It was cold the Monday after Thanksgiving, and we were all in one tight group near the middle school entrance. We waited for the first bell, the doors to open. At the front, some leaning against the door, the girls hugged each other and cried. I was away from them. I was closer to the street that ran in front of the school where my mother had dropped me off.
The bare tree limbs shuddered. Dry snow fell. Jerry Olson stood near me. "I don't think Brianna was friends with them," he said pointing to the girls.
The teachers were nice that first day and the rest of the week. In Social Studies we had a test, but Mr. Crandall let us use our books. While we took the test he sat at the front of the class hurriedly correcting and handing our scores back to us – as if he couldn't wait to get the business of education out of the way. Mrs. Kniffen, the math teacher, gave us a couple days of watching movies or “study time”, but when she heard that some of us were to skip school without going to the funeral she went back to the lesson plan. "We've been too nice to everyone this week,” she said.
At the funeral I thought I'd feel out of place with all the family and close friends, but the entire 7th grade was there. The church's parking lot was full, and people parked their cars in the empty field across the highway. We walked in a long line to the church, uneasily stepping down through the roadside ditch and back to the sidewalk. Jerry Olson came. We walked together, our mothers talking a few steps behind us.
“If one of us died, just as many people would come,” he said.
I had been to a couple before, but that was my first funeral. We walked past the open casket. The body looked fake, the skin stretched. It didn't make me think of Brianna but of the mortician who had to make her face presentable. To start with that thing and then make it this.
Jerry Olson and I went through the service side by side. He didn't cry but stood stately with his hands behind his back. During his first week of college he would kill himself in the middle of his grandparents' farm land. I would send flowers but wouldn't attend the funeral.
“Are you sure you're all right?” my mother kept asking me. “Fine,” I said, and she rubbed my back. She was good to me when my friend died.