A/N: Just uploading something I've been working on for some time, now. Hope you like it--please review! Constructive (not hurtful) criticism is always appreciated!

--Sara


1. The First Thing I Learned About James Besse

All I could really say about him was that he was like me. Different. A freak in the eyes of one's many, inconsequential peers.

Though, to be fair, I'm almost 98% sure that he's not as weird as me—which one of us is writing down internal monologues instead of paying attention in geometry?

Nonetheless; he was strange. Before yesterday, I had never seen him talk to anyone. When he did speak, it was to remind me of which locker I was supposed to be at. (Okay, so I was trying my combination on the wrong one; so shoot me.) He sat alone at lunch, barely did any homework, and never volunteered information in class. A real 'keep-to-myself' kind of guy.

So, in all honesty, I couldn't say I knew more about him than that. I knew he was unique, I knew he had the locker below mine, I knew we had a couple classes together, and I knew his name.

James Besse.

On the day that this story starts, I learned my first new thing about him.

"Yeah, he used to be a big partier," my friend Leo said when I asked. "Those weird scars on his arms? And his face? You never heard the stories about them?" I shook my head. Leo chuckled at my ill-disguised naivety. "I'll tell you later," he said as we parted ways; he was headed to chemistry, and I was off to geometry.

James sat two seats in front of me in this class. While my teacher droned on about the characteristics of different triangles, I stared at the back of his head and wondered. Was Leo pulling my leg, as he sometimes did? Could James and I really have something like partying in common? I mean, the kid obviously didn't enjoy the existence of other people all that much. I simply couldn't picture him a big partier.

People could say the same about you, my mind chided. I ignored it, slamming a door in my subconscious shut with a bang.

After two more monotonous periods (both with James seated in front of me: study, and English honors), I headed down towards the cafeteria. I immediately spotted Leo, waiting for me as he'd promised earlier. "How was class?" he asked amiably as we headed down the lunch line. He took two apples, two turkey-and-cheese sandwiches, and two water-bottles. I didn't even pick up a tray, but floated alongside him.

"Okay," I said. "You?"

He sighed. "Well, we both know how much I enjoy being here and all, but…today could be going better, you know?"

I nodded silently and watched him hand the required five dollars to Ms. Cliford, the lunch lady. "Thanks," I said as we headed for the doors leading outside.

"Oh, no problem, Cass," he said, leading the way to our usual seat under the big oak tree at the edge of the outdoor eating area. We sat down, side by side, on the dead grass. "Beautiful day, eh?"

"Most definitely," I agreed, taking my sandwich from our shared tray and biting into it. "Do you want to go to the park later?"

Leo didn't answer for a while. His eyes seemed to drift far away from where we were, and his cheeks heated up in embarrassment. "Well…it's Friday, Cass," he reminded me nervously.

My innards froze up violently. "Oh, right," I responded stiffly, feeling the reluctance of my lips as I forced them to move. I tried breathing, but it hurt too much. "I think I'm gonna just go straight home, then."

Sighing heavily again, he put his apple back down on the tray and made eye contact with me. "You know, you could go with me," he said pointedly, inclining his eyebrows at me incriminatingly.

Instantly, I shook my head, refusing to even entertain the idea. "Nope," I said, "can't. I have a…movie I wanted to watch." I continued shaking my head as I changed the conversation's uncomfortable direction. "You said you'd tell me about James Besse," I said, closing my eyes and attempting to talk myself into calming down.

I knew Leo wanted to pursue the subject, but because he was a good friend, he let it drop without a moment's unwanted prying. "Yeah. Well, I know that he broke his arm last year because he was drunk and fell off a roof."

My eyes popped open. "That's why he was in a cast?" I blinked and stared down at the tray of food. "That's crazy."

"I know," Leo said, taking another bite of his apple. "And I'm pretty sure the marks on his face either had to do with that or some car accident he was in."

The last phrase rang around in my head piercingly, causing my stomach to clench involuntarily. I thought I was going to be sick. Some car accident he was in.

Car accident he was in.

Car accident.

"When was that accident?" I asked carefully, feeling the scrapings of a headache working together inside my skull. Again, I made a feeble stab at convincing myself to chill out. I pulled a slice of cheese out of my sandwich and rolled it up, my stomach cringing at the thought of food.

"Late last…March, I think," Leo said, watching me eat my cheese. "That's around when he stopped talking to people. I heard his brother bitched him out bad about the partying, and he just stopped." He shrugged, and enjoyed a new mouthful of apple. "Something like that, anyway."

I nodded and felt my thoughts straying away from me momentarily. Car accidents, partying…

"How's Dell?" Leo asked out of nowhere.

Faintly, I replied, "I don't really know."

Leo didn't reply to that.

We spent the rest of lunch in a comfortable silence. People called to Leo in happy tones, but his attention was saved solely for me during lunch; most of his friends accepted that as a rule. They understood; sympathized.

The end-of-lunch bell trilled for the anticipated twelve seconds, and Leo wordlessly stood and offered me a hand up. I took it and carried our emptied tray towards the return rack. "I'll see you after school," I said to Leo as we left the cafeteria. He pulled me into a solemn, one-armed hug, and left for his next class.

With a sigh, I set off to face the remainder of the day on my own.

I arrived in the biology lab two minutes late, but my teacher didn't complain. I took my assigned seat (in front of James Besse) and pulled out my text. Mr. Bayne continued his lecture about the proper assembly and use of microscopes, and I glanced at the dry-erase board behind him. The two words scribbled carelessly in blue marker nearly sent me screaming.

LAB PARTNERS

by October first

Trying to remain calm, I glanced to my left. Nope, no one I knew over there. To my right; two jerks, an idiot, and several more strangers. In front of me was a row of bimbos. Behind me; I paled. The row behind me was compiled of only people who now hated me…and (I paled) James Besse.

Practically hyperventilating, I spun back around and practiced inhaling and exhaling in a regular pattern. This didn't have to be a bad thing. I could make a new friend.

I winced.

Somehow, I managed to make it to the end of the day without totally freaking out over the lab partners. When I escaped my Spanish class, I hurried straight to my locker. James was waiting beside it. "Figured I'd let you go first," he said briefly, a mundane glint in his eye.

I nodded once and reached up to put in my combo. James watched me silently. A few seconds later, Leo ran up to me, panting. "Hey, he said breathlessly, not acknowledging James at all.

"Gym?" I asked, pulling my biology book out of my bag and putting it in my locker.

"Yeah," he huffed, wiping his sweaty forehead with the back of his sweaty hand. "Are you…sure you don't want to go out later?"

I didn't reply; just kept on with my books, determined not to have this conversation. It was unnecessary. Leo knew how I felt.

"You know, I'm not the only person who goes. I mean, I'm the only one that shows up around five-ish, but other people do go. They leave notes and letters sometimes. Flowers, too."

I remained stoic still, shutting my locker (that metallic clang resounding throughout the emptying hallway) and walking past James Besse. "Cass," Leo called after me. I ignored him and hurried down the main staircase, bursting through the front doors and marching down the street.

It wasn't my fault. I just knew that if I went to the Holmes Cemetery, I'd lose it. I'd have to think about it all. If I ever were to see his gravestone, I'd collapse, kicking and screaming for all I was worth. If I ever owned up to the fact that Cam was dead

He promised we'd be together forever. That he'd love me forever…And then he left me.

Twice.

Reluctantly, I sat down on the curb and decided to wait for Leo. He would understand. Leo always understood. He was perhaps the only person who understood me anymore. Though, I could hardly blame anyone but myself for that. Honestly; I was the one who had changed so drastically since May.

A car horn blared through my haze of thoughts. I jumped and stared over at the red Jeep. Leo looked back at me expectantly from behind the steering wheel. Collecting myself hastily, I stood and walked over to the vehicle. Leo pressed the unlock button and I climbed in. We were quiet for some time, and then I asked, "Who else goes?"

Surprised by my sudden interest, Leo replied, "Margie Baker and her clan. Sometimes the Ribber twins go together. I know they leave flowers."

I nodded numbly. This changed nothing. "I still can't go, Leo. I'm sorry." I knew that it hurt him to have to go alone to visit his grave every Friday, but there wasn't a single thing in the universe that could convince me to go.

"I know," he sighed. "I get it, Cass. I knew you'd say no before I even asked, but I figured I should."

"Why?" I asked, as he turned onto my street.

He slowed to a stop in front of my house. "Well, there's a letter there, addressed to Cassandra B."

I hesitated. "And it's from…?" Nobody had called me 'Cassandra B.' since elementary school.

"That's the reason I want you to see it," he said with a shrug. "I have no idea. It's in a plain, sealed envelope. It only has your name on it." He shrugged again and made a face. "It's fishy."

I opened the car door and stepped out. "Would you get it for me?" I asked before he drove away.

"Sure, sure," he said, pulling away from the curb. "I'll be by with it later."

I waved good-bye as he left, that familiar sense of being completely and utterly alone creeping over me. With my backpack slung heavily over my shoulders, I entered my house, passing noiselessly through the kitchen towards the stairs that led directly to my bedroom. My mother didn't even look at me as I passed her. A ghost in my own home, I thought silently.

I dropped my things on my bedroom floor and climbed straight into bed, fully clothed. I would sleep my thoughts away.