Chapter 3: Choose

I don’t know how I got home. But here I am, staring at my ceiling. I don’t remember if I said goodbye to Matt or any of my friends. I should do that. I should have said goodbye. I never said goodbye to Zoey or to Brittany. No one has heard from Brittany. No one has heard if she is alive or dead. Zoey’s face appears in my head. I can imagine it being projected on my ceiling like a movie. Her face bluish in tone. Her long black hair covering her face. I don’t understand. We were squeezed in there, all of us so tight. Sardines in a can, like they say. Yet only one of us died? Why? Why Zoey? I hear police sirens outside. Police sirens in my tiny town. I’m not sure the last time I had ever heard a police siren on my street. Maybe a few years back when Jerrod Rodgers from next door had been caught shoplifting a candy bar from the Happy Go Lucky Drugstore.

Why did they shoot Zoey? What reason? Who was it that shot her? Zoey was fun and adventurous and was not one of those girls who cared about popularity. She was stunning and so smart. He should’ve killed me. I care about popularity. I should’ve died. I’m going to be the Homecoming Queen. I’m the Head Cheerleader. I’m that girl. The one everyone wants to be like. I worked hard for that role and I did it by actually being nice to people or maybe I wasn’t so nice to people? Maybe I was mean to the wrong person? But I’m alive and Zoey isn’t. I reach for my phone and dial her number. I need to hear her voice. I need comfort. I need something. There are more police sirens outside. They need to leave. I need to make a phone call.

“Hola, it’s Zoey….what’s up? Thanks for calling, but I’m not here. I’m out. I’m having a life. You should get one too. Anyway, leave a message and if I like you, I’ll call you back. If I don’t….ooo, sorry.”
My heart drops. That outgoing message. I have always hated it. I told Zoey that we’re almost eighteen now and we have to make ourselves sound more mature in our outgoing messages. Zoey would always laugh at me when I would tell her that. “Who the hell over the age of eighteen is calling us?” she’d ask me. I would argue, tell her how we had to sound cool on our outgoing messages, it had to be a reflection of our personalities and she would tell me I sounded dumb. I call her again. I listen to that voice mail and hang up. I keep calling. I call until someone finally answers the phone. I hang up and continue to lie there.

My phone rings but I don’t answer, afraid it might be the person who answered the phone the last time I called Zoey. I let the machine pick up. I wish for those days when no one would call. In tenth grade when I drank too much, the phone never rang. I wasn’t who I am now. Little Miss Popular. I want to feel that burn again. It had numbed everything. Made everything better. My voice cuts through the silence.

“Hello, you have reached Nicole and I am not here right now. Please leave your name and number and a message after the beep and I will get back to you as soon as I can. Thank you for calling. Goodbye.”
“Hey, Nick….it’s Matt. Pick up….okay….”
Matt’s voice. That voice. We’ve been best friends since birth. He knows me so well. His voice always makes me smile. He’s always ready for a joke. He’s brilliant. So brilliant so why the fuck did he not work harder to save her. He was there, sitting right beside Zoey. He could have jumped in front of her. He could have shielded her, he could have done something like Riley’s boyfriend had done. But then what if Matt had died. There’s a beep and Matt’s voice vanishes from my room. The room is silent again and my eyes close.
The rising sun is my alarm clock as the light pours into my room. Not sure when I fell asleep but now I’m wide awake. My back is starting to ache. There’s a blinding pain on my left side. I let out a throaty groan as I turn my head toward my window. I can see the sun peeking out over the hillside turning the sky into an orange color that always makes me think of that sharp spready cheese you get for the holidays. The ones that are always covered in nuts. I try to take a deep breath but when I do, I feel this sharp pain in my chest. I move my arms up and place my palms on my bed. I slowly push myself up. I move my legs toward the edge of the bed and place my feet on the floor, forcing myself to stand.

I walk into my bathroom where I look at myself in the mirror. I haven’t looked at myself in the mirror since yesterday. I count in my head how long I’ve been up for but my mind doesn’t seem to want to function. My eyes are puffy, my make up completely smeared. My blonde hair looks matted and tangled. My face looks pale. I look like I’ve aged fifty years in twenty-four hours. My clothing makes me stop. My shirt that was so brilliantly pink the day before is now covered in dirt and what I assume is dried blood. My hands are dirty too. I turn on the faucet and run my hands under the water, trying to get yesterday off me. I splash water on my face, scrubbing the soap into my skin so hard that my face is now red, then I peel off my clothes. The shirt, the jeans and each item ends up in the trash. I’ll never wear those clothes again.

I walk toward my shower and turn it on, making it as hot as I can stand. Today is supposed to be the second day of school. The second day of school means that tonight would be the annual Freshmen versus Seniors Basketball Game. We’re the only freshmen to have won that game in, like, fifty years. We were determined to keep that title. There was no way we’d let this current crop of freshmen, which included my brother, take that away from us.

That was such an amazing night. That basketball court, the bright lights, parents and siblings lining the bleachers holding up green and white pom-poms, while the freshmen and seniors cheered on their classmates. I was a cheerleader. I was still thirteen. Our uniforms were so basic. That green felt skirt which felt so itchy and the white Hanes t-shirt. We didn’t have real uniforms yet. I led the team, which pissed Rachel Radcliffe off because she thought she’d be the captain of the JV Squad, and Matt made the winning shot.

I can still hear the sound of sneakers sliding across the floor, along with the sound of the dribbling ball. Shane or Chris could’ve made that shot. No one was guarding Matt but the seniors were surrounding Shane so Shane threw the ball to Chris, then the seniors moved on to Chris, Matt was standing right near the basket with ten seconds left in the game. We were tied with the seniors. Chris threw the ball to Matt and then he threw it. It was like one of those scenes in television shows where it goes in slow motion. The ball went into the basket and then the buzzer and it was the end of the game. Matt won the game and he tried to pretend like it wasn’t a big deal but there was this look he gave me, this smile and twinkle in his eye. It was subtle but I knew. He was happy.

The water is almost boiling, which turns my skin into a reddish pink color. The steam rises and fogs the glass door. I close my eyes as I feel the water run over me. What if I’m waking up now? What if yesterday was a bad dream and now I’m getting up and going to school? Today is actually the first day of school. I’m wrong. It’s not the second day, it’s the first. Matt and Zoey will be picking me up soon, we’ll be headed to our first day. I’ll tell them about my awful dream. Zoey will laugh and say, “You dreamt someone killed me?” Matt will joke and say, “Well, Zoey I’ve often wanted to kill you.” Then we’ll laugh. I’ll play with the radio, we’ll sing along to whatever song comes on regardless if we know the words or not and Matt will roll his eyes and talk about the downfall of good music. We’ll meet everyone at McDonalds. We’ll have breakfast. We’ll make fun of Lexie because she’s actually on time. Jennie will tell us about her summer shooting a movie in New York. Shane, Chris and Matt will get into a lengthy discussion about midgets or pie. Brittany will tell us about this book she read and how we all have to read it. Oh God. Brittany. I have not thought of Brittany since she went missing. She hasn’t called. Why hasn’t she called? No, she’s home. She hasn’t called because she’s busy at home. That’s right. I’ll see her soon at McDonalds. We have plans. We all have plans. Next week is Chris’ birthday. We’re planning to go to Disneyland. We wanted to eat Monte Cristo sandwiches and drink lemon slushies. Chris wanted a pirate hat. See, we have plans. You can’t be dead or go missing if you have important plans. My knees start feeling weak. I’m starting to fall. My knees soon hit the white porcelain of my tub. I’m shaking.

Tears start to come down, faster. The water keeps pelting me. They’re gone. Brittany is dead too. I’m sure of it. Both of them. She’s missing because she’s dead too. I lost them. Lost Zoey and Brittany. There was a time when I was happy to not have them in my life, but this isn’t that time. This needs to be a dream. It has to be a dream. A horrible, horrible dream. I’m going to Disneyland this weekend.
My skin is becoming pink and pruney. I step out of the shower and grab my robe. Brittany, Zoey, and I all have identical pink puffy robes. We got them monogrammed a few years ago when we became friends again.
I put on the robe and walk out, feeling the plushy carpet under my feet and sit at my window seat where I stare out the window. I look next door, I see Valerie Allerod run out with her two little kids in tow, her husband behind her. I hear the beep as she turns off the alarm to her car. They’re talking. They keep pointing at the Rodgers’ house across the street. The kids are cute. They’re laughing, oblivious to whatever their parents are discussing. I wish I could trade places with them. I can’t take anymore and get up and change into my leopard print pajama bottoms and oversized USC sweatshirt. I walk out of my room and notice the tall wooden grandfather clock that my grandparents bought us. It’s early and the ticking seems to be getting louder and louder. I walk toward my brother’s room, he’s asleep. I can hear him snoring. I turn and walk toward the staircase, jumping when I feel something furry brush up against me. I look down to see Lola, our King Charles Spaniel puppy. I pick her up and hold her close as I walk down the stairs toward the kitchen. Lola keeps licking me. With every step comes another puppy kiss. It’s as if she knows something bad happened. The kitchen tile feels cold as I place Lola down. I walk toward the cabinets and get her a treat. I watch her as she tears apart the jerky chew, listening to her chew loudly. She’s so happy. The Allerod children laughing. Lola snacking. So much innocence. Why can’t I have that anymore?

I make myself coffee and as I get milk, I notice a bottle of white wine. It would be so easy. It was my trick. Open the bottle, pour some in my coffee and fill the bottle with water so no one would know. I grab the bottle, look at it. My mouth starts watering and I shake my head, quickly putting it back. I get the carton of milk instead and pour it in my coffee. That smell of coffee. It’s my favorite smell in the world. When I was little, a teacher asked me once what I wanted to be when I was a grownup and I said I wanted to work in a coffee shop just so I could be around that smell all day. Lola has finished her treat. It is too quiet. I hate it when it’s this quiet. I put the carton back and hold my favorite big ceramic Starbucks mug close to me. As I reach the couch, I notice a yellow post it next to the remote control. In my mother’s handwriting, she explains that my dad has some client meeting and she had to run to my dad’s office to pay some bills. I crumple the note in my hand and toss it onto the table as I grab the remote, sit back on the couch and stare at the television for a few seconds before turning it on. I grab a blanket from the back the couch to cover myself and begin to stare at the television while raising my coffee to my lips. It feels so good, the hotness of the coffee going down my throat, that smell tickling my nose. It’s nice. A short moment of happiness.
Over the rim of my coffee cup, I see it. The images of the shooting are plastered on the screen. I am mesmerized. I feel like an outsider, watching this. This isn’t my school. I’ve heard of school shootings before. There was one in Colorado once but that was a long time ago and Colorado is far. It was sad, I was really little when that happened. Up until yesterday, I was certain something like that would never happen here. Our town is tiny, we’re smack dab in between Los Angeles and San Diego. The town you drive through to get to either one of those places. Jennie once called us the “Jan Brady town” since we’re the mostly ignored middle sister town connecting the two big important cities.

We don’t care. We’re the town on the front of postcards. We’re a friendly people, a community that’s happy with our little bubble. Several US Senators live here as well as a porn star. We’re proud of that. Proud to be us and violent things don’t happen here.
Jennie suddenly appears on the screen. She’s talking about the tragedy. She’s discussing what she heard. It began yesterday when we saw her in the park. One moment, she’s standing with us, crying, and the next she’s standing in front of the news cameras, talking about what she knows. She doesn’t know anything. She was in a closet for the entire shooting. She talks about her “dear friend” Zoey which makes me sick. I was closer to Zoey. Jennie was rarely ever in school. She tries but often she’s off filming for months at a time. There are stories about how her parents wanted to move her to Bayat so she could have a normal life or something. I don’t know but there she is standing in front of cameras, looking absolutely perfect, not a hair out of place, her make-up done and a single tear falling down her left cheek. She makes me sick. There are more victims, more bodies than just Zoey, the reporters say. Zoey would hate that. She would just despise being referred to as a victim.
Bayat looks like a war zone. There’s footage of students running out of the building and cops are everywhere and that yellow police tape is roping the school. It doesn’t even look like a school. Windows are shattered, people are screaming. It looks like a scene out of a movie and inside the school there are bodies. They start listing names of people who’ve been identified. Some I know.

Riley Marcus’ face appears as one of the victims. She was one of the cheerleaders on the Varsity Squad. She was pretty, blonde and super sweet and had just turned sixteen about two weeks ago. I was invited to her Sweet Sixteen. I didn’t go. Lexie was singing at some coffee shop in San Diego and I went there instead. I should’ve gone. Lexie will be singing for a while. I heard Riley’s party was really fun. She had a tea party. I remember she was telling me how her dream was to be a vet. That’s all she wanted to do. I think she would’ve been good at it. She lived on a ranch about fifteen minutes away from school that had horses, chickens, ducks, everything. I was over there a bunch of times last year. It was a regular farm.

Another face they show is Will Arlington, Adam’s best friend. He was fourteen years old. He hadn’t even really started high school yet, what the hell did these shooters want with him? He has an older brother, Tyler, who is twenty, and a sister, Julie, who’s in my class. I don’t know Tyler really and Julie… I’ve spoken with a handful of times. I was at her Bat Mitzvah in eighth grade. I remember she was the one that convinced Matt to have his Bar Mitzvah. Will was awesome, well when he and Adam weren’t plotting the next prank they could play on me. Will was a prankster, he never meant to hurt anyone, he just wanted a laugh and you know what? The pranks he and Adam pulled, even though they were mostly on me, were kinda funny. The time they put blue hair dye in my shampoo and I looked like a Smurf, or that other time when I got my new car and they hid fish under one of the seats. If they hadn’t been meant for me, I would’ve laughed. I did laugh…well, when they weren’t looking.

It doesn’t make sense. All Riley wanted to do was ride her horses, Will wanted to make people laugh, Zoey wanted to just be different and make her mark. These weren’t mean people. They never meant to hurt anyone. Why were they killed? What did they do? What could a seventeen-year-old, a sixteen-year-old, and a fourteen-year-old have done that was that bad to be killed off like sitting ducks? There are other faces that pop up on the screen. I’m not sure about the others. They talk about how not all the bodies have been identified and the body count might be as high as sixteen and the injured, even more.

I reach for the remote, I can’t watch the news. I can’t watch my town under siege. I switch the channels and stop on the Cartoon Network. The Powerpuff Girls are on. I haven’t watched that in a while. I smile as I watch Bubbles, Buttercup, and Blossom fly through the air. I feel the tears start to fill my eyes again. God, I loved that show. Zoey did too and Brittany. The three of us dressed up like the Powerpuff Girls for Halloween in second grade. I was Bubbles because I have blonde hair and blue eyes. Brittany was Blossom. She wore a red wig, and then Zoey was Buttercup. For about a year or so after, the three of us used to call each other by those nicknames. Now they’re both gone.

chpt 3


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