Dear Stacey,

Do you think that you could send me a response this time? I've been waiting a really long time to hear from you.

People look at me funny when I walk through the hall. Sometimes, I start to think there's this massive pimple on my face that everyone is just so grossed out by that they can't help but stare. Sometimes, I convince myself so well that I have to run over to the girls' bathroom to look in the mirror. Every single time I find my face flawless and smooth I want to scream. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I really, really wanted to see a pimple when I looked in the mirror.

Dear Stacey,

You won't believe what we're studying next in biology: sex ed. I know that we both agreed to take it together so that we could laugh at the naked pictures of boys, but I picked Mary Anne to be lab partners with me. I hope you won't mind too much.

"So, Claudia, how are you?" asks the millionth person who I barely know and couldn't name for the life of me. I just stare in bewilderment until she turns scarlet and makes up an excuse to leave. Very quickly, too, because we both know that I am only inches from flying into a complete nervous breakdown and I'm willing to take anyone close enough down with me. I pretend to smooth my hair while I really count backwards from 53 to make sure I don't do anything too crazy.

Dear Stacey,

Your mom called last night. It was weird. She asked me if I wanted to come over and I said I would, but I wish I had said no. What am I supposed to say to her? That I think it's weird and scary that she asks me to come into the house where your perfume is still floating around in the air? It's bad enough I still have the sweater you let me borrow when I spilled root beer down the front of mine hanging over my desk chair.

I can't tell if my history teacher really does sound like Charlie Brown's teacher or if my ears are screwed on funny. I've been noticing that I can't quite seem to hear when people talk to me. I also have to reread everything about ten times before I can even tell you how a sentence started. I know I've never been an A+ student before, but this is becoming ridiculous. I really hope that Mom and Dad don't find out about all the classes that I'm failing.

Dear Stacey,

How could you have been so stupid? I know I'm being the worst friend ever, but how could you? Why didn't you just tell your mom that you were going out on a walk? I hate you!

Janine has been too nice to me. I wish she'd stop. I wish she'd go back to ignoring me and acting like I was an ant or a worthless speck of dust again. She thinks that I want her to treat me like I'm special or something, but she's wrong. Even though she's supposedly this super genius, she can't even figure something as simple as this out. I'd like to tell her about it, but then she'd listen. I'm sick of everyone wanting to hear what I think and offering to listen to me whenever I need them. Has it ever occurred to anyone that I might just want to shut up?

Dear Stacey,

Oh, God, please forgive me. I didn't mean to send that last letter. I wish I could just take it all back. You're so smart and pretty and perfect. I can't believe I'd say anything about you being stupid. Look who's talking, right? I'm the real idiot of the two of us, huh?

Sometimes, I just get tired. I put my head down on my desk and take a nap. Right in the middle of class. I don't even bother to hide it and the teachers don't even say anything about it. It's amazing. It's like I have this protective cloak around me saying that people need to back off when I need my beauty sleep. I got so excited about it that I ran to her locker to tell her about and froze when I realized what I had done. The school nurse called my mom and they both had to walk me back out to my mom's old Buick sedan so that I could go home to rest.

Dear Stacey,

Out of everything that has been driving me crazy, here's the worst thing: were you afraid? I mean, I know everyone says that you probably didn't suffer at all, that you were probably asleep first. But, didn't you know, at some level, what was happening? Your mom wasn't even there, Stace. God, I would've been so scared.

"Do you want to see her, Claudia?"

The funeral director looks at me expectantly. I didn't want to shake my head because what kind of a monster would everyone think me to be? What kind of monster would I really be? Of course, I also didn't want to say yes because, well, I'd have to see her. I didn't want to. I hadn't been afraid of Mimi, but this was so much different. Mimi was old, at least.

Dear Stacey,

I cried so hard I threw up last night. Then, I cried some more. I wish you would just stop flashing into my mind. It makes me crazy

She looked like one of those wax figurines that they make of celebrities. Like Brad Pitt and Britney Spears. We had actually seen a museum when her dad took us to Niagara Falls. It was kind of cool and we had tried to copy all of the stupid faces they were making. Our personal favorite was of Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump. She loved that movie to pieces. It was kind of scary to see her really looking like one of them now.

Dear Stacey,

I have to move on. That's what everyone says, but I feel like I'm doing something really bad when I even think about it. How am I supposed to move on? Am I just supposed to forget that you ever even existed or that you've just gone away for a while on some fabulous vacation? I'd like to pretend you're in Hawaii or someplace warm like that, but I always feel like I'm dirtying our friendship when I think like that.

I touched her hand. It wasn't cold, like some of the horror novels I've read say the skin of dead people feel like. She wasn't warm, either. She was just kind of like the rest of the room. In fact, it didn't really feel all that strange to touch her except that she didn't open her eyes or smile just a little tiny bit when I touched her like she used to do when she'd pretend she was still asleep. I backed away when I realized there wouldn't be any more sleepovers.

Dear Stacey,

I miss you so much. I hurt every time I think about you. It's like you ripped out a piece of my heart when you died. Even though I'm really trying the best I can to act like I'm all right and that I'll heal with time, I'm so totally lying to everyone. Except for us. We both know how much this hurts. I just wish there was some way we could really say goodbye and make things all right.

"We don't have to stay," Mom whispered into my ear as I pressed myself close to her very much warm and alive body. "We can leave if you want to."

"What about Mrs. McGill?" I asked in horror. "I can't leave her."

Mom hugged me tighter. "Just let me know when you're ready, honey. OK?"

I didn't even feel like throwing up when Mrs. McGill started to sob in agony when she saw me. "Oh, God," she kept saying over and over. She started to streak her mascara on my favorite maroon sweater. I wanted to ask her to stop because it was the last thing that Stacey and I had picked out together. Now it had her mother's tears and mascara on it.

Dear Stacey,

You won't guess who I saw making out with Alan Gray yesterday! Mary Anne Spier! I guess she and Logan had this huge fight and she decided to get revenge by making out with Alan. I would've picked a better candidate, but that's just me. Can you believe she'd stoop so low?

"Coma," I heard one of Stacey's cousins or aunts or old neighbors say. "Poor thing just fell into a diabetic coma and never woke up. I guess they found her in the woods just by her school." The cousin or aunt or neighbor dabbed at her cheek. "She probably fainted and that's why they didn't find her for hours. She must've been right off the path."

I wanted to kick Stacey's cousin or aunt or neighbor in the head. How dare she say such stupid, whiney things about Stacey! She didn't even know her because I would've known this woman. Stacey and I shared everything and this woman was not someone I knew. She had no right to Stacey at all.

Dear Stacey,

I'm feeling a little better, I think. Not about you being dead or anything. Just about life, I guess. I feel like there's this weight that's being lifted from my chest. It's taking forever and sometimes it sinks right back down again, but it's leaving, I think. I hope you don't think I'm awful.

I painted a picture of Stacey. I used an old photograph of her that her mother gave to me. Her mother gave me so many pictures and clothes and things that I was surprised. Didn't she want anything for herself? To remind her of Stacey? Maybe that was the reason she even gave any of it to me in the first place. It hurt to touch the same fabrics that Stacey had against her skin… maybe it burned her mother's skin to do the same?

I hung the picture on my wall next to my painting of Mimi.

Dear Stacey,

I think this is the last letter I'm going to write to you. See, I've been doing a lot of thinking and even though writing you letters has helped me, it doesn't bring you back to life. I wish it did, but I'm not stupid.

"Claudia, do you want to come over and watch a movie?"

Here's the thing: I can't go on wishing you alive forever. I'm going to forget about me and I might as well be dead, too.

I watched Mary Anne and Kristy as they watched me. I wanted to see the movie, mostly because I wanted to spend time with my friends. Friends that I had put on hold while I attended to a friend that would forever be gone.

I'm going to miss you. Don't think I won't. And, I'll always wish that we could just have that one last chance to say our goodbyes properly like they do in those cheesy romantic movies Mary Anne likes.

I smiled at them. They smiled back. For a minute, my heart felt light and free suddenly of the enormous weight that had been dragging on it since the minute I heard what had happened to my best friend.

I'll always love you and I won't ever forget you. Even if I don't think about you every single waking moment anymore, I won't ever forget you. I promise.

"I'd love to come over," I said. Mary Anne wrapped an arm around my waist and Kristy resumed chattering at high speed while tossing her softball up in the air over and over again. I leaned against Mary Anne.

You'll always be my best friend.

I could be normal again, I think.

Love Always,

Claudia