Three teenage girls, sitting in a circle, laughing in various states of drunken undress. Three teenage girls, spinning bottles in their hands, pretending to be adults. Three teenage girls on the tip of a ledge, enjoying the view of the beach and the rocky freedom of a school break.
“Truth or Dare,” says the one with the sly smile.
“Truth,” the pink haired girl giggles.
“Is it true that you kissed Duncan Carlisle at Lola’s birthday party last month?”
Silence. The third girl, Duncan Carlisle’s girlfriend for the past seven months, gapes wordlessly at Fallon, the pink haired girl.
“True.” Fallon’s voice is shaky but her eyes are steely. Saeva sits back, the sly smile never cracking. Paige, Duncan Carlisle’s girlfriend for the past seven months, suddenly finds her voice.
“What the hell is your problem?” She stands up, sand and grass falling from her lap. “Why?”
Saeva grins, relishing the power she holds over the situation. “She’s liked him since the first time she saw him at your softball game.”
“The punch was stronger than I expected, and he was talking to me about how stressed I felt about college applications, and I just… I’m sorry. It was wrong. I thought it might just blow over, I mean, it was a mistake, but-” she glares at Saeva, who tosses her glossy hair and grins.
The slap is unexpected, and the retaliation is quick. Fallon’s eyes fill with tears and she jumps forward, scratching at Paige’s face. The next few minutes are a blur of long hair and sharp nails. Saeva enjoys the screeching rage until Fallon’s ankle accidentally finds her left cheek. The alcohol and foot hit her at the same time and she stands up, dizzy and blind and full of fury.
Another blur. Three teenage girls, tumbling clumsily around each other, dripping blood and hatred. Three teenage girls, inching closer to the edge of the cliff, the sea roaring below, an ambient soundtrack to the fight. Three teenage girls, one’s toes gripping the edge of the cliff, the second’s hands fluttering around her face, rings drawing blood, the third one’s palms pushing forward, silver nail polish glittering in the sun. One teenage girl, free falling, pink hair flowing. Two teenage girls, standing atop the ledge, speechless at the bloody lump on the rocks below, waves lapping at her limp body.
“Is she… is she… you know,” Paige’s eyes dart around. She’s too scared to say the word.
“She’s dead.” There is a finality in Saeva’s voice. “We killed her.”
Paige gasps, her hands flying to her face. Tears spring to her eyes, but she blinks them back. Fallon is motionless below. She glances at Saeva.
“Clean up,” Saeva orders. She leans down and starts packing empty bottles into their bags, folding the picnic blanket and tucking it into her jacket sleeve. Paige stands motionless, unable to take her eyes off Fallon, who is now more red than pink.
The drive home is deadly silent. A few blocks from Paige’s house, Saeva cuts the engine and makes eye contact.
“We went to this picnic alone today. We don’t know where Fallon was. We left earlier, then just drove around. You don’t know that she kissed Duncan. Fallon didn’t come because she didn’t feel well. We say nothing to no one.”
Paige swallows hard. “Shouldn’t we tell the police, or her parents, or someone? Maybe we could say it was an accident-”
“Do you want to go to prison? Do you want your parents to hate you, to know they raised a murderer?” Saeva’s voice is unwavering. “You’ll never get into college. You’ll never have a job, or a family. Everything you’ve spent your life working for, gone. Just like that. Poof.”
The threat is strong enough that Paige enters her house, slightly sunburnt and withdrawn. When her mother asks her how the picnic was, she responds with “good, but Fallon couldn’t make it.” She goes upstairs and doesn’t come down for dinner. That night, her mother opens the door to see her daughter lying on the bed staring straight at the ceiling, unmoving. Still, Paige won’t tell her what’s wrong, and her mother figures it’s probably just teenage angst. It happens to everyone.
The next day at school, Paige is in AP US History and Saeva is in computer science when the police show up. They speak in hushed tones to the principal, the teachers, and eventually to the girls, who are pulled aside to the counselor’s office. The counselor, a bald man with soft hands, informs them in a gentle voice that Fallon has died in a horrible, tragic accident. Saeva acts appropriately disbelieving, then heartbroken, falling to her knees in a mess of tears and wails. Paige stares frozen at the police officers; it’s unintentional, she is paralyzed by fear, but it is convincing enough to be despair. An hour of numbness later, the police officers intervene to ask a few questions.
“Did she ever mention wanting to kill herself?” “Was the cliff an emotionally charged spot for her?” “Did anything big happen recently in her personal life, perhaps a breakup or a death in the family?” “How were her grades? How was her eating?” The questions are ceaseless. Saeva and Paige separately insist that Fallon never appeared depressed or suicidal, that she wasn’t going through a breakup, and they don’t know what could have prompted such a horrible death. Saeva suggests that maybe she felt too much pressure, with college applications coming up. Paige swallows back a lump of ice in her throat to mention that Fallon liked hiking, and maybe she just slipped. Both girls squeeze out tears at regular intervals. The guidance counselor apologizes for the questions, but “you two were her best friends.” Neither mentions the picnic.
By that afternoon, the news has spread amongst the school. Nina Barreby, student council president, is planning a candlelight vigil after school Friday evening. Clumps of students congregate around the school building, casting curious glances at the officers and crying softly. Instagram is flooded with filtered posts about the pink-haired girl, vice president of the Debate Club, who liked caramel lattes and formed one of the tightest triads in high school girl history. Saeva writes a lengthy paragraph - little do they know, it’s been in the drafts since last night, which means she had time to perfect the message until it is practically tear-inducing. Paige posts a photo with just the two of them. Somehow, her stomach flips when she sees the photos of all three of them together.
That night, Paige’s mother asks how come she didn’t see Fallon yesterday, since she died at the same cliff they visited. Paige mumbles about the timelines being mismatched. “I guess we just missed each other. Just barely.” Tear’s spring to her mother’s eyes as she imagines the devastation that comes from losing a daughter. The family takes a casserole to Fallon’s mother an hour later.
Fallon’s mother looks sleep deprived and distraught. She can’t speak without sobbing and her skin is chapped and red from all the crying. Paige avoids her gaze, but is crushed into a hug anyway. That night, she texts Saeva, are you sure we’re doing the right thing? The response is instant. Yes.
Saeva lies in bed, ripping at the skin on her fingers. She likes being in control. She likes causing chaos. She never meant for it to turn out like this. Already, she misses Fallon’s soft voice, her quoting rom coms, her constantly changing hair. Paige’s text nags at her. The certainty in her voice when she speaks to other people falters when she looks in the mirror. This has to be the right thing. It just does. She hugs her little brother tighter that evening.
Two teenage girls, sitting next to each other, fingers interlaced as the police declare the death to be accidental. Two teenage girls, texting in the late hours of the morning because they both can’t sleep. Two teenage girls, graduating high school, the absence of the third girl strongly felt in their interlaced arms, draped in blue polyester.
Saeva goes to Rochester Polytechnic Institute. She joins the Choir Club and plays soccer on the weekends with her roommate, but when her roommate dyes her hair pink, she goes home for a week. Classes be damned. There are some things she can’t forgive and some things she can’t forget.
Paige is taking a year off before going to college. All that hard work for nothing, her mother wailed. But Paige isn’t ready to face a world outside the cocoon of her misery and shame. When Saeva comes back, the two girls agree to go on a picnic again.
The trip to the cliff is wordless. They’re both wearing pink, a subconscious reminder of the friend they lost. They hike without panting, eat without breathing. Saeva tries to twirl the bottle in her fingers again, but the rhythm falls flat. Neither dares to look over the edge of the precipice.
“It was the right thing to do.” Saeva’s voice is less sure with the passage of time. “We would’ve been ruined.”
“We are ruined,” Paige mutters, eyes fixed on the rocky outcropping. “I haven’t slept properly since… well. You know.”
“We are not ruined. We’re not in prison. We can have families. Our families don’t hate us.”
“But emotionally…” Paige trails off, then finds her strength again. “I think we should tell. I feel so oppressed every single day. It’s like there’s a tower of bricks on me, every day. It might be better if-”
“Now that everything’s blown over, now you want to destroy everything?” Saeva is horrified. “No. No, we can’t.”
Two teenage girls, at a standstill. Two teenage girls, slowly stand up and face each other. Two girls, the ghost of the third flashing between them. Saeva peeks over the edge. She’s always been the bolder. There’s no trace of Fallon or her fate.
That night, Paige goes to the police station. “I did it. I killed Fallon. It was an accident, I didn’t mean to. We got into a fight and she pushed me and I pushed her back and she sort of tripped on something and went over the edge. I can’t take it anymore.”
The backlash is instant, and aggressive. Saeva watches from a safe distance as Paige is arrested, as her parents cry, as Fallon’s mother beats her fists and curses Paige. But involuntary manslaughter doesn’t carry a heavy sentence, and Paige ends up not going to jail at all. Saeva pretends to mourn again, pretends to be surprised and horrified, pretends, pretends, pretends.
One adult woman. Twenty seven years old, with a husband and a baby on the way, a job, a loving set of parents. One adult woman, crouched by the rocky ledge where she once committed a crime. Another adult woman, slowly making her way over, hungover and squinting through her sunglasses, head pounding. Another adult woman, returning to the scene of her crime, soft white powder clinging to her fingertips.
“You did the right thing.” Saeva’s voice is cracked and dry. Paige whirls around, her baby bump protruding.
“Saeva. It’s in the past now. I really have laid it to rest.” She is forgiving, and pitying. Saeva looks exhausted.
“I should’ve gone with you.”
“We shouldn’t have pushed her in the first place.”
“I shouldn’t have pushed you in the first place. If I hadn’t said anything-”
“Saeva.” Paige is firm. “It’s been a decade. Please. Tell someone, someone who isn’t me. This is destroying you.”
Saeva looks up, her eyes watery. “I will never tell anyone. Even if it kills me.”
A year later, it kills her. A little too much crystalline euphoria. A little too much powdered joy. A little too much manufactured forgetfulness. Paige attends her funeral. She posts pictures of a girl, young and healthy, with mischievous eyes and a sly smile. A far cry from the gaunt, hollow woman resting in the coffin.
One adult woman, twenty eight years old. A baby and a husband at home. Forgiving parents, a couple streets away. She sits, alone, legs dangling over the edge of the cliff. One adult woman, surrounded by the spirits of three teenage girls. Back when there was rage over kissing a boy and glee over acing a pop quiz. Three teenage girls, dancing and spinning and laughing, wine twisting their words. A pink girl flying, a sad girl dropping to the floor of a club. One adult woman, standing up and brushing off the grass and dust, and going home to her baby, two teenage girls sitting on her shoulders.