The students in Mrs. Irving’s counseling session slouched in their seats. It was the last period of the day, and the spring heat made the room feel stuffy and airless. Someone wore perfume that smelled like a mixture of cotton candy and vanilla. It mingled uncomfortably with the aroma of sweat and body odor that permeated the room.
“Now, kids,” Mrs. Irving said. “I know how traumatic it is when we loose a friend, especially a sweet girl like Jennifer Drew. It has repercussions that spread out through the entire community.” She spread her arms wide as if she were trying to encircle the assembled group.
Lexi Granger stifled a yawn and fumbled in her pencil case for her green pen. In its eraser she had embedded a tiny piece of a razor. Carefully she traced a white line on her finger.
“Would anyone like to share their remembrances of Jennifer?” Mrs. Irving brought her hands together.
The kids looked around. Who really wanted to talk about Jennifer Drew? She took a bunch of Oxycontin tablets and washed them down with a fifth of vodka. She had been there, and now she wasn’t. No one in this group was particularly close to her. Meredith Hargrove didn’t like her, and if Meredith didn’t like you, you were doomed.
Lexi punched the razor in the pad of her thumb and watched a drop of blood well up. In middle school Meredith used pick on her and say things like, “You should kill yourself ‘cause you’re a loser.” Now Meredith mostly left her alone. Maybe it was because in seventh grade Lexi’s mom died, and something like a shield formed around her heart.
“I didn’t really like know her,” said Missy Rogers. “We didn’t have any classes together, but it’s totally sad.” She crossed her legs and swung her stiletto-covered foot. Missy brought up the bottom half of the class. She was a good-time girl, bouncy, blonde, a three-letter jock and one of the richest kids in the school. Her parents owned a bunch of beer distributorships, and the taps flowed when Missy gave a party, which was every weekend.
Emma DiAngelo said, “Maybe she just never adjusted? Like I think she missed her old school?” She glanced at Meredith who gave her a small nod.
A few other kids offered comments about how alone Jennifer always seemed, how sad. They’re grieving and fragile, Mrs. Irving thought. She hoped they wouldn’t have a rash of copycats. It worried her.
Will Einbender stared out the window and wondered if he’d go to the funeral. He wouldn’t mind going. He’d get out of class for the morning and part of the afternoon. That’d be great.
Meredith Hargrove listened to everyone speak then said, “I think we should maybe collect money for flowers or see if there’s a charity Jennifer’s family would like us to send money to, Ms. Irving.” Meredith didn’t care in the least that Jennifer was dead. Jennifer was already the first girl in the school’s history to get fives on six AP tests her junior year. She had been admitted to Harvard and Brown and had the highest GPA in the class. Not any more. Meredith smiled at Mrs. Irving. “I don’t mind collecting the money.”
“How sweet, Meredith. What a wonderful idea.”
How stupid were adults, Lexi Granger wondered.
Meredith said, “Maybe we could talk to Mr. Roseman about setting up a scholarship.”
“You’re just amazing, Meredith,” Lexi said. She gave Meredith a poisonous smile. “I’m sure Jennifer wherever she is appreciates your . . . kindness.”
“Why thank you, Lexi,” Meredith said.
The bell rang.
“Bitch,” Meredith said as she breezed past Lexi.
Lexi grinned. “You’d better hope Jennifer’s not a vengeful ghost.”
Meredith flounced away with Emma DiAngelo.
In the locker room that afternoon Emma DiAngelo started fill her backpack when she saw Mike O’Connor, and she smiled. He starred in all the school plays and probably would have been a target for all the bullies except he also was the top ranked lacrosse goalie in the state. He was also six feet of gorgeous. Emma had a crush on him since middle school, but Meredith liked him too, so she never did more than say hi.
Mike O’Connor never said much to either of them.
Now he fiddled with the dial of his locker and threw the door open. He jammed books into his backpack. Emma was about to leave when he glanced up.
“Oh, Jesus. Just the thing to make my day, one of the Witch Bitches.”
Emma felt the air go out of her for a second. “You can’t call me that!”
“You gonna tell Meredith? Maybe send me some nasty e-mails like you did Jenny? Go ahead. I don’t give a shit. Everyone hates the both of you anyway. They only pretend to like you.”
Emma’s fingers tightened around her backpack as Mike O’Connor slammed his locker and stalked out of the room. Emma went into the bathroom and made herself puke.
Later Meredith Hargrove got into her shiny blue Audi with Emma DiAngelo and checked herself in the rearview mirror. Emma was quiet this afternoon. She said she felt sick and looked it too. Meredith hoped it wasn’t contagious. She pulled out of the parking spot and waved at Mrs. Standish, the Vice Principle.
Will Einbender joined the rest of the boys lacrosse team on the field. Coach Dickenson called for a silent prayer for Jennifer Drew before the guys started practice. Coach said Mike O’Connor wouldn’t be there today, so they’d have Greg Porter in goal. Greg was okay, but Mike was the man. Will knew Mike was close to Jennifer Drew, but practice was practice. Still, he figured Mike would be here for the game. Mike would never let down the team.
Missy Rogers wanted to get home so she could lie back on a lounge chair near the hot top and grab a beer. Her parents hadn’t opened the pool yet, but the hot tub was working. She wanted to soak up some rays while it was warm. Prom was coming, and she wanted to be tan. It would show off her new hot pink dress.
Lexi Granger walked out of the school and kept walking until she got to the park. She sat under a tree, got out her razor and began to pull it over her inner thighs. She wished it were Meredith Hargrove’s neck. She wondered why people like Jennifer seemed to get crushed while the ones like Meredith always seemed to win.
“What are you doing?”
Lexi looked up into Mike O’Connor’s face. She hadn’t heard him approach.
“Jesus Christ, are you crazy?” He sat down beside her. She wanted to tell him to shove off, but he looked so confused, Lexi didn’t have the heart.
“It makes me feel better,” she said at last. “Like the pain builds up, and I have to let it out or I’ll explode.”
He leaned back against the tree. “You shouldn’t cut yourself,” he said at last. “You should talk to someone.”
“Yeah, right. So they can tell me about my mental issues?” She dropped the razor into her pencil case. “Don’t you have someplace to be?”
“Coach let me off today. He knows Jenny and I were friends.”
“That’s good, I guess.”
He shrugged. “Tonight’s the viewing.”
“So why’re you telling me?”
“Because Jenny said you were one of the few people who talked to her.”
Lexi pondered that for a few minutes. “Jenny was my peer tutor in pre-calc, y’know? She didn’t make me feel stupid. I actually got a B in math.”
She pulled out a white fuzzy dandelion top and examined it. When she was little, she used to call them wishies because when she’d blow on them, she’d make a wish and hope the little pieces of white fuzz would carry her wishes through the air.
“I don’t know why she did it,” Mike O’Connor said. “Six weeks from the end of school. She was almost free, and she couldn’t hang on any more.”
“It’s not your fault,” Lexi said. “Maybe she just was too deep into the shit.”
She touched his arm. “Hey, you think I could come to the viewing tonight? Everyone will go to the funeral tomorrow to get out of school. It’ll be a zoo.”
He looked at her for a moment and nodded. “You think you could leave the dog collar and razors at home?”
Lexi blew on the wishie. “Maybe, I’ll even wear regular clothes.”