She remembers all the milestones. She remembers it all, but it's the milestones that are the clearest. When they first met - how she had been so young, and she had thought that he was "a hunk." It would be funny now, if it all wasn't so tragic.
She remembers the first time they played hide-and-go-seek, the three of them - Liz, Maria, and Alex. How Alex had hid in the pantry, and knocked over the bag of flour. She remembers how he had flour all over him, and how he shook it out of his hair onto her new dress. She remembers how they had gotten in a huge food fight over that, and she remembers how she had never had more fun.
She remembers her first kiss, when they were fourteen. It was his first kiss, too. They both had been so nervous. She remembers how the butterflies had fluttered through her stomach. She remembers the feel of his sweaty hands as they rested on her shoulder. She remembers, mostly, the way his lips had been so soft, yet so rigid. He had his lips pressed firmly together, and come to think of it, so had she. They were so nervous.
She remembers the time in middle school when Carl Davids had dumped her for Isabel Evans. How Maria and Alex came over equipped with Snickers ice cream. She remembers how he had told her that he'd always be there for her, and if he wasn't, then he must be dead.
Those were the words that echoed the loudest in her head.
Their last conversation hadn't been profound, it hadn't been some great thing to remember or anything like that. It had been about stupid stuff - it had been about Isabel. But she remembers it anyway, because it was the final milestone they would share. The last conversation. If they had only known, surely they would have talked about something worth remembering.
Her last words to him had been "Hey, Alex, your food's here." That was so pathetic, it was sickeningly funny. She starts to laugh hysterically, and Maria rubs her back softly. Maria's face is tear-streaked, red and puffy, and she looks really bad. That makes Liz laugh even harder and then her laughs dissolve into tears - no, she doesn't cry, she wails, loudly and pitifully and she wishes that she could be strong like she and Maria had told Alex to be that day.
It's all so pathetic, and she doesn't know what to do. She doesn't know if she should swallow back her tears, even though she's pretty sure she couldn't if she tried. But she doesn't know if that's what she should try to do.
She and Maria have switched places. Maria's the comforter and Liz is the unstable one. It seems oddly fitting, since their lives have been so upturned, why should they have to play the same old roles?
She cries and she pounds on the hard, dry ground atop of Alex's grave, and she is faintly aware of Maria, who has her arms around her, and is crying softly herself, but mostly, she's in her own little world. A world of bittersweet memories, and of LizAlexAndMaria - the three amigos until death.
She only comes out of her thoughts when Maria stands, and wipes her own tears away. "It's getting dark - my mom's expecting me home."
"Maria - I don't want to leave yet. Please, just a little while longer?" She asks it like her life depends on it, she begs for just a few more minutes.
Maria nods and kneels back down on Alex's grave. She takes great care to fold the skirt of her new black dress under her knees. She draws her hand up to a single white flower that is resting on his headstone, and she touches it, her fingers playing over the smooth petals. She's struck by how much it feels like silk - it doesn't seem right that anything should feel that soft. It's just wrong.
She picks up the flower and flings it across the cemetery. It has no right to be there, she thinks. How dare it think it could sit there with it's pompous attitude, acting like everything's all right.
Maria suddenly realizes that she is thinking about a flower - a goddammed flower! It seems wrong to her that she should be thinking at all. It seems almost obscene that her thoughts are not completely and totally about Alex, and she hates herself for not thinking about him.
She forces herself to think of him - she pictures his face in her mind, that goofy smile. She finds that she can't get beyond that. All she sees is his face, and she can't remember how tall he was or even what his favorite color was. His favorite band, or the shade of his eyes - she knows she knows this stuff but all of her previous knowledge is gone, and all she has an old, faded picture of a long-lost friend in the photo album of her mind.
That scares her. If the details disappear so quickly, will his face, his laugh, his name be gone in a month? A week? A few days? Tomorrow morning? She doesn't want to forget him ever, because that would be the day she'd have to accept that he is gone, and that's just not something she's willing to do.
"Liz?" Maria gasps, trying to hide her panic. "What color were Alex's eyes?"
Liz stares at her for a moment, and Maria notices how crying looks a lot better on her friend than it does on her. Liz looks beautiful, like some kind distraught princess in a fairy tale. "Um . . . um, they were brown. Why?"
Maria shakes her head and lowers gaze to the ground, carefully studying the way the blades overlap - she studies the journey of a single ant up a blade of grass, and onto another. "I don't remember."
Liz pushes back what's left of her own tears and hugs Maria. "It's just the shock of it all - you'll remember."
Maria stares up at her, her vision blurred from her tears. Her face is contorted in a pitiful visage of pain and anger and utter despair. "What if I don't?"
"You will," Liz says firmly, almost threateningly. "I'll make you. Remember - remember when we played hide-and-go seek? And - and - "
"The flour?" Maria puts in, and she seems hopeful, that maybe she isn't forgetting this stuff. "Or what about the time that we kissed him when we were fourteen?"
"And we were so nervous," Liz says.
"So nervous. And when - and when we - " Maria looks down. "Nevermind."
Liz is confused, and worried as Maria gets up and runs toward the car, leaving her sitting on the grass, her mouth frozen open. "Maria?"
Liz gets up and chases after her. "What was that?"
A single tear rolls down Maria's cheek and she wipes it away. "Forget it. I have to get home. Get in."
"What is wrong with you?"
Maria slams the keys into the ignition. "Get. The. Fuck. In. The. Car. Liz."
Liz obeys and slides in next to her. "Maria, what is wrong with you?"
Maria is silent as she swerves in and out of her lane, her foot pressed solidly against the peddle. Liz is stunned to see that Maria is going forty miles over the speed limit. "God! Slow down, slow down! Are you trying to get us killed?"
Maria starts heading for the woods, and Liz is beyond terrified. Maria just barely misses a tree as she stops the car in a clearing with a sudden halt.
They just sit there for a moment, Maria with her head on the steering wheel, Liz pressed firmly against the seat, breathing hard.
Maria lifts her head and just stares at Liz for a moment. And then she leans over and presses her lips to her's. It is not a sweet kiss, it is not a soft kiss, it is rough and out of pure need.
Liz pushes her away, and looks stunned. "What - "
Maria responds by kissing her again, this one even harder than the first.
"What are you doing? Stop it!"
Maria looks at her, pitifully, her face contorted, her tears not coming out, but welling up on the inside, making her face red and her mouth twisted in a pathetic, uncontrollable pout. "Please don't make me."
Liz stares at her for a moment, and when Maria leans in again, she accepts the rough, passionate kisses, and meets them. Their tongues collide, their teeth smash together. There is no grace, just pure passion and grief and despair.
After the kisses end, Maria drives Liz home in silence, and when Liz gets out, there is no goodbye, there is nothing. Just a squeal of tires and then Liz is choking on the exhaust fumes.
They never mention it again.