

Elizabeth held her breath. 

“I’ve also been told that Elizabeth and Jordan are not here today, so when they are back, please be kind towards them.” The teacher beside Mr Greene was visibly shocked. 

A swift, sweeping sound of shuffling feet. 

Every available eye gazed upon Elizabeth and Jordan, each frozen in place. 

They were magnets of attention. 

What felt like hours passed until the murmuring pulsated across the assembly. As the eyes started to peel off Jordan, he simply walked away from the assembly, as if a free pass had just been handed to him. 

Elizabeth only longed for one person to see her, but his gaze drifted away like that of every other student. In her loneliness, Elizabeth looked down at the cold cement. A small chuckle broke her emptiness. “Mr Greene,” She thought. 

When her consciousness caught up with her environment, she found herself under Lucy’s arms in a warm embrace. Her hand was being squeezed by Sarah Goldman and the assembly has been dismissed. 

Between the morning assembly and lunch, a lot of information changed hands. A cross-eyed year seven student relayed how Mr Greene was going to be expelled for what he said at the assembly. This story was then picked up and changed to imply that he was being expelled for being the one who drowned Gabrielle.

A student in Jordan’s year named Brodie Shaw described how he once saw Jordan’s father punch a hole in a wall when he was having a sleepover a few years before. What really happened was Edward yelled at the two kids for breaking a window, but that wasn’t enough of a story to paint Edward as a wife basher. 

A girl from Elizabeth’s grade soon told her friends about being best friends with Elizabeth in primary school and always feeling that her mother was on the edge of a mental breakdown. In her expert opinion, she took her own life, or in the words of a year eleven student later that day, she “Necked herself.” 

The rumours circulated and blended and went from the outlandish to the mild and believable. For one segment of the school, Elizabeth’s mother had an affair with a teacher and for another segment, Jordan’s mother faked her death just to get away from him. Eventually, the rumours brought back the whispers and theories about the disappearance of Mr Williams from teaching and his apparent condition in a comatose state, although none of the students knew what was true. 

By the end of the day, the one theme that seemed most plausible in the collective story around the school was that Edward was a dangerous man and most likely responsible for taking some sort of revenge on Mr Williams and his own wife. The question remained; who would be next?

At lunchtime, while these theories were busy entertaining the rest of the school, Elizabeth found herself sitting alone at the old green table, waiting for her friends to arrive. The haze of ordinary school life in her periphery was slowed down to a halt. Nothing existed except a feeling of emptiness inside. She was truly alone.  She held this secret near. 

“How can I be lonely if it’s only me?” Elizabeth thought. 

As the thought articulated, it was cut short by the arrival of a sweaty and frustrated Lucy and a puffed-out Sarah. They dumped a feast on the table. A cheeseburger with no onions, a thirty-pack of chicken nuggets and a half-melted chocolate frappe. 

“We got this for you, but it took so bloody long! Sorry! It was hard to get it from outside of school.” 

The tears of appreciation ran down the inside of Elizabeth’s checks, unseen by the world. 

Elizabeth replied in a broken sentence, “Thank you so much, this is amazing.” 

“Of course!” Sarah added. 

Elizabeth appreciated the gesture, but she had no stomach for it. She felt sick in the stomach. The night before had been sleepless and, more than once, Elizabeth had to rush to the bathroom and expel the grief in the physical sense. 

“Can we…” Elizabeth started, but hesitated in a moment of worry that she might offend her friends, “Can we pack this for Jordan?” 

Lucy nodded and smiled.

“Yes, let’s do that if you’re not hungry,” Lucy said. 

“It’s not that. It’s just, he doesn’t, he doesn’t have friends like you.” 

The lunch period continued with Sarah talking about a new game she was playing that was a co-op board game, one that Lucy had no interest in. The rhythm of the conversation stopped as someone approached the table. Elizabeth lifted her gaze to see Mike Mathews and April Blackburn staring down at her. 

“I’m really sorry for your loss, Beth.” 

His words were sweet and sincere. 

“Are you okay?” April added. 

“I’m okay. It’s a little surreal. But I’ll be okay.” 

Mike looked at the untouched feast before her, “Nice. Look, I’ll see you later. I’m really sorry.” 

And with that, they were gone. The moment of excitement in her heart was greeted with immediate guilt – a new guest in the emptiness inside her. An emptiness that seemed to be inviting more unwanted guests than she was conscious of, and then it struck her. No matter how emotional the day was going to be, she was never again able to crawl into her mother’s bed for the comfort she relied on. In fact, nobody in her family could ever again turn to Gabrielle. 

“It’s only me.” She thought. 

She was soon struck with the desire to agree with Jordan, that their mother was still alive, perhaps just lost at sea waiting to be found, but the void in her heart said otherwise. 

Jordan wasn’t at home when Elizabeth arrived. She put the food that Sarah and Lucy had bought her at his unanswered door and retreated to her room. By this time, Elizabeth’s stomach was aching, but she couldn’t eat knowing that Jordan was probably feeling the same.

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