This blog needs a break. I need a break. But I still like the idea of writing 1000+ new words three times a week, or at least 3000 words a week. I believe in being paid for my writing, but I also believe in giving much of it away.  

Beginning today, I’d like to give my loyal blog readers a novel I finished and self-published a couple of years ago. One way to get it is via amazon. But now, here’s another: three chapters every other day (not including Sunday) for the next three weeks. 

I believe in this book. I think it’s even an important book. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it finishing it. I’ll see you guys back here in three weeks. 

riley tyler

1

CASEY SCRAMBLE

 

I’m not a good girl. I’m not a bad girl. I’m just a girl.

All I ever wanted was to be normal. Not smart. But not stupid. Not talented. But not a doofus either. Not beautiful, not ugly. You see, normal has long been a worthwhile aspiration to me. No, not because I’m a vampire or werewolf or wizard or zombie or some other made-up thing from the end of the alphabet. No, it’s because of my sister, and what happened to her in the very real world.

Because of her, I desperately wanted to be normal. Not a bully, but not bullied. Not popular, not unpopular either. Turns out the last one was where I ran into trouble. At my high school, there wasn’t really any in-between, and that’s why I tried to be popular. It worked and then it didn’t but…not in the usual way. I’m pretty sure you’ve never heard about two weeks like the ones I’m about to describe.

I’ll start with the day Casey Campbell died. Our high school had one of those standard-issue enormous beige facades, with 30 room-width windows – ten across and three high – and a big ornate entrance with the words KIRKSVILLE HIGH SCHOOL carved into the stone above the double doors. Three steps led from the entrance onto a concrete walkway set between two grass lawns. That morning, on the bus, I had read wild rumors on twitter. So when I arrived at the entrance right before first period, I looked for a stain. Or bone fragments or eyeball juice or whatever, you know, evidence of what happened. Nothing. It was like the whole thing had never occurred. WTF? I mean, don’t they usually rope off a crime scene while the CSI team or whoever gathers, like, their intel?

I stared at the concrete where her body must have splatted. Now, I know that when I drop an M&M the thing can fly ten feet across the floor; so how much does a body splatter from, let’s say, fifty feet up? I mean, where were the bloody intestines? I literally couldn’t see a red drop anywhere. And also: whoever this school cleaning crew is, when can they get to work on the bathroom graffiti?

My phone beeped. It was a Samsung Galaxy in a pink-purple case and it rocked. One of my friends – Hayley – had tweeted: “Entrance wiped clean. School is better at erasing than explaining – again.”

Our school doesn’t want our widdle minds to be traumatized. Well, too bad, school. We got traumatized anyway. Okay, fine, I did. How the heck was I not supposed to think about it? You might as well say, hey quick, don’t think of pink elephants.

That first day sucked. Not because Casey died. Okay, not directly. More like because our stupid teachers couldn’t shut up about it. Fine, that’s not right either. If the teachers had just droned on and on, that might have been tolerable, I could have just tuned them out like when they try to guilt us about the environment or whatever.

Instead it was like, “Share your feelings.” And when no one spoke, it was like “Come on, share.” I’m thinking, if I’m gonna share, it isn’t gonna be with you or anyone in this class!

I’m talking about all of my classes, too. It started right away, the minute I got to first period. That was my English class with Mr. Studie, who has coal-black hair, glasses, and this big salt-and-pepper beard. In case you’re wondering, he pronounces his name just like “study,” although when someone asks, he goes “stud-ee” like you’re supposed to think he’s a stud. Good luck with that, Mr. Studie. Mr. Studie’s classroom was every English class you’ve ever seen in a movie (or real life), with posters of quotes by Mark Twain and Virginia Woolf and Malcolm X and all these other dead people.

Walking to my seat that day I couldn’t help but notice people’s popped eyes and conspiratorial whispers, like some teacher had just been accused of pedophilia or something. Now, normally, the school announcements that precede first period are like the Charlie Brown adults, right: “Wah-wah-wah-WAH-wah.” If they want us to listen to breaking bulletins about jazz band tryouts and cooking club competitions, why don’t they text us, like every other sentient mortal?

Or, as it happens, pronounce someone dead. “Staff and students of Kirksville High School, we must inform you of some very tragic news. One of your fellow students passed away suddenly this morning.” For like the first time, everyone in Mr. Studie’s class shut the hell up and the air was as frozen as an ice pond. “Her name was Casey Campbell.” This was followed by scattered gasps. “She was a senior, two weeks away from graduation. She was planning to attend Barnard University. She played well for the debate team and rose to become the editor of the yearbook.” At this point I thought, wow, they go right to your extracurriculars. Maybe I ought to start doing one of those. “She was a confident, intelligent, beautiful, delightful young woman, full of hope and promise.” Now I thought, stop stalling and tell us exactly how she died.

“We know you’re going to find this out soon enough, and after much discussion we have decided that it may as well be from us. Around midnight last night, she…jumped off of the main building and plunged to the concrete front walkway. She died instantly. We believe it was a suicide. We encourage all teachers to suspend today’s lessons and allow time and space for grieving and respectful discussion. Finally, as a tribute to Casey, we’re going to play a song by one of her favorite musicians.” And I’ll be damned if they didn’t play Bryan Adams’ “Heaven.” “Ohhh, thinking about our younger years.” I couldn’t believe it, actually. It was so wrong, it went around the world being wrong and almost came back looking right.

Now, what do you think we did while stupid Bryan Adams sang “Baby you’re all I want, when you’re lying here in my arms”? Listen respectfully? Of course not. Everyone went to their phones to google “Casey Campbell blog suicide.” Okay, fine, that’s at least what me and my friends did. Hayley, Susie, Leslie and Veronica – my four closest friends – and I tried to have at least one class together every semester. That spring, it was English.

If you’re an adult, and you’re like most adults I’ve met, you probably don’t really understand us teenagers’ relationship to life online. Like, you can try to protect us and whatever, but the truth is that the major websites are already so close to our lives that it would be like trying to protect us from our friends. Frankly those sites are our friends. Or at least a lot like them.

Hayley was my youtube. We grew up watching TV together and just letting it all hang out in our pajamas eating cereal and talking trash about whatever show we watched. If you’re still this hypothetical adult, you may not realize that us high-schoolers are on youtube all the time. Part of it is music, sure, but it’s also more of a window into human behavior than any other site, because of content and comments, neither of which are very well-regulated. Hayley was my youtube because we could say anything to each other. The day of Casey’s death she was wearing a beige shirt and brown pants that looked good on her brown hair. She was really pretty in a Mexican way – we both have that heritage, but she got the beauty part for sure.

Susie was my smart friend and thus my wikipedia. I know we’re not supposed to rely on wikipedia for scholarship, but trust me, we all do. I probably shouldn’t rely on Susie either – she’s probably been wrong once or twice – but I’d rather quote her and get it wrong than try to figure it out myself. It’s not like I couldn’t tell her what I tell Hayley, but that I’m more careful not to sound stupid around her. Kinda like wikipedia. Susie had light, long blonde hair but always kept it in a ponytail and always dressed so as not to show her body – just as she did that day.

Leslie was my instagram/pinterest, cause she’s nice, but also really disorganized. I like Leslie but she kinda faded into the background a lot. I think she was wearing a shirt and shorts that day – but who can remember?

Veronica was facebook. In my humble heterosexual opinion, she wasn’t really that hot, but she was somehow in with the whole Kamran-centered popular clique of seniors. She was just another girl before we got to high school, but afterward it was like she knew the world or something. I mean, yeah, she started dressing in nicer clothes, but really how the heck did she become so popular? I had no frakkin’ idea, but, recognizing her status, I did my best to be close to her, like for example by sitting next to her and chatting in the classes we shared. In high school it’s all about the social climbing. That day Veronica was rocking a Burberry ensemble with these really choice earrings and an eggshell-locket.

I have this other personal relationship to tell you about, one between me and God, that is not unlike my relationship between me and google. I’ll hit you with that one a little later, after you know me better.

Now, normally Mr. Studie freaked out when we got on our phones, but I guess the moment after the Casey Campbell announcement was an occasion for slack. Actually, he sorta looked shaken. That beard made it hard to tell when he’s emotional. I swear he used that to curl his lips inside his mouth so the lower half of his face looked like a bowl of mixed-fried rice and we couldn’t even tell what he thought of whatever kid’s presentation. This was the first time I’d ever seen his shoulders shake even slightly.

Around stupid Bryan Adams’ second verse I remembered that Mr. Studie was the staff supervisor of the yearbook. Not sure how it works or worked at your school, but at ours, the yearbook is put together by students. As the staff supervisor, Mr. Studie sometimes told our class – all sophomores – that our “best and brightest” were welcome to apply to work on the yearbook. The principal had just said that Casey Campbell was the thing’s editor, so I guess Mr. Studie must have thought she was somewhat “best and bright.”

Later, I wished they had played stupid Bryan Adams’ greatest hits the whole day on the speaker. Because instead, as I already said, they told us to talk. Why they couldn’t have just sent us all home, I had no idea. The second that craptastic “Heaven” song finished, Mr. Studie stood up and said, “Everyone with a phone out, put it on your desk. Right now.”

Of course some random boy said, “Come on, Mr. Studie, you gonna do that today?”

Mr. Studie started toward the back of the class. “You all heard me. Right now.” Knowing him, I knew it was better to just put my phone on my desk than try to quickly stuff it in my pocket. Somehow, even after an entire semester, some kids failed to understand that. One of them happened to be Hayley. “You guys think you’re so slick, don’t you? Like you, Hayley?” As quick as Hayley put it in her purse, Mr. Studie yanked it right out. Serves her right for having a lot of fake bling on her case cover.

“Hey, that’s private property,” Hayley said. “I’m telling the principal.”

“Good luck with that,” Mr. Studie answered. “Anyone ever tell you that you talk too much?”

“You said,” Hayley replied, “That these other students don’t talk enough.”

“That’s true, but I heard you whispering ‘suicide note’ to everyone around you. So I’m guessing it’s up on your phone by now.” Modest laughter while Mr. Studie returned to the front and looked over Hayley’s Droid. “Yeah, it’s here. Raise your hand, everyone, if you’ve already read it.” No one raised their hand. “Oh come on, I’m not going to punish you for this.” A few hands went up. By then I’d read like a paragraph. I half hoisted up my hand like I was shaking off sand.

“Read it! Read it!” a couple of annoying kids said.

Mr. Studie sighed. “You may as well do it now, while I know you have a good teacher to talk to.” Yeah, whatever, Mr. Studie. I mean, he’s fine, but like I said, with that anime-character face you can never tell what he’s thinking. “Who wants to read it aloud?” Silence like a graveyard.

Veronica, sitting right next to me, said, “Did you really think anyone was gonna say ‘Oh, I do, I do!’”

Mr. Studie said, “We already read Sylvia Plath aloud.” Sylvia schmylvia, I thought. She didn’t go to our school.

“You read it, Mr. Studie,” said some boy. Mr. Studie did his inscrutable thing. Thanks, Studie, for teaching me the word “inscrutable.” And for demonstrating it every frakkin’ day.

Oh by the way I was saying “frak” since way before I ever saw Battlestar Galactica. Cause my mom is office manager of an excavation company where they frak, you know. It’s what they call hydraulic fracturing. Frakkin-frak, they say. To this day, I can barely hear my algebra teacher discuss “fractions” without cracking up. Moving on.

“I’ll read it,” Hayley stood up and walked to the front. “And get Mr. Studie’s grubby paws off my phone.” More chuckles while Hayley made a show of snatching her phone back from Mr. Studie. She looked at us and then back at the screen. She cleared her throat. “‘I feel so stupid. I’m trapped in England without my passport or credit cards. If you can please to make wire…’”

“Hayley,” Mr. Studie said sternly over some very perfunctory laughter.

“I was just joking, Mr. Studie. Ahem. ‘I feel so…crazy. I know you’re all gonna read this, I know you’ll finally pay attention to me, and I know that I had to die just to make that happen. So what should I say?’

“‘Let me tell you what I learned making the yearbook. No matter what anyone tells you, high school is a vicious, venal place with two kinds of people: villains and victims. You get to choose to be the bully or the one that gets bullied. There’s no third option. I thought different, and I was wrong.’” Mr. Studie knew when he grabbed Hayley’s phone that she’d come up front. It was just her way, and because she has a sort of beautiful Latina face, like Sofia Vergara, she gets the class to pay attention.

Hayley went on, “‘I know Hollywood stars say it gets better. But they also say that Hollywood is like high school with money. So who’s right? I feel like this school is just a microcosm of what we’re gonna deal with in the real world. And I can’t deal with that. I know I put up a good front. I know this is gonna surprise those of you that know me. I know my parents are gonna freak. But…I’ve been living with pain for a long time. And I can’t live with it anymore.’” Whatever, Casey. At that point I was thinking that she took the coward’s way out.

“‘Maybe I could have handled it better, if not for these goddamn…’” Hayley looked at Mr. Studie. Mr. Studie waved his hand, as though to say don’t worry about the profanity. Hayley continued, “‘…these goddamn cyber-bullies. It was bad ever since Miley but…” A few heads in the class turned to me. Oh no, don’t you dare, I thought. I turned my eyes into the eyes of a statue trained on Hayley. “…when they found out I was doing a tribute to Miley in the yearbook, somehow that became license to rip me to shreds every single day. I mean, I really don’t get it. What I wear, what I eat, who I sleep with…words can hurt, they really can. I know they got off easy with Miley. Maybe that’ll change if I die. Maybe that way my death could actually mean something. Cause I know my life never will.’” Hayley stopped and turned to Mr. Studie. “Should I read the comments?”

“Uh, no, thanks.”

“Should I read the previous post?”

“That’ll do for now, Hayley. Sit down.” She went back to her seat next to me and Veronica. “Okay, anyone want to say anything? Anything at all? There are no wrong feelings here.” My friend Susie rolled her eyes at that one. Couldn’t agree more.

“That class is cursed,” some Asian girl finally said.

“What do you mean?” replied Mr. Studie in his lamest this-is-what-a-therapist-would-say style.

“Why should I expand on that?” the Asian girl said. “It’s obvious. It’s not normal for a class to have two dead people.”

“One is missing, not dead,” Mr. Studie said, and of course now half the frakkin’ class turned their heads to me. I wanted to scream. Okay, fine, I really wanted to read the rest of Casey’s stupid blog and see what else she wrote about my missing sister, Miley.

“Mr. Studie,” I said, “Can I be excused?”

“I’m afraid not, Riley.”

“I’m not gonna talk. About anything.”

“I understand.” No you don’t, inscrutable Mr. Studie. And you never will.

Deep down, I was curious about Casey’s stupid blog. I wanted to know what else she had written about Miley, my missing sister. I mean, who knew if there was something on there that made me look like an idiot? But Mr. Studie didn’t need to know that I wanted that. And he certainly didn’t need to know that even deeper down, I really did miss my sister and I would have killed to find out what happened to her. He couldn’t know that because after two years, I barely even let myself think those thoughts anymore.

The rest of that day sucked. I hate it when kids pay me any extra attention. On the other hand, teachers paid me extra respect, by which I mean they didn’t make me talk that day. I was reprimanded just once, when I giggled after someone said “Casey scramble.”

The problem was that the stupid insta-group-therapy conversations inevitably came back to cyber-bullying, so I had to listen to a bunch of 15- and 16-year-old know-it-alls “express their feelings” about what should and shouldn’t be allowed on facebook and twitter and tumblr and blogs and like that. Worse, we had to keep going back to discussing these certain kids who cyber-bullied my sister two years ago and were now being accused of bullying Casey Campbell to death. At one point some kid suggested that Casey read too much Twilight and thought she was a flying vampire. God bless that kid, but the stupid teacher shut him up immediately.

At lunch, I saw what must have been Casey’s locker, where some people had already begun leaving flowers. I kept right on walking. When I got to the entrance, I saw half the school looking for a stain. I looked up at the top of the building. I couldn’t get the image out of my mind: Casey Campbell, her long blonde hair flapping in the breeze, falling fifty feet to the stupid cement.

What does a person think in that final moment? “I wish I’d eaten more chocolate”? Or “Now I get to find out what happens after”? Or maybe “nooooooooooooooo”?

Or “Will I have died for nothing?”

 

2

“I FEEL” STATEMENTS

 

Gymnastics class was held in the school basketball court, right on the court in front of the bleachers. They pulled out rings and a rope from the ceiling, and rolled out the mats, horse, parallel bars, and uneven bars all on one side of the court, so that the other side could be used for kids to shoot hoops. My gym class was during my eighth and final period, and it was the one class I looked forward to every day. One reason was it was the only class where I wasn’t stuck with all sophomores. Students had to fulfill P.E. requirements at some point, but they could request to put them off, and a lot of kids did, to give themselves a cushier schedule for senior year. Gym was where I got to see senior boys work up a sweat.

Now, I don’t want to sound like I didn’t like my sophomore classmates or something. Some of my best friends were my classmates, like Hayley and Susie. On the other hand, a lot of the girls in my year were kinda bitchy and all Gossip Girl about their “friends” the second they leave the room. You’re probably thinking I must be like them. But hey, at least I recognized that, wanted to get away from it, and tried to know seniors.

It’s not like I needed that good of a reason. Every sophomore girl in America wants, or should want, to know some seniors. They throw the best parties, they sometimes have unrestricted driver’s licenses, and they’re tired of the girls they know and want to see which hot girls are coming up. Now, let me be clear, I’m not calling myself hot. I’m just skinny and I don’t have a terrible face, and I’ve noticed that just those two aspects go a long way.

The day Casey Campbell died, I knew I would get extra attention in P.E. Instead of playing the victim, I seized the moment and wore the shortest shorts in my gym locker, I’m talking Hooters-waitress short. If people have to stare at me, well then feast your eyes on these legs, boys. Sure enough, as I strolled onto the court, several cute senior boys gave me big horny smiles. I walked over to the bleachers, sat down, and tried not to show how much I loved their sheepish grins.

Maybe you’re thinking, didn’t she just say she doesn’t want extra attention? What I don’t want is “Hey aren’t you the sister of that missing girl?” It doesn’t help that our parents gave us names that rhyme. My dad, James Tyler, once told my mom that he was descended from the 10th President, John Tyler. Notice how normal names prevailed for centuries all the way from “John” to “James.” But me and my sister had to be born in the 1990s, so for the first generation ever it sounded cute to name us “Miley” and “Riley.” For frak’s sake.

It just so happened that I had gym class with one of the seniors who cyber-bullied my sister before I ever got to Kirksville High School. Less coincidentally, he happened to be seriously hawt. I say that’s uncoincidental because here at Kirksville High, popularity and looks kinda go hand-in-hand. Kamran’s features were like granite and his eyes were like brown pools carved into the granite. Kamran was pronounced “Cameron”; I think he was part-Iranian or something, which only made him hotter.

Our gym teacher was this heavy-set woman named Ms. Rodriguez. As a professional who worked on bodies, you might have thought that at some point she would have realized that loose sweats would look better on her than the tight T-shirts and tight spandex pants she rocked. You might also have thought that she could have skipped the whole “How do you feel?” thing on the day Casey Campbell died. For one thing, it was the end of the day and presumably we all already got our feelings out. For a second thing, it’s gym class, I mean come on. Don’t we need physical stimulation even more than usual? For a third thing, hello, me and Kamran are here. How about respecting our privacy and not turning us into the center of attention?

But no. Another stupid touchy-feely session. That killed my good mood immediately. I tried not to make eye contact with Kamran, or anyone else for that matter. We were all sitting on the bleachers, so I sort of hid my face behind my knees. Some chunky girl was talking about how she related to so many things that Casey wrote on her blog…

“The blog is bullshit,” one boy interrupted. Almost an entire semester had gone by and I’d barely registered this brown-haired white guy. He actually was a little cute, but he wore T-shirts with stupid phrases every day, kinda like the hats on that guy on 30 Rock. Today his shirt said “I LOVE YOU CASEY”. I tried to remember his name: Austin? Auden? Allan?

“Thank you, Anton,” said Ms. Rodriguez, “But I would like you to be more respectful of your fellow students.”

“The blog is bullshit,” he said again. “Casey didn’t write a word of it.” People were laughing like he was Kevin Hart. I didn’t see what was so funny.

“And how would you know that?” Ms. Rodriguez of course said.

“Cause I’m her boyfriend. I’m Anton.” The fact that people stopped laughing told me that everyone had read the blog at some point that day. I skimmed it and also remembered her talking about Anton. Plus, her facebook page said she was in a relationship with him.

Ms. Rodriguez goes, “You must be going through so many difficult emotions right now.” What, did all the teachers get stupid sensitivity training after my sister went missing? “Would you care to share any of them with us?”

“I just did. The blog is bullshit. And Casey hated Bryan Adams.”

“Try beginning statements with ‘I feel.’”

I feel the blog is bullshit. I feel someone else made it up. I also feel that her facebook page was hacked to make it look like she was cyber-bullied. I feel that’s all part of a smokescreen.”

“Why would anyone do any of that?”

I feel Casey didn’t jump. I feel she was pushed.” Gasps and guffaws in equal measure.

“You can stop with the ‘I feel’s now.”

“You don’t commit suicide from fifty feet up, because you’re more likely to wind up paralyzed. And she wasn’t suicidal, not even a little.”

This girl who paints her eyes and lips black, even during gym class, said, “In my last class, someone said she could have fallen accidentally. She could have been taking pictures for the yearbook.”

Anton scoffed, “With what camera?”

Raccoon-face answered, “Well, didn’t she have her cell phone?”

Anton sputtered, “You don’t go to the roof to take yearbook pictures at night with a cell phone. Besides, the yearbook is done. She already sent the final draft to the printing company.”

The goth girl went, “That doesn’t mean she wasn’t up there just enjoying the scenery and then she slipped. Maybe she was on drugs.”

“Maybe you should shut up,” said Anton, to a chorus of oooooooo’s. “She doesn’t, she didn’t take drugs. She didn’t slip. She was murdered.” No one oooo’d. I guess they’d used them up the moment before.

Ms. Rodriguez said, “Have you told the police what you believe, Anton?”

“I’ve told the police a lot of things today.”

The chunky girl who Anton interrupted said, “Like who you suspect?”

Now everyone looked at Kamran, and some of them back at me. Ms. Rodriguez loudly cleared her throat. “I think that’s enough for today’s class discussion. You are not excused, but you have free time on the equipment.”

Half the students jumped off those bleachers like their butts were on fire. Like them, I wanted to get away from any more Casey Campbell chatter, but unlike them I wanted to wait to slink into the corner where no one could approach me.

Ms. Rodriguez made a beeline for Anton. Unfortunately, Anton made a beeline for me. His body language would have been almost threatening if his posture wasn’t so nerdy.

“Riley, is it?” he said. “I want to talk to you.”

“I don’t want to talk to you,” I said, rising, moving away from him. I checked over my shoulder to make sure he wasn’t looking at my butt.

“Leave her alone,” Ms. Rodriguez said, thank God.

Anton said matter-of-factly, “Casey was killed because she learned what happened to your sister.”

I turned around and chose not to lower my voice. “I don’t care about what happened to my sister!” That wasn’t the whole truth, but it was enough for now: Anton and Ms. Rodriguez both looked like they’d been slapped with a fish.

They probably wanted to say, “How could you not care?” But they haven’t been me for the last two years. They haven’t endured letdown after letdown, false trail after false trail, heartbreak after heartbreak. Also, all this Miley-drama doesn’t exactly help me get a life of my own.

I walked up to Kamran. He was hanging with some of the other jock boys, waiting on his turn on the rings. I hoped he’d heard me just then. “Hey, Kamran?”

“Yeah?” Kamran said.

“Party at Scott’s this weekend still happening? I mean, after all this…you know…”

“We’re not cancelling,” he said.

“Great,” I said. There was, as my algebra teacher would say, an inverse relationship between greatness of party and time remaining in the school year. “And is it still cool…I mean…uh…what I’m asking is…”

Kamran smiled and it was like a ballpark put on the flood lights. “I’m hoping you’re still coming, Riley.”

“Yeah. Yeah, of course I am,” I said lamely. Dorkus maximus. I had to go to the uneven bars just to have something else to do. Also, I’m good at the uneven bars. Must come from those years of hanging from playground equipment by the back of my knees.

Do I sound like I’m stalling? Okay, okay…you must be thinking, what is she doing all hot for the guy who bullied her sister? I don’t normally talk to anyone about this but I guess I have to tell you. First, I assure you I wasn’t playing him or anything like that. Second, my sister and I are very different people. We used to joke that she was 20th century and I was 21st. Like she was all righteously quoting Dr. King that people “should be judged by the content of their character” and all that. I mean, I agree, but she used that as an excuse for why she didn’t have to look good. And she looked awful. Besides that, she’s the one who foisted her beliefs on other people.

Look, if I find out that one of these guys physically hurt her, that’s something else. But for all I know, she escaped to Mexico to help the Chiapas rebels or some shit like that. And I sorta have a different view of cyber-bullying than you might expect. The truth is that I have a rather high standard for something to qualify as real bullying.

Besides, Kamran Levi was hotter than the surface of the sun.

On the uneven bars, I started wondering what exact bullying phrases had been found on Casey Campbell’s facebook page. I bet that T-shirt genius Anton could show me, as part of his effort to convince me that someone had hacked it. No thanks. If I was lucky, this whole storm would blow over and I could spend the summer chilling near all the pools in northern Missouri that were in the general vicinity of Kamran.

Yeah, you guessed right. There wouldn’t be a book if I had gotten that lucky.

 

3

MOM’S THEORIES

 

Mid-gym class, my phone made a robin-chirp noise, meaning a text from my Mom. She notified me that she would be picking me up. I sighed; that meant she’d heard about Casey Campbell. That meant drama. Ughhhh. Perhaps I should explain.

Miley went missing on a Wednesday in May two years ago. She was last seen walking through this little forest between the town and our suburb that’s technically called the Owachahapi Glade, but ever since that one episode of The Sopranos, everyone calls it the Pine Barrens. My Mom didn’t let us walk through the Pine Barrens alone until we were in high school. Even then, Miley had to either reach someone on the phone and chat with them all the way through the Barrens, or activate the video-camera function of the phone while she walked. Mom’s theory was that if something happened, we would at least have a record of the mugger’s voice for the police. Many times in the last two years, Mom has lamented the fact that the video can’t provide a direct feed to a distant computer.

It’s weird even to think of Miley outside, because she spent so much of her life indoors glued to her computer. When I’m online I’m usually on my phone, but Miley loved doing the kind of research that isn’t easily done from a phone. Early in her sophomore year, doing her usual exhaustive digging, she learned that our second-string quarterback, a then-senior named Scott Fassbinder, was cyber-bullying people from fake and anonymous online accounts. The school couldn’t touch him because he used untraceable URLs and sources, probably because he’d hired a computer whiz. Scott got his teammate Kamran and Scott’s then-girlfriend, a sophomore named Jessica Chabot, to shoot “thunderbolts from their anonymous Olympus” in Miley’s words. So Miley created this site called ihatebullies.com dedicated to naming and shaming, posting their comments, gathering victim’s stories, whatever. Basically a huge pity party, as I liked to call it. More on that in a sec.

On that one Wednesday, Miley apparently got into a physical scuffle with Kamran Levi and Scott Fassbinder over her anti-bullying website. After that, she disappeared. The reason we know about Scott and Kamran is that the police found the DNA from their hairs, and Miley’s hairs, at the scene. Of course they were the lead suspects in the case. But no conclusive connection was ever established or whatever. And the police never found Miley’s phone. Presumably the kidnappers or whoever were, like, smart enough to destroy it.

Okay, I don’t know how much you’ve loved me up until now, but here’s where you’re really gonna hate me. If you google, you’ll see that half the sites like ihatebullies – my Mom still keeps up my sister’s site – are filled with comments like “two girls who used to be my friends are swearing at me and calling me names.” Everyone’s saying that someone was their friend or lover and then the bad ol’ putty-tat turned on them. When I read that I’m like, boo hoo. It’s hard not to notice that a lot of times, the “victim” won’t even post the supposedly offensive comments. Check out MTV’s official anti-cyber-bullying site athinline.org if you don’t believe me. Everything is like, oh, they started to call me names, but nobody actually shows you the offensive commentary in question. Gee, I wonder why? Could it be that once people see what’s so harmful to fragile little old you, they’ll be like, oh, that’s what this girl considers bullying?

When I do see “harmful comments,” they just look silly. People get called ugly, or chunky, or stupid. Or like “you don’t deserve to live.” Hasn’t this been happening since, like, the dawn of time? Sometimes they’re a good laugh, like: “I’m not saying she’s a pig, but her Jewish boyfriend’s rabbi said he wasn’t allowed to eat her out.” Or: “Your face looks like a pile of shit with a footprint in it.” Or: “You’re so fat, your boyfriend has to roll you over in flour to find the wet spot.” Or if someone says something stupid in class, someone else tweets it to show how dumb that person is. Or people post naked pictures and pretend they belong to someone they hate. Or creepy adults go trolling for jailbait. And then someone comments “I know, right?” and gets blamed as well. Here’s what I think of all that: big frakkin’ deal. I have a word for a lot of what people call “cyber-bullying”: it’s called “life.” Deal with it and get over it, you know?

I make a slight exception for gay people who don’t want to be out of the closet. Like, they have a right to keep that secret. But even then, most teenagers I know use “gay” for, like, everything, so a comment that says “you know how I know you’re gay?” isn’t exactly proof of cyber-bullying. Plus if you are gay, how is it an insult to call you that? Waters are a trifle muddy on this one. But okay, fine, obvious out-ing isn’t cool.

Generally, though, it would be nice to believe that the internet has given, or could give, my generation a tougher skin. I mean, let these idiots have their rope, they’re only gonna hang themselves out to ridicule. The counselors say not to say it if you wouldn’t say it in person. My attitude is, I’m glad some people are stupid enough to put it online where we can permanently laugh about it! And the “victims” only make themselves look like they eat every meal with whine and cheese. I mean, words hurt, Casey? Really? You ever heard of getting over it? How about these words: the only one who can define you is you. I mean, I read everything that these guys wrote to my sister, and yeah, they made a lot of cruel jokes, but so the frak what?

So here’s the thing: Mom doesn’t quite see eye to eye with me on these issues. I should probably tell you that my parents are divorced; my dad travels with a band called the Ungrateful Deadbeats, she said sarcastically. Since I was five, me and Mom and Miley have been our own little ya-ya sisterhood, she said equally sarcastically. Now without the sarcasm: Mom is not the same as before Miley went missing, two years ago. You can hardly blame her. We even moved into a one-bedroom house just so she could offer a real reward for Miley: $50,000, or $100,000 if she’s alive. Mom traded her bed for a couch in the family room. She even sold her sweet-ass SUV for this ancient Toyota Corolla. I thought all of that was a little crazy. None of it helped.

Now Mom is part of some online community called “familias de los desaparacidos dot com” or whatever. I know it sounds Spanish but that’s just the name. I won’t join. I noticed that instead of relief, Mom’s burden has increased: she now has to look for everyone else’s missing relatives, too.

After Miley’s disappearance, Mom became majorly over-protective of me, her only other spawn. I am absolutely required to answer any text at any time, which is a double-edged sword. Mom can annoy, but it’s also nice that my teachers have been told to make an exception for my texts, which I use for friends way more than they realize.

Anyway, Mom remembered the drill and met me two blocks away from school. Can’t have other students seeing her aging hoopdy-mobile, right?

I climbed into the ripped-up passenger seat. Mom hugged and kissed me. “How are you, honey?”

“I’m fine, Mom.” My Mom looked like…uh, a Mom. Y’know, old. Her eyes looked red that day, maybe from exhaustion, maybe from crying. I said, “Next time, a little farther from the Starbucks.” Picking me up in front of Starbucks kinda defeated the whole purpose of not having students see me – especially that day.

“Is there anything…”

“Mom, seriously, I’m totally fine. Yes, it’s very sad what happened.”

“She was such a nice girl. When we get home, you’re going to sign a card for her parents.”

“Sure.” We drove through town to the radio’s dulcet tones of 80s pop.

“Riley, did you…have any sense…”

“No, Mom, none.”

Mom gripped the steering wheel tensely. “Well, they say 25% of suicides show no signs.”

“Uh-huh.” I frakkin’ knew what was coming.

She went, “But you know…don’t you think it’s strange that she was working on that thing about Miley, and then this happened?” Yep, big surprise.

I said, “Not really.”

“She was asking a lot of questions. Of me and of you.”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“And of the people that…we faced in court.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“It seemed like less of a yearbook tribute, and more of an investigation, don’t you think?”

“I don’t know. I just answered her questions.” The thing was, I knew Mom would freak if she heard what Anton had said less than an hour before. We had chased about a hundred leads, each ending in anguish and frustration. I did not feel like chasing down another one.

“Did you friend Casey on facebook?”

“No.”

“Well, I did.” Oh, great. I guess it made sense that Casey would have sent Mom a friend request, based on their mutual Miley obsession.

“And?”

“Aren’t you curious what’s written on her page?” Sure I was. But Mom was already down the rabbit hole again. She had more theories than my geometry book – and that’s saying something.

“Let me guess. A lot of paeans to her wonderfulness.”

“Before today.” I waited, winced. “It wasn’t just bullying,” Mom said. “It was a lot of the same exact phrases that were used against Miley.”

“By the same kids?”

“No, well, not really. Not the worst of it.”

We drove by our bank. Good to see the grey-bearded homeless guy who was always sitting there. Good to see anything outside this conversation with Mom. I realized Mom was looking at me. I said, “Uh, okay.”

“What do you mean, okay?”

“What do you want me to say, Mom?” She looked at me like I’d chewed up the living room sofa – uh, that would be her bed. “Mom, watch the road. I’ve spent the whole day sharing my stupid feelings.”

“They made you…?”

“No, they didn’t. Okay, fine, I didn’t.”

Now she was waiting. “Mom, of course there are gonna be moron copycats. Especially because Miley and Casey were friends.”

“Don’t say…” She trailed off because she realized I hadn’t actually broken her rule about putting Miley in the past tense. Casey was splattered in front of the school. That’s as past tense as it gets.

Sometimes my mom drove me insane over Miley. When that happened I tried to remember some of the ridiculous accusations that surfaced on the internet, and eventually in court proceedings. Like, Mom had done something herself to hurt Miley. Or that Miley had dressed so as to invite assault. Or that Miley was a runaway because she grew up in a home without a father. When people said that kind of crap, it made me one, furious, and two, very protective of Mom. I know for a fact she didn’t do anything wrong. And a single-parent family is better than a shouting-parent family. So back off my mom, cyber-assholes.

I said, “So, what’s for dinner?”

“Riley, the hostility very clearly ramped up in the last few months. How could that not be because Casey was digging? What if she found something that the bullies don’t want us to know?”

I wanted to say, yeah Mom, conspiracies explain everything. Instead I said, “What if she took that something to the grave?”

“What if she didn’t?”

“Do you have an idea?”

“No, do you?”

“No,” I lied. I mean, come on, Anton hardly counted as an idea. He hardly counted as a person.

“Well, keep looking. You see things I can’t, you go to school with all these kids…”

“Only for two more weeks.” I meant that I’d be free of Miley-o-rama in two weeks. But the second I said it I realized how Mom would take it.

“Yes! You may only have two more weeks to learn the truth. Forget about your finals. Find your sister.”

Frakkin’ frak. I had nothing to gain and everything to lose if we let this Casey Campbell thing reopen the Miley wounds. Well, okay, fine, unless we could actually find Miley. I sorta stopped hoping for that.

Our old house had a lot of room but all these random things wrong with it. Our new house was one of these tract homes that hadn’t sold so well since the recession; Mom got it for a song. Isn’t it weird how much amount of bedrooms affect prices? I moved right into the master (and only real) bedroom, which looked even bigger with my single bed. Here was one great aspect of the missing-Miley era. Not so great was the house’s small office that Mom set up to look almost exactly like Miley’s room was in the old house. I never went in there; the whole thing was just too bizarre.

The rest of the house looked like every other house does: off-white stucco walls, brown trim, big oak front door, hall to the rooms, kitchen with counter opening to family room, sliding-glass door from the family room to the backyard, you know, normal. Understand that when I say normal, it’s a compliment.

After dinner, Mom jumped on facebook like a 13-year-old boy going on a porno site. I flipped channels on the TV for about an hour. It was like a generation reversal until I remembered that I hate TV unless it’s on youtube or hulu. I went to my room, turned on my laptop, put on headphones and cranked some music. No need to tell you every musician I like, but let’s say that evening it was a bit of Arcade Fire, White Stripes, and Jay-Z. I think I changed it up for Taylor Swift a couple of times. She goes better when you have two audios running at the same time. I checked out five or six humor sites until I just gave up resisting and checked facebook and twitter.

On my fb wall, several people had written “Thinking of you” or “Love you” – nice things. A couple of idiots had written “I want to jump off your face” and a few other dumb-ass remarks. The worst was maybe “I heard Casey was trying to hit (on?) you” from some boy that I’ve barely met.

I checked Veronica’s page, to see if she and Kamran had shared any convo in the last day or so. Nope. I knew a lot of sophomores, but Veronica was the only one who was facebook-friends with Kamran. Someday, I’d ask her how she managed that one. I hadn’t dared to friend-request him yet; maybe after this Friday’s party.

With all the drama, I had a bunch of friend requests from that day, including one from that dumb Anton. I blew by the new ones, looked back a few months, and saw that sure enough, Casey had sent me one. I guess it was back when she interviewed me for the yearbook. Okay, fine, now I was curious. I mean, come on, wouldn’t you want to see the facebook page of someone who just died that day?

So I accepted and spent a while looking at her page. She only had 36 facebook friends, which in my world was like only having patches of hair on one quadrant of your head. And yeah, most of the recent wall posts were nice. But she had a lot of comments on status updates in previous weeks that were, well, mean. Again I say unto thee: so what?

Right then, just as I was scrolling, a new post appeared on her wall from Anton. It said, “Please understand that many of the posts and comments on this page are faked. Someone is trying to cover their tracks.”

Then another post popped out. “Riley, would you please answer my friend request? Then I can IM you.”

Okay, that was freaky. Whatever, stalker.

New post on Casey’s wall: “Riley, I know you’re reading this right now. But do you know many other people are reading this page? Including police etc? I’m going to keep posting your name on it until you accept my friend request, then I’ll take down all these posts with your name.”

WHAT THE FRAK. I slammed my laptop shut.

Okay, fine, I knew that I hadn’t really dealt with the problem. Nor did I want to. I guessed I could watch Real Housewives. I opened my door to a shock: a real housewife.

Up in my face, Mom said, “Just accept his friend request!”

I tried to slam the door, but Mom stuck her foot in it. I made the tradition-hallowed “Uhhhnn!” sound of teen frustration, opened my laptop, and friend-accepted goddamn stupid Anton. Now Mom was hovering over me. Oh, delightful.

Anton did what he said he’d do – he removed his posts on Casey’s wall that had my name in them. Only then did he IM me. “i have to meet you tomorrow not in gym.”

I wrote back, “NO.”

Mom went, “That’s Casey’s boyfriend!”

I said, “So?”

His next IM said, “some people on your wall are kinda rude.”

I wrote back, “some people in life are kinda rude.”

My mom said, “Go to your wall.”

I asked, “Why?”

She grabbed the mouse and clicked on my name, somewhere on the page. As I said, rude. When my page popped up, Mom and I could both see that Anton had somehow erased the lamer comments, like the “Casey was trying to hit (on) you.”

“How did he do that?” Mom asked me. I shrugged.

He IM’d, “i have help, but they have better help…thats why we cant do this on im. meet me in front of cafeteria at noon tomorrow and will explain. ok?”

I wrote “ok” because any other behavior would have caused my Mom’s head to explode.

That night in bed, I thought about the one year of my life I had on facebook without Mom. I love her and she’s great but she’s also like Captain Ahab to Miley’s Moby-Dick. Uh, this is assuming Mr. Studie was right about Moby-Dick, cause I didn’t read it. I do however know that you have to be 13 to be on facebook. After Miley disappeared, shortly after I turned 14, part of the New Deal was that I had to friend Mom. One precious year without Mom on facebook. Zero precious high school years to date or hook up with boys in any real way.

As I fell asleep I thought, Miley, you better be dead, cause if you’re just missing, when I find you I’m gonna kill you.

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