Pretend She's Here

Pretend She's Here

Luanne Rice

When you come from a big family, you’re never alone—or at least, not often enough. That afternoon, all I wanted to do was walk home by myself. But Bea, my next-oldest sister—we were seven siblings in all—was crowding me.

“Are you okay?” Bea asked as we stood on the steps of Black Hall High after school.

“Yes! I’m excellent!” I said, injecting an extra dash of pep into my words to convince her to go on her merry way.

“You don’t seem okay,” Bea said.

“Just because I feel like walking home?”

“Well, you had that fight with Mom this morning. Also, your lips have been moving again.”

“Uh, that happens when I talk.”

“Uh, but there’s no one there when you do it,” she said.

“Do you have to point that out?” I asked, backing away from her. Bea and I shared a bedroom, a million freckles, and a ton of secrets. But when it came to anything involving my best friend, Lizzie, my sister could be very intrusive, and frankly, it set me on edge.

“Emily, I know it’s really hard,” Bea said to me. “It’s coming up on the anniversary, and you’ve seemed down, and I’m sorry—I’d just feel better if you’d let me and Patrick drive you home. It’ll be fine.”

“It is fine,” I said, giving Bea my brightest smile. “Don’t worry about me.” I took a deep breath, because I knew I had to be convincing.

Bea was right—I’d been thinking about Lizzie more than ever lately. Three hundred and twenty-two days had gone by since my best friend had died. I was feeling feelings, giving in to my moods, as the shrink would say—and that’s why I’d snapped at my mother that morning.

“Trust me, okay?” I said to Bea.

“Well, all right,” Bea said. “But you’re missing out. Patrick and I are stopping for fried clams. His treat. Last chance …”

I gave her a big one-armed hug around her neck and shoved her away, laughing. She patted my head in that big-sister way that was simultaneously patronizing and endearing. Then she headed toward the parking lot where our brother Patrick had the rusty orange Subaru running. The driver’s window was down, and Patrick’s elbow was resting on it. He and Bea looked exactly alike: dark hair and Atlantic Ocean–gray eyes. Unlike them, I was blond and blue-eyed. Patrick grinned and stuck out his tongue at me. I did the same to him—the Lonergan family salute.

I watched Bea get into the car. They drove in the opposite direction of our house, toward the fish shack. I had one brief moment of regret—my stomach growled as I imagined the tasty, crispy clam roll I was missing.

I spotted my friends Jordan Shear and Alicia Dawkins across the parking lot. Jordan waved. I was afraid she’d want me to do something with them, so I pretended not to see. I turned and started walking. Alone at last.

Fall was Lizzie’s favorite season. She was everywhere. I felt her presence in the red and yellow leaves, the golden marsh grass, the diamonds of sunlight sparkling on bright blue Long Island Sound.

Hey Lizzie, Dan Jenkins texted me. Should I text back right away or wait till tonight? If people were looking at me, saw my lips moving as I hurried along by myself, they might have thought I was crazy—or learning lines for my latest play. Either way, I didn’t care. Talking to my best friend made me feel like she was right by my side. And I needed that, especially now, because of the fight with my mom, because of how many days I’d been missing Lizzie, and because I honestly wanted to be going anywhere but home.

So maybe that’s why I was barely surprised when I heard her sister’s voice.


I turned, and there was Chloe Porter, the former bane of Lizzie’s existence, sitting on a stone wall across the street, as if she and her parents hadn’t moved away last February. Had I conjured her? But no—she was there, and she was real.

“Chloe!” I said. In such a hurry to get to her, I flew across the street, snagged the toe of my shoe in a pothole, and just missed getting hit by a blue car. Its horn was still blaring when I dropped my backpack on the sidewalk, the better to hug her hard.

“It’s really good to see you,” Chloe said when we let go.

“You too,” I said, scanning her face. She was two years younger than me and Lizzie, but she looked so old now—thirteen, a teenager. Startling emerald-green eyes, shoulder-length hair—unnervingly the exact same cut as Lizzie’s, with a tendril that curled over her left ear, a brown so dark it was nearly black. I almost said that I didn’t remember Chloe having that curl, and that her hair had been reddish-chestnut, not the dramatic and glamorous glossy black of Lizzie’s. But I didn’t. I just stared at her. It was almost as if Lizzie had come back to life. For real—not just part of my dreamy conjurings and imaginary conversations.

“Are you visiting?” I asked. Dumb question, because why else would she be here?

“Sort of,” she said.

I tilted my head, waiting for more.

“My parents want to put flowers on her grave.”

My heart skipped. It made sense. In forty-three days, it would be a whole year since Lizzie had died—on the day between our birthdays. I used to visit her grave pretty often. I’d leave weird things she had loved—twigs with acorns, a handful of moonstones collected from the beach, an iridescent bee’s wing, a page of whatever I was writing, a cup of M&M’s. Sometimes I found bouquets of roses and ivy tied with white ribbons, with notes attached from Mrs. Porter, so I knew she had been there.

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