"Labels are for filing. Labels are for clothing. Labels are not for people." - Martina Navratilova
The next morning there was no one in the kitchen. I had not heard Dad come back home last night and Mom had gone to bed early. Now, at six-thirty, not a soul except me wandered around the house. Or, so I thought.
I walked up to the fridge and looked at each shelf, trying to decide on what to have for breakfast. Eggs? A bagel? Waffles? So many choices.
"Good morning, Miss Brown," Petya said, startling me.
I hit my head on one of the shelves and stepped back, rubbing my head. When I looked at the woman she had a brown bag in her hands with my name carefully written across it.
"Morning," I said hesitantly. Rarely was I ever alone in the same room with Petya. Usually Mom would be there or sometimes Dad. Never just the two of us.
"This is for you," she said, handing me the bag. "It is your lunch. And, I have already made some breakfast."
I looked at her, narrowing my eyes, but took the bag from her. "Where's my mom?"
"She is still upstairs," Petya answered. "I will take her her breakfast. I put your food on a tray in the living room."
This all felt too weird. Whenever did Petya make my breakfast?
I went into the living room and saw an omelet waiting for me on the coffee table along with a cup of orange juice. Sitting down, I flipped on the television and went straight to the news. The newscasters were talking about Evan Saunders. There were no new leads on the murderer. I changed the channel, looking for the weather when I found a talk show and on it were Evan Saunder’s parents.
Leslie Harper, the talk show host, hammered them with questions, specifically about any flaws that Evan might have had. His parents answered, but looked a little dazed by all the lights and questions. I sat and watched, my omelet growing cold. It was hard to take my eyes of the car crash playing in front of me. My heart broke as the two parents tried to make it through the interview and yet I wished that they had stayed away from Leslie Harper. Anything and everything about Evan Saunders would soon be top gossip. Who had killed him might fade into the background as his flaws became prime gossip.
I finally took a bite of my omelet. It had a strange taste. I looked down at and bits of peppers. Maybe Petya had added something different to the mix. Shrugging, I ate half of the omelet and drank my orange juice. All the while watching as the Saunders were interrogated by Leslie Harper.
I stood and picked up my plate. After scraping the last half of the omelet, I put the plate in the dishwasher and then grabbed my lunch. Petya was gone now. As I stood there in the kitchen I realized how empty the house felt. I wished that Dad was there to sit at the kitchen table and drink his coffee while looking over some briefs. What had happened to my parents?
"Did you see his parents on TV?"
"I wonder who did it."
"Do you think they'll find the killer?"
"I told my therapist all about! She gave me some prescriptions."
"My parents want me to start going to counseling."
All anyone at school could talk about was Evan Saunders and his parents on the Harper Show. I walked to my locker, pulling out my headphones. The sound of music would hopefully drown out the people around me.
Music filled my world with heavy basses and drums. Nothing could break through the sound. I pulled books from my locker and shoved them into my backpack. Zoe would be waiting for me at our usual meeting spot, the half-way mark between our two lockers at the water fountain. I closed and locked my locker and then turned to start walking.
"Oh," I said when I smacked into someone.
Hands gripped my shoulders, keeping me from falling back.
I looked up to see a guy my age looking down at me. He had dark blonde hair, nearly brown, and it was cut close. His light hazel eyes had a dull look to them. He looked tired, dark circles under his eyes. His features were smooth and handsome, classic. For some reason he seemed familiar.
Then I noticed that he was speaking, but I could not hear him over my music. I held up a finger, signaling for him to wait, and then pulled a headphone out. Music blasted from the little bud.
"Sorry," I said, referring to me running into him.
"My fault," he said, his tone monotone. He dropped his hands from my shoulders. "Could you point me to room one-oh-two?"
"Down the hall, take a right, and it will be the first door on the left," I instructed.
"Thank you," he said and stepped around me.
When I looked away from his retreating figure I saw several people looking at me. Someone stepped towards me, but then Zoe was there pulling me along through the crowd.
"Oh, my gawd!" she exclaimed, clinging to me tightly.
"What?" I asked.
"That was Elliot Saunders! The brother of the guy who died! He's going here now! Can you believe it!" she asked.
"Evan Saunders's brother?" I asked. No wonder he looked familiar. He had lighter features than his older brother, but there was still a family resemblance.
"Yes!" Zoe looked up at me, smiling. "He is so cute!"
"Zoe, his brother just died," I reminded her.
Instantly her face went solemn. "True," she murmured. "I wonder what flaws he has. Maybe we have some in common and then we could connect over them. I could be Angel Zoe."
I rolled my eyes in disgust. Of course that's where her mind went.
The school buzzed with excitement. Elliot Saunders at our school. Everyone wanted to ask him about his brother and his flaws. Did he have to go to counseling? Did he have eating issues? Which medicine did he prefer?
However, Elliot Saunders responded to no one. He only opened his mouth when necessary in class. So, when lunch time rolled around, most of the student body was a little disgruntled by the latest celebrity.
I had just finished my lunch, the one Petya had packed me, when the intercom came on and Mr. D made announcements. I groaned. Another assembly. Zoe and I walked together. She talked about Elliot and how seemed so antisocial. I did not say a thing. Instead, I thought about my parents. Had Dad come home? Was Mom doing okay?
It was strange to think that my parents were having trouble. I knew they would be at marital counseling soon. Would that be enough? What had gone wrong? I looked at Zoe, wanting to tell her about my parents, but then she said something Elliot and quickly changed my mind. It was better to keep my problems to myself.
I sat down in one of the uncomfortable chairs next to Zoe, who kept chattering away. She really needed to lay off the coffee. Mr. D stood on the stage, looking out at us. Next to him was Elliot Saunders, looking sullen and hostile.
"As most of you know, we have a new student at our school," Mr. D began. "I hope you all will welcome him. Mr. Saunders has been through a hard time and so I expect you all to help him deal with his loss." Mr. D turned look at the guy. "And Mr. Saunders if you should so much as need a counselor, please let any faculty know. We are here with you through this hard time."
Really? Mr. D had made a spectacle of Elliot and his loss. I could not believe what I saw. I watched Elliot Saunders for his reaction and saw his jaw clench.
"Thanks, but no thanks," Elliot said, his tone just like it had been when he spoke to me earlier. Emotionless and even. Only when he addressed Mr. D his tone seemed more icy.
Mr. D looked taken aback, but recovered quickly. He looked back out us. "Students, I ask you to befriend Mr. Saunders in his time of need. Death can cause the best of us to think things. If any of you need to please contact one of the counselors. Now, back to class."
I watched as Mr. D turned back to Elliot, but he had already hopped off the stage, grabbing his backpack from an empty seat up near the stage. Students stepped aside to let him walk by. When he passed by us I looked right at his face, seeing the tense look on his face. He kept his gaze straight ahead and a little towards the ground. He made eye contact with no one.