The Final Puzzle

December 30, 2011
By , Barrington, IL
Alex sat stock still, silent. There wasn’t room for emotions, or the energy to move, only shock. The emptiness inside her weighed her down so heavily she felt that at any moment she might sink through the floor. She wished she could, if it meant escaping what had just happened. She would give anything to erase it from her memory, the image still burned behind her eyes. The moment she had walked through the door, shouting at her sister for forgetting to drive her home from school yet again seemed ages ago. It was like a dull haze had clouded that moment, and everything that came after was in painfully sharp focus. Everything had changed the instant no angry reply came, and she found her sister’s lifeless body, and the suicide note.
May 22, 2010

I’m sorry for what this will do to you, but please believe it was the best option I had. I won’t say who’s at fault, because I don’t want to leave anyone with the guilt, but I just felt that this would be better than my continuing to live unhappily. I’m sorry.


Alex knew she should be crying, but her brain couldn’t send the message to her eyes. She simply couldn’t think at all. One line of the note cut deeper than all the rest. ‘I won’t say who’s at fault, because I don’t want to leave anyone with the guilt...’ it left the unanswerable question of who deserved the blame. Even now, she didn’t understand what had led to it. Her sister hadn’t seemed depressed, if anything, Alex was the one who had always been hiding unhappiness. But perhaps, she realized, she had been paying too much attention to herself. Maybe if she hadn’t been so focused on her own issues, she could have foreseen this. Maybe even stopped it. That was when the doubt started, and the unanswerable question shifted; had it been her own fault?


Alex Kraston. 2/19/10. Alex quickly scribbled the date into the upper right hand corner of her math test before handing it in. It was another one she had almost assuredly failed. Her math grade was suffering, but it was just one of many. Besides, she had other stuff in her life that was more important than math. As she saw it, math wasn’t going to be in her future, so therefore it was unnecessary to put forth full effort. And as a sophomore, what did she have to worry about? Senior year was the important one. Plus, it was the last class of the day and the entire period was filled with a longing to be out of school and zero desire to pay attention, let alone learn.

Slinging her backpack over one shoulder she headed through the crowded school hallways, rolling her eyes as she pushed her way through group after group of gossiping girls and guys trying to look cool. All so superficial. Internally, she was just hoping Mel had remembered that she was supposed to drive Alex home today. Nothing was worse than walking half a mile home in a sweatshirt in the middle of a Michigan winter. Her sister was good at forgetting things, especially when they involved Alex. Heck, her whole family was good at forgetting her, she thought bitterly.

She reached Mel’s parking space, shivering as the wind ran through her sweatshirt, and light flurries of snow landed in her dark brown hair which the wind was pulling out of its’ messy pony tail. The space was empty.

“Figures,” she muttered under her breath, hunching her shoulders against the wind, frustrated to the point of tears, she started the trek home. Admittedly it hadn’t been smart not to wear a jacket, but on the other hand, she wasn’t supposed to be walking home. But ten bucks said her parents would yell at her for her forgetfulness, and excuse her sisters. That was how it always happened.

20 minutes later, she came up to her house. Moderate sized, nothing special, despite her the fact that her parents were constantly working. She could barely work her fingers to have them grab the doorknob, it felt like every piece of her body was about to fall off. She yanked the door open and slammed it with unnecessary force, feeling the burning sensation as the heat of her home enveloped her.

“Mel!?!” Alex shouted as the door slammed. “I am so freaking sick of walking home when I’m expecting a ride in your car! Where the heck were you today?” She hollered to the empty house, not caring about how loud she was being. No response came. Her sister’s car was in the garage, Mel was definitely here. Sighing angrily she kicked off her sneakers and dropped her bag, running upstairs. Her sister’s room was closed, and she could make out some noise from inside.

Without bothering to knock, she barged in. “Where were you today?” she questioned, with as much attitude as she could force into the words. It took another moment for her to realize her sister was crying. Just sitting there at her desk looking at a picture of James Hilltone, her boyfriend of about a year. Pieces started to fall together. Maybe Alex would have been more sympathetic if her hands weren’t literally bleeding because of the cold.

“Mel! I’m standing right here, answer!” She ordered.

“Alex, would you just SHUT UP for a second!” Mel screamed, the force of her answer almost making Alex lose her confidence. Almost.

“I am not going to just be quiet because another one of your stupid problems is once again more important than me! I had to walk home. In a sweatshirt! It is the middle of FEBRUARY. My hands are seriously bleeding. And naturally it doesn’t even MATTER to you!” she screamed back, equal in force.

“James broke up with me. Four days after Valentines Day. After being together a whole year. He just left! No explanation! I’m sorry if I’m a little distracted,” she hissed.

Alex rolled her eyes, “He was an idiot anyways.”

“Like that helps.” Mel muttered.

“I don’t get what’s so important about him.”

“You’re too young,” Mel said.

Alex’s temper flared, “You’re not all that mature yourself! Crying over some stupid boy like any other stereotypical teenage girl. Grow up!”

“Just be quiet! You really don’t GET it! I thought he was different than all the other jerks, but he got what he wanted then he got bored, and now I realize everything was wasted on him!” She yelled, her voice breaking at the end.

Alex sighed angrily, “It was a break-up, get over it. Thanks so much for saying sorry for forgetting me. Again.” She sneered. Moments later she left the room, still angry, but slightly bewildered as to what the big deal was.


That had been almost three months ago, though it seemed more recent. The fight itself hadn’t been all that bad in terms of yelling, but the aftermath was worse than usual. They went an entire week, barely speaking. Even after their parents had forced them to make up things had never quite gone back to normal. As Alex had predicted, when her mom finally got home from work at her small boutique in town, she made Melanie a warm cup of tea and yelled at Alex for being insensitive. The lack of understanding and sympathy she got from her mother had cut deep. And when her father came home from his job, a hospital an hour away, she couldn’t help but realize that he payed her no attention as well. What had hurt most wasn’t the lack of attention, it was how she wasn’t even surprised by it.

Looking back she could barely remember her thoughts. Her mind had been so clouded by anger any filter she’d tried to build up had dissolved. Alex had always had a problem with speaking her mind, despite how harsh it was. Mel was usually the victim of her outbursts. Although she hated how much of a girl her sister always acted like, shopping every weekend and such, Mel had been absolutely gorgeous in every sense of the word. She had guys chasing her everywhere she went.

Alex was pretty, but in a completely different way. Her dark brown hair was impossible and she always kept it pulled back. She couldn’t pull off jewelry or makeup. The only necklace she ever wore was a cross from her grandfather. Her typical outfit consisted of jeans, a t shirt, sneakers, and some form of sweatshirt. She’d never stood out.

But now it seemed that Mel’s life hadn’t been as perfect as Alex had always assumed. The hints in her sister’s words made her consider what Mel had actually meant in saying that she ‘wouldn’t understand.’ Perhaps she had missed a key detail. Maybe losing James had been more than anyone had originally thought.

In her mind she remembered the puzzles that her and her family had done together. It had been a Sunday activity. When the girls were younger, after dinner they would all work together on a puzzle. Sometimes they’d take almost a year to finish. In the process of that year they’d sometimes lose a few pieces. And no matter how beautiful the picture looked in the end, Alex always felt her eyes drawn to those empty places. There was something so dissatisfying about not having the full image.

Closing her eyes again, Alex tried to return to the past. A time when things were simpler, and she still had a sister. The thought should have brought tears, and yet her eyes stubbornly remained dry. Punishing herself for feeling nothing, Alex forced herself to remember more. To try to understand what had happened.


Alex was sitting in Mel’s car. Sarcastically making internal comments about the miracle of her sister actually remembering to drive her home. Typically she would have made them out loud, but she’d been feeling uneasy around her sister. It had been about a month since her break up with James, but she obviously still had feelings for him. And with the rumors that had been floating around the school about the sort of guy he was, she wasn’t sure what was true and what wasn’t.

She didn’t exactly have friends to go to. Alex, although nice, found most everything about kids her age to be superficial and too falsely cheery. What was the point in friendship, if no one ever knew the real you?

“James is going out with Chelsea now.” Mel said, making Alex jump with the sudden randomness of the comment.

It wasn’t all that big of a surprise. Chelsea was a close friend of Mel’s, but lately they’d been fighting because Chelsea wanted to date James. Obviously, Mel was against it. But Chelsea thought she was being possessive. Evidently Chelsea had chosen to completely ignore her best friend’s wishes and date James anyways.

“Should I say congrats to them?” Alex asked, trying to lighten the mood.

Mel gave her a look, “She’s making a big mistake though. Regardless of how she thinks she feels about him. She’s going to regret this.”

“That sounded really ominous.” Alex muttered, rolling her eyes.

“The situation demanded it,” Mel said coldly. The two of them didn’t say anything else, but the awkwardness of the car ride had increased, and the temperature seemed to have dropped. There was something Alex didn’t recognize in her sister.


Regardless of what people say about March coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb, the beginning of May was the first consistent ‘lamb’ weather Alex had felt since last fall. It may have been warmer outside, but things with her sister were as icy as ever. Alex had been outside, enjoying the warmth and the freedom of not having to bundle up, but now she was inside, eavesdropping on her sister’s phone conversation.

If a person was on the landline, Alex could take the phone from her room and listen in to the conversation. She’d done it a couple of times before, never hearing anything of real interest. Walking inside, she tucked her hair behind her ears, and grabbed the phone. Slinking off into her closet, she was able to listen without anyone being any the wiser of her whereabouts. The conversation was between her sister and Chelsea. In discovering this, Alex instantly knew something was up, her sister had said she was calling their mother.

“I tried to warn you. He only wants one thing. If you don’t want to listen fine, but I’m saying get out now.” Her sister’s voice sounded hollow through the phone line.

“I’d listen to you if I didn’t think jealousy was making you biased!” Chelsea responded, a little heatedly.

“Jealous? Of that? You look like you got hit by a freaking car!” Mel hissed back angrily.

“You don’t even understand.” Chelsea protested.

“I do. Better than you think. But if you want to be stupid, fine. Lately you only seem to care about yourself. I know what’s gonna happen, but you don’t want to listen to me. Well fine, but don’t come crawling back to me when I’m exactly right, because I’m not helping you this time.” The phone line clicked.

Alex rushed downstairs to hang up the extra phone, heart pounding. She could guess something from the conversation. She wasn’t 17 like Mel, but she wasn’t an idiot either.


Alex sat there. She still hadn’t moved. Thoughts flashed through her mind, playing like a television on which someone was rapidly changing the channels. Each image or thought barely coherent, how would she tell her parents? How would they react? What would happen back at school? Would people blame here? She still couldn’t truly grasp the idea that Mel was gone. She’d been so real in the morning. How could everything have changed so suddenly? The pieces simply didn’t fit. Something was obviously missing.

From her seat on the couch she could see Mel’s phone on the table. The light was flashing, showing that she had a new text or voicemail or missed call of some sort. Mel had always screamed at Alex whenever she’d gotten near her phone, but now the situation was slightly different. ‘I’m not doing this to spite you,’ Alex thought to her sister as she shakily grabbed for the phone.

There were two missed calls from her mother and one message from another friend just asking about homework. Dissatisfied, she clicked through old text messages. It seemed that Mel had been ignoring Chelsea. There were at least ten from her without a reply.

765-0923 May 11: why didnt you tlk to me 2day? I had something important to tell u...
765-0923 May 12: this ignoring thing is getting old. Just GET OVER IT!

Then there was nothing for a couple of days.
765-0923 May 16: Mel? Look, im sorry about what i said...and u might have been right.
765-0923 May 16: I know you have ur phone! i SEE it in your hand across the lot. Seriously...I need help. Call me dangit.
765-0923 May 16: its been two hours since u called. where are you? You said you’d be here 30 minutes ago...
765-0932 May 17: I can’t believe u. You won’t even talk to me. And you know exactly what happened. Dont act like you don’t. Yes you were right about him. and now that ur ‘prediction’ came true I actually need u there to help me. I don’t know what to do...
Me May 17: Told you so.
765-0923 May 17: Forget you. I swear im just going to kill myself and get it over with.
Me May 17: Stop being so dramatic.
765-0923 May 17: this sort of thing requires drama. you don’t get it. my entire mind feels messed up. its not simple.
Me May 17: Whatever. you were being stupid. you deserved what you got.

Alex closed the phone, she didn’t want to read anymore. Vaguely she could remember May 17th. She had noticed something was up with Mel and that Chelsea seemed off somehow too.


It was incredibly chilly for a day in May, but despite that, they would be going outside for gym. All the girls changed in the same locker room, freshman and seniors alike.

Alex’s locker was coincidentally right near Chelsea’s, who she usually exchanged a few words with. They weren’t close, Alex wasn’t close with anyone, but at least they knew each other. While Alex was lacing up her sneakers she noticed Chelsea wincing a little as she moved. Upon closer examination she could see bruises all over her body, and a much more defined stiffness to her movements.

“Hey...what happened?” she asked, voice raised a bit to be heard over the locker room bustle. “You look pretty banged up.”

Chelsea rolled her eyes. “Just ask your sister.” she said, bitterly.

Alex couldn’t tell if she meant that her sister would know what had happened, or that her sister had caused it. Either way, the antagonism between the two friends prevented her from wanting to get more involved in the situation.

“, alright. See you.” She responded somewhat awkwardly.


Pictures were starting to form in her mind of a scenario. But it still seemed like pieces were missing. Alex could tell there was a twisted love triangle between Chelsea, James, and Mel. That much was obvious. She shuddered as she had to remind herself to think of Mel in the past. She still felt as though she was within the grasp of something. A bigger understanding of something that had happened.

No one else knew Mel had died. As far as Chelsea or her parents were concerned, she was still alive. She put her head in her hands and inhaled shakily. There was nothing forcing her to figure things out, but the sudden loss of her sister was a motivator like no other. It might have sounded cliche but she almost felt that Mel wouldn’t be at peace until she figured it out. The thought was embarrassing to voice in her mind, but the feeling was still there.

Alex raised her head, at this point there were two things she could do. Stay sitting here and try to figure things out based on memories alone, or actually make an effort to talk to someone who might have the full story. James was out of the question. He and Mel may have been together for awhile, but Alex had never really warmed up to him. His entire aura had made her incredibly wary of him. Plus he was always upsetting Mel, even though she would forgive him no matter what. Chelsea on the other hand, although awkward to talk to, was someone Alex at least felt comfortable around. She could be stuck up on occasion, and was boy-obsessed, and hooked on shopping, but at least Alex wasn’t afraid of her.

She reached for her sister’s cell phone, and scrolled to where Chelsea’s number was. Heart pounding for no apparent reason, she pressed ‘talk’ and raised the phone to her ear, listening to the ringer. Halfway through the fourth ring, Chelsea picked up.

“Hey. I didn’t do it. But I’m not picking up my phone for a reason. Let me spell it out, I don’t want to talk to you!” Chelsea shouted into the phone and was on the verge of hanging up.

“Wait! Chelsea, it’s Alex!” Alex said hurriedly, in a desperate bid to keep Chelsea on the phone.

“Alex? Why are you on Melanie’s phone?” Chelsea asked.

“It’s important, I need to ask you something...”Alex said, feeling the stress of the day finally start to work on her as her voice broke at the end.

“Your sister better not have put you up to this.”

“She doesn’t know....she’s...” Alex sucked in a breath of air, and blinked furiously against the tears that were finally starting to fall. “She’s dead.”

There was silence, “Please say you’re lying.”

“I’m not.”

More silence, the breathing on the other end of the line grew ragged, with a start Alex realized Chelsea was crying.

Alex worked to even her breathing out, she could cry later, she told herself. “Chelsea? I know it’s upsetting, but I really need to know what happened. I won’t tell, I’m not asking for other’s sake, I just want to know. Mel and I never really got along, and right now I’m afraid this is my fault.” The last part was half a lie. She hoped that maybe by making her motive seem more innocent she would be able to convince Chelsea to tell her the whole truth.

Chelsea was quiet for a long time, then quietly whispered, “It’s not your fault.”

The lack of information that came with the answer was so frustrating Alex wanted to hit something, she worked harder to distance herself from what was happening, “How do you know?” she asked.

She could hear Chelsea inhale deeply, “I’m fairly sure it’s mine...”


Chelsea was crying again, “I didn’t want this to happen, even though I was afraid it would. Mel’d promised she’d help me and get James arrested for what he was doing. But she never showed up, and no one was there to stop him. And when I tried to talk to her about it she just said that I deserved it! I wanted her to feel guilty, she never understood what it was like to have someone force themselves on you like that. I can’t sleep or think anymore! And I lost my best friend too, when I needed her most.” she paused for a second, and Alex could hear her crying harder.

“But I still don’t understand...why would know, kill herself over that? There’s not enough there.” Alex persisted.

“No, and she probably wouldn’t have. But the next day I....I told her I was just going to kill myself. Everything in my life seemed so twisted, and I felt so alone. I really believed I was going to do it. And when she acted like she didn’t even care, I told her...” she inhaled shakily, “I told her that I’d leave a note telling everyone it was her fault, and that it would be, and she’d have to live with the guilt of it for the rest of her life. I wanted her to feel bad, like she personally had destroyed my life. And that she personally would be responsible for my death.”

Alex’s breathing was uneven, “then what happened?” she asked, afraid of the answer.

“Can we stop...please? I can’t think about this...I don’t know what to do...” she paused, “please?”

No. No they couldn’t. Not when they were so close. “Chelsea,” Alex commanded, “please just tell me what happened next. Then I’ll go...” a pause, “she was my sister,” Alex said, the words hitting her with full force for the first time, “I just need to know.”

“I...alright. I’d told her all that two days ago. Yesterday, I didn’t come to school. I faked sick. I wanted her to worry. I didn’t pick up my phone, and when she called the home phone I told my mom not to answer because I was busy.” This all came out in a rush, then she slowed down, “Today I didn’t come to school either, once again, I wanted it to hurt her. I wanted to make her feel like she had to live with the guilt of my life on her shoulders. She called me this afternoon. I didn’t answer. Then she didn’t call again. Yesterday she’d called me non stop. I was starting to get worried...hoping she hadn’t gone to extremes. I promised myself the next time she called, I’d pick up. But it was you...” she stopped, and Alex could hear her breathing hitch over the phone, “that’s why, this is my fault.”

Alex could barely speak, “I see. Bye Chelsea, thanks for...being honest.” She said, hurriedly, suddenly desperately just wanting to end the call and be by herself.

Things made sense now. There was no more confusion, but the numbness was still there. She was struck by a sense of hopelessness. She understood now, but what difference had it made. She was too late. It wasn’t a movie, where the pieces come together at the eleventh hour, and someone saves the day. Maybe she could have done things differently, maybe she could have saved her sister, but the fact remained that Mel was gone. She always would be. Nothing could change that now. She repeated the words in her head, over and over again. Searching for the reaction she knew was needed.

The wheels of her mind were finally turning normally. She had no idea how to cope, or what the future would hold, but she knew exactly what to do.

Legs shaking, she walked over to her home phone. Lifting it she dialed 9-1-1. A male voice answered. “9-1-1, what is your emergency?”

Voice breaking she answered, “I’m calling to report my sister’s suicide...” and could say no more. Saying the words out loud made it real. Suddenly it hit her with the force of a solid rock wall. She clutched a chair, and dropped the phone as her shoulders heaved with the sobs the wracked her body. Unable to breath, and with tears streaming down her face she was stuck by a sudden sense of peace. The crying, the tears that had built up for so long were finally flowing free. And Alex wished with all her heart that she would never have to face the problems of tomorrow, and that she could just lay on the floor. To just cry forever felt so easy, she thought, as she could feel her body adjusting to how it would work with such a big piece of her gone forever.

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