“They’re lying,” I say. Sam blinks at me, her foot tapping beneath the table.
“Who’s lying?” she asks.
“Chase.” I sigh, her foot stills. “And Audrey. They’ve both been lying to me.”
She takes a moment to figure out what I’m saying, her lips pressing together tightly. “You’ve been talking to Chase?”
“I thought it would help me figure out if he did it.”
She laughs. “Of course he’s been lying to you. Lying is what he does, even if he seems all nice and charming as he does it. Don’t know who Audrey is, but if she’s his friend I bet they’re the same.”
“Audrey was Lissa’s friend, too. She’s an artificial,” I say.
“What?” Sam asks, her tone flat and dangerous. “Lissa didn’t have any artificial friends.”
I wave a hand at her, saying, “Hang on, we’re getting away from what I’m trying to tell you.”
“Chase and Audrey have both been lying about why Emily attacked Lissa. They said it was because she was friends with Audrey, and because Emily thought Chase was in love with Audrey.”
“What does it matter who Emily thought Chase liked?” Sam asks. Her foot has gone back to tapping, more furiously than before.
“It matters because that’s not true, Emily never thought it was Audrey. Chase knows Emily attacked Lissa because he liked her. He’s lying either to protect Emily, or to protect himself. Both scenarios beg the question of why he’s lying to me.”
Sam tilts her head, her eyes catching the sunlight through the window. “Okay, you’ve lost me. For one thing, how do you know that Chase is lying? For another, how do you know Emily thought he was in love with Lissa?” Her hair bounces with a head-shake. “Besides, Chase never loved Lissa. This whole thing is stupid.”
“I know because of this,” I say, and I place Lissa’s phone on the table between us. At the sight of it, Sam’s eyes widen, her hand flying to her chest.
“What—?” she asks, choking on her words. “That’s—?”
“That’s Lissa’s phone. Her mother gave it to me,” I say. I keep my hand on the phone, worried Sam will grab it and run far away. Her eyes flash.
“You’ve had her phone this long and didn’t tell me? You had no right!”
“Actually,” I say, forcing myself to stay calm in the face of Sam’s rising anger, “I had every right. The phone was given to me by her mother. It only unlocks with my fingerprint. You’ve shown me every step of the way that we’re not friends, Sam. You’re not the only one who gets to hide things.”
“You didn’t even know her,” Sam says. “Why should you get her phone? You’re nothing but a lying ersatz, just wanting to steal her life.”
“I don’t want her life,” I say, keeping my voice soft. “I want my own life, as does every other ersatz. You dragged me into this, and now I’m here, and—” I raise my voice slightly “—I’m trying to tell you that Chase is lying about why Lissa was hurt.”
“Fuck.” She slams her hands on the table. “What the fuck? I see why people say your lot don’t have any empathy.”
Pressing my thumb and a finger to my temples, I let out a deep breath. Cruel, heartless words spring to the tip of my tongue, and I think of how good it would feel to say them, of how delicious it would be to let some of this anger free. Lissa didn’t want you around anymore. Lissa thought you were ruining your life. Lissa wanted Chase more than you.
“Lissa needs you still,” I say. “She kept an audio journal, and there’s a recording she took the night she got home from the hospital. It proves what I’m saying—maybe it shows that Emily had something to do with her death. She was at Lissa’s house the night she died, right?”
Sam fumes for a moment more, her nostrils flaring. I pull earphones from my pocket and place them beside the phone as I pretend to not notice the tears lining her eyes.
“Just listen to this with me, okay?” I ask. “You can hate me all you want, but I need you to help me with this, because I’m still trying to help you.”
She exhales sharply, then grabs one of the earbuds with a quick, “Fine.”
Pressing the other earbud into my ear, I unlock the phone and press the play button for the file. Lissa’s voice bursts to life in my head. Sam gasps, her breath catching with the sound of heartbreak.
“I can’t keep doing this,” Lissa says—she said, long ago, into the phone’s microphone. Her words slur.
“Why do I keep putting myself in positions where I’m forced to choose between people I love? Why do I keep lying about who I am? Chase and Audrey stayed with me all night, and I wish they hadn’t because I couldn’t stop crying. Big, stupid tears dripping down my face like some kind of cartoon. Drunk, drugged up, crying. When did I become this person? I wanted to be something else, something good and happy.
Emily is—was, is?—my friend. I thought she was, or I think she was at some point. She told me to do these diaries to help, she wanted me to go to therapy and get help. She told me her anger therapist or whatever helped her, but she’s still angry all the time, like a fuse just waiting to flare. Every night, she takes sleeping pills just to escape her mind. Pills I’m not allowed, not after last time.
‘It’s better now,’ she said to me, maybe a week ago. ‘You didn’t know me when it was really bad.’
‘I think I’m really bad,’ I said. ‘I think I’m going to die of it.’
‘No,’ she said. ‘Not while I’m here for you.’
And then last night—tonight, yesterday, I don’t know anymore—she threw herself at me in the middle of lights and sound and people dancing and next thing I knew I was on the floor, her sharp fists crashing against my face. Everything was spinning, my face was numb, everyone was screaming except me.
She kept crying the same thing, like a woman clinging to the last lifeline she had left: ‘You took him from me! You took him! You don’t deserve him!’
The words didn’t really become clear to me until Chase pushed her off of me and Audrey dragged me back, and then I was in his arms and being carried into the emergency room, my blood dripping onto the white, white floor. He looked down into my eyes, and I saw how much I had missed.
At first it was all a blur, but everything’s starting to get clearer now that the drugs are starting to wear off: Chase touched my waist to guide me away from the crowd in the club, and that’s when she snapped. I think she was drunk, too, and I know well enough how much alcohol tears away anything we use to support our broken minds. Audrey’s presence had already set Emily on edge, and then seeing Chase touching me was too much. She didn’t mean it, but she also meant every punch. I couldn’t do anything except take her anger and absorb it and find a new way to hate myself.
I think, when I was half-unconscious on a hospital bed with stitches in my face, I grabbed Chase’s hand and clung to it, and I whispered, ‘I’m going to die of it.’
He laughed, kinda snotty, and replied, ‘A couple stitches won’t kill you.’
‘Emily might,’ I said. Audrey frowned at him, then laid her hand on my unhurt arm. She said nothing, because her touch said enough.
Eventually I drifted off in that bed, and as I fell I dreamed of Chase throwing me to the ground like Emily, his warm hands gripping my head on either side. I woke up screaming.”
Silence stretches out as the file ends, and for a moment I worry Sam has stopped breathing entirely. I swallow the lump in my throat and pull the earphone free, carefully avoiding meeting her eyes.
She opens her mouth, working it as if the words will magically come free. It’s a lot for her, I know, hearing Lissa’s real voice for the first time in months. Lissa spoke with more softness than I. Where my words graze against a lower register, she talked with a light melody; a woman who saw the music in the world, just not in herself.
“What…?” Sam asks, a tight fist held against the table. “Why didn’t she tell me any of this?”
“She thought you would get angry at her,” I say. I want to pat her hand, to show her sympathy in some way other than my voice. She pulls her fist from the table and places it in her lap.
“I wouldn’t have,” Sam says. A pause. “I might have.”
“What did she tell you about the night?”
“That Emily had snapped and attacked her. She didn’t give me any other context really, just that it was a drunken fight in a club. I didn’t know about—” she clacks her teeth “—about that artificial. Why would Lissa be friends with an ersatz?”
“Why wouldn’t she?” I ask.
“Because she hated them. You.” Her words hit me like a gut-punch, though I should’ve expected them. I force myself to blink like a normal person, to keep my breath under control. Whatever Sam says, I know that Lissa donated her body for me to have. She chose to help me.
“Obviously not,” I say, gesturing at myself.
“Did you know that she went to anti-ersatz protests? That she was one of the driving pushes for getting ersatz taken out of our school? She told me herself that she went into med to help humans, not ersatz like you.”
“Her best friend was an ersatz,” I say, feeling as cold and stiff as the robot bodies in the museums.
“Her best friend was me,” Sam snarls. “Not someone like you. You’re a monster.”
“And yet I’m still trying to help you solve her murder, aren’t I? If I was so heartless, I could’ve walked away long ago.”
“Why not walk away now?” she asks, her eyes dark.
I slip Lissa’s phone from the table into my pocket, she watches my hand like a hungry animal. “Because I need to know,” I say.
We stare at each other in tense silence, her shoulders raised as if she’s about to lunge at me across the table. I inhale, exhale, pushing the dark thoughts to the back of my mind for now.
“She said Emily would kill her,” Sam says, eventually.
“You saw her at Lissa’s house the night she died,” I say. Nudging her towards what I want. “Lissa mentioned that Emily had sleeping pills she wasn’t allowed. Why wasn’t she allowed them?”
Sam leans back in her chair, crossing her arms across her body. “She attempted suicide back in high school. Just once, but that was enough to deem her a risk. I’m guessing she’s not allowed those particular pills because of that, because they worried what she’d do with them.” She frowns. “But after that, she promised me she would tell me if she ever tried again. Not so I could stop her, but because she was promising she’d say a real goodbye to me. Wouldn’t just leave me alone and stranded in silence.”
“Right,” I say, not entirely getting it.
“That’s how I know it was someone else. She promised.” She chews her lip. “We should go talk to Emily,” she says, which is exactly what I’ve been waiting for.
“Let’s find out just why she was at Lissa’s that night,” I say.
Sam storms into the gallery, her footsteps like thunder upon the wooden floor. I’m not far behind, my hands in my pockets, trying to look as non-threatening as possible. My bright eyes give away what I am, and people already watch me as if I’m a bomb about to explode.
As we’d hoped, Emily hovers by her work, her shoulders curved round as if to protect herself the moment she sees us. Sam doesn’t wait for me to catch up before she starts tearing into Emily, her fury filling the space like dark clouds.
“Sam,” I say, stepping up next to her, “calm down.”
She turns on me, her gaze knife-sharp. “No.”
“Fine,” I say, shrugging.
Emily whimpers. “Why are you here? I didn’t do anything.”
With a bitter laugh, Sam says, “You were at Lissa’s house the night she died. Why?”
“I—what?” Emily’s eyelashes flutter in surprise. “No I wasn’t.”
“Yes, you were. I saw you there, standing all close with Gray. What was that about? Were you having some kind of weird affair with Lissa’s dad?”
“What? No!” She looks between the both of us and, seeing no mercy in either of our faces, sighs. “I know from the outside it looks strange, but Gray and I were friends of a sort. He must have found out through Lissa that I have anger management issues, and he tried to talk to me about them. I helped him find a therapist and let him talk to me when things were hard, because I know how it feels to be alone with nothing but your own anger.”
Sam snorts. “That’s stupid.”
“It’s not,” Emily says. “When your brain is sick, you find comfort in anyone you can.”
I say nothing, because I know how true that is.
“So you were ‘just friends’?” Sam asks, raising her eyebrows in disbelief.
“Yes.” Emily’s hand tenses briefly. “Not that it’s any of your business, Sam.”
“But you have the sleeping pills,” I say. The other two look to me in surprise, as if they’d forgotten my existence. “The ones that killed her. Don’t you?”
Tears spring to Emily’s eyes suddenly, her hands clutching the fabric of her dress. “Yes,” she says. “And I gave some to Gray. I know I shouldn’t have, and now—” She takes a shaking breath, closes her eyes. When she opens them again, she looks just as upset. “I didn’t think Lissa would know he had them. I didn’t think she’d—”
“She’d what?” Sam asks, her voice hard as steel. She looks at Emily like she looks at me; disgusted, revelling in her pain.
Emily grabs my arm, her face turned my way as she sobs. “I’m so, so sorry. If I hadn’t given him the pills, if I hadn’t attacked her like I did, she’d still be here. She’d still be alive.”
I stand in shocked silence as Emily collapses upon me, her sobs wracking her delicate frame, threatening to pull her apart.
“Uh,” I say, holding my arms out awkwardly. “This is unexpected.”
“What a wreck,” Sam says. “She deserves this after everything she’s done.”
With that, Sam turns on her heels and walks away, leaving me alone with a sad young woman clinging to me. I gently pry Emily’s arms from my body, worried that at any moment her sorrow might snap to anger. The portraits of dead ersatz stare down at me the whole time, judging me for my existence.
“Stop touching me,” I say, sharper than I intend. Emily draws back, wipes across her eyes with her dress sleeve. “I’m not giving you any more sympathy, Emily. Not when you’d rather see me dead simply for existing. I don’t think you’re a monster, not for anything you’ve done, but whatever soul or heart you think ersatz lack, you’re missing it, too.” I turn away, following Sam’s example.
“Lissa,” she whimpers at my back.
I don’t bother correcting her.