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I examine the four faces around me, the expressions that are so similar yet so different. Every one is angry, confused or agonized. Every one is determined.
“Guys,” I whisper, “Do we really want to do this?”
“Life isn’t worth it.” The voice is female, the peaceful sound of water trickling over rocks, a sound I could listen to for hours. My eyes turn to the girl it belongs to, focusing on her long, curly blonde hair and shining green eyes—shining in pain.
“If you want to back out, fine,” snaps a deep, masculine voice, sharp as a razor, “but don’t try to stop us.” The boy has skin the color of milk chocolate and hair the color of the night sky. His eyes are green as well, though darker and duller from exhaustion.
“Tammy and Mitchell are right,” says another boy with a voice less deep. He is a big, athletic brunette with a perfect summer tan and gorgeous blue eyes. His voice reminds me of a tiger, able to purr and soothe or snarl and frighten.
“You may as well tell us now,” orders a petite redhead, pale skin covered in dark makeup, brown eyes hard and angry, and a voice like a thunderstorm on a gorgeous spring night.
I meet their gazes. We used to be the best of friends, and I guess we still are in a way. We were all tough, playful kids missing a baby tooth or two in a mouth surrounded by chubby cheeks and a variety of faces with a love for anything that could get us sweaty or dirty or make us laugh.
Now, Tammy is tall and thin, in chorus and band with straight A’s. Mitchell is thick, big and strong on the football team and passing with high Bs. Vince is mediocre at two sports and a star at a third, barely passing his classes. Sandra knows almost every piece of gossip at the school, mainly because she is invisible to most students. She has the highest grade in her math, art and English classes yet barely passes the others. I am third in my class, never played sports and am in better shape than most girls in the school are.
Tammy runs with those in the band and some people from chorus. Mitchell hangs with the low-profile jocks and other almost-popular kids. Vince chills with the high-profile jocks and the extremely popular kids. I spend time with an interesting mix of those in the band, nerds, cheerleaders, and other people without titles that fit in well. I am never with them outside of school, though. Sandra usually spends her days alone.
I look away from them, at the playground. It is hours after curfew, but no one ever checks the park to make sure it stays empty. The jungle gym looks desolate, the swings even more so as they sway in the wind.
The only thing occupied is the wooden boat, with two ladders for entrance and exit and a slide that is supposed to be for exit only. Yet it, too, seems lonely.
“I may back out,” I say slowly, “but I’d like to see something first.”
That is a lie. Well, not all of it is. I do want to see something. It is a test of sorts, a test for them. The lie is that I may go through with it.
I will not. I made up my mind days ago.
“Why not?” Sandra mutters sarcastically. “It’s not as if we have anything important to do.”
Nobody says anything as I reach into my bag, more a backpack than a purse. I pull out a notebook, a one-subject, 70-page notebook like the ones I use to take notes at school. It is a plain color and a color that seems fitting tonight. It is red, the color of blood.
Written on the front in black Sharpie is the title.
TEN REASONS TO END MY LIFE.
“I think we should all make a list,” I explain. “A list that includes up to ten reasons we want to…you know.” I cannot bring myself to say the words. “But they have to be real reasons, not there to take up space.” I know I will not have to worry about that. They are all honest. “I’m going to recommend that if you don’t hit ten, you come back to my house.” Only my sister is there tonight, anyway. “We’ll try to find a solution to what you do have written.” I look around our circle. “What do you say?”
“That we’ll do your stupid little list,” Tammy replies, “but we’re still going to go through with it.”
“Tonight,” Vince adds.
I nod. I knew that would happen. “Put your name on top of the page. If you don’t reach ten, put an X somewhere, too.”
“You’re so picky,” Mitchell growls. He pulls the notebook out of my hands and grabs a pen from the pocket of my jeans. Using the side of the boat for a solid, flat surface to write on, he scribbles his name.
He writes diligently, quickly, for a couple minutes. Suddenly, he stops and stares at the page. Slowly, hesitantly, he draws an X. His hand seems to move on its own, turning the page and handing the notebook to Tammy.
Catching me watching, Mitchell glares, “It’s still worth it, Abby. That didn’t change my mind.”
I look away and watch Tammy instead. She writes slower than Mitchell does, taking her time to form perfect letters. Five minutes pass before she, too, draws an X.
Vince is next. After a few minutes, he adds his own X.
Even Sandra—dark, angry, lonely Sandra—has to draw an X.
The notebook falls in my hands. Mind spinning with everything I am about to write, I grip the pen. They all watch as the pen hits the paper, and I begin to write.
Almost a year ago, my mother disappeared. About a month ago, people discovered her body in a lake.
The day they found her, my older brother fell and ended up in a coma. A week later, he died.
My cousin moved in with us a few days after that, and he sexually abuses me.
My only access to a computer is the library, which makes keeping up my grades difficult.
I am forced to watch my father beat my younger sister, leaving no serious marks, and strangle her until she passes out.
If I try to stop him, it is my turn.
Every other Saturday, my father ties me to a chair in the basement and forces drugs into my system so I will give him my paycheck. That way, he can buy more drugs and fuel the addiction he hides so well.
Two weeks ago, I witnessed a murder. Now, I cannot walk through certain parts of town in broad daylight for fear that I will be the next victim.
Last night, I found out I am pregnant.
My four best friends are about to kill themselves.
I set the notebook on the side of the boat and place the pen back in my pocket. They all stare at me, most likely because I did not draw an X.
Sandra is the one to reach for the notebook. She begins to read. Mitchell is next to look at the page and decipher the words. Vince and then Tammy follow their lead.
I retrieve a water bottle and drink some in an effort to calm my nerves. These four are the first to know most of that, but I had to start somewhere. Replacing the water bottle, I watch them.
Sandra looks up and stares at me in wonder. Vince and Mitchell look towards me, but do not meet my gaze. Tammy bites her lip, eyes uncertain.
They all know I am not lying. I have never lied to them before, just as they have never lied to me.
I take the notebook and close it. “Tomorrow, I’m going to the police. You’re welcome to come.” I squat down and put the notebook in my backpack. I zip the backpack shut. “You can always fight, you know. There is always a solution or a way to make it through hardships.” I shake my head. “None of you should be beaten by the evils you’re bombarded with. You are strong, so strong.”
I stand, shoulder the backpack, and meet each of their gazes. “You can stay here and end it all by opting for death.” I pause and look up at the stars. I take a deep breath and turn my eyes back to them. “Or you can come with me, and we’ll find a way. We’ll opt for life.”
I use the slide to reach the ground. My feet crunch faintly on the mulch as I start my familiar journey to a house that is not my home.
I cannot help but smile as one by one they follow.