Chapter 1

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High school sucked. High school in podunk, backwater, not important enough to even have a traffic light Gallatin, Montana sucked even more. High school two months into your Senior year, seven-hundred miles away from your friends sucked most of all.

No one could agree more with these statements than Grace Cho. In fact, Grace repeated the three sentences to herself every morning while getting ready to go to her daily hell-on-earth. It was her own personal mantra, which she used to remind herself the situation was only temporary.

In less than ten months, she'd be back home as a fresh-faced college student at the University of Washington. Well, once she finished her application, got accepted, and received enough financial aid to afford it.

But those were just technicalities.

"The bus is here," her mother yelled up the stairs, making Grace pause her complaining, slam down the hairbrush in her hand onto the counter, and bolt out of the bathroom. Stopping by her room long enough to grab her backpack, she nearly ran into her little brother as they both rushed downstairs.

"Don't forget, it's Boy Scouts tonight," her mother grabbed Tommy and adjusted his collar before he had a chance to step outside. The act allowed Grace to slip out the door behind them, thankful she didn't have mandated extracurriculars any more. "Have a great day!" The woman waved as her children ran across the residential street just as the school bus pulled up to the curb.

Grace tapped her foot on the pavement, her maroon Doc Marten boots stirring up a small cloud of dirt around them, as she waited for the doors to open. Slipping inside as soon as they did, she took her usual place in the front row and threw her bag on the seat next to her. After her brother joined his friends in the rear of the vehicle, the driver pulled forward.

All of this was fairly typical. Actually, it was like clockwork. That was one of the things Grace hated about having moved to this small town. Everything was so damned predictable.

She still didn't understand why her father – a prominent Seattle orthodontist – sold his successful practice and moved the family to Gallatin, seemingly overnight. No matter how many times she asked, they avoided giving her an answer.

That was another thing that had been standard lately: everyone ignored her, like she had some sort of awful, communicable disease or worse yet, publicly confessed she hated country music. Apparently, that was considered sacrilege in this part of the good ole' US of A. It wasn't her fault she was cooler than the whole student population of Mountain View High School put together.

Slipping her earbuds out of her pocket, she set her playlist on random and turned up the volume. Leaning against the window, Grace closed her eyes to enjoy the approximately five-and-a-half songs until they reached their destination.

Two songs in, the bus stopped, but there weren't any tell-tale sounds of feet, which signaled embarking passengers. Instead, the surrounding raucous of the kids already on the bus got louder.

Ignoring her instincts, Grace opened her eyes. Seeing the long row of cars on the rural two-lane highway in front of them was unusual enough, but the flashing red and blue lights of emergency vehicles made the girl bolt upright. Pulling her earbuds out, she heard the conversations around her as the scene slowly unfolded.

"Holy shit . . . look at that . . . isn't that Ed Fortney's truck . . . Oh, my God . . . it's just like with those three kids . . . are they dead . . . they must've been speedin' . . . were they drunk . . . I bet he was texting . . .." The commentary was mixed with speculation, as the two-dozen students craned their necks to see more of the car accident that had completely shut down the usually light, morning commute.

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