“Mom! You need to eat something!” Melanie banged on the door of her mom’s home office.
“Five more minutes honey! I promise.” Melanie scoffed, and walked back to the kitchen, sitting the plate down with annoyance. Five more minutes. Ten more minutes. Give me half an hour. Six years. I promise. I promise. I promise. The echo of empty promises filled her life.
Her hands shook with anger. And loneliness. No one likes you. She doesn’t want you. The thoughts were like taking a hammer to the head. She glanced warily at the bottle of prescription pills at the end of the counter. I can fight it. No you can’t. Yes I can. “No you can’t.” She opened the bottle and took three, no longer needing water to swallow like she did when she was eleven. Anxiety, bipolar disorder, probably something else too. There are pills for this. Her mom had said. You’ll never have to feel like that again. She felt it everyday. Like the world was closing in on her. Like in an instant it would come crumbling down. Again.
It was the denial letter from Taylor Publishing in 2014, that sent Melanie and her mom into depression. Now she relied on her friends to keep her stable. Without them, there was always the chance that she wouldn’t smile again.
A door opened down the hall. Melanie snatched a bagel from the table and slung her backpack over her shoulder, heading out the door. She didn’t want to hear her mom fantasize about how a new company would take her story soon. A new company would discover this amazing idea she was thinking of. A new editor would love her transcript. Taylor Publishing ruined their lives. That’s all Melanie cared about.
“Hands in.” Cole called.
“Are we still doing this?” Melanie asked, crossing her arms.
“Yes.” He answered matter-of-factly, poking her in the side, “And you know you love it.”
She giggled and tried to squirm away from him.
“Hey, yo! Love birds! Is this how we’re starting off senior year?” Ema joked.
Melanie playfully tugged out of Cole’s grasp and put her hand in the middle, starting off the hand stack, “This is how we’re starting off the year.”
“Same as always.” Cole beamed proudly
“You guys are boring, predictable people.” Ema said, a smile tugging at her lips.
“Yeah, but you’d be nowhere without us.” Cole said, putting his hand on top of Melanie’s.
“Not everyone accepts your funky doodles.” Melanie asserted.
Ema smirked, rolling her eyes, “Whatever. Let’s do this.” She placed her hand on top of Cole’s.
Cole started off the same chant they had been repeating since middle school enthusiastically. “Do your best.”
“And screw the rest!” The girls finished, throwing their hands into the air.
The bell rang right in time. “Let’s hurry up and finish this year so we can get out of this dump.” Ema stated, picking up her backpack from the table.
Melanie laughed, putting her arm around Ema and slinging her backpack over her other arm. “You said it.”
` Cole made his way to the south wing and the girls headed to the north. They walked robotically through the same hallways they had known for years. Past the same students that had lived in the same houses, in the same neighborhood since they were kids. Melanie looked around hopefully for a sign of change. A new poster, a new teacher, a new classmate. But she knew nothing would change. Because nothing ever changed.
“Melanie!” Ema snapped in her face and she blinked out of her musings.
“Let’s go inside.” She glanced up to see the stream of students thinning out. One girl stood out to her. A girl whose name she couldn’t think of; even though her striking looks would engrave themselves in anyone’s head no matter what. Ema pulled her inside the stuffy classroom and let the door close behind them, leaving Melanie to wonder if she really saw the saint of change in the hallway, or if it was just a figment of her imagination.
The day crawled on at a snail’s pace all the way until lunch. The group of three met at the table they’d always sat at and laid out their lunches. Melanie slid her pasta across the table to Cole, who gave his turkey sandwich to Ema, who passed her rice to Melanie. They made small talk in between mouthfuls of food. Cole was in the middle of complaining about AP Physics homework when he was interrupted by the sound of heels clicking towards them. When they looked up, the mysterious girl Melanie spotted in the hallway was towering over the table.
“Hi!” She said cheerfully. “My name is Dani. Dani Taylor. Can I sit with you guys?”
Why does the name sound so familiar?
“Sure.” Ema said without hesitation. “Scoot over Mel.”
Melanie blinked in surprise. Why do I have to move? She got up and sat next to Cole, trying to make her irritation both visible and invisible.
Ema’s eyes traveled up and down Dani’s body, seemingly searching for a secret no one else knew existed.
“So, where are you from Dan?” Cole asked.
Melanie’s eyes widened. A nickname already?
“Wales.” She answered shyly, tucking a thick strand of dark hair behind her ear.
“Wow.” Ema and Cole gasped in awe.
They’re obsessed already. They’re not going to need you soon. A headache pinched at the bridge of Melanie’s nose.
“What made your family decide to move here?”
“We’re in the process of buying a building in New York for my mom’s publishing company. We’re staying here until she can get all the paperwork done.”
Publishing company? Dani Taylor? Everything was starting to make sense now. The pieces were falling into place quickly. Dani’s mom owned Taylor Publishing. She scratched at the stitches on her wrist. Dani Taylor and her family ruined your life.
Jillian, a friend, more like an acquaintance, waved to Melanie, who gave her a small smile and unlocked her red Saturn. She put her head on the steering wheel and sent a silent prayer to the vehicle Gods that her car would start. She had been meaning to get it fixed, but didn’t have enough time, or money. You’re never going to be enough.
She sighed and started up the car successfully. Tonight she’d forget about Dani, and paying the bills, and bringing home food for her mom. She'd focus solely on her words flowing beautifully into the crowded coffee shop.
Melanie had to park a block away from the café and walk. As she opened the double doors, the sound of voices was amplified. She looked around. Mike was in his usual corner tuning his guitar, the barista Maria was telling people to take a seat or the room would become a fire hazard, Jenna was pretending to sweep but really talking to the hot singer-songwriter that came in every month.
Melanie smiled and inhaled, smelling Pine-Sol and Cappuccinos all in one whiff. The buzz of constant noise set a serene and successfully creative vibe. She pulled out her phone hoping to see a text that confirmed Cole and Ema were on their way. Nothing yet. It was 4:00. Thirty minutes until she went on. They always make it.
She slipped on her headphones and put her favorite song on repeat for the remainder of the time.
As she drifted off to sleep, the sound of feedback from a microphone cut through Brendon Urie’s high note in her ear. Melanie checked the time. 4:29. She opened her phone to see if there were any new messages. When she didn’t see any, she did a quick glance around the small coffee house. Jenna placed a hand lightly on Melanie’s shoulder and shook her head, “I haven’t seen them.” She sighed and nodded, pulling a tight lipped smile which came off as more of a grimace. Jenna patted her shoulder kindly and walked away.
“Good Evening Connecticut!” The manager’s voice boomed through the speakers, “We’ve got some amazing talent here tonight, so let’s get started! First up on our list we have Jared, with an original song. Give it up for Jared!” Melanie clapped politely with the rest of the crowd, glimpsing at the door quickly, before sliding her phone into her pocket.
Halfway through the chorus, Melanie’s phone buzzed from inside her hoodie pocket. She pulled it out. An Instagram notification. @colestheman
Cole’s posting but he isn’t here? The tips of her ears began to burn with annoyance. They forgot. You aren’t important to them anymore. Melanie punched in her password
But all the negative emotions she thought she had been feeling? They were nothing compared to what she felt as her phone illuminated her face in the dark room.
On the screen, Melanie saw Ema, Cole, and Dani, huddled in for a hand stack. Their hand stack. ‘Screw the rest. Friends for life. @emadraws’3 @daniT03’ The caption read.
Melanie felt herself floating away. Screw you, is what the caption said to her.
She slammed the door as hard as she could. Not that it would make a difference. Screaming into her pillow wouldn’t help either. Her mom was buried under piles of paper and never heard her cries.
Tonight was the first night that Melanie had ever forgotten everything she was supposed to say. Poetry was the one easy thing she had in her life. The one thing that she could do without thinking. It sent her to a serene state of mind, where nothing else mattered. But the caption of that post with Dani made the words she had memorized catch in her throat. And they just sat there. Like dead, useless weight.
She squeezed her eyes shut, willing the tears to stay inside. But they didn't comply. One after another peeked out from behind her eyelids and crawled down her face. Melanie grabbed her pillow and sobbed, letting go of everything she wasn't able to say on the stage that night.
Melanie couldn’t string all of the events that lead up to this decision in order, or maybe she could if she tried. But with the knife pressing into her side, hurting as much as she knew the guilt would, there was no turning back.
Headlights elongated the shadows of the pine forest, and clicked off a moment later. As the sound of the engine died down, Melanie’s hands shook. When Dani walked into the clearing and didn’t see a tent, she’d know something was off. This is a mistake, the imaginary angel on Melanie’s left shoulder whispered. But she tried to take everything you worked so hard for away, the satan argued.
“Hey.” Dani's voice bounced off the tree trunks, and Melanie’s thoughts disappeared, leaving her alone.
Dani turned around slowly, surveying the area, realizing there was no tent. When her back was to her, Melanie came up behind her and hugged her. “Oh.” Dani was taken by surprise. “Are you okay, Mel? Do you need to talk?”
Melanie placed her chin on Dani’s shoulder. I’m never going to forgive myself. Tears raced down her face, one after another landing on Dani’s shoulder. She unwrapped one arm from around the innocent girl and reached into her coat pocket. Another tear. She wrapped her hand around the handle. Another tear. “Everything will be okay.” Dani cooed.
“You’re right.” She whispered, “Everything will be fine.” Melanie raised the knife to Dani’s neck, “But you’re not welcome here.”