Juliana had gotten comfortable again in her seat. "So, I guess I understand why Willa was in that poem, and why Liz was so upset during that interview. I still don't know why she wouldn't let me help her."
"Liz is very proud, she probably just thought you were making fun of her," Rose suggested.
"If Elizabeth and Willa were friends when they were kids, why did she remember you but not Liz?" Mia asked, resuming her pacing again.
Juliana shrugged. "I went on a trip to New York last summer. We bumped into each other while she was there shooting a commercial. She seemed excited to meet someone from her hometown. We didn't talk much, but I guess she still recognized me."
"Thank you for defending Liz," Mia told her. "But, you realize that doesn't get you out of the clear?"
Juliana sighed. "Yeah, I'm getting that."
"But I'm just as guilty as you, and Danielle, and everyone else I guess." She sat down slowly. No one spoke for a moment.
"Excuse me, may I speak?" They all looked across the room, the waiting room had been otherwise empty the last anyone had noticed.
"Willa Fay?" Mia said surprised. "How long have you been here?"
Willa sighed and joined them. "A while, I guess. I just wanted to get something off my chest, then I'll go." Everyone nodded for her to continue. "It isn't really my place to intrude, but I can't sit back and say nothing at all. I'm loosing my mind over here. I feel responsible for what happened. I was the one talking to her when it happened. I was the one who didn't recognize her. I don't know how I could have forgotten her."
She paced nervously back and forth. "We were neighbors, we spent hors playing make believe in her backyard. How could I have done this to her? I wanted to make something out of myself, but all I've done is get cast in supporting roles and ruin a girl's life. I'm still feeling sorry for myself, it never stops! My childhood friend tried to commit suicide!"
"Willa, please calm down," Rose said. She tried to offer her a seat. "We don't even know if this was an attempted-"
"Oh, like hell we don't," Willa said sharply. "It's at least highly probable she put herself here on purpose. Why else would there be so much anger, distrust, and dishonesty in this room?" She asked. The others glanced at each other. "Everyone's afraid to say what's on their mind. We put ourselves on trial, and everyone wants to be the judge. We've all decided who the guilty parties are. I'm probably the number one suspect. But, I'm putting an end to all this nonsense."
She walked in a circle. The others watched her closely. "It doesn't matter who's at fault here. Get that? I may not have recognized her until the very end, but I'm no guiltier than any of you. I'm sorry. I am so very sorry about everything, but this isn't about us. Arguing with each other isn't going to make her surgery go any faster. I want you to remember the girl we're supposed to be here supporting."
She paused and looked around at everyone. "I need to go back to my hotel room and clear my head for a while. I hope you can all open your eyes and see this ugly reality, just like I did. And I truly hope she survives, so we all get the opportunity to make things right. But, before we can do that, everyone here needs to be honest and take responsibility for his or her mistakes. We owe Elizabeth that much."
After Willa left, everyone sat in stunned silence for a moment. No one was quite sure where to begin. "So, what happens now?" Luke asked finally.
"I do see where Willa is coming from," Rose said cautiously. "But, I think it's hard to be honest without making everything about you. It's nice that you and Danielle came, Luke. Even if it did end badly." She sighed. "For a moment, I thought Danielle was finally ready to burry the past and start over. But, now I see that will never happen. Danielle will never change. But, the rest of us can. No more rumors, no more lies. We have to be honest. I don't want my last memory with Liz to be a bad one."
"Me either," Juliana said quietly.
"I guess everyone here talked to Elizabeth today," Luke said quietly. "I know what Danielle said sounded bad, but I really don't think she wanted Elizabeth to kill herself. If I had known about everything that had happened, when I talked to her-"
"Luke, what do you mean?" Rose asked. "You never mentioned anything about talking to Elizabeth today."
"There are probably a lot of things people left out." He sighed. "At the time, it didn't feel important, at least not to me. I'm starting to see that unimportant things really do have consequences."
Mia looked at him, waiting for him to go on. "Luke, please. I just want to understand what went through my sister's head these past few weeks."
"Honesty, right? Fine. But, I'm telling you, it wasn't important," he said. "We met up maybe an hour before the crash. I don't know. I wasn't exactly keeping track of time. I meant to talk to her earlier in the day, but she had word. I was actually surprised when she called and asked to meet up. She was upset, that much I could tell. We decided to head to the park downtown. She always liked going there."
Five Hours Ago
Luke leaned on the rail, overlooking the river below. It was a peaceful spot, the perfect place to clear your head. He checked his phone; there were four unread texts from Danielle. She was going to be pissed when he finally got back to her. Finally Elizabeth appeared up the sidewalk. He didn't have to see her face to know how stressed she was, her shoulders were tense.
When she got to the edge of the water, he hugged her tightly. After a moment she leaned back and kissed him. They stood there for a moment, just staring at the water. "Luke, I don't know what to do. Sometimes I think the world is against me."
He rubbed her arms reassuringly. "I doubt the world is against you. Calm down, everything is going to be okay. Tell me what's going on?"
She sighed and leaned into his chest. "There was this girl, I thought we were friends. At first she was so kind and understanding, but something changed. She started flirting with me. I wasn't interested because I'm in love-"
"Isn't it a little early for that?" He cautioned.
Elizabeth pulled back and looked up at him. "No, because it's true. I'm in love with you, Luke. I don't even have the words to describe how much I love you."
"You just got out of a relationship, Liz," he reminded her. "This is too much, don't you think?"
She frowned. "But I thought, when we hooked up…"
"Yeah, it was fun," he said. "But, we aren't right for each other."
"You mean I'm not right for you," she said coldly. "But Danielle is?"
He took a deep breath. "That's not what I meant."
The breeze whipped her hair around her face. "Oh really? Then tell me, when were you planning on breaking up with her? You promised me! You told me I was special! You said I mattered!"
Luke tried to put his hands on her arms, but she pulled away. "You do matter."
"No, shut up!" She wailed. "Just shut up!"
"Liz, everything was just getting out of hand. It's been six weeks? No one was supposed to find out about us."
"What's so bad about people know?" Elizabeth asked angrily. "Are you ashamed to be seen with me?"
"There were so many rumors," he said. "Rumors about Danielle, about us, about you being pregnant."
"You act like that's a bad thing," she said. "I thought you'd be more excited."
His face went pale. "Don't tell me your pregnant."
"You told me I had nothing to worry about," she reminded him. "You said it would all be okay."
"You can't blame this all on me," he said, backing away. Elizabeth slapped him. They both stood there stunned, neither one really believing that she'd had it in her. "You're crazy! It's true, you're just an unstable– You know what? Forget it, I'm gone."
He turned away. Elizabeth ran after him, grabbing his arm, begging him to turn back. "Luke, wait, don't leave. I'm sorry I hit you. Please. What about everything you told me? Did it mean nothing?"
"I don't love you," he said coldly, without turning back around.
"You're a liar. Everything you ever said to me was a lie!" She dropped his arm. "I'm so stupid. I'm not important to anyone, no one at all. I could just disappear and your world, and everyone else's would continue to spin. Wouldn't it?"
Everyone was staring at Luke. Rose's mouth was literally hanging open. Mia looked too shocked to even form words. Juliana looked disappointed. She'd fooled herself for too long, thinking it was Danielle that was the toxic one. In reality, Luke and Danielle deserved each other.
"If I had know she was going to be so upset, I would've waited," Luke told them. "I know what you guys are thinking. I'm the asshole that hooks up with girls and then breaks their hearts. But, I'm not a monster. I didn't kill her. I didn't put her in that car. It wasn't supposed to be like this." He shook his head. "If you guys are all so close to her, why didn't anyone see what she was going through? Like Willa said, this isn't about me; this isn't about any of us. I'm not going to take the blame for Elizabeth's issues. I'd like to stay out of her head."
"I don't think that's what Willa meant," Juliana muttered.
"I should go."
"Luke," Rose said quickly, before he could head for the door. "Did you ever plan on breaking up with Danielle?"
He looked at her for a long moment. "I should go, Dani's going to wonder what's taking me so long."
For a while no one really knew what to say, a nurse came to tell Mia that Elizabeth's surgery would be over within the hour. Until then they wouldn't be able to make any predictions about her condition.
"From what Luke said, I guess he talked to her right before the interview with Willa," Mia said. "Everyone heard it, but no one wants to talk about it. What happened?"
"Just be glad you missed it," George said with a shudder.
"Once again, being vague" Mia mumbled. "I think I have the right to know. What left Willa so shaken up?"
"Well, she uh-"
Juliana cut George off. "Found it, someone posted it online." She held up her phone.
"I want to hear it," Mia told her.
Juliana started to hit play, but George stopped her. "Are you sure?" He asked. "It's a little disturbing."
"Please," Mia begged. Juliana nodded and hit play. The voices floated out through the speaker. The four remaining teenagers gathered around the phone to listen.
"Hello, Centerville, you're listening to Sean's Starstruck Seven PM on WADJ. Talk about starstruck tonight! For anyone just tuning in, we have a very special guest with us. Centerville's very own movie star, Willa Fay!" The radio host announced. "She's taken Hollywood by storm with her role as Amelia in Genesis. This is her first time back in her hometown since she left to pursue her career at the ripe old age of eight! Tell me, Willa, what's it like to be back in your childhood home?"
"It's so amazing!" Willa answered happily. "I love seeing how everything has changed and reliving old memories."
"Well, we're certainly glad to have you back!"
"Aww, thank you!"
"And now, without further ado, let's return to our contest. Three luck callers will win the opportunity to have brunch with Willa next Saturday at Jimmy's Diner – mmm, smell those delicious fresh made omelettes at Jimmy's Dinner. We've already given away one prize, who will be out next lucky winner." There was a pause as Sean fumbled with the phone. "Alright, we have Elizabeth calling in."
"Hi, Elizabeth! Why do you think you should win the contest?" Willa asked, enthusiastically.
"Hi, Willa, funny how we keep running into each other," Elizabeth said quietly.
"Oh, and why do you think you should win the contest?" Willa asked, trying to keep the radio show on track.
"You said I should tell you a memory," Elizabeth reminded her.
Recognition dawned on Willa. "Oh, you're the girl from the supermarket."
"I've got a lovely memory. There were once two little girls who used to play pretend in their back yards. One was a princess and one was a peasant girl hoping to be a knight. That knight saved the princess from the dragon that lived in the tallest tree. You were that knight."
"I'll have to admit, that's a charming story," Willa said, unconvinced.
"You wanted to be in the movies so very badly," Elizabeth continued. "You told me you were the world's greatest actress. So, I had an idea to film your knight's speech. Do you remember that?"
"I don't know," Willa said unsure.
Elizabeth took a deep breath. "Don't be afraid to step into the shadows. Don't be afraid to stare darkness in the face. Because inside us all is a little darkness. Either the darkness will control you-"
"Or the light of your courage will conquer it," Willa finished.
Elizabeth was crying now, though she tried to hold back the tears. "I thought we said, "best friends forever?" Is that just some stupid thing kids say? I believed it." Her voice was barely above a whisper and half choked out by the sound of her sobs.
"Lizzy?" Willa whispered. Finally really remembering.
"It's been a while since anyone called me that," Elizabeth said quietly. "Remember when we promised to be old ladies in the nursing home? Till death do us part." She laughed sharply and without humor. "I guess that's how it's going to be."
"Lizzy, please," Willa practically begged. "Let's talk about this in person."
"Now you want to see me."
"Look, I'm sorry-" Before Willa could finish her sentence, she was cut off. The sound of a car spinning out of control drowned out her words. Then the crash. She wanted to tear her headphones off, to make it stop. But, she listened, her heart beating uncontrollably fast.
The glass shattering, tires squealing, and one long unending horn. It felt like it would never end. As if she were trapped in the car with Elizabeth, as it careened off the dark foggy road. The silence after was worse.
She felt like screaming, but all she could muster up was a tiny, terrified whisper. "Lizzy?"