Please Don't Tell - Laura Tims


October 1


My hands are shaking, and I’m crying. I don’t know when that started.

Preston pounds on the door again.

“Please open the door, Joy. So what if you blacked out last night? That doesn’t mean . . . what you think.”

It’s the bathroom on the bottom floor of school, the only single-stall bathroom in Stanwick High. Nobody comes down here before lunch. Nobody’ll hear these noises, but I muffle myself with my fist anyway.

“Just come out. I have something important to tell you. You’ll feel better.” He’s pleading. “First period’s almost over. It’s nine oh one.”

I flash briefly to last night. If anyone said “Call nine one one,” they weren’t fast enough.

Wouldn’t I remember that?

No, because I’m more than hungover enough to throw up into the stained ceramic toilet beside my face. But I shouldn’t freak Pres out. Shouldn’t make him think I’ve completely snapped.

I take a deep breath, punch down a wave of nausea. “Right. Okay. Right,” I whisper.

“Joy, please. Come talk to me.”

But I don’t move. I’m staying here with the bathroom graffiti until the world stops being messed up. Until I stop.

Names, insults, scarring the rust-orange paint. The only ones I read are two letters, scratched extra deep.

A.G. ♥ ♥

And then I do throw up. It’s quick and not messy, but Preston clearly hears me because he thumps the door with both palms. “Joy! Seriously, unlock this so I can—”

So he can what?

How’s any single person in the universe gonna fix this?

Outside in the hall, Principal Eastman’s voice crackles over the loudspeaker for the third time this morning. In here, it sounds tinny, distorted.

“Just a reminder that any absences from class today’ll be excused. The therapy room will provide grief counseling for anybody who needs it.” Pres stops knocking, and I flatten my cheek against the cold tile. The hearts next to A.G. march past the toilet paper dispenser. It’s not my sister’s writing. Some other girl with some other life etched those. Did she cry at the news, or smile?

A week ago I’d’ve known which one I’d do.

Principal Eastman breathes over the loudspeaker, no idea what to say next. First time we’ve had something in common. It clicks off, and the silence gushes back into my ears and nose and mouth.

He was cute, Grace had insisted. I wasn’t allowed to make fun of her, because he was cute.

Also according to her, he was sensitive, not a douche, for carting his Gibson guitar everywhere. What if he was lonely, living up there by the old bluestone quarry that his grandfather’s one hit song made famous? He probably needed somebody to talk to.

But talking wasn’t what he wanted from her.

Did I talk to him last night, before I killed him?

I finally get myself together and open the door. Preston pulls me close and walks me back into the land of the living. He grips my backpack, steers me down the hall. It makes me move like a killer: stiff, jerky. At least my legs work like a human’s. Whatever I turned into last night, it’s still wearing my skin.

“You gotta quit freaking out,” Pres whispers. I barely hear him. “I have to tell you something once we’re alone. It’s important.”

Nobody points at me and screams You pushed Adam Gordon into the quarry last night!—but nobody looks at me, either, even though Preston’s awkwardly guiding me down the hall like a prisoner. His frizzy orange curls, his jeans that end an inch above the ankle . . . they always stand out, but not today. The bell’s gone off, hallway’s flooded, but no one rushes. They trade hushed information.

“It was his eighteenth birthday party.”

“It’s creepy that they found him in the quarry. Those lyrics to his granddad’s song . . . ‘Carry me down to the quarry . . .’”

“He was so drunk, it was dark, he fell in.”

“See?” Pres says as he leads me toward the counseling room. “Accident. Not you.”

Maybe . . .

Kennedy Brown flies out in front of us, sobbing, hurling herself into Sarah McCaughney’s arms. My spine shakes apart.

The world isn’t a fair enough place that Adam would’ve staggered drunk over the edge by himself. Not after all the time I spent imagining stabbing-shooting-crushing him. It must’ve been me.

Whether I was sober enough to remember it or not.

Ms. Bell, Preston’s mom, is the school counselor. Clumped on her lumpy beige couches, underneath the loud mental health posters (Invest in your Life! Go for a Walk!) are Kennedy, Sarah, Ben Stockholm, some other artsy