Liz: Happy new year!!!
Alyssa: Not yet here ☹ What’s the future like?
Liz: Wild. People are leaving this party in hovercars. Pretty sure we just achieved world peace. We all have teleportation bracelets now.
Alyssa: Great! So you can come celebrate with me?
Liz: I wish!
Isaac drops onto the couch beside me. We’re in Nicole’s family’s den along with most of the sophomore class. Isaac swings his legs up onto my lap, and I almost shove him off, but his eyes are drooping closed and he looks almost sweet. As sweet as Isaac can look.
“Who’re you texting? Everyone you know is here.”
“Maybe that’s why I need to be on my phone,” I say, poking his knee. “To get away from all of y’all.”
“More like to get away from me.” He turns his head to the side so his voice comes out pillow-muffled. “Hurts, Lyssa.”
Now I do want to shove his legs off. But I’m pretty sure he’s asleep, all of a sudden. And maybe drunk. He didn’t mean it. He might not even remember saying it tomorrow, and knowing Isaac, even if he does he’ll pretend he doesn’t.
I’m not trying to get away from Isaac all the time. Or any of my friends here—“real-life friends,” my mom calls them. I’d rather Liz be a real-life friend, too. But she happens to live in Connecticut, not north Texas. And I would definitely rather talk to her than maybe-drunk Isaac. So.
I open her video message before the new texts. It’s some girl—I think her friend Taylor—literally dancing on a table. Liz turns the camera on herself making a Can you believe? face. It’s hard to tell if she’s making fun of Taylor or laughing along. It’s hard not to feel jealous.
Liz: So how’s your party?
Liz: Alyssa Rae, are you alive?
Liz: Oh, God. Did Isaac finally try to kiss you?
Alyssa: Hey, sorry
Alyssa: What??? No!!!
Liz: Okay, okay! I’m just saying, that’s happening.
Alyssa: It is not!!
Liz: Suuure. I’m from the future, remember? I can see things.
Alyssa: I like teleporting Liz way better than fake fortuneteller Liz
I swear I was getting ready for school, but it started to feel like too much. Struggling through math 2, Isaac’s neediness, no-phones-in-class—the only class I want to go to at all is choir, and that was barely enough to propel me out of bed. Now I’m lying on my stomach on the floor, half-dressed.
Alyssa: Uuuuuuugh I don’t want to go to schoooool
Liz: Hmm, how sad for you.
Liz: If only you lived somewhere with snow days.
Liz: Like Connecticut! Random example.
Alyssa: Hey, speaking of that. Your spring break is the same week as mine
Alyssa: So I was talking to my mom about spring break
Alyssa: So what if I came to visit?
Liz: !!!!!!! SHUT UP!!!!!!
Liz: Are you serious!??? Your mom said you can come??? I’ll ask my parents today!!!
I push myself up from the floor, pull a sweater over my head, and run down the hall to the kitchen, where Mom is examining a box of Pop Tarts.
“Breakfast to go?” she asks, shaking the box at me. “There’s bananas, too. Your lunch is in the fridge.”
“Thanks.” I grab a banana and turn to the fridge. The blast of cold air steels my resolve. “Hey, Mom. You know my friend Liz?”
“The girl from your choir class?”
“No, the one, uh—the one who watched Grey’s Anatomy with me?”
“Oh, your internet friend.”
I close the fridge behind me. “Yeah, my friend from Connecticut. So, her parents—did you know her dad is a pastor?”
Mom raises her eyebrows at me. “You may have mentioned that.”
“Right, they’re like…good people. Anyway, me and Liz have the same spring break, and her parents invited me to visit them that week, and I was wondering if I can go. Please say yes?”
She takes a long sip of coffee. She’s going to say no. Of course she’s going to say no. I clear my throat and try to turn it into a convincing cough so I can stay home sick to recover.
“I’d like to talk to her parents,” Mom says.
“Liz’s parents. I’d like to have a conversation with them. Make sure they’re real?” She keeps her voice light, like she’s joking, and I know she’s not really, but it’s okay. She’s just being a mom. A good, great, amazing mom. I feel a smile creeping across my face.
“Is that a yes?”
“It’s not a no. For now.”
I throw my arms around her and don’t even care if she splashes coffee on my sweater and I have to walk around school like that all day. I can do that. I can do anything to make it to spring break.
Alyssa: So, I think our moms are about to be bffs
Liz: Oh my God, my parents are SO EXCITED. You’d think they were the ones about to meet their soultwin.
Alyssa: But they’re noooot, weeee aaaaare!!!!
Liz: Gotta run, but I’ll video call when I’m home tonight and the adults can make their love connection. Cool?
Alyssa: Yep! After they approve the best spring break ever, are you free to watch something? I got a new bootleg…
Liz: omg shut up. What is it.
Liz: Off-Broadway? Actual Broadway?
Alyssa: You’ll just have to see. Get excited…
Liz: OMG. DO YOU HAVE EVAN HANSON.
Alyssa: Oh, God, no. Not that excited.
* * *
“Are you sure she was going to call? Maybe they’re waiting for us to call them.”
I shake my head without looking up, eyes glued to the still screen of my phone. “No, she definitely said she’d call. She must just be running late. They probably thought we meant seven our time, not theirs.”
I want her to understand that Liz isn’t like that, she wouldn’t stand me up or forget about me.
Mom doesn’t point out that I’ve already said that three times or that it’s now 7:26 here. Which makes it 8:26 in Connecticut. It’s cool, I’m sure she just—something. There’s something dumb and we’ll all be laughing about it soon. Any minute.
A little before 7:45, Mom stands and picks her book up from the coffee table. “I’m going to go read in bed,” she says. “Come get me if she calls, okay?”
“I’m sure she’ll call,” I reply, fast. And then, finally, the thought occurs to me, and I look up from the phone screen with wide eyes. “Oh, my God, Mom—do you think something happened? Like, to one of her parents? Medical emergency?”
“I certainly hope not. I’ll pray for them, all right?” She leans down to give me a hug, made awkward by me hunching over the phone. “Love you, Lyss. I hope she calls soon.”
By the time I realize that Mom feels sorry for me, she’s in her bedroom with the door closed. I want her to understand that Liz isn’t like that, she wouldn’t stand me up or forget about me. I mean, one day last year we were supposed to talk after my choir concert and she got invited out at the last minute and did that instead. But she at least texted me about it. And we barely knew each other then, not like now.
I’ll tell her in the morning. Liz wouldn’t do this to me.
“Mr. Matthews told me you failed the EOC last semester.”
Startled, I look up to stare at Isaac. “What? Did not. Why would he tell you that, even if I had?”
“Because he knew you wouldn’t listen if he tried to tell you. Because you haven’t heard anything anyone’s said to you all day. Because you’re off in Lyssa Land?”
I roll my eyes and shove my phone in my pocket. “You’re such a baby.”
“You’re such a baby,” he mimics in a baby voice.
“Wow, Isaac, I forgot how much fun you are to talk to,” I snap. “You’re totally right, I should pay attention to you all the time.”
Isaac opens his mouth, closes it again. He takes a fry off my paper plate. He wants to call me a bitch, because I’m being one. He won’t, though.
“You’re being kind of bitchy,” he says. Quietly, mumbling, around a mouthful of soggy potato, but still. It surprises me.
And it gives me an excuse to get out of here. I shove my chair back from our cafeteria table.
“Hey, hang on, sorry.” Isaac pats my empty seat. “No more fry stealing. No more name calling. Stick around.”
“You’ve just been weird all day. I get it, I know you’re worried about Lacy.” He winces right away because he knows I know he knows her name is Liz; who’s the bitch?
I leave the fries. He doesn’t try to call me back again as I exit.
* * *
Alyssa: Starting to get worried. Please call me or something?
* * *
Ten minutes left of lunch. I sit against the wall next to the water fountain between the gym and the science wing, where I can stay hidden if I skip my next class, and consider the possibilities.
One: Liz’s phone died/broke/got stolen. Only she would have gotten in touch with me some other way.
Two: Liz is mad at me. That would be new, her being so mad at me that she would ghost me like this. But it can’t be anything we wouldn’t be able to fix.
The sixty-second warning bell rings. I jump to my feet and run for my next class. No reason to skip unless something was happening, some major, life-changing thing. And it’s not.
* * *
Alyssa: If I did something to make you mad, I’m sorry. You know I didn’t mean to.
* * *
Nicole comes up to me before the bell rings for choir to start. I’m slumped in my rehearsal chair, arms crossed over my stomach, giving off the strongest leave me alone vibe I can manage. I don’t look up as she approaches, or when she stops a foot or so away, or when she clears her throat like maybe I’m ignoring her by accident.
“Hey,” she says. “You okay?”
“Did Isaac get you to ask me that?”
She doesn’t answer, which means yes.
“Tell him I don’t want to talk to him, either,” I say. To her credit, she not only takes the hint, she spreads the word. No one comes near me for the rest of class.
* * *
Alyssa: Was it weird, inviting myself there for spring break? That was too much, right? Did your parents think it was weird? I’m sorry. We don’t have to…whatever. Anything.
* * *
I stare at my face in the grimy bathroom mirror. Nothing’s wrong, I keep reminding myself. I don’t know what happened, but that doesn’t mean something Happened.
Mirror Alyssa nods.
“She’s going to call you soon.”
Mirror Alyssa nods again, but she looks a little skeptical.
* * *
Alyssa: Please text me back.
* * *
The third time my mom suggests it after dinner, I give in. I’ll video call her. She has an Android, or maybe even like a Windows phone or something, and I know it gives her problems sometimes. Maybe she’s receiving stuff but can’t send anything, so an incoming video call would go through, in theory.
There’s half a ring and then it disconnects. Her phone isn’t even turned on.
Alyssa: Is this like the time I trash talked Captain America on my blog and you stopped talking to me?
Alyssa: I went back through my blog and I haven’t really ranted about anything lately, so I can’t figure out what it could be. Maybe I said something harsh on a video call?
Alyssa: If it’s something like that, you can tell me, okay?
* * *
Isaac asks if I’m free after school and there’s no reason to say I’m not. Plus, he says we can do whatever I want to do. He feels bad about yesterday, even though he was right, mostly.
We watch my bootleg of Anastasia. It’s not awesome, but I pretend to be super into it every time Isaac gives me a sideways look to see if I think it’s awesome. It’s like I’m punishing him, even though I invited him over to try to make up for being the way I was being at school. I can’t decide what to feel about him.
He falls asleep on my shoulder. I wake him up for the final number. I don’t tag along when my mom drives him home.
I feel so guilty about watching the bootleg without Liz, I throw up in the toilet.
She still hasn’t texted by the time I fall asleep, sometime after one in the morning. Sometime after two, in Connecticut.
Friends of Liz,
I don’t know how to write this post. I almost didn’t. But that seemed too shitty, so. Here’s something shitty that I hope will at least be better than radio silence.
Liz passed away the night of the 10th. I don’t think she suffered, it was fast, from what I heard.
Her blog is going to stay up because I think she’d want that. She loved a lot of weird shit, so this is kind of like…a memorial to all her weird obsessions. It won’t be updated after this, obviously, but it will be here. If that helps.
If you were friends with Liz irl, there will be funeral details and everything posted to her facebook as soon as that’s all sorted out.
I’m sorry there’s not more to say. I love her. I miss her.
-Taylor (Liz’s friend)
I keep refreshing the page and it keeps staying the same. The pastel orange background, the icon of her standing by the ocean in a hoodie. The post. Every time I refresh.
I can’t go to school. I can’t even get out of bed.
Mom bugs me about it—“What’s wrong? If you don’t tell me what’s wrong, I can’t do anything about it.”—until I show her the post on my phone. She gets really quiet. She runs her hand over my hair and I don’t shake her off. I think she cries; I hear her sniffle. I haven’t cried, still.
After a while, she puts the phone down on my nightstand and leaves, because it turns out she can’t do anything about it no matter what.
Alyssa: I swear to God Liz if this is a prank or some kind of “joke”
Alyssa: I know some of your friends there have awful senses of humor but this is too mean
Alyssa: Was it Taylor’s idea?
Alyssa: Do you know that what I keep thinking about is her being the one who knows your blog password?
The tears that haven’t come for days are waterfalling now, and it feels unfair because they’re not even the sad tears she deserves, they’re hot huge angry tears because I am so angry at Isaac, and that Liz’s tears showed up for him instead just makes me cry harder.
Mom says two sick days at the beginning of the semester is enough. She’s right, and she sounds sorry, but I still slam the door when I leave to catch the bus. It makes me feel better for two seconds.
Isaac is all over me as soon as I walk through the front door. He’s all, “Oh my God, where have you been, were you sick, you look fine, well actually you look really tired, sorry I’m not trying to be an ass, but you didn’t answer my texts, what happened to you that you wouldn’t tell your best friend,” and I just open my locker and pull out my books because I don’t have the energy for him right now, and when I close the locker he’s looking at me like I am so stupid, and it makes me take a step backward.
“It’s your imaginary friend,” he says. “Right? What, did you like, have a fight about which guy on whatever TV show is the hottest and she set her status to offline?”
The last couple of words die out and the look on his face says that the look on mine is bad. The tears that haven’t come for days are waterfalling now, and it feels unfair because they’re not even the sad tears she deserves, they’re hot huge angry tears because I am so angry at Isaac, and that Liz’s tears showed up for him instead just makes me cry harder.
“Hey,” he says. “Lyssa, no, I’m s—”
“Don’t.” I smack away his hand when he reaches for me. “You’re not sorry. And I hate ‘Lyssa.’”
“What? No you don’t. I’ve always called you Lyssa.”
“I’ve always hated it!” I’m screaming, having a full-on meltdown in the sophomore locker hallway, and I can’t stop. “Alyssa is my name, and I like Aly, which you should know if you love me so much. But you don’t, Isaac. You’re just here.” The word breaks my voice, breaks something in my heart that was holding on by a thread. “You’re not my best friend. You’re just here. You’re still here.”
* * *
Isaac: Alyssa, please pick up. Your mom told me about Liz. I’m so sorry.
Isaac: Come on. Please. You know me. I have a big, stupid mouth. You know I didn’t mean it.
Alyssa: I tried to video call you again. Dunno why. Your phone is off.
Alyssa: Tried to find your parents, like on Facebook, but you know what? I don’t know your last name. Mine is Robinson. I’ve been trying to think of who I should tell that, in case…whatever. I can’t think of anyone.
Alyssa: I checked your blog but the same post is still the most recent thing. I don’t even know how to get in touch with Taylor.
* * *
There’s a text from Mom on my phone when I check after first block. She loves me so much and she’s praying for me. She sent it right after I left the house, but my phone’s been on silent. She’s worried about me. I’m worried about me, too.
I don’t want to feel this bad anymore. But I’m also afraid of who I’ll be when I start to not feel this bad.
Alyssa: Was your funeral nice? Is that a good thing to wish for a funeral? Is your mom doing okay? I don’t know if my mom would be. She’s barely okay now. I wish you were here to talk about it. If you could just skip the dead thing for a while? I’d be okay with haunting.
Alyssa: I really miss you, Liz.
The look on Isaac’s face when I sit down at our table almost makes me laugh. If I wasn’t still mad at him and also so sad forever.
“Mind if I sit here?”
“Of course.” He grimaces. “I mean, of course not. I don’t mind. Of course you can sit here.”
We spend most of lunch in silence, him watching me, me watching my sandwich. He asks how the semester’s going; I shrug because I haven’t really been paying attention. He tells a story about something Nicole did in P.E. I laugh in the pauses. I try to figure out if I missed him or just couldn’t spend another day sitting in the corner of the library. He doesn’t mention Liz.
Until the bell rings and we file out toward the lockers.
“Ly—” He cuts himself off. “Alyssa. I really am sorry about your friend. I want to… Just, I don’t know. If you need anything, I’m, uh. Here.”
I nod, perform something like a smile. “Thanks. I know.”
He lifts his arms in my direction, and I’m surprised by how relieved I feel when I step into the hug. I rest my cheek on his shoulder and just breathe, and I feel better. Not good. Definitely better.
As I pull away, Isaac starts to turn his face. Toward my face. With his eyes closed and his mouth doing something that looks like—
“Oh, my God! You are not trying to kiss me!”
He jumps back like I’m electric, and I might be. “No! I mean, maybe, but only because—I thought, I don’t know, you seemed…”
“Sad,” I provide after he trails off. “Really fucking sad because my friend is dead and my other friend is acting like a jealous asshole about it.”
He’s the one who walks away from me. Good.
* * *
Alyssa: Dear Liz. You were right, you bitch. Isaac tried to kiss me today. Basically because I’m sad about you. Did you know that would be part of it, in your super special fortune telling?
Alyssa: I have to stop being sad about you. I mean, I’ll never stop being sad about you. But I can’t keep doing this thing where I visit your blog all the time and keep checking for texts from you in the middle of classes and, like, don’t pay attention to my life. My Texas life. You know? So. I’m writing to say goodbye.
Alyssa: It sucks so much that I didn’t get to say goodbye to you.
Alyssa: Or tell you about stupid Isaac and his stupid kiss face. How did you know? And what am I supposed to do now?
Alyssa: I love you. Bye, Liz. <3 Alyssa
One (1) New Message: Liz
I can’t stop staring at my phone. It’s out on my desk, which is not really allowed in this class, but I can’t put it away. If I don’t check every couple of seconds, the message will disappear. Or I’ll wake up? Neither of which I want. Both of which I want. I feel sick.
It’s Liz’s number. I checked. Double-checked.
Two (2) New Messages: Liz
I get yelled at three times to put my phone away. I spend lunch in the bathroom, staring between myself in the mirror and the name of the ghost on my phone. Can’t open it. Can’t leave it sitting there. Finally, I lock myself in a stall.
Liz: Sorry to text you from this number, I know that’s shitty. I’m finally going through some of her stuff, and I saw your messages. This is Taylor.
Alyssa: Liz’s Taylor?
Liz: Ha, yeah. That’s funny. She called you her Alyssa.
Liz: Not funny, I guess. Sorry. Sorry, this is so weird, probably.
Liz: I just wanted to…I don’t know. Can I text you?
Liz: I mean from my phone. Instead of this.
Alyssa: Oh. Yeah. Yeah, please.
Liz: k. I’m in class now, but I’ll text you later.
Isaac is getting annoyed with me ignoring him through lunch to text. Pre-failed-kiss Isaac would ask if I’d moved on to a new imaginary friend already. New Year’s Isaac would whine that I would rather talk to literally anyone than him. This Isaac just eats his chicken nuggets.
It’s weird. Texting Taylor. Like we don’t really have anything to say to each other that’s not about our mutual dead friend, and neither of us wants to bring it up. But there’s only so much hey, how’s it going I can take.
Alyssa: Hey, so, I don’t mean to be a bitch, but I just need to ask. What happened? To Liz?
Taylor: Car crash. She was in the backseat. Her parents are okay. Well, they’re not, but you know what I mean.
Alyssa: That’s it? A car crash? Some drunk asshole running a red light?
Taylor: Sober asshole. But yeah.
Alyssa: That’s…so stupid.
Taylor: Weak, right? Don’t you feel like she deserved something cooler than that?
Alyssa: Or, like, to not die.
Taylor: Or that.
Alyssa: That is seriously unfair, though. She would’ve been so pissed.
Taylor: I know, right?
Taylor: You know Liz was a writer?
Alyssa: Um. I was her first reader for every fanfic she wrote.
Taylor: I mean, I read her stuff, too.
Taylor: Anyway. She was working on something. A fic for one of the superhero shows, I think.
Alyssa: I know.
Taylor: I figured you knew. I’m trying to, like.
Taylor: I can’t find it.
Taylor: She never posted it, and I looked for it on her computer but her file names are so random, and I can’t find it. And I need to read it. You know?
Alyssa: I have it. I’ll send it to you.
Alyssa: Yeah, of course. Give me a sec
Taylor: Thank you.
Alyssa: It’s really, really good
Taylor: Of course it is.
* * *
“Is the chicken that bad?”
I’ve barely touched dinner, but Mom’s smiling when I look up. I still say sorry and set the phone down.
“You and Isaac are getting along again?”
“Isaac,” she says, pointing her fork at the phone. “Your thumbs are flying. Friends again?”
“Because I only have one friend who could possibly text me?”
She gives me a look that’s somewhere between rolling her eyes at me and afraid she’s actually upset me. “I just noticed he hasn’t been around lately.”
I chew until she breaks eye contact. After I swallow, I say, “Texting a girl in my bio class about homework.”
Mom makes a joke about hoping she’s helping me and not the other way around. I don’t know why I lied. It’s a little embarrassing, maybe, hanging onto my dead friend’s friend like a lifeline. Maybe a little scary. And maybe I want to keep this for myself, for a while. Just to be safe.
* * *
Taylor: Still awake over there?
Alyssa: It’s earlier here, ha
Taylor: No, I know. 1:30 is still on the late side. Unless you’re more of a party animal than Liz said.
Alyssa: Not a party animal. But yeah, awake. Hard to sleep lately.
Taylor: I get that.
Taylor: I don’t want to make it weird…er, but I just feel like I should tell you, in case you need to hear it, that Liz really loved you.
Taylor: She talked about you all the time. You meant a lot to her.
Taylor: Alyssa? Sorry, if that was too much.
Alyssa: No, that’s. Thanks. I did need that.
Taylor: Okay. Cool.
Alyssa: Same for you. I could tell how important you were to her even without, like, being around. If that makes sense. I mean, I’m sure you know.
Taylor: I do know. But it still helps.
Taylor: This helps too.
Isaac ignores me. Or he didn’t hear me, since I’m whispering from the row behind him. No talking in choir rehearsal, even if Ms. Brush is working with the sopranos across the room. I kick the underside of his chair.
“What?” he mutters.
“I said Anastasia sucked. The bootleg sucked, you couldn’t hear half the dialogue, and the show itself was like—weird and bad.”
“I thought you loved it.”
“So what?” I poke him between the shoulder blades. “You obviously didn’t love it. Why would you act like you did?”
“I don’t know.” A small shrug. “I was trying to be nice to you.”
“I don’t want you to be nice to me. I just want you to be a person. A real person. And treat me like a real person. A person who has other friends and feels sad when they die and watches bad musicals for fun. Stop making this an imaginary friendship.”
“I’m—not trying to.”
“I know. Prove it.”
It comes out a little too loud and Ms. Brush finally looks our way. “Ms. Robinson,” she snaps, “you and Mr. Siegel can talk later, when I’m not directing my choir. Yes?”
“Yes,” I call back, with my best apology face. “We can talk later.” I tug the hem of the sleeve of his T-shirt, and he exhales in a way that probably means we’ll be fine.
* * *
Alyssa: Can I ask you another question? Sorry, lots of questions.
Taylor: No worries.
Alyssa: What was Liz’s last name?
Taylor: Did you want the link to her obit?
Alyssa: I’ll look it up. Maybe not today.
* * *
I last 35 minutes before I Google for Liz’s obituary. It sucks.
Elizabeth Caitlyn Walsh passed away on January 10. She was a junior at Lakefront High School. She is survived by her parents, Mr. Stephen Walsh and Mrs. Joanna Walsh. Elizabeth was a joy to all who knew her and will be missed by many friends and loved ones as she joins the angels.
Then, for the first time, I type Liz Walsh into Facebook’s search. Her profile picture is a side-profile selfie, black-and-white, intensely dramatic in a way that may or may not be ironic. It’s so Liz. It hurts.
The posts on her wall hurt in a really different way.
Lizzie girl can’t believe you’re gone!!!! You were my best friend, don’t know what I’ll do without you!!!
the world and fourth block aren’t the same without you…rip
BFFs 4 life (and after) R.I.P.
thanks for the sunset yesterday!! Don’t know how you know I needed that xo
There’s one post from a Taylor, but it’s a grainy picture of a rainbow with some fake-cursive text about smiling from heaven. Definitely not Liz’s Taylor. Of course, there isn’t a post from Liz’s Alyssa, either.
* * *
Alyssa: The facebook…
Taylor: Oh, God, no. You saw the facebook.
Alyssa: Who even are those people? I mean, I obviously don’t know them, but…who are
Taylor: “the world needs to know I was the dead girl’s bestest friend”
Alyssa: As if that wasn’t you.
Taylor: It was YOU.
Alyssa: We can totally go BFF halfsies. It’s what angel Liz would want.
Taylor: Maybe she’ll send us a thunderstorm to confirm.
Taylor: My last name’s Burke, by the way. Just so you know.
Alyssa: Alyssa Robinson. I like Aly.
Taylor: Nice to “meet” you, Aly.
Alyssa: Nice to meet you, Taylor Burke.