The Ones to Blame
Sophie L Macdonald
We all file into the school hall, and for once there is silence. Mrs Richards stands at the same lectern I used to hold my notes when I gave out class awards. It looks beautiful from a distance—all ornate and antique—but when you get close you can see that it’s actually really cheap wood and it’s pretty ugly. There are a lot of things like that at this school.
Ella Matthews and her crew are sat behind me, but they’re not kicking my chair this time. Once they stuck gum in my hair, and I had to cut it out. I never told Mum. She really cares about me being popular. I used to care too, until I found out what they were like. They don’t scare me any more. Not now I know what they did.
I turn around and stare at Ella, but she doesn’t see me. Tears come suddenly, and I look to the front again. Someone squeezes my hand, but I push them away. None of them have ever been my friends. Nelly was the only one who cared about me.
The projector is casting a huge picture of her on the wall. She would hate it. She’s smiling, and you can see her braces. I’m sure I’m not the only one here who can’t help but think of the other picture of Nelly. The one that killed her.
Mrs Richards is delivering a long speech all about Nelly. She asked me if I wanted to get up and say a few words, but I didn’t. Now I wish I’d said yes, so I could stand up in front of the whole school and tell them what Ella and Jake did. I don’t even think Jake is here today. They make me sick.
It’s still pretty dark outside—even for the start of Autumn. I think a storm is coming.
Mrs Richards is offering us all grief counselling, and telling us that suicide is a tragedy, and that no one should blame themselves. She doesn’t know what I know.
Nelly wanted to be a doctor one day. She could have saved lives. Her death is probably the death of hundreds of people in the future. Jake and Ella won’t even pass high school. They’ll get jobs in a burger shop if they’re lucky. Jake will probably be a drug dealer. I think he already is. It should have been them.
The assembly is over at last, and we all stand to walk out. I can see Ella, with her black hair over her eyes. One of her friends is nudging her and trying to make her laugh, but she’s looking at her feet. Suddenly, I can’t stand it.
“It should have been you,” I say. She glances up at me, eyes wide, trying to look innocent.
“What?” she says.
“It should have been you.” I’m speaking quietly through gritted teeth. “It’s your fault. I know what you did.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she says, but I can see she does. She glances at her mates. “Fuck off.”
“You did it,” I say. “You and your stupid boyfriend. You murdered her.” My voice has got louder, and everyone seems to stop for a moment. Ella is frozen, like some kind of hunted animal. I bet she hasn’t felt like that before, but I know I have. I know Nelly had.
I jump over the plastic chairs, and I push her to the ground. I’m holding her shoulders down, and she’s not doing anything at all about it. Nelly would have loved this. She would never have believed that I would fight Ella Matthews. I lean in close to her face.
“I’m going to tell,” I say. “I’m going to tell Nelly’s family. I’m going to tell Mrs Richards, and I’m going to tell the newspapers. You and your stupid boyfriend may as well just go and kill yourselves too, because you’re going to jail for the rest of your lives.”
Mrs Richards is at my shoulder, pulling me up.
“Sarah, come with me,” she says, putting an arm around me. “I know it must be very hard on you to lose your best friend, but fighting is not the answer. Nelly was a troubled child. No one is to blame.”
Ella is still lying there, staring up at me.
“She is,” I point at her, “she and Jake Skinner. They did it.” Tears are streaming down my cheeks now, but I don’t care.
Mrs Richards guides me towards the door.
“I’m going to call your mother, Sarah,” she says. “This has been a very difficult week for everyone.”
I let her lead me away, and out of the corner of my eye I see Ella stand, shaking off her friends, and then run to the back door of the hall—the one that leads outside. She’s running away. I hope she and her boyfriend never come back. I hope they do kill themselves. If they don’t I will ruin their lives like they ruined Nelly’s and mine.
Ella pauses at the door, and she looks back like she wants to say something to me. She doesn’t look like a bully any more—she looks like a scared girl. I turn away, and I hear the door slam behind her.
Image credit: https://pixabay.com/p-1149933/?no_redirect