Hell On Earth

HELL ON EARTH

CHAPTER ONE: Game Night

        “Are you almost done in there?!” The impatient girl slammed her fist against the bathroom stall door, making it shake on its rusty hinges as she buckled her knees in pain.

        The sound startled Veronica, her body jolting as she sat on her knees, her head over the toilet bowl.

        “Sorry, just give me a minute,” she responded softly.

        “I’m bleeding down my leg! And the other stalls are taken!” The girl cried, continuing to bang.

        Already in a sour mood, Veronica’s temper was short.

        “Just go in the handicapped stall!” She shouted back impatiently.

        “But I’m not disabled!” She whined, dragging out her words like a valley girl.

        “Who cares?!” Veronica screamed, her booming voice echoing throughout the thin, Sharpie covered walls.

        The girl ran silent, Veronica watching her feet slide away under the stall. She stood up, feeling a bit dizzy, with the sour taste of stomach acid and today’s lunch on her tongue. She had never done that in public before, but after having greasy school lunch, she couldn’t imagine the weight she’d gain. Even worse, imagining what her Mom would say at the sight of her weight gain. She swung the stall door open, her long black hair brushing against her resting face. She needed to get back to class before the bell rang for dismissal, she was gone long enough that her teachers would question her. She fast-walked down the empty hall, towards her classroom. She opened the door, everyone’s heads turning to her. A knot formed in her throat as all the eyes glanced at her. She placed the hall pass on a table next to the door, and continued towards her desk.

        “Ms. Watson,” her teacher suddenly called to her.

        She stopped dead in her tracks, clenching her eyes shut as she slowly turned around.

        “Yes?”

        “Fifteen minutes.”

        “What… ?”

        “You were gone for fifteen minutes, missing precious class time,” she shook her head, tapping the glass on her watch.

        “Yeah, sorry,” Veronica mumbled, sitting down.

        Sitting down for a mere few seconds, the bell rang. Her teacher stretched a fake smile, showing she was clearly annoyed.

        “Have a nice day, your final project is due next week. Finish junior year with a bang!” She announced as the kids flooded out of the class.

        Veronica entered the hallway, feeling anxious from the swarm of dismissal. The first thing she looked for was her friends, more specifically her childhood best friend, Elijah. He was tall, so he wasn’t hard to spot. Standing in the doorway, she stood on her toes, looking over the heads of the crowd. Her eyes widened when he came into her vision.

        “Yo! Elijah!” She called out, a smile quickly stretching from ear to ear.

        He turned his head, a droopy and tired expression plastered on his face. He smiled back when he saw her, waving for her to come to him. She pushed through a few kids, getting to him without tripping anybody. Before she could speak, he whipped out a piece of paper, putting it in front of her face. It was a final exam, painted with red X’s and annotations like “?”, with a depressing “sorry” written at the bottom.

        “At least you got a D plus,” she tried to look on the bright side.

        He dropped his arm, shoving the paper in his pocket.

        “This is gonna shit all over my grade, I studied all night,” he sulked.

        “No you didn’t,” she rolled her eyes, seeing through his lie.

        “Ok, I didn’t. But… she could’ve at least pity-passed me.”

        “Did you even do the final project either?”

        “Y’know what? I was assigned a lot of ‘final’ things, give me a break,” he chuckled, looking down at his shoes.

        They stayed quiet for a Moment as they walked, looking for their two other friends. She looked up at him as he glared around the hall. His short brown hair was a little disheveled, with dark circles hanging under his brown eyes. He always wore the same army green bomber jacket every day, with jeans and dirty sneakers. It was his signature look.

“So… tell me: exactly how many mushrooms grew out of that jacket?” She teased.

He flashed an offended look, choking on a giggle.

“I wash her every… other day! Watch your mouth!” He defended, laughing as he crossed his arms.

“It smells like every other blood moon,” she snickered.

His jaw dropped even farther.

“You are a little witch today! Gonna throw water on you and pray you fucking melt,” he barked back, looking down at her with a smirk.

“You wish you could get rid of me that easy,” she laughed evilly.

Sometimes she felt bad about teasing him, but it was too fun.

Their friend Stanley suddenly approached them, a glimmer in his eye. He was a barely five foot ginger nerd with a baby face, you’d never guess in a million years that he was anything above a seventh grader.

“Hey squirt,” she smiled, rustling his hair.

“Don’t do that again. Anyways… look at this!” He whipped out his final exam, showing off a flawless grade with extra points.

“Wow, a hundred and two. Add it to the list…” Elijah sneered, looking away.

“Who shit in your cereal this morning?” Stanley raised an eyebrow, putting the paper back in his bag.

“Don’t take it personally, Stan. His big man ego is bruised because he barely passed his final,” she explained, pouting her lips playfully.

Elijah stayed silent, looking away with crossed arms.

“Did you bring it? The game?” She asked Stanley.

“Yup! Got Scrabble in my bag,” he smiled goofingly.

They both whipped their heads towards him, glaring at him in confusion.

“We said Uno, you stupid geek!” Elijah shouted.

“I’m kidding, I'm kidding! Jesus, didn’t mean to piss off the peanut gallery…”

“Has anybody seen Maggie?” Veronica asked, searching for her as they stepped out the doors.

Stanley shook his head.

“She’s probably in the art room making another painting that we have to pretend to like,” Elijah groaned under his breath.

Veronica’s eyes widened as she turned towards him.

“Elijah!” She exclaimed in shock, holding back a smile as she lightly smacked his chest.

“What?! We were all thinking about it!” He defended, giggling.

“Maggie is an… ambitious artist!” She giggled as she squeezed the words out.

“She sucks at geometrics and her lines are always at the wrong angles,” Stanley put in his two cents.

“In case you didn’t realize, you’re not in math class anymore,” Elijah scrunched his face.

“Elijah, stop being emo. Stanley, stop being a smart-ass. Problem solved!” Veronica berated them in a peppy tone.

Their play fighting got unbearable when it sounded like they were a bickering old couple. They leaned against the brick wall, watching other kids roam around and chatter in groups. No sign of Maggie, though.

“Where is she? I don’t wanna miss the bus…” Stanley crossed his arms, looking around the open area.

Suddenly, she appeared in front of them. She was wearing denim overalls over a thin sweater. Her light brown, curly hair was short and bouncy. She was holding a canvas, the painting facing her chest. Looking at her, she was like a doll.

“Sorry! I got caught up in the art room,” she laughed anxiously, her shoulders tense.

Elijah gave the others an “I told you so” glare.

“Show us what you made!” Veronica requested excitedly.

“Ok, it’s a little rough, but…” She second guessed herself as she slowly turned it around.

They all observed it closely as she held it, a nervous smile on her face.

“What do y’all think… ?” She asked nervously.

They all stared at it in silence for a Moment, with different expressions.

“It’s… abstract!” Veronica squeezed out, nodding her head.

“Great… geometrics, and… clean line work!” Stanley gave an awkward thumbs up.

Elijah was the last to give his sugarcoated opinion, taking more time to observe it. He leaned closer at it, squinting his eyes, and then leaned back.

“Yeah, I got no fuckin’ clue what it is, sorry,” he chuckled.

The others let out an internal gasp, but also an internal sigh of relief.

“I don’t either,” Maggie pouted. “I needed one more piece for my portfolio, so I took extra time to throw together… whatever this is,” she gestured her hand towards the painting.

“The bare minimum… I like your style,” Elijah joked, winking with a grin.

“We really have to get going, the bus is about to get here,” Veronica turned to Maggie.

“I may have failed my final, but I won’t fail at kicking Veronica’s ass in Uno,” he flashed a cocky smirk.

“Yeah, in your wet dreams,” she snarled, turning back to Maggie. “You’re coming, right?”

Maggie got visibly tense by the question.

“I’m sorry… I gotta… put some final touches on a final project,” she explained, looking away.

“Is that not the final project… ?” Stanley pointed to the painting in her hand.

She looked down at it, and then looked back up at them.

“No, this was just for my portfolio. We got assigned… a sculpture project. It’s due soon,” she stretched a smile.

She looked like she was about to break a sweat.

“Can you come by later? You have time, and we miss you,” Veronica smiled warmly, lowkey trying to guilt her.

“... Sure! I should be able to make a good amount of progress,” Maggie nodded, her hands tightly clutching the painting.

“Ok… we’ll see you later,” Veronica smiled weakly.

“Cool, I’m excited. I’ll see y’all when I do,” she smiled, looking behind her. “Shit… my Dad’s here, gotta go. Love y’all!” She rushed off before any of them could even say goodbye.

        They watched as she ran off towards a rusty old truck, looking like it was fished from the junkyard. When she got in the car, they felt safe to talk.

        “She looked like she was gonna shit herself and die,” Elijah chuckled, feeling confused as he watched her drive away.

        “You know how she is, she can barely order her own food. Probably just pressured about that project,” Veronica shrugged, giving her the benefit of the doubt.

        “Uh… the bus is about to leave,” Stanley awkwardly interjected.

        Their eyes widened, as they began bolting towards the bus. Their backpacks bounced on their shoulders, slamming against their backs as they glided past loitering students. As the doors began to close, they squeezed through, joining the other cramped kids. Their hearts pounded and their lungs pumped as they held onto the bar.

“How… do people… run… for fun!” Elijah choked out between breaths.

“It was, like, twenty feet!” Veronica scoffed.

“Twenty too many!” His breathing slowed down.

“Actually…” Stanley began to speak.

“Shush, I know it wasn’t actually twenty feet,” she faked a smile, pressing her finger against his lips.

They felt their bodies be pulled as the bus began moving. They stood in silence on the way to Stanley’s house, watching the houses and trees blur by while hot breath hit their necks. With each stop, kids continuously emptied out the bus, stepping on their shoes or knocking their shoulders a few times. When enough kids left, they stole the available seats left as quickly as possible, sighing with relief as they plopped down onto them.

“My twig legs can’t handle this,” Elijah groaned, throwing his head back.

“Y’know, you complain a lot,” Stanley raised his eyebrow, smirking.

Elijah lowered his head.

“Great observation, Einstein. Put it on your resume,” he hissed, throwing his head back again.

Stanley leaned in closer to Veronica.

“He’s so easy to tick off…” He whispered with a snicker.

“I know right! It’s kinda fun,” she laughed as well.

They went silent again for a bit, taking off their backpacks and relaxing their sore shoulders.

“Stan, why do you live so far!” Elijah slid down in his seat. “And my back fucking hurts! This stupid backpack is gonna give me scoliosis,” he continued to moan.

“Ask my parents. And you can’t get-”

Elijah’s head swiftly cranked up, staring down Stanley with rage in his eyes.

“If you fact-check me one more time, I will quite literally throw you under the bus,” he threatened.

“Understood, sir,” Stanley nodded, holding back a smile.

Elijah rested his head back, closing his eyes. Stanley leaned towards Veronica again.

“See, a piece of cake,” he smirked.

They giggled together like two little gremlins. After an unbearable amount of stops, they finally reached Stanley’s house. They stood up as the doors creaked open, and hopped out of the bus. Elijah stretched his back like an old man.

“Stanley, you should, like, move closer to school,” Elijah recommended, stretching his sore legs.

“I’ll make sure to forward that one to my team,” he smiled annoyed.

They walked up the steps of his moderately sized house, stopping at the front door as he put the key in.

He threw the door open, the hinges creaking as it almost banged against the wall.

“I’m home! Elijah and Veronica are with me!” He shouted, his voice echoing throughout his house.

“Hey guys!” His Mom greeted them from the kitchen.

She could be seen through the door frame, busy washing dishes.

“Hi Mrs. Acker!” Elijah and Veronica simultaneously greeted back.

“Maggie’s coming later too!” He informed her.

“Ok! Remember, no playing until your work is done! I’m sure they have work to do too!” She ordered sternly.

“I know, ma!” He rolled his eyes, her bossiness putting a dent in his mood.

They trotted upstairs towards his room, Stanley guiding them so they could avoid his insufferable older brother, Levi. They quickly slid into his room, closing the door behind him quietly. His room was medium-sized and spotless. In Stanley’s house, a speck of dust was short-lived before it ended up in the chamber of a vacuum. Veronica and Elijah plopped themselves onto his bed, their weight wrinkling the plaid blanket. Stanley sat at his desk, zippering open his backpack and pulling out thick stacks of homework. Elijah went bug-eyed at the sight.

That’s your homework?!” He exclaimed in shock.

“This is what you get when you’re in AP. And trust me, this isn’t even the worst of it,” he sighed, as he reached into his bag for a pencil.

They sat in silence for a few seconds, swinging their feet and biting their lips as Stanley worked away. Educationally strict parents were foreign to Veronica and Elijah, but Stanley was used to having his parent's boots on his neck until he completed everything. Whether the extents he went to complete his assignments were healthy or not wasn't up to him. After about a minute of peaceful but awkward silence, the vibrations of footsteps could be felt barreling towards his room. Levi burst through the door, standing six feet tall in the doorway. Stanley jolted in his seat, his pencil snapping. He was wearing a muscle tee, without much muscle to show and a beer belly stretching the cloth. He flashed a douchey grin, his face covered with patchy facial hair like dead grass.

“You didn’t tell me your friends were coming over,” he teased, his voice deep and forcibly tough.

“Was I supposed to…?” Stanley rebuked with a flat tone, as he reached into his backpack for a pencil sharpener.

Elijah and Veronica watched as Stanley and Levi bickered, their bodies tense. Suddenly, he looked over to Veronica, a visible change occurring in his attitude.

“... Hey,” he greeted, leaning against the wall with a flare in his eyes.

“Hi…” She smirked back, praying he’d go away.

“She won’t get in your pants. Instead of working so hard to get a girl to touch you, maybe put that effort into college… which you’re about to flunk out of,” Stanley scolded him, staring him down.

Levi got visibly angry.

“Shut up! You stupid faggot!” He spat, slamming the door and storming away.

“Don’t blast your shitty music either! I have work to do!” Stanley shouted to him.

Within seconds, rock music began blasting through the walls.

“And cue the shitty music…” he groaned, pressing his forehead against his desk.

“Just do the work later,” Veronica shrugged.

“What?” He asked, unable to hear her over screaming vocals.

“I said do the work later!” She repeated, shouting over the music.

“I can’t! Unless I want an ass whooping!” He continued to sharpen his pencil.

He resumed working, trying to block out any disturbances. Elijah and Veronica pulled their shoes off and stretched themselves out across his bed. The mattress was small, so they laid parallel to each other, resting their heads on pillows. They stared at his popcorn ceiling as they waited for Stanley to finish his work, the music still blasting. He turned his head towards her, watching her eyeballs move around as she stared blankly.

“So… nice weather we’re having,” he smiled, trying to form some type of conversation.

She giggled, her eyes wandering around the room. He stretched his arms behind his head, taking in deep breaths. She looked over at him, watching his hair slowly fall onto his forehead. There was something special about watching him be idle. She was used to him bitching or trying to make her laugh, but right now, he was simply existing. She boredly observed his face as he stared off, noticing a bit of a sad expression on his face. She then noticed dark hairs beginning to grow above his upper lip. Realizing she was staring, he turned to her.

“Is there something on my face…?” He asked slowly and softly.

She reached over, his face scrunching as she brushed her finger across his cupid's bow, feeling the course hairs against her fingertip.

“What an exquisite mustache, sir,” she teased, deepening her voice as she imitated a fancy, rich man.

“Oh shut up!” He laughed, blushing as he pushed her hand away, rolling his eyes towards the wall.

They went back into silence again, just enjoying each other's presences. They never felt awkward with each other. She looked back over at him, realizing the smile had already faded. She considered if she should say something, he wasn’t exactly the emotional type.

“... Is everything alright?” She asked concernedly.

“What? Oh, yeah… just tired,” he smiled weakly, brushing off her question.

She looked away, her worry not fading. She wished he was more open, but she was used to it. Suddenly, Levi’s music turned off.

“Thank god!” Stanley moaned with relief.

The silence filled the room, the only sound being his pencil against the paper. He stopped working for a Moment, turning around to look at them on the bed.

“You guys can, like, work on something if you’d like,” he recommended, feeling bad for leaving them to their boredom.

“It’s fine, we can wait,” Veronica reassured him.

Elijah stayed silent. After a few more minutes, he finally finished his work.

“Voilà!” He held up the papers proudly.

Veronica jokingly clapped.

“Thank you, thank you,” he bowed in his seat, before putting the papers in his bag.

He hopped off the chair, groaning as he stretched his back. He looked over at them, noticing Elijah staring at the wall.

“Elijah… Earth to Elijah!” He repeatedly tried to get his attention, snapping his fingers at him.

“What? Yeah?” Elijah suddenly popped back to reality.

“You left us for a minute there,” he chuckled.

“Oh, sorry… I didn’t sleep well last night,” he explained, rubbing his eyes as he sat up.

Veronica still felt like something was bothering him, but she didn’t want to pry.

“So… what do you guys wanna do?” Stanley asked slowly, pacing around his room.

“We could start playing a few rounds, I don’t think Maggie will care,” Veronica proposed.

“Speaking of Maggie, where is she?” Elijah questioned.

“She’s probably still working on her final project,” Stanley assumed.

“It better be a masterpiece with the amount of time she's taking”, Elijah hopped off the bed, and began to touch random things on Stanley’s shelf.

He lifted an award that was in a line of awards. It was visibly very cheap, the fake gold paint clumpy and chipping.

“First place in the nineteen eighty-five mathlympics, huh,” Elijah read aloud, pretending to be impressed.

“Five years in a row, actually,” Stanley stated proudly.

“Five years wasted on the nerdlympics,” Elijah snickered, putting the award down.

Stanley’s proud stance dropped into a slump.

“Anyways, we should start now and play until Maggie gets here,” Stanley opened his backpack and pulled out the Uno box.

They all hopped on his bed, sitting in a circle with their legs crossed. Stanley pulled the top of the box off, dropping it next to him. He spread out cards to everyone, staring down at their cards as they got them.

“Are we ready?” Stanley asked, looking back and forth between them.

They took a second of silence to look at their cards, before raising their heads.

“Yup,” they both nodded.

They began playing, everyone stayed calm at the beginning. Elijah stared down Stanley, who had a masterful poker face. The tensions began to rise as Elijah kept pulling cards.

Please, can somebody change the color!” He cried, practically filling up his deck again.

“This isn’t a team game,” Stanley said dryly, flipping through his deck.

He pulled another card from the pile, his blood boiled as he prayed it was the right color. Then, his body felt like an unlit bomb as it was finally the right color. They continued playing, reaching their ends as their decks thinned. Suddenly, Veronica froze before putting down her card. She turned to Elijah, who had two cards left.

“Elijah… I’m so sorry,” she held in a giggle.

He looked like he saw a ghost as he realized.

“Please… don’t. I’m begging you!” He pleaded.

She dropped a plus four, feeling evil. He jokingly reached to strangle her, his hands shaking.

“You’re going to fucking pay,” he giggled, staring her down.

He picked up four cards from the pile, his soul crushing with each one. He frowned as he looked down at his refilled deck, continuing the game.

“Uno, bitch!” Stanley exclaimed, slamming his last card onto the blanket.

Veronica and Elijah sighed.

“Language!” Stanley’s Mom suddenly screamed from downstairs.

“S-sorry, Ma!” He shouted back down, his nervous voice high-pitched.

The others broke out into laughter, Stanley laughing as well.

“Wanna go another round?” Elijah asked.

Stanley looked at his clock, it was almost four o’clock.

“Maggie should be here soon.”

With perfect timing, they heard the doorbell ring. Their heads turned towards his door, listening to see if it was her when his Mom opened the door. They perked up like dogs as they heard her squeaky voice greeting his Mom. They all hopped off the bed, leaving his room and standing at the top of the staircase.

“Hey Mags!” Elijah waved to her.

She looked past Stanley’s Mom, noticing all of them. She quickly waved, finishing up her conversation.

“Mom, leave her alone, she doesn’t care,” Stanley whined.

His Mom whipped around, daggers in her eyes.

“What did you just say to me?” She asked sternly, raising her eyebrows.

“Nothing, please just let her come upstairs. It’s getting late,” he begged.

His Mom stepped aside, letting her in.

“It was nice seeing you,” Maggie smiled at his Mom.

She jogged up the stairs, following them into his room. She noticed the cards already out on the bed.

“You guys started without me?” She jokingly frowned.

“Sorry, we got bored waiting for you to finish your toothpick Eiffel Tower… no offense,” Elijah joked, sitting on the bed.

“None taken,” she smiled, plopping next to them.

“Who won before I got here?”

I dominated, in fact,” Stanley announced proudly.

“And now, I will dominate,” Veronica boldly claimed, pressing her hand against her chest.

Elijah rolled his eyes, feeling confident in a win. Stanley handed out the cards, and they began the round. Within seconds, Elijah skipped Stanley.

“Bold,” Stanley smirked.

“Gotta stop you somehow.”

They continued on, pissing each other off with plus fours and skip cards. After strategic playing, Veronica placed her last card.

“Uno!” She shouted, raising her arms.

She turned to Elijah, a devious smile stretching across her face.

“I guess you failed your final and this,” she flaunted.

He grunted, crossing his arms as he squinted his sharp eyes.

“Elijah, can your heart handle another round?” Stanley teased, asking softly.

He took a deep breath before speaking.

“Yes, and it can also take a win,” he said confidently.

“Ooh, this attitude,” Veronica giggled.

“I think you’ll get a win,” Maggie whispered, leaning towards him.

“My only supportive friend,” he joked with a soft face.

Stanley passed out the cards again. When Veronica got hers, she noticed a weird brown thumbprint on it, with small clumps around it. It looked like dirt.

“Who got shit on the card?” She chuckled, flipping it around to show everyone.

Elijah and Stanley observed their hands, flipping them around, but saw nothing. Maggie lifted her hands, realizing her fingertips were coated in brown.

“Oops, sorry. I kinda rushed out the house after working on the project,” she explained, giggling nervously.

Veronica wiped the card off against her black shirt, the stain not showing.

“I’ll go wash off, I don’t wanna get it on anything else,” she hopped off the bed, sliding off the bed and walking to the bathroom.

When they heard the bathroom door close, they looked at each other.

“Why is she acting like she’s hearing a heartbeat under the floorboards?” Elijah questioned.

“Stop it, she’ll hear you! And you know how she is, she’s always anxious. She’s probably just distracted from school. Some people actually care about their grades, y’know,” she whispered.

He shrugged, brushing it off. Shortly after, she walked back in. She flashed her clean jazz hands with a smile. She sat back on the bed, and they resumed the game. While playing, they began chatting.

“I love your shirt, Veronica!” Maggie gushed, drooling over her expensive clothes.

“Thank you! You look cute, as always,” she smiled, placing a card down.

Maggie always wished she could afford clothes like that, but was still grateful for her paint-stained overalls.

“So… what is your project?” Elijah asked.

“Yeah, you never actually told us. I’m curious as to what you’ve been putting so much time in,” Stanley joined in.

“I don’t wanna bore y’all with that stuff,” she giggled weakly, looking away.

“Don’t say that! We’re always interested, tell us,” Veronica reassured her, giving a warm smile.

“Well… I’m making… a sculpture… of myself. Like a self-portrait, but a sculpture,” she explained.

“That’s cool! What’d you use to make it?” Veronica asked curiously.

“Clay, that’s why my hands were so dirty. Art gets messy!” She exclaimed, flipping through her cards.

“You should show it to us before you hand it in! I’ve never seen you do a sculpture before,” Stanley requested, placing down a reverse card and flipping the game.

“I… don’t know if I can. I’m gonna be busy for the rest of the night perfecting it, and I have to get to school extra early to put it in the art room. I could try and sneak y’all in after school, but no promises!” She frowned.

“Whether we see it or not, I’m sure it’s great,” Veronica smiled.

“Thanks…” She grinned, looking away.

Suddenly, Elijah dropped a plus four, but Maggie didn’t pull from the deck.

“Are you gonna…?” He asked confusedly.

“Nope, but Stan will,” she confidently slammed down a plus two, stacking it up to a plus six.

“Oh shit,” Veronica chuckled to herself.

Stanley’s eyes lit up in a blaze.

FUCK. YOU,” he roared.

“STANLEY BENJAMIN ACKER, LANGUAGE!” his Mom screamed for the second time.

“Sorry, Ma!” He apologized.

He turned to Maggie again, scrunching his eyebrows.

“You’re on thin ice,” he warned her sternly, pointing at her.

She shrugged, smiling goofily.

“Didn’t know you had it in you,” Elijah grinned, lightly hitting her with his elbow.

“Maybe you don’t know the real me!” She laughed, widening her eyes with mystery.

They continued playing, secretly targeting Stanley so he couldn’t secure another win. Elijah placed his last card, sitting in silence. The others looked at him, bug-eyed.

“What…?”

They began giggling, staring at him until he realized.

“No… No! Fuck! Uno! Uno! UNO!!!” He screamed in a flailing panic with a dropped jaw, in disbelief that he almost won.

“Not today! Caught red-handed, motherfucker!” Veronica laughed hysterically.

They all busted a gut as they watched him pick up four cards, an expression of despair across his face.

“Uno!” Maggie declared shortly after.

Elijah folded over as everyone clapped.

“Today has not been kind to you, my friend,” Stanley shook his head, grinning at Elijah.

He responded with a struggling smile, his hair drooping as he sulked his head.

“Don’t be a sore loser. You’ll get ‘em next time, champ,” Veronica reassured him, mimicking a cheesy sports movie.

He lifted his head, looking at her with a pout.

“Thanks, Dad,” he continued the joke, his voice high-pitched.

“I give you an ‘A’ for effort!” Maggie comforted him with a grin.

“Thank you,” he gushed, reaching over and hugging her.

“That’s the only ‘A’ he’s seen in his life…” Stanley joked under his breath.

Veronica held a laugh in her cheeks, while Elijah pretended he couldn’t hear it.

“I think we’ve worn this out for the day,” Stanley began picking up everyone’s cards and sliding them back into the box.

Everyone stretched their backs, unaware of how badly they had been slouching.

“My backpack has destroyed my posture, do we really need that many books?!” Maggie groaned, her spine cracking.

“Mine feels like a cinder block on my shoulders. I have the posture of a gorilla now,” Elijah scrunched his face as he stretched his sore muscles.

Stanley placed the Uno box in his drawer, and got back on the bed. They sat in silence for a Moment, just stretching their muscles or blankly staring.

“Shit, it’s getting late. I should get home,” Veronica realized, her mouth lopping sideways.

The others looked over at the clock, realizing it was past six.

“I remember it being four o’clock, like, twenty minutes ago,” Elijah scratched his head.

“Time flies when you’re having fun… winning,” Maggie grinned, leaning back.

“I’m getting that win next time, you fuckers will not be able to hold me back when I go into primal rage,” he pointed at everyone, giggling.

“We’ll see about that,” Veronica challenged him.

“Alright, I got a train to catch. This has not been fun,” he joked, scooching off the bed.

“I could ask my Dad to drive you home, you don’t have to go home alone this late,” Maggie offered.

“No, it’s fine. I don’t want him going out of his way,” he politely declined, lifting his backpack onto his shoulders.

Everyone else hopped off the bed to him goodbye, practically getting on their toes to reach him for a hug.

“Bye, love y’all!” He farewelled one last time before leaving the room.

“Thank you for having me, Mrs. Acker!” He thanked her from downstairs.

They giggled to themselves, finding it funny to hear him being so polite. They sat around waiting for the rest of their parents to come. Maggie stood by the window that faced the front of the house, staring out at the street. Suddenly, Veronica appeared next to her.

“Hey,” she placed her hand on Maggie’s shoulder.

She jumped at the feeling.

“Didn’t mean to startle you,” Veronica giggled.

“Sorry… I dazed out. I’m scoping out my Dad.”

“I figured,” Veronica leaned against the windowsill.

“And you don’t need to say sorry so much.”

“Sorry-...” she slapped her palm against her face.

Veronica laughed, shaking her head.

“You’re a lost cause,” she teased.

Maggie giggled, looking away. Suddenly, the sound of a struggling engine grew closer.

“And that’s my cue…” Maggie sighed, feeling embarrassed.

Veronica hugged her goodbye.

“I wish you luck on that project, don’t stress about it!” She insisted,  her hands on Maggie’s shoulders.

“I’ll try my best,” she smiled, walking towards Stanley to hug him goodbye.

Before she walked out the door, she gave a cute smile and a dramatic wave. She was like the human embodiment of a hamster.

“And then there were two,” Stanley said dramatically.

Veronica chuckled, looking down at her feet.

“Did you… notice anything off about Elijah?” She hesitantly asked.

“Like, anything besides his usual snarky self? No, not really,” he answered honestly.

Veronica looked away for a Moment, realizing she was probably the only one that would know him enough to realize. Or the only one that would closely observe him to realize.

“Forget I said anything, he was probably just whimpering about Uno,” she changed the subject.

“Oh definitely. We brutalized him,” he snickered.

Veronica twitched as the sound of a car horn blared from outside.

“Why does she do this every time?! I swear this woman has no patience…” She grumbled to herself.

Her good mood tainted, she grabbed her backpack, quickly hugged Stanley goodbye and ran down the steps.

“Bye Mrs. Acker! Th-thank you!” She shouted quickly as she flew out the door.

The car was parked in front of his house, her Mom sitting impatiently in the driver's seat. She quickly threw her backpack in the backseat before hopping in the passenger’s seat.

“I just got the interior detailed,” she said dryly, glancing over at Veronica.

“Sorry…” she mumbled, looking away.

She never felt comfortable around her Mom, as if she was judging her constantly. Well, most of the time her Mom was judging her. She always assumed that one day she was going to be told to say “yes ma’am.”

“Who was there?” She asked, rolling down the window as she placed a cigarette between her teeth.

“Elijah, Stan and Maggie,” she answered.

“I could tell Elijah was there, I could smell it on you,” she chortled, blowing smoke out the window.

Veronica wanted to ask what that meant, but she already knew. She always worried that her mother’s snobbishness would rub off on her, or that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

“Did you eat school lunch today?” She asked, looking Veronica up and down.

“Yeah…?” She answered confusedly.

“Well, don’t do that again. You looked like the Pillsbury dough boy when you were running to the car,” she stated, blowing more smoke out the window.

Veronica opened her mouth, ready to speak, but quickly clamped shut. Right when she thought she got used to her comments, it stings again. And she knew she was never brave enough to fight back. She turned her head towards the window, staying silent for the rest of the car ride as she watched the trees blur together. They stopped at the large gate, waiting for entry. When they got the pass, the gate slowly opened, allowing them to pass. Veronica stared at all the mansions, with their perfectly shaped bushes and lion statues. There was no individuality, everything the same.

Money really doesn’t buy style…

They pulled into the driveway, her Dad's car not there… again. They stepped out of the car and walked towards the absurd amount of steps that led to the front door. They pushed the tall doors open, a rush of cool air smacking them in the face. Veronica stood for a Moment, looking around as if she had entered for the first time. She had lived here her entire life, but it never felt like home. It was so… empty. Filled with furniture that you couldn’t sit on. She continued on to the only place that felt like home: her room. She stepped inside, feeling at ease again. This is the one room her parents couldn’t touch, one that felt like her. She had artist posters on the walls, makeup sprawled across her vanity, and a walk-in closet. The only thing that plagued her room was a full-length mirror that stood in the corner of her room. Of course her Mom had gotten it for her. When her Mom wasn’t there to judge her, the mirror helped her do it to herself. After hearing her comments in the car, she couldn’t resist and walked over to the mirror. She stood in front of it, breathing deeply. She twisted her torso around, examining herself. If she picked out any inch of her body, there has been a judgmental comment made about it by her Mom. It was like her own skin was tainted. She felt cute in this outfit today, too. Now she just wanted to burn it and then burn its ashes. She knew not to believe what her Mom said. But how could she not? It had been drilled into her head so many times, she couldn’t look at herself without doing it through her mother’s eyes. Does saying the same thing so often make it true…? She held in sobs as she balled her fist, ready to smash her mirror till her knuckles bled. She stormed away from the mirror, a knot in her throat. Her brain screamed at itself as she paced. She needed something to distract herself. She had thought about self harm before, needing any other feeling to make her forget about this one. She walked over to the drawer next to her bed, pulling out a walkie-talkie. Talking to friends helped her calm down. They’d spend hours at night chatting, as they hid under their blankets so they wouldn’t disturb their parents. She pulled out the antenna, and turned it on. She held down the button, strangely hesitant to speak for a Moment.

“H-Hey, anybody there?” She asked, hoping for a response.

It was static for a Moment. She stood in silence, waiting. Right when she was about to give up, a voice spoke.

“Hi,” Maggie responded.

Veronica smiled, grateful to hear somebody’s voice.

“Hey,” she felt her anxieties slowly fade.

“We usually do this later, did we reschedule?” Maggie questioned.

“N-no, sorry… I just needed somebody to talk to… are you busy?”  Veronica explained, scraping the button.

Maggie went silent for a Moment on the other end, causing Veronica’s nerves to fry.

“No, just doing homework. What’s up?” She finally answered, asking worriedly.

“I… um… do you ever… want to just disappear?” Veronica asked hesitantly.

“... Yeah, all the time,” Maggie answered honestly, her soft voice under the cracking static.

Veronica walked towards her bed, slowly sitting down.

“I think I convince myself that I deflect all of these things being hurled at me, when in reality… I’m still taking damage,” she explained, feeling like she opened a shaken soda bottle.

“Anytime I’m feeling good or confident about myself, my Mom strikes me down… every single time,” she went on, her voice beginning to shake.

“And I know it’s stupid, but your small compliment earlier made such a massive difference in my day… so thank you,” a knot began to form in her throat.

“You looked amazing today, you always do,” Maggie gushed.

“I wish I felt amazing,” she sniffled.

“Self-love is a journey that you can’t let anybody be an obstacle in, it’s something that’s between you and yourself,”

“It all just feels so impossible…” she began to cry, quickly wiping away the tears.

“I know it does, but it’s not. I can guarantee you that in ten years, or five weeks, or even one day, you will not be in the same place that you are now,” she reassured her.

“I try to keep going for those days… I just wish they’d come sooner, like hurry the fuck up!” She giggled as she wiped more tears away.

Maggie laughed as well, her voice always soft like fluff.

“You’re stronger than you realize. You say you take damage, but you’re not knocked down.”

Veronica didn’t know what to say, she never responded to compliments well. She felt like she never received them.

“I love you…” She squeezed out, her voice gravelly.

“I love you too,” Maggie replied. “I’m sorry for being such a sap,” she giggled.

“Don’t be,” Veronica laughed, wiping her nose. “I really appreciate you talking to me,”

“I’ll always be here for you, whenever you need me.”

Veronica could practically feel Maggie’s warm smile through the radio. She could never understand how someone this kind came into her life.

“I’m… gonna go. I’m getting hungry. Again, thank you so much for talking to me, talk to you later,” Veronica farewelled, hopping off her bed.

“... Yeah, I’ll hear from y’all tonight, bye,” she closed her end of the line.

Veronica pushed the antenna back in, and placed the walkie-talkie in her drawer. She wanted to open up more, but she wasn’t comfortable talking about those things yet. Either way, it felt good. She walked out of her room, feeling a little more confident after that pep talk. She trotted downstairs, hoping to avoid her Mom. She walked into her kitchen, sighing with relief when she saw the coast was clear. She began collecting ingredients to make mac and cheese, pilfering through cabinets for everything she needed. When she collected it all, she began boiling water. Cooking was the one good thing she learned from her Mom, even if her intentions were to prepare Veronica for the housewife life. She squinted her eyes, slightly leaning back as she poured the pasta into the water, fearful of getting splashed. As she waited for it to boil, she leaned against her marble-top island, tapping her nails against it. When the pasta grew softer, she sprinkled shredded cheese into the pot, watching as it melted under the bubbles. When it was done, she slipped mittens onto her hands and strained the pasta, the steam of the boiling water hitting her face as it splashed in the sink. She poured the pasta into a bowl, grabbed a fork, and brought it over to the dinner table. As she sat down, she looked at it, and froze. She tried to think about what Maggie told her, but her brain was too loud, as it screamed about how she shouldn’t eat it or that one bite is enough. She shook her head, ignoring her impulses. She began eating, chewing slowly. She eventually swallowed it, taking a minute to see how her body and brain reacted. She felt ok.

One bite down…

She continued eating, taking it slow. She thought about what Maggie said, about how it’s not impossible. She felt corny, but it was helping. After going at her own pace, she stopped eating. She looked down at the almost empty bowl, feeling proud of herself that she ate that much. She got off the chair, bringing the bowl towards the sink. About halfway there, her Mom walked into the kitchen. She looked over at the bowl in her hands, observing the contents inside.

“Is that mac and cheese? Do you know how many calories are in that? Did you even listen to what I said earlier? You want to look cute in that shirt, don’t you?” She ripped into her.

And just like that, she felt shattered again. She stood still as her heart began to race, her brain booming with thoughts. She continued towards the sink, her hands shaking. The bowl almost slipped out of her weak grip, clanking against the metal bottom of the sink.

“Watch it! Those weren’t cheap,” her Mom cautioned, as she sat down and opened a newspaper.

“S-sorry…” She mumbled, slowly walking away.

When she was out of her Mom’s sight, she went straight for the bathroom. She threw the door open, slamming it behind her as she pressed her back against it. She closed her eyes, her chest pumping as she breathed. She tried thinking about her conversation with Maggie again, but the drop of confidence she had gotten from it was shattered like porcelain. She rushed towards the toilet, then getting on her knees as she lifted the lid. She needed to get it all out, so badly. She opened her trembling jaw, slowly lifting two fingers towards her mouth. She wanted it all to just stop, no matter what it took. She stuck her fingers down her throat, gagging as she forced them down. Quickly, she puked up what she had just eaten, almost whole pieces and chunks spilling into the toilet bowl. She did it again, feeling like she needed to get more out. More vomit came running up her throat, her nasal passages stinging as it came out her nostrils as well. She spit into the toilet, cleaning out her mouth. She slumped against the wall, feeling dizzy. She began to sob, feeling like she failed. Her brain felt satisfied in the worst way possible. She had succumbed to what it wanted. She scrunched up into a ball, her sobs muffled by her legs as her tears hit the pearly tiles.

Chapter Two: The Assembly

Elijah’s eyes slowly creaked open, his body sprawled out across his bed. He turned over to look at his clock, his vision blurry. 7:45 blinked on the screen, he had fifteen minutes to get to school. He slowly sat up, his body feeling as heavy as a bowling ball. He threw his blanket off of him, swinging his legs around and dangling them off the edge of the bed. Now was the time when he took a Moment to stare at the wall to prepare to stand up. When he felt ready, he stood up, his body already craving the comfort of his bed. The floorboards creaked beneath his feet as he walked over to his closet, picking out his outfit for the day. He undressed out of his pajamas, almost losing his balance as he tried to shove his leg into his jeans. He buttoned his jeans, then slipping a shirt over his head. Before leaving, he grabbed his backpack and tossed it over his shoulder. He opened his door, flinching as the hinges screeched. That was one of many on the list of things in his house that need to be repaired, but his Dad couldn’t bother. He couldn’t afford it either. He closed the door behind him and trotted downstairs. The wrath of his father was luckily avoidable in the morning, since he was busy in the station by the crack of dawn. He began pilfering through cabinets for a snack to bring on the way, frowning as he opened each empty cabinet. Only finding cans of beans. He then checked the fridge, which was filled with beer cans and an empty bottle of Pepsi. He groaned as he slammed it shut, walking towards the closet with a growling stomach. He slipped his converse’s on, the white rubber smudged with dirt. Finally, he grabbed his bomber jacket, and headed out the door. He walked past overgrown weeds as he made his way towards the bus stop. He passed his Dad’s truck, glancing over at it as he walked. He wished he had a driver's license, he felt embarrassed to not have one. He could just drive away and never come back. His Dad always barked about wanting him out of the house, how he needed real responsibilities to be a “man,” yet he’d never get out of that recliner to push him out himself. When he reached the bus stop, he sat on the bench, waiting for it to come. He watched cars as they drove by, listening to the pavement crunch under tires as he tapped his fingers against his thighs. He didn’t like to be in silence for so long, or to be alone either. The last place he wanted to be was in his own head, or else he’d find himself trapped in it. He leaned back, feeling his books press against his back. He wished he took the bus with friends, it felt like he was missing out on the high school experience. Or maybe he was watching too many movies. He stood up as he noticed the bus turning onto his street. It came to a screeching halt in front of the stop, the doors opening. He stepped on, sitting in a corner seat. He thought about how people would probably be shocked to see him like this, so quiet and fragile, like a mouse. The bus hissed as it began to accelerate again, making its way towards the school. He looked down at his wrist, wishing he had a watch so he could know what time it was. He left quickly, so he estimated about five minutes till he was technically. He dazed out for the rest of the ride, staring blankly to kill time. Before he knew it, he had arrived at school, his body swaying as the bus stopped. He hopped off the bus, joining the last minute crowd of kids walking in. He entered the building, the hallway filled with chatter as students filed into their classes. The first people he looked for were his friends, but he assumed they had already gotten to class already. He made his way towards his classroom, the hallways beginning to empty out. He stepped into his classroom, students still pulling out their notebooks. He slithered through the tight rows, then dropping his bag next to his desk and plopping into his seat. At this point, his brain had already checked out. He leaned his hand against his face, daydreaming with tired eyes.

“Mr. Morris,” his teacher suddenly called on him.

He broke out of his daydream, looking up in a daze.

“Y-yeah?”

“Do you have any thoughts to add on the passage we just read?” He asked, raising an eyebrow and wrinkling his forehead.

He tried to recall what they were even reading, only remembering Shakespeare being mentioned at some point.

“Uh… well, if Romeo didn’t get banished, he could’ve been with her.”.

“... We’re reading Macbeth.”

Giggles came out from his classmates, as he looked away from embarrassment.

“Can somebody help Elijah and give an answer?” The teacher scanned the classroom with his gaze.

Laughs escaped as a girl answered, blood rushing to his cheeks as more embarrassment set in. He hated attention, especially the wrong kind. He sighed with relief as he was saved by the bell, the class rushing out.

“Don’t forget to finish act five at home! I’m expecting that final essay on my desk next week” He informed them aloud.

Before he could walk out, his teacher put his arm in front of him.

“You need to actually read the book to do this essay. I… don’t want to fail you, kid. Please don’t make me,” he stretched a straight smile.

“I’ll get it done.”

His teacher awkwardly pat him on the back, signaling him to leave. He stepped out the doorway, trying to find the best Moment to merge with the rushing crowd. He slipped between the students, joining the flow like a school of fish. He kept an eye out for any of his friends, usually only having time to see them in between periods. Suddenly, he felt a tug on his sleeve. He turned around, seeing Veronica hanging onto his dangling jacket.

“Hi,” she chirped.

“How was your class?”

“Well, I dropped a pencil and when I bent down, everyone felt the need to take advantage of the birds eye view…” She detailed uncomfortably, as she tugged her skirt down farther.

“Tell me who those assholes are, I’ll pummel ‘em,” he jokingly threw punches in the air.

“I would pay to see that,” she giggled at the thought.

They walked towards Stanley’s class, trying to catch him in the halls. After scouting for him, they found him on the opposite side of the hall. Elijah grabbed him by the arm, scaring him as he tugged him towards the other side.

“Jesus Christ, I thought I was about to get stereotypically shoved into a locker,” he giggled, still feeling the aftershock in his body.

“Don’t worry, I’m saving that one for later,” Elijah winked.

“Ah, I will be excitedly waiting,” Stanley said flatly.

“Have either of you seen Maggie? She said she might be able to show us her final project but I didn’t see her when I came in,” Veronica questioned.

“I haven’t seen her,” Stanley shrugged.

“Truthfully, I completely forgot,” Elijah chuckled.

Veronica rolled her eyes.

“We should stop by the art room, she seemed so excited. I’d feel bad to just ditch her.”

They nodded, and made their way towards the art room. When they reached the door, they squeezed their heads together, collectively peeking through the tiny glass window. Their eyebrows scrunched with confusion when they didn’t see her inside.

“This is her period, right…?” Veronica asked unsurely.

“I… think so,” Elijah answered slowly.

“I don’t see her project either, didn’t she say she had to drop it off early?” Stanley remembered.

They stepped away from the door and leaned against the lockers.

“She probably just stayed home today, maybe caught a cold. She seemed a little off yesterday too, probably just coming down with something,” Elijah shrugged.

“Yeah…” Veronica’s mind trailed off as she bit her lip.

“The hallways are emptying, I gotta run,” Stanley said, turning around to look at the teachers closing their doors.

“Bye Stan,” they waved goodbye as he jogged off.

Elijah quickly noticed the look of worry on her face.

“What’re you thinking?”

“I don’t know… she’s just been off,” she pondered.

“Yeah, that’s what I’ve been saying. But you kept passing it off as her anxiety. I thought she’s been acting fuckin’ weird since yesterday,” he recalled, crossing his arms.

“Do you think she doesn’t want to be friends with us anymore…?” She wondered, saddened by the thought.

“We didn’t even do anything, she’s probably just dealing with her own shit.”

She popped her thought bubble as she realized the hallways were practically empty.

“Shit, gotta go. We’ll talk about this later, bye, love ya,” she spat out before running off.

“Bye,” he waved, but she was too far to hear.

He strolled to his next class with no urgency, his teacher side-eyeing him as he entered in the middle of the lesson. As he sat down, the loudspeaker crackled to life.

“All students please report to the auditorium for a very important assembly,” the man announced.

“Single file line, please!” The teacher ordered.

But everybody walked out anyway. Elijah stood at the back of the crowd, following everyone towards the auditorium. On the way there, he noticed the back of Veronica’s head. He shoved past people, eventually getting to her.

“Do you know what this is about?”

She turned her head, realizing he had appeared next to her.

“Nope. It’s probably gonna be some boring speech about drugs or bullying,” she groaned.

Stanley suddenly trotted up to them.

“Any idea what this is for?” He asked as well.

They both shook their heads.

“Do you guys know if Maggie came in late? I hope she’s not sick…” She asked worriedly.

They shook their heads again.

“Stop worrying so much, she’s fine,” Elijah reassured her.

She crossed her arms, looking away. She knew she was probably just being dramatic. A mass of students squeezed through the auditorium doors, chatter echoing throughout the spacious room. Teachers at the front of the room wheeled out a projector, positioning it in front of a white screen. The trio occupied their seats as the room swiftly filled up. They looked around the auditorium, kids cupping their mouths with their hands as they gossiped. When everyone was seated, they dimmed the lights. Their principal walked to the front of the room, a microphone in hand.

“Hello, students… we’ve called you here today… for some troubling news.”

Whispering quickly filled some rows.

“Our fellow peer, and beloved friend… Maggie Anderson… has tragically passed away,” he announced, a knot in his throat.

And At that Moment, it felt like they were on the brink of blacking out. They watched his lips move, but the words coming out were gibberish. They aimlessly looked around, trying to process what they were just told. They dizzily looked up at the projector, reading “Suicide Awareness” through blurry vision. Veronica placed her hand against her chest, feeling like her heart was about to stop. Stanley looked over at them, feeling like he was moving in slow motion. They looked like they were malfunctioning, with shaking bodies. But no tears would come out, as the shock left them feeling almost paralyzed. Teachers around the room dabbed their teary eyes with tissues, students with their jaws dropped. It was a waking nightmare. After what felt like either one minute or one lifetime, the assembly came to a close, a suicide hotline number plastered across the screen. They squinted as the beaming lights came on, almost snapping them out of it. Elijah looked at his friends, unable to squeeze a word out.

“We were just… she was here…” Veronica mumbled, unable to form a coherent thought.

She jolted from her seat, shoving through people to get out. Elijah wanted to shout for her, but he couldn’t get the words out. He stood up, attempting to follow her. Stanley stayed in his seat, staring like he was watching a bird. Elijah felt like he was going to faint as he tracked her through the gossiping hallways. He turned the corner, catching her running into the bathroom. He stood next to the doorway, listening as a bathroom stall door slammed shut. The bathrooms were quiet and empty, so it was easy to hear. He listened as she hyperventilated, choking on her tears. Then, she broke out into a sob. He flinched as her wails echoed throughout the bathroom, his heart shattering to hear her like this. Pure pain exploded out of her as she screamed with grief. He pressed his head against the wall, wiping away a tear as she continued to cry. After a few minutes, she cried until she could cry no more, almost dry heaving. He heard the door unlock, the hinges squeaking as it opened. He took his head off the wall as he heard her approaching the doorway. She wiped her cheeks as she stepped out, turning to notice him standing there. They stared into each other's eyes for a Moment, their gazes filled with pain. Her frown began to tremble as she threw her arms around him, and she continued to sob into his chest. He slowly wrapped his arms around her, tears soaking through the cloth of his shirt. His face throbbed as he held back tears, feeling uncomfortable with crying around people. He looked over as Stanley dragged his feet towards them, staring aimlessly with wet cheeks. He stood in front of them, looking like he wanted to say something. Instead of speaking, he stretched his arms around both of them, hugging them tightly. They collectively sobbed, their tears dripping onto the floor. After having that Moment together, they separated today without sharing any words. As much as they wanted to grieve together, they needed time for themselves. When the school day ended, they all made their way home, feeling numb as they stood on crowded buses.

Stanley opened his front door, tears drying on his cheeks.

“Hi honey, how was your day?” His Mom asked from the dinner table, sipping a coffee.

That question alone caused him to breakout into tears again, as he bolted upstairs to his room. Tears streamed down his cheeks as he slammed his door shut and threw himself onto his bed. He scrunched into a ball as he cried, remembering her sitting in that very spot. Suddenly, his door was thrown open, his brother standing outside.

“What are you whining about now?!” He asked annoyed.

Stanley’s emotions quickly switched from grief to rage.

“SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU FUCKING LOWLIFE!” He roared as he stormed over, slamming the door so hard it vibrated.

He stomped back towards his bed, sitting on the edge. He placed his head in his hands, feeling so overwhelmed. It was all too much. Then, the door slowly opened again.

WHAT?!” He screamed, baring his teeth as he assumed it was his brother again.

His Mom’s head peeked through the door with an expression of concern.

“It’s me,” she smiled weakly.

“Oh, sorry…” His voice dropped as he wiped tears off his cheeks.

She stepped inside, closing the door behind her.

“What’s wrong?” She sat next to him.

He couldn’t get the words out, he could barely even believe it yet. Saying it out loud made it true, and he wasn’t ready for that. She embraced him as he continued to cry. He squeezed her tightly as he sobbed, her fingers running through his hair.

“It’s ok… it’s ok… I’m here.”

But Maggie isn’t…

Elijah stood at his front door, taking in deep breaths. He wiped his eyes for the hundredth time, trying to erase any evidence of his tears. He didn’t want his Dad to know that he was crying. Feeling as prepared as possible, hope the screen door, letting it rest against his back as he opened the second door. He stepped inside, hearing the audio of a TV. He saw his Dad sitting in the recliner, as always, with a beer in hand, as always. He tried ignoring him, making his way towards the stairs.

“Where’s the fire?” His Dad let out a gravelly chuckle, courtesy of his chain-smoking.

Elijah faked a laugh as he stood on the steps.

“How was your day?”

He was being nice, so the beer in his hand had to be his first of the day.

“It was good… same as always…” He answered dishonestly.

He wanted to slip away, but his Dad wouldn’t stop talking.

“I got a call last night… about a girl,” his Dad explained, sipping his beer in between words.

Elijah felt like he knew where this was going, the tears starting to well.

“Caller said she killed herself.”

And there it was.

“And I get there, we call the coroner, and I’m just like… why. Such a drastic thing just for some attention. Life sucks for everybody, you put fuckin’ duct tape on it and keep going, no need to be a pussy,” he scoffed.

Elijah’s blood felt like lava through his veins. He wanted to spit out so many words, tell him off. But he just couldn’t.

“Yeah…” He squeezed out through the knives in his throat.

“Anyways, I know you don’t care about police shit, go do whatever you do up there all day,” he waved his hand in the air, turning his attention back to the TV.

He ran upstairs, his lips pursed as his red face throbbed. He felt like a ticking time bomb that was reaching its last seconds. He went into his room, closed the door and tossed himself on his bed. He grabbed a pillow, pressed it against his face and tried to let out a painful scream. He couldn’t tell if he was upset or angry, he just needed to scream. But he couldn’t do it. He pulled away for a Moment, taking in a stuttering breath. He couldn’t scream, he couldn’t even cry. It felt like he was choking on the skin of his throat. He repeatedly bludgeoned the pillow with his fist, wrinkling its cover. When he eventually exhausted himself, he collapsed his face into it. He felt like an overfilled bottle that couldn’t be opened, and the pressure hurt so badly.

Veronica pushed open her massive front doors, her house feeling smaller than ever. She ran directly to her room, the cold wind drying the tears against her face. She locked the door behind her, crawling into her bed and pressing her knees against her chest. She sobbed quietly to herself, tears dripping onto her comforter. It was all impossible to believe. They had just spoken to each other the day before. She said she’d always be there for Veronica, whenever she needed her. She wanted to drift off to sleep, and wake up peacefully with the realization that it was just a bad dream. She wanted to pinch her thigh and feel nothing, but in reality all she felt was pain. She reached over to open her drawer, grabbing her walkie-talkie with shaking hands. She pressed it against her chest, slowing her breathing. She closed her eyes, her eyelids wet. She didn’t want to remember Maggie as she was now, she wanted to remember her the way she was at their last conversation. She wanted to remember her as somebody that made her feel comfortable in her own skin, even if it was just a passing Moment. It was still blissful.

Veronica was suddenly pulled out of her slumber by the sound of a voice.

“Hello?” Somebody spoke through the radio that was clutched in her arms.

“Maggie…?” She mumbled to herself, still in a daze from waking up.

“Is anybody there…?” The voice asked.

She realized it was Stanley. And then she remembered that everything was still real. She sat up, looking out her window, noticing the sun had almost set. She glanced over at the clock, realizing she had slept till 8:00. She lifted the walkie-talkie to her mouth, holding down the button.

“Hi,” she mumbled, her voice raspy.

“Did you just wake up?”

“Yeah… I crashed after school,” she explained, rubbing her eyes.

“...Are you there, Elijah?” Stanley called to him.

There was no response for a Moment.

“I’m here,” he finally answered.

They stayed silent for a Moment, thinking of what to say.

“I hope you guys are doing alright… I wish I could be with y’all,” she sighed.

“I’m doing the best I can… I wish I was with y’all too,” Elijah mumbled, his throat tight.

Stanley stayed quiet.

“I, um… I love you guys, endlessly. I’m sorry I didn’t say that more often… I’m sorry I didn’t say it to her more often…” He admitted guiltily, tearing up.

“I love you so much too, you didn’t need to say it for us to know. And trust me, she knew it too,” she reassured him.

“I just… I feel like I saw the signs, and I brushed them off. And then you saw the signs, and I told you to brush it off… if I wasn’t being such an asshole… we could’ve…” He held back tears, unable to finish the sentence.

“Elijah, it’s not your fault. It’s nobody’s fault. She wouldn’t blame any of us,” she reassured him, tearing up again.

“I just feel like I could’ve cared more…” He sniffled, choking on the knot in his throat.

“I wish I told her I loved her too…” Stanley suddenly spoke again. “I wanted to tell her I felt so much more than that…” He confessed, his voice trembling.

They were stunned into silence, having no clue he ever felt that way about her.

“Stan, I’m so sorry…” She consoled him.

“I would just like to think she felt the same way…” He pondered as he sniffled.

“I’m sure she did,” she smiled weakly as a tear streamed down her cheek.

“I’m gonna... go to bed. I need to be unconscious right now,” Elijah laughed through the pain.

They laughed as well, feeling good to let out something other than a sob.

“Love you guys, have a good night,” he farewelled.

“Love you too, goodnight,” they said as he turned off his radio.

There was silence for a Moment.

“Are you gonna go too?” She asked Stanley.

“Actually… can you stay with me? I don’t want to be alone right now…” He whimpered.

“Ok. I don’t want to be alone either,” she snuggled up in her bed, keeping the radio close to her.

They didn’t speak, just feeling the comfort of knowing that somebody else was on the other end. It felt safe. Although, she knew she’d feel even safer if it was Elijah on the other end.

Chapter Three: Aftermath

        Stanley sat at his desk, his hand throbbing in pain. He had been working on homework all night, his muscles desperate to stop. The rising sun beamed onto the paper, illuminating his sloppy writing. His teachers knew about what happened, they knew how close he was to her. But he still did the work anyways. It was one of the few things that made him feel normal during these times, even if it was stressful, it felt so comfortably normal. Just like before. It felt better than crying. When he finally finished his last paper, he dropped his pencil, sighing with relief. His fingertips had such deep indents, it practically reached his bones. He placed the papers back into his folder, his hands shaking like a tremor. He zipped his bag shut, then leaning back in his chair. He was used to going on homework benders, but with everything going on, he was even more exhausted. His heavy eyelids slowly closed themselves, his arms dangling at his side. Suddenly, his eyes shot open as he heard his door open. He looked over, seeing his Dad in the doorway.

        “You’re up early,” he smiled.

        “Yeah, just… had to get some work done,” he smiled back with tired eyes.

        “I… uh… I heard about your friend, Madison,” he stumbled on his words.

        “Maggie…” he corrected him.

        “Right… sorry. I heard about Maggie… I hope you’re doing alright kid,” he looked at him with concern.

        Stanley wanted to say that he was doing alright, but that’d be a lie, so he said nothing at all.

        “I’m proud of you for prioritizing your work, that’s your future right there,” he nodded, pointing at Stanley’s backpack.

        Stanley nodded, wanting this conversation to be over.

        “I gotta head off to work, hope you have a good day at school,” he smiled, closing the door.

        Stanley slumped in his seat again, needing just seconds of sleep to function. His Dad wasn’t the best with words, but hearing him care more about homework than his grief, didn’t make him feel any better.

        It’s Thursday… you’ve made it this far...

He slowly stood up, his weak, shaking legs almost buckling. He hadn’t stood up all night, not even to eat or urinate. He got dressed at his own pace, feeling like he was going to fall on his face. He sat on his bed for a Moment, needing time to rest after that minimal amount of physical activity. He looked over at his clock, he had a good amount of time to kill, so a nap wouldn’t hurt. He laid down, falling asleep almost instantly.

        He felt himself wake up as he opened his eyes. He tried to read the numbers on his clock, his vision blurry. He rubbed his eyes for clarity, scooching closer off his bed to read it. He went bug-eyed as he realized he had slept for two hours. He hopped out of bed, his adrenaline rushing. He had never been late to school before.

        Why wouldn’t my Mom wake me?!

        He snatched his backpack, and flew out his room. His feet smashed against the stairs like a stampede. He pushed his feet into his shoes, the back smushed against his heel. Before he opened the front door, he noticed a note taped to it.

        “Running to the store, take the bus. Love you - Mom”

        That’s why…

        He ran out the door, speeding down the sidewalk like Forrest Gump.

        His heart and lungs felt like a blaze as he reached the bus stop. He smiled with relief as a bus pulled up, just on time. He hopped onto the bus as the door opened, finally able to sit down. He pressed his hand against his chest, his heart pounding against his ribs. He pumped his lungs with air, feeling like he ran a marathon.

        Jesus, I need to work out more…

        He leaned back, pressed his head against the window as the bus took off. He had never been late to school in his life. Did he just walk in and go to class? Do you have to go to an office first and get a late pass? It was foreign to him. He stepped off the bus, walking towards the building. He looked at his watch, he had missed both the first and second period. He groaned as he pulled the heavy door open, stepping into the empty hall. Empty halls always had an ominous energy, but it felt even weirder arriving while they’re empty. As if you were the last person alive. He walked down the halls towards his class, feeling like a tumbleweed was going to roll by. When he stepped into the classroom, every eye turned to him.

        “Sorry I’m late,” he apologized to his teacher, who had paused the lesson.

        “That’s alright, just sit down quickly,” she ordered.

        She resumed her lesson as he walked towards his seat, dropping himself onto it. This was the last place he wanted to be. After holding his heavy head up for 45 minutes, the bell finally rang. His next period was lunch, the break he needed. He quickly pulled out all of his homework, lugging it towards his teacher. She turned around, noticing him approaching her.

        “Oh! You know you didn’t have to,” she smiled weakly, taking the homework.

        “It’s my apology for coming in late,” he smiled back, walking towards the door.

        He made his way towards the lunchroom, floating throughout the halls. When he got there, he leaned against the walls, waiting for his friends. As he waited, he delved deep into his own head, having time to think about everything. He found the aftermath of devastation more painful than the event itself. Of course, it’s awful to experience something in the Moment, but nothing hurts more than waking up the next day and remembering that it happened, and you have to do that every single day after that. But remembering that it happened comes with remembering her, and he never wanted to forget her. They go hand in hand.  Life gets to pause in that traumatic Moment, but then it has to resume. And nothing hurts more than pushing forward from it. He didn’t know how to balance moving on and his guilt about moving on, as if it was disrespectful to not be mourning at every waking Moment. It felt like a puzzle with all the wrong pieces. And she didn’t just die, it was a suicide. His heart shattered at the thought of her feeling the need to leave this life, leaving feeling unloved or unworthy. There’s so many things he wished he had done.

        “Stan!” A voice suddenly shouted.

        He jumped where he stood, being broken out of his thoughts. He realized Elijah had been standing in front of him, waving his hand in front of his face. Veronica was standing behind him.

        “I’m here,” he slapped Elijah’s hand away.

        “We were standing here for like a minute,” he laughed.

        “Sorry, I dazed out,” he smiled weakly.

        Following them as they walked into the lunchroom. The room was filled with chatter, dozens of conversations overlapping each other as they hit their ears.

        “I hate school lunch. Pizza and milk literally brews a chemical weapon in my stomach, it cannot be legal to serve that,” Elijah gagged.

        “That’s why I bring my own lunch,” Veronica lifted a brown paper bag, shaking it in the air.

        “Not everyone has that luxury,” he teased, sticking his tongue out.

        She rolled her eyes with a grin.

        “Stan, I didn’t see you earlier today, where were you?” He  asked.

        “I ended up coming in late,” he explained, with a half-cocked frown.

        As he kept walking, he realized they weren’t next to him anymore. He turned around, seeing they halted, their jaws dropped.

        “You, Stanley Acker, were late for school?” Veronica questioned in disbelief, pointing at him.

        He nodded, not in the mood for jokes.

        “Didn’t know you were a rebel now,” Elijah teased, giving him a noogie as he passed by.

        Stanley faked a laugh, fixing his hair. He was a little off-put by how normal they were acting. He had never experienced something like this before, maybe people just grieve differently. He followed them towards a table at the back of the cafeteria. Elijah slipped his arm deep into his sleeve, using it to wipe off leftover food.

        “Kids are pigs,” he bared a disgusted face.

        They sat down, dropping their backpacks on the floor behind them. For the first time, being together felt awkward. Like something was looming over them, and it was pretty obvious as to what it was.

        “I’m gonna go get lunch,” Elijah suddenly said, getting up and walking towards the lunch line.

        Stanley looked over at Veronica, as she unpacked her lunch. She looked up at him, knowing he felt bad about leaving her too.

        “It’s fine, go get lunch,” she reassured him.

        He stood up, joining Elijah on the line. Out of boredom, he began observing him. Elijah towered over him, with Stanley being a little more than half his height. To some extent, he was kind of jealous of him. The way he appeared to just brush everything off, or make a joke out of it. It sounded peaceful, to stop caring. But maybe deep in that brain, he does care, and just doesn’t show it. Maybe it’s better that Stanley feels comfortable expressing his emotions, faking it isn’t a guarantee that you’ll make it. They grabbed their lunch and walked back towards the table, where Veronica had already chomped halfway through a ham and cheese sandwich. They sat down, frowning at the prison food they were served. Stanley lifted his plate, looking at the grease that had soaked through it. Then, it dripped off the plate, causing him to gag as he dropped it.

        “This is… vile,” he groaned, leaning away from it.

        He looked over at Elijah, who had already begun eating it. He stopped eating, and looked over at Stanley, who was staring at him in disgust.

        “What? I’m fuckin’ hungry,” he shrugged, continuing to eat.

        Stanley looked back down at his plate, slowly lifting up the pizza. He took a small bite of the tip, chewing it slowly. It didn’t taste bad, it was just so greasy. He then washed it down with the chocolate milk, which was not going to digest well. He wiped his mouth, already feeling nauseous. As Elijah lifted his pizza towards his mouth, the melted cheese slid off and plopped onto the crotch of his jeans. Stanley and Veronica bursted into laughter, watching his face fall as he looked down. He lifted the cheese with a pinch, looking like he was on the brink of tears as he dropped it back onto his plate. He stood up, his pants covered with sauce.

        “And I thought I had a fire crotch!” Stanley joked, laughing hysterically.

        Veronica’s laugh cut short at the disgusting joke.

        “Stan… ew,” she chuckled with disgust.

        They continued to laugh as Elijah crab-walked towards the napkin holder. He came back, using stacks of napkins to wipe it off. They continued to laugh until it was no longer funny. Although it was just a Moment, it was blissful, to feel such amusement.

“Did you get it all off?” Veronica asked, more giggles escaping her as she leaned across the table.

“It won’t fucking come off, ugh!” He groaned in frustration, viciously scrubbing his jeans.

“Just tie your jacket around your waist for the day,” Stanley recommended, taking another bite of his pizza.

After the frustration passed, he couldn’t help but laugh.

“Only this shit would happen to me,” he giggled, slapping his hand against his face.

He sighed, crumpling the napkins and dropping them onto his plate. As the Moment passed, their brains had reminded them of what happened, as if they had forgotten. They all fell under a silence, staring blankly. It almost felt cruel to feel happy during these times. They all waited for each other to say something.

“Did you guys hear about that new movie? The Goonies?” Elijah suddenly brought up.

They both shook their heads.

“It’s about these kids that search for lost treasure.”

“We should go tonight,” she quickly said.

“Oh, sure.”

“Sounds fun, something to get our minds off… things,” Stanley’s words trailed off into a mumble.

“We meet there at eight o’clock?” She raised her eyebrows.

“Sounds like a plan,” Elijah smiled, twiddling his thumbs.

They spoke like acquaintances to each other, and they couldn’t stop. After school, they parted ways, going home to get ready.

Veronica stood in front of her mirror, observing her body as she tried on another outfit. She thought it was cute, until she stared at it for more than five seconds and convinced herself she looked ugly in it. She sighed, slumping her back as she pulled the shirt off and dropping it into the reject pile of clothes she had tried on. She had almost emptied her closet, her frustration growing as she hated everything she wore. She thought about if she hated her wardrobe or if she hated how she looked in it, or both. She tried on the last thing she had, looking at herself deeply in the mirror. She held back tears as she desperately wanted to turn away, she couldn’t stand to look at her own reflection. How do you feel comfortable in your own skin when all you want to do is tear yourself out of it? Then, as the cherry on top, she heard her Mom approaching her room. She opened the door, her eyes widening as she saw her daughter's outfit.

“Oh, darling, let me fix this,” she sucked air through her teeth as she walked towards her.

Her Mom may have been a bitch, but she was a fashionable bitch. She began picking up all the clothes that Veronica had thrown onto the floor, observing them as she held them in the air. Within seconds, she had a full outfit sprawled out across the bed. She was like a machine.

“Try on that,” she smiled down upon her creation.

Veronica began to put the clothes on, feeling like she was being judged by her Mom. Actually, she knew she was being judged by her. When she finished putting the outfit on, she turned to her Mom, feeling absolutely no confidence. Her Mom squinted her eyes, observing the outfit.

“Perfect! Except…” She walked towards her.

There was always an except.

“You really need to lose this,” she bared her teeth as she squeezed the weight on Veronica’s hips.

She swallowed roughly, wanting her Mom’s hands off of her.

“Nobody’s gonna love those handles, darling. Especially not Elijah,” she insinuated, standing in front of her with her hands on her hips.

Veronica’s jaw dropped as blood rushed to her face.

“What are you talking about…?”

“Don’t play dumb, I see the way you look at him. Why do you think I picked out this outfit? Gotta grab attention somehow,” she flashed a “duh” look.

She felt absolutely mortified.

“I don’t know why you’re into somebody on… his level, but whatever your little heart desires, I guess,” she sneered, walking out the room.

Veronica stood frozen, her stomach dropping down a rabbit hole as she watched her walk away.

“I’ll leave you money on the counter, don’t be home late,” she ordered, before leaving the room.

Her Mom never failed to make her feel as uncomfortable as possible. She tried to slow her breathing, closing her eyes as she timed her inhales and exhales. She turned back around to look in the mirror, trying to gain an ounce of confidence after being knocked down like that. Her Mom had picked out the most provocative outfit in her closet, which is saying a lot considering she tried to buy everything that was baggy and covering. She felt uncomfortable with the amount of cleavage being shown, so she tried to pull it up, then realizing it didn’t go up any higher.

Will this really get his attention…?

For once, she considered taking her Mom’s advice. She twisted her body around in the mirror, doing embarrassing poses to observe the outfit. For the first time in a while, she felt kinda sexy. It was a little much for a simple movie hangout, but it felt a bit better than wearing an extra sized hoodie. She trotted downstairs, taking the money her Mom had left her, before she left the house. She made her way towards the bus stop, feeling a little more confidence with each step. She had worn things similar to this at fancy parties with unknown family members that have apparently seen her when she was a baby, but never in public like this. She sat down at the bus stop, the air growing colder as the sun set.

Maybe this wasn’t the right outfit for this weather…

The bus would only take a few minutes, so she wouldn’t be in the cold for long. As she waited, the irritating sound of a removed muffler came roaring down the street. As the truck passed her, the window quickly rolled down, a seemingly older man sticking his head out.

“Nice rack!” He shouted with a whistle.

Disgust ran across her face as she crossed her arms across her chest. She held herself back from running home and changing into something that hid every inch of her skin.

Don’t let some douchebag ruin your night. You look good, you feel good.

She slowly lowered her arms, placing them at her side. She glanced down the street, sighing with relief as the bus turned the corner. She stood up as it hissed to stop, the doors opening. She stepped onto the bus, sitting down on the cold seat. She didn’t anticipate how uncomfortable it would feel to dress like this in public. She barely liked having her or her Mom’s eyes on her, try having every man drool at you and every old woman give you dirty looks. But she wouldn’t let that ruin her night. The bus pulled up down the street of the theater. She stepped off, crossing her arms as the cold air hit her.

Really should’ve brought a jacket

She stood at the end of the busy sidewalk, the last thing she was able to catch was a break. She pushed forward, telling herself that nobody was looking at her. She slithered past people as her heart picked up pace. Her confidence slowly descended as she made her way down the sidewalk, feeling so vulnerable. Then, a group of teen boys leaving the theater came parallel to her. One of the boys glanced at her chest, slapping his friend's chest to get his attention, who then began looking at her as well. She wanted to melt into a puddle as they looked her up and down, giggling as they bit their lips. Her heart skipped a beat as they passed her, her brain imagining every scenario of her getting groped or approached. When she finally reached the theater, she stopped for a Moment, needing deep breaths.

You made it from point A to point B, you’re good…

She looked up at the marquee, “Now Showing, The Goonies, 8:00,” spelled out, the S in “Goonies” placed crookedly.

When she looked back down, she realized Elijah and Stanley were standing by the doors, chatting as they waited for her. She slowly walked backwards, almost bumping into people as she slipped into the theater alleyway. She needed a minute before she could be seen by them like this. This was all extremely out of her comfort zone. She closed her eyes, taking in a deep breath. Then, she held in a yelp, pressing her back against the building as a rat ran by.

That’s my cue to leave!

She stepped out from the alleyway, and began walking up to them. As she got closer, the boys stopped talking, noticing she was there. She smiled, waving as they stared at her, trying to hold their jaws up. She stood in front of them, waiting for one of them to say something.

“Hi,” Stanley squeezed out.

“Hi.”

“You… look great,” Elijah grinned, observing her outfit.

“Thanks,” she looked down, a smile stretching across her face.

The only eyes she liked on her were his, and his simple compliment rejuvenated her confidence meter.

“It’s almost showtime, we should get our tickets,” she pointed towards the door.

“Y-yeah, right,” Stanley nodded, walking towards the door as if he had just broken out of a trance.

“The power you have… both good and evil,” she giggled to herself, looking down at her chest.

They stepped inside, waiting on a short line to the ticket booth. It felt weird being there, the last time they had come was with Maggie to see The Breakfast Club. She had begged them to see it, and they eventually gave in. Veronica remembered how Maggie loved the movie because it reminded her of them. From all walks of life, and they still ended up together.

They pulled out their money as they reached the booth, Elijah frowning at the wrinkled dollars in his hand.

“Shit, I’m a dollar short,” he sighed.

Veronica impulsively pulled out another dollar, extending it towards him. He noticed her offer, almost looking shocked.

“N-no, it’s fine. We could just go another time,” he declined anxiously.

He didn’t enjoy feeling like he was being donated to.

“Don’t be so stubborn, take it. And don’t worry about paying me back,” she insisted, moving the dollar closer to him.

He stood for a Moment, before taking it.

“I’m paying you back, I’ll do it in pennies if I have to,” he shook the dollar in front of her, a smile on his face.

She grinned, rolling her eyes. They purchased their tickets, then walked into the snack area. The smell and sound of popcorn was the first thing that hit their noses and ears. Three different lines stretched across the theater, workers hurriedly filling drink cups and scooping popcorn. Thursday nights were both the best and worst nights to go. They frowned at the length of the lines, their desire for snacks deteriorating.

“I don’t think I want it that badly… do you guys?” Elijah asked impatiently.

They nodded, scooching past the crowds of people. They pulled open the door to their theater, the speakers already booming with trailers. They squeezed through the rows, profusely apologizing as they stepped on a few shoes. They plopped onto their seats, watching the projector switch from one trailer to the next.

“That looks so stupid,” Stanley scoffed at a trailer.

“Which means we will be seeing it,” Veronica laughed.

Elijah spread his legs, Veronica’s space feeling invaded.

“Elijah, you’re taking up, like, half the row. Close your legs,” she laughed as she kicked his shin.

He looked over at her, not budging.

“Veronica, men don’t work like that.”

“Right, because you need that much room.”

He slapped her arm, laughing with offense.

The theater shushed as the lights dimmed, the movie beginning. As the movie played, nothing felt better than laughing at the quirky situations. They hadn’t had a good laugh in a while, one that didn’t feel wrong. Veronica looked over at Elijah, as the projector illuminated against his face. She fell into some sort of trance for a Moment, as if he was the movie. She couldn’t help but smile when he did, his canines scraping against his lip. She wished she could just stare without him ever noticing, like a one-way mirror. She pulled her gaze away before she stared for too long, thinking about how embarrassing it would be if he noticed. She put her attention back on the movie, not even caring about what she missed. She enjoyed just being there with him. And with Stanley, too, of course. Then, a new character showed up on screen, the theater erupting in laughter. “Sloth,” his name was. He was facially deformed, but not scary. Strangely charming. She leaned towards Elijah, an evil grin growing.

“Look, your long-lost twin.”

“Oh shut up!” He laughed, smacking her arm lightly.

As much as he made her laugh, she loved to make him too, every once in a while. Her mind trailed off to what her mother said, that he could never love a girl like her. Deep down, maybe she believed it. But she didn’t care, because at that Moment, she felt good. She looked over at Stanley, who had a mixed look on his face, like he was trying to decipher how he felt. She found it hilarious, how critical Stanley was of everything. She was preparing for the after-show monologue he was going to deliver about its “pros and cons,” as if he was a movie reviewer. They always listened, though. He enjoyed sharing his thoughts. As the movie came to a close, a few of the moviegoers clapped in their seats, the credits rolling up the screen. Elijah immediately stood up, groaning as he stretched his arms. Veronica looked over at Stanley, who continued to stare at the screen, stroking his non-existent beard.

“What’s goin’ on in that noggin, Stan?”

He continued to stare, staying silent.

“Hm…” He finally mumbled.

“Reserving my thoughts till later,” he decided, standing up.

“Can’t wait,” she grinned, standing up as well.

They followed the crowd as it flowed out the door, everyone dumping their popcorn and soda’s in the trash on the way out. The crowd dispersed after they exited the narrow hallway, entering the main area.

“What’d you think?” She turned to Elijah.

“I liked it, it was fun.”

“I thought it was pretty good too,” she nodded.

They both turned to Stanley, waiting for him to spit out a million words per second. Then, like clockwork, he began talking as if he was reading a script. His review spanned over an unknown, but long, amount of time.

“And that is why I thought it was good,” he finished, his hands pressed together.

“You are… one of a kind, Stan,” Elijah chuckled weakly, raising his eyebrows above tired eyes.

“I’d say… seven out of ten. You had a better piece about The Breakfast Club,” she shrugged with a smile.

“Can’t please everyone. Everyone’s a critic, even of critic’s!” He exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air with a laugh.

They stepped outside, halting when they saw the pouring rain.

“Ugh, come on!” Veronica groaned aloud, pressing her back against the building.

It felt like the world was punishing her for her outfit today.

“My Mom will skin me and make me into a purse if I get this outfit wet.”

“We could just wait till it stops.” Elijah proposed.

“My Mom doesn’t want me home late, I don’t think I can wait till God decides to stop pissing on us.”

Stanley was wearing a hoodie, so all he needed to do was throw his hood over his head. He looked at his watch, realizing he had to run.

“My bus is gonna be here soon, gotta go,” he threw his hood over his head before taking off.

As he ran, he turned his head.

“Sorry! Bye, love you guys!” he shouted, his voice muffled by the rain splashing against the concrete.

“Don’t slip!” Veronica warned him, as he ran through puddles.

He safely made it around the corner, vanishing from their line of sight. They leaned against the wall, watching the rain in silence. Suddenly, a lightbulb lit up above Elijah’s head.

“I have an idea,” he began taking off his jacket.

She watched as he pulled his keys out of the pocket, then handing the jacket to her.

She grabbed it from him, staring down at it with a sparkle in her eye.

“You’re letting me borrow your jacket, your golden chalice,” she joked, looking at him in shock.

“It needed to depart from me at some point,” he giggled.

“Thanks…” She turned away to hide her blushing cheeks.

She wrapped the oversized jacket around her, feeling like a warm hug.

“Shit, I should’ve asked Stan what time it is, I don’t know when my bus is coming,” she groaned.

“Just go now, you can check the times when you get there.”

“Are you sure? I don’t wanna leave you,” she asked guiltily.

“I’m sure. I should be leaving soon anyways,” he reassured her, a straight smile across his face.

“You’re the best,” she smiled, giving him a hug.

She savored the few seconds she had against his chest, before pulling away.

“Bye, love ya,” she waved, as she trotted off towards the bus stop.

He smiled and waved back as she disappeared down the street. He looked at the rain, realizing he’d be soaked by the time he got home.

Here goes nothing...

He bolted out from under the awning, goosebumps running across his skin as the cold water hit him.

Veronica sat on the bus, her body swaying as it moved. She laid her head against the glass, a smile she couldn’t hold back, stretching across her face. She wrapped her arms around herself, as she waited to be dropped off. When she reached her stop, she got off, running through the rain towards her house. She threw her door open, closing it quickly before any rain got in. She giggled to herself as she kicked her shoes off.

“What are you so giddy about?” Her Mom asked from the kitchen, where she was reorganizing.

“Nothing… just had a fun day.”

“That’s good. Wipe off your feet at the door, I just got these floors polished,” she ordered.

She dragged her feet against the carpet, before trotting towards her room. She closed the door behind her, then throwing herself onto her bed. She laid on her back, staring at the ceiling as she smiled. She pulled his jacket off, draping it against her chest as she clutched it. She then impulsively smelled it, feeling weird after. But then, the butterflies, like a sanctuary in her stomach. It smelt just like him, obviously. It smelt like laying in his chest, feeling his chest lifting as he breathed. She quickly undressed, getting into comfy pajamas. She scrunched up into a ball under her blanket, snuggling the jacket as she fell asleep. She felt happy, so happy. And she didn’t feel bad about it. She knew Maggie would be cheering her on right now. That’s the type of friend she was.

Suddenly, Veronica felt herself wake up. Her eyes still closed, the sound of lightning thrashed in the sky as she felt cold rain soaking through her clothes. Her face scrunched as she wiggled her feet around in, what felt like, mushy dirt. She kept her eyes closed, assuming she was slipping out of a dream. After a few seconds, she realized she wasn’t falling back asleep. She opened her eyes, feeling a whiplash of confusion. She was standing in the middle of the woods, circled by towering trees. Her surroundings were consumed by darkness. Then, as the lightning illuminated the sky, it revealed Elijah and Stanley, standing near her. She pinched her thigh, flinching as it stung.

Not a dream… how is this not a dream?!

“Guys…?” She mumbled, her voice raspy.

She looked closer at them as the lightning roared again, they appeared to be asleep. She stumbled towards Elijah, her legs weak. She grabbed his shoulders, shaking him.

“Elijah… Elijah, wake up!” She shouted, shaking his body vigorously.

Eventually, his eyes began to creak open, then shooting open as he realized where he was.

“Wh- What the fuck is happening?!” He panicked, his eyes darting around.

“I- I don’t know! I just woke up here too!” She explained.

She then ran over to Stanley, shaking him as well.

“Stan, wake up, you’re not dreaming. You have to wake up!” She shouted in his face, continuing to shake him.

He began to wake up, raindrops dripping down his freckled skin.

“Where am I…?” He asked slowly, a dazed look in his eye.

“Somewhere in the woods… I don’t know how we all got here,” she explained, looking around for any sign of civilization.

As the lightning struck again, they noticed something in the center of the ground, under the flashed light. They began cautiously walking towards it, trying to see it in the dark. The dark skies let out another burst of lightning, revealing a dug-up hole in the ground, and a rusty shovel resting inside it.

Chapter Four: The Hole

        “What the fuck is this?!” Elijah shouted in confusion.

        They slowly closed in on the hole, wet grass and dirt squishing through the gaps of their toes. Dirt swirled around the water that slowly filled inside it, raindrops clanking against the metal shovel.

        “Did somebody try and fucking bury us…?” Stanley theorized.

        “No… there was nobody here when I woke up. And we were standing, we would’ve been knocked on our asses if we were drugged,” Veronica answered, crossing her cold arms.

        “Did we sleepwalk here? How is that even possible?” Elijah freaked out at the thought.

        “I…  I don’t know!” Veronica shouted, feeling overwhelmed.

        “How do we get home? Where even are we?!” Stanley wondered, spinning in a full 360 to observe his environment.

        They had so many questions with no answers. Veronica looked over at Elijah, who looked like he was having a panic attack.

        “Hey, hey. Are you okay?” She asked concernedly, turning his face so they’d make eye contact.

        “Y-yeah, sorry… I just can’t process all of this…” He slowed his breathing, rolling his fingers.

        “It’s ok, we’ll get home soon,” she reassured him with a quick hug.

        They looked over at Stanley, who was staring up at the sky, squinting as the rain splashed against his face.

        “Stan? What are you looking at?” Veronica watched as he continued to blankly stare.

        “The North star,” he suddenly said, pointing up at the sky.

        They looked up, struggling to see many stars through the dark clouds.

        “What…?” Elijah asked confusedly.

        “We can use the North star to find true North. I learned about it in boy scouts.”

        “How do we even know if going North is the right way?”

        “We don’t. But we’re in the middle of fucking nowhere, and having no direction will make us run in circles.”

        “It’s the only solution we have, it’s worth a try,” Elijah shrugged.

        “Alright, lead the way,” she sighed, motioning for Stanley to walk past her.

        They trekked through the woods, leaves and twigs crunching under their feet as they followed Stanley. The weather was brutal, the cold wind against their soaked clothes felt like frost burn. Every few minutes, Stanley would look up again to make sure he didn’t lose sight of the star. Out of all of them, he was the calmest. He was used to high stress situations. Veronica glanced over at Elijah, her head shaking as it turned. He rubbed his crossed arms, his teeth chattering. She wanted to comfort him so badly, but there was nothing else she could say.

        “Stan… how much farther?” He asked, his voice shaking.

        “I don’t know. We’re just going to have to keep walking until we come out on the other side… wherever that is,” he explained, looking back up at the star again.

        They observed their surroundings as they hiked, watching the wind blow water against the shaking trees. Shockingly, out of all of them, Elijah seemed to be the most scared. He felt that being asleep was the most vulnerable state to be in, so to end up in this situation left him feeling jarred. He had never sleep walked in his life. Their legs quickly grew tired as they continued forward, praying to see a streetlight or hear a car. Their bodies flinched as lightning crackled in the sky, illuminating the dark forest for mere seconds. Suddenly, Elijah yelped as his foot got caught under a thick vein, tripping him to his knees. Stanley stopped, turning around to see him on the ground.

        “Are you ok?!” Veronica asked worriedly, quickly kneeling down and reaching her hand out.

        “I’m fine…” He mumbled, rejecting her help and lifting himself up.

        She stayed silent, feeling embarrassed for reacting a bit dramatically.

        “You ok? Nothing broken?” Stanley asked, grinning.

        “Yes… Just keep walking,” he reassured them with a tight voice, as he brushed dirt off his pants.

        They continued on, ready to fall on their faces from exhaustion. Eventually, their ears perked up at the sound of a car. They looked at each other with wide eyes. They began fast-walking, avoiding running so they wouldn’t trip. They began to see faint light as well, shoving bushes out of their way as they got closer. Suddenly, they hit a small hill, a small metal barrier at the top. They began climbing up, their feet slipping as their hands got coated in dirt. When they reached the barrier, they used the last of their strength in their upper bodies to lift themselves over it. They dropped onto a street, breathing heavily as they leaned against the metal.

        “We did it…” Veronica sighed with relief, a weak grin across her face.

        “Stanley… you’re a fuckin’ genius,” Elijah gushed, feeling so good to be back in civilization.

        “I’ll accept my award later, we gotta figure out where exactly we are,” he stood up, trying to eye a street sign.

        They stood up as well, scanning the area. Rows of houses were across the street, some windows illuminated and others not. Noticing a street sign, Veronica squinted her eyes to get a better look through the downpour. Then, her heart sank when she realized where they were.

        “This is Maggie’s street…” She mumbled, pointing at the sign.

        “... At least we know where we are,” Stanley cleared his throat, holding back tears.

        He began walking across the street, approaching the intersection. They began following behind him, puddles splashing beneath their feet. Their socks sloshed with each step as they walked down the quiet street. To get back home, they needed to walk past Maggie’s house. As they passed it, they couldn’t help but look. They still couldn’t process the fact that she wasn’t in there right now, peacefully sleeping. And then the thought of her parents, how heartbroken they must be. As much as they were hurting, no pain is more indescribable than that. To lose your own flesh and blood.

        “We should visit, y’know…” Veronica suddenly mumbled. “We’re like family to them.”

        They stayed silent for a Moment, looking away from the house.

        “I know… we will, at some point,” Stanley sighed, feeling like that was a lie.

        If they visited, what would they even say? How do you not think about her? They couldn’t bear to see her parents cry. They felt their bodies settle as they finally left her street, unaware of how tense they were. The closest house was Stanley’s, which was only a few blocks away. They squinted their eyes as bright headlights passed by, the tires splashing water on their legs. But it didn’t matter, they were wet enough already. After a long, silent walk, they finally reached Stanley’s house.

        “They’re usually asleep by now, I should be in the clear,” Stanley looked up at his parents bedroom window.

        They looked at each other, still for a Moment. Veronica went in for a hug, holding him for a few extra seconds.

        “Hope you have a good night,” she smiled.

        “You too,” he smiled back.

        Elijah was next, giving him a hug as well, which was rare.

        “Don’t worry about homework tonight,” he insisted, patting his shoulder.

        “I’ll try not to.”

        He waved as he turned away, walking towards his front door. They waited to make sure he got in safely, watching him carefully open the front door, then slipping between the crack. For a few seconds, he left it open. Then, they laughed as he stuck out a thumbs up, before shutting the door. They continued down the street, their smiles slowly fading. They swayed their arms as they walked, Elijah puffing his cheeks up with air and blowing it out.

        “How close is your house from here?” She asked, moving wet hair off her face.

        “I’m not letting you walk home alone,” he insisted, looking at her like she was crazy.

        “Don’t be stubborn, you’ve had the worst day out of all of us,” she giggled, looking down at her feet.

        “Then I’ll make it better by taking you home,” he sneered jokingly.

        “Fine, you win,” she rolled her eyes with a smile.

        They changed course to go towards her house instead. Suddenly, she stopped dead in her tracks.

        “Shit, I just realized, I have to get past the gate. I can’t buzz in without waking my Mom up,” she groaned.

        “Just come back to my house, spend the night.”

        A rush of butterflies exploded in her stomach at the thought. She had only been to his house a few times, but never slept over.

        “Are you sure? I don’t wanna be a burden. I could just hop over my gate,” she laughed nervously.

        “It’s fine, my Dad won’t even notice,” he reassured her. “And we can go to school together tomorrow.”

        She looked away for a Moment, thinking about it. She didn’t really have any other choice. It was much better than facing the wrath of Lilith.

        “Ok, sounds fun,” she nodded, smiling.

        The pace of her heart grew as they got closer to his house, a knot in her throat. When they reached his house, he turned to her. He raised his finger to his lip, before turning back around and tiptoeing towards the door. She followed behind, walking like a mouse. They slowly walked up the porch steps, stopping and scrunching their faces every time the old wood creaked under their weight. When they got to the door, he looked at her, water dripping off his chin

        “We might have to sneak past the sleeping giant, so be extremely quiet,” he whispered.

        She nodded, looking at the door. He turned the knob, opening it slowly. Before entering, he looked through the crack of the door, seeing his Dad sleeping on the recliner chair in front of the TV, a collection of beer bottles beneath his dangling hand. He pushed the door open far enough for them to squeeze through, then gently closing it behind them. They tiptoed upstairs, keeping an eye on his snoring Dad. When they reached his room, he quickly shut the door behind him, pressing his back against the door as he sighed with relief.

        “We did the impossible,” he laughed, giving her a double high five.

        “That was nerve wracking! Holy shit,” she exclaimed, brushing her hair out of her face.

        “We should change, we’re dripping everywhere,” he looked down at his soaked clothes, a puddle forming around his feet. “I’ll get us towels, be right back.”

        He slipped out of the room, feeling the vibrations of his footsteps as he walked towards the bathroom. While he was gone, she looked around his room, seeing if she noticed any difference from the last time. Not much had changed at all, it was a comforting normalcy. Her head turned to the door as he came back in, two towels in his hands. He handed her one, then beginning to dry off his head. He vigorously rubbed his hair with the towel, as Veronica slowly squeezed the water out of her hair. After drying it to the point of dampness, he whipped his hair back, shaking it to get any residue out. As she continued to dry her hair, she looked over at him, quickly bursting into laughter as she saw his hair.

        “What?” He asked confusedly, a smile stretching across his face.

        “Your hair!” She wheezed.

        His hair was entirely sticking up, as if he had gotten electrocuted.

        “Shh!” He whispered with a laugh, as he tried to brush it down with his hands.

        “Oh my god, I wish you could see it! You look like Einstein!” She continued to laugh, clamping her mouth to muffle it.

        “You don’t look too hot yourself, Wednesday,” he grinned evilly.

        Her jaw dropped as she chuckled.

        “Don’t turn this on me, you little bitch,” she whipped him with her wet towel.

        He lifted his leg up, giggling as he failed to avoid her hit.

        “I invite you into my home, and you’re already a terror,” he laughed, continuing to flatten his hair.

        “Speak for yourself,” she teased, whipping him again.

        “Don’t make me hit you, I don’t hit girls,” he wagged his finger, then twisting his towel.

        “Try it,” she smirked confidently.

        He went to whip her, but she swiftly leaned back, dodging his hit. She quickly leaned in, swinging at his hand and knocking the towel out from his grip. He looked at the towel on the floor with wide eyes, then over at her. She tilted her head down, staring deeply at him.

        “I admit defeat, didn’t realize you were a Jedi,” he reached down to grab the towel, which dropped with a wet splat.

        “Don’t ever fuck with me,” she jokingly snickered.

        “I’ve learned my lesson,” he giggled, as he began digging through his closet. He pulled out a pair of t-shirts and sweatpants.

        “These probably won’t fit, like at all, but it’s all I have,” he handed it to her, a half-cocked smile on his face.

        “Better than being wet,” she shrugged, taking the clothes.

        They stood awkwardly for a second, their eyes shifting.

        “Do you wanna…?” He asked slowly, his eyes shifting towards the door.

        She realized he was asking if she wanted to change in the bathroom.

        “Oh, no, it’s fine. Don’t wanna trail more water around your house,” she laughed weakly.

        “I’ll just…” He pointed behind him, insinuating he’d turn around to give her privacy.

        “Yeah, that’s fine,” she nodded.

        They both turned around, beginning to undress. They groaned in displeasure as they struggled to get their wet clothes off, the fabric clinging to their skin. When she was just in her bra and underwear, she considered if she should take them off too. They were wet too, but she didn’t know if she felt comfortable. She then decided to take them off, the clothes would be baggy enough to hide everything anyways. She never imagined she’d be standing bare naked in his room, at least not in this situation. She picked up the sweatpants, slipping them on. The leg of the pants stretched past her feet, as she held them up to tie the string, the waistband tightening against her skin. She picked up the shirt, the neckline bigger than her head. The sleeves dangled and the length of the shirt reached her knees. She was used to baggie clothes, so she felt comfortable. She felt even more comfortable being in his clothes. She picked up her wet clothes, squishing them into a pile.

        “You done?” She asked.

        “Yeah.”

        She turned around, watching as he looked down, tying his sweatpants. Her gaze lingered towards the band of his underwear that peaked out of his sweatpants. Her eyes darted away as he looked back up.

        Stop being a perv.

        He laughed at the sight of her in the oversized clothes. She smiled, giggling as she lifted her arms, then dropping them against her side.

        “I feel like those kids that stack in a trench coat,” she giggled, wiggling her limbs around.

        Elijah flipped his light switch, turning the lights off. He plopped onto his bed, the springs creaking on impact. She waddled around the bed, standing next to it for a Moment.

        “Do you have an extra blanket…?” She asked, feeling strangely awkward.

        “For what?”

        “I mean… the floor isn’t exactly warm,” she laughed weakly.

        “Don’t be stupid, get in,” he smiled, patting the spot next to him on the bed.

        Oh.

        She slowly got onto the bed, the springs squeaking as she got on. Which didn’t help her body confidence. They laid in silence for a Moment, staring at the ceiling. They were tired, but neither of them wanted to sleep. She looked over at him, his Adam's apple moving as he swallowed. He looked like he wanted to say something.

        “You okay…?” She asked concernedly.

        His eyes shifted around for a Moment, his lips slightly parting, like he was thinking of what to say. He turned on his side, facing her. She turned as well, looking him directly in the eye. They were face to face, their breaths hitting each other's skin. The urge to kiss him was so strong, but she knew it wasn’t the right time.

        “I… um…” He started, his eyes shifting around as he tried to find the words.

        “Everything is just… a lot,” he squeezed out.

        “I know…” She nodded, her hair rubbing against the pillow.

        “And I… My brain is going so fast, I feel like I can’t keep up with it.”

        She stayed silent, listening and letting him talk.

        “First Maggie… and then tonight… I’m so exhausted,” he admitted, his throat tight.

        “I know, it’s a lot,” she rubbed his arm, trying to comfort him.

        He pursed his lips, thinking again for a Moment.

        “I’ve… never felt so confused. I need the answer key to my life right now,” he let out a weak laugh, his eyes drifting,

        “Whatever's going on, we’re gonna figure it out together.”

        He nodded, looking away for a Moment. He wanted to cry, but just couldn’t in front of other people.

        “I need everything to pause, even for just a Moment,” he sighed.

        She continued to look into his eyes, not having much to say.

        “Do you wanna get some sleep?” She asked.

        “No… I don’t think I could, even if I tried. I don’t want... it to happen again.”

        “Ok.”

        Although she thought he needed the sleep, she didn’t want to push him. They laid in silence, their eyes wandering around.

        “In the woods…” He suddenly spoke.

        She shifted her eyes back towards his.

        “I’m sorry I didn’t let you help me up,”

        “You think I was worried about that?” She giggled with a smile.

        “I know… I just didn’t mean to be an asshole.”

        “It’s ok, we were all scared and confused.”

        He looked away, before looking back at her.

        “I’m glad you were there,” he smiled softly.

        “I’m glad you were there too,” she smiled back.

        “And I’m also very glad for Stan’s nerdy skills,” he joked.

        She giggled, watching as his teeth flashed while he smiled.

        “You guys awake?” Stanley suddenly called through the radio.

        Elijah turned over, breaking their eye contact. He reached under his bed, laying on his back as he held up the radio.

        “Yup. Both of us,” he responded.

        “Veronica’s there too?” he questioned.

        Elijah moved the radio towards Veronica’s mouth, holding the button down for her.

        “Hiya.”

        “Nice invite,” he teased.

        “She would’ve assaulted you with a wet towel.”

        “And I’ll do it again!” She laughed maniacally.

        Stanley went silent on the other end for a Moment.

        “You guys ok?”

        They didn’t even know the answer to that question.

        “We’re doing as ok as can be,” she answered for them both.

        “That’s good…”

        He sounded like he wanted to talk about it.

        “Are you ok?” Elijah asked concernedly.

        It was silent for a Moment.

        “I just… can’t stop thinking about what happened. There’s a slim to none chance that we’d all end up in the same place after sleepwalking like that,” he exclaimed in disbelief.

        “It doesn’t make sense to us either,” Elijah sighed.

        “And then there’s… the hole.”

        “It could be just a coincidence that we ended up there, maybe we were on somebody’s property,” she theorized.

        “We walked for about an hour, we would’ve seen houses.”

        They got headaches just thinking about it.

        “Whatever it was, let’s just hope it doesn’t happen again,” Elijah shut down the conversation.

        Stanley went silent.

        “I’m sorry…” Stanley mumbled.

        “It’s fine, I’m just… stressed” Elijah rubbed his temples, squeezing his eyes shut.

        They went back into silence again, the radio crackling with static.

        “What do you guys think Maggie would say?” Stanley suddenly asked, slightly regretting it.

        They glanced at each other, not knowing what to say. Veronica took a deep breath, before she had an answer.

        “I think she would’ve said… it’s gonna be alright.”

        And it would’ve been the most comforting thing in the world, it’s what she was best at.

        “Yeah... “

        “Do you wanna stay on with us? We don’t plan on sleeping either,” Elijah offered.

        Veronica was a bit disappointed hearing that, as she had hoped to get some alone time with him. But she knew that was selfish, this was more important.

         “Yeah… that sounds nice.”

        For the rest of the night, they chatted and just enjoyed each other's presences. Even over a radio, Stanley felt comfortable, knowing that somebody was on the other end. With each tick of the clock, the bags under their eyes grew heavier. Every few minutes, they’d catch themselves slowly closing their eyes, then quickly lifted their heads back up again. As tired as they were, the fear of sleepwalking again kept them awake.

        “I spy with my little eye… something brown.”

        “Elijah, we’re not in the same room, I can’t see anything,” Stanley scoffed, his eye roll palpable.

        “Oh, right,” he chuckled dryly.

        They looked over at his window, squinting their eyes as the rising sun beamed at their faces.

        “We did it!” Elijah exclaimed tiredly, raising his arm weakly with a balled fist.

        “Stronger than the vets,” she joked, yawning.

        “I’m not gonna make it through school today,” Stanley groaned.

        “Just reminded me, I don’t even have my backpack,” she sat up slowly, her frizzy hair draped over her shoulders.

        “I’ll lend you some stuff,” Elijah offered, sitting up as he rubbed his eyes.

        “Thanks,” she dropped herself back down, stretching her arms out.

        Elijah stood up, scrunching his face as he stretched his muscles. He hadn’t stood up the entire night, his legs sore from walking through the woods. A painful reminder.

        “You got anything to eat-”

        Elijah raised his finger, cutting her off. He stood in silence for a Moment, listening closely. Heavy boots stomped around the house, echoing through the thin floorboards. They waited a few minutes, before hearing the relieving sound of the front door closing.

        “Ok, we’re good.”

        “You really think he’d care? We’ve been friends for years,” she chuckled.

        “He doesn’t really like people in the house…” He explained, trailing off into a silence as he shuffled around clothes in his closet.

        She didn’t know much about his Dad, only that he was the police chief and they didn’t get along. She stood up, her sleeves dangling as she stretched her arms. She looked down at her outfit, realizing she’d have to wear this to school.

        “I’m gonna look like a clown.”

        “You don’t already?”

        She looked up, a shocked look across her face.

        “You are on thin ice,” she smiled, shaking her head as she pointed at him.

        He chuckled as he pulled clothes out of his closet, tossing them onto his bed. He noticed she was aimlessly wandering around.

        “If you want, you can go downstairs and see if there’s anything to eat.”

        “Oh, sure,” she nodded, turning towards the door.

        She left his room, pausing in his hallway. She needed to take a Moment alone, still reeling from the past 24 hours. Her life had never been so chaotic. She took a quick deep breath, before walking downstairs. She walked past the living room, which had been tidied up after last night. Seeing all those beer bottles, it didn’t take many context clues to know his Dad is an alcoholic. Elijah had mentioned it briefly, but she didn’t know it was to that extent. Her Mom only drank glasses of wine at dinner. She walked into his kitchen, which was as small as one of the closets in her house. She began opening cabinets, finding empty, dusty shelves. She pursed her lips as she continued searching, finding scraps like cans of vegetables or a box of crackers. As she searched, she heard the sound of Elijah coming down the stairs. When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he paused for a Moment, watching as she checked every cabinet, finding nothing. A sinking feeling hung in his chest, embarrassment rushing to his cheeks. He slowly walked into the kitchen as she checked the fridge, only finding packs of beer and a half-empty jug of milk.

        “Sorry, gotta go food shopping,” he laughed weakly, scratching the back of his head.

        “It’s fine, I wasn’t really that hungry anyways.”

        He remembered his Dad usually brewed coffee before work. He checked the pot, being met with a delighted surprise as the smell of pure coffee hit his nostrils.

        “You want coffee?” He turned his head to her.

        “Sure,” she nodded with a smile.

        He grabbed two mugs, holding the handles together on his finger as he lifted the pot. He carefully filled the mugs, plumes of steam dissipating in the air.

        “Sorry, it’s only black,” he handed her the mug.

        “It’s fine, you don’t need to apologize for everything,” she reassured him, taking the mug.

        He chuckled weakly, looking down at his cup. He rubbed his fingertip against the warm mug, before taking a sip. He flinched a bit as the hot liquid hit his lips. It hadn’t cooled down since his Dad had made it. He leaned against the counter as they stood in silence, the only sound being their sips. He wasn’t trying to be awkward, but he wasn’t used to having people over, and he was realizing why. He glanced at her, quickly looking away. He knows she wouldn’t judge him, but it’s hard to imagine that someone with her lifestyle wouldn’t. She probably has a double-door fridge, and matte cabinets stocked with food, and an island in her kitchen. Sometimes he wondered why she’d hang out with somebody like him, but that was just his own insecurities. In reality, she had never judged him for anything. You’d never even imagine that she was rich. They continued to sip their coffee in silence, taking in slow, exhausted breaths.

        “Do you know what time it is?” She suddenly asked, looking up at him.

        He looked over at the clock on his wall, watching as the hand ticked.

        “Seven-fifty, we should get going soon.”

        She placed the mug down, waiting for the caffeine to rush through her.

        “You done?” He asked, pointing at the mug.

        “Yeah, I don’t like coffee that much,” she lied.

        She handed him the mug, the coffee swirling around. He glanced down at it, noticing she had barely drank any of it. She watched in slight disbelief as he poured the cups back into the pot.

        “Isn’t that full of, like, backwash?” She was repulsed at the thought.

        “My Dad doesn’t like to waste,” he explained, realizing how gross it actually was.

        Another thing added to the list of his embarrassing life.

        “I’m gonna go grab my stuff quickly,” he jogged off towards his room.

        She nodded, watching as he ran up his stairs. When he stepped into his room, he paused for a Moment, pressing his back against the door. He closed his eyes as he swallowed the knot in his throat. He knew his day-to-day life wasn’t exactly great, but watching someone else practically live through it was embarrassing. It was fucking humiliating. He kept his life private for a reason, to avoid things like this. He regretted inviting her back, knowing it was selfish to feel so. He cleared his throat, feeling pressure in his tear ducts. He swiftly snatched his backpack, and left his room. He stopped at the top step, quickly molding his expression so she wouldn’t see the worry on his face. He continued downstairs, his bag bouncing with each step. She looked over as he stood by the door.

        “Let’s head out.”

        She nodded, walking towards him. They stepped outside the house, squinting their dry eyes as the blazing sun shined down on them. She waited as he tried to lock the door behind them. He jiggled the key around, trying to get it to lock, but it wouldn’t budge. His frustration grew quickly as he couldn’t pull the key out either.

        “C’mon, motherfucker,” he cursed through his teeth, vigorously shaking the key around.

        She watched as his face filled with red.

        “Elijah, you’re gonna snap the key in half, let me-”

        “I fucking got it!” He shouted angrily, glaring at her with wide eyes before turning back to the door.

        She was shocked into a silence.

        What the fuck is his damage…?

        After a struggle, and some swears under his breath, he finally locked the door, twisted the doorknob to make sure.

        “Alright, let’s go…” He mumbled, walking off his porch.

        Before following, she watched as he walked away, his feet stomping. She caught up with him, standing next to him tensely. For once, she was actually a bit scared of his temper. He wasn’t exactly a calm person, but he had never screamed at her like. They walked to the bus stop in silence, sitting down on the cold metal seat. She twiddled her thumbs as they waited, glancing at him every few seconds. His facial expressions seemed to be changing rapidly, like his emotions were dueling over control of his face. She wanted to say something, but she didn’t want to be the final spark before his explosion.

        “I’m… I’m sorry,” he suddenly mumbled.

        She looked over at him, as he stared at the street.

        “It’s ok, I understand,” she reached over, placing her hand on his.

        He glanced down at her hand, quickly looking away.

        “I shouldn’t have exploded on you like that...” he looked down guiltily.

        “It’s fine, I swear. We’re going through a lot right now.”

        He didn’t think she understood what was actually upsetting him, but the comfort was nice. Or maybe, she’s not understanding because she’s not thinking it’s that at all, because she doesn’t see it the same way that he does. She never did. And he was grateful for that. He pulled his hand away, slipping them into the pockets of his jacket. She moved her hand away too, undecided if doing that was weird. The tension was interrupted as the bus pulled up, the doors sliding open. They stepped on, a few other kids going to school occupying the seats. Their tired bodies swayed as the bus took off, the engine roaring, as always. They blinked slowly as their eyes desperately tried to close, but they wouldn’t let them. Before they knew it, they arrived at school. They joined the crowd of kids that flocked into the building, accidentally bumping into others as they dragged their feet. A feeling of dread hung over them as they entered the building. After everything that had happened, this was the last place they wanted to be. They slithered out of the crowd, and leaned against the wall. They needed a Moment to prepare for the coming hours, full of boring lessons. She looked over at him, his chest lifting as he breathed.

        “You gonna be okay?”

        “Yeah… I’ll make it,” he rubbed his eyes.

        “Alright… I don’t wanna be late,” she stretched a smile, slowly walking off.

        “See you later, love ya,” he waved.

        “Love ya,” she waved back, before fading into the crowd.

        He leaned against the wall, the moving kids morphing into a blur as he stared.

        It’s Friday… you can get through it.

        He pulled himself away from the wall, wishing he could loiter there forever. He slugged towards his class, his droopy face practically hitting the floor. He stepped into his class, scooching past kids as they sat down. He dropped onto his seat, hanging his head. Unable to hold back any longer, his struggling eyelids began to close. As his top eyelid connected with his bottom, they shot open at a slapping sound, his body spazzing in his seat.

        “This isn’t kindergarten, no nap time,” his teacher barked, walking down the row.

        He threw his head back, holding in a groan. He completely blanked out the entire lesson, his brain occupied by TV static and elevator music. He fell deep into his own head, consumed by his thoughts. He thought about the bus stop, the way she rested her hand on his. He didn’t know how to feel about that, he didn’t know how he should feel about that. It was probably nothing, they’ve known each other for years. She was just concerned for him. Then, he thought about Maggie, and that night. How she shifted uncomfortably, how she could barely hold a smile. And then, the hole. He remembered Veronica waking him up in a panic, the cold rain hitting his skin.

        Why me?

        He didn’t understand why the universe was so cruel, the way it just dumps absolute shit onto you and expects you to come out on the greener side. His mind switched through memories like a View-Master, his brain like an echo chamber, every Moment screaming. He wished he could go back to before, to the day they played Uno, when he didn’t know his friend would be dead the next day. If he had checked up on her, or had said something that day… would she still be here? He was new to grief, but he knew that dwelling on an unanswerable question wouldn’t be much help. Yet, he still found himself trying to answer it. Suddenly, he was pulled back to reality as the bell blared throughout the school. He slowly stood up, lifting his heavy backpack with tired arms. He practically blacked out throughout the rest of his classes, finally having a break when he reached his lunch period. When he arrived at the lunchroom, he found Veronica waiting outside, looking exhausted.

        “How’s your day been?” He asked as he approached her.

        “Brutal.

        “Noted.”

        Stanley approached them from behind, his eyes practically closed.

        “The undead has risen,” Elijah chuckled.

        Stanley glanced up at him, a look of “don’t fuck with me” equipped with daggers piercing at him. Elijah raised his hands as a white flag, not wanting Stanley’s exhausted wrath. They walked into the lunchroom, the loud voices irritating their short tempers. Skipping on the food, they plopped onto their seats, dropping their heads onto the table.

        “I just need… five… minutes…” Elijah mumbled, his words trailing off as his eyes closed.

        “Elijah, no!” Veronica shouted, snapping her fingers in front of him.

        He whimpered as he lifted his head, his messy hair dangling over his forehead. She looked over, noticing Stanley dozing off too.

        “Not you either!” She snapped her fingers at him as well, watching him force his eyelids to stay open.

        “We’re almost through the day, don’t break now.”

        They groaned, resting their chins against their crossed arms. They sat in silence, breathing slowly as they battled their exhaustion.

        “Guys…” Stanley suddenly spoke, his voice gravelly.

        They turned to him, their eyes half closed.

        “I think we should… go see Maggie’s parents after school. It’s already been a few days.”

        They knew this was inevitable, but inevitability didn’t make it any easier.

        “It’s only been a few days and I feel like I’ve been through a lifetime already,” Elijah sighed.

        “Stan’s right, we should just nip it in the bud. Eventually is going to turn into never. They don’t deserve that,” Veronica frowned.

        Truthfully, they didn’t feel ready. But would they ever?

        “Fine, I’ll go,” Elijah gave in, looking down at his hands on the table.

        Throughout the day, the pits in their stomach grew stronger with each period. With everything that had been going on, seeing Maggie’s parents was their last priority, but it was a necessary one. After school, they met up at the bus stop. They sat together tapping their feet as they anxiously waited, imagining every scenario that could play out. They were exhausted all day, but now the adrenaline was waking them up.

“I don’t feel ready,” Veronica blurted, her throat tight.

They turned to her, watching her take deep breaths with a panicked expression.

“Hey, look at me,” Elijah turned her head. “It’s gonna be okay.”

She stared back at him, his gaze like a remedy as her heart rate slowed.

“It’s gonna be okay,” she repeated.

He nodded, turning away and swallowing roughly. Truthfully, he was just as anxious.

“It’s gonna be okay,” Stanley sighed aloud as well.

Their stomachs dropped as the bus came down the street. Then they’d get on the bus, and be at Maggie’s house, with her parents. The sequence played out in their heads over and over again. They stepped onto the bus, their bodies tense as they sat down. As they made their way there, Stanley reminisced about the last time he was at Maggie’s. They were hanging out alone, sitting on the floor of her bedroom. She had begged him to let her paint his nails. He vehemently refused, as she grabbed his hand and continued to beg. But, she was impossible to deny, like a puppy. That was the thing about her, how she always had you in her clutches. But she never used it for evil, only for things like trying to get Stanley or Elijah in a dress. He eventually gave in, as she brought over a box of nail polish. She pulled out a baby blue, dry paint chipping off the cap.

“So purrty,” she teased, with a mock southern accent.

That was a good day, even after being called a fairy by his brother when he got home. Nothing could ruin a good day.

When they reached Maggie’s street, they almost didn’t want to get off. Thinking about if they stayed on, aimlessly traveling until they were kicked off. They could change their names, and not be the group with the dead friend and sleepwalking problems. But that was just a passing daydream, this was reality. They stepped off the bus, pausing for a Moment. They stared at her house down the sidewalk, the leaves on the tree in front of it swaying in the wind. They all took deep breaths, before continuing down the sidewalk. Their stomachs churned faster as they got closer, as if they were nearing an impending doom. This was the moving forward that Stanley had feared, and it was exactly as he expected it to be. They stepped onto her front porch, staring at the dark red door behind the glass screen. They glanced at the doorbell, all waiting for somebody else to do it. Since nobody budged, Stanley reached over and pressed it. They waited as they heard the muffled sound of the doorbell ringing from inside. Then, their hearts began racing as they watched the lock turn, the door slowly opening. Her Mom stood, behind the screen door, a warm smile stretching across her face at the sight of them. Maggie smiled just like her, they were painfully alike.

“Please, come in,” she opened the door, motioning for them to step inside.

They stepped inside, immediately getting smacked with the smell of an apple cinnamon candle. As comforting as her house always was, it was strange to be back.

“How have you been?” She asked Veronica, as they hugged tightly.

“Doing alright. How about you?”

She looked like she was about to burst into tears at the question.

“I’m… trying. It’s been very stressful planning this funeral.”

She turned to Elijah, who she had to look up at.

“Still a giant!” She laughed, squeezing his arms.

“Yup, the weather up here is nice,” he laughed.

She gave him a hug as well, one that he really needed. She then moved onto Stanley, almost tearing up at the sight of him.

“She loved you so dearly, I hope you know that,” she hugged him tightly, her voice choking up.

Stanley hugged her back, holding back tears. She did love him dearly, and he did too. And it made it hurt so much more.

“She loved all of you so dearly,” she smiled at them, pulling out a tissue from her pocket and dabbing her teary eyes.

“We know, she always showed it,” Veronica smiled back.

“I didn’t mean to start getting emotional already, I’ll fix you guys up some tea,” she walked off towards the kitchen.

They walked towards the kitchen, observing the pictures on the wall. They had pictures of Maggie when she was a baby, when she was a toddler, when she was a kid, up to when she was a teen. Glimpses of her short-lived life hanging on a wall. They sat down at the table, resting their hands on the plaid cloth. She filled a kettle with water, then turned on the stove and placed it over the fire. She sat down with them as she waited for it to boil.

“How’s school been?”

“We’ve been pushing through, it feels good to be almost out,” Elijah answered.

“That’s good…”

The sound of the bubbling water filled the silence. It felt like there was nothing else to talk about except her.

“I… don’t mean to spring this on you guys. But… did she ever… say anything? Express how she was feeling? Tell you about her… plan?” She asked desperately.

All of their tongues tied as they thought of an answer.

“N-no, she never said anything,” Veronica answered.

“Not even you, Stanley? She never opened up to you?”

        “... No,” he mumbled.

        “I just… she never told me anything. And I don’t know if that’s my fault. She didn’t even leave a note,” she began to tear up, her voice tight.

        Veronica reached out to hold her hand, gripping it tightly.

        “Please, don’t blame yourself. She couldn’t have asked for a better mother.”

        She wiped away tears as she smiled.

        “I hope I was good enough for those seventeen years…”

        “You were,” Stanley reassured her.

        Elijah sat tensely in silence, not knowing how to comfort. They all turned their heads as the kettle began to hiss, steam spewing out of it. She stood up, the sound coming to a stop as she lifted the kettle off the flame. She filled cups with the water, then dipping in tea bags. When it was ready, she handed each one to them. They thanked her, holding the warm mugs between their hands. Elijah thought about their game night, how he noticed the signs so quickly. And although wishing he could go back was pointless, maybe he could give someone else a bit of closure.

        “I… um… the day it happened… we were at Stan’s. And… I think I noticed some… strange behaviors from her. She seemed uncomfortable and tense, like her mind was on something else,” he detailed.

        She processed this information for a Moment, sitting in silence.

        “Was she at least happy?”

        “... She was. She demolished me in Uno.”

        “That’s my girl,” she giggled weakly.

        They sipped their tea, enjoying the warm liquid in their throat.

        “Would you mind if we… take a look around her room? Just one last time?” Stanley hesitantly asked.

        “Of course I don’t mind, it harbors so many good memories.”

        “Thank you, excuse us,” he stood up, motioning for them to follow.

They left the kitchen, making their way up the stairs. Stanley remembered them all running down the stairs, Elijah’s clumsy self then tripping and barreling down the stairs. Veronica and Maggie then rushed over with concern as he rubbed his bruised head, while Stanley was laughing hysterically. He knew they were letting out some laughs too. When they reached the door, Stanley went for the doorknob, gripping it tightly. His frozen hand shook as he took a Moment to breathe. He twisted the squeaky knob, pushing the door open. They were quickly met with the beaming sun coming through her window. They stepped inside, looking around. Being in Maggie’s room was the closest thing to being with her, her entire personality packed into a few square feet. Her walls were painted a sunflower yellow, her favorite color. Behind her door, the wall was a different color. Her Mom, always supportive of her artistic endeavors, allowed her to use a space of the wall to paint whatever she wanted, whenever she liked. The last thing she painted on there was her own take on Starry Night. Instead of its classic blend of blue’s and black, she used bright colors like pink and neon green. It was like an LSD trip. Veronica walked by her bed, brushing her hand against the blanket that Maggie would never sleep under again. Elijah stared at her empty easel, the bright brown wood covered in a mix of splattered colors. On the table next to it was a palette, covered in a thick layer of dried paints. He remembered how she’d love to take a knife, and cut through the dried paint. She’d then peel it off slowly, watching it in wonder, as if it was the greatest thing she had ever seen. She always appreciated the little things. Stanley stood over her desk, which was neatly organized with things like her jar of brushes, and another jar of pens with fluff on the ends.

Her walkie-talkie!

Stanley suddenly remembered, it was still here somewhere. He began checking the drawers of her desk, the items inside sliding around. He kneeled down, checking more drawers. When he opened one of them, he looked down in it with confusion. It was empty, but that wasn’t the strange part. The bottom of the drawer was a different color than the rest of it, and its edges didn’t press against the walls. Curious, he reached in, digging his fingers between the cracks. He raised his eyebrows with surprise as the wooden board lifted. He smiled to himself, she was always the crafty kind. He turned his head around, the others not noticing as they continued to look at things around her room. He turned back, carefully lifting the board up to reveal what was underneath. He leaned closer, peeking inside the dark drawer. It was a marble notebook. He reached in, pulling it out.

My Diary,” was written on its cover.

He looked behind him again, the others still taking no notice. He turned back to it, staring at its glossy cover. He knew it was wrong, but he wanted to take it.

Fuck it.

He impulsively shoved it under his shirt, then slowly closing the drawer shut. He stood up, making sure nobody saw him. He was looking for her walkie-talkie, but scored something better.

“Guys… can we go? I’m not feeling too good in here…” He asked uncomfortably, crossing his arms.

“Ok, we’ll go say goodbye,” Veronica nodded, walking towards the door.

Elijah followed behind her, Stanley staying in the center of the room for a Moment. He realized he’d probably never enter this room. Another painful step forward. He wanted to savor every detail, remember every crack and crevice, but he knew image memory wasn’t strong enough. He didn’t need to remember her room to remember the memories, all he needed to remember was her.

“Stan, are you coming?” Elijah called to him.

He whipped around, broken out of his Moment.

“Y-yeah…” He mumbled, trotting behind them to catch up.

They walked back into the kitchen, where Mrs. Anderson still sat, sipping her tea. She looked up as they walked in.

“You guys okay?”

“Yeah… it felt… good,” Veronica nodded.

“We have to head out, but it was nice seeing you,” Elijah grinned awkwardly.

She stood up, the chair scraping against the wooden floors. She hugged each of them goodbye, squeezing them tightly.

“It was so nice seeing you all, I really appreciated the visit. I’ll let Rob know you guys were here.”

        “It was nice seeing you too,” Stanley smiled.

        They smiled as well, saying their goodbyes. She walked them towards the door, Stanley’s shirt awkwardly wrinkling as the book shifted around.

        “Oh, one more thing,” Veronica suddenly spoke, stopping at the door.

        “Yes, darling?”

        “Maggie told us that she had made a sculpture, of herself, for her final project. She was really excited to show us, but… never got the chance. I don’t think she handed it in either, so I’m assuming it’s still around here somewhere. Could we see it? Before we go?”

        “What sculpture?”

        They all stared at each other confusedly.

        “The one she made for her final project, in art class. She said she had been working on it the whole week,” Elijah interjected.

        “She never made a sculpture… her final project was a painting, and she handed it in last week.”

        They stood, absolutely puzzled upon hearing this.

        “Oh, ok. Have a nice day,” Veronica ended the conversation, turning towards the door.

        They left the house, turning to wave one last time as she stood at the screen. When she finally closed the door, they felt comfortable talking.

        “Why would she lie about something like that?” Veronica questioned.

        “Maybe she just lied to her Mom,” Stanley shrugged.

        “But why?”

        “I fuckin’ knew something was up. The way she spoke about it, like she was making it up as she went. She was sweating buckets,” Elijah recalled.

        “But that’s so stupid to lie about. Did she use it as an excuse to try and not hangout with us that day…?” She wondered, hurt by the thought.

        “No, there’s probably a logical explanation for this. M-Maybe she had two final projects-- I don’t know,” Stanley rambled.

        “Doesn’t matter anyways, we’re not gonna get an answer to our questions,” Elijah sighed, kicking a rock as they walked.

        Stanley looked down at the book under his shirt, thinking maybe she wrote something about it. But it wasn’t the right time, everyone’s wounds just reopened.

        “That’s not the problem. Why was she lying to us in general, what else was she lying to us about?” Veronica conspiracized.

        “Calm down. It’s been a stressful week, we don’t need another mystery on our plates,” Elijah rested his hand on her shoulder.

        “I’m… I’m sorry. I just can’t handle any more of this. I feel like everything is unraveling and I can’t roll it back up,” she cupped her hands around her nose, rubbing her eyes.

        “Look, we don’t know what was going on in her head in those final Moments. She could’ve gone… delusional,” Elijah theorized.

        “She wasn’t delusional, she was hurting!” Stanley shouted, anger plastered across his face.

        “That- That’s not what I was trying to say! I meant that she was clearly in a bad place, whatever she was doing was probably out of her control.”

        Stanley crossed his arms, looking away with lowered eyebrows. Elijah, observing this, felt offended.

        “Why are you acting like I didn’t know my own friend?”

        “Elijah, don’t,” Veronica interjected, staring him down.

        He blocked out her words.

        “I didn’t mean-”

        “She was my friend too, y’know! Stop acting like you’re the only fucking person that cares!”

        Stanley glared at him, his jaw dropped. He couldn’t even tell if he was actually angry at Stanley, he just felt angry in general. Stanley opened his mouth, ready to say something, before he clamped his tongue.

        “I’m sorry I made you feel that way,” he apologized flatly, turning his head away.

        Veronica’s concerned gaze swapped back and forth between them, as they stomped next to her.

        “Elijah, what’s your problem?” She gripped his arm.

        “Fuck off!” He barked, tearing his arm away.

        He stood for a Moment, flustered with anger. He then stormed off, leaving her standing in shock.

        “Elijah! Elijah!” She shouted to him, but he continued to walk.

        Stanley rolled his eyes, feeling a bit guilty.

        “Elijah, c’mon man, I’m sorry. We’re all stressed out.”

        But he still didn’t listen. Too tired to chase him down, they let him disappear as he turned the corner. Veronica and Stanley continued their way home in silence.

        “I’m sorry,” he suddenly spoke, his voice low.

        “It’s fine… he has a temper.”

        “It’s still my fault,” he frowned.

        As they continued walking, Elijah’s words stayed on his mind.

        “Veronica?”

        She turned to him.

        “Do I… Did I ever make you feel like you didn’t care about her? Or that I cared more?”

        “Stan… of course not. We all care. You just happened to be the closest to her, don’t apologize for that. We’re all coping with this in our own ways.”

        He nodded slowly, noting that in his brain. When Stanley reached his home, him and Veronica hugged goodbye.

        “Take care of yourself,” she patted him on the back.

        “I’ll try,” he smiled weakly.

        He opened his front door, waving goodbye before he closed it. She waved back, her tired arm dropping when he was gone.

        “I’m home!” He announced, his voice echoing throughout the house.

        “Hi sweetie! Why are you home so late?” His Mom asked from upstairs.

        “We stopped by the Anderson’s.”

        “Oh, how are they doing? I’ve been meaning to send them flowers for my condolences.”

        “Her Mom’s doing alright… her Dad wasn’t home.”

        “Remind me to stop by sometime this week.”

        “I will.”

        He sighed as he dragged himself up the steps, entering his room. He threw himself onto his bed, savoring the feeling of the soft mattress against his back. He had pulled all-nighters before, but this was the most exhausted he had ever been. Both mentally and physically. He sat up, pulling the diary out from under his shirt. He stared at it as he held it between his hands, rubbing his thumb against the cover. He read the title over and over again, as the light reflected off of the shiny finish. A diary is used to store the most personal of thoughts, so there had to be something inside. He needed there to be something inside. He suppressed the urge to open it, remembering what Veronica said. They all cared about her, so reading this alone would be disrespectful. He slid the book back under his shirt, not wanting somebody else to find it. More specifically, his brother. For the next few hours, Stanley spent his time doing homework to take his mind off of things. He was exhausted, but at least he wasn’t exhausted and sad. He finished up his work by the time the moon illuminated the dark sky. He jumped back onto his bed, not knowing what to do now. He scooched towards the edge of his bed, blindly shifting his hand around underneath it. When he felt the walkie-talkie in his grip, he pulled it out from under the bed, holding it above his face. He pulled out the antenna, and flipped the power switch. He held the button down, moving the mic towards his mouth. He was hesitant for a second, holding the button in silence.

        “Hello?” He finally squeezed out.