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Chapter One

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I sometimes wonder what it feels like to die.

Under the burning shower, with cascades of water cocooning my body, I think: could death really be such a bad thing? Everything dark could be left behind. The pain, the memories, the mourning – everything. Maybe I'd drink too much one night and walk into the wrong alleyway, or perhaps my car would skid off an icy road and into a tree.

It could be simple. Quick, like the snap of a chord.

These thoughts run around in my mind more often than they should. It's like clockwork. Each night, the darkness creeps beneath my door, a mist that reaches for me with its twisted fingers.

At first, its touch is numbing – but the pain is always unbearable, no matter what. It's the midst of this, as the pain finally reaches its height, that I see her face. And when this happens, it feels like I'm already dead.

Every morning, I end up here.

The shower hisses above me and drops of burning water scald my skin. Here — in the small corner of my old bathroom in Crystal Lake, with the morning sun rising in east, — is where I feel the most alive. With the heat turned up to max, I'm able to escape the clutch of darkness, to fill my lungs with fresh air. It only lasts a moment, though. Because when I step out those glass doors, I'm ripped back into its claws.

***

Crystal Lake is exactly how I remember it.

Hidden in the middle of a small valley, the water is turquoise blue with a hint of green. It shimmers in the morning sunlight and small ripples from fish who grab at their breakfast extend from the centre to meet my feet dangling from the pier. The temperature is cool between my toes and the only sounds come from birds in trees and the bumbling of bees.

The lake has always been a solace to our family – especially in tourist season, when crowds overflow the beach and the heat is so unbearable the only thing that can quench it is a swim in the lake's cool water.

Until last year, I'd dive in with no second thought. I remember swimming to the very bottom, fingertips grazing the bed and grabbing for hidden treasures. More often than not, I'd find nothing interesting, but it was the idea I could that kept me going.

Now, though, things are different.

I don't think I could go deeper than my ankles even if I tried. Not since the accident, anyway. I take a deep breath, gripping the edge of the new wooden pier as I try to anchor myself into the present, away from the memories of last year's snowy night.

My lungs expand with air as I look around. Okay, maybe some things have changed. The rope, tied to the old oak tree which we used to swing from, is gone. Mom's gotten rid of our slide and in its place sits a hammock. And over there, right by Dad's vegetable patch, hundreds of daises sway in the breeze.

The sight makes me smile; Mom planted them last year and, for some reason, they just took. Now the grass is covered in those wild white flowers. So, yes: albeit the slight changes, the essence of Crystal Lake remains the same, and I think it always will. No matter what happened here.

I sigh. There are four hundred and eighty-three steps separating me from the house. If Mom wakes up and tries to check on me, will she panic at my empty bed, at the phone I left on my bedside? I wonder if she'll know where I am – if she'll run to Dad like she did before, already dialling 911. By the sound of a pair of feet falling heavily against the pier, I know someone's already figured it out.

'You're up early,' Elliot says, kneeling down next to me. He takes off his flip-flops and drops his feet into the water, making a small splash.

'Couldn't sleep,' I reply. 'You didn't have to come here, you know. I know you're busy right now.'

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