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Fireworks light up the night sky while the joyful screams of children who have gotten too close to exploding firecrackers fill the air. Jenny, Ashley, and I are having a contest to see how many fireworks we can let off at once. Jenny squeals and yanks back her fingers when the firework sails up, inches away from her outstretched hand.
Ashley laughs loudly and points her finger at Jenny, who joins in. I smile and giggle at the sight of them acting like fools. Shay is sitting on the back of my dad’s truck, swinging her legs.
“If you think that was funny, watch this,” Shay says, jumping off the pick-up with a Roman candle in her hand. After lighting it, she points it at the sky. Tricking us all, she spins around and aims it at the spot between Ashley and Jenny. Spark after dazzling spark flies from the end. In between each, Shay turns slightly.
One lands between them; the next lands next to Jenny, dangerously close. One zooms past Ashley’s right arm, missing her by inches. She spins toward me, laughing gleefully at our expressions. The next spark skims past my head. With the final one, she points the candle up at the stars. It bounces out and fades away slowly into nothingness.
Jenny’s green eyes are wide with shock. After a moment, we all join in with Shay’s contagious laughter.
“Okay, okay. Come on, guys. Let’s have some real fun!” A mischievous grin snakes across her face.
“Oh, no!” Jenny sighs.
“Here we go again,” Ashley scoffs, rolling her light green eyes.
“Shay, how many times do I have to tell you? We don’t want anyone else injured this Fourth of July,” I reply with a frustrated edge.
“Oh, come on guys! It’s just a harmless joke!” Her perfect full lower lip puffs out into a pout. Jenny and Ashley both huff out sigh and nod.
I, on the other hand, am not giving in so easily. “You said that last year, Shay.” Last Fourth of July, Shay had blown up a firecracker in my older brother’s face.
She grins and gazes at me pleadingly. I finally give in. “Okay, fine. I guess we could as long as it doesn’t involve my brother,” I reply grudgingly. With a triumphant smile, she pulls us into a huddle and explains her plan.
My next door neighbor and neighborhood geek, Leslie, is outside studying. During summer on the Fourth of July of all times. Shay’s plan is to sneak up behind her and put a firework beneath her chair. Once it’s lit, we will run to the nearest tree and watch. Seemingly harmless in her eyes, Shay thinks it would be the funniest thing ever. Ashley and I agree to go through with it. Jenny, however, has something to say about it.
“What if it hurts her?” Jenny protests. Wrong answer. Shay turns on her.
“Who cares? The world would be a better place without that dork.” even I don’t expect Shat to be that cruel.
“Shay, lay off. She has an opinion, too.” Shay’s blazing blue eyes turn to me.
“Adeline? Who ever asked you anything at the moment?” Shay snaps with her usual stinging tone.
“No one asked me anything. I do have a mind of my own, though, or have you forgotten, oh Great Leader?” I fling right back at her. She may know my secrets, but she will not control me.
With a sign of resignation, Shay hold up her hands in defeat. “You win. Perhaps you’re right, Addy. Jen, if you don’t want to come, you can just stay here. A challenging smile spreads across my face when she stalks by with Ashley on her heels. I motion for Jenny to follow, and thankfully, she comes willingly, saying nothing.
Shay does all the work while I am watching to see if anyone is coming. After a minute, she grasps my wrist and drags me to the tree. I then notice the small ball under Leslie’s oblivious figure. A cherry bomb. Shay had said nothing about a cherry bomb.
“Shay–” I never finish. A giant boom sounds along with Leslie’s scream. Smoke surrounds where she sat, and all is quiet. There are no children laughing or firecrackers popping. The world has gone silent.
Jenny is the first one to speak. “Oh my God! We have to go get help!”
Shay clamps her hand around Jenny’s thin wrist, digging her perfectly manicured nails into Jenny’s skin. “No. This never happened; we were never here. If you tell anyone, you are dead. Don’t make me regret including you in this group, skeleton girl.” Jenny is speechless but nods. Ashley and I gasp in surprise of Shay’s usage of Jenny’s old nickname.
“Good. Let’s go.” Shay turns and walks away. We follow, not having any other choice. Sirens blare in the distance. By the time they arrive at Leslie’s home, we are all back at my house, appearing totally oblivious.
However, looks can be deceiving. We appear innocent to others. Of course, all of us know the truth behind our lies. We are all guilty.
Three Days Later…
When I tell my parents that we need to move, they quickly agree. They have never likes this place. Now, in a week, I will be in Oregon. I’m not going to tell Shay and the others.They’ll notice when I’m gone, or maybe they won’t.
Our group has been distant and quiet since the prank. Leslie dies that night; however, I feel absolutely no guilt. Why should I? I did nothing wrong; it was all Shay’s fault anyways.
Looking around my messy room, I sigh in frustration. It’s going to be impossible to organize all of this into boxes. I stroll to my drawer and begin to sift through its contents.
“Ashley!” my mom calls. “Go up to the attic, bring down the boxes, and start packing your things!” I roll my eyes, wondering how she has enough breath to yell all of that up the stairs, but I don’t make a move to obey her. “Now, or you’re grounded!”
Getting up heavily, I hurry down the hallway and make my way up the stairs to the musty attic. Once I’ve found the boxes that Mom was talking about, I throw them down the stairs. After flicking off the light, I follow them.
Once I’m back into my room, I begin packing my belongings into them. After about an hour, the phone rings, but I don’t attempt to pick it up. I hear the answering machine then an unrecognizable voice.
“I know.” Those two simple words cause my blood to run cold. Someone knows. The voice continues, “You know what Ashley? You, along with your petty little friends, are going to pay.” A shiver creeps up my spine. The dial tone sounds, and the house goes silent. Just like that night.
The face is an illusion. Mirrors can really distort beautiful faces. You're thin and beautiful, Jenny. I tell myself over and over.
The face looking back at me is chubby and ugly though. I grab my hairbrush and hurl it at the mirror. Glass flies everywhere. There is nothing left at the spot where my face was just seconds before. I turn away from the broken enemy.
Looking down at my arm, I notice just how thin it really is. Too thin. It is getting better, though, because I am beginning to eat again. Before Shay and Adeline, everyone called me “skeleton girl.” They liked to pinch my skin, just to see how far it would come off the bone.
None of the girls other than Shay know my secret. Shay has never liked me very much, but she understands and listens to my problems. That is the only reason I put up with her. Adeline is the only reason she puts up with me. Either way, we’ve never been very close.
Our group hasn’t hung out since the prank. It seems like it has been years, but in truth, it’s only been three days since Leslie’s death. The shock of it all hits me yet again. We are all murderers and liars. We have taken a girl’s life, and none of us are willing to take the blame for our mistake.
Shay has been shooting daggers at me for the last few days. There is no school, but we still see each other, Adeline included. Ashley, however, doesn’t answer any of our phone calls, texts, or emails nor have we seen her around lately.
I see the mailman pull up, drop off a few envelopes, and go on his way. My only daily chore is to get the mail, so I go outside to get it. After bringing it inside, I sift through the envelopes in case one is for me.
One of them has my name on it with no return address. I take a seat at the kitchen table and tear it open. Inside, a single piece of paper has two words written in neat cursive. “I know.”
I throw the paper as if I’ve been burned. With wide eyes, I pick up the letter again and read those two solitary words. Slouching back in the hard wooden chair, I cover my face with my hands, overwhelmed with guilt and sorrow.
I blame myself partly. We all knew someone would get hurt. Despite that, we followed Shay and went through with the prank anyway.
All I could think of was seeing the complete coldness and cruelty in Shay’s gaze when she threatened me. Leslie’s dying scream echoed in my head. Tears streamed down my face.
Each of us have a secret to keep. This is just one more added to the list. I only hope we can keep this one if not the others.
One Week Later…
I watch my old house fade into the distance. There is no going back now. All of my worries and problems are now behind me. Maybe in Oregon, I can start anew.
My former friends have been trying to get ahold of me all week, wondering why I’ve been ignoring them. I have my reasons, but they will never know. They won’t know until they get the email I’ve set to send once I’m long gone. It says, “I hate you. Good-bye.” There’s simply nothing else to say to them or anyone else, for that matter.
I quickly fall asleep in the backseat of the warm car. My dream are filled with sunny days, parties every night, and many friends. I will have everything I will ever want in Oregon. Next Fourth of July, I’ll be with my new friends. This one thought brings me right back.
One Year Later…
The sun is glaring already as I walk to the mailbox and pick up the daily newspaper and grab the mail. After flipping through it and finding nothing for me, I glance at the newspaper. The second I glimpse the front page, I look away.
Shay’s gleaming face smiles up at me from above the small print. The headline is “Local Teen Still Missing After One Year.” Shay went missing a few weeks after Ashley moved. It’s been a whole year, and she still hasn’t been found.
Jenny and I are the only ones left. We have succeeded in keeping our secret over all of this time though Jenny has come close to breaking many times. That secret holds us together; without it, we’d drift apart.
I walk into the kitchen to find my mom leaning over her laptop, reading an email intently. When I clear my throat to make my presence known, she spins to me with tears in her eyes.
Knowing bad news is coming, I take a cautious step toward her and ask, “What is it Mom?”
After taking a deep, shaky breath, she blinks a few times and replies, “Ashley’s mother emailed me from Oregon. Apparently, Ashley has died from a drug overdose last night.”
I gasp and turn away, tears filling my eyes. Remembering all the good times all of us, Ashley, Shay, Jenny, and I, had together, I lower myself onto the stool beside the island. Mom comes around and pats my shoulder comfortingly.
Slapping the newspaper on the counter, I slowly get up and sulk toward the stairs. After gently shutting my door, I grab my cell phone and text Jenny. A few second later, the phone vibrates.
“Hey,” I greet Jenny. I’m met by dead silence. Suddenly, I think to look at the number. It’s a restricted call which is definitely not Jenny. “Hello?” The dial tone answers me.
A few minutes later while I’m still pondering who it could have been, I get a text. It says, “I will win.” The letter L is at the end. Leslie.
The next day, the whole town is buzzing, wondering who killed Leslie and Shay. I go to the mall, only to find people in small groups, pointing at me and whispering to themselves. I find Adeline sitting alone at a table in the crowded cafeteria.
As I walk up, I notice people coming up to ask her questions. When I sit beside her, we are both ambushed by different people, hammering us about Shay, Leslie, and Ashley.
The guilt consumes me as I lie to each of them when I say that I don’t know what happened to any of them. In truth, I know that Shay was murdered by whoever saw Leslie die, and we all contributed to Leslie’s death. Ashley has committed suicide because she went back to her old habits. The pressure weighs down on me as I stand slowly with Adeline.
She doesn’t say a word and ignores the cutting words that others throw at us. I admire how strong she is to be able to withstand all of this pressure without giving even the slightest clue that she is hiding something. When one of our old friends comes up to talk to us, the truth rises to my lips, and Adeline throws me a warning glance.
After walking home, I sneak into my parents’ room and grab the item resting between their two mattresses. When I’m safely back in my own room, I realize what I’m about to do.
I decide to wait one more day, and I stuff it under my mattress. Looking in one of the broken glass shards from the mirror, I see reflected in it a broken girl. The girl’s eyes are sunken, and she looks lost, broken, and way too thin. That girl can’t be me. I drop the shard and go downstairs.
On the counter, the newspaper for today lays untouched. Shay’s face glares up at me from the front page. Just seeing her beautiful, cruel face brings me right back to last year.
One Week Later…
I rub my red, swollen eyed and take a deep, shaky breath. All I can think of is Jenny, Jenny, and more Jenny. I can’t even process the fact that Jenny committed suicide.
Suddenly, the truth becomes terribly clear. I am alone now. Shay, Ashley, and Jenny are all dead. I don’t know how I’m supposed to contend with the difficulties that come with keeping my secret. Keeping it will be harder knowing I’m the only one who knows it.
Trying to get my mind off of Jenny, I plop myself onto the couch with the remote. When I flip the television on, I’m once again met by Jenny’s sweet, smiling face. The news is on, and all they’re talking about is “local teen commits suicide.”
I just burst into tears and yell and scream at the TV until finally the weather comes on. I sink to the floor and bury my head in my hands, remembering how it used to be before any of this. Of course, that only makes it harder.
Two Weeks Later…
I can’t believe it! Layne betrayed me! Days after Jenny’s death, Layne, who just so happens to be Leslie’s older brother, came up to me and comforted me. I thought he was trustworthy. After I had told him the truth about what had happened to Leslie, he went and told everyone.
All day, I keep having to ignore these glares from people who have been nicest to me. Some of them try to trip me or cause some other minor bodily injury. A few people go as far as flipping me off. Everyone now knows the secret that I have been so desperately trying to keep for over a year.
Finally, I resign to heading back to my own home. Luckily, once I arrive there, both of my parents are gone. When I close the door behind me, I find Layne standing before me. I have no idea how he was even able to get in without a key. That’s the thing that most scares me.
I gasp and back away slowly on pure instinct. “Why hello Adeline. Have you had a nice day?” I say nothing but remain safely silent, for anything I say might set him off. He is a ticking bomb ready to explode, and I don’t particularly want to be around for the gigantic boom. “Do you know why I did it?”
Once again, I don’t say a thing but just stare at the deranged boy standing in front of me. He takes his time walking towards me and whispers in my ear, “I killed Shay.”
My eyes widen with fear and shock which seems to amuse him greatly. He plops onto my couch in such a way that reminds me that he is in control of the situation at the moment. I stay frozen where I am, not willing to move or speak.
Before I know it, an hour has gone by, and he has told me everything. Apparently, he saw what happened to his sister that night. Ashley took care of her own death all on her own. He had killed Shay for his revenge. Jenny had been a slight problem, but her death had been only too easy. All Jenny had ever needed to crack was peer pressure and a little push.
I say nothing because I am frightened. I think he might just kill me too. He already ruined my life; why not take it too?
Instead, he just stands and leaves. A few minutes after I’m sure he’s gone, I sink to the ground with my head resting in my hands. I cry and cry until there are no more tears left in me. It feels just like the day Jenny died.
Three Days Later…
Nothing has changed in three days, at least, not for the better. I just heard that word has gotten around to Leslie and Layne’s family. Frankly, I’m surprised Layne didn’t tell them himself.
I don’t even bother going to school today. Why should I go when I won’t learn anything? I’m hated by everyone, including the teacher, so I don’t really see the use. I sat around at home all day, eating ice-cream and staring at a wall.My parents haven’t said anything to me about it because I keep myself locked up in my room when they’re home.
Suddenly, an idea inspired by Jenny pops into my head. I hurry up to my room and grab my red lipstick. On the mirror above my dresser, I write, “Have a party! I’m finally gone!” A suicide note seems silly and stupid; anyway, I like making my death interesting.
After getting my killer from out of parent’ closet, I close and lock my door. It’s not exactly that anyone will come in until much later today. Something just comes over me as if I know exactly what to do.
The weapon is cool and hard against the side of my head. Closing my eyes, I wonder what will happen when it’s over. Will I meet up with Jenny, Ashley, and Shay again? With a twitch of my finger, the story of my life comes to a tragic end, and it’s all because no one can keep a secret.