This is the first writing contest I’ve ever hosted, and I’ve learned a lot from it. Firstly, entry length will be much shorter in the future! That way more people will have the time to submit.
Without further ado, it’s time to announce the winner. This short story was engrossing, had a great plot, and a strong theme.
I will be sending you your $10 Books-A-Million gift card by email.
Now, for the story! Enjoy.
By Sophie C. Lloyd
A short story on suicide awareness
Based loosely on a true story
Zoe glanced up from the book she was reading when she saw someone from her grade enter the coffee shop. The girl walked past without noticing her, and placed her order at the counter. When she turned around, Zoe waved, and the girl narrowed her eyes.
“What is wrong with you?” She asked Zoe, her voice uncharacteristically harsh.
The cheerful smile on Zoe’s face faded slowly. “I’m sorry…?” She trailed off, confused.
The girl rolled her eyes dramatically. “I see you literally everywhere. Tell me that’s a coincidence.”
“That’s…a coincidence,” Zoe repeated, setting her book down gently. She still wasn’t sure what was wrong.
The other girl placed her drink on Zoe’s table and crossed her arms. “Are you following me?” She asked suspiciously.
Zoe was so stunned that she couldn’t answer. The girl rolled her eyes again and snatched her drink off of the table, walking out of the coffee shop. Zoe heard her mutter, “Stalker,” as she left.
She walked quickly to her locker, eager to grab the rest of her books and get out of school for the day. As she quickly twisted the combination lock, something caught her eye and she looked closer at the dark blue metal door. Someone had been writing on it.
“You suck,” she read slowly. “You’re a psychopath.”
Zoe took a deep breath and opened her locker, determined not to let some random graffiti ruin her day.
It’s not like they picked my locker on purpose, right? She thought to herself as she headed to the bus. I mean, whoever did it probably just picked it randomly, and did it to a bunch of other people too.
“Yeah, it’s gonna be on my birthday this year. I was lucky, it came on a weekend.”
Zoe looked over at her friends, Anna and Cara, discussing an upcoming birthday slumber party. “It was on a Thursday last year, wasn’t it Cara?” She said, remembering something Cara had texted her the year before. “Your brother tried to trick you into thinking school had been canceled for you.” She laughed a little at the memory, but both of her friends looked at her strangely.
“How did you know that?” Cara asked her, frowning.
“You told me,” Zoe replied surprised, and her friend shook her head.
“No, I didn’t. Stop being creepy, Zoe.”
Zoe stepped onto the pavement, and as soon as her shoes made contact with the asphalt, someone shoved her. Hard.
There were too many kids getting off the bus to tell who it was when she stood up, but it didn’t matter. It was usually someone new each day.
Gingerly, she examined her hands. They were sporting new scrapes today, and the ones from yesterday that only just scabbed over were reopened. And so were the ones from the day before that. Rolling up her left sleeve, she could see that her arm was bleeding, and she pressed the cloth from her shirt to the wound, gritting her teeth as the scrape started to sting and waiting for the blood flow to stop.
Sighing, she walked towards the school, preparing herself for another day of silence.
A teenage girl walked slowly down a densely wooded path, carrying a blue shoulder bag in her hands and wearing a shaken look on her face. As the path wound down a steep hill, she dug her heels into the leaf-covered forest floor to keep from slipping. A small brook came into view, trickling slowly through the trees in front of her. The girl glanced around before sitting down on an old log beside the stream, making sure she was alone, and took a notebook and a pen out of her bag.
She began to write.
When she was finished, she read over what she had written again, tore the sheet of notepaper out of the book, and folded it up into a small rectangle. With slightly trembling hands, she wrote her parents’ names on the paper as steadily as she could, and shoved everything back into the bag. The girl stared at the stream, and a single tear traced a path down her cheek as she thought about what she had to do. About the life she was going to leave.
A branch cracked behind her, and she stood up and spun around, wiping her eyes. A boy about her age had come down the path, and was walking toward her with a friendly smile on his face.
“Hi,” he said, finally stopping and holding out a hand to her. “I’m Jesse.”
She shook his hand tentatively, fear in her eyes, and she didn’t return the smile. “I’m Zoe.” She pulled her hand back quickly, and looked away.
Jesse’s smile faded as he noticed her discomfort. “I didn’t realize anyone else came here,” he said, looking around and brushing sandy bangs out of his eyes. “Do you want me to go? I can come back some other time or…”
Zoe shook her head, and still didn’t meet his eyes. “No, it’s-it’s fine,” she stammered, trying to think of an excuse to leave.
Jesse looked at her quizzically. “I feel like I’ve seen you before,” he decided, frowning thoughtfully. “Do I know you from school or something?”
Zoe shook her head again, and gripped her bag tighter, still looking at the leaf-strewn ground. “No, I…don’t really know anyone at school. You probably just know someone who looks like me.”
He laughed, and she looked back at him, confused. “I don’t think so,” he replied. “There aren’t that many girls around here with brown hair, blue eyes, and freckles.” Zoe winced, and shifted on her feet. Her appearance was always a subject of ridicule from her old friends.
“Do you live around here?” Jesse asked her.
“Yeah, down Kristane Terrace, right past that giant lilac bush,” she replied nervously. Her palms started to sweat, and she had to consciously keep her breathing steady. If anyone saw him talking to her…
Jesse’s face lit up. “I know that place! The one with the garden gnomes, right?”
Zoe closed her eyes, inwardly cursing her mother for those stupid gnomes. Every year she’d begged her mother to throw them out, and every year her mother ignored her. “Yes,” she said softly, feeling heat slowly rise to her face. “And speaking of where I live, I um…I have to go.” She started walking past him, her heart pounding. If anyone saw them together, he risked being an outcast, just like her.
Jesse turned, and watched her go up the hill. He bit his lip, wondering if he’d said something wrong, if he’d offended her. “Maybe I’ll see you again sometime,” he called after her hopefully. She glanced over her shoulder, and Jesse saw the fear in her eyes for the first time.
“Maybe,” she replied quietly, before disappearing down the path.
Zoe opened the door to her bedroom, and closed it, glad that her parents were both still at work and the house was quiet. She sat down on her unmade bed, and took the letter out of her bag, turning it over thoughtfully.
It was sunny out, but her room was painted dark purple and the curtains were drawn, causing the bedroom to have an almost perpetual night. It was fairly clean, aside from her bed and the miscellaneous objects scattered all over her desk. Her walls were bare of posters or pictures, and the only bright thing in her room was a silver-framed photograph.
Zoe’s cell phone dinged, and she put the letter down and reached for the phone on her bedside table. There was a text from someone named Anna. It read:
Zoe felt a surge of hurt hit her, and her eyes teared up a little as she shut the phone off, but another text appeared on the screen:
Just go kill yourself.
She closed her eyes, debating whether or not to write back. She’d received several texts like this one from girls she used to be friends with for months, but this was the first time Anna had spoken to her in over a year. Finally she swiped the text to reply.
Maybe I will.
Zoe put the phone down and picked up the silver-framed picture from the table. It showed two little girls, smiling up at the camera and obviously very happy. One of them held an ice cream cone, and the other had chocolate smeared all over her mouth. A sad smile crossed Zoe’s face, and she took the picture out of the frame, flipping it over to read the words written on the back.
Best friends forever ~ Love, Anna
Zoe narrowed her aquamarine eyes, studying the picture and committing it to her photographic memory. Then she took a lighter out of her pocket, and set the photo on fire. As she watched, it burned, the flames flickering on the edges and growing closer and closer to her fingers. Zoe felt waves of hate consume her, but they rapidly subsided as the picture was reduced to ashes and she threw what was left of it into her trash can. The hate was replaced by the familiar helplessness that returned to her, like it always did.
Like it always would.
She lay down on her bed, staring at the ceiling, and replayed the conversation she’d had with Jesse in her head. The fact that he didn’t seem to hate her confused her, and she couldn’t understand why he’d even want to talk to her. If he had seen her around school, he’d know that being friends with her meant being shunned by everyone else.
“Maybe I’ll see you again sometime.”
Jesse walked down a cracked sidewalk, thinking about Zoe. She was so different from all the other girls, but there was something about her that reminded him of someone. He just couldn’t figure out who.
As he crossed the street, he heard footsteps behind him, and he noticed one of the jocks from school walking towards him. Corey. “Yo Jason, wait up!”
Jesse ignored Corey, and the jock caught up to him. “Jason, didn’t you hear me?”
“It’s Jesse, not Jason,” he corrected him, still not looking at him and walking slightly faster. “And yeah, I did hear you. I just didn’t care.”
Corey looked slightly offended, but kept walking. “Look, if this is because of what I said about your brother–”
“Just shut up, okay?” Jesse closed his eyes, trying to forget about that careless remark, but Corey’s words weren’t easy to ignore.
“He must have been pretty shitty to end it like that.”
He cursed the teacher for telling the whole world why he’d be having sessions with the school shrink. They could all lie and say they knew what he was going through, and that they were going to help. It wouldn’t bring him back.
Corey didn’t speak for a moment, but finally said, “Hey, the guys want to know if you’re in for tonight.”
Jesse sighed. “And you can tell the guys that I’m not going to a stupid party to get ‘initiated’.” He made air quotation marks and turned down another street.
“Bro, you’re seriously missing out,” Corey replied. “You’re sure? You only get this offer once, and if you don’t take it, you’re out. All the hot chicks are gonna be there, too.”
Jesse laughed without humor. “Yeah, I’m–” He stopped and turned to Corey. “Is Zoe going to be there?”
Corey let out a laugh. “You’re kidding, right?” His laugh died down when he saw the seriousness on Jesse’s face. “Look, you actually think that loser would be invited to a party?”
Jesse didn’t reply, and Corey glanced around before putting a hand on Jesse’s shoulder. “Okay, here’s some friendly advice from someone who’s been here a lot longer than you have,” he said, lowering his voice. “There are rules. People who are blacklisted, who you don’t hang around with. Zoe Winters is one of those kids. I don’t know how you know her, but if you ever want to get a girl in this town, don’t talk to her again.”
He looked at the jock incredulously, and shook Corey’s hand off of his shoulder. “The hell? She’s not half as bad as any of the girls I’ve met so far.”
Corey just shook his head. “I mean it. All the girls hate her for some reason, and if word gets out that you’ve been hanging with Zoe, well…” He made a slashing motion across his throat. “It’s fine, no one will find out you know her from me. You’re new, so you’re welcome. Just…be careful dude.”
Jesse looked away and flipped him off, then started walking again, positive that the kids here were no better than the ones in his old neighborhood. He didn’t see Corey’s expression, but he heard him call out, “Stay away from her! She’s – uh – dangerous!”
Zoe’s alarm clock went off, rousing her from her memories. Her heart was beating quickly and she took a couple of deep breaths to push the fading dream completely from her mind and silenced the alarm. Her memories appeared in her dreams every night, and each one hurt more than the last. They were all reminders of why she didn’t belong.
She showered and changed, coming out of the bathroom with a dark outfit on and her damp shoulder length hair down. Zoe grabbed her backpack from her room and walked down the staircase taking two steps at a time the way her father hated. The usual sounds of fighting grew louder as she walked down a hallway and neared the kitchen. Zoe entered unnoticed by the two adults shouting at each other, but she didn’t mind. This way, there was less of a chance that they would start fighting about her.
Taking a granola bar from the pantry, she didn’t speak to her parents, and left the room as fast as she could. Her mother called after her, pausing the fighting momentarily, but Zoe ignored her and slammed the front door as she left the house.
Jesse shut his locker harder than was necessary and and headed to the cafeteria, definitely ready for his thirty minutes of freedom. He pushed open the big double doors and scanned the room for the girl he’d met the day before, by the brook. But all of the tables were filled with teenagers talking, laughing, and complaining about upcoming classes and tests. No sign of Zoe.
Finally he saw her in the back of the room, at an empty table, eating by herself. She kept her head down and it looked like she was still studying as she ate. “Jeez,” he mumbled, remembering what Corey had told him. “I guess she really is an outcast.”
Before he could grab a tray, he heard someone clear their throat behind him, and he turned to see one of his teachers, the one with frizzy red hair spilling out from a Yankees baseball cap. “Detention, remember mister?”
He sighed. Those pink slips he’d received that morning had left his memory already. “Right, sorry.” He followed her out of the cafeteria with one last glance over his shoulder at Zoe. She didn’t see him.
After school, Zoe went down to the brook again with her blue shoulder bag. She needed to think, and despite the fact that she’d grown up with shouting in the background, it wasn’t easy to think while listening to her parents attempt a civil conversation.
But this time, Jesse had beat her there. Before she could turn, he saw her. Jesse gave her a friendly wave, and Zoe reluctantly kept walking down the slope.
“Hey Zoe,” he said, his dark eyes sparkling. He stood up from the old log as she drew closer to the brook.
She gave him a tense smile. “Hi Jesse.” Zoe took a step forward and stumbled, and Jesse caught her arm before she hit the forest floor. She blushed, and looked down at the tree root which had tangled her foot. “Thanks. I’m not usually this clumsy.”
“It’s okay, I trip all the time too…” Jesse trailed off, noticing the red lines on Zoe’s left arm for the first time.
Her long shirtsleeve had come up when he grabbed her arm, and she pulled it down. “It’s nothing,” Zoe said, thinking swiftly. “I…have a cat.”
Jesse gave her a skeptical look, but sat back down on the log. Zoe sat next to him, and they both gazed at the water which ran slowly past them.
“I saw you at school today.” Jesse spoke first, breaking the silence that was almost awkward.
Zoe glanced over at him, curious about what he’d seen. “Yeah?
He met her gaze. “Yeah. I was gonna ask if I could sit with you at lunch, but I uh…I had detention.”
She blinked, confused. He’d wanted to sit with her? “School started two weeks ago. How do you already –”
“I skipped a couple of times.”
“Ohhhh. Okay. You’re lucky Ms. Rochester retired last year.” A glimmer of a smile crept to Zoe’s lips. “If you’d skipped her class a couple of times you would’ve had detention for the rest of the semester.”
Jesse nodded, and looked down at the water. “Good to know.” There was another pause, before he said, “I want to know more about you. You seem really interesting.”
Zoe laughed softly. “There’s not much to know,” she replied, thinking about all the things she would change about her life if she could. “I’m fifteen. My parents fight all the time over stupid things. High school sucks. Um…people hate me and I don’t even know why. I must be a really awful person to be around, I guess.”
“You’re not.” Jesse shook his head, looking over at her. “You seem pretty great to me.”
Zoe shrugged. “It’s just you then.” She put her bag down and picked up a small, flat rock which had been worn smooth by the water. Neither of them spoke as she rubbed the it’s sides clean, and then skipped it down the stream. It flipped five times before sinking.
Jesse gave her an admiring look. “Nice!”
She looked down with a self conscious smile. “Thanks. I get a lot of practice from coming here all the time.”
He took a breath, not sure whether or not he should mention what he’d seen. She seemed almost happy, and from what he knew of her, it didn’t seem like she was cheerful very often.
“How long?” He asked her eventually.
Zoe looked up at him sharply, about to skip another rock. “How long what?”
He sighed, looking away. “How long have you been cutting?” Jesse asked quietly, bracing himself for what he knew her reaction would be.
She grabbed her bag and stood up, backing away from the stream. The stone slipped from her fingers as her she stared at him, her eyes wide. “I don’t–you wouldn’t understand.”
She ran up the path and Jesse was about to follow her, when he saw a folded piece of note paper on the ground. The stone she’d been holding was resting on top of it. He picked up the piece of paper, saw the names written across it, and then unfolded it.
I can’t do this anymore. They’re making my life hell. Every day is torture for me. Please understand, it will be better this way. I really have to go. I’m sorry.
Jesse looked up from the paper, and ran down the path after Zoe, stuffing the paper into his pocket.
Zoe let herself into her house quietly, and ran up the staircase. Shouts came from the kitchen, but her brain had been accustomed to shut the sounds out a long time ago. She entered her room and locked the door behind her, breathing hard.
She took a blade from one of the drawers on her desk, and turned it over in her hands, her mind going too fast for her to think clearly. Dried blood stained the shiny blade red, and she pursed her lips, trying to get her brain to slow down.
What should I do? What’s he going to do?
Zoe buried her face in her hands and cried. Tears dripped onto her injured arm, and she cried for the life she’d never have.
Random memories resurfaced, and she pushed them away. She didn’t want to remember anymore. She didn’t want to be the freak who aced every test because of her stupid photographic memory. She didn’t want to be the misfit whose friends were ashamed of her.
She didn’t want to be anyone anymore.
A doorbell sounded several times inside her house, and one of her parents yelled from the floor beneath for her to go answer the door. Zoe put the blade down and wiped the tears from her face before unlocking the door and slowly going downstairs. The doorbell chime accompanied her down the staircase, and it didn’t stop until she opened the front door. She wasn’t expecting to see Jesse.
“How did you find–”
She stopped speaking when he handed her a piece of crumpled paper he took from his pocket. Zoe recognized it, and took the letter from him. “Garden gnomes, remember?”
“You read it.”
She couldn’t read his expression, but it almost seemed as if he was scared of something. “You never told me you were suicidal.”
Zoe laughed drily. “Oh and I guess everyone who hates their life tells the first stranger they meet about how they’re going to end it.”
Jesse didn’t speak for a moment, trying to figure out how to stop her. “No,” he admitted finally. “But please, Zoe. Don’t…don’t do this.” His voice cracked a little, and he fought to keep it steady and even.
Zoe glanced back inside, then stepped out of the house and closed the glass door behind her, leaning on it and facing Jesse. It would only be a little embarrassing if her parents somehow overheard this conversation. She balled the paper up and dropped it onto the front deck before crossing her arms. “All right,” she said. “Give me one good reason to live.”
He looked at her, and for a second he saw Adrian, not Zoe. He heard Adrian’s voice in his mind, Save her.
Jesse blinked, and saw the girl again. The girl who was so similar to Adrian. He couldn’t let her go too.
“My twin brother wanted to kill himself too,” Jesse said softly. “I thought it was just–I don’t know, a phase or something. He said there was nothing I could do, so I didn’t try to save him. I didn’t tell anyone what was happening, or about his cutting or burning or anything. One day I came home and he was…oh God, he was covered in blood.” Jesse stopped for a moment, and took a deep breath before continuing.
“Adrian died before we could get him to a hospital. My parents moved here to try and forget about him, but I regret my decision not to tell anyone every single day. If I’d helped him, maybe he still would have been alive.”
“So I’m what, your do over?” Zoe asked, her expression impassive.
Jesse shook his head. “No, you’re not. But if I didn’t try to help you…well, I guess I’d feel like I was betraying Adrian somehow. And if you died too–”
“That would be my choice, and it wouldn’t be your fault,” she cut him off with a shrug.
“Zoe, you don’t get it!” He said, louder this time. He was trying so hard to make her understand, but the closer he got, the higher her walls became.
“My brother might have been suicidal, but we were going through the same things together. Shitty people, messed up family, everything. My parents thought he died because of the neighborhood we were in, but really it was partially their fault. I know what it’s like. The feeling that you’re useless. That there’s no point to life, and there’s nothing you can do. I know. I’ve been there.”
Zoe tried to speak, but Jesse wouldn’t let her.
“You told me about your life earlier, when we were by the brook,” he said quietly. “That was true, wasn’t it? Everything you said?”
She nodded. “All of it. I literally have no one and nothing left to live for.”
“So you’re going to kill yourself instead of trying to make things better?” Jesse asked her, getting close to desperate. “You’d just be proving to everyone that you’re as weak as they want you to think you are! I want to be your friend. I want to help you make things better.”
She sighed, and looked away. “I had a friend. She treated me like crap. I don’t ever want to feel hurt like that again.”
“And I’d never hurt you,” Jesse said earnestly. “I swear.” She didn’t speak, and he spotted the crumpled piece of paper on the ground. “Please, just…think about, okay?”
Zoe gave him a small smile. “Okay. I’ll think about it.” Jesse returned the smile, then bent down and picked up goodbye note she’d written to her parents. He took a pen out of his pocket and smoothed the paper out before writing something on it.
“Here,” he said, handing Zoe the paper for the second time. “This is my number, if you ever want to talk or anything.”
She looked at the paper, memorizing the number, and then up at him. “Thank you,” she said. “But um…would you keep the letter? I can’t really…I need to think right now.”
Jesse nodded, and started to walk down the steps for the front porch. “Sure. Um, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow at school then.” Zoe looked down, and she saw the numbers in her mind, swirling around everything else.
Zoe wiped tears from her eyes as she stared at the blade on her bed. Without thinking, almost as if she was in a dream, she threw it in the trash can and watched it land on the ashes of the photograph she’d burned. Jesse’s words still echoed in her head, and she felt like she was torn.
She hadn’t had anything to live for. But now maybe she did.
Maybe she could prove to everyone that she wasn’t as weak as they tried to make her believe that she was.
Making a decision, she picked up her phone, and slowly typed Jesse’s number in. Zoe thought for a moment, before just texting: Hey.
He replied after a moment. Hey.
Zoe glanced at the scars on her arm, and paused, taking a shaky breath.
I guess I can give life another try.
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