I stand there, still on the edge of the road, and watch Poppy. She's sitting on the riverbank, under one of the ghost trees. I can hear the traffic going over the bridge nearby, but I can also hear her crying.
Poppy never cries.
I used to watch her at school sometimes, wondering why she did the things she'd do. She walked with her head held high and her shoulders back. She never avoided your gaze, but never quite looked you in the eye either. She didn't let anyone bring her down, and whether they thought she was a bitch or not wasn't her problem.
Sometimes, though, I saw her when she thought she was alone. She slouched over, leant against a wall like it was the only thing holding her upright. She'd look up and if I squinted hard enough, I could see her blinking rapidly, the way someone does when they're trying not to cry.
To me, Poppy was someone I'd spent almost my whole life trying to understand, and would probably spend the rest of it the same way. But to everyone else, she was strong and confident, in charge of everything she does. She's a bitch, though. People at school are scared of her, I think, because they know how mean she can be, and they all still ask how we can be friends with her when she does such horrible things.
We're scared of her too, though, October, Brian, and I. Brian and I more so, because we've been around her longer, and know what she's really capable of. The first time October witnessed just how cruel she could be was only a few years ago, and she was horrified.
We were at the beach and there was no one else around but us. The three of them had been mucking around in the shallows, splashing and pushing each other over, while I was sitting up near the sand dunes, well away from the water. That was as close as I was going to get to the ocean. They all knew that, too. They knew I was terrified of it, that there was no way they could get me to go in. On that day, though, Poppy had gotten it into her head that I was going swimming whether I liked it or not.
October and Brian had gone a bit further out and Poppy started wading back in. I'd assumed she was coming to get a drink, until she grabbed my arm and hauled me up. I tried to pull away from her, but she was dragging me towards the water and wouldn't let go. I was yelling "no, no!" over and over, and I remember I couldn't breathe properly and my legs were shaking, but she wouldn't let up.
Afterwards, when my clothes were soaking wet and I couldn't stop crying, October had yelled at her while Brian wrapped all their towels around me and talked softly to me, trying to calm me down.
"Why the hell would you do something like that?" October had shrieked, her hands flying everywhere. Brian told me later that he thought she was going to hit Poppy. "You know she's scared of it, what the fuck is wrong with you? You don't do that to people!"
No one ever mentioned that day again, but I know October looked at Poppy differently after that. She had just stood there, expressionless, and told October 'I just wanted to go swimming'. It was like it didn't affect her at all.
Now, watching Poppy sitting under that tree and crying, I know I don't hate her. I don't think any of us do. We've seen what she can do, how mean she can be even to people she calls her friends, but we still love her. Some people you love unconditionally, no matter how they behave. Poppy's just one of those people.
I finally decide to move towards her, see what's wrong. She doesn't look up at me as I sit down beside her. It's a Tuesday night and she should be working at the restaurant, but I don't say anything about it. I know she hates it there. We sit there for a while, neither of us talking, and I listen to the cars and the river rushing past. It's peaceful, down here. Out of the way of everything, yet so close at the same time. It almost makes me feel like I'm in another world under these trees. Eventually, she speaks.
"I'm never going to get out of this town."
That's all she says, her voice bitter, sniffling and staring at her feet, hugging her knees. I don't say anything to that, just continue to sit there with her and pretend that we're both fine, that we're both just fucking fine.
A week later, though, I wish I'd said something, anything.
A week later, Poppy (Poppy, the girl who everyone thought was invincible) is dead.