October 1st, 2012
I wake up with my body on fire. I don’t even remember getting home and in my bed. I don’t even know if my mom knows I’m going to parties again. She comes home from work later and later and I barely see her. It’s been a while since we even talked face to face. She always asks if I’m doing okay and I seem to give her the same answer.
This town is crazy. The students here throw parties regardless of the day. Monday, Friday, Sunday’s, it doesn’t matter. We get there anywhere from 8 to 10 and don’t leave until 2 or 3 and wake up 4 hours later for school. Today is one of those days. I’m nauseous, my head is aching and I’m laying in a puddle of my sweat. I fall back asleep.
“Grace, why aren’t you at school?” Mom wakes me up.
I groan. If she’s up then it’s anywhere between 10 and 12. “I’m sick.” I roll over to my back but don’t bother to open my eyes.
I feel my mom’s hand on my forehead. “Your head is warm. I’ll bring a thermometer and some water.” She’s a nurse and has always kept me healthy. She has no idea I’m just hungover. I feel the cold plastic piece enter my mouth. “Barely, under 100. You’ll be better in a day. Take the medicine, drink your water and rest up.”
Groggily I drink the pitcher of water and open my eyes for the first time. My mom is by my side but I’m too blind to even recognize her. “Where are my glasses?”
“Here,” Mom reaches for my glasses on my nightstand and hands them to me.
“I’m heading to work. Rest up, I won’t take an extra shift tonight so I’ll be home to make sure you get better,” My mom stands up. “Love you, Grace.”
“Love you too, Mom.”
I drink more water and flop my body back into my bed.
An hour later my eyes open again with no headache this time. Everything feels a lot better and my body no longer aches. I’m glad I’m young, I’ll be doing a lot more of this so my body better gets used to it.
It’s a little past noon and the memories of the previous night start to trickle in. I talked a lot about Elizabeth at the party. That Megan girl didn’t like that and started to push me around. Cody intervenes and stopped her but I started to drown myself in cheap vodka. That’s all I can remember. And now I can’t get Cody out of my head.
I still can’t get that moment we spent in that treehouse together, alone, out of my head. Cody is odd but he’s so interesting. I’m entranced by his eyes. They’re always watching, concerned, observing. When I’m around him I feel safe. I never liked a boy before. I’m ugly and I’m small with no boobs, he’ll never like me back. Besides, Emily tells me that Cody and she are meant to be together. It’ll never work, I’m crazy.
These crazy thoughts lead me to enter the forest. I want to find the treehouse again. I enter it through the abandoned house we threw the party last night. I can see trails made by footsteps during the day. The deeper I go in the denser it gets inside and the quieter the world becomes. After five minutes, I stop to realize that the trail ended a while ago and now I’m lost. Cody is right, it’s impossible to get anywhere in here.
I recognize where I am.
There’s a faint trail nearby and I don’t want to follow it because I know where it leads. I haven’t been here since…
There’s a small shrine beside the tree with the dried up blood faintly still there. The shrine has faded and the flowers have died. The memories try to come back but I hold them back. It’s good that I’m here. My therapist said it’ll be good to face my fears. I’m here now so.
I just didn’t expect someone else to be here.
He’s a tall man but everyone is taller than me. “Who are you?” He asks me before I even get a chance to think about running away.
“You a friend of hers?”
“Yeah, me too,” he sighs. My attention is drawn to his slicked-back white hair with roots that are brown for an inch. “My name’s Felix. You?”
Felix wears a black motorcycle jacket and has ripped jeans. It compliments his blue eyes very well. He’s handsome. “Were you two close?”
“Not really, no. I ran into her a couple of times but I didn’t know her well.”
Felix nods, “She was a friend of mine. I didn’t know she died until a few days ago. Nobody even told me.” His voice hurts. How cruel.
I take my steps forward to stand where I stood where she shot the bullet. “I would ask how’d you knew her but she was popular.”
Felix chuckles but chokes up. “Yeah, yeah. I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye.”
He shakes his head. “It’s alright. People connect when they’re in pain. Elizabeth didn’t share her pain so she couldn’t connect with anybody. Do you know how it happened?”
“She shot herself.”
There’s silence. It’s long but warm as we both look down at the shrine. Felix’s words; I can connect to them. We’re both in pain so we share this moment. Elizabeth. I don’t know why she died. Nobody does. Everyone thinks it’s because she was pregnant but she wouldn’t have known. It was too early. If it’s not that, it was the drug usage but I’ve seen enough at these parties that people can hold their weight. It wasn’t that either.
And nobody knows why she had a gun.
I can’t rest until I find my answers.
“It was nice meeting you Grace, I hope we run into each other someday,” Felix takes his leave before I can say anything to him. I stare at his white hair disappearing in the vast brown and green.
I end up back in school just in time for my eight-period class. Emily seems to be pleasantly surprised and motions for me to sit next to her, sit where Cody usually sits. He has his name etched on the desk. I don’t know if it’s my fantasy but I write my name under his. Emily notices and giggles. She leans over and writes her name undermine. “Where were you today? Hungover?”
I nod. “Yeah.” The bell rings.
The second bell rings and class is over. Emily decides it’ll be a good idea to take me to the highest point in Darkwood. It’s a hill next to the town’s park. The park itself is pretty large with a small lake on the side. The elementary school is close by so all the school children are running around. It’s peaceful here. Emily runs up ahead and up the grassy hill where there’s a single bench on top. There’s a girl up here.
“Jana, it’s been a while,” Emily says to her.
The girl stands up and faces up. She doesn’t look happy by how much unkempt her hair is. “I gotta go.”
“Wait! Have you been okay?!”
Jana, the girl with the hoodie walks past us without saying a word.
“Who’s she?” I ask.
“Jana. She’s our friend. Was. She uh, doesn’t speak to anyone anymore,” Emily sits down on the bench.
I join her. I can see past the entire forest from here. It’s beautiful. The ten-minute walk up was worth it. “Why not?”
“I think she became Elizabeth’s closest friend over the summer. She hasn’t spoken to anyone since…”
“Yeah, I get it.”
“How have you been? I wish I could have stopped Megan before she started her s**t.”
“I’m fine. I’m lucky Cody was there.”
“Yeah,” Emily giggles. “He’s always there when you need him. I’m surprised he even showed up. I haven’t seen him in weeks.”
“Are you in love with him.”
Emily grins then laughs. “Yeah, no. I don’t know. We promised each other when we were ten that we’ll marry each other.”
Something in me hurts. “How cute. I wish I had someone like that.”
My first friend sighs, “I don’t know what’s with him lately but he’s so distant now.”
“Because of Elizabeth?”
“I don’t know. He’s started to act weird before she even-” Emily sighs again. “Maybe he blames himself for what happened to her.”
“So what did happen? Everyone keeps telling me vague details. She got corrupted this, she did this. I’m still confused. How did it start?”
“A party. Cody and Ellie hit it off. He invited her to one of my kickbacks. We all became friends there and we played a hide and seek game a few games later where we got close. We convinced her to smoke weed. She never smoked before. Andrew then convinced her to do ecstasy then she asked for LSD. We corrupted her. It’s our fault,” Emily pauses. “It’s our fault,” she says it weaker this time. “She started to go out of control and Cody stopped us from giving her anything. She uh, found a way to keep her supply steady. I think it’s Andrew’s dealer. Then she found her estranged brother who gave her the meth,” Emily swallows hard. “I’m oversimplifying things, but. Two weeks later she died.”
“And nobody has the real reason why.”
“No. but it doesn’t matter,” Emily gasps. “We did this to her. We did this to her.” Emily breaks down. She blames herself. “We did this to you.”
I don’t know what to do. This is my first time being next to anyone crying. Emily desperately tries to stop herself but I think she’s feeling too guilty. I don’t blame her. She didn’t do this to Elizabeth. “It’s okay. I don’t think it was your fault.”
Emily’s crying and I’m just sitting here like a fool. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. I just look up and see nothing but gray skies. There hasn’t been a day since I have been here that they were clear. Everyone is right. This place isn’t right. When I look down, Emily isn’t crying.
“You okay?” I finally manage to ask.
She’s standing in front of me and she stares down the forest. “I’m fine. I needed this. I haven’t actually cried about it.” Emily takes off the bandana and looks at it for a bit. I wonder what it means. “Nothing to do but to move on.”
“Move on to other boys?”
Emily almost laughs. “What other boys?” She asks turning around. I hope she gets the smirk in my mouth in hopes of changing the subject. “You saw?!” I grin and almost laugh as well. Emily rushes back to me to sit back down. “You bitch, how much?!”
“Everything,” I laugh. It was just kissing, but I saw it all. “Why Andrew?”
Emily shrugs, “He’s fun and unpredictable.”
“So no more Cody?”
“I literally have to force him to get him to talk to him. He’s too frustrating to deal with. Andrew, he likes me and I think I like him too.”
Things have been changing so fast without me even noticing. Maybe this will be my chance to talk to Cody. He doesn’t come to school often but when he does he always says hi to me. His eyes watching over me, I know he likes me too. Maybe that’s the reason he doesn’t talk to Emily anymore.
I look over to the forest and past that, the faint small town I can barely see. Grace Ciotta is going to take over Darkwood. I’ll solve the mystery of Elizabeth and I’ll finally get my peace.