“It was a nice funeral,” Mom said. She leaned against my bedroom door and stuck her foot in the frame. “Do you think Lorena would’ve enjoyed it? She seemed like the type who would like her own funeral.”
“I don’t know, Mom. I’ll ask her the next time I see her.” I pushed against the door a little harder. “Now go away. I want to be alone.”
The expression dropped from her face, but she stepped back into the hall. “You’re not planning on… seeing Lorena… for a long time, right, Blanche?”
“I’m not going to kill myself! Jesus!” I slammed the door shut and locked it. Then, I just stood and waited. I could hear her sobbing in the hall. The guilt was a vice on my heart, but I couldn’t deal with it right now.
She didn’t understand and I couldn’t explain it to her.
Once I heard her leave, I let myself collapse back onto my bed. I pulled the little wooden box onto my lap and ran my fingers across the lines etched in the top. It was a simple pattern, just a little star inside a circle. The point toward the top. Lorena always said that was important and I should avoid anyone with it pointed the other way.
“Is that what happened to you?” I asked aloud. “Did you get too close to someone with an upside-down star? Or were you really just that sick of looking at all of our ‘stupid, suburban, sheeple faces?’”
I slammed my head back against the pillow and squeezed the tears out from the edges of my eyes. The hollow pain burned in my chest. I needed someone to tell me it was going to be okay. I needed someone to tell me my best friend wasn’t dead. That she hadn’t just up and killed herself.
My hands started to hurt. I didn’t even realize how hard I was squeezing the box but when I looked down at my fingers blood welled up from a line of paper-thin cuts.
My blood rolled across the varnished wood and pooled inside the etched lines like a drainage ditch filling with extra-thick tomato juice. I watched it spread around the outer circle and across the sides of the star. I was transfixed. I didn’t even think to pull my fingers away until the grooves were full.
“Pro tip, Princess. Things that drink blood are rarely good.”
I looked up at the familiar voice. Lorena stood at the end of my bed with a stupid grin on her face. Her colors were faded, like a photograph with the saturation turned way too low and her edges fuzzed and blurred with the unicorn poster on the wall behind her.
“Lorena?” I asked. My throat was dry and my voice rasped against the back of my mouth. “Am I… Am I hallucinating?”
“Maybe. I imagine you’ve had a rough day.” She sat down on the edge of my bed but the mattress didn’t shift and the comforter didn’t even think about denting under her. “Your sparkling blues are more like red pufffies and the only other time I’ve seen you in that dress was when you had to go to your Gamgam’s funeral.”
“Oh.” She looked down at the floor and pursed her lips. “That blows. I was really hoping to make it through high school.”
“They told me…” The words lost their way somewhere between my larynx and my mouth and all I could manage was a rough grunt.
“What, Princess? What did they tell you?” She leaned toward me and propped herself up on one hand. “I need to know what they said.”
I closed my eyes and squeezed out another set of tears. “This is crazy. I’m going insane. Mom’s right. They’re going to have to put me in a home.”
“Tell me what they said, Blanche!”
“They told me you killed yourself,” I muttered. “Your mom found you in your bathtub…”
I popped my eyes open and saw Lorena relax back onto her hands again. “So you did? Kill yourself?”
“Oh, god no. I’m not that emo. At least I don’t think I am. I don’t remember. I’m just glad they didn’t tell you the truth.” She stood up from the edge of the bed and turned back to me with the same grin she gave me the afternoon she convinced me to blow off algebra. “I didn’t want to lie to you for ten years and then have someone just throw that in your face.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked. “You lied to me?”
“About a ton of stuff,” Lorena confirmed. “But, not about being your friend. I am your friend, Blanche. You can trust me.”
I shook my head again. I couldn’t believe this was happening. All I could think about was how many different pills I’d end up taking.
“Hey, there. You’re not crazy,” Lorena said. “I’m really here.”
“So, you’re a ghost?” I asked. “Like that helps.” I tossed the wooden box onto the bed and pushed myself up to stand face-to-face with my dead friend. “No, Mom. I’m not having vivid hallucinations. I’m just haunted!”
“Not so loud,” Lorena said. “You don’t want her to think you’re in here arguing with herself. That wouldn’t be any fun.”
“You think this is fun for me? You’re dead, Lor! Dead!” Anger bubbled up and my face burned but I kept myself from shouting. Instead, my words came out as a sharp whisper. “You died. You died and left me alone. And you get to be all ghosty while I have to go to school and take stupid AP English and deal with stupid Tiffany Campbell without you.”
My lips trembled and I could feel the heat building up inside my eyes again. “And now you’re telling me you lied to me our entire lives.”
“I’m sorry,” Lorena said. “I promise I didn’t mean to die and I promise I had a really good reason for lying.”
“Yeah? Like what? Like someone paid you to be my friend? Just like Tiffany Campbell always said!”
We both froze. At least she had the grace to look ashamed as my eyebrows melted together.
“Not in money,” Lorena said. She turned away from me, her shoulders drooped down and the blur around her edges got bigger.
“In what, then?” I demanded. “What is so valuable you would be friends with a loser like me?”
“You’re not a loser, Blanche,” she said. It was the exact same inflection she’d used a thousand times before. It might as well have been a recording. “And I can’t explain it. Not yet.”
“Of course not,” I said, collapsing back onto the bed. “Because now that you’re dead, you don’t get paid anymore. So, why should you care about me at all.”
Lorena turned back to me and crossed her arms. “I gave you my soul in a box because I really don’t care about you at all.”
“Then why did you die?” I asked. The anger was evaporating and the hollow pain was coming back in. I pulled my knees up against my chest and wrapped my arms around them. “Why’d you leave me alone?”
“I didn’t,” Lorena said. She reached over and picked up the box from the side of my bed. I could see the strain on her face. It took her so much effort to simply move it from my bed to the nightstand and the blurred edges got even worse.
“See?” she asked. The color was completely gone now and I could see the wall behind her well enough to read the “Senior Year Goals” collage behind her. “Just because I’m dead, doesn’t mean I can’t still shove Tiffany Campbell’s head in a toilet.”
I laughed. Then I snorted. “I guess so.”
“You should get some sleep,” she said. “You look like crap. We can deal with what comes next tomorrow.”
I kicked off my shoes and pulled the comforter around me. “What comes next, Lor?”
“Senior year,” she said. “Everything else will be child’s play compared to dealing with high school.”
I closed my eyes and rubbed my face against the cool pillow. “Will you still be here when I wake up or is this all just a grief-fueled dream?”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Lorena said. “You couldn’t get rid of me if you tried.”