Authors: Emily Hainsworth
To Stefan, for showing me another world,
and to Courtney,
for helping me find my way there
For this is Wisdom; to love, to live,
To take what Fate, or the Gods, may give,
To ask no question, to make no prayer,
To kiss the lips and caress the hair,
Speed passion’s ebb as you greet its flow,—
To have,—to hold,—and,—in time,—let go!
S THE SAME DREAM I
VE BEEN HAVING FOR THE PAST TWO
months—Viv walking away from glass and fire, her laughter echoing through the night. She’s coming toward me, her lips stretched into a seductive smile. Her hips sway and I want to touch her so much it hurts. I want to bury my fingers in her black hair. She’s a dark, stunning contrast to the bright flames rising behind her. I anticipate breathing in her scent—it’s like spring—and running my hands over her skin, never letting go. But then she stops and looks away from me. The fire dances on her cheek. I want to scream, but I am mute. I reach for her, but I can’t move. She turns back toward the flames.
I’ve lost her again.
I close my hand into a fist and I crack one eye open. Mike Liu stands at the end of the library table, uncomfortable.
“Hey, Cam. The bell rang.”
I wipe drool from my mouth and peel my face off the spiral notebook in front of me. I rub at the deep ridges it leaves in my cheek. “Thanks.”
He hesitates, adjusting the backpack on his shoulder. “See you at lunch?”
I don’t look up. “Yeah.”
As he walks away, I wish for a second I’d said more than two words to him. But two words are all I manage to give anyone these days.
Other students filter out of the library. I’m alone.
I slump back in my chair and stare out the window. It has a good view of the street corner. I stare at it until something sweeps by the glass—a tangle of black hair. I stand up too fast, nearly knocking the chair over. My legs freeze; I blink, and it’s just a raven flying by. I exhale. Viv has been dead for two long months, but she’s still everywhere.
Outside it’s too warm for early October. Indian summer. The leaves are still hanging on to the trees, flowers are still blooming. Everything is so
. I wish winter would hurry and freeze it all. I’m supposed to be in trig, but I make a beeline for her corner. I changed my schedule so I could see this wedge of concrete from every class. By all appearances, it’s an average intersection where two sidewalks meet. The old utility pole that snapped in two has been replaced, the landscaping patched back together. The cards, pictures, and drooping stuffed animals are even beginning to blend in. The flowers I brought this week have wilted.
It’s been two months exactly. Today.
I try not to look at the smiling photographs, but one of them catches my eye, taken straight out of the yearbook. It’s from freshman year, when she was still cheerleading. Her curves didn’t quite fill out her uniform then. She wears red and white ribbons in her hair. Her cheeks are pink and healthy, her smile even wider than I remember. I force my eyes to the notes, though I’ve memorized them all.
Viv, you are missed
Why do bad things happen to good people? Miss you, Viv
Can’t believe you’re gone
I dig my fingernails into my palms. They don’t
her. I recognize every one of the signed names. None of them would have called her their friend to her face. You’re not supposed to opt out of the popular crowd like she did. Either you’re never in, or you fall from it, like me.
I need a cigarette.
There’s a pack at the bottom of my bag, and I rifle through notebooks and loose papers searching for it. My fingers graze cellophane and I withdraw the half-crumpled box, tapping it against my palm. I flip back the lid, place a cigarette between my lips, and fumble for a lighter. My pockets are cluttered, and I get annoyed when I don’t immediately find one. I pull the bag off my shoulder and dig through it until I notice a slight bulge in the lining—eureka. There’s a small tear that I hastily widen, itching to light up, but when I pull my hand out and see my Zippo instead of the cheap Bic I was looking for, I stop.
My thumb traces over the monogram she had engraved on it for my seventeenth birthday—C.P. I close my fist so I won’t have to look at it, but the
of it is worse. Cold, smooth, and hard. My knuckles turn white. Before I can think, I chuck it into the semi-mangled shrubs where Viv’s front tire came to rest. I’m sure that’s the spot, because when I woke up next to her lifeless body, covered in glass and smelling of gasoline, I stumbled around the car and
into those bushes. They were prickly and unforgiving, and I found scratches under my shirt days later. I don’t remember much of that night besides her bloody shape slumped against the cracked driver’s-side window, but I remember those fucking bushes.
If I hadn’t dropped the stupid lighter—if Viv hadn’t laughed at me for being a klutz and reached for it herself—if she hadn’t been going quite so fast so we could get to my house and into bed—and if it hadn’t been raining—I might not be standing here staring at her pathetic shrine on the sidewalk.
I wish it were mine.
Stupid fucking lighter.
Coming here was a bad idea. It always is.
I’m brushing past the utility pole when I hear a voice over my shoulder.
I turn, but no one’s there.
I turn again, all the way around, and I see no one, but I could swear a girl said my name. The voice had a metallic quality, as if spoken through a spinning fan blade.
“Mr. Pike.” A deep new tone takes me by surprise. I whirl around to see Coach Reed—
—the vice principal of Fowler High. He gives me this assessing look as he approaches, the one where you’re supposed to feel like he can see inside your very soul. It hasn’t worked on me since I quit the team.
“Pike, you’re standing on school grounds.”
I wait for the punch line.
He plucks the cigarette from my mouth and hands it to me. Shit.
“Even if you were eighteen, smoking on school grounds
prohibited.” He gestures across the street to the graffitied bus shelter, where the smokers of Fowler High seek refuge, kids and teachers alike. “If you’re going to cultivate the habit, do it
I stare at the bench under the shelter, at the beat-up safety glass that’s so scratched it doesn’t qualify as a window anymore. I look back to Viv’s shrine, to the cards, the bushes, the utility pole. You wouldn’t be able to see any of it through that glass. I look down at the unlit cigarette in my hand. Did I think I would have enjoyed it without her? I toss it into the gutter.
“Just quit, sir.”
What do you know—three words. I walk away before Mr. Reed—I will not call him Coach—has time to answer. I can
his concern. Since I’m supposed to be in trigonometry, I stroll back toward school, pulling open a beaten metal door down the hall from the art room. He calls out to me.
I throw the half-smoked pack of cigarettes into a trash can before the door clicks shut behind me.
The cafeteria overflows into the main hall, as usual. Budget cuts or bake sale mismanagement have forced the school to
rather than expand. The sad thing is, almost everyone prefers eating out here in the dim, outdated hallway than eating at the tables in a brightly lit room that reeks of stale pizza. Almost everyone, including me.
There are alcoves along the wall for the numerous double doors leading into the auditorium, and the doorways are always hot property because they’re more private, but I snag one early. Two girls glance over when I sit down. They go quiet, and I can feel one of them staring at me. I sit cross-legged and don’t look up. The other one mutters and I hear them zipping their backpacks. I relax a little—they’re going to move.
But then one of them comes and kneels by me.
“Hi …” She’s a redhead with a heart-shaped face. I don’t recognize her. Probably a freshman or sophomore who doesn’t know any better. I turn my head and don’t acknowledge her. She continues softly, “I just wanted to say … I’m sorry. I didn’t know her, but it’s really sad. She was so pretty.”
My hair hangs in my eyes. I don’t look up, don’t even act like she’s there.
She stays next to me for an awkward half minute, waiting for me to respond while I study the floor tiles and wish people would stop trying to pretend they care. Finally, she gets the message. She quietly picks up her bag and joins her friend again.
“See?” the other girl says. “Now do you believe me?”
They walk away down the hall. I exhale.
I don’t eat. Viv and I used to leave for lunch, or at least go outside to smoke. I was just assigned a book for English, so I take it out of my backpack. I don’t know what the story’s about, but people are way less likely to talk to you if you look busy. There are no windows in the hall, and the cafeteria faces the athletic field. This is the only part of the day when I can’t see the street corner. I keep the book open and try to disappear in my alcove, waiting for the period to end. The lunch voices meld into chaotic chatter around me.
I’m dozing off when a backpack thuds down beside me. Mike. I forgot he said something about meeting for lunch. I return to the book and try to look like I’m really into it until I notice I’m holding it upside down. Mike notices too, but he pulls out a sketchbook and doesn’t say anything.
An obnoxious set of voices breaks through the lunch hum, drawing my attention from the upside-down book. Logan West and Sharif Rahman lead a group of my former teammates; they’re pushing their way down the hall.
Sharif hollers at Mike, “Hey, Liu!”
“Rahman,” Mike returns. “What’s up?”
“Hey, Pike!” Logan shouts at me. He flips me off.
I look away. If Viv were in the alcove with me, I wouldn’t have even seen him.
After they’re gone, I don’t move. Mike is absently sketching. He takes out an energy bar and starts to chew. I can’t believe he still eats those things. I wouldn’t play a game without them once upon a time, but they taste like chocolate sawdust. He leans back into the shadows of the alcove, chewing while he draws, and it’s all I can do to sit there with him not saying anything.