“Never Too Young”—A Short Story

What could I do? I’m a man, she’s a girl.

I don’t know what girls think, what they feel. I couldn’t possibly help her.

It’s a coincidence, yes. That’s all it can be. But this morning news came in on wounded whispers — she’s gone.

Her life ended at her own hand less than twelve hours after I walked away.

There’s nothing I could’ve said, I’m sure. Nothing—no words would ever be able to fix what drove her to her end.

The back of my throat grew thick and my vision blurred.

No, there’s nothing I could’ve done. Coincidence—that’s all it was.

I made it to my classroom door where a folded-over note on yellow legal paper was taped to the narrow, framed window.

I yanked it from the door, leaving a small bit of torn paper stuck to the glass.

After school meeting in the teacher’s lounge. All hands. Discussing Caroline Riggs’s su—

The rest of the word was still stuck on the glass, but I knew what it said.

Suicide.

The letters seared onto my line of sight. I imagined seeing it watermarked across every student’s face when my classroom filled in an hour’s time.

They’re too young, it’s not possible. She couldn’t have…

I’m sure we’d all feel the same.

They’re in elementary school — suicide isn’t an issue here.

The foretelling of a useless all-hands meeting to discuss, what? Her death? Her taking her own life at ten?

What could possibly be said that hasn’t already been addressed in other meetings?

Look out for depressed children. Look for signs of physical or emotional abuse.

I saw none of it from Caroline until yesterday. She was quiet, kept to herself. That was me throughout primary school.

I’m still here.

I froze after sticking my key into the lock, heartbeat pulsing in my neck.

What if they review Caroline? Her school life up until her—her death.

What did we miss? They’ll say. We’ll pool together instances, thoughts on what we could’ve let slip through our occupied minds, and all I’ll be thinking is I missed the final sign, possibly the only sign.

But I didn’t miss it. I ignored it.

I stood in the cafeteria, the noise around her falling silent, blearing out as she sat in the back corner, tears streaming down her freckled cheeks as she stared at the tabletop.

Her tray was untouched. She was still.

I helped other kids poke straws through juice box tops, but I didn’t forget about her—staring at the table, face damp, still.

What could I have said or done? She was an imaginative kid, always writing creative tales — I thought she was thinking, planning, concocting her next little story.

But was I? Did I? Did I really think that was all it was?

Did I just not want to deal with it? Did I just not know how?

Why didn’t I tell anyone?

“Mr. Faraway?” a soft voice broke my thoughts.

I peered down at the small woman to my left. “Ms. Warren.” My voice quaked. I nodded to her.

Her eyes rounded. “Are you okay?”

I stared at her for a beat. The pressure in my chest built, heart throbbing.

I pictured Caroline’s motionless face, tears drying into hardened streaks, painting chalky-looking lines through her freckles.

That was the last time I would see Caroline Riggs. Maybe the last moment anything could’ve been done to help her—to save her.

“Jack?”

My breath caught and I focused back on Joyce Warren’s wary face.

I cleared my throat.

“No — no, I’m not okay,” I said and walked in through my classroom door, holding it open for her to come in.

She stood, frozen in her spot for a moment. Her lips parted, but nothing came out.

She nodded and squeezed in past me, making sure not to brush my chest as she did.

I swallowed hard, unsure of what I would say. I just knew I needed to tell someone and she was the only one around.

“What’s going on, Jack?” she asked, clenching her handbag in her lap as she sat in one of the chairs in front of my desk.

I held up the torn yellow paper.

Joyce’s brow furrowed then softened. She dropped her eyes to the desk top and loosened the grip on her purse.

I let the door click shut behind me.


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