It was raining that morning and the clouds weighted heavily on her eyelids. She plodded over to the window, opened it, and tiredly watched the raindrops bounce in through the screen. She didn’t know why she was surprised at the weather; it was the third day of rain in a row and she should have anticipated the continuing pattern.
Looks like this one’s for you, Zoe. Sofia held her middle finger up to the sky. She snickered to herself and closed the window, swearing as her finger got caught on one of the clasps.
Absolutely typical. Thinking of Zoe always brought bad luck; that was why she didn’t do it often. Only today, it was actually worthwhile. Mrs. Kannasis deserved better than this.Sofia turned away from the window. She didn’t want to let herself think about everything that had happened. Didn’t want to think about Zoe. Dear, dead Zoe. Dead for how long? Leo would know. He knew everything. He was always right. A year, a century, it didn’t matter.
Ah, hell. She should drop by Mrs. Kannasis’s with a pot roast or something. What was the right food to compensate for a dead daughter?
Cookies with sorry for you loss iced onto them, maybe. Or a lasagna. But Sofia was pretty sure that Mrs. Kannasis had received enough lasagna when Zoe first got sick, and then when Zoe’s ghost had taken Zoe’s place. What was the most out-of-the-box thing? Brussel sprouts with maple syrup? Zoe had never been out-of-the-box with favorite foods, though, no matter how crazy she was otherwise. So maybe just her favorite penne pasta? Except Mrs. Kannasis knew that was her favorite food and it would probably just make her sad. Goddammit.
Stupid Zoe. Sofia would never think of penne the same way again. She didn’t even like penne that much—and suddenly her eyes got hot and her throat hurt. She shook her head vigorously. She couldn’t let herself get emotional, not when she was finally going back to school after a week of lying supine in bed. Had it been a week? It had been a long time. It was so hard to remember...thunder crashed on the blue sky, and Sofia remembered the rain. She needed to ask someone to drive her.
Get it together. Years of marching band finally came in handy as she stalked over to the dresser, steps perfectly in time, and yanked out a pair of jeans. They were her younger sister’s, too small, but the tightness was almost comforting. Regulatory. I need this. Someone had said something about routine...a black shirt. A mourning shirt. Sofia felt her lips tremble as she tugged a deep purple sweatshirt over the whole ensemble. Take no shit, Sofia. She took a deep breath.
The stairs were a challenge after locking herself in her room for a week, but she made it. Her mother glanced at her, at the zits and greasy hair, and looked away. Her father stood, sat, stood again.
“Yes,” Sofia said tightly, twisting the soft fabric of her sweatshirt in trembling hands. She resisted the urge to run back up into her room. If she could barely handle her parents, how was she going to handle her classmates? Her teachers? Zoe had carried her through two and a half years of high school, no matter how much they had fought. Sofia Johnson and Zoe Kannasis, half the school thought they were best friends, the other half thought they were having an affair, and everyone was fairly sure they were slowly plotting the other’s murder. Lucky that Zoe took care of that for me. Just like everything else. Sofia and Zoe, Zoe and Sofia…
Sofia lurched back to the present. Her stomach clenched at the thought of eating anything but Cheetos and fruit snacks. “I’d better go.”
She didn’t miss how her parents exchanged looks as she walked to the fridge. Her mother slammed a pan on the burner.
“You’re having eggs. Get me them.”
Sofia didn’t want eggs.
“Honey,” her father added.
Sofia slowly opened the fridge. She gulped at the array of food displayed before her. Digging past half-eaten casseroles and tins of foil-covered pies, she yanked out a container of eggs and put them next to the stove.
“Thanks, honey.” Her mother smiled at her genially, a grin too wide for the situation.
“I’ll be late,” Sofia lamely argued.
“So you’ll be late.”
“You won’t be late,” her father said. “It’s 7:15.” No one brought up the fact that she hadn’t even been to school in a week. More? It was hard to remember. Thunder sang from outside.
“Where’s Amanda, then?”
“She has chamber music before school on Wednesdays,” Mr. Johnson reminded her.
When was the last time that Sofia had even seen her little sister? “Is that...recent?”
An egg exploded in Mrs. Johnson’s hand and Sofia knew the answer. She sighed. “Gotcha.”
She walked to the kitchen table and slumped down next to her father, watching the hypnotic sizzling of the egg as it cooked.
Her father cleared her throat. “So what classes do you have today?”
Mrs. Johnson wordlessly set down a plate with two steaming eggs on it and a fork. Sofia shrugged.
“Have you emailed your teachers?”
Dr. Johnson caught his wife’s hand and kissed it. “Lucy, I told you with was good that we talked with them.”
“Stop it, Antonio.”
“You talked with my teachers?” Sofia felt her father tense up beside her and saw her mother’s hand still from its place cooking more eggs.
“We thought it would be a good idea to explain the situation,” Dr. Johnson said, glancing at Sofia’s mother before continuing. “To your parents, as well.”
Sofia blinked. “You talked with each other?”
Mrs. Johnson glared at Mr. Johnson. “Of course we did. This situation…”
Sofia snorted. “What situation? That my best friend is dead?” Best friend, only friend, childhood nightmare, it didn’t matter.
“Everyone understands, honey, they want to be accommodating—”
“They don’t care.”
“Everyone cares, Sofia. There’s no reason to say that—”
“They knew what Zoe was going through! Everyone did! And they didn’t do jack shit!”
“Sofia Raina Johnson!” Mrs. Johnson snapped.
“And then it was pneumonia that got her.” Sofia took a savage bite of eggs. Bland, rubbery. Like airplane food. Hospital food. “Fuckin’ ironic.”
“Language, Sofia,” the female Dr. Johnson warned.
Sofia calmed and took another bite of eggs. Her fork clinked against the plate like music. It was calming. She tapped her short nails against the cup of water. Clink, clonk, clink, clonk...it reminded her of a song that Zoe had liked. Zoe and Leo.
“When’s Leo coming by?”
They thought she was stupid, everyone did, even Zoe, but Sofia didn’t miss the way her parents glanced at each other. Mr. Johnson took point. “Leo’s not coming by here anymore, honey. Don’t worry.”
The eggs suddenly tasted like vomit. She lifted her napkin and spat into it. Her vision went dark and she thought, Leo, but then it was gone.
“We know, Sofia.”
“You couldn’t just let me fucking forget.” Sofia chuckled. “Fuckin’ typical.”
“Sofia, your language—”
“You know what I fucking love?”
“The fact that I’m swearing matters, but the fact that I just spent six days up in my room eating fuckin’ Cheetos and wanting to kill myself doesn’t!” Sofia pushed back her chair and stood, ignoring the loud clatter of it knocking against the wall and floor.
“Kill yourself?” Mr. Johnson was on high alert. “Sofia, when did these thoughts return—”
“I’m going to school now,” Sofia muttered. “Don’t wait up.” She didn’t bother to grab her backpack on her way out. She didn’t want to be in that house any longer than she had to. Amanda, she thought. Amanda didn’t want to either, that was why she had joined all of the school activities. She had said that, once.
Sofia had meant to go to school, really she had, but two seconds outside and she was soaked—typical—and then she made a wrong turn somewhere and the sun was too bright and it disoriented her and the streets got more familiar and then it was Warren Avenue, 260, 262, and the rain kept pouring—
No. Mrs. Kannasis’s house.
I should have remembered a pot roast.
Sofia took a deep breath—in, out—as she stared at the house. Brick, two story, chipping white paint on the windows and doors. A typical house in the podunk town in Massachusetts that she lived in.
A typical house. Except, the patch of dirt in the middle of the lush front lawn where Sofia and Zoe had tried and failed to make a baking soda volcano. Fourth grade. Except, the patch of wood on the otherwise-painted windowsill of the second window on the second floor where Sofia had thrown a rock to get Zoe’s attention but misjudged the size. Fifth grade. Zoe had been so mad, even though she had once broken Sofia’s window with a rock so it wasn’t like she was so perfect but she was always just more than Sofia so no wonder Leo liked her so much.
Leo. Sofia wanted to see him. He was so handsome. He had said that he loved her.
I won’t go in, Sofia reminded herself. I just want to see.
Leo fell away because Sofia could almost find Zoe’s silhouette beyond the closed curtains. Surely, any minute, Zoe would drop out of the tree or come running from behind the house...the rain kept falling, washing Zoe away, her smell and laughter, the irritating way that she didn’t respect anything—
Rain like this had killed her. An absurd laugh bubbled its way from Sofia’s chest. Well, rain, that and the pond and some lungs that had never been quite right. Wouldn’t it be funny if the rain took out Sofia, too, only just the rain because she was never as good as Zoe?
She almost wanted it to. Standing there, her hand gripping the peeling fence surrounding the house, the fencepost was a lifeline. If Sofia let it go, she would fall forever.
Fall down by the side of the road and let herself be carried by the rainwater with the leaves, down into the gutter and out into the Atlantic, eventually, Zoe had always wanted to live by the Atlantic but she never would get the chance, and the day after Zoe died Leo invited Sofia down to the ocean with him, but they never made it, they just stayed at the cheap motel—
The door opened.
“Go away! We don’t want any!”
Girl Scouts or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Massachusetts, northern, one of the two. It was time to go. Sofia turned away.
Zoe’s laughter got louder, mixing with the rain. Her ghost crouched in the mud, half-smile playing on her lips.
Coward, as always.
Sofia looked away. It’s been so long, she thought to herself. You need to stop this. She walked down the sidewalk, fists clenched in the front pocket of her sweatshirt. Time stopped when Zoe died. It had only been a few days, but the Dr. Johnsons said that it was months, and then it was a year, but that wasn’t possible because Sofia had only missed a week of school. It was just the same story playing out over and over again.
The first anniversary of Zoe’s death. Good omens all around.
It had started in the rain, too, Zoe had flung a fist of mud at Sofia and then they had been best friends turned enemies turned whoknowswhat—
Sofia turned and walked towards the pond. Picking her way through the tall, wet grass she squinted up at the shining sun. Hadn’t it just been raining? It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered.
She crouched down on the muddy bank of the pond, staring at her dirt-covered shoes and feeling a light drizzle on her back.
“I miss you.”
The rain pounded on the pond, ripples fighting for room like saplings on a jungle floor. The sun beat down on the back of her neck and why couldn’t she remember—
“I thought you left with Leo. You always said you would. Then I remembered.”
Zoe’s ghost wasn’t here.
“He kissed me.” Plaintive.
Who was she apologizing to, again?
“I kissed him back. But he—”
Sick, she stopped. Rain smashed down.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I just want everything to be okay again.” She reached her hand out to the water, her light touch sending ripples through the whole thing. Ha. I broke it. Her hair dripped down her back and shoulders.
“I never meant for things to end up like this, Zoe.”
Sofia wanted someone to say sorry to her. Just, for something. Anything. It didn’t matter.
“We were just messing around—
“I didn’t think—none of us were thinking that night.”
There was no absolution.
The rain had stopped. The air smelled like fried eggs and antiseptic.
“I didn’t mean it.
Everything stopped. The rain, the wind, everything went quiet.
“Sofia? It’s time for school.”