Epilogue – One year later…

Epilogue – One year later…

Aiden sprang up, his last memories of James reminding him unpleasantly of the events the previous year. His chocolate-colored eyes dull, he blinked back tears, stumbling out of bed with the thought that the thing most important to him was gone. Aiden tried to choke back a sob, but the name still escaped his lips: "James."

The familiar strawberry-blond hair, the angelic ice-blue eyes- none of the teen's qualities were to be known again. Aiden stumbled, trance-like, to the bathroom, turning the show on at its hottest. He ran his calloused fingers over a razor blade sitting by the sink, and took it, stepping into the steaming-hot water as he tried to burn away his tears. The dark-haired teen inspected his wrists, tracing the spiderweb of veins racing across his arms; he lifted the razor, nicking the vital junction of hand and arm. He pressed harder, blood welling up from the small wound, and suddenly a voice sounded in his head: Aw, c'mon! I risk my butt to save your life, and instead you try to kill yourself? That's really really inconsiderate, you jerkface!

The blade clattered to the floor, water running around it tinted reed with blood as Aiden sobbed uncontrollably. "Jamie… James…" The sudden vision of his beloved angel, the voice ringing in his ears, cut through the haze, exposing his raw pain for all to see.

Aiden stepped off the bus, no longer trusting himself to drive. He heard a voice calling out to him, and lacking the strength to raise his head, he continued walking. The voice became more insistent, and was soon joined by two more as their sources grew closer; he forced his head up to face Jason and Angela, holding hands, as well as Alyssa. "What do you guys want?" he asked wearily, turning away from Jason's sign of affection.

"How're you holding up?" Alyssa questioned, nodding to Jason and Angela, who continued walking past the two. The brunette did not appear quite as exhausted as Aiden, though the formerly springy brown hair had lost its luster and her makeup did not completely cover the dark circles framing her emerald eyes. Aiden simply stared at her, his weary eyes boring into her. "Mom and dad… I still haven't told them the truth. They think he ran away, and the police have no leads, of course… it's been exactly a year…" She laid her head on Aiden's shoulder, tears flowing down her face.

Aiden turned away, searching for his first class.

He took the seat furthest from the front, distancing himself from the other students. He watched the slow trickle of teenagers fill the room disinterestedly; some he recognized, but the only face he wished to see did not enter. The bell rang through the class, signaling its start, but the students did not quiet down; finally, the teacher, a short, balding man Aiden recognized from the previous year, called the class to silence. "Thanks to the recommendation of Miss Jo Shecker over at Holly High, we have a new student teacher this year," the teacher's nasally voice droned. "Her name is Miss Alyssa Parker. Please welcome her."

Aiden looked up at Alyssa, and dimly registered why she had been on campus that day. He said nothing, and laid his forehead down on the cold faux-wood finishing of the desk he sat at. Brooding silently, he ignored everything as class continued, the teacher calling students one-by-one to answer questions; Aiden's turn came, and he squeezed his eyes shut. Thinking him asleep, a male student Aiden did not know laid his hand gently on the teen's shoulder, shaking him awake. Acting solely on instinct, Aiden's hand seized the teen's wrist, bending his arm backward as he shoved the student across the room. The teacher barked, "Aiden!", and demanded to see him once the class ended. Alyssa whispered hurriedly in the teacher's ear, and his expression softened.

After class, Aiden approached the balding teacher, who looked up at him over his horn-rimmed glasses, severely at first. "Miss Parker informed me about her brother. I realize you two were close, but that does not give you the right to throw other students across the classroom, grieving or not. The student is unharmed, so I'll let it slide this time, but not again."

Aiden nodded silently, and left the class.

The sea of chattering students surrounded him in the hallways after his final class, yet most gave him a small berth, avoiding his dark demeanor. He trudged listlessly amongst the classrooms, allowing the students to dissipate around him. Finally, he broke out into the courtyard, back into the mob of teens.

He blocked out the noise surrounding him, dragging his feet heavily as he rubbed his scabbed-over wrist. He turned, and caught the scent of strawberries; reminiscent of James' shampoo, he glanced up. Seeing nothing of importance to him, his head lowered once more, and he caught the scent a second time. His head snapped up at the familiar aroma; he caught a glimpse of possibly-familiar strawberry-blond hair, heard a possibly-familiar laugh, and saw a flash of ice-blue eyes, seeing the most welcome smile he'd seen in a year amongst the crowd. He took off, chasing after its source, hope in his heart. Jamie…!

"James!"