Authors: Anna Banks
But my room is full of all things Chloe. There is nothing on my shelves, on my desk, or in my closet that doesn’t have something to do with her. Awards, pictures, makeup, clothes, shoes, stuff ed animals. Even my bedding— a quilted collage of pictures from our childhood we made together for a school project. If I took everything out of my room connected to Chloe, my room would be pretty empty.
The same as I feel inside.
I stop a few feet from the wet sand and plop down, drawing my knees to my chest. Morning tide makes a great companion when you don’t want to be around people. It soothes and comforts and doesn’t ask for anything. But the sun does. The higher it gets, the more I am reminded that nothing stops time. There is no escaping it. It slips by no matter if you’re looking at a driftwood grandfather clock or the sun.
My fi rst day of school without Chloe has arrived.
I wipe the tears from my eyes and stand. I scrunch my toes
in the sand with each step back to the house. Mom waits for me
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on the back- porch steps, smoothing out her robe with one hand and holding a travel mug of coff ee in the other. Set against the gray- shingle beach house, she looks like an apparition in her white robe— except apparitions don’t have long ebony hair, shockingly blue eyes, or drink espresso. She smiles the way a mother should smile at a daughter who is overwhelmed by loss. And it makes my tears spill bigger and faster.
“Morning,” she says, patting the wood next to her.
I sit and lean into her, let her wrap her arms around me.
“Morning,” I rasp.
She hands me the mug and I sip. “Make you breakfast?” she squeezes my shoulder.
“Thanks, but I’m not hungry.”
“You need some energy for your fi rst day of school. I could make pancakes. French toast. I’ve got the stuff to make some good garbage eggs.”
I smile. Garbage eggs are my favorite. She hunts down what-ever she can fi nd and puts it in my eggs— onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, hash browns, tomatoes, and what ever else might or might not have a place in an omelet. “Sure,” I say, standing.
I smell the concoction from the bathroom and try to guess what’s in it as I step out of the shower. Smells a lot like jalape-
ños, which brightens my mood a little. I fl ing my towel on the bed and pull a shirt off a hanger in the closet. I didn’t feel like shopping for new school clothes, so my classmates will have to
accept my old standby—T-shirt, jeans, and fl ip- fl ops. That’s 0—
what everyone will be wearing in two weeks anyway, when the
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new wears off their carefully planned outfi ts. I twist my hair into a sloppy bun atop my head and secure it with a pencil. I reach for my makeup bag and stop. Mascara is not a good idea today.
Maybe some foundation would be okay. I pick up the bottle—
the shade is “porcelain.” I slam it on my dresser in disgust. It’s like putting Wite- Out on a blank sheet of paper— pointless.
Besides, I can be porcelain all by myself. I’m practically
of porcelain these days.
Trudging down the stairs, a spicy aroma stings my nose. The garbage eggs are beautiful. They are piled high, steaming, and full of stuff . It is a shame that I mostly just push them around my plate. The glass of milk next to it sits untouched, unneeded.
I glance at my dad’s old place setting at the head of the table. It’s been two years since the cancer took him, but I can still remember the way he folded his newspaper beside his plate.
The way he and Chloe fought over the sports page. The way the town’s only funeral home smelled the same at his ser vice as it did for hers.
I wonder how many empty place settings a person can look at before they begin to crack.
Across the table, Mom slides a key toward my plate, hiding her expression behind her coff ee cup. “Feeling up to driving today?”
I’m surprised she doesn’t wrap it up with “hint, hint.” Or maybe a banner that reads, you need to start doing normal things, like driving yourself around.
I nod. Chew. Stare at the key. Chew some more. Grab the
key, shove it in my pocket. Take another bite. My mouth should
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be on fi re, but I taste nothing. The milk should be cold, but it’s like tap water. The only thing that burns is the key in my pocket, daring me to touch it. I set the dishes in the sink, grab my backpack, and head for the garage. Alone.
As long as no one hugs me, I will be fi ne. I walk down a hall of Middle Point High School, nodding at the kids I’ve known since elementary school. Most of them have enough sense to just throw a sympathetic glance in my direction. Some talk to me anyway, but nothing too dangerous, just neutral things like “Good morning” and “I think we have third period together.” Even Mark Baker, Middle Point’s quarterback- slash- deity, gives me a supportive smile through the school- colored war paint smeared on his face. Any other day, I’d be texting Chloe to inform her that
Mark Baker acknowledged my existence. But the whole reason I don’t is the same reason he acknowledged me in the fi rst place: Chloe is dead.
They all lost their track star. Their bragging rights. In a few weeks, they
won’t even realize something’s missing. They’ll just move on. Forget about Chloe.
I shake my head but know it’s true. A few years ago, a fresh-man riding on the back of her older brother’s motorcycle died when he ran a stop sign and careened into a car. Flowers and cards were taped to her lockers, the student body held a candlelit vigil in the football stadium, and the class president spoke at a special memorial the school arranged for her. Today, I can’t for the life of me remember her name. She was in a few of the same
clubs as me, some classes, too. I can see her face clearly. But I can’t 0—
remember her name.
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I test the combo to my new locker. It opens, third try. I stare into it, feeling as hollow as it looks. The hall takes a while to clear out, but I wait until it does. When it is quiet, when the classroom doors ease closed, when the hall stops smelling like perfume and cologne, I slam the locker shut as hard as I can. And it feels good.
Because I am late to class, I’m forced to sit up front. The back row is ideal for spacing out or for texting, but I have no one to text. Today, I could space out on a roller coaster, so the front row is as good a seat as any. I glance around the room as Mr.
Pinner passes out a class- rule sheet. Model airplanes hang by strings from the ceiling, timelines stripe the walls, and black-and- white pictures of the Egyptian pyramids adorn a nearby information board. History used to be my favorite class, but in view of my new vendetta against time, I’m just not feeling it.
Mr. Pinner is on Rule No. 3 when he looks up and to the back of the class. “Can I help you? Surely you’re not already violating Rule Numero Uno! Anybody remember that one?”
“Arrive on time,” chimes in a do- gooder from the back.
“Is this world history?” the presumable violator asks. His voice is even, confi dent, nothing like it should be, given that he’s violated Numero Uno. I hear a few people shuffl e in their chairs, probably to get a look at him.
“The one and only,” says Mr. Pinner. “Unless, of course, you mean the one down the hall.” He chuckles at his joke.
“Is this, or is this not, world history?” the student asks again.
A rash of whispers breaks out, and I smile at the timeline
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I’m looking at. Mr. Pinner clears his throat. “Didn’t you hear me the fi rst time? I said this is world history.”
“I did hear you the fi rst time. You didn’t make yourself clear.” Even the do- gooder snickers. Mr. Pinner fi dgets with the leftover rule sheets in his hand and pushes his glasses up on his nose. The girl behind me whispers, “Gorgeous!” to her neighbor, and since she can’t be talking about Mr. Pinner, I take the bait and turn around.
And my breath catches in my throat.
He is standing in the doorway—
no, he’s fi lling up the doorway—
nothing but a binder and an irritated expression. And he is already staring at me.
Mr. Pinner says, “Come have a seat up front, young man.
And you can sit here for the remainder of the week as well. I don’t tolerate tardiness. What is your name?”
“Galen Forza,” he answers without taking his eyes off me.
Then he strides to the desk next to me and seats himself. He dwarfs the chair meant for a normal adolescent male, and as he adjusts to get comfortable, a few feminine whispers erupt from the back. I want to tell them that he looks even better without a shirt on, but I have to admit that a tight T-shirt and worn jeans almost does him justice.
Even so, his presence sends me reeling. Galen has been a key player in my nightmares these past weeks, which have been nothing but a subconscious rehashing of the last day of Chloe’s life. It doesn’t matter if I sleep for forty minutes or two hours;
I smack into him, hear Chloe approaching, feel embarrassed all 0—
over again. Sometimes she asks him to go to Baytowne with us
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and he agrees. We all leave together instead of getting in the water.
Sometimes the dream gets mixed up with a diff erent one—
the one where I’m drowning in Granny’s backyard pond. The events run together like watercolors; Chloe and I fall in the water, and the school of catfi sh materialize out of nowhere and push us both to the surface. Dad’s boat is waiting for us, but I taste saltwater instead of fresh.
I would rather have the dream with the real ending, though—
it’s horrible to see over and over, but it doesn’t last very long, and when I wake up, I know Chloe is dead. When we take the alternate endings, I wake up thinking she’s alive. And I lose her all over again.
But the tingles never show up in my dreams. I’d forgotten about them, in fact. So when they show up now, I blush. Deeply.
Galen gives me a quizzical look, and for the fi rst time since he sat down, I notice his eyes. They’re blue. Not violet like mine, as they were on the beach. Or were they? I could have sworn Chloe commented on his eyes, but my subconscious might have made that up, the same way it makes up alternate endings. One thing’s for sure: I didn’t make up Galen’s habit of staring. Or the way it makes me blush.
I face forward in my desk, fold my hands on top of it, and train my eyes on Mr. Pinner. He says, “Well, Mr. Forza, don’t forget where you’re sitting because that’s where you’ll be until next week.” He hands Galen a rule sheet.
“Thank you, I won’t,” Galen tells him. A few giggles sprinkle
behind us. It is offi
cial. Galen has a fan club.
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As Mr. Pinner talks about . . . well, really I have no idea what he’s talking about. All I know is that the tingles give way to something else— fi re. Like there’s a stream of molten lava fl owing between my desk and Galen’s.
“Ms. McIntosh?” Mr. Pinner says. And if I remember correctly, Ms. McIntosh is me.
“Uh, sorry?” I say.
Ms. McIntosh,” he says, on the verge of exasperation. “Have any idea when it sank?”
Ohmysweetgoodness, I do.
I became obsessed with the
for a good six months after we studied it last year. Last year, before I had a vendetta against history, the passage of time. “April fi fteen, 1912.”
Mr. Pinner is instantly pleased. His thin lips open into a smile that makes him look toothless because his gums are so big. “Ah, we have a history buff . Very nice, Ms. McIntosh.” The bell rings.
The bell rings?
We’ve spent fi fty minutes in this class already?
“Remember, people, study the rule sheet. Snuggle it at night, eat lunch with it, take it to the movies. It’s the only way you’re passing my class,” Mr. Pinner calls over the bustle of students herding out the door.
I give Galen the opportunity to leave fi rst. I open my binder, shuffl
e around some blank notebook paper, and make a show of tightening the straps of my backpack. He doesn’t move.
. I stand, snatch up my things, and glide past him. The lava rallies
at my wrist when he grabs it, like he’s branding me with his 0—
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He remembers my name. Which means he remembers that I nearly knocked myself out on his bare chest. I wish I had applied the porcelain foundation this morning— it might have covered up at least some of my blush.
“Hi,” I say. “I didn’t think you’d remember me.” I’m aware of a few stares coming from the back of the class— some of his fans have stayed behind and are patiently waiting their turn.
“Well, welcome to Middle Point. You probably have to get to class, so I’ll see you later.”
He grips harder when I try to pull away. “Wait.” I glance down at his hold and he releases me. “Yes?” I say.
He looks down at his desk, runs a hand through his black hair. I remember that Galen’s gift is not small talk. Finally, he looks up. The confi dence has returned to his eyes. “Do you think you could help me fi nd my next class?”
“Sure, but it’s pretty simple. There are three halls here. The one hundred hall, the two hundred hall, and the three hundred hall. Let me see your schedule.” He fi shes it out of his pocket and hands it to me to unwad. Smoothing it out, I say, “Your next class is in room one twenty- three. That means you’re going to the one hundred hall.”