So what if Logan was dead? I mean, it’s not like he owed me money or anything. I pause at the top of the stairs, letting my mom move around me and walk inside. To my left a group of girls are holding each other and ugly crying. I try to assure myself that the display is genuine and has nothing to do with the swarm of reporters behind me, their cameras clicking like insects.
“I bet not one of those girls even knew Logan,” I grumble.
“Firstly, everyone knew Logan. And secondly, quit being such a judgy bitch.”
To my right, Carlos holds out his hand, which I take and allow him to lead me inside and down the hall. Leaning over he whispers in my ear.
“I can’t believe you wore that.”
I look down at my dark jeans, carefully tucked into tall brown boots. My steel grey scarf hangs over my light tan sweater. I’d even taken the time to throw my long brown hair into a messy bun.
“We can’t all afford to look like movie stars,” I mumble back.
Carlos, with his rich brown skin and dark hair looks like he should be on a billboard somewhere, and the dark fitted suit he’s wearing only enhances the effect. He’s gorgeous. One of those genetically gifted boys who could bat his eyelashes and have any girl he wanted. You know, if he actually wanted girls. He weaves our arms together and pulls me up to a tall pedestal with an open book laying on it. A few people in front of us are signing in like they are registering for a giveaway at the mall. I shift uncomfortably.
“Relax, Zoe. It isn’t a funeral. Just a viewing.”
I shake my head, “That’s even worse.” I lower my voice so no one else can hear, “Who would want to look at a dead body? I mean, it’s just kinda twisted, right?”
He pats my hand. “Closure, darling. It’s a chance to say goodbye.”
“I said goodbye to Logan a long time ago,” I say while looking ahead at the room beyond the pedestal. Rows of neatly assembled chairs are nearly filled with people from our quiet little town. Some are talking, most crying. A few are just texting or playing on their phones. I feel my breathing pick up as a warmth spreads under my skin and wraps tightly around my chest. I shudder and it slices down my spine like electricity.
“You guys were friends, right?”
I feel the frown on my face. Friends. Yeah, right.
“Our parents were friends when we were little,” I say dismissively. The truth is, once we hit middle school, everything had changed between us. He got popular, and I got weird. We went our separate ways and never spoke again. Here we are, getting ready to start our senior year, and Logan would have been the reigning king of the school. I, however, am doomed to spending another year eating lunch in the drama department with Carlos while he updates his vlog, watching the school lacrosse games from under the bleachers, and spending my Friday nights reading in my bedroom. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that. A shove from behind pushes me into the group in front of me. Kaylee Greely brushes past us. She and her entourage of well-dressed clones don’t bother to wait in line, they go straight to the front and the crowd parts for them. Scribbling quickly like she’s signing an autograph she strides into the main viewing room, not even bothering to remove her large sunglasses as she takes a seat in the front row. As Logan’s girlfriend, I feel a genuine twinge of sympathy for her. Right up until she pulls out her compact and reapplies her lip gloss with a loud smack of her lips.
Carlos tilts his head and sighs deeply. For a split second I think he’s admiring her ass, then I realize his eyes are laser fixed on her designer handbag and I chuckle out loud. Everyone in line turns to stare at me. I can actually feel the blood rush into my face. Carlos turns, blocking me from view and I can breathe again. He fiddles with my scarf, twisting it and tucking it until it’s sitting perfectly against my small chest.
“I really don’t want to do this.”
Carlos tugs on my earlobe. “Don’t worry Zoe Bowie, I’m here.”
A memory floods over me. The last time I’d been inside this building was the day of my dad’s funeral. Barely twelve, I walked in these same doors, my mother’s hand in mine. We walked down the hall and into the viewing room, where I froze mid step. There was a man standing over dad’s casket, his back to me. But even without seeing his face, I recognized him immediately. Broad shoulders that once carried me across the park, dark hair just long enough that I could twist it into dozens of tiny points with rubber bands when I was bored. My father looks into the casket, then turns to me, his face pale, cheeks hollow.
I scream, the sound ripping through me like a tornado. He opens his mouth to speak, but I scream again, squeezing my eyes closed.
Forcing the memory away, I blink. It took three years of therapy and various anti-anxiety meds to drive that delusion from my head. I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let it back in now.
I shake my head. “Let me rephrase. I’m not doing this. I don’t even like half of these people. Hell, I didn’t like Logan when he was alive, and I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I miss him now that he’s gone.” I swallow. Imagining myself sitting in one of those black folding chairs, listening to crying girl after crying girl get up there and whine about what a great person he was and how he changed their lives. I throw up in my mouth a little just thinking about it. “If my mom asks where I went, tell her I had a nervous breakdown and had to go home.”
He smiles deviously. “I’ll tell her that you, being the delicate flower you are, were overcome with grief and had to excuse yourself to the fainting couch,” He says in a thick southern accent.
“Why thank you Miss Scarlett.”
I can’t help but grin. I know it’s been his dream to play the lead in the local theater company’s production of Gone with the Wind since he was five. My remark earns me a kissy face and a wave as he turns to go inside.
I’m all ready to make a break for it, when I get a glimpse of something out the corner of my eye. As I turn to get a better look, I see a boy walking away and into the coat closet at the other end of the hall. I don’t know why I follow him, but my feet are moving before I can fully rationalize it to myself. My boot heels clack on the tile floors and sounding like a heartbeat, slow and steady. I run my fingertips along the beige walls as I pass by what I hope is the casket showroom and not some sort of demented waiting room for whoever’s next in line for viewing, then a room full of comfy looking floral chairs, and finally an office. At the very end of the hall, the door to the coat room is ajar. As I reach out and push it open, an army of shivers march up my back.
If this was a horror movie, this is the part where I would die. Jeffery Dahmer would have loved my dumb ass.
As soon as I step inside the door, the boy turns and my heart sinks into my feet. For a minute, I just stand there, staring at him like an idiot. All I can feel is icy cold air from the vent in the ceiling blowing down on me, chilling me to my core. Backing up, I close the door, pressing myself against it until the knob bruises my side, but I can’t force myself to look away from what I’m seeing. Then the anger flows in, replacing the cold shock with a flush of heat. I reach behind me and slam the door shut.
“What is your actual damage, Logan?”
He stares at me, his green eyes wide.
My eyes narrow. I know what’s going on here.
“I’m being punked, aren’t I? This is some stupid reality TV show or something right?”
He just stands there looking confused.
“Does your family know you’re alive? I mean, seriously, if this is some dumb publicity stunt for the reporters out front…” I’m so angry I don’t even know what to say. Logan has always been a bit of an attention whore, but this is a new low. My hands are balled onto fists at my hips. “Say something, Logan. Please. Find the magic words to make this whole mess not be the most horrible thing a human being has ever done in their entire life, ever.”
“Zoe?” his voice is soft and he has a dumb half grin on his face that I remember from when we were kids. I have a desperate urge to remove it with my fist. “What are you talking about?”
Oh, sure. Like I’m the crazy one. “You are a giant douche hammer, you know that? I mean, what is this? Some idiotic attempt to get extra credit in English class? Tom Sawyer 101? I mean, those people think you’re dead! We all thought…” I trail off again, the words jumbling in my brain before I can get them out. I’m so angry I’m bordering on incoherent. My pulse is racing and my whole face feels hot. I need to calm myself before I completely lose it. I take a deep breath, hold it for a second, and then release it slowly.
He takes a step toward me, tilting his head curiously. “You can see me?”
“Okay, that’s it. I’m not falling for this…whatever this is. I’m going to march in there and tell your mother right now.”
He straightens, a cocky grin spreading across his face. That’s a look I’m more used to seeing on him recently. “You’re going to go tell my mommy on me? What, are we five again?”
I grunt and flip him off, throwing the door open.
“Wait!” I hear him call behind me but I keep going.
Inside the main room his parents have taken seats next to Kaylee in the front row. Ignoring the minister speaking from the pulpit I stride up the center aisle, stomping angrily. I’m almost to the front when I realize something. The dark brown casket is open. My pace slows and I see Logan’s face, his eyes are closed like he’s sleeping inside the white satin lined box. I spin, looking behind me, but he’s gone. Another delusion. My mind playing tricks on me yet again. I spin back around and take the final steps to the coffin, clutching the sides for support.
Up close, I’m not sure what I’m seeing. He looks kinda puffy and waxy. Maybe that’s how he’s doing it. Maybe it’s some kind of wax dummy. I reach out to touch his face when a sob from behind me snaps me out of it. Two pairs of arms grab me from either side, Carlos on my left and my mother on my right. They quickly usher me back down the aisle to a chorus of sobs and camera snaps. I’m shaking. Around me there is a thick white fog clouding the very edges of my vision.
“Mom?” I ask.
She’s soothing me, patting my hair and rubbing my back. Outside they lead me to the car amidst more cameras clicking. I can barely walk. My knees are like Jell-O and I feel like I’m breathing through a straw. I gasp and the fog gets worse. I feel Carlos slip me into the passenger seat of mom’s old Camry then he thrusts a bottle of cold, sweaty water in my hand.
“Are you okay Zoe?” My mother asks, kneeling in front of me.
She has her nurse face on and I know if I say the wrong thing, I’m going to end up spending the night in the hospital.
“I think she’s in shock,” Carlos says, patting my hand gently. I pull it away.
“Not helping, Carlos.” I look over at my mother who is clearly on the edge of panic. “I’m fine. Just, overwhelmed. Can we just go home?” She nods, patting my knee before moving to the other side of the car. Carlos gently turns me in my seat, trying to help me buckle. Behind him, on the steps to the funeral home, Logan is standing in the sunlight. Only, the reporters are all ignoring him.
I grab Carlos by the lapel and jerk my head towards the stairs.
“Do you see that?”
He turns and looks over his shoulder. “What?”
“Do you see anyone on the steps?”
He frowns, “No. Why?”
I shake my head, squeezing my eyes shut. “Never mind. I think my breakfast grape juice fermented. I’m gonna go home and lay down for a bit.”
He shuts the door and I lean out the window to give him a peck on the cheek.
“Take care, sweetie. Call me later when you are feeling better.”
I tug my hair out of the bun and let it fall around my shoulders. A familiar ache is growing inside my skull and I know if I leave it in, it’ll only make it worse. “I will.”
He steps back onto the curb and we speed off.
“Zoe,” mom begins, her tone concerned. “Are you…do you need-“
I cut her off before she can finish. “I’m fine mom. I don’t need to talk to the shrink again. Being there just…brought up old memories, that’s all.”
She doesn’t speak, but her silence is deafening. Laying my head back against the warm leather seat, I don’t open my eyes all the way home, I just let the cool wind blow knots into my hair and try not to think of the thousands of pictures of me freaking out coffin-side that are hitting the web as we speak, or of Logan’s face in that coffin.
I fail on both counts.