Rowan had been dying her hair black for as long as she could remember. For her, the earliest age that she had been able to convince her mother to let her do so was thirteen. Seventh grade held a lot of fond memories for her, in fact. A lot of sad ones too, without a doubt, but she had found such a particular comfort in that time that it was as much a part of her as anything could be.
Seventh grade was when her closest friend had passed away. She had known Komala ever since preschool, and had always known that she was different. The thing was, Komala had always been delicate. She couldn’t roughhouse with the other children, so Rowan would always sit with her in the shade beside the playground and look at picture books with her. In kindergarten, they would practice their letters together. Their friendship was so special that the teachers at Willow Springs Elementary School agreed that they should always be together. Rowan looked after Komala, and it was something that both their mothers found very endearing.
Rowan didn’t understand until part way through fifth grade what made Komala so delicate. Her easy bruising, her mother’s constant urging that she be careful, even the way that her skin looked so other-worldly, were all because of vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Komala had been born with it, but Rowan did not know much about it. She had only begun to research it for junior high science, but by then it felt like it was too late.
What she read made her terrified. Rowan didn’t want to lose her friend to pain and trauma; she didn’t want her to suffer. Komala was starting to be absent from school more often. She was excused from P.E. classes, but even that felt like it wasn’t enough. Rowan wished that she could do more than just visit her friend after school on the days that she was absent.
When the day came that Komala’s parents called to say that her condition was worsening, Rowan rushed over to her house. Her extended family had also come over, and seeing all of them fathered around Komala’s bed made her heart sink.
They had only a few hours to talk, share stories, and tell each other how much they cared. The family shared their stories and prayers, too, and kept Komala as calm and comfortable as they could. She grew weaker the more time went on.
Rowan was thankful that Komala’s death had not been painful, but losing her only meant more pain for herself. The thing was, Rowan had only ever had Komala as a friend. She was a bit of an outcast herself. Her new loneliness was a kind of hurt that she did not know how to deal with. Her mother had allowed her dye her hair black a couple days after the funeral– before she had to return to school– and she appreciated being able to grieve in her own way. It felt partly strange to her, but in a way right. It wasn’t meant as a way to fit in; more of a means of expressing how she felt inside without her best friend.
That was why it came as such a surprise when somebody walked up to her at the lunch tables when she returned to school and couple days after Komala’s funeral. He was one of the boys whose parents let him grow his hair out and wear a lot of silver jewelry. He had his hair tied back, and wore a leather jacket, too. Other kids avoided him, so Rowan wasn’t sure what to think of him sitting next to her.
“Hey,” he said, even though she was looking right at him.
“Uhh… hi,” Rowan replied.
“I heard about your friend,” he went on. “That sucks.”
Rowan nodded, not sure what to say to him.
“She was never mean to anybody,” he added. “So listen… I know it’s hard when this stuff happens.”
Rowan said nothing, afraid to tear up in front to of him. She only nodded stiffly.
The boy reached into his jacket, and Rowan was immediately worried about what he planned to pull out of it. She was relieved to see the light reflecting off of a CD case. He set it down next to her lunch tray with a light click.
“You should listen to this,” he told her. “It helps me get through the tough times.”
Looking down at the CD case, Rowan could see a lot of black and green. The orange letting that wrapped around the corners read ‘Type Of Negative.’
“October Rust?” she asked, looking up at him skeptically.
“You’ll like it,” he reassured her.
“But… this is your original.”
The boy shrugged. “I have more than one. Besides, I’m not going to go around making copies.”
Rowan might have commented on him being such an upstanding digital citizen, but it seemed so out of context that she could only shake her head.
From somewhere down the sidewalk, some other teenagers called out. “Hey, Johnny! Let’s go!”
The boy scoffed and shook his head. “Just promise you’ll listen to it?” he went on, looking straight into Rowan’s eyes.
Rowan nodded. “Yeah… um, sure.”
Johnny gave her half a grin. “You’ll be glad you did. Look, I gotta go, but later… Let me know how you like it, yeah? We can talk.”
“Okay,” Rowan croaked, her voice breaking on the word. She did not know what else to say to him. Besides, he was already walking away.
Rowan quickly slipped the CD into her knapsack, and turned back to her lunch tray.
**Continued in part two.**