Read an Excerpt

The S-Word

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LIZZIE WASN’T THE first person to kill herself this year. Five months prior to her final ascension Gordy “Queerbait” Wilson hanged himself in his basement. Rumor has it he used the belt his father beat him with. For two hours he hung there, feet hovering above the ground, before Daddy came down the stairs in search of a cold one.

I guess that’s the difference between Gordy and Lizzie.

Lizzie didn’t go quietly.

I’m Angelina Lake. I was Lizzie’s best friend. We were inseparable, until she hooked up with my boyfriend at the prom. Maybe you’ve heard about it? Every jackass in the blogosphere had a field day with the story: Little Miss Perfect Steals Prom Queen’s Beloved. My Lizzie with my Drake. The whole school came to my defense. And while Drake got off with a boys-will-be-boys slap on the wrist, Lizzie became the Harlot of Verity High.

It started with a single word, painted in the corner of her locker. I was coming out of English when I saw it. It was the Monday after prom, and Mrs. Linn had asked me to run some papers to the office. I’d barely taken three steps when Lizzie’s locker caught my eye.

SLUT

The word was unmistakable. Even in tiny black writing, the marker stood out against the beige. I stepped up to it, running my fingers over the word.

SLUT

Why had they written this? Heartbreaker would have been a better word. Backstabber. But slut? Lizzie never touched anybody before Drake. She was Princess Prude.

Still, there it was.

SLUT

For a second, I thought about erasing it. I slid my nail across the S to see if it would chip. It didn’t, but I had plenty of pens in my bag. Three seconds and the word would be blotted out. Hidden, and even the vandal would forget. But if I left it there, and everybody could see it . . . well, how long before another one appeared?

Yeah, even then, I knew the word would multiply. I don’t know how. I could just feel it at the base of my neck, like fingers scratching me there. Warning me of what was going to happen.

The bell rang.

People poured into the hallway. My locker had been next to Lizzie’s all year, so no one batted an eye at the sight of me hovering there. Besides, most of us were still suffering from that two-day, post-prom hangover funk. Walking on shaky legs. Stumbling. Then everything went quiet, like all the oxygen had been sucked out of the hall. I knew people were watching me, even though my body blocked the graffiti.

I turned.

The hallway pulsed with bodies, but it didn’t matter. Lizzie’s were the only eyes I could see. It was the first time I’d seen her since prom night. The first time I’d looked at her since her limbs were entangled with Drake’s. Here she was dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans, quite the departure from baby-blue satin and ivory lace. She didn’t look like a princess anymore. Her eyes caught mine and we were frozen, both of us staring across the crowded hall, mesmerized by the wreckage of our friendship.

Everyone was watching.

My skin felt hot, and I didn’t want to move away from the locker, to reveal what was written there. Would she think I’d done it? Should I care? In the two days since I’d stormed out of the hotel room, leaving Drake to zip up his rented tuxedo pants while Lizzie tugged at the broken strap of her dress, I’d checked my phone a thousand times, waiting for her to explain.

Drake had called. Drake had apologized. Drake had begged for my forgiveness.

Drake had blamed Lizzie.

That’s when I told him to fuck off. It takes two to tango, and these two did way more than that. But my God, at least he’d called.

So there I was, mouth open, lips trying to form the word: Why?

Why hadn’t she called?

Why wasn’t she sorry?

I searched Lizzie’s face, trying to separate the image in front of me from my darkest memory. But everywhere I looked, I saw him. I saw his fingers tucking a strand of pale hair behind her ear. I saw him staring into her eyes, telling secrets. Did his lips trail in a semicircle around the curve of her chin, teasing and teasing until she gave in? Did they think of me at all?

I closed my eyes.

The movement hurt. My eyes stung, but it went deeper than that. I could barely swallow, my throat felt so sore. And Lizzie just stood there, pretty pink lips—kissable lips?—pursed in a frown.

Are you sorry?

I took a step forward. The crowd parted to let me pass.

Do you care?

Lizzie opened her mouth, as if to speak. But she must’ve thought better of it, because those kissable damn lips closed.

Or was I just the girl you used to get to Drake?

I tried to turn.

But I couldn’t. I was waiting for something. Maybe just for Lizzie to say my name. For godsakes, this was the girl who’d slept over at my house every Saturday since we were five, who’d held me when I cried over my parents’ divorce.

I tried to catch her eye. She studied the floor.

Lizzie, look at me.

Tell me you’re sorry.

Tell me you don’t hate me enough to hurt me this way.

Lizzie said nothing. When the tardy bell rang, she walked away. And as all the dramatic tension oozed out of the hallway, the onlookers left as well.

So did I.

Over the next few days, I checked my phone less and less often. My stomach didn’t drop quite so hard when I opened my locker to find no notes. A week went by, and still, Lizzie said nothing.

And when the second scribbling of SLUT appeared on her locker, I said nothing too.

IN THE WEEKS that followed, things got significantly worse for Lizzie Hart. Our once Untouchable Saint was now the Slut. And that word did exactly what I thought it would do. It multiplied, making little S-word babies. It spread to Lizzie’s notebooks, her book bag, even her car. It burrowed its way under her skin like a disease, poisoning her from the inside.

You could see it.

I could see it.

I said nothing.

Then someone created that playing card. You know, the one of Lizzie wearing nothing but a crown of stars? People passed it around and added little details. Some genius even came up with a title:

Lizzie Hart, Queen of Sluts.

That name followed her everywhere. I thought she’d never get away from it. But Queen Lizzie found a way. She did the one thing we never expected.

She died. And the S-word died with her.

Until today.

It’s the Monday after Lizzie’s funeral, two weeks shy of graduation, and someone’s written SUICIDE SLUT all over the senior lockers.

And the weirdest thing? The words are in Lizzie’s looping scrawl.

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