Chapter Two

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If you’re going through hell, keep going.” —Winston Churchill

Nic leaned over the cash register, flipping through a ‘Sexy Styles of Summer’ article in Cosmo Girl magazine. The bookstore where we worked—that her parents owned—was super slow today. “I can’t believe I got this huge frickin’ pimple on my chest this morning when we’re supposed to be beaching it in two days.”

Yesterday was the last day of school, and Monday is the annual Memorial Day picnic at Grand Haven State Park. Not that it meant anything to me. When Mom and Dad found the empty pill bottle and hate letters, they agreed to let me homeschool the rest of the year. The only catch was I had to do my schoolwork at the marina clubhouse where they worked, so they could keep an eye on me, and I had to start grief counseling. I promised never to take another pill. I didn’t know what I was thinking—well, clearly I wasn’t.

I sighed loudly. Lord, help me see past my feelings. I pray for your grace to mold me into the person you want me to be. Help me find the courage within to forgive myself, to face the ghost in the mirror. Please take away this relentless darkness, and help me find the light of your peace again. Amen.

Nicole continued her diatribe about the upcoming summer, and I half-listened while washing the store windows with listless effort. They were spotless anyway. I kept my hands busy all the time now. Mom’s mantra about idle hands being the devil’s workshop made so much more sense to me as of late.

Fingers snapped loudly. “Hello? Are you listening?”

I walked to the counter, then set the Windex and roll of paper towels down. “Um. No. Sorry.”

Nicole rolled her eyes and held out the magazine. “It’s okay. I’m used to it. What do you think of this bathing suit? I’m thinking of ordering it off this website.”

I reached for my glasses from atop my head but realized I didn’t need them.

Weird. The print describing the suit was really tiny. I’ll have to Google if vision can improve on its own. “I think it’s cute. You should get it.”

“I think I will. So it’s almost time for lunch break. How about we go throw eggs at the guy in the chicken costume dancing like a freak outside Chicken King?”

Staring at her, I asked, “Am I missing something?”

“These days? Usually.”

I threw my wet paper towel at her over the counter, and she laughed. I giggled with her for a few seconds before remembering I didn’t joke anymore.

“Sean got hired there and starts today. He has to stand on the street corner, waving a sign about the daily specials.”

I hadn’t seen Sean or Kyle since the last day I attended school. Hanging out with them would make me think about Conner even more, and that just plain hurt too much. “Sounds finger lickin’ good, but I actually need to head over to the hospital for my counseling session.”

With a down-turned mouth, she asked, “On a Saturday?”

“Yeah. I missed Tuesday’s appointment because I was studying for finals, so Dr. Judy rescheduled.”

She stepped around the counter, purse in hand. “See you when you get back then.”

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By the time I reached Dr. Judy’s office on the third floor, I was five minutes late. The secretary informed me Dr. Judy was on an emergency phone session with another patient, then asked if I’d mind waiting for ten minutes.

I agreed, then plopped down in the waiting room and noticed a guy staring at me. I stared back. He was cute if you liked Zac Efron look-alikes, and okay, I did. Clutching my purse tightly in my lap, I marveled at even noticing another guy. I’d been in a fog for the past eight weeks; I knew that at least. My grief-stricken, guilty self was my new normal. The ordinary world seemed foreign to me now. I didn’t know how to live there without Conner. So, the fact that this attractive guy gazed at me really penetrated me to the core, as if someone unexpectedly threw a bucket of cold water on my face and woke me up.

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