Chapter One

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How we remember, and what we remember, and why we remember form the most personal map of our individuality.” — Christina Baldwin

Once I smashed my hand in the car door. The thought of returning to school today felt worse than that. I shoved my book bag into the backseat of Nicole’s idling silver Honda Civic.

“Hey, Olga. How are you holding up?” she asked, hunched over her steering wheel. As her best friend, I could tell when her smile was a patent fake, plus, no amount of cucumber slices could cure the dark circles under her eyes.

I took two puffs from my asthma inhaler. “Just drive.”

She snapped her fingers. “I know just what you need. Some Espresso To Go.”

What I need is Conner.

We laid him to rest yesterday. I was so not ready for this, but Mom made me. Thought she knows best. I knew Mom wasn’t trying to be cruel, although at times, I wouldn’t put it past her. But she’s the kind of person who thought in practicalities. To her, going back to school seemed like the logical next step in moving on. If she let me stay home, then we were making Conner’s death even bigger, since as the probable valedictorian, I never missed school.

She and Dad returned to work today too, always setting the ‘good’ example, even though they knew Conner well and grieved with me. Going back to normal was their way of coping with things. Usually I’d agree with being practical, but I was beyond that now. Conner’s death couldn’t be any bigger; I was the one responsible for not saving him.

That’s the biggest truth that’ll ever affect my life.

Nothing will ever be important to me again.

Nic pulled up to the drive-thru coffee shop on the corner and ordered me a Snickers-flavored latte topped with whipped cream. I set the Styrofoam cup in the drink console without a sip, then flipped down the visor mirror.

My glasses making me look like a female version of Harry Potter were all smudged, and I hadn’t even noticed.

Odd. Though I hadn’t been aware of much this past week, aside from the gaping hole inside my chest where my heart used to be.

I cleaned the lenses on my baggy sweater, then slid my glasses over my bloodshot eyes. They were so red I could barely see the blue pupils, but I tried to pat my frizzy red curls down through the blur. I hadn’t washed my hair the last three days, so I washed it three times this morning.

Just to waste my time.

I hoped I wouldn’t be ready when Nic picked me up and Mom would say I could stay home after all. No such luck.

Sighing, I flipped the mirror back up and gazed out my window. Every perfect Victorian home mocked me. To everybody else, our town was the American Dream achieved. Lemonade stands and Dad-built tree houses in the backyard were standard.

At the stoplight right before the school entrance, I took a swig of coffee to stop myself from crying, thinking about how Conner would never get to build his kids—our kids—a tree house someday.

The light turned green and Nic whipped into the parking lot, brown liquid sloshing down the front of my black sweater.

“Olga! Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry.”

I opened her glove box to find some napkins.

“No difference. Today hated me from the start. I don’t know what I’m doing here. Why don’t we just skip?”

Nic parked, then leaned closer. The air was thick with flowery perfume, and her long straight hair the color of mourning tickled my skin. “Listen, I know this day is gonna suck. But you’re not alone. You have me, Sean, and Kyle to help you get through it. You’ve been my rock through so many things. Now it’s my turn.”

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