This is the day I will kill myself.
"Yeah, I've seen it before." I backed out of the bathroom stall to face Lindsay and Marie. They only stared at me. "Do you want me to scrub it off or something?"
"You don't think it's interesting?" Lindsay asked, stressing the importance of the message scribbled in Sharpie with wild hand motions.
"Not interesting enough to skip class," I said, glancing back at the graffiti.
"I second that. No! I mean…" Marie paused, getting in character. "Please, Nora. Don't be so lame; skipping class is no big deal. I feel like a wimp just hanging out with you." She reapplied her lip gloss coolly. "How was that?" She bit her lip, ruining the affect and her lip gloss.
Lindsay faked a gag. "He already agreed to take you to the dance. You don't have to impress him anymore."
"Don't be insensitive," I chastised, shoving her. "Derrick is going to love you no matter how you act. And he'll be everything you think he'll be. If he's not a gentleman, he'll be reporting to me."
Lindsay picked up where I left off in a falsely sweet voice. "He's going to love you for you." Lindsay rolled her eyes. "Get a grip, you two. Sooner or later you're going to have to throw your perfect worldview away."
I hoisted my bag on my shoulder. "If this discussion is over, I'm going to get back to history."
Lindsay grabbed my arm and held me in place. "This discussion is not over, and you will not be returning to history just yet."
"Get on with it, Lindsay! This can't take all day. The period will be over soon." Marie looked over at the door as if a teacher was going to enter and reprimand us.
"Okay, okay," Lindsay said. "Get this: Summer Lancaster says that this date isn't the same as the date that Meghan Grace Samuels actually killed herself."
Silence followed, and Marie giggled awkwardly to break it. "So, that's a real suicide note?" she asked.
Lindsay grinned, looking sort of scary under the fluorescent lights. "Yeah, now you're getting it. I'm not sure if this is legit, thought, so I thought that we'd conduct an investigation of our own."
"Sounds like fun," I said, my eyes glued to the clock. I'd told my teacher that I'd be back "from the bathroom" before the end of class. I wasn't technically lying about the bathroom part; I was in the girls' locker room. "Can we please discuss this after school?"
Lindsay didn't let me take a step. "No! This has to be now."
"Besides, it can't be after school," Marie said earnestly. "I have drama club."
I sighed, beaten, and sat down on a bench, picking restlessly at the chipping varnish. "Be quick," I said, though I knew there was little chance of that. Lindsay liked to draw things out so they would have the maximum affect.
"We have to discuss this now because our investigation starts with you, Nora. At lunch you'll check the memorial wall and-"
"Stop right there," I said, standing up and slapping a hand over her mouth to ensure her silence. "I will do no such thing. No one goes near that wall. Everyone will be staring at me!"
"But we need to find out if the rumor's true before we can even start conducting our investigation," Lindsay whined.
"She's right," Marie agreed.
"Traitor!" I cried.
"Look, the sooner we start this, the sooner we can end it. Now, I have some tricks that might help with your stage-fright…"
I shook my head before she even finished. "I don't need any help because I will not be doing it. I will be doing my journalism homework at lunch."
"Oh, come on, Nora," Lindsay pleaded. "Please do this for me! Think of everything I've done for you."
"Oh, fine," I said, embarrassed by how easily I had been won over. "I just check the wall for a Meghan Samuels and report back, right?"
Lindsay nodded, her cheeks turning pink with excitement. "And check the date that she died. If it wasn't until the 18th of March, 2011, then we have a mystery on our hands."
The bell rang and I winced, knowing that my history teacher would be angry with me. I hated to disappoint teachers.
"Don't forget to text us what you find out!" Marie said, nearly as thrilled as Lindsay.
"Yeah, yeah," I called, pushing my way past the girls streaming in the door from gym. I was going to regret this.
At lunch I took my usual seat alone by the window, but didn't bother with getting a lunch. My stomach was too knotted to digest anything. I tapped my foot rapidly while I stared at the memorial wall. It seemed like the wall had my eyes on a leash; every time I tried to look away, my eyes would snap right back. When I realized that I was shaking, I slapped myself on the arm. "Get a grip," I told myself.
I took a breath and forced myself to my feet. I crossed the chattering room, imagining eyes evaluating my every movement. When I finally reached the wall, I held my breath. I scanned past the older photos to the newer ones. I almost missed it because I was so nervous. There was a definite lull in conversation as people picked up on my interest in the wall. What stopped me were the initials in a message left by some of her friends. We love you, M.G.S! We'll never forget. I sucked in a breath and glanced at the rest of the mahogany plaque mounted here in her honor.
Her name was indeed Meghan Grace Samuels, and she committed suicide near the end of her sophomore year. I checked the date, and I was surprised. Sumer Lancaster was not known for the truth of her rumors, but what Lindsay had heard was true. Meghan's date of death was the day after she had written on the stall. Not March 17th, 2011, but March 18th.
I realized instantly that ignoring my curiosity was not an option. First, though, I sat back down and dialed Lindsay's number.
"Cutting it kind of close there, weren't you?" Lindsay asked in place of a normal greeting. "Your lunch is over in seven minutes."
"Aren't you in class?" was my response.
"If they wanted you to spend high school in class, they wouldn't have made it so easy to skip."
"Did you hear that?" I asked, over exaggerating my curiosity.
"The sound of your GPA dropping."
Lindsay scoffed. "Oh, whatever. Forget about my grades, would you? Tell me about Meghan."
"She was real," I said. "And she's really dead."
"Let me guess, she really died the day after she wrote the note?" I could practically hear Lindsay crossing her fingers and preparing to squeal or groan.
"Actually, yes," I said.
Lindsay squealed as predicted. "We have an actual investigation on our hands!"
"And let the investigation begin," I murmured.
When it became clear to me that I didn't absolutely need to relearn how to speak French in the simple future, I excused myself to "use the bathroom." Unlike Lindsay, lying to teachers never came easily to me. I always felt like I was betraying them. Pulling myself together, I exited the building, looking in all of Lindsay's usual hideouts. She wasn't in or near any of them. I did run into an acquaintance of mine, though.
"Amy!" I said, waving hello.
"Oh, Nora. How are you?" she asked, slipping into her car. She was leaving early because her last hour was a free period. She had the same policy when it came to skipping that I did.
"I'm okay. I'm looking for Lindsay, have you seen her?"
Amy made a face. She had tried to befriend me when she was in seventh and I was in sixth grade. Lindsay had not let her into our tiny circle, insisting that any other friendships would lesson our bond. No wonder she wasn't thrilled with Derrick. "No, I can't say that I have. I hope you find her, though." Amy gave me one final smile before pulling out of the parking lot.
I sighed. Amy was such a nice girl, and we had really hit it off. If only Lindsay wasn't so crazy.
"Is she gone?" Lindsay asked, popping out from behind a tree.
"There you are." I breathed a sigh of relief. "I was beginning to worry."
"You shouldn't have." Lindsay grinned and winked at me. "You checked all of the places that I usually hangout, except one."
"Where's that?" I asked, unhappy that I had missed something. I was sure that I knew every place that she liked to go when she skipped class.
"Right by your side," she professed almost sincerely.
Marie hopped out from behind a different tree. "And so is mine!"
I pushed Lindsay gently. "Oh, you guys. I'm beginning to feel claustrophobic."
Lindsay pulled Marie towards us and filled her in on Meghan. "She really did kill herself on the day after March 17th."
"Wow," Marie said. "The only thing to do now is get to the bottom of this."
"That's ridiculous," I said. "There's no way we can figure this out."
"Come on, we all know you want to poke around. We can see it in your face," Marie insisted.
Lindsay squinted at me and then at Marie. "I don't see a thing."
"No one cares, Lindsay. Nora, you have to figure out why Meghan didn't commit suicide on the day that she planned."
"How do you expect me to do this? And why am I the one that has to figure this out? I thought we were going to investigate together." I rubbed my temples, thinking back to my brainless decision to skip French.
"Because you can do this without us, but we can't do this without you," Marie said, carefully keeping her plan a mystery. "And besides, you need some excitement in your life."
I looked up at the grey sky. "What else can you guys do besides prevent me from making more friends and provide me with my daily dose of excitement?"
"Is that an agreement to my plan?" Marie asked. I debated it for a second before nodding, deciding there was no harm in exploring some possibilities. "Okay. So, you recently joined the school paper, right?"
"No," I said immediately.
"Yes you have," Lindsay said. "I was there when you were freaking out about the entry essay."
"No," I repeated.
"But you haven't even heard my plan-"
"No!" I exclaimed. "No, no, no! I will not pretend to write about Meghan to speak with her friends. I could probably get kicked out for that!"
Marie didn't budge. "Who said you have to pretend? Just hear me out," she added when I slumped against the brick school building. "Suggest to the newspaper club leader, the, uh…"
"Editor in chief," I supplied.
"Yes, that. Suggest to the editor in chief that you write something about Meghan and how sad her death was. That gives you an excuse to talk to people who knew her."
"Why would I do that?" I stood up, wiping grass off of my pants. "I didn't know Meghan. I never met her."
"Just figure something out." Marie put a lot of stress on the last three words.
"You want me to lie," I inferred.
"You said it, not me," Marie said defensively. "Are you going to do it?"
I was definitely curious, and the only person I was fooling with my charade was Lindsay. "I'll do it. I'll talk about writing the article tomorrow."
"Don't forget to ask about Meghan's friends," Lindsay reminded me. "We need to know where to start digging."
I met Lindsay and Marie by my locker the next morning. Lindsay enveloped me in a hug.
"I feel like a terrible person," I confessed into her sweatshirt.
"I know, sweetie. It's okay." She comforted me for two seconds before forgetting all about my moral conflict. "So, do you have a list of her friends?"
I pulled away from the hug and handed it over. "All seniors. All smarter than me. They're probably all taller than me, too. No big deal or anything." My voice grew significantly smaller. "I'll just be crushed."
"There's only-what? A three or four year age gap," Marie reminded me. "You can't quit now. You have to write that article."
I cleared my throat, prepared to give my final pitch as to why I shouldn't go through with this. "Do you really think that Meghan's senior friends will talk to a freshman about her suicide? Even if it is for the paper, why would they tell me anything?"
Lindsay, who probably wasn't paying attention in the first place, had the remainder of her focus snatched away by someone behind me. "Look!" she said, pointing and jumping up and down. "That's Annie Zimmerman."
"Who?" I asked, more than a little annoyed with her.
Lindsay scowled at me. "Did you even look at this list? She was one of Meghan's friends." Lindsay handed the list back to me and sent me off to speak with her.
I sent my so-called friends one final terrified glance before walking up to Annie. I summoned up every little bit of courage that I had and tapped her gently on the shoulder. She turned around and closed her locker.
"Annie Zimmerman?" I asked, surprised to find that I was just a little taller than her.
"Yes, that's me," she said quietly. It sounded almost as if she didn't want to be heard.
"Um, I'm Nora Jones. I'm writing an article for the school paper about a friend of yours, Meghan Samuels." Her eyes grew wide, and she took a miniscule step backward. "It's a memorial of sorts," I went on, nervous that she would bolt. "I didn't know her, so I want to get an idea of who she was. Would you mind telling me about her? Also, if there's something you want to specifically put in the article, I could do that."
Annie was shaking her head before I had finished speaking. "No. No, I can't. I'm sorry. Her… passing was so unexpected. It really affected me. I'm sorry," she repeated. "I don't want to talk about it."
"That's fine," I said, though she had told me more than she knew.
Annie nodded and sped away to her first hour class. Once she was gone, I pulled a legal pad out of my bag and jotted down suicide was unexpected. I walked back to a waiting Lindsay. "Where's Marie?" I asked.
"Her drama class is all the way on the other side of the school, and she can't be late again," Lindsay explained. "Honestly, I don't know how she could leave. I'm fixed to this spot. Tell me what you know, or I might just die!"
"Don't joke about that," I murmured.
"What?" Lindsay rolled her eyes. "We start looking into some girl's suicide and suddenly it's a crime to talk about death?"
"This girl's name is Meghan, and her suicide affected people in a major way. That girl, Annie, she barely spoke above a whisper. It got me thinking about how I would handle it if you…" I sighed, seeing that I wasn't getting through to her at all. "Meghan's suicide was unexpected. That's all she told me." I glanced at the list again to see who was next and raised my eyebrows. "The next person on the list is in my Ceramics class."
"Then get going!" she said. "Don't forget to text me when you know anything, and do the same for Marie!"
"Wouldn't dream of doing anything else," I called back to her, skillfully navigating the packed hallways. I made it to my Ceramics classroom with a few minutes to spare. I took the wheel next to Timothy, the next person on the list. He offered me a smile, and I returned it before pulling out my legal pad again.
"Hi, Timothy," I said, more comfortable with him than Annie because we'd spoken before.
"How's it going, Nora?" He asked, plopping a small chunk of clay on his wheel and pouring water over it.
"I'm fine, thanks." I paused for a moment while he centered the clay on the wheel. "Actually, I'm writing an article for the paper about Meghan Samuels. I heard that you were a friend of hers."
Timothy stopped his wheel and wiped his hands on a towel before meeting my eyes. "I was."
"Could you tell me anything about her? I want to get a feeling for who she was."
"She was a good person," Timothy said immediately. "She was always happy, had lots of friends, and she loved her boyfriend."
"Were you…?" I asked, taking notes.
"I was a friend," he said, looking at his hands folded in his lap. "No one ever thought that she would do anything like that."
"Yeah, you said that she was always happy," I recalled.
Timothy looked up again, a strange look on his face. "Now that you mention it, she was a little different the week before she passed away."
"How so?" I asked. My curiosity was piqued.
"She was more secretive, especially with Mark-her boyfriend. Maybe a little paranoid. I'm not sure."
I wrote all of this down as fast as I could. "Thanks," I said.
"You… you're not actually going to put that in the paper, right?"
"Oh!" I had forgotten that I was actually writing something for the paper. "No, of course not. I just have a habit of writing everything down. Is there something specific that you want me to put in the article for you?"
"Just that we all still miss her," Timothy said. He went back to his work seeming more melancholy than before I had talked to him. I sighed and wrote down his last comment before getting to work on my own project.
I managed to talk to most of Meghan's friends before the day was out, but none of them added to what Timothy had told me. I was beginning to think that there wasn't a reason that the date on the stall differed from her actual date of death. I skipped French again to meet with Lindsay (who never attended her last class, drawing) and Marie (who, like me, scarcely missed her last hour English). I had updated both of them with frequent texts and then again in our shared history class.
"So, what's up?" Lindsay asked, blowing a bubble with her gum. She offered me a stick, but I declined.
"Nothing, unfortunately. I haven't learned anything new about Meghan. I'm not any closer to understand the mix up in the dates than I was this morning."
"Well, you're in luck because her old boyfriend's cutting last hour and leaving early," Marie said, swiping Lindsay's pack of gum and taking two pieces. Lindsay glared. "What? Nora didn't want one."
I scanned the parking lot, and my eyes locked onto Mark hanging out with a few friends around a red Toyota. By now, I'd gotten over my fear of speaking to seniors (without Marie's help, thank you very much), so I didn't hesitate when I walked over there. Lindsay and Marie followed me, hoping for some new information.
When we reached them, they were all laughing loudly at something one of them had said. It was apparently very funny because they didn't stop laughing for a substantial amount of time, leaving us standing there awkwardly. When they did stop, Mark recognized our presence by saying, "Sup?"
"I'm with the school paper writing an article about Meg-"
"That's right. You're Nora? I've heard about you," Mark said before turning back to his original conversation and ignoring me completely.
I stood there stunned for a moment. No one else had been so rude as to ignore me. Lindsay snapped me out of it by giving me a small push forward. I coughed and began again. "Is there anything you'd like me to add to the article?"
Mark didn't glance my way. "Nope."
"How can you say that?" I may have not known Meghan personally, but from what I'd heard she deserved more respect from her boyfriend of all people.
"Look, I think it's sweet that you're writing an article about her, but I'm sure her other friends covered it."
"The truth is I'm not doing this for the article. There's a note in the stall of a bathroom saying that Meghan intended to kill herself the day before she died. I'm curious about that. The article was an excuse to talk to people." I was surprised by the words that came through my lips. With all of the other people, I had stuck to the article alibi like glue. With Mark, I threw it away nearly immediately. He pissed me off, and I wanted answers. I was tired of this "investigation," so if he knew something, I wanted to know now.
Mark's expression grew conflicted for a few moments before he made a decision. "Let's talk over coffee."
Mark's friends had pestered him a little bit, but not as much as I expected them to. The whole car ride to Starbucks, Lindsay chattered nervously to Mark about having her father on speed dial if he decided to kidnap us while Marie kept a stoic expression and made a few "tough girl" comments. I spent the ride in perpetual embarrassment reminding myself why they were my friends.
When we finally arrived, Mark ordered a coffee and three hot chocolates. Mark insisted on paying, which was fine with us. We sat down at a table and enjoyed our hot beverages for a few moments. When I was fed up with the silence, I said, "So, are you going to tell us anything?"
Mark started talking immediately. "Meghan was my girlfriend, and I loved her. I really did." He paused and took a deep breath. He stared at the edge of the table and didn't look back up while he spoke. "So, she sent me this note, yeah? It said that she was going to commit suicide, and there was nothing I could do. She said she was sorry. But, I got it before I was supposed to, so I stopped her on the 17th. We stayed up all that night talking about it. She, uh… she had just gotten an abortion. She didn't tell me about it. I didn't even know she was pregnant. If I had…" He sighed. "I don't know. Things would have been different, I guess. She seemed fine at school the next day. I thought-" Mark choked back a sob. "I thought she was all right. But, um… she wasn't."
There was a long silence after he finished speaking. Lindsay was crying quietly, and Marie was comforting her. Lindsay's mother had gotten pregnant with her in high school. This was why she was so against my "perfect worldview." She was now getting a taste of how her and her mother's lives could have been drastically altered.
I held my pen above the paper, prepared to write everything down. Throughout Mark's explanation, I had been paralyzed. Even now, I was unable to move the pen at all. I drew in a shuddering breath, and on my exhale I set the pen down and met Mark's searching gaze. "You've probably heard this a lot, but I'm sorry."
Mark laughed without making a sound and sat back in his chair. "You know, I haven't ever told anyone that before. And, now three curious girls-freshmen!-come along, and I spill my guts. Don't tell anyone, okay? Meghan didn't want anyone to know.
We all nodded. "We'll take it to our graves," Lindsay swore.
"Many, many years from now," Marie added.
"Yeah," I whispered.