Read Forget Me Not Online

Authors: Carolee Dean

Forget Me Not (3 page)

and had us all cheering.

You nearly had us convinced,

you were a dead black rapper,

but then you always were

a special kind of actor.

I guess that’s because

you didn’t just crave the limelight;

you needed it.

Some kids complained that you always had to be

the center of attention.

But I knew the truth. You were just looking

for something to fill up the big, black hole

inside your soul. Like I was.

Yesterday, when I saw you shrinking

into your coat, it broke my heart.

Just before the bell rang, you turned to me and said,

“Would you like to have my picture?”

There was desperation in your eyes.

I didn’t know how to reply, so I nodded.

You reached

into your pocket,

pulled out your school ID,

and set it on my desk.

Then you disappeared down the crowded hall.

I tried to follow you.

I even went to your next class,

but you never showed.

The man in the suit

clears his throat,

a world away,

as he waits for my answer.

I can barely remember the question.

“I asked about her mood,” he says.

“She seemed a little depressed.”

“Why?”

I’m sure he already knows.

He’s spent all morning interrogating

your so-called friends.

“Somebody sent a naked picture of her around the school?”

“Was it you?”

“No!” I say, and my voice sounds too big

and the room seems too small.

“You
claim
that the last time you saw her was in your writing

class.”

“That’s what I told you.”

Why are they questioning me like this

when it’s obvious what happened to you?

But the students are upset

and parents are in an uproar.

They want answers

and solutions

and guarantees

that what happened to you

won’t happen to their kids.

“Are you sure you weren’t on the roof

of Brady Theater with her last night?”

“No.” My palms are sweating. Does he see?

Why are my palms sweating?

“What if I told you that someone saw you

going up there with her?”

He has to be making this up,

but my entire body starts to tremble.

“I’d say they’re lying.”

He opens up a briefcase and pulls out a file

with my name on it.

“Do you ever have problems with your memory?”

Are the walls moving?

I could swear they’re closing in.

“No.”

“But you did spend some time in a psychiatric hospital

last spring.”

It’s not exactly a question,

but I answer it anyway.

“Four weeks.”

“May I ask why?”

“You may ask, but that doesn’t mean I’ll answer.”

Why torture me? I’m sure it’s all in the file.

He leans toward me and his face becomes

hard as stone.

“We know someone was up on the roof

with Allison Cassell

at one a.m. this morning.

There’s an image on the surveillance camera.

It looks an awful lot like you. Can you prove it wasn’t?”

There’s no surveillance camera up there,

or else the school would have found out months ago

about all the partying that happens on the roof, and

they would have put a swift end to that, I’m sure.

Maybe that’s why they’re harassing students.

They’ve been up there and seen

the empty bottles and makeshift bongs.

If it ends up in the newspaper,

the school officials will need an explanation.

But he’s fishing. Probably told the same story to every kid

he’s talked to, just waiting to see if someone will crack

and tell him you tumbled in a drunken daze.

No nasty attempt to end your life.

Nobody pushed you

over the edge.

So why is my heart beating so damn fast?

I was home

feeling sorry for myself,

writing letters to my dead brother

and wondering why you fell for Davis

and not for me.

Forgive me, Ally. I should have

been there for you. I knew you were in trouble.

I
should
have been up there on the roof.

“Have you ever used drugs?” he asks me.

The room is on fire. I’ve got to get out of here. I stand.

“Sit down, Mr. McCoy,” says the man in the suit.

I don’t know how, but from somewhere,

I find the strength to say,

“Do I need a lawyer?”

“Why would you think that?”

If I stay here one moment longer,

I’m gonna be in deep shit.

I take a step toward the door.

“Sit down, Elijah,” says Officer Richie.

“Am I under arrest?”

“No.”

“Then you can’t keep me here.”

I don’t know if this is true or not.

I know people out in the real world have rights,

but this isn’t the real world.

This is high school.

I take another step toward the door.

“Sit down!”
says the man in the suit,

but he makes no move to stop me,

so I open the door

and I run.

OLD MAN WINTERS

stands in the middle of the hallway,

right in front of the principal’s office,

mopping the same spot over

and over and over again.

He never

changes location

and he always

wants to talk to me

just because one day I made the mistake

of saying hello. Nobody else ever talks to him.

There’s a good reason for this. Nobody else sees him.

“Now where are you going

in such an all-fire hurry?” he asks.

I don’t reply and this just makes him

more persistent. He raises his voice

as I pass. “Slow down, sonny,

you don’t wanna slip and break your neck.

Why don’t you stop and have a cookie? The

missus bakes ’em up fresh every Monday.”

He pulls something petrified from his pocket.

It’s a different item every time.

Today it’s a dead mouse.

I try not to glance in his direction.

I just look straight ahead

and keep on running.

MR. TOOMS OFFICE

I’m racing down the hall

of the administration building

when I hear another voice yell, “Elijah!”

I turn around and see my counselor,

Mr. Tooms, standing outside

the door of his office.

Someone who’s alive and real.

Someone I can trust

with a few things, anyway.

He motions me inside

to safety.

I go in and collapse

on the threadbare couch

and I can’t help it.

I start to cry.

HE JUST LETS ME SIT THERE

blubbering like a baby

until there’s nothing left.

When I finally look up, I see

the same gray walls I’ve stared at

week after week for the past three months.

When I started at Raven Valley High, his office

was the first place I visited.

Mr. Tooms has done his best

to brighten up the space

with inspirational posters

and
Doonesbury
comic strips.

He has a bookcase filled with knickknacks

and an entire shelf dedicated

to his stuffed-bird collection.

There’s a parrot dressed like a doctor

and another one dressed like a biker,

complete with a Harley and a bandanna,

and a black bird lying on a couch

that he says is his Jungian dark side.

I don’t know what that means,

but that one is a real conversation starter.

At the top of the shelf is a clay jar with the words

ASHES OF OBNOXIOUS TEENAGERS
.

“Bad morning?” he asks.

“Yeah. You could say that.”

I’ve been interrogated by the police

and accosted by a dead janitor,

but I don’t dare mention number two.

Even sympathetic counselors have a limit

to what they will believe.

“Wanna beat up Barney?”

He hands me a foam baton

and points to an inflated purple dinosaur

in the corner of the room.

I put the baton on the couch. “I don’t think it would help.”

“Are you going to be okay?”

What he’s really asking is whether or not

he needs to fill out a risk assessment. He’s

hoping I’m not gonna go off the deep end,

like I did after Frankie died.

I let my hair grow out and wouldn’t eat.

Pierced my nose. Starting piecing shoes

together out of parts of army boots.

And then one night I took a bunch of pills.

That’s when I started seeing dead people.

“I’m okay,” I lie.

“Do you want to talk about what happened to Ally?”

I feel sick all over again, like someone turned me

inside out and stepped on my guts.

“I want to hurt the people who hurt her,”

I blurt out before I realize this might sound like

some sort of threat that he will have to document in my file.

I wait for a reaction.

He nods and says, “I understand why you’d feel that way.”

Who am I kidding? I don’t have

a malicious bone in my body.

I stand. “I gotta get back to class.”

“Elijah,” he says as I turn to leave.

“Yes.”

“The next few days are going to be rough.

Come back anytime you want to.”

“I will,” I tell him.

Then I walk out into the hall

and I come face-to-face with

Brianna Connor.

BRIANNA’S EYES

are swollen and red. She’s been crying.

“I didn’t do it,” she says, shaking her head violently

so the dreds fly back and forth.

“Everybody is saying it’s me, but I didn’t do it.”

She sounds sincere, but then, she’s a good actor.

Almost as good as me.

Not nearly as good as Ally.

The old Bri never would have texted pictures

of her best friend all over the school,

but we’ve all changed since the days

when we hung out by the pool,

rehearsing lines, playing charades,

roasting hot dogs on the grill.

I had a meltdown and had to go away.

Bri became an activist for any cause she could find,

preaching about the evils of red meat and fossil fuels.

Ally rose

then fell

from the ladder of popularity

before she’d made it halfway through

her freshman year.

“I didn’t send the picture,” Bri says convincingly.

Maybe not, but then who? And where the hell were you

when your best friend needed you? I want to say.

But I don’t, because . . .

I’m guilty, too.

I wasn’t there for Ally either.

Nobody was.

I CONVINCED MYSELF

that Ally was better off without me.

That Bri was better off without me,

because I was a nut job.

What did I have to offer anyone,

especially a girl like Ally?

Now I realize too late

that she was on shakier ground than I was.

I look at Brianna’s frantic expression

and wonder if she’s becoming

a nut job too.

Maybe everybody has

the potential.

THE BELL RINGS

and it’s time for history.

I walk toward Humanities, take

the stairs up to the second floor, go inside, and stop

at the door to the H Hall. I can’t go

there yet. That’s gonna take some nerve.

My heartbeat sprints, I break out in a sweat.

The air is cold as ice. My breath comes fast.

I step away and walk on to my class.

I once spent three days sitting on that hall.

It’s the perfect place to disappear.

But if you stay too long, then there’s a good

chance you’ll never make it out of there.

I know that’s where you’ve gone.

I want to tell you that you need to run,

but would you believe me if I tried?

You used to be so confident, so cool.

In middle school you never gave a crap

what the other kids said about you.

I didn’t know that there was something deep

inside of you that made you want to be

part of the crowd you always used to mock.

I think you lost yourself when you became

someone who had to watch her clothes, her walk,

her weight. It was a losing game.

And then the very crowd you counted on,

turned on you, so you tried to take your life.

I kissed you once. I wonder if you think

about that night we all played Truth or Dare

at that party at the end of eighth

grade, when you still didn’t seem to care

what people thought of you or what they said.

You asked me for the truth about that night

they took me to the psych ward, and I said,

“I tried to die but didn’t do it right.”

You didn’t turn away or treat me like

you were scandalized or even scared.

You just smiled and said, “I’m glad you’re back.”

Then it was my turn and so I dared

you to go out with me for a walk.

All I really wanted was to talk.

When we were out beneath the stars I said,

“Milady, would you like to try a dance?”

You smiled and then we two-stepped in the yard.

I finally got the nerve to hold your hand,

hardly believing we were there alone

and that you didn’t try to pull away.

You asked me why I’d taken on a tone

that made me sound like I was from a play.

It seemed to me that only words and rhymes

made any sense. Only they were safe.

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