There were tales of the real Marley right under my tongue, dissolving into my spit until they disappeared. It was a pill I
choked down every time I went out in public. These were the unwanted truths. They carried too much weight. I tried once, at the start of the first memorial, to share them, and I was met with nothing more than teary stares and sympathetic pats on the back. The weather called for year-round sunshine in Cadence. So I never made mention of the things I held closest, like the time Marley put melatonin pills in the heart-shaped sugar cookies she baked for her homecoming dance.
"I don't know what this will do, but it seems appropriate," she'd said.
"For what?" I asked.
"Don't worry about it." She kissed my nose, dusting me with flour. When we put the cookies in the oven, we danced while we waited for them to bake. She twirled around me as I waltzed across the kitchen, the two of us pretending to be different people with different lives, trying on accents and attitudes and memories that didn't belong to us.
I didn't make a peep about how we'd crashed the old Cadillac that used to be permanently parked in Ruby's driveway. Marley liked to hide inside it when she didn't feel like being social. I liked to do whatever Marley did. She only let me hang out alone with her when she didn't want to be around anyone else. I never passed up the opportunity. That particular day, she was telling me about how earthworms could survive being sliced in half.
"They just wiggle off in two different directions," she said.
"Gross," I replied, my feet atop the dashboard. I picked at a small scab covering my knee.
"It's kind of amazing, actually." As she spoke, she shifted the car's gears. The engine wasn't running, but the old boat of a car caught the downward slant of the driveway, rolling across the street and into the mailbox on the other side.
Marley and I leapt out of the car without a second thought, sprinting so fast we had to ice our shins afterward. We were back in my yard before anyone in Ruby's house could get outside to see what happened. We pressed our hands into each other's chests to feel our rapid heartbeats. The crash became an unsolved mystery in the Marquez family. Blamed on a ghost, faulty mechanics, or an earthquake, depending on who you asked.
I barely dared to even think of all the times Marley and I stood side by side in her mother's closet, combing through racks of old, bedazzled gowns. Relics from her mom's pageant girl days. We'd drape ourselves in satin and sparkles and more tulle than anyone could ever need. We'd rummage through drawers stuffed with feather boas and glitter hats. We'd step into high-heeled shoes that didn't quite fit, stomping around until we found a hard surface. Carpet only dulled the satisfying thunderclap of the heel, and all we wanted was to make noise. Mostly Marley liked to dress me up like her mother would dress her. She'd pinch and poke and prod until my cheeks blushed red and my body shimmered like fish scales in sunlight. She'd ask me questions about the state of the world and hold a hairbrush microphone to my mouth while I made up the most ridiculous answers I could imagine.
These were the only times Marley ever accepted me without any caveats. I wasn't Aidy's annoying little sister in those moments. I wasn't five years younger and more immature.
I was her friend.
Sometimes I even convinced myself I was her favorite.
These memories would only serve to prove that Marley was a complicated person, not a pure, everlasting symbol of our almost-forgotten desert town. As far as Cadence was concerned, those tales died right alongside Marley. Nothing was to get in the way of the girl they'd chosen to represent us—our greatest tragedy and only noteworthy occurrence. We're a town that cares about things! Look at us! We had a girl die! She was blond and white and pretty! We matter!
But somebody somewhere decided that every five years, tragedies must be made extra important again.