I have one regret.

"Hi, my name is Florence," I said to the short, chubby boy.

He looked at my shyly through a black fringe that covered his right eye. He knew who I was and my social status at school. He looked to his left, nothing but a picket fence stared back at him. "I am talking to you," I assured him.

"Tom," he murmured in greeting. I adjusted my shoulder bag and walked alongside him in serene silence, the rustling trees the only noise breaking the silence.

I'd never spoken to Tom before but I'd seen him with his puppy and two younger brothers over the back fence. He was always quiet and alone at school but in his own home he seemed like a King, and I could see that his brothers adored him.

We walked without words until the corner before the schoolyard. I stopped and Tom just kept walking. He knew my reasons and accepted them without a second glance: we couldn't be seen walking together. For me it was social suicide.

I have one regret.

Every school day I would catch up to Tom with a hello and a smile.

"Heya Flo," he started to say whenever we walked side by side, but he didn't have the courage to look at me. We talked about a lot of different things: music, TV shows, my dancing and his guitar, current affairs, the world's climate ... we had a surprising amount in common and our conversations were always interesting and progressively more personal, our ten minute debates heated and opinionated.

After nearly three months of walking to school together he started to join me on my walk home, waiting for me just down the road rather than departing before anyone had the chance to tease him. It made me smile.

I have one regret.

We parted every day and I always felt bad for it. Ten minutes together, six hours apart, ten minutes together. He even started to come to visit me at home, once, then twice a week. We were close and all of the things that he was taunted for at school became attractive and acceptable ... but to me and only to me. Nevertheless, it was still the same every day: passing each other in the courtyard or oval, sitting away from each other in Maths and English classes and no eye contact at any other time. Outcasts didn't become socially accepted, and as much as I wanted to induct Tom into my friendship circle, I couldn't lose my countless number friends for a sole friend.

I have one regret.

He was waiting for me by the gate one day when Jerry, the buff captain of our school football team, was pestering me to walk home with him. I didn't want to. Tom and I had started excellent conversation that morning, a debate that I wanted to continue on the way home.

"Jez, I'm happy to walk home on my own. I have lots homework and you'll only distract me," I told him smoothly.

"Where are you these days?" he asked. "School, dancing, homework – that's all you do."

"Maybe people change," I suggested, pushing my fringe from eyelashes.

"Come down the street with us. Roe, Jack, Heidi, Kellie and I are all heading down now. It'll be fun." He smirked a smile that he used only to get what he sought after.

I rolled my eyes at him. "I'm going home, Jez. I'll talk to you tomorrow."

He grabbed my arm. "What's up, Flo?"

He stared right at me and my bag dropped to the ground.

"Flo?"

Tom. He couldn't get himself into this for both of our sakes.

"Get lost Emo-kid," Jerry said harshly.

Tom's eyes pierced into mine and I felt like I was being X-rayed.

"Let her go."

"Or you'll do what?" Jerry dropped my arm and advanced on Tom. It was like seeing a timid rabbit and a lion on the hunt. My heart stopped.

"Jerry!" I warned. I could predict his next move. He used his fists more often than he used his words to escape a situation.

Jerry looked back at me. "You've sunk to this. You ditched us for ... this."

I was torn. My eyes flashed between the two of them. I wasn't sure who to choose. Tom: and I had a real friend but no social life, forced to be an outcast just as he was. Jerry: and I walked away from the first true friend I'd made since I could remember. Jerry didn't give me the chance to chose, however, and that suited me just fine. I didn't even watch him walk away. He disgusted me.

"Are you okay?" I whispered, helping Tom regain his footing. We strode home in silence, no debate or conversation.

I said goodbye when he walked up his driveway but he just gazed at me. I couldn't read his expression. I didn't understand what he was trying to tell me without the use of words. When I couldn't comprehend, he gave up and just continued up the path, leaving me staring after him outside his house.

I have one regret.

I screamed. It was recess break and Tom was up against the wall. Jerry, Jack, Brian and Charlie had him surrounded and held up against the canteen wall by his collar. He was no match for the four best football players on our school team.

"Flo," he mouthed at me. I was torn just like the night before. Torn, pulled in every direction, my heart was breaking and my head was thumping. I could stop this. But I'd climbed the social ladder and held my position as Queen. Flo, Flo, Flo, he mouthed again and again. To my left were Kellie, Heidi, Christina, Brit and Roe. They were looking at me for an answer.

"Fight, fight, fight!" the school students cheered.

I turned my back on everyone, but my followers followed just as always did.

Roe gripped my hand. "This is right," she whispered.

I was turning my back on them as well, they just couldn't see that.

I have one regret: leaving Tom up against that brick wall, my so-called-friends ready to punch the living daylights out of him. He died the next day; the boys left him brain dead. I hear his yells of my name every night in my sleep, he haunts me.

Those people aren't my friends anymore and I shouldn't have turned my back at all ... but I did. I was young, I wanted to fit in. I could've saved a life.

I have one regret.

***

Claimer: I own every word of this one-shot and I love it quite a bit actually. I was inspired by Kate Miller-Heidke's "Caught In The Crowd". If you've ever heard the song, you'll understand. I would really appreciate a review because I was told by a friend that it was quite powerful, even I can't believe that I wrote this.
CGIL xx