WHEN I FIRST met you, that stupid-hot day last September when you jumped into my car and slid down in the passenger seat and told me to drive, you were bleached blond. You had a pixie cut with dark roots, the kind of hair that was less a hairstyle and more a lifestyle. You were wearing too much eyeliner and had a ring in your lip and I never said it out loud, but I thought you were beautiful. Not in the regular way, but in your own way. And that was so much better. You looked the exact same, day after day. You used to bleach your head every two weeks in your tiny bathroom at home. You asked me to trim your ends for you because you sucked at getting them even. “My hair has to be short,” you told me. “It’s too damaged to grow out. I wish I had long hair like yours, but some things aren’t meant to be.” “You can have mine,” I said. “It’s too thick. I hate it.” Really, I would have given you anything of mine you wanted.
Then, right after you graduated, just days after I watched you walk across the stage with your diploma and away from me, you showed up at my house with a stubby ponytail. A stubby, mousebrown ponytail. I could tell by your smudged hairline that you had just done it on your own. I barely recognized you. “I never pictured you as a brunette,” I said. “I wanted to try it,” you said. “Haven’t you ever just been so sick of yourself that you had to do something about it?” The next week, your hair was copper, with choppy bangs that you must have cut yourself. You didn’t ask for my help, but I tried not to feel hurt. “It was a spontaneous thing,” you explained. “I saw the dye and just went for it.
” Two weeks later, it was black, with long extensions you said you bought on the internet. “I’m trying new things,” you told me when I finally asked why. “It’s time for a change.” After that, I didn’t think much about it when you had a new look. Purple hair and streaked hair and bangs and bobs and curls and clip-in pieces. Then you started playing with makeup too, ditching your beloved, sooty eyeliner for false eyelashes and color contacts, and your lip ring for bright red lipstick that got on your teeth. I lost track of which version of you I would see, even though I saw you every single day that summer. But I didn’t think much about it, because lots of girls do things like that. I didn’t think much about it. But I should have.
Because when you disappeared after the party, the police asked me for a description of you. They needed a description because they didn’t have a recent photo. They didn’t have a recent photo because no recent photos of you existed. You stayed out of pictures. You didn’t think you were photogenic. “I always look weird in front of the camera,” you’d said. “Besides, I’d rather just live in the moment. Why do people feel the need to document everything?” I should have known you better than anyone. But when they asked me, I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to stop the room from spinning long enough to picture what you looked like, and I realized I had no idea. 2 WHAT I REMEMBER about that night: everything that matters.
What I tell them I remember about that night: everything that doesn’t matter. I know lying is wrong, but isn’t breaking your promises worse? There’s something about a promise that’s more important. A permanent tie to somebody else. A signature scrawled in the air, pinpricked thumbs pressed together. Swallowing someone else’s desperation. Hiding someone’s biggest mistake. Speaking the three most important words in the English language: I’ll never tell. So, as bad as I feel about lying to the cops about the night Trixie disappeared, it feels more natural than the alternative. And that’s the thing about choices: When you put them on either side of a scale, they never weigh the same. One is bound to be heavier.
3 YOU WERE THE one who insisted we go to Alison’s party, which was out of character, since you didn’t even like Alison. You didn’t like any of the people we went to school with. Trixie had graduated in June and couldn’t wait to get away from them, from everything. I still had another year to go, and the thought of not having her there was something I was dancing around, even weeks before school started. “It’ll be fun,” she insisted, dropping her backpack on my comforter and yanking her shirt over her head. “Plus, it’ll be open bar. Let’s just drink our faces off and celebrate.” Celebrate what? I wanted to ask. But I didn’t. I watched her open her backpack and pull another shirt out, a brown tank top.
She stood in front of my mirror and shrugged it on. Trixie would have looked good in anything, so I wondered why she was wearing that to the party—an oversized top the color of shit with JERSEY GIRL across the front in blocky white lettering. Her skinny arms poked out of the too-big armholes and I could see her bra underneath. It wasn’t even a cute bra, just one of those nude ones you buy to wear under white shirts. “What are you going to wear?” she asked, straddling my desk chair. “I don’t know. I hate everything in my closet. It’s all so ugly.” “What are you talking about? Your clothes are the best.” The truth was, I was afraid to try on most of my clothes.
I had always hated something about my body—my thighs, my hips, my broad shoulders—more because girls are predisposed to be at war with their bodies than for any real reason. But over the summer, I knew I had put on weight and I was too scared to stand on the scale and find out how much. As long as I didn’t know the number, I could convince myself it was all in my head. “I’ll find you something,” she said, standing up and putting her hands on her hips. “Do you trust me?” “Of course,” I mumbled. “Just something boring though, okay? I don’t want to dress up.” Trixie opened my closet and started rifling through my clothes. I felt a pang when I saw everything on hangers, ironed and color-coded and neglected. Bright yellow sundresses. Tank tops with skinny straps.
Jeans that used to hug me in all the right places. Denim miniskirts. My cheerleading uniform, the one I never returned like I was supposed to. I stared at the clothes like they were old friends I didn’t know anymore. I used to love getting dressed up, even if I wasn’t going anywhere. I’d buy fabric and try to make my own clothes that I imagined people would stop me on the street and ask about. But nobody ever did, except Trixie. “You have such good stuff in here,” she said, twisting around to look at me. “Why don’t you ever wear it?” “I don’t know. I just feel like nothing suits me.
” Or fits me. “You could always make something new. Go buy another sewing machine. Right? You’re so freaking talented.” “Maybe,” I said, staring down at my legs, which had barely seen the sun all summer. I didn’t try to make clothes anymore because I didn’t know how to dress this girl, the pale one who looked back at me in the mirror, the one with a sloppy auburn bun on top of her head who felt doughy and stretched out in her own skin. My summer uniform was made up of forgiving long skirts and baggy T-shirts. Fashion had become an afterthought. “This one,” Trixie said, pulling out the one item of clothing I was avoiding the most. The red dress I was supposed to wear to Alison’s party last summer, almost a full year ago.
“You should wear this one.” “Isn’t it kind of fancy? You’re not dressed up.” “Maybe I’ll change later. You should definitely wear it, though. Who knows, right? You might meet the love of your life tonight.” I already have, and he doesn’t care, I wanted to say, but instead I just grabbed the hanger, my face flaming, and made my way to the bathroom. I tried to step into the dress, but it wouldn’t fit over my butt. I tried pulling it over my head and my heart leaped when it managed to go over my shoulders. I had this thought, this one, confident thought. Maybe I worried for nothing.
I tugged it down around my stomach, ignoring the film of sweat on my skin. Then I felt the back rip. Tears stung my eyes. I bit my lip and counted backward from ten. I didn’t want to cry. Not with Trixie in the next room. Not when she had never cried, not about anything, not ever. “It doesn’t fit,” I said, trying to keep my voice from wavering. “I’ll find something else.” “Just wait a sec.
I’m coming in.” She never knocked. Which was ironic, because the one time I snuck up behind her when she was hunched over her computer, she flipped out. It was the only time I ever saw her angry. “You have to respect people’s space,” she had muttered. But she inhabited my space. I took the beer she offered as she barged in and drank it while she fastened the back of the dress from the inside with a hidden safety pin and fixed my hair so the rip wouldn’t be noticeable. I marveled over the power she had. The power to turn everything around, to make me feel like the most beautiful girl in the world. I hadn’t just grown bigger since I met her.
I had grown out of everything that used to be important to me, everything I used to think mattered. My old life didn’t fit anymore. I had grown into somebody Trixie called a best friend. “See, it fits just fine. You look hot. I wish I was a redhead so I could look this good in red. You’ll be fighting guys off tonight.” She slid her feet into her well-worn flip-flops. “You could pull off red hair,” I said. “You’ve tried pretty much every other color.
I can help you dye it.” “No,” she said. “It’s more your thing. Let’s go.” I drank another beer on the way to the party as we walked to Alison’s house, Trixie’s backpack bumping against the small of her back with each step she took. Her shoulders sagged under the weight. I wondered why she was bringing a backpack to the party at all. “I can carry that for a while if you want,” I said. “It looks heavy. What’s in there?” “I’ve got it,” she said.
“And it’s just a bunch of extra beers. In case this party has a shortage and we need some entertainment.” But whatever was in there wasn’t clanking around like beers would. Why would she lie about that? Still, I dropped it. Later, the police asked me about the backpack. It was black. It had white trim. It was the same one she brought to school. She said it was full of beer. But what I remember most was the red dents it left in her shoulders.
Of course, I didn’t tell the police about the red dents. I told them that Trixie and I left the party around the same time and went our separate ways because she told me she had plans with her dad in the morning and couldn’t sleep over at my place. I didn’t tell them how my vision was blurry when Trixie shoved an ice cube down my back. I was holding a drink in my hand and the shock of the ice cube on my skin made me fling my cup. Red liquid spraying in the air—something sweet and strong—misting over Trixie’s shirt before coming to land on cream-colored carpet and blooming like crimson inkblots. I’m sure it wasn’t funny. It wouldn’t be funny when Alison saw it, or when her parents came home and found evidence that their daughter threw a party big enough for a spill like that to go unnoticed. It wasn’t funny, but Trixie laughed. She shook her head and put her hands on my shoulders. “Oh, Fiona,” she said with this long, drawn-out sigh.
“What am I going to do with you?” Those were the last words Trixie said to me, and they didn’t sound like a goodbye. I had said goodbye to Trixie a hundred times, in a hundred different places. Her goodbye was always the same. A peace sign, hand tossed over her head. A promise to call me later. She really did tell me she had plans with her dad in the morning. But I didn’t leave the party with her. Two days after the party, when the police talked to that guy on the beach and found what Trixie left behind, I realized what she really meant. I finally heard what I should have heard that night. She said: “What am I going to do with you?” But she meant: “What am I going to do without you?” 4 MOM MAKES ME eat breakfast on the first day of school, even though I feel sick.
She plops a bowl of something that looks like birdfeed in front of me and tells me to finish it. “I know the last three weeks have been rough,” she says. “But this is a fresh start. Your senior year. I want you to go in with a clean slate and take every opportunity you can. You only get to have one senior year.” This is the part where her eyes get all misty, the part where I’m the elephant in the room because it’s my fault Mom never had a proper senior year. It’s my fault she had to finish high school from home. Because she got pregnant with me when she was sixteen and my grandma pulled her out of school. When I first became a cheerleader, Mom was so excited.
She came to all the basketball games in the smelly gym and sat on the hard bleachers during football season just to watch me sing stupid Robson game chants and throw girls in the air. Mom hated Trixie because she thinks Trixie took me away from all that. Although that’s not the way she phrased it. When she brought it up, she was “worried I was impressionable.” Like I was a wad of clay, not a girl. I force myself to swallow a mouthful of the seedy substance in my bowl. It’s sandpaper scratching the back of my throat. “Remember, we’re seeing Dr. Rosenthal after school.” Mom stands up.
“I’m supposed to have a meeting at four, but I’ll cut it short and meet you there.” I don’t want to see Dr. Rosenthal. He’s a psychologist who specializes in teen issues, which makes me wonder if he never outgrew his. I’m not sure if Mom wants me to talk to him so badly because I put on weight or because I have a dead best friend or maybe both. “You’ve been through a lot of emotional trauma,” she said before she called to book the appointment. “Talking to someone will help you get back on track.” All I heard was You’re disgusting. You’re not good enough anymore. You let yourself go.
She opens her mouth to say something else, but her cell phone rings and she answers it right away. When I was little, Mom stayed home with me, in a tiny one-bedroom apartment my grandma paid for. But when I got a bit older, just being a mom and working at the grocery store part-time wasn’t enough for her, so she went to college and got a business degree and a job at a marketing firm. Now she travels all the time for work. It used to be just a random day here or there, but now it’s sometimes weeks. And two months in Tokyo in the summer. She wanted my aunt Leslie to come and stay with me, but I protested, told her seventeen was old enough to be home by myself. I reminded her that in a year, I’d be in a whole different city, maybe even state, on my own anyway. Trixie helped me convince her. “Tell her you’ll call her to check in all the time.
Tell her it’ll be a lesson in independence. Use those exact words. Parents eat that shit up.” Trixie was a good liar. Now I am too. I wonder if lying works like that—if it’s contagious, a disease. I never used to lie to Mom about anything, but after I met Trixie, I became a liar by association. I told myself they were just fibs and that Mom didn’t need to know everything about my life. But it was more than that. “You know, I can drive myself after school,” I say, letting my spoon fall into my bowl with a clatter.
“You should just go to your meeting.” Mom’s forehead creases. “You sure, honey?” I nod. “I’m sure.” I dread seeing Dr. Rosenthal. I know he’s just going to ask all the wrong questions. He’ll want to probe my brain and try to find the scientific cause for why I’m unraveling, which should be a relief. But he thinks this is all happening because of what I put inside my body, who I chose to let inside my life. And maybe the problem isn’t who I let in, but who was already there.
5 I DON’T KNOW how long it took us to become best friends. Two weeks, maybe. Two hours. Or maybe it was in the first two minutes after you hopped into my car, when all I felt was this rush of possibility. The funny thing is, I never should have met Trixie Heller. I should have been at cheerleading practice, on the bottom of the pyramid. Coach Hogan liked to call me her powerhouse. “Look at those strong legs,” she used to say. She meant it as a compliment. But all I wanted was to be like my best friend, Jenny.
The kind of girl who fit perfectly under any guy’s arm. The kind of girl who could date any guy she wanted. The kind of girl who wanted to date the one guy I told her I loved. Ten minutes before I met Trixie, Jenny and I were heading for the gym. I was walking. Jenny was doing that annoying bounce-walk thing she did, as if life was so great that she couldn’t bear to walk normally. Later, when Trixie said that walk made Jenny resemble a demented duck, I could have kissed her. I was already pissed off at Jenny. Not because of her loud voice or little snub nose or perky butt or the fact that she barely ever let me get a word in edgewise. I was irritated because we couldn’t even have a conversation anymore without Toby Hunter’s name coming up.
But that day, she said another name that made my breath catch in my throat—Beau Hunter. “He asked me out,” she said, her words rushed. “It’s not like I could say no. I mean, the guy’s brother just—well, you know. Offed himself.” I knew. Of course I knew. Everyone in Morrison Beach knew what Toby Hunter had done, and half of them had their own theories about it. But Jenny knew my truth. I thought about that night, which was long before I knew Trixie, when Jenny and I drank wine coolers outside on Alison’s deck and I told her I loved Beau Hunter.
She had hugged me and told me to ask him out, because he was too shy to ask me. Eight minutes before I met Trixie, I wanted to wring Jenny’s neck. I waited for Jenny to say something, anything, to acknowledge that night, the way we were close enough for me to smell her bubble gum–flavored lip gloss when I told her my biggest secret. But she didn’t. I could have almost convinced myself that she didn’t remember, but then I saw her lips curl up, ever so slightly. She knew. She moved on, started talking about the football game on Friday and some party after. I lagged behind, digging my fingernails into my palms so hard my hands hurt. Then I stopped walking altogether. “I forgot my uniform in my car,” I said, my voice flat.
“I’ll catch up with you.” She was my best friend and should have known it was a lie. I never forgot anything. But she just flipped me this dumb little wave and kept bounce-walking away. Tears blurred my vision as I turned and walked back down the hallway, breaking into a run in the parking lot. When I got to my car, I opened the door and collapsed inside, the leather burning my thighs from the heat. I wrapped my hands around the steering wheel, even though it set my palms on fire. I balled my hands into fists and pounded the wheel. I opened my mouth to scream. Then my passenger door opened, and Trixie was in my car.
“Can you do me a favor,” she said, sliding down the seat, her skin making a smuck sound as it stuck to the leather. “Can you give me a ride? I just need you to drive. I just need to disappear for a while.” It wasn’t a question. She told me to drive and slunk down farther, until her legs were bent under the dashboard. I noticed the scrapes on her knees, like a little kid who kept falling down. She kept her hands in her lap and her nails were badly chewed, and she looked at me out of the side of her eye as if to say, What are you waiting for? And for no reason other than that, I listened to her. I didn’t ask who she was or tell her to find her own ride or tell her to go to hell. I drove. I drove away from cheerleading practice, away from Jenny.
I drove away from Robson High. I waited to feel guilty, but I never did. She put her head down as we left the parking lot, and I wanted to ask her who she was hiding from, who she was running away from. Where we were supposed to be going. But it didn’t seem to matter. She hummed and tapped her fingers softly against her bare thigh, and I stared at the back of her head, at her dark roots and the peak of hair on the nape of her neck, and I wanted to go where a girl like that was going. I drove past the beach, past downtown. I kept driving until she sat up and wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. “Hey, do you want to get something to eat?” she said. No thank you.
No explanation. After all that, she was the one who had the question. “Sure,” I said, even though I wasn’t hungry. “Turn left at the intersection. There’s a place that has the best cheeseburgers. Sorry, but I’m starving. I skipped lunch today.” She stretched her arms over her head like a cat. I noticed the raised pink lines on her left wrist, under a throng of bracelets, but pretended I didn’t. “I really owe you one.
Let me buy you lunch.” I didn’t tell her that I had eaten lunch hours ago, or that I didn’t eat meat. That I hadn’t eaten a cheeseburger since I turned twelve and Mom watched a documentary about how eating meat was evil. I thought about my cheerleading uniform waiting in my locker, how a cheeseburger would make it that much harder to squeeze into. “Sure,” I said. Trixie had reduced me to one-syllable answers. “Seriously,” she said. “Whatever you like, I’ll buy it for you. What’s your favorite food?” I realized nobody had asked me that in years. “Salad,” I said instinctively, because that’s what Jenny and Alison would say.
The corners of her mouth turned up. “Come on. Salad sucks. What’s your real favorite food?” I stared down at my patchwork jeans, the ones I had deconstructed and put back together myself. Jenny thought they were ugly, but suddenly I didn’t care what she thought. “Chocolate,” I said, the very word filling me up. “Chocolate anything.” She broke out in a huge grin. “They have the best chocolate milkshakes at this place. See, it’s perfect.
” She paused. “I’m Trixie, by the way.” “I’m—” “Fiona, right? I’ve seen you around.” I stifled a smile. She had seen me, and that seemed important somehow. Maybe because nobody else did. “Yeah. I’m Fiona.” I was Trixie’s getaway car that day, and I never told her so, but she was mine too.