Authors: Hannah Jayne
Copyright © 2013 by Hannah Jayne
Cover and internal design © 2013 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover design by Elsie Lyons
Cover image © Christy Chaloux/Getty Images
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To my mother, who probably doesn’t know that the fact that she went after her dream gave me the courage to go after my own.
“Thank you for coming.”
The words rose and fell on the soft pile carpet, and Sawyer wondered whether she should brush the small ball of fuzz from Kevin’s earlobe. It stuck there, stark and white against the dark navy blue of his suit.
“I couldn’t have gotten through today without you,” Mrs. Anderson said, squeezing Sawyer’s ice-cold hand.
Sawyer knew she should say something comforting, something warm and thoughtful, but all she could focus on was that little bit of fuzz on Kevin’s left ear.
“They said it was immediate,” someone whispered. “They said he was drunk.”
Sawyer had heard those words tumble over and over in her mind every minute for the past forty-eight hours.
immediate, Kevin was drunk, he didn’t stand a chance
. She wasn’t crying—couldn’t anymore—as she stared down at Kevin. His eyes were closed, his lips slightly parted, and his hands were gently crossed against his chest. Sawyer couldn’t help but think from somewhere dark, somewhere deep inside of her, that at least he couldn’t hurt her anymore.
“You must be devastated.”
Sawyer felt Mr. Hanson, her Spanish teacher, lay a gentle hand on her shoulder. She shrunk away, the smell of lilies suddenly overwhelmingly cloying. “I’ll be right back.”
She took the stairs two at a time, her black ballet flats falling soundlessly on the carpet. She paused on the top floor landing when she saw the girl at the end of the hall.
The girl blinked at Sawyer.
She was tall and thin—unfortunately so—with a boyish body that was all edges and angles. Her long brown hair was looped in a herringbone braid that fell over one shoulder, and baby hairs stood up in a static-y halo around her head, shot out from the loose weave of the braid. The girl’s eyes looked like they may have been velvety brown and deeply alive once, but they were sunken and flat now. Her full lips were barely pink and pulled down at the edges. This girl wore her mourning black like a second skin.
Sawyer swallowed; the girl swallowed.
Sawyer paused for a full beat before tugging self-consciously at her braid, then averted her eyes from the mirror that reflected a girl she scarcely recognized. She continued down the hall, moving quickly.
She knew from nights lying to her parents and sneaking, shoeless, past his parents’ room that Kevin’s door was the last one on the left. She slipped in there on a sigh, clicking the door shut softly behind her. A curl-edged painting was scotch taped to the back of Kevin’s door and Sawyer, stunned, fingered it softly. It was a beach scene she had painted the first day Kevin spoke to her. They were in art class and she was lost in her own brush strokes, squinting, leaning close to make the crush of the waves as realistic as possible.
“You’re really good,” he had said, his chin jutting toward the scene. Sawyer could still feel the overwhelming heat in her cheeks as her index finger followed the curl of foam on the forever-still water.
She heard a soft breath in the yellowing light that filtered through the blinds and cracked across the painting. “The recruiter came to see him, you know.”
Mr. Anderson said it without turning around. Kevin’s father was perched on the end of his son’s bed; his head was bowed and his back was toward her, but Sawyer could see that his fingers were working the silky fabric of Kevin’s number twenty-one Hawthorne Hornets football jersey while an army of gold plated football trophies looked on.
“He talked about marrying you.” Mr. Anderson looked over his shoulder then, his watery blue eyes finding Sawyer, a reminiscing half smile on his chapped lips. “He said that he’d get into Cal and you’d get into the Art Institute and that would be it.”
Sawyer tried to smile, tried to remember the moments when she and Kevin would sprawl in the grass, her hand finding his as they talked about a future that was far off and pristine, that sloughed off divorce and jealousy and high school pressures and rivalries. She remembered telling Kevin that she wanted to go to the Art Institute, remembered the far-off look in his eyes when a smile snaked across his lips.
“What?” she said, barely able to keep the grin from her lips.
Sawyer’s hand gently. “How perfect is that? I’ll go to Cal, be the dashing football star, and you’ll be across the bay at the Art Institute painting portraits of your beloved.”
“Portraits of John Lennon? I think I’d get tired of that.”
arm—gently, softly—and Sawyer slipped into his lap, loving the feeling of his arms wrapped around her. She felt so safe, so warm, and when his lips nuzzled her ear, she felt the spark move low in her belly.
Now the memory caught in her throat.
she told herself.
Mr. Anderson sucked in a sharp breath that brought Sawyer back to the present; she looked up just in time to see Kevin’s father double over himself, heavy hands hugging his sides. There was no sound except the ragged tear of his breath as he cried.
Sawyer felt her bottom lip quiver, and when she pinched her eyes shut, she saw Kevin, cheeks pink and alive, lips pressed up into that half smile he shared with his father. In her mind’s eye, that grin turned into a snarl. She heard the sickening smack of skin against skin in her head. She reeled, feeling the sting again.
“He loved you so much.”
Sawyer felt Kevin’s warm breath, heard the deep rumble of his voice as he told her he loved her for the first time. She remembered the shiver that zinged from the top of her head to the base of her spine, amazed, delighted, enraptured. Kevin—Kevin Anderson, the most popular boy in school—loved
She was everything in that moment when Kevin’s fingertips brushed against the small of her back, when his lips pressed up against hers. Her life—her family—had splintered. Her mother had moved across the country, her father loved another woman, but Kevin Anderson wanted Sawyer. He wanted Sawyer Dodd, and that made her feel
. She wanted to hold on to that moment, was desperate to hold on to that moment and nothing else—not when he got angry, not when she made him mad, not the tear-racked apologies that followed.
Sawyer nodded, the tears slipping over her cheeks. “I loved him too.”
The mood at school on Monday was somber, and Sawyer was tired of people averting their stares when she walked by. Third-period choir was her favorite escape, and when she slipped into the band room, she couldn’t help but grin when Chloe Coulter, seated on the piano with long legs kicking, caught her eye.
“Sawyer!” Chloe vaulted off the piano, her blond ponytail flailing behind her. She tackled Sawyer in an enthusiastic hug, not caring as students shoved past them.
“How are you?” Chloe’s eyes were a bright, clear blue, and today they were wide and sympathetic, framed by too-dark black lashes and heavy brows. “Are you okay?”
Sawyer nodded slowly, and her best friend squeezed her hand, then blew out a sigh. “Did you just get back in town?”
Chloe waved a pink late pass. “Yeah.” Her eyes searched Sawyer. “I’m so sorry, Sawyer. I wish I could have been there. Was it awful? It was awful, wasn’t it? I should have been there with you. God, I suck.”
Sawyer swallowed hard. “It was your grandmother’s ninetieth birthday. No one expected you to come back.”
“But I would have,” Chloe said, blond ponytail bobbing.
“I can’t believe he’s gone,” Maggie Gaines said, her ski-jump nose a heady red. She was flanked on either side by stricken onlookers who offered condolences and Kleenex as Maggie murmured to them in a voice just loud enough to be overheard. When she caught Sawyer staring, Maggie’s glossy eyes went immediately hard and sharp.
“Look at her,” Chloe spat. “Kevin was your boyfriend, but Maggie needs to be the inconsolable center of attention. That should be you.”
Sawyer shrunk back into her baggy sweatshirt. “Let her have her moment,” she mumbled. “They dated for a while too.”
Chloe snorted. “Like a hundred years ago.”
Mr. Rose kicked open the side door and shoved a costume rack into the choir room. The student chatter died down and kids leaned forward, eyes glued to the new choir uniforms.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Mr. Rose started, “I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath to see what you’re wearing for this year’s regionals.”
The group groaned as a well-tuned whole.
The Hawthorne High Honeybee choir was known for only two things: being four-time back-to-back national champions and having the ugliest uniforms known to man. Sawyer’s freshman year featured an army green taffeta number with balloon sleeves and lace inlays for the girls, and equally unattractive green velvet blazers for the guys. Sophomore year the budget was cut, and the Honeybee choir showed up looking like an exceptionally well-tuned army of white-vested waiters. At the end of last year, the school had taken “pity” on the choir and offered up some leftover graduation gowns onto which the costume department had stitched fighting hornets and musical notes. That was what the group was expecting when Mr. Rose began his excited introduction.
“So, without further ado…” Mr. Rose pulled the black sheet off the costume bar and a collective “ah” sailed through the classroom. Maggie stopped sniffing into her Kleenex, Chloe gasped, and Sawyer sat up straighter.
With one hand, Mr. Rose held up a simple black satin sheath dress, its waist cinched with a thick red satin sash. In the other hand, he offered a black blazer with a red tie. The Honeybees cheered.
Mr. Rose, apple cheeks pushed up into a full-face smile, beamed. “The school board heard your fashion protests and decided—finally—that the Singing Honeybees should look like
time regional champions!”
Once the students had dropped back into some semblance of order, Mr. Rose handed out the plastic-wrapped garments. When he got to Sawyer he paused, giving her the sympathetic smile she was so quickly growing tired of seeing. He rested a soft hand on her shoulder, cocked his head. “Are you doing okay, Sawyer?”
Sawyer took her dress and offered him a small smile. “Yeah, I am. Thanks Mr. Rose.”
“You know, I’d like for the Honeybees to add a small tribute number to Kevin in our set list. He was such a big part of the Hornet community.”
Sawyer felt a lump growing in her throat and she nodded. “That sounds nice. Kevin would have liked that.”
“I’d like to feature you in a solo for that number.” Mr. Rose’s eyes were kind, his puffy gray eyebrows high, expectant. “Would that be okay with you?”
Sawyer nodded mutely, dread, excitement, sadness, and anxiety welling up inside her all at once. “Thank you, Mr. Rose,” she finally managed.
Mr. Rose passed Sawyer and Chloe, continuing his costume distribution to the other Honeybees. Chloe leaned in, excitement evident on her face.
“A solo?” she asked breathlessly. “Oh my God, that’s awesome! It just sucks that—” Chloe avoided Sawyer’s eyes, looked at her own hands folded in her lap. “It just sucks that Kevin couldn’t be here to hear you.”
Sawyer tried to form a response or a cohesive sentence, but nothing came out.
Mr. Rose took his spot behind the piano, and the Honeybees did their warm-ups. At the last note, he beckoned to Sawyer. She made her way to the front of the class, feeling the heat of all eyes on her. When she turned, it was just Maggie, her eyes narrowed, challenging. Sawyer offered a small noncombative smile that Maggie ignored.
Sawyer heard herself plead silently.
Maggie’s hate rolled off her in waves.
When the bell rang, Sawyer and Chloe gathered up their backpacks and new uniforms, and headed toward the door. Maggie, arms crossed in front of her chest, stopped Sawyer dead in her tracks.
“A solo?” she said. Her eyes raked over Sawyer, the distaste evident.
“Can you move, please? I need to get to my locker before fourth.” She was too tired to deal with one of Maggie’s jealous rages.
But Maggie remained in Sawyer’s way.
“Do you think I’m going to fall for you and your stupid little ‘woe is me’ act? Doubtful. You don’t deserve this solo, and you didn’t deserve Kevin. A real girlfriend wouldn’t be able to pull herself together, let alone do a solo.”
Sawyer wanted to fight back, but she was exhausted and emotionless. Maybe Maggie was right—she didn’t deserve to be Kevin’s girlfriend—didn’t deserve to be at the blunt end of his anger, a small voice inside her head nagged. Sawyer shook it off and shoved Maggie aside with more force than she meant.
“Lay off, Maggie.”
“Get over yourself,” Sawyer heard Chloe growl. “Sawyer doesn’t need to play the chick who can’t get herself together—you do it too well. It’s just too bad you’ve been doing it ever since Kevin dumped you. When was that exactly? Nine, ten months ago now? Little long to be carrying a flame, don’t you think?” Chloe flicked a lock of Maggie’s long hair, then wrinkled her nose. “It’s probably time to drag your obsessively depressed ass into the shower. It’ll make us all feel better.”
Chloe shoved past Maggie and linked arms with Sawyer, steering her down the hall.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Sawyer said, hiking her backpack over one shoulder. “I can handle Maggie.”
Chloe’s blue eyes went wide and baby-doll innocent. “Oh, honey. I didn’t do it for you.” She blinked, a wry smile spreading across her passion-pink lips. “I did it for me.”
.” Mr. Hanson was the school’s sole Spanish teacher, but at barely thirty years old, he looked more like a student than a faculty member. He edged his way between Sawyer and Chloe and grinned, while a hallway full of girls drooled. “
. Ah, Sawyer!
” he said, looking expectantly at her.