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Authors: Hannah; Kay

Tags: #Young Adult Fiction

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BOOK: The Artist and Me
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She sneered back, setting the bags on the table by the door. “Thank you,” she told him, leaning up on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek.

He nodded, flashing a grin her way and gently pushing her shoulder. “’Course, beautiful.” He pecked her forehead, smiling. “How’s she doing?”

Krista exhaled sharply. “She’s up and moving,” she answered quietly, and I could almost hear her biting her lip.

He suddenly noticed me and coughed awkwardly. “Julie!” he greeted, looking to Krista, who was frowning. “How’re you doing?” His voice was slightly tense but I couldn’t blame him.

I shrugged. “I’m all right.” It was such a lie that it was laughable.

“Really? Because you look like hell.” His eyes shone with his joke, or rather… Let’s go with joke.

I managed a laugh for his benefit and it felt good. “Thanks, Mike,” I answered, smiling his way before strolling over to grab the food. “Now we’re trying to have a girls’ night, and last time I checked, you aren’t a girl.”

He thought for a minute, a slow grin spreading across his lips. “You checked?” He paused, weighing my reaction before continuing. “How drunk was I?” He wailed with laughter, but Krista just rolled her eyes, gently prodding him out the door. “All right, all right, I’ll go peacefully, but just know neither of you will be getting a discount on Girl Scout cookies!” With that, Krista closed the door in his face.

I looked at her. “And you’re dating him?” It was a weak joke, but a joke still.

She laughed quietly, wrapping one arm around my neck and steering me toward the living room. “Yes, somehow I love him.”

I’d never heard her say she loved him before and as I fell into the mountain of blankets, everything changed. My smile faded, everything went cold again. My blood ran as ice.

Oblivious, she started the movie once again and the characters went along with their lives, yet suddenly everyone was holding hands or kissing or saying they were in love and my entire body shook. I could hear his voice in my head, echoing endlessly those three words that set my entire body aflame with doubt.

I’m not sure when I started crying into my fried rice or when Krista pulled me into a hug or when the TV screen scrolled past the credits and blared blue. My body shook, wracked with pent-up sobs.

Eventually my sobs became shallower, the heaving in my chest narrower and I relaxed against the couch, teeth chattering along with my sharp releases of breath. Krista, in a near silent voice, whispered my name. My eyes cut up to meet hers, but I knew the question she would ask. “What happened?”

There was suddenly an earth-shattering sound, the loud bang of thunder without its faithful partner lighting, a shudder in the night sky. My breath came out in a rush, tears all gone but body still wracked as I lifted my eyes to Krista’s. “What day is it?”

She sighed, abandoning her question for a moment to answer me. “It’s the Fourth of July.” To affirm her statement, another blow to the sky.

I shuddered. The last day I remembered was June twenty-sixth.

Chapter Eighteen

 

 

 

Lucas

 

Sweat striped my face and plastered my shirt to my chest on Fourth of July night. The chubby guy on the news prophesized that it was the hottest day of the year, and he wasn’t wrong. Of course, I hadn’t been outside much all summer, so an hour into the Fourth festivities, I was already soaked to the bone.

Mike, on the other hand, had been on the court all summer, fine-tuning his basketball skills—because being the star of the football team wasn’t enough—so he was used to the blaring sun. He was stretched out on the sand with his back against a cooler of root beer in jeans and a white T-shirt, looking incredibly cool for the heat index. On his lap was a plate piled high with food—cheeseburgers, hot dogs, beans, chips, cookies, brownies, macaroni and cheese, French fries and so much more—that he was shoveling into his mouth without pause.

My plate was less extensive, with just a cheeseburger and a couple of hot dogs, neither of which I’d touched. It was resting on the sand beside me, but I was cradling a bottle of root beer.

“You realize that isn’t really alcohol, right?” Mike asked through a full mouth.

I took another drag anyway. “For the soul.”

He chuckled, swigging his own. “You’re too poetic, dude.” I couldn’t tell if it was a joke.

“Yeah.” The response was short but I didn’t care.

He groaned, chucking a chip at me. I ducked. “Man, snap out of it.”

I shrugged.

He sighed. “It’s going to be a long night.”

 

* * * *

 

Hours passed. The fireworks wouldn’t start for another hour and my head was pounding. “Man, I think you had a few too many root beers,” Mike joked, shoving my shoulder.

I sneered back. “You’re so funny.”

He chuckled before exhaling. “Seriously, though, Lucas… You’re looking a little green.”

“Thanks,” I answered sarcastically.

He sighed. “Come on, man.” He patted my back encouragingly. “Cheer up.”

“I’m fine,” I answered, crossing my arms and flopping onto the sand.

“You aren’t fine—” Mike began but cut short. “Um, Clara, what are you doing?”

My eyes snapped up. “Clara?” My little sister was stumbling down the beach, root beer clutched between her fingers in one of her signature skimpy bikinis. Her hair was wild and her eyes shone with alcohol. “Clara!” I yelled, jumping to my feet.

Her eyes turned to meet mine. “Lucas!” She giggled, grinning and stumbling to where Mike and I now stood. “Having a good time?” Her words slurred.

“Clara, you’re drunk,” I exclaimed as she took my arm, grinning.

“Oh, come on, Lucas! I’m just having a bit of fun. It’s just root beer,” she countered, leaning against me.

Mike took her bottle and sniffed it, groaning. “Oh yeah. Someone spiked it.”

I shook my head. “Come on, Clara,” I murmured, pulling her arm.

She frowned, carefully sculpted eyebrows pulling together. “Where are we going?”

“Home,” I answered, attempting to drag her up the beach.

She shook her head. “No, Lucas! I wanna stay!” she yelled, trying to pull from my grasp but failing. Her feet slipped from under her, and she hit the ground hard.

I sighed, stooping down to pick her up. I looked at Mike. “I’ve got to get her home. I’ll see you tomorrow.” With that I trudged up the beach, carrying my little sister like a drunken rag doll.

The road was empty. It was long, though. It was a long stretch of dark road and my heart beat hectically. Mom and Dad wouldn’t be happy with me when we got home. I should have had a closer eye on Clara, but instead I’d been wrapped up in myself. I was focusing on my own pity and my own sadness, which was really ridiculous because she didn’t care. Unfortunately my emotions have never had an off switch.

“Lucassss,” Clara whined from the back seat. “Let’s go back to the party!”

I shook my head. “No, Clara.”

“Come on. We never have any fun,” she moaned, thrashing in her seat.

I turned to look at her suddenly then. Our eyes met for a fraction of a second when she gasped. “What?”

I saw it in the corner of my eyes. My head swiveled in time to see it coming. Headlights.

Above, the fireworks started.

Clara screamed.

My vision fizzled to black.

Chapter Nineteen

 

 

 

Julie

 

Sunshine filtered through the living room windows and I flipped over to hide from the harsh light. We were sprawled out on the floor in a hoard of pillows and blankets. The blue light from my father’s old TV illuminated Krista’s face and I exhaled. It was much too like the day at the Getaway House when I’d awoken to Lucas’ slumber in the TV light. I wish it was that simple, but it’s just—

Buzz buzz.

Somewhere on the food-cluttered coffee table, my phone vibrated violently. I groaned, dragging myself from the down of pillows to search for it.

Buzz buzz.

I reached blindly for the phone and exhaled as my fingers finally crested the cool metal, drawing it into my palm just as it stopped ringing.

I blinked. Four missed calls from Lucas. We hadn’t so much as spoken since the unthinkable had happened. Why would he choose now to call?

Buzz
.

It echoed through my skin.

Buzz
.

“Hello?” I answered quickly, but it sounded choked.

“Julie, I’ve been trying to get a hold of you and Krista for hours.”

I frowned. That wasn’t Lucas’ voice. “Mike, what’s wrong?”

There was a beat of silence. “Julie, Lucas had a car accident.”

Krista stirred beside me.

My mouth went dry. “Is he okay?” Even as I said it, my lips quivered.

All I heard was Mike’s heavy breathing.

Krista’s hand probed the phone from my hands. “Mike, where are you?” My heart thudded loudly in my chest. “Okay, we’ll be there.” She hung up the phone and silence nestled between us.

“Julie.” Her voice was soft like a kitten’s fur.

“Yes?” I asked quietly, hands shaking.

“Don’t worry. He’ll be all right.” Her voice was even and strong, but something told me she was bluffing.

I stood up. “Let’s go.”

Krista decided she should drive, and I didn’t disagree. I sat in the passenger seat of her car, legs pulled up to my knees and head pressed against the window. I’m sure I looked awful. I’d thrown on a pair of worn jeans—probably dirty—and a T-shirt without noticing what was on it. I’d tossed my hair into a messy bun and skipped the makeup, hopping into her car before she was even dressed. The cool windowpane was soothing to my now-heated skin as she bounded down the front steps and slammed the door closed behind her, hammering for the car.

The road was empty of other cars, so she sped down the road toward the hospital on the other side of town. It was small but I assumed it was functional. “If he’s here, it can’t be that bad,” she whispered into the windshield and I wondered if it were for my benefit or hers.

I let out a shattered breath. “I hope so.”

She exhaled, glancing over at me to offer a small, weak smile. “He’s got to be.”

I knew she’d meant it as a joke, but it came out desperate. He was her best friend too.

“Yeah.” With that, she drove in silence.

The hospital was eerie blue and white and desolate apart from the nurses in their kaleidoscope-colored scrubs and grim faces. Krista approached the front desk and talked to a perky nurse with blonde hair who pointed down the hall. I followed her hand before Krista could even turn.

The hallway bottomed out into a waiting room with stiff brown-backed chairs and off-white painted walls and I exhaled when I saw Mike.

He stood up and scooped me into his arms. His strength was a comfort and he warmed the ice in my veins, but when he pulled away I realized his familiar smile was missing. It turned my stomach, even as his hand squeezed mine. “I’ve missed you, Jules.” His eyes met mine to show his sincerity and a knot formed in my stomach.

“I missed you too,” I answered, because I had. I’d missed them all and now something terrible and unthinkable could be happening.

He pulled Krista into a tight hug, framing her body in his firmly. I shuddered out a cry, entire body quaking. Krista looked at Mike, frowning. “Where is he, Mike?”

“He’s just down the hall but they’re only letting his parents be in there,” he hedged nervously, slumping down into one of the chairs and pinching his nose.

I frowned, turning to sit beside him. “Mike, where’s Clara?”

His eyes were tired. “Clara…was in the car.” He didn’t say anything else but he didn’t have to.

A chill ran down my spine and I rubbed my arms, heart beating steadily in my ears. They were talking about something softly beside me but I couldn’t hear them. Their words were glazed and my mind preoccupied.

Clara was gone. Lucas’ little sister, who he loved, was dead. He was in a hospital bed, fighting for his life right now. Only God knew if he was winning or losing, and I just couldn’t handle it. My heart felt like it weighed a million pounds in my chest. My feet tapped anxiously against the cruel linoleum.

“I need coffee,” I mumbled, standing.

Mike nodded. “I’ll come with you. I’ve been sitting here since one,” he agreed, shepherding me down the hallway. “The cafeteria’s down here.”

I nodded and we moved in simultaneous silence until I exhaled sharply. “What happened, Mike?” My head hurt like I’d spent all night watching old movies and chick flicks—which I had—but who knew it would all end so catastrophically?

He sighed. “Lucas and I were at the beach for the party last night.” He paused, piecing together his answer. “Well, I was there. He was
distracted
.” The word didn’t fit but he couldn’t think of a better one. “Then Clara showed up, completely wasted and carrying around a root beer bottle that someone had obviously spiked.” He sighed, pushing the cafeteria doors open. “Lucas dragged her from the party, kicking and screaming.” He chuckled lifelessly but it almost immediately turned to a frown. “I should have gone with him. I knew he wasn’t all there, even before his drunk sister showed up. I shouldn’t have let him go alone.” I could see in his sad eyes that he’d been thinking about it for eight hours. “Anyway, my mom called me around midnight, freaking out, and I came straight here.”

I nodded but didn’t comfort him. Somehow I knew that comforting him wouldn’t help.

“Three coffees, please,” he asked the tired old lady at the cafeteria’s counter.

I stepped up beside him with a lifted eyebrow. “I thought you didn’t like coffee,” I attempted to joke.

BOOK: The Artist and Me
5.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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