Life After Zoey Preview
This may end up being a far cry from what LAZ ends up being, but here is a little bit of the newest YA novel I’ve been working on.
Wednesday- The Last Day
The last thing my sister said to me was “you have no idea how great you are.” I had just told her a joke some ridiculous joke about biscuits in an oven. Instead of laughing, she just smiled briefly and said, “Amy, you have no idea how great you are.”
Then, she closed the door to my room and left for work. It was just two days after summer vacation had officially begun. She had just graduated, and I was entering the summer before my senior year.
She left to work her second job, while I hid out in my room, reading books and watching old movies. I usually waited up for her. She would bring leftover desserts home from the restaurant, and we would sit up chatting for a few hours before we both passed out from the sugar crash.
That night, I didn’t manage to stay up, and she never came in to wake me up either. I remember hearing Zoey’s car pull into the driveway. But when she didn’t come upstairs, and I heard her muffled voice from downstairs, I assumed she was on the phone with someone, so I just went back to sleep.
There are so many times that I wish I had gone downstairs to find her—or that I had texted her the way I sometimes did when she was downstairs and I was waiting for her. There are so many times that I wish I had done anything other than what I did—which was close my eyes, adjust my pillow, and fall back asleep, all while having no idea that only feet below me, my best friend was planning the end of her life, and what felt like the end of mine.
“Zoey, wake up!” I said, knocking on her door. Nothing. I shrugged, and went down stairs to start some breakfast. It was my turn to take care of breakfast for the two of us that morning. We had a little over an hour before we had to leave for work at the carwash together. Zoey had gotten me the job at the carwash right before school had ended. I had only been working there since the previous Saturday, but we already had a routine. I grabbed some bread from the top of the refrigerator, and opened the door to find the eggs. The morning before, Zoey had made omelets, but would not shut up about how much she wanted French Toast.
“Then, why did you make omelets, dork?” I asked her.
“ Because,” she said through a bite of egg and cheese, “you make the best French Toast. I’m an omelet girl, but French Toast is all you, Amz”
I rolled my eyes at her. “Are you making a request for tomorrow?” I asked her.
“Please, pretty please?” She replied.
“You know that means I have to get up earlier,” I began. She cut me off.
“But seester!” She said smiling.
I threw a piece of my egg at her. “Fine,” I said. “I’ll make your damn French Toast.”
“Yay,” she said, clapping her hands like a four year old who’d just finished the alphabet song.
I laughed to myself as I thought about what a dork my sister was. I pulled some more ingredients out of the cabinets, trying to get everything together to make the process less time consuming. Zoey loved my French Toast because I put fresh whipped cream and fruit on it. She and I had bonded over our mutual love of food at a young age. I remembered us being young—maybe 5 and 7—and plotting our trips to the ice cream shop so that we could get the best flavor combinations, and then share them. Our parents always told us it was miraculous that we weren’t 500 lbs each.
I decided to skip making coffee that morning. Zoey owed me a latte, and I was planning to cash it in on the way to work. Partially because I wanted one, and partially because there was an extremely cute barista that I was trying to get her to give her number to. After I made French Toast for her, she would have no choice but to cooperate.
I finished our breakfast prep, and put it on a couple of plates. I called up to Zoey’s room again as I put our plates on the bar. I grabbed some orange juice out of the refrigerator. I still hadn’t heard any noise from Zoey’s room. After I poured a couple of glasses of OJ, I headed up the stairs again.
“Zoey! Dammit! Get UP,” I shouted as I opened the door to her room. She was lying face down on her bed, which was odd. She normally slept all curled up in a ball. I pulled the blankets off of her and saw that she was still in her clothes from the diner.
“What the Hell, Zoe?” I asked, shaking her arm. I pulled my arm back right away. She felt weird, and her skin color was all wrong.
“Zoey?” I shook her again. I paused for a second to watch her, and listen for breathing—nothing.
I grabbed her arm with both hands and rolled her over onto her back. When I saw her face, my knees went weak, and I screamed.
One Week After
I was in my room, getting ready for Zoey’s funeral when I heard an obnoxious beeping sound coming through my open window. A truck was backing into the driveway next door. A freakishly tall guy was slouching next to the truck, his lanky arms hung at his sides. Aside from his height (seriously, he had to be 6’6” or something), the thing that caught my eyes the most was the massive wad of curly hair forming an afro on top of his head. I’d never seen a white guy with an afro before. Not in person at least.
His back was to me so I couldn’t see his face but I felt bad for the guy. He had to be ugly. He was too weirdly tall to be handsome. After a few minutes of me staring out the window, the guy turned around. He looked up at my window so quickly I thought someone might have told him I was up there looking at him. He quickly made eye contact and smiled at me. I just stood there: not smiling, not blinking, and not moving. After a minute, he turned back around, but not before giving me a short wave.
I walked back to my dresser to finish getting ready in front of my mirror. It was surrounded by concert tickets, band stickers, and worst of all—at least twenty stupid photos of Zoey and I. Some of them were from the concerts we’d gone to. Others were of us, sitting by the pool together, or at the beach—our big sunglasses and burned cheeks filling up the entire space
of each photo. The one that was the hardest to look at had been taken just a couple of weeks before she died. It was the two of us at a bonfire. A friend of Zoey’s had taken it, so this photo had more of us in it than just our faces. We were sitting on an old log…huddled together under a blanket. I had my head on Zoey’s shoulder, and she was kissing the top of my head. Neither of us were looking at the camera, I was looking at whatever had been going on across the fire, and Zoey had this look—I’m not sure how to describe it—determination maybe—and it was mixed with a loving, almost protective posture as she had her arms wrapped around me. I didn’t know what the look was about, but it made me want to cry.
I hurt so much to think of no longer having my protector, my best friend…my Zoey. No one would ever wrap their arms around me like that again.
I exhaled hard and cleared my throat. I was trying to stop another flood of tears. To distract myself, I finished putting powder on my face. I hated make up, but wearing it made me think of Zoey. She used to beg me to let her do my makeup. When she was done she would take a step back and say…”perfect!” with a bright and beaming smile. Then, as she would put the makeup items back in her bag, she would always say, “but you were perfect to start with”. It was like a script or something. She must have put makeup on me hundreds of times, and yet, I couldn’t think of a single time that she hadn’t said exactly the same thing.
As I brushed my sister’s slightly-too-light powder onto my face, I could no longer hold back the flood, and I began to cry for what felt like the millionth time. My mom walked into the room then, giving a slight knock. She walked slowly into the room. Her eyes were bloodshot, and she spoke softly.
“Are you almost ready honey?” she said, standing in the doorway.
“Almost,” I said, wiping under each eye with my forefinger.
Her eyes filled with tears, she walked over to me and wrapped her long arms around my shoulders. “She will always be with us in our hearts, Amy…it sounds lame, and awful, but it’s all we have to hold onto.”
I pulled back. It wasn’t all I had to hold onto. I didn’t even know what that was supposed to mean. ‘always in our hearts’. What kind of bullshit was that?
“I don’t want to diminish my sister and best friend to a cliche, mom,” I said.
“Oh, Honey,” she started.
“Mom…it’s fine,” I said, throwing my hands in the air. “It’s fine. Please just go. I’ll meet you downstairs,” and my voice began to crack at the end of my sentence. Mom’s eyes filled again, but instead of reaching out for me, she did as I asked.
“We’ll be leaving in 10 minutes,” she said at the doorway.
I sat down on my bed and cried for exactly 4 minutes. Then, gave myself 5 minutes to clean up the mess I’d left on my face before going downstairs to meet mom and dad in the car.
Zoey’s funeral was the most God-awful thing I’d ever seen. I don’t know what my mom was thinking. There were these tacky, over-done flowers that Zoey would have hated. It was all lacey, and frills, and so feminine that I wanted to puke. It wasn’t the kind of look that suited Zoey; it was a caricature of femininity.
I sat with my parents in the front pew for a long time, listening to my mom sob, and being too numb and angry to cry in that moment. Our pastor talked about the tragedy of when a young life is taken from this Earth…especially one as bright and wonderful as Zoey’s. He wen’t on to talk about how the tragedy was multiplied when the young life was taken, “by her own hands,” and I excused myself to go sit in the bathroom until he was done.
When the deep tone of his mumbles could no longer be heard from the bathroom, I made my way out and back to the sanctuary. An ironic name for something that was providing me nothing close to refuge or safety. In that moment, that damn sanctuary was everything on this Earth that I hated, and I hated myself for it. This wasn’t supposed to be about me, but I could not stop thinking about how miserable I felt without her. And why shouldn’t I think of me? She thought of her and only her when she’d decided to take a bunch of pills and end her life. She certainly hadn’t thought about me then, so why did I want to think about her now?
I could feel my ears burning red as I open the door to the inside of the sanctuary. As I walked down the aisle, though, I saw the picture of her up front, and my anger toward her softened a bit: like it always did when I saw her smiling face.
One of Zoey’s classmates was speaking then. Presumably because I hadn’t been in the room. She gave me a sad smile as she finished her speech about Zoey’s “amazing laugh,” and gestured for me to come up. I walked up the three small steps, still having no idea what I could say about my sister that would be right: what I could say without letting all of my anger at her leak through. The world didn’t have to know that I hated my best friend. That would remain between the two of us.
Zoey’s friend, I think her name was Kayla, hugged me tightly as we traded places in front of the room full of people. “I’m so sorry, Amy,” she said into my ear, “she loved you so so much,” she added before letting me go.
Yeah. I thought. So much it killed her.
“My sister was great,” I said to open.
In the moment after that phrase escaped my lips, I decided to go with a speech that wasn’t a lie, but that also didn’t tell everyone gathered that day how much I wanted to reach inside of Zoey’s coffin and punch her in her face. Her overly made-up face with the hair that was all wrong, and the body with the outfit that she hated. It was like no one knew her but me. And come to find out, I hadn’t known her either.
I pulled myself out of my own thoughts and cleared my throat. I tried to start over.
“I don’t know how what life is going to look like without her,” I said, pausing to suck in a breath. “Every image I’ve ever drawn in my mind about my future had my sister in it. Even the things—the thoughts that should be about me have her in them. Thoughts like, the day I get proposed to…makes me think of what it will be like to tell her. What it would have been like to tell her, I guess,” I was looking down. I couldn’t bring myself to say these stupid things while making eye contact with the room full of people.
“ The happiest thoughts about days like college graduation, or getting my dream job…my wedding day…even the day I become a mom…they are all flooded with images of my sister, and how she was supposed to be right there by my side. It makes me miss her now, and it makes me dread these things. I dread them for fear of how her absence will forever tint them with sadness. Zoey made my life amazing while she was alive. Sadly, it’s for that reason that my life will be ruined by her death.”
I stopped myself then. I had no idea what I was saying, or what sense, if any, I was making. It was time to quit. I shook my head, and stepped down from the podium without another word. I went and sat next to my mom, and for the first time since Zoey’s death, I let her hold me for a long time while I cried.
I don’t remember anything that anyone said that day. I get the jist of it though. They loved her, they will miss her, and they are thankful she is in a better place. “Better place,” is their wording. Not mine. I don’t know where the hell my sister is. I just know it’s not here, and I can’t imagine that there is a place better than the place that made her so happy for so many years…with the person she claimed to be your best friend.
The rest of the week was just a blur. I spent a lot of time in my room. When I wasn’t in there, I was out going for walks. It was about three days after the funeral that I ran into the tall kid next door. He was outside messing with a bike when I walked past him.
“Hey!” he said.
“Hi,” I said and kept walking.
I heard footsteps behind me. Actually, I heard foot STEP because giants don’t have to take as many steps to keep up with the little people. “I’m Jack,” he said, holding out a greasy hand.
“Amy,” I said, holding my hand up in a way that must have looked like I was taking an oath.
He furrowed his brow before he examined his hand. “Oh,” he said. “Yeah, sorry,” he said, wiping his hand on his jeans.
I reached out and shook it.