A Phase

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The comments had gotten more venomous. All of Riley’s social media accounts had been shut down, at her parents’ insistence, when the backlash had reached its crescendo, but she couldn’t resist reading the articles, the blogs. The world was talking about her.

Her mother had argued she was just going through a phase, an adolescent cruel streak, during the first principal’s office visits with Cassie and her mother. They’d laughed about the meetings on the drive home. At Cassie’s dopey pink nail polish and out of control acne, her face blotchy and red and dotted with craters, her mother’s dumpy figure, her wash-and-wear muumuu dress and flip flops.

They’d found Cassie a week later under the 6th Street bridge, lifeless and cold. Bullied To Death! ┬áThe headlines screamed. Rumors swirled. Riley and her friends could be charged with murder. Her mother had stopped laughing, going into defense mode, getting on lengthy calls with school officials and lawyers.

Riley’s own words had come back to find her, in blog posts, in comment sections, on social media. Do the world a favor and die. You’re worthless. You and your friends disgust me. The world hates you. Go kill yourself.

She wouldn’t cry.

She wouldn’t cry.

That would make her no better than Cassie. And Cassie was a loser.

She breezed through the front door. She ignored her mother’s protests, as she always did. Her mother could never understand that she still needed to feel young. She needed to drive her car. She needed to live. She didn’t know how many more days of freedom she had left.

The reporters were parked in front of the lawn, converging on her as soon as she stepped outside.

“Riley!” A redhead ran over to her, thrusting a microphone in her face. She’d been there every day since the story broke, not giving up despite the fact Riley had never spoken to her. To any of them. “Do you have a message for Cassie’s family? Or anything to say about Cassie herself?”

Riley stopped, turning to face the woman, feeling the tears spring to her eyes. She slipped on her sunglasses before anyone saw. “I hardly knew her,” she whispered.

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