Somewhere stuck between a good idea and a bad idea are the best of intentions. Most people don’t set out to do something completely moronic, but I knew what I was doing was somewhere in the realm, if not entirely in the zone of moronic. Yet, with each passing text message, I told myself I was doing the right thing, despite what the gnawing troll inside of me said.
You know the troll I’m talking about. The one that twists its little knives in your stomach until you wretch and present your breakfast to the world? She’s a piece of work, that little troll, but she had a good point. I told myself I was responding to the messages out of the goodness of my heart, but I knew I was more interested in figuring him out than helping him—at first.
In fairness, I did tell my mystery texter he was texting the wrong person, but he didn’t seem to care. In fact, he flat-out disregarded every attempt I made to correct him and barreled on with his conversation, confusing the snot out of me at every turn. The thing is, everything he said in his messages hit home, and I needed someone to talk to just as much as he did. But in the end, I think we probably could have handled things a little better. Maybe, if we had been honest with ourselves, we would have been more honest with each other. And maybe, just maybe, we wouldn’t have ended up in so much trouble.
Let me start at the beginning. I’m Emily Waters, valedictorian of the one-hundredth graduating class of Starkbridge Academy, a private school located in a small town just outside of Philadelphia—Kennett Square, the mushroom capital of the world. What a lovely thing to be known for.
I, like many others, survived a tragedy that I didn’t want to talk about, but everyone seemed to find a way to bring any conversation around to the day my world fell apart. On some level, I understood. Tragedies like that just didn’t happen in small towns. But this one did, and it rocked the entire town to its core. I wanted out. I wanted to leave town the second my diploma was in hand, so I could move on with my life and leave the past behind me. But fate had other plans for me.
I studied hard, and in between study sessions, I managed to hold down a job at a small restaurant downtown. Small, but hugely popular, so the tips were great. Good thing, since my parents couldn’t afford to send me to college, and I doubted I’d get a full scholarship to Penn State.
I lived my life one AP class at a time, praying it was enough to get me into my dream school, while Adam Norcross spent his time hitting a chunk of rubber with a stick. We were totally different people on totally different paths. Our social circles rarely overlapped. We hardly knew each other until one little mistake took us down a winding road of soul-sucking emotional overload that took two police officers and a very long night to overcome.
Our story began one morning before school, the first day of our senior year. It was supposed to be a year to remember, but I wanted to forget. I needed to forget so I could move on, stop spinning my wheels in place and make a life for myself that didn’t involve telling my story a thousand times a day to people who’d already heard it, but couldn’t find it in their hearts to believe it.
I arrived early so I could get a parking space close to the front of the school. The lot was too small to fit everyone but large enough that lugging a heavy bag across it was torture on the shoulders. I rolled down my windows to let the last of summer drift through, taking me back to a time I didn’t have so much to worry about.
I was calm and collected, ready to start the day with my best friend. I was daydreaming about what it would be like when I finally saw Kennett in my rearview mirror when it happened. My phone dinged, probably my best friend looking for me.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Drama, drama, drama. I loved Victoria Morales with all my heart, like a sister, but sometimes her drama was a bit much. Still, I counted my blessings for the girl who never made me talk about things I didn’t want to talk about. The girl who held my hand through the worst of it and made countless dinners for my family while we holed-up in our house until we could leave it without crying uncontrollably.
I sighed and returned her text.
I think you’ll be fine. Take a deep breath.
Within seconds, another text appeared. It was a strange response, so I assumed she hadn’t received my message.
You said this year would be epic. Those were your words, but where are you?
Funny, I didn’t remember saying our senior year would be epic, but then, I didn’t remember much of anything that happened before Patrick left. Patrick. Even thinking of his name tore at my heart. I tried again to calm her, but it was a half-hearted attempt at best.
You’re fine. This year will be great, and before you know it, we’ll be in college!
Her response came immediately, and I began to realize she was ranting, not bothering to read my replies. When Vic was ranting, it was best to let her go and wait for a pause.
You promised. Best friends don’t break promises, but you’re not here. I have to do this by myself, and I’m so mad at you.
What did I do? I’m in the lot waiting. Where are you?
You left. Why did you leave? We had one year left to get out of this place, but you just left me.
I didn’t leave! I’m in the lot! Where are you?
I miss you. How will we make it to state without you?
State? You mean in debate? I think that ship sailed long ago. Why are you worried about that now?
Nothing she said made sense. Then I noticed the number at the top of my screen. It wasn’t Victoria. Where the title Victoria BFF should have been, was a standard Unknown. Ah, a wrong number, but something else was off about the entire conversation. I typed an apology, but something nagged at me, poked me in the chest until it burned. I ignored the feeling and finished my text.
Sorry, I thought you were someone else at first. I believe you have the wrong number.
You should have tried harder. You just fell and stayed there on the ground. You didn’t even try!
Sorry, I think you have the wrong number.
Stop ignoring me! Just answer me! I can’t take it anymore. Just give me some sign you hear me!
I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’m sorry, you have the wrong number. I have to get to class.
Screw you. Just screw yourself.
Wow, okay, you have a nice day, too.
I knew I should not have responded at all, but I was so annoyed I couldn’t help myself. After a grumble and a deep breath, I dropped my phone in my bag, but it dinged again. I almost ignored it, but something told me to give it one more chance. Whatever that something was, it sure liked to set me up for failure. I glanced at my phone, hoping it was an apology from the mystery texter, but what I found ripped my soul to shreds.
I miss you, Patrick. I can’t do this without you.
I opened my car door and puked right there in front of everyone. Some people stopped to stare, while others gave me a sorrowful look and went on to class. I wiped my face and rinsed with a sip of water, then put my phone on silent. Whoever it was, whoever sent the messages, was a bona fide jerk playing a mean game.
I grabbed my bag and climbed the front stairs, ignoring the gigantic monument the school had erected in Patrick’s honor, but the bronze nameplate caught my attention.
Patrick Waters 2002-2020 Beloved son, brother, best friend, team captain. Loved and missed by all who knew him.
All who knew him. But how many people really knew my brother? Outside of my family, there was only one person who knew him like I did. Only one person who could have missed him with as much desperation as I did. His best friend. His co-captain. His wingman… Adam Norcross.