Chapter 21

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        Blair smiles a big grin, and for a moment, Charles sees me instead of Blair. His throat tightens, and the good feeling disappears.

"You did a good job. Great, actually." Charles pauses to yawn. "I'll let you sleep now. Goodnight." Charles says, a hint of sadness in his voice. I hear him wonder, How am I living without her?

The moment the door closes, Blair's shape shimmers, the edges of her glowing with a soft, strange light that reminds me of moonlight. When the shimmering stops, she turns to me.

"How'd you know I was here?" I ask, startled.

Blair smiles wryly. "I smelled Sharpie."

Confusion makes me mutter, "I thought Charles could only smell Sharpie when I was making him remember things." Blair had told me a little about that. It's called projection. She had read it in some of the books from Everest Academy.

"He smells the last few smells that you smelled like. Alcohol and Sharpie." Blair starts to walk down the stairs. I dart after her, trying to keep up.

"So, if I was shot in a candy store, I'd smell like blood and chocolate?"

"And caramel." Blair says in a strange tone.

"What's up with you?" I demand. "Why do you sound mad?" I ask. "Are you mad at me for eavesdropping?"

"The dead eavesdrop all the time." Blair says, not turning around.

"Then what's up?" I cry out, stopping. We're in the foyer, a few feet away from the front door.

Blair turns to face me. The fire in her eyes surprises me. "You don't see it? They're all suffering."

A wave of irritation makes me stiffen. "We all know that!"

Blair's dark, slightly arched eyebrows shoot up. "Don't you care?"

"Yes, yes, I care!" I don't understand. "What are you jumping at me for?"

Blair paces as she tries to explain. "I hate reading their minds. Knowing what they think about. Knowing that everyone sees you when they look at me!" She throws this at me, "Knowing that Charles used to cut!"

"I hate it, too!" I shout. "Why are you taking this out on me?"

"Because you're the reason!" Blair shouts. Her words make tears spring in my eyes. "If you hadn't started drinking like a stupid teenage girl who didn't have any self-respect or self-control, you'd still be alive!"

I can't think of anything to say. Blair sees the shock on my face and chagrin colors hers, sending a rush of darkness in her cheeks.

"Autumn," she says in an unsteady voice, "I'm sorry."

I turn away, wiping at my eyes.

Blair goes on, speaking to my back. "Of all the people in the world, intelligent and good-hearted people shouldn't die." She takes a calming breath, "I heard you were going to do dual enrollment."

"I was planning to." I sniffle.

Blair places a hand on my shoulder, turning me to her. Her hand is cold, raising goose bumps on my arms.

"I was killed, Autumn." Blair says. Her words make me look up at her. She is staring past me, her eyes far away. "You could have lived, but you didn't. That's why-" She chokes on her words and ends up swallowing them, saying nothing.

The silence is deafening.

"You couldn't have been." I say, confused. Irrationally, I think, you're a good person. Being a good person doesn't seem to mean anything anymore.

The tears are gone. I feel cold, chilled to the bone. "Why? Who did it? Who killed you?"

Blair blinks, her eyes going to me now. "It doesn't matter." She says. "I couldn't have mattered anyway. I didn't get a chance to try."

I am awed by the colors at first.

The Other Side is beautiful, but it's not the same. I don't want the vivid colors, the gentle breezes, the delicious food, or the cheerful smiles.

I want the dull colors of the living's side, the harsh winds, the tasteless cafeteria food of high school, and the groaning as tests are announced. I want pain and sadness back.

Blair sees the frown on my face. She says in a soft, knowing tone, "You can't feel pain here."

"Not even if I wanted to." I say. I know my heart is aching, but the feeling is so faint that it feels a little like heart burn. "I feel like someone gave me some acidic ibuprofen."

Blair smiles lightly. She's still a little off from shouting at me. There's something hard in her pretty eyes, something stubborn in the tilt of her chin. She's in pain, too, but it can't be felt. Pain is always a constant in some fashion, whether it be stress, grief, or the ache from an injury.

You can't feel it here. I can't feel anything but awe. The colors are bright and the breeze is nice, but my heart is being tickled by an ache I know I should feel. And I can't, which is the most frustrating part about being here.

"It's not the same," I say, willing the ache in my heart to grow, to sharpen and to hurt me. "I hate not feeling anything."

"You do feel." Blair points out. "Just no pain."

"And pain sucks," I mumble, "but I want it."

Blair's eyes meet mine. "No," she says, "you don't."

Taken from chapter 21.

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