Chapter 1 - The World Turns Even in the Face of Grief

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"How is your first day going, Penny?" Gertrude Miller asked, settling into her chair.

Penny didn't register the sound of her name. She was lost in her thoughts as she stared out the window, watching the other students as they milled about the courtyard of Caribou Canyon High. Their wide smiles and brightly colored clothes gave the illusion that the sun was shining, but it wasn't. It was trapped behind the clouds, like it always was in Caribou Canyon, Colorado.


The warning bell rang, but the shrill sound wasn't enough to snap Penny from her reverie. She watched as everyone rushed inside for the final period of the day, but she wasn't seeing them at all. She was seeing a different first day: one from three years ago. A smaller version of herself walked onto the lawn, her ash blond hair in two braids instead of one. Next to her was her older-and cooler-brother Richie, who wasn't at all embarrassed to be tasked with showing his sister around the high school.

"Penny!" Ms. Miller shouted at the same time as the final bell rang.

Penny jumped. She turned away from the window and focused on Ms. Miller, the academic advisor and guidance counselor. Ms. Miller's eyes were kind. Too kind. Penny feared that kindness would soon turn to pity, and she'd had enough pity for one day. "I'm sorry. I was just-thinking."

Wrinkles formed around Ms. Miller's eyes. "Penny, I can't imagine today is easy for you. How are you holding up?"

Penny sat up straight and pasted a smile on her face. "I'm fine. It helps to have school to focus on." It was the same thing she'd said to the principal, assistant principal, secretary, seven teachers, and janitor who'd all asked her the same question. She was getting tired of saying it.

"You don't have to pretend. I know how close you and Richie were."

Penny had been about to say she wasn't pretending, but at the sound of her brother's name, an unexpected wave of grief hit her. The feeling was like a gust of wind; it pushed her back in the chair. She swallowed the lump in her throat. Ms. Miller was the first person to say Richie's name all day. In fact, she was the first person to say Richie's name in weeks; even her parents wouldn't say it. It was as though people were afraid that if they said his name they might remind her that he was dead.

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