Authors: Emiko Jean
Copyright Â© 2015 by Emiko Jean
All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
Book and jacket design by Lisa Vega
Jacket photograph Â© 2015 Getty Images
Hand-lettering by Leah Palmer Preiss
The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:
We'll never be apart / Emiko Jean.
Summary: Haunted by memories of the fire that killed her boyfriend, seventeen-year-old Alice Monroe is in a mental ward when, with support from fellow patient Chase, she begins to confront hidden truths in a journal, including that the only person she trusts may be telling her only half of the story.
ISBN 978-0-544-48200-5 (hardback)
[1. Mental illnessâFiction. 2. Psychiatric hospitalsâFiction. 3. Posttraumatic stress disorderâFiction. 4. DeathâFiction. 5. TwinsâFiction. 6. SistersâFiction. 7. LoveâFiction. 8. Foster home careâFiction.]
I. Title. II. Title: We'll never be apart.
who really keeps the sun in the sky
and the stars apart
and the water in the oceans.
I wrote this book for you.
ATER ON, WHEN THEY QUESTION ME, I'LL SAY IT WAS AN ACCIDENT.
An unfortunate tragedy. But it was neither. When they ask me what happened that night, I'll say,
It was a mistake
. But it wasn't.
I don't remember,
I'll say. But I do.
I, Celia Monroe, remember everything.
If I close my eyes, I can still see Alice and Jason running ahead of me, holding hands, their bodies suspended in a sliver of moonlight as they dashed through the forest. Before everything changed, the three of us were inseparableâAlice and I, especially. We were like the constellation Gemini, mirror images, forever united in the shimmering heavens.
There were no stars the night Alice and Jason escaped from the facility, but even in total darkness, they made it past the barbed-wire fence to the other side of an almost-frozen lake and through an overgrown field, where they finally found refuge in an abandoned barn. I crept in when I thought for sure they had gone to sleep, but their whispers made me pause, and my heart beat like a tethered bird's. They vowed quietly to each other to keep running, to head west, toward a better life. A life without me. And suddenly I saw myself for what I was, the perpetual third wheel, soon to be abandoned.
I slipped from my hiding place, and when I found a gas lamp in the horse stall, I thought it must be a sign. Some divine intervention telling me that what I was about to do was right. My hand didn't shake as I lit the match and connected it to the wick. For a moment the warmth that sprang from the glass soothed me.
Alice found me first. Even in the poor light I could make out her face. We were twins, identical from our long brown hair to our too-large eyes. It was the small things that made us different.
“Please don't,” she said.
Those two words had become her mantra lately.
Please don't set those leaves on fire.
Please don't hurt that dog. Please don't hurt me anymore, Cellie.
I wanted to shout, ball up her words and hurtle them at her. She thought there was something good left inside me. Something she could draw out and bargain with. But that part was long gone, ground to ash by her betrayal.
Jason showed up next. Once, I could have stared at him for hours. His lovely face. The square set of his jaw. The green in his eyes that made me think of walking barefoot in grassy fields. Jason, the boy I loved, who always loved Alice more. He pushed the hair from her shoulder tenderly and murmured something in her ear. The way he looked at her made my stomach feel empty and my body feel small. I spun from them and took a few steps away. I didn't hear him approach, just felt his fingers as he laid them over mine. I studied the tattoo of a unicorn on his wrist, all psychedelic colors and thick, bold lines, a reminder of happier times. “Just let go,” he said.
It sounded like an invitation.
The lamp exploded on impact. Fire spread like roots through the moldy hay and slats of the dry barn. When wind swept through the open window, bringing new oxygen to feed the flames, it felt like I was flying. I'd never been so high.
Alice fought it. I didn't know she had it in her. She screamed and tried to run for the exit, but the fire hissed and the barn buckled. Something collapsed, blocking her way. I watched as she dropped to her knees and tried to claw her way out, but Jason wrapped his protective arms around her, stilling her frantic movements. He knew it was too late.
For minutes that felt like hours, they coughed and murmured pathetically to each other. Then he passed out, leaving my poor Allie to fend for herself. As she drifted into unconsciousness, her eyelids twitched, as if she were lost in a nightmare. I resisted the urge to touch her, to offer her a small measure of comfort while Fate wrote the final period on her life. There was even a piece of me that wanted to weep into her neck, the way you weep into the neck of an old dog right before you put it to sleep.
It wasn't long before the police showed up. Sirens wailed and flashing lights whirled, casting the night into a frenzy of red and blue. When they found me, I didn't fightâdidn't bite or spit or claw. I was lifted and then strapped to a stretcher. Through the open door of the ambulance I could see the firemen hauling out their bodies, like trash bags going to the curb.
They placed a plastic sheet over Jason but held off on Alice. Someone shouted, “This one's alive!” They began to work on her wrecked ship of a body, pounding her chest so hard I could practically feel her ribs splintering.
“Die,” I whispered into the chilly night air.
But of course she didn't. It would've been so much easier if she had.
N MY MIND THERE ARE BLACK-AND-WHITE PHOTOS.
They float around, landing softly here and there, resting on top of other memories, dreamscapes and nightmares. Sometimes they bloom color, like the one I'm focusing on now. It unfolds, like a flower opening for the sun, the petals wet and dark. Slowly it bleeds brilliant pigments. Dark sky. Clear rain. Yellow headlights. A boy with curly hair and a crooked grin. Jason in the rain. My favorite memory of him.
“When was your last period?” the nurse asks me. “Alice?” The nurse's voice is like snapping fingers, calling me to attention. The image fades. White paper crinkles as I shift uncomfortably on the exam table. I try to count the hours, the suns and moons, and remember how much time has passed since the fire. It's been weeks, I think. Tsunamis have decimated cities in less time than that. I rub a hand over my chest where breathing is still difficult. The nurse's white ID badge reads
NURSE DUMMEL, OREGON STATE MENTAL HEALTH HOSPITAL
. I recognize her face from before, from my last stay here. The face of a bulldog. Round cheeks set over a row of bottom teeth that stick out just a smidge too far. Nurse Dummel clears her throat.
“Uh, I don't know .Â .Â .” I say. “I'm not sure. Maybe two weeks ago?” I swallow. Even though it's been a while since the fire, my tongue still tastes of ash. Maybe it always will.
Nurse Dummel types something into a computer. “And how are the burns?”
The burns that travel over each shoulder blade and down past my right wrist tingle. Miraculously, the fire didn't touch my left hand. The skin there is still soft and smooth. “Better,” I say.
Although I don't remember the fire, I do have some fuzzy recollections of my intensive care stay. The bitter uncertainty of those days and the bright, bright pain that just wouldn't go away.
“That all?” the nurse asks. “No pain, numbness, or swelling?”
“No. It's just itchy now.”
Outside, wind howls and shakes the thin walls of the building. A shudder rolls through me. Oregon State Mental Health Hospital is located on a thin strip of densely forested island. The hospital advertises itself as a peaceful haven where troubled souls recover, but there's nothing tranquil about this place. Even the name of the island, Savage Isle, was born from blood. In the late 1800s, a hundred Native Americans were forcibly relocated here, only to be killed later in a massacre. Old newspapers say there was so much blood that winter, it looked as if red snow had fallen from the sky.
“That's good. You're lucky you can feel anything at all. Some second-degree burns cause loss of sensation.”
Am I lucky? That's not how I would characterize the situation.
“You'll need to stay on antibiotics for the next couple of weeks and keep up with your physical therapy.” I almost laugh. When I left the ICU, a doctor gave me a pamphlet on hand exercises, explaining that they would help me regain full mobility.
was the only physical therapy I received. I flex my hand now. The movement causes a subtle ache, but other than that, everything appears to work just fine.
A white wristband prints out next to the computer. “Left wrist please,” Nurse Dummel says, gesturing for me to hold out my arm. I comply, and she snaps on the tight plastic. There are four colors of wristbands at Savage Isle. I have worn them all before. All except for red. Nobody wants a red wristband. Upon admittance, everyone is given the standard white, and after a period of about twenty-four to forty-eight hours on semi-restricted status, they're usually granted a yellow wristband that comes with very few restrictions. After yellow comes green. Green means go. Stay up late, visit home, drink caffeine, get out of Savage Isle.
“All right, kiddo,” Nurse Dummel sighs, handing me a pair of ratty scrubs. “Stand up, take everything off, and put these on.”
I wait a heartbeat to see if she's going to leave and give me some privacy, but she just stands there, watching me with a hawk's stare. I change quick and quiet and I think of Jason. When we kissed, his lips tasted like fresh spring water and hot tamales. I didn't have the courage to ask about him in the hospital. I feared his fate. Sometimes not knowing is better than knowing. Still, somewhere inside me the truth clanks like a ball and chain .Â .Â .
It's not possible he made it out of the fire alive.
I ignore it. Denial is kinder, more gentle. Uninvited thoughts of Cellie pop into my mind, but I push them away. I refuse to waste worry on my twin. Worry is lost on her.
When I finish putting on the scrubs, I throw my hoodie back on, hoping the nurse will let me keep it. I don't like being cold. She doesn't notice, or pretends not to, and gestures toward my shoes. “All right, shoelaces have to come off. This your bag?” She points to the corner of the room where a lavender duffel sits on the floor. It's worn and dirty, the color almost bleached to gray.
I pull my sneakers off and de-thread the laces. The nurse shakes her head a little as she slips on a pair of latex gloves. She picks up my bag and places it on the exam table. In a detached and efficient manner she sorts through my things. A couple of pairs of pants, some shirts, an iPod, toothbrush, toothpaste, some floss, and origami paper, all my worldly possessions.
She holds the origami paper up and raises her eyebrows. I mirror her look, resisting the urge to stick out my tongue like a petulant child and snatch the sheets from her fingers. They were a gift, a gentle reminder to Cellie and me that we weren't always alone. I don't want Nurse Dummel's greasy fingerprints all over them. When she sets them aside, I'm relieved. “You're good to go,” she says. “You can pack up everything except these.” Nurse Dummel confiscates my toothbrush, floss, clothes, and headphones and dumps them into a plastic bag. I quickly tally the number of items left in my possessionâan iPod that's useless without the headphones, some toothpaste, just as useless without the brush, and my origami paper. Nurse Dummel opens the door and gestures for me to follow her. I gather my three remaining possessions and place them in the lavender duffel bag, careful not to accidentally crease any of the origami paper.