It was quiet, in the church, Daniel registered dimly. There was hushed whispering, and the shuffling sounds of movement, but everyone was trying to be quiet, as if the dead would somehow hear them and get offended.
Bryony lay in a box at the front of the room. They called it a coffin, but really it was just a wooden box lined with fabric, in which the empty shell of his friend lay. Marielle sat next to him, woodenly staring at the manuscript in front of her. She'd written a piano piece to perform, as per Bryony's request.
It seemed that Bryony had written a will. She had her funeral all planned out, every last detail, to the flowers she wanted(white tulips) and the music, which she wanted Marielle to write.
The will must have been recent, if she'd included Marielle in it. Nobody had commented on the mind-set of a girl who had prepared for her death quite calmly. Well, one jock had made an ill-timed comment about Bryony, and had his face smashed into a wall by a distraught Brian.
In some way, Daniel thought, Marielle was lucky. She had an outlet into which she could pour her pain and grief. She let all her emotions out in music. He just wrapped them inside, until they twisted themselves into a savage ball of anger and rage and despair. Then he would go for a run, or do sit-ups, or any activity, until he was so tired he could hardly think straight. Only then could he drift off into sleep that gave him the peace he so badly desired.
Bryony's parents were sat stiffly on the front row, back from their 'trip' to mourn their daughter. Her mother was a tall woman, who dabbed her eyes carefully with an embroidered handkerchief. Daniel eyed her in disgust. Who brought an embroidered handkerchief to their daughter's funeral? Her father was dour-looking, with a crisp suit and shiny shoes to complete the soulless business man image. They only detraction was the empty, lost look in his eyes as he regarded his child's coffin. He was the one who'd insisted that Bryony's will be followed to the last letter, even though it wasn't official because she was under age.
Everyone was dressed in black, but they all had a red ribbon tied around their wrists or their neck to remember her. So many students from the school had turned up, even if they didn't know her. They'd had an assembly on it, to ensure there was 'no lasting physiological effects.' Prom had been cancelled in her honour – she would have hated that, she would have liked to see them all dress up, be caught in the atmosphere and excitement leading up to the event.
Brian sat on the second pew, next to Meghan and all the other speakers. He didn't show any embarrassment at all at the tears flowing freely down his face, and Daniel began to suspect that maybe he'd held more than platonic feelings for Bryony.
He hated that he had to say that in the past tense.
Somebody at the front – Marielle didn't know who – gave them a speech about Bryony's life and how amazing she was, even though he didn't know her. She didn't listen, only stared at the ink on her manuscript, willing it to turn into notes she could understand.
Then Meghan got up to speak, papers in her hand, containing what was obviously a pre-prepared speech. She went to the podium, and cleared her throat, her red eyes standing out, glaring at them accusingly.
'Bryony Winters was an- you know what, forget this.' She threw the papers on the stand, ignoring them completely, and started again, her voice a lot stronger this time. 'You all think I'm standing up here because I was Bryony's best friend. But I wasn't, not really. I never knew her. I thought I did, I decided she was easy to read, nice but shallow. Oh, how wrong I was. Bryony was so much deeper than anybody knew, and now no-one will.
Sure, you can list the facts, that she loved The Flowing River, or that she secretly wanted to be a politician, but nobody really knew her. She pretended she was so happy all the time, she always cared for others, when really… we should have been caring for her. She didn't have a great life. People used her and they broke her heart into little pieces, but she still got back up again. She was labelled a cheerleader and a slut, and everybody just accepted the image she projected and didn't think to look deeper.
I never did. I knew that I got more out of our friendship than she did, and I accepted that. I was selfish, and when it was convenient, I dropped her. But this speech isn't about me, it's about her. And to be honest, I don't know what to say. Because if you want to know Bryony Winters, you'd have to ask her, like nobody bothered to.'
She smiled bitterly and stalked to her seat. There was an awkward silence until Brian got up, wiped his eyes and went to make his speech. He carried no prompts.
'You aren't supposed to speak ill of the dead.' He informed his confused audience. 'But I will. Bryony was a little ditsy, she said 'like' too much, she was over dramatic and ridiculous at times. She kept all her emotions bottled up inside her and would lash out to hide her pain. But she was amazing anyway.
I'm not going to give a mushy speech. If she were-' he paused and choked down a sob. 'If she were here, she would make fun of me for even considering it. So I'm going to tell you what the world is missing because she'd dead.
Everyone should miss her smile. That 'I've just woken up, but I'm still happy' smile. The one she always gave even when she didn't feel it.
Everyone should miss her movie marathons. If you were sad, or upset, or if she was just bored, you would have to watch Disney movies with her. Bryony would cry during every single one, even though she'd watched them one hundred times. She still believed in true love, even after all the guys that screwed her over. She thought her prince charming would come and rescue her.' He laughed without humour. 'I guess he was too late.
You're missing the girl who would jump into a pool fully clothed on a dare, then pull everybody in so she didn't look silly. She would always include everyone; she hated the social system and the stupid high school hierarchy that everyone imposes on themselves.
She thought she could fix everything. She had these huge plans about how she could solve the financial problems in America, how she would help to solve the social divide. She thought she could change the world. And I bet she could have.
But she's not here anymore to do that. So we have to make up for her absence.' The entire church watched him, eyes wide. 'We all have to live for an extra person. And not just any person. We have to be the kindest, most open, best people we can, because we are living Bryony's life as well as our own.
Thank you for listening.'
He slowly went down the steps to his seat, and promptly sunk into the wooden pew, next to a shell-shocked Meghan.
The leader hastily introduced Marielle's performance.
She seated herself at the piano; the chair was blue velvet, and squeaked slightly when she adjusted it. She placed her hands on the ivory keys, examining her own long fingers as if they belonged to a stranger's body. Her nails were clipped short. Piano players had to be practical.
She started to play. The rich tone spread across the church, the broken chords echoing off the walls.
She could have chosen to compose a sad piece, telling the tale of the grief and sadness and pain she felt at Bryony's passing. However, she wanted to celebrate Bryony's life, and show the congregation who she was, as Brian and Meghan had done in their speeches. She couldn't speak, but she could write music, and that was just as good a way to communicate, if not better.
The melody bounced off the piano, the merry tune twirling around the astonished attendees. This was turning out to be a very odd funeral.
Marielle played for Bryony, showing them her laugh and her voice and her kindness through the simple yet effective melody she tapped out on those keys. The piece ended, and Marielle smiled.
She knew it was the best piece she'd ever played.
The rest of the year seemed grey. It was like grief sucked all the colour and joy out of life, rendering it dull and boring and distant.
They sailed through exams on a ship full of holes, getting the necessary grades, excelling even, but it all seemed a little meaningless. What was the point of tests and certificates if all you were going to do was end?
Marielle and Daniel spent almost all their time together, sitting in silence and relaxing in the comfort of another human being. It wasn't the best relationship, but they consoled each other without words, just glances and gestures and brief smiles. Daniel thought he finally understood what it meant to have a 'rock'. Marielle supported him, being steady and calm, and he returned the favour, though neither knew that they were performing this task.
Marielle went to her auditions for the music schools she wanted to attend; she played the pieces she'd composed during the breakup, as well as the ones she'd done after. A judge had commented on her expression of emotion during one such audition.
Her Juilliard exam hadn't gone so well. The judges had been politely attentive, but didn't seem that interested, even with all of her instruments. She supposed they must see so many talented people. One of the assessors had also commented drily on her handicap, and how that could affect her career. She'd given them a cold stare, but he'd just raised his eyebrows, unimpressed.
So she'd played them Bryony's song, as she named it. That had made them pay attention; the complex chords coupled with the simple melody. The oldest judge had asked her why she'd composed it.
I composed it for my friend's funeral. She'd written, trying not to let her feelings show on her face.
'Oh. Um, when was this?'
Three weeks ago.
They'd been silent after that, asking no more questions.
Brian didn't fare so well. He failed all his vital exams, but didn't seem to care. He skipped class frequently, wouldn't talk to anyone, and lost himself in a haze of alcohol, fitful sleep, and questionable white powders. That is, until Sam shook him out of it.
The shy fifteen year old had never talked to Brian before, but he'd garnered the details of his relationship with Bryony from the girl herself. He confronted him in the hallway one day, screaming at him. 'You think she would have wanted this, huh? You told us all to live for her, you hypocrite! Start honouring her memory, and get your life together. We all miss her, but you can't ruin your future. She would hate that. She would hate what you're doing to yourself!'
Brian had looked like he'd been awakened from a particularly bad dream, but had heeded Sam's words.
He wouldn't be accepted by any college, not with his dismal grades, so he promptly informed his horrified teachers that he would be getting a job at the local car garage. He threw out all the beer bottles, burnt the drugs, and hesitantly asked if Sam would help him to organise his application for the job he wanted. The younger boy was obviously not the first candidate for this job, but he understood it was a strange thank you for his timely scolding.
College acceptance or rejection letters came, and the school was surrounded by an aura of tension and anticipation. Nobody voiced their nervousness, but everyone was on edge and teachers had to sort out several nasty fights that occurred because of frayed nerves.
Daniel had four letters; they were sitting unopened on the table in front of him. His mother watched, biting her nails, though it was a habit she'd kicked in high school.
He tore at the paper almost viciously, not wanting to draw out the agony.
He'd been accepted to three of his colleges; he was rejected from Harvard. He ignored the crushing disappointment.
He'd been accepted to Stanford, but not on a scholarship, so he wouldn't be able to afford to go. He got in to Wake Forest University, but that had been a backup option.
He stared at the last letter. He'd got a full scholarship to the American Aviation Academy, because of 'excellent grades and attendance,' as the letter stated. They wanted him to come for an interview, but apart from that his place was pretty much guaranteed. He grinned at his mum, and showed her the letter.
'Are you sure?' she asked him, staring into his eyes and demanding an honest answer. He squirmed uncomfortably; it was the same trick she used on him when he'd been in trouble as a young boy.
'Yes.' He said firmly.
Marielle danced around the room, clutching her acceptance envelopes. She'd got into all of her music colleges, even Juilliard, which was a surprise. It was now just a matter of deciding which to attend.
Her mother had told her she'd never been more proud.
Marielle considered her options. They were all prestigious, and would help to develop her style and abilities. But… they were so far away.
No, she couldn't let that affect her decision; her mum had said that quite firmly. She discarded the Juilliard letter, remembering the snub about her condition.
She spent hours deliberating between colleges, researching on the internet and texting Nadia for advice.
Eventually, she picked the Manhattan School of Music. She'd loved the atmosphere there and the students had seemed nice. However, the biggest factor in her choice was the discount they'd offered; her mother would be able to pay the rest, but Marielle didn't want to overstretch her tightened budget.
She grinned, content with her choice. She texted Nadia with the good news, reminding her to tell George – there was no point in texting him, they were always together, especially after the move – and Claire, who would tell Benny.
She scrolled down to Bryony's name forgetfully, before the awful truth came rushing back and she had to put the phone down, the grief overwhelming her for a minute. She never realised that grief made you feel so empty, and yet the emptiness clawed at you, sending toxic liquid rippling throughout your body. She ached when she thought of Bryony. She couldn't even imagine what it must be like for Daniel, or Brian, who'd known her for so much longer and been so much closer.
She slowly picked up her mobile and told Sam. Suddenly the news didn't seem so great anymore.
Graduation. Daniel couldn't believe it was here already. He felt so old, yet he knew that he was just stepping into the world of being an adult. He clutched his scroll and adjusted his stupid hat in irritation. Who had come up with these things anyway?
The ceremony was over, the speeches and the monotonous name-calling had finished. He was standing with Marielle a little apart from the crowd of people congratulating each other and laughing.
There was a board, to the left of the stage, dedicated to Bryony. It had her yearbook photo, in which she looked about 15 pounds heavier than she'd been before she'd died. The principal had made a speech about her, as if he knew her, telling them what a wonderful girl she'd been.
He turned to Marielle, who was balancing her scroll, her notepad, and for some bizarre reason, her clarinet. He took the instrument off her and placed it on the floor, rolling his eyes.
'So…' He started awkwardly.
You're going to a flying academy. I'm so happy for you.
'I'm happy for me too. But Marielle… you're going to college in New York, and I'll be in San Diego.'
She paused for an excruciatingly long minute. But we'll keep in touch.
He didn't say how hard it would be to maintain their relationship, how hard it would be not to drift apart, how they would meet new people and make new friends. He just smiled and said. 'We can try.'
A/N So... it's finished. I can't believe I've actually finished this; it was my first story that ever got anywhere past the wilderness of my mind. Thank you to all my reviewers( and silent readers) for supporting me through it. And before this starts sounding like an Oscar acceptance speech, I'll move on. I know people hated me for killing off Bryony, but I'd had it planned since the beginning. All I can say is I'm sorry, and I was ridiculously attached to her too.
As always, please review and tell me your thoughts, even if you're reading this from the future :)
I'm just rambling now because I don't want to publish it and accept it's over.