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Audrey had a gut feeling that what everyone thought about Mabel’s death was not true. She sat at her desk in English class, feverishly braiding her short black hair into small sections, running through all the possible ways Mabel’s life could have ended. They were best friends and practically inseparable compared to most of the other friendships, even relationships, in the high school they went to; the two girls were among the most popular clique of students in the school, and even though they had only been in tenth grade they basically ran the grade and student body. Audrey had heard the rumors and comments about her dead best friend all around town, ranging from being called a needy attention grabber, to not having the right care. Some even thought that it was actually a murder and not self inflicted. The last thought ran through Audrey’s mind many times and bugged her the most about this situation. She knew that her best friend would never do something like ending her life, even though she was sadder than most people she knew; it just wouldn’t happen.
Most people who thought that Mabel’s death was not a suicide, pointed the blame at an eleventh grader, Charlotte. Charlotte, or Lottie, as they called her, was a sweet girl with glasses, long hair, a loving heart, and good grades. But even the best people have issues with them; in this case, Lottie had a tendency to get involved with younger students’ drama to feel included. More specifically, the ‘nerd’ got very friendly with the popular group that Mabel and Audrey took a part of. This was a bad move for a variety of reasons, especially because the group’s leader, Jillian, is not someone Lottie was particularly fond of. Jillian was a fake, passive aggressive blonde who only cared about herself, but Lottie ignored this because she was determined to get close to Mabel, a sweet, beautiful, and intelligent person. For lack of better words, Lottie was in love with Mabel; she cared about her immensely and always stood up for her even if it hurt her. Just when their relationship was getting deeper, the two girls began to fight about almost everything that happened between them. The bond was clearly unhealthy and toxic for both of them, but they refused to break up because they were so used to each other’s company. Despite the clear dysfunction, Jillian was jealous of their relationship and began to have feelings for Charlotte. She was always caught gushing over her hazel eyes (that shifted from brown to a greenish-blue) and shiny brown curls.
“Audrey! Are you with us?” Mr. Jackson asked, “We are on page three thirty-six. Please read the fourth paragraph.” Audrey felt her cheeks get red, but nobody giggled or paid much attention because they were aware of devastating loss that she recently experienced. Before starting to read the section on the First World War, Audrey glanced up at the seat where Mabel used to reside. She then felt like her throat was closing up; tears blurred the corners of her eyes and her voice started cracking. Audrey felt ridiculous, but every letter ‘M’ that she came across reminded her of her best friend, making her tragically nostalgic.
“I’m sorry...I can’t do this,” Audrey said with her choked back voice, picked up her orange backpack, swung it around onto her shoulder and began to race to the bathroom. As she rushed through the hallways, no one came after her; she walked when passing the classroom doors with small windows on them, but zoomed the rest of the way. Almost miraculously, there were no other girls in any of the bathroom stalls in the restroom she was in. She had the whole room to herself. Normally, Audrey thought, people who are alone in bathrooms just go on their phones or write something on the wall. But I am just going to cry. This is so stupid.
As Audrey wallowed in an ocean of self pity mixed with yearning for her best friend, her mascara mingled with her tears and created black splotches of water, which reminded her even more of Mabel, who always commented that rain would be much cooler if it was black. Nothing could happen without Audrey being reminded of Mabel.
Later that day, Audrey had recovered from her morning meltdown and was trying to make the best of the day. However, when sixth period arrived, the cafeteria seemed fuller than normal. Originally, she thought nothing of it, but after she grabbed her mediocre chicken caesar salad and made her way to her usual seat, she noticed that there was no space for her. She looked up and down the rectangular table in desperation, but all of the spots were taken up by Jillian’s snobby friends. Emma looked up at Audrey with a clear look of sympathy in her blue eyes. You could tell that Emma was different from the people she hung around. She was better than them, but at that moment, the empathy was not changing anything in Audrey’s mind.
Instead of escaping back to the bathroom like she did earlier that day, Audrey went to sit with the only person in the school she could stand talking to for more than five minutes. Charlotte. She was well aware that this was risky, as Lottie was being accused left and right of being the reason why Mabel decided to end her life. She threw away other people’s judgement and sat down next to her.
“Hey, Lottie. You usually have your friends sitting here with you, right? Are they at an event for Honors Society or something?” Audrey grinned and tried to lighten the mood, but as soon as she brought up the topic of friends to Lottie, she knew she had hit a soft spot.
“I’m almost one hundred percent sure you know why nobody is sitting with me,” she said, shaking her head lightly, “Apparently I killed Mabel. I don’t think anyone wants to be seen with me.” The girl said every word with a cold spike to it because she refused to let herself cry any more over the incident. “Why are you here, anyway, Audrey?”
Audrey felt quite guilty about bringing up sensitive topics around Charlotte, especially because Mabel was her girlfriend and the death probably hurt her the most, behind Mabel’s parents. “I wanted to talk to you. I have been thinking,” Audrey paused and stabbed a straw into her juice container, “that not everything about Mabel is what it seems.” She took a sip, “I mean, I know you knew her so well and I did too. Do you really think it was a suicide? In seventh grade I noticed she was getting more sad, but we talked about it and everything involving death scared her so much. I just really don’t think that…”
“Audrey, what else would it have been? It’s not like anyone would have murdered her. Nobody hated her or wanted to hurt her. This is ridiculous!” Lottie snapped, her eyebrows furrowing together behind her dark rimmed glasses. Her upset expression faded when she looked off in the distance and saw Jillian staring at her from across the cafeteria; their eyes awkwardly locked then Charlotte looked away quickly.
Audrey turned around to see what had happened then turned back around to face her seat partner. “Are you sure?” She got up and left the room after gulping down the rest of her orange juice.
“Oh shut up, Jillian!” Elaine cackled and smacked her with a pillow. “I do not like him like that!” Jillian grabbed a handful of slightly burnt popcorn and giggled as she ate it in what seemed like one bite.
“Be careful, you might choke, Jill.” Emma said calmly but with a hint of worry in her soft voice. All Jillian usually did was roll her eyes at her friends being worried about her wellbeing, but this time the rolling was less enthusiastic. It seemed like Jillian was holding back vomit because her face went completely pale.
Audrey was sitting in the corner of the room on three, once colorful, duvet covers and was listening to music and doodling. It was eleven o’clock at night and the four girls were sleeping over at Elaine’s house; Audrey did not want to show up, but her mom thought it would be nice for her daughter to get out and have a good time “like teenage girls are supposed to.” She was attempting to ignore the other girls and longed for them to start the movie they chose over two hours ago, but she wouldn’t say anything. She was too drained (emotionally and physically) to talk to people she did not even like that much.
“Alrighty. Movie time,” Elaine said in a determined manner; she pulled down the covers of her bed and laid down with Jillian next to her. It was freezing cold but apparently Emma and Audrey were low on the priorities list, as they were supposed to be sleeping on the wood floor with a few blankets and one pillow. Before laying down, Emma turned the lights off and tossed the television controllers to Elaine and Jillian. Audrey had taken off her headphones by the time the DVD previews ended and placed one of the blankets she was sitting on next to Emma’s spot on the floor.
Suddenly, the thought of watching a movie did not interest Audrey anymore, so she decided to try to fall asleep. Eleven-thirty was early to be going to bed at a sleepover, but she was tired and reminded of Mabel, so the tears made her eyelids feel heavier than normal.
“She was getting more popular. You saw it and so did everyone else. I’m the one that is supposed to be the most important one. Not Mabel. Even her name was stupid. You know, sometimes I feel bad for what I did, but right now I am just mad that everyone sympathises with her. I just…” Jillian took a sip of her diet Coke before continuing to ramble to Emma. They were both sitting on the blanket Emma had been sleeping on for the night and were whispering almost creepily in order to keep their conversation at least semi-private, although they were in an enclosed space. Audrey tried to look at the alarm clock on Elaine’s nightstand, but could only see a few red blurs, but could make out a three and a zero. “Also, you know that I love Lottie. I hated that she chose Mabel over me. I wanted to change that.”
“How did you even do it? I seriously thought she killed herself. I don’t get how you,” Emma said quickly, rushing her words together, “how you made it seem like…”
“Remember Elaine’s New Year’s house party?” Emma nodded, curious to learn more. “Well I don’t think you were still sober at this point, but we had all had some to drink except for Mabel. She wanted to try some, which was weird for her, right? I was hoping that she would ask for some, though, so that’s why I made it seem like it was great and tasted amazing and stuff.” Jillian paused and almost sounded like she was on the verge of tears; her hands were shaking and she kept stumbling on her words and storytelling. “Well, I, uh, I drugged her. I took a bunch of cough syrup and poured it into her solo cup when she wasn’t looking. I was carrying it with me the whole night just hoping she would take a drink. I knew she probably wouldn’t die just from that, so I had another method in mind after that. Anyway, so I drugged it and she thought it tasted normal because she never had a taste of alcohol before, but she passed out within five minutes.”
“Oh my god. So she wasn’t actually drunk like you said? I thought you were taking her back to her house so she could sleep through her incoming hangover at her own house…”
“That’s called a cover up, Em.”
“So if she wasn’t dead from the poisoning, then what did you do? And what about the note from Mabel that was supposedly found?” Emma was feeling sick knowing that she was sitting next to a murderer, but she realized that she wasn’t popular whatsoever compared to Jillian, so she was probably safe.
“I hung her from…” That’s all Audrey heard and remembered from the late night conversation. She woke up in a cold sweat, gasping for air. Her eyes brimmed with tears, remembering her best friend. Had she just been dreaming the whole ‘confession’ session that Emma and Jillian had? Was it just some sick dream? Or were they being serious about Mabel dying? Audrey figured they were just messing around with her if it was the rare chance that she had not been imagining the whole thing. Jillian was awful, but not one to kill another. Or was she?
Audrey expected all of the girls in the room to be looking at her when she woke up choking on oxygen and shaking profusely, but the room was so silent it was surreal; Jillian and Elaine laid sprawled out on the queen sized bed, the blue comforter screwed up beyond belief, and Emma was curled up in the fetal position, completely lost under the thin blanket. Audrey rubbed her eyes to sharpen her vision, sat up, and peered at the alarm clock she had looked at a few hours before. It was seven in the morning.
Jillian blotted her lips with a tissue after applying red lipstick, “Hey,” she called from the lunch table, “Why did you leave so early on Saturday morning? Also, you didn’t pick up my calls.” Audrey noticed that although she sounded genuinely concerned, it was clear in her eyes that Jillian did not care if she was okay or not.
“Sorry, I felt sick. I was throwing up basically the whole weekend. I didn’t want to come today, but my mom made me,” Audrey lied, impressed with the spontaneous storyline she had come up with.
“Feel better,” Jillian mumbled apathetically.
Audrey began to feel stupid, wondering if she imagined the whole conversation about Jillian killing Mabel, but it just felt so real. She hoped with every inch of her being that it was just a nightmare, trying to make her cope with the loss of her best friend. Although she tried to ignore the feelings of disgust and anxiousness, Audrey decided that she could not bring herself to sit next to Jillian, so she walked a few tables down and accompanied Lottie, who tried to start a normal conversation that two teenage girls at lunch would have, but Audrey was suddenly overcome with the urge to tell her everything about the sleepover.
“Jillian killed Mabel,” Audrey blurted out, tears forming in her eyes. Lottie already had a confused expression just from those three simple words, “I heard her talking about it. I thought it was a dream at first but now I know it’s just not. It happened. Jillian is a murderer and everyone thinks Mabel did it to herself.” She wanted to stop talking, but the intense anger enveloped her, almost forcing her to keep ranting. “I sound dumb, I know, but I am right!”
“Shut up! Audrey, be quiet!” Lottie grabbed her by the wrist and explained that she had gotten too loud and that they should talk about this in a more private place, like the bathroom. The two of them got up silently, ditching their lunches and backpacks. Audrey could feel herself shaking as she blubbered on about the late night (early morning?) conversation between Emma and Jillian, explaining just what she had heard. Lottie believed her.
Audrey sat in eighth period, staring at the clock randomly and impatiently waiting for the final bell to ring. Telling Lottie about Jillian killing Mabel was hard to do, but it seemed like she had to. She couldn’t imagine living with the thought that you intensified someone’s decision to end their life. Other than lunch, the day had been uneventful. Valentine’s Day was only a few days away, prompting the start of SGA sponsored anonymous cards going out to people’s crushes or partners. Audrey was in the process of completing a study guide in science class, but Jillian’s ferocious giggle made her look up in an instant.
“Yeah, I wrote that,” Jillian said in between breaths of laughter, “Can you believe...,” the girls paused, looking at each other with humor in their eyes, and then they busted out into contagious laughter once again. “I even changed my handwriting to look different. God,” Jillian wiped tears of joy from her eyes and giggled again, “he is never going to know that I wrote that.”
The bell rang, signaling that yet another school day had come to an end. Jillian, Elaine, and another girl they recently met, Tara, were gathering their things and talking about their plans for FaceTime and phone calls that night, making sure they catered to cheerleading practices and family events. After swinging her bag over her shoulders and fixing her sweater, Jillian crumpled and threw away the sticky note they had been laughing at. I could see her handwriting...Audrey thought to herself. I need that note.
Even though she felt crazy for believing that Jillian murdered Mabel, she had an unfathomable urge to prove that her best friend did not kill herself; she needed to see that handwriting and compare it to the supposed note that Emma had mentioned during the conversation.
Audrey mumbled a goodbye to her teacher, gathered all of her things, and pretended to throw something away so she could grab the note. Looking back, she figured that her teacher wasn’t paying much attention anyway, so she could have just dived in like a seagull at the beach and grabbed the crinkled paper.
It was a flourescent orange sticky note, covered in lovey-dovey writing and a heart. She figured it must be recreating a note for one of the Valentine’s Day cards that were going around the school.
“Thank you for letting me come look around before you guys pack everything up. I just...need to see some stuff one more time,” Audrey said meaningfully to Mabel’s mom. She had asked to come over to gether some things she may have left, but the real reason she was there was to find the note ‘Mabel’ left and try to match the handwriting with Jillian’s.
Talking was too tiring for Mabel’s mom; she simply nodded and sheepishly grinned, making Audrey notice the intense dark circles and bags under her eyes. Audrey walked upstairs quietly, pausing to look at the various family pictures on the wall; after coming across one from last year, she moved fast, as if she was trying to run away from the fact that Mabel wasn’t there anymore. When she finally made it into Mabel’s old room at the end of the hall, all of her fondest memories came rushing back to her. She remembered the time when they pulled an all nighter in eighth grade to finish a paper. That time when they came up with dances for popular songs and shamelessly moved to them. When Mabel cried countless times over her fights with Charlotte. Once, they--
The memories paused when Audrey caught a glimpse of a note on the desk out of the corner of her eye. It was sloppily folded in half, with the words “I’m sorry” printed on them in distressed cursive. She didn’t want to read it, but she had to at least look at it. The ‘e’s were the same. The ‘s’s were the same. Every letter featured on both the letter and the sticky note were identical. And the letter was clearly not in Mabel’s writing. Audrey wondered why her parents did not pick up on the fact that it was not in in their own daughter’s handwriting. And then she realized that it would hurt them too much.
To cover up that all she had done was look at a letter, Audrey walked to the closet and grabbed a sweater that Mabel had gotten when they went birthday shopping one year. It was light pink and extremely fluffy. She grabbed the sweater off of the hanger, stuffed the letter inside, took one last look at the poster of Mabel’s favorite band on the wall, and walked downstairs. She wished her best friend’s mom good luck on the move and was on her way home. She called Charlotte’s number.
“I was right.”