Sunday, June 03, 2018

West Union Road #1

“I’m tired,” Kyle yawned.

“How can you be tired? You’ve had an entire week off,” Laura complained. “You didn’t even go anywhere or do anything. You just stayed at home.”

“We can’t all afford to go to Myrtle Beach, Laura,” Kyle mocked.

“It’s not my fault that my family takes a vacation every year,” Laura said. “Did you even leave the house?”

“Just to go to the gas station to refill my 52 ounce cup with soda then it was right back home.”

“Hi, Cassie. What’d you do over spring break?” Laura asked.

“I was at the lake mostly since it was a pretty warm week. I was looking at what swimsuit styles were going to be in this year. Good news, two pieces are still the norm,” Cassie said.

“Has anyone seen Melissa?” Kyle asked. “I called her a couple of time over break. One time her mom answered and refused to let me talk to her--or maybe Melissa really wasn’t there. I don’t know. Her mom always sounds mad at me. The other time she answered but didn’t want to do anything. We talked for a bit but that was it.”

“I went over once,” Cassie began. “No one answered.”

“Weird. She’s usually looking for a reason to get out of that house,” Laura said.

“You haven’t heard?” someone came up to them. “Melissa died.”

“What? No,” Cassie raised her eyebrow. “How?”

“House fire. Killed her whole family. I’m shocked you didn’t know about it. You are her friends after all.”

Kyle, Laura, and Cassie looked at each other. They went to their first class where they heard more rumors about the deaths and fire. By the end of the day, the latest and most upsetting rumor was that the fire was intentionally set and Melissa had done it.

“No,” Cassie shook her head. “Melissa wasn’t suicidal. She wasn’t depressed. She wasn’t a huge fan of her family but not enough to do that.”

“I think we need to talk with someone who might actually know,” Laura said.

When the dismissal bell rang, the three of them went up to the school counselor. “Ms. Kovacs, we have a question,” Cassie began.

“I’m a little busy now, girls,” she noticed Kyle. “And gentlemen.”

“We have a question about Melissa. We’re her best friends so we deserve to know,” Cassie said.

Ms. Kovacs looked at them. “Close the door,” she said. Laura closed the door and Ms. Kovacs settled into her chair. “Melissa and most of her family died in a house fire over the weekend. Thankfully, her younger sister was staying with friends so she survived. If you guys need someone to talk to we’ll have additional counselors and a therapist here tomorrow.”

“Maybe, but we were wondering about how the fire happened. Kids out there are saying that Melissa started the fire--that she killed herself and her family,” Cassie said.

“As her best friends, we just want to make sure that her name isn’t being tarnished,” Kyle said.

Ms. Kovacs sighed. “If students are talking about this--spreading rumors and gossip--you need to let a teacher or other staff member know. Now, the investigation is early but the fire marshal is saying that the fire was intentionally set. They don’t know who started the fire but, like I said, the investigation is early.”

“So she did kill herself,” Laura said.

“And her family,” Cassie continued.

“We don’t know that. We don’t know anything about what happened. Or why,” Kyle said.

The kids were at a fast food place. It felt empty without Melissa sitting in the booth with them. Laura had known Melissa the longest, since Kindergarten. Kyle had known her since middle school and they had dated for about a year and a half. Cassie was a new addition to Melissa’s friends having met when school started this year.

The four of them attended West Union High School on West Union Road. It was a newer high school built in 2007 to handle the massive influx of kids into the district on the westside. The old high school, Alexander High, couldn’t handle the additional students to the city was split in half.

“Why are we assuming Melissa did all this?” Kyle asked. “We’ve all met her parents. I could see either one of them doing it as well.”

“I don’t think they did,” Cassie said. “Melissa did it and we all know she did.”

The day before Spring Break, a Thursday. The dismissal bell rang and all the kids squealed and headed out the doors of the high school. Laura and Melissa walked together slowly. “When are you leaving for Myrtle Beach?” Melissa asked.

“Sunday afternoon. I’m doing all my packing tonight and tomorrow so we can hang out on Saturday if you want.”

“Maybe. I’m thinking of taking Tabitha to a movie and maybe a hike. Get her out of the house for a bit,” Melissa explained.

“Cool. If you change your mind or want to bring her along, let me know.”

“I will,” Melissa nodded.

Laura expected to see Melissa at some point before she left on Sunday but didn’t.

“How do you know Melissa did it?” Laura asked. She was getting a little upset that her best friend was getting dragged through the mud by her friends.

“Melissa was acting weird for a while now. Maybe it was a slow build until she just couldn’t take it anymore,” Kyle suggested.

“Take anymore of what? Her parents? She had only one more year of them. She could’ve handled that,” Laura said.

“Maybe it was a combination of things--school, home, friends. She’s had a pretty rough year. Coming out as bisexual, our breakup, her parents, Cassie’s rejection, and all within months of each other,” Kyle argued.

“I refuse to believe that we are a cause of this,” Cassie shook her head. She stood up angrily and stormed off. Laura and Kyle looked at each other. Laura gritted her teeth and looked back at Cassie.

“Go,” Kyle said, rolling his eyes.

Laura got up and ran after Cassie. “Cassie. We know it’s not our fault,” she grabbed Cassie’s arm and pulled her to a stop. “There was a lot of stuff going on in her life but I am sure we were the good stuff. Cassie, we weren’t the reason. We don’t even know what happened. Suicide, murder, accident, we don’t know. We don’t know.”

Cassie was crying. Laura pulled her into a hug. “I feel so responsible…” Cassie sobbed.

“I know. I do, too. But we’re not,” Laura hugged Cassie tightly. “We’re not.”