23 | Michael

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Mary. That was the last thing he remembered. Mary and the delinquent who died with Michael's brother. Their picture had been up on the big screen, before Madison Walsh had hastily apologized and continued on with Victoria Marcum's tribute.

Michael couldn't see anything, and he was pretty sure his eyes were closed. But as much as he tried, he couldn't pry them open. There was just a dark void in front of his lids, as his eyes darted around in the dark, trying and failing to see anything else.

His mind started to wander as his injured head tried to make sense of everything that had happened in the moments leading up to the black void. Mary and the delinquent. Jordan Conrad's brother...Neil. That was his name. Neil Conrad. The boy who died in the car crash with Michael's brother. Michael's brother. His name was...his name was...

Michael's head began to hurt as he tried to remember his brother's name. He stopped trying and instead focused on what he could remember: his name was Michael Hadden, he had a twin sister named Mary, and he was currently...for some reason...not awake.

Which honestly made no sense to his brain, since he was incredibly capable of thinking.

So he continued to think. He thought about opening his eyes. He thought hard about opening his eyes. He thought about seeing what was in front of him, and feeling what he was laying on, and hearing noises around him. He thought about waking up.

But eventually, thinking about something he couldn't control became exhausting. Too exhausting. And so his mind wandered again to something else.

He thought about a memory that was incapable of escaping him. The memory of the night he had been smacked in the back of the head with a rock and forced to the ground, dropping the ring on the ground. He remembered waking up to it not being there anymore.

His brother's ring. His brother's class ring, a ring that his brother had had specially made just for him. It was unique, and easily recognizable as his brother's.

A brother whose name he couldn't remember.

If that ring had been on the ground, yards away from where the car had crashed, that meant that they had more than one stalker. That meant that someone ran the four teenagers off the road and that someone else was waiting to kill them at the bottom of the ravine. Someone else dragged them back into the car to make it look like they had been killed on impact. Who was the second stalker, and why were they hiding behind the first one?

And for some strange reason, the fear that that thought brought to Michael's chest was enough to throw the poor boy out of his miserable state of darkness.

He blinked his eyes open.

***

"Michael? Michael, how long have you been awake?"

Michael shrugged slightly, looking around the hospital room. It was a large room, larger than the one he had been in when he broke his leg freshman year. There were posters on the walls—the kinds that advocated against smoking or unprotected sex. They were similar to the ones plastered in Barnum Prep's school nurse's office, or the ones that the guys who came to elementary schools to tell kids why drugs were bad used.

The posters were what caught Michael's attention far more than the pretty blonde nurse who was attempting to force Michael to speak. The posters grabbed his attention because in one of them, Erin Green smiled down at him. The one on the ceiling. The caption, in big block letters under her face, read, "Smoking would ruin these pearly whites. So why risk it?"

Michael blinked and then realized that the photo wasn't of Erin. It was a different girl, a different teenager with a big white smile and long brown hair. So Michael finally turned to the nurse.

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