“Hey, Zoe.” A guy wearing a huge backpack practically hip checked me into the wall.
“Watch it,” I snarled.
He shot me a dirty look. “Fuck you.”
There were meaner things he could’ve said. By the time you get to senior year the F word has lost much of its gravity and ability to offend. It’s almost a regular part of the lexicon of teenage language, like texting, or soda.
I watched him walk away. Normally I would’ve had a good comeback, but I couldn’t summon one. What I wanted to do was kick him in the back of his stupid head. I could do it.
Zoe scowled after him. “Douche,” she said to his retreating back.
I shrugged. “The school’s full of them.”
She laughed. “You’ve got that right.” When I met her gaze, I saw concern and wariness in her brown eyes, like I was a wounded animal she wanted to pet but was afraid would take her hand off if she did.
“I know this might sound weird, but a few of us have started a petition.” She pulled a stapled stack of paper from her binder and handed it to me. I looked at the pages; the petition was to have Magda’s picture added to the shadow box.
I stared at all the signatures. There had to be at least forty there already.
“It’s not fair that she’s not there,” Zoe said. “Three other people whose pictures are there died the same way.”
I looked at her, tempted to ask if those people had been raped, but I knew that wasn’t what she meant. She meant they’d killed themselves. “Do you have a pen?” I asked.
She smiled and handed me the pen she had clipped to her binder. I signed my name.
“I miss her, you know?”
I handed the petition and pen back to her. I wanted to tell her that she knew nothing. That she was a stupid cow who had no idea what it was like to lose your best friend, someone you knew so well they felt like a part of you. Wanted to tell her she should be glad that she had never seen someone she loved suffer like Magda had. I wanted to tell her that I hoped she never walked into a friend’s room and found them on their bed after they’d taken a handful of sleeping pills—enough to kill them, but not enough to do it quickly.
I remembered holding Magda in my arms, screaming for help. My brain latched on to that memory of her, so pale and unresponsive, and rolled it around in my head until my lungs felt as though they were being squeezed by a giant hand, each breath more strangled and difficult than the last.
Mostly, I hoped Zoe never knew what it was like to feel responsible, to know that the last thing you’d said to your best friend had broken her heart and her spirit. I’d let Magda feel alone, and she’d killed herself.
“Yeah,” I rasped. “I know. I have to go.” I pivoted on my heel and walked away as fast as I could without running. I dived into the nearest girls’ bathroom and ducked into a stall. I closed the door and locked it before pressing my forehead against the cool metal.
I breathed in through my nose, out through my mouth until the panic faded. My mother thought I had PTSD. Maybe I did, but calling it that felt like I was trying to excuse my grief. It felt like a lie. Because what I had was not a disorder, but a sadness that ran so deep I could feel it in my bones. Sometimes I felt like Magda had taken my own life with hers that day.
I tried to push thoughts of her away. My parents and my therapist had been concerned about how returning to school would affect me. I thought they were the crazy ones, but it seemed they understood me better than I did. I should have taken a Xanax before I left the house. At least that would have taken the edge off.
* * *
The bell rang. I made my way to the auditorium with the rest of the throng. Magda and I always sat as far back as we could. I couldn’t bring myself to climb the stairs to the back of the room, so I sat four rows back from the front. The seat to my right remained empty as the auditorium filled up. I could almost pretend my friend was there beside me.
They divided freshmen into their classes first, calling out names and then telling them where their classroom was located. Next was the sophomores, then the juniors and finally the seniors.
I sat there, numb and disinterested, until four familiar names were called: Jason Bentley, Drew Carson, Brody Henry and Adam Weeks. People actually cheered them. Those raised voices set my teeth on edge. Then, the universe decided to be cruel.
No one cheered for me or applauded. I doubted many of them even knew who I was. It didn’t make me feel any better, though. Because I had been Magda’s best friend, and those four boys had destroyed her. They should know who I was, but they didn’t. I could probably walk right up to all four of them and spit in their faces, and they would have no idea why I had done it.
My name was the last one called for that class. I stood up with the others and filed out of the auditorium. Like all the other sheep, I followed the four of them to our homeroom class. I was the only one who didn’t seem to want their attention.
I was probably also the only one who wanted to kill them all.
“I don’t understand what you see in him,” I said as Magda and I walked to our lockers. It was only the second week of school, and she couldn’t stop staring at Drew Carson. “He creeps me out.”
She frowned at me. She looked like an angry deer, her dark eyes were so big. “I think he’s cute. He grinned at me in class this morning.”
“That’s not a grin, it’s a leer.” We stopped at my locker, and I turned the dial on the combination lock. “Seriously, I’ve heard stories about him, Mags. He’s not a good guy.”
“Take a pill. It’s not like I want to marry him.” Her eyes sparkled now. “I just want to see if he’s as good a kisser as I think he is.”
I grimaced. Gross. There was only one way to stop this conversation. “You know who I think would be a great kisser?”
She leaned forward, eagerly, as though I was about to tell her the secrets of the universe. “Who?”
“Ugh!” She looked like she’d bit into something rotten. “Don’t even go there!”
I laughed as I grabbed my books. “But he’s so pretty, and his lips look like they’d be really soft, y’know? But firm.” I’d never admit that I wasn’t joking with her. My crush on Gabriel was my little secret.
“Stop it! Okay, fine, you win. Let’s talk about something else. Are you still sleeping over Saturday night?”
“Sure.” I shut the locker door and we walked the short distance to hers. “Are you going to cancel on me if you get a better offer? ’Cause I can always just hang out with Gabe if you have other plans.”
She rolled her wide, dark eyes. She was so pretty. “Please. Like I’d ever choose a guy over my best friend.”
I grinned. “Nothing will ever come between us. Ever.”
I was wrong.
* * *
I had only one class that none of them were in. AP English literature and composition would be my refuge. I was tempted to see if I could transfer out of some of the other classes, but then someone might want to know why.
If Mags hadn’t died, she would be right there with me. She’d spent months in the same classroom with those assholes after they hurt and humiliated her. She suffered through it until she couldn’t anymore. Changing classes would seem like an insult to her memory. Besides, there was part of me that liked sitting a few seats behind Drew Carson, staring at his back as rage bubbled inside me. Maybe it was the fact that I felt something that made me like it, or maybe I was just broken.
Jason Bentley sat next to me. I started to shake so bad I could barely hold my pen. I picked up my stuff and moved two rows over. There was no way I could spend the rest of the year next to him.
After my last class I went to my locker, gathered up what I needed and left. How was I going to do this for the next eight months? One day had felt like a year.
Halfway home I heard someone shout, “Hey!” behind me. When they did it again, I realized they were talking to me. I stopped and turned around.
It was Jason.