5.5"x 8.5" Trade Paperback
262p; Retail $14.95US
ISBN 978-1-62268-100-6 print
ISBN 978-1-62268-101-3 e-book
LCCN 2016956754

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Author: Lucienne Diver

Chapter 1

Damn it, this could not be happening. I stood beside my best friend's grave, clenching my fists and biting my lip hard enough to draw blood, choosing physical pain over emotional. It didn't help. A cry escaped anyway. I was afraid that right behind it would come the ranting and railing and everything I was holding back. I wanted to demand answers. I wanted to shout down the minister droning on about Lisa's life and hold the ceremony hostage until sanity reasserted itself.
     Suicide, they said. I knew that wasn't right. It couldn't be. But everyone else seemed to accept it, and in a few minutes, they'd lower Lisa into the ground like she was some hamster to be tossed in a box and buried in the backyard. Then they'd retreat to discuss what a shame it was that she'd died so young before getting back to their lives and doing whatever it took to put Lisa out of their minds. And I was just as bad, because I wasn't yelling and screaming and demanding that someone do something to stop it.
     If it would bring her back, I'd throw myself on that coffin and make a scene fit to wake the dead. Lisa would have loved that—me making the fuss for once. But she wasn't here to appreciate it. Never would be again, and no amount of kicking and screaming would change that.
     A small, cold hand met mine, and I nearly jumped out of my skin. My sister Ari, the tiny terror. I swiped at the tears that were flowing down my face, determined to be strong for Ari, and squeezed her fragile fingers to reassure her, falsely, that everything was okay.
     Ari squeezed back. She could be sweet like that, and the kindness only restarted the tears.
     I dug a damp tissue from my skirt pocket and did the best I could with it as the service ended. I hadn't made my fuss, and now it was too late. I stayed, staring at the gaping hole in the earth that had been dug for Lisa while everyone else prepared to go. The hole was vacant now, like the other half of the heart pendant I wore around my neck. Lisa and I had saved our allowances in the fifth grade to buy them. Her half said Forever and mine Best Friends.
     Her half lied.
     She'd left me, months ago, really, cutting me out of her life. I still didn't know why.
     My mother, somber beside us, said, "I'll be right back. I need to check with Jenny to see if she needs anything. You girls wait here. Vanessa, watch over your sister."
     Any other time, Ari would take that as a challenge to evade me and get into as much trouble as possible. Today as soon as Mom was out of earshot, talking with Lisa's mother, Ari tugged on my hand. When I looked down at her little porcelain face, her eyes were big and soulful. "You won't ever leave me, will you?" she asked.
My heart broke. She shouldn't have to think about things like that. Not at eight years old. Not ever.
     "No, Bug, there's no getting rid of me."
     My sister scrunched up her face at the nickname. It was short for Pillbug, which was what I called her when she was making my life difficult, but all she said was, "Good."
     Mom came back a second later and herded us toward the car.
     "She asked us to stop for rolls on the way," Mom said, like we were going to a cook-out instead of some bizarre ritual where people make the dead person's family feed them and clean up after them when all they want to do is be left alone with their pain.
     It was silent in the car on the ride over except for the bloops and bleeps of the handheld game Ari had stashed in the pocket of her jumper. I wanted to rip it from her hands and hurl it against the window, but like everything else, it wouldn't do any good, and in the end I just sat, clenching my hands to keep from lashing out at the world. We separated almost as soon as we got inside Lisa's house. Mom went to help Lisa's mother. Ari ran to play out back with Anna and Amy, her friends from school. The Triple As, I called them, as in batteries that kept going and going. I was left to wander aimlessly through the crowd of mourners. I didn't want to talk. I especially didn't want anything to do with the girls who stood at the buffet table, wearing classic little black dresses that said fashion rather than funeral. Rachel and Shelby—one spray-bottle tan and the other as pale as loose leaf paper, both watching everything with avid eyes, as if grief was a spectator sport. I couldn't believe they had the nerve to show up after the way they'd treated Lisa. Worst of all, Shelby had brought her boyfriend Nate, who'd tormented Lisa and me on the bus, along with any other girl he thought might fall for what he thought of as his charms. Lisa had despised him with a fiery passion. She wasn't alone.
     Now he stood at the buffet scarfing shrimp cocktail and ogling girls as they went past.
     For a minute, I debated marching straight up and ordering them all out. If this was my house, I would have, but Mom had drilled into me from the time I was Ari's age not to make scenes. While I didn't so much care about propriety, I did care about Miss Jenny, Lisa's mom. I didn't want to do anything to upset her, and I didn't know whether she'd appreciate me standing up for Lisa or whether she'd consider it too little too late.
     Like I did.
     I thought back to a few months ago, when Lisa had pushed me away with no apology or explanation, back when I'd thought the split was temporary.
     Lisa had always been the scrapper of the two of us, never picking fights, but always ready to jump in rather than back down. I'd been so shocked the day I saw Rachel and her crew having a go at Lisa and her just letting it happen. . . .

     Rachel, Shelby and Ashley blocked the way into Language Arts, leaning against the door jamb discussing the dreaminess of Eddie Barar's eyes and whether or not he was hotter than Rachel's boyfriend when Lisa tried to get into class.
     "Excuse me," Lisa said loudly. I didn't know if it was her first attempt to get through, but it was the first time
I'd heard her from where I sat inside the classroom.
The conversation stopped . . . until Shelby started in. "Hey, goth girl, what're you hiding under all those clothes? I hear it's a baby bump."
     "Yeah right," Rachel sneered, "like anyone would want to get with
     As always, Ashley looked mildly embarrassed by the whole thing, but she didn't say a word in Lisa's defense.
     Fuming, I stood and walked toward them. I saw a way that I could make it up to Lisa for whatever I'd done to upset her and get my best friend back. I wasn't going to let the moment pass me by.
     I cleared my throat and waited for the pack to turn on me before I spoke up. "
You're one to talk, Rachel. Whoever told you the monoboob was a good look was putting you on. Or is that the point of a Wonderbramakes you wonder where one boob ends and the other begins?"
     She reeled back as if I'd struck her, and I used the sudden opening to reach into the hallway and pull Lisa into the room. "Ignore them," I said to her. "They're idiots."
"You think I don't know that?" she asked, yanking her arm out of my hand. "Jeez, Van, I don't need you to fight my battles. I don't need you at all, okay. Not anymore."
     I was so stunned that I just stared for a second in shock and pain.
     "Well, fine," I said finally, in a way that probably made it clear to anyone with ears that it wasn't actually. "You want to be left alone, you've got it. I'm finished. I'm out."
     I stomped off to my desk and refused to look at her the rest of the period.

     The last time I talked to her I'd just walked away, washed my hands of her. I'd had no idea.
     I don't need you at all . . . not anymore. Maybe that should have told me something. What, I had no idea. It hadn't been a cry for help . . . not any kind that I recognized. I didn't know what it was. But maybe, if I'd been observant, if I hadn't given up on her so easily and let her push me away with a few harsh words, maybe I could have helped her. Maybe she'd still be alive and I wouldn't be left with a Lisa-sized hole in my chest.
     I drifted down the hallway, away from people and pointless conversation. I passed family photos hanging on the walls—Lisa as a baby, Ramsey and Lisa as toddlers, a full family photo taken the year before her father died. Tears welled up again, and I could barely see the door I pushed open, the one into Lisa's room.
Someone had beaten me there. I stopped cold, blinking back the tears to bring the brunette blur in front of me into focus.
     Of all the people—Ashley Johnson. Traitor.
     I glared from the doorway, terribly effective through my tears, I was sure. We were far enough away from everyone else that here I didn't have to worry about making a scene.
     "You have some nerve," I spat at her. "Get out. Take your 'friends' with you."
     Startled, she looked up from her place near Lisa's desk, her green eyes rimmed in red. "This isn't your room," she answered defiantly. "You have no right to tell me what to do."
     "I have every right. Unlike you, I never stopped being Lisa's friend."
     "Really?" she said, carefully neutral about it. "Where were you when she killed herself?"
     It was like an ice pick straight to the heart, a shock to my system. My knees wanted to buckle under me, but I forced myself to stay upright, to face her down. My anger at Ashley was the first clear cut, non-conflicted thing I'd felt since the news of Lisa's death. It felt good, burning up my other emotions like a wildfire. But it was too quickly extinguished by the direct hit of her question. Where were you. . . .
      "Ouch," I whispered. It slipped out. I hadn't meant to give her the satisfaction.
     We were both silent for a minute. I looked away to gather myself, and was stunned by how much Lisa's room had changed. The boy band posters she'd had on her walls had all been ripped down and nothing else put up to take their places. The big mirror always half obscured by the mass of pictures tucked into the frame was now covered over by a dark sheet. Her bookshelves were still lined with books, but the stuffed animals were all gone except for Mr. Bojangles, her bear, who'd been turned to face the wall as if he was in a time out. He belonged on her bed. The thought that she'd turned even him away was devastating.
     "Do you remember the summer we practically lived at the lake?" Ashley asked out of nowhere. She twitched aside the black sheet hiding Lisa's mirror, and a picture fluttered to the floor. She let the sheet fall back into place as she bent to pick up the photo and stood again, seemingly transfixed by the image. A tear slid silently down her cheek, and she handed the picture to me.
     It would have been a movie moment if it was a shot of the three of us from that summer when we were thirteen. Probably the best summer I could remember. We'd been inseparable that year. Our moms took turns driving us out to the local lake, the shore of which had been seeded with sand to give it a beachy feel. They'd let us run off on our own, confident in our strength in numbers. We splashed and chased and told each other secrets. We ate popsicles and hotdogs and fries without worrying that they'd go to our hips. We were as brown as chestnuts by the time we were through, though Ashley, who'd started with a natural golden glow, ended lighter than Lisa and me. She was a fanatic with the sunscreen, even then worrying about her complexion.
     Then eighth grade happened. Boobs and boys and Ashley trying so hard to leave childish things behind. Like us. She got obsessed with mature things like Steve Ferrier, who became obsessed with her right back . . . temporarily . . . and she moved into his clique. At first she still hung out with us occasionally, when nothing better was going on, but once it became clear her new friends found that uncool, she bowed to pressure. Eventually, Steve had moved on. Ashley got Rachel and Shelby in the breakup.
     But the picture wasn't of the three of us. It was Lisa with Carter Reece from last year's class trip to Busch Gardens. I knew because I'd taken it and because of the huge rollercoaster rising in the background. They were mugging for the camera, her blue eyes lit like she didn't have a care in the world, her blond hair shining in the sun, and beside her, a golden boy with chocolate brown eyes and a single dimple on his right cheek. Happy. Smiling. No indication of what was to come. I pressed my lips together hard to keep from crying.
     "I remember," I told Ashley, focusing back on that summer at the lake. The present was too painful. "I . . . miss that."
     "Me too," she answered, darting a glance at me.
     We shared a moment. Just one before all the hurt and betrayal came crashing back in. All the times she'd turned her back on us or stayed silent when her friends tore us down.
     She saw it in my eyes. "I should go," she said. "You probably want to be alone."
     A million responses flitted through my head, but in the end, I just said, "Yes."
I backed out of the doorway to let her pass and freaked when I bumped into someone who used the excuse to trap me in a bear hug. He smelled of failing deodorant and the sickly sweet scent of weed.
     "Where're you going, Goldilocks?"
     I squirmed out of his grip and turned to glare, catching sight of the boy with him—Lisa's brother Ramsey, who'd just let his friend manhandle me.
     He was tall and dark, dressed all in black, but not looking particularly funereal. With the hoodie and jeans, he looked more like he might be meeting his friends at the 7-Eleven for smokes. He hadn't even bothered to shave for his sister's funeral . . . or else he regularly had a five o'clock shadow by noon. He very well might. Lisa's life had been so separate from her brother's that for all the time I'd spent here, I didn't know him very well. He'd grown from a sullen boy who preferred video games to real-world interaction, particularly with us giggly girls, into a rebellious teenager. His friend looked like Sonic the Hedgehog—blue hair bristling all around his head, dark brow pierced with a stud that came to an arrow point. In a word, prickly.
     "What are you two girls doing back here in Lisa's bedroom . . . alone?" Ramsey asked us, his voice somehow rough and slick at the same time. Like snakeskin.
     Ashley seemed frozen in place. I wanted to spit at the insinuation in Ramsey's voice. But rather than look away and let him think he intimidated me—even if he did—I continued to glare. It was dark in the back hallway, but not so dark that his eyes should be that dilated.
     "Are you high?" I asked suddenly. "At your sister's funeral?"
     Ramsey shared a look with his friend. I struggled to remember his name—Trick, that was it. Short for Patrick. It was hard to tell where Trick's brown eyes left off and his pupils began. He and Ramsey smiled together over my reaction, totally creeping me out. Maybe some people handled grief differently? Maybe it was their way of coping with the horror?
     "Jealous?" Ramsey asked.
     "Want some?" Trick added. "It'll cost ya."
     Ashley broke out of her paralysis. "I'm out of here," she said with a huff, pushing past me and forcing the boys back into the hallway. "You kids play nice," she tossed back over her shoulder, deserting me.
     One look at the boys flanking me and I took off in her wake, more concerned with getting away than my show of bravado.
     I felt like I was leaving things unfinished. I didn't know what I'd hoped to find in Lisa's room—some sign of who she'd become and what had made her drive me away and do what she'd done. Or maybe some kind of closure, a private moment to say good-bye where I'd feel her presence most strongly. But it was clear I wasn't going to get either privacy or peace right then.
     A sudden shriek in my sister's voice had me running for the dining room, my pulse pounding. I nearly crashed into Nate, who was coming the opposite way down the hall, but I managed to swerve around him at the last second, ignoring his call of, "Hey, where's the fire?"
     Even so, by the time I reached the buffet, Ari had gotten hold of herself . . . along with a piece of ice she'd dug out from inside her shirt. From the innocent look on her friend Anna's face, I could tell who'd put it there. A good-natured battle ensued, which threatened to topple the buffet table, and Lisa's mom shoed the kids back outside.
     Miss Jenny—what I'd called Lisa's mom ever since her daughter and I had first met—looked wistfully after them, tears silently running down her face. She's seeing Lisa and me at that age, I thought.
     My feet carried me in her direction, and I had a panic attack as I got closer. I had no idea what I planned to say. Would she blame me like I blamed myself?
     "Miss Jenny, I—-" my voice broke, and I looked away, out toward where my sister had escaped, wishing I'd done the same. "I'm so sorry. I should have—"
     Lisa's mom enfolded me in a hug, so different than Trick's. Comforting rather than confining. She cried quietly into my hair, and I did the same all over the front of her dress.
     "There was nothing you could have done," Miss Jenny said through her tears. "Nothing any of us could have done. We didn't know. She never said—"
     Miss Jenny couldn't finish either. I wondered if her words sounded as hollow to her as mine did to me.
     "I wish I had known," I whispered. "I wish I'd done something."
     She pulled back, smoothing down my hair as she went, like I'd seen her do with Lisa a million times in the past. "I'm sorry. I've gotten your hair all mussed."
     "Don't worry about it," I said. "Really. Is there . . . anything I can do?"
     "You're so like your mother," she said, as if that answered the question.      "Maybe, in a few days, you can come by and choose something from Lisa's room. Something to remember her by. I think she'd like that. She always thought so much of you. I don't know why you and she . . ." She trailed off, and we both let it lie there awkwardly. It was so hard, not knowing. Along with the pain, it was eating me alive.
     A man came up then and put a hand to Miss Jenny's back. I instantly bristled, even though I didn't know why. Her husband, Lisa's father, had died a year ago. She had every right to move on.
     "We're running out of plates and napkins," he said, standing too close. Well, not if they were dating, I guessed. It was just weird to see him there at Miss Jenny's side. I knew only three things about him: his name was Dave, he was too young for Miss Jenny—so said Lisa back when we were speaking—and the relationship had happened too quickly, only months after Mr. MacKenzie had died. Not that Miss Jenny had brought him around right away to meet the kids. At first she only seemed to be working a lot of late nights. "I had a look in the pantry, but I couldn't find any more."
     "I'll take care of it," Miss Jenny said with an apologetic look to me. "I'm so sorry Vanessa. I'll be back."
     Dave didn't go with her, but stood looking at me, his face set in lines of sadness. "Lisa was your friend?" he asked. Like that wasn't self-explanatory by my very presence. But then, with Nate, Rachel, and Shelby in the house, maybe it wasn't.
     I just nodded, not really able to speak. He wasn't that young, I thought, studying him. Maybe seven or eight years younger than Miss Jenny. I was a terrible judge of these things. But he was attractive in that office stud kind of way. Or maybe that was the suit speaking. His hair was still all dark without a spot of gray that I could see, unlike his eyes, which were the color of a stormcloud sky.
     "I've got to go," I said, too abruptly. Lisa hadn't liked him. I was betraying her memory even talking to him, and I wasn't about to share my grief. Anyway, it suddenly felt too big. I needed to get away not only from Dave but from everyone. I didn't need witnesses to my breakdown.
     I went without waiting for his response and found my mother in the living room talking to some of the other neighborhood ladies. They stopped chatting at my approach.
     "Van, what's wrong?" Mom asked at the look on my face. Like anything was right.
     "I've got to go," I repeated for her. "I need to be alone for awhile."
     My voice broke on the last word, and I reached for the now soggy bundle of tissues in my pocket. I should have brought more.
     "Want me to walk you home?" she asked.
     "Half a block? No. I'll manage. You stay. You want me to take Ari with me?"
     Her gaze shot over my shoulder, to the window through which she could see the younger kids playing tag as if this was simply a play date. "She's fine for now," Mom answered.
     "Okay then."
     I nodded to the others and made my escape. Past the mean girls, now including Ashley, who'd migrated to the window seat in the living room, past teammates and other kids from the neighborhood, and past Carter Reece, sitting all alone on a loveseat, toying with a slice of white-icinged cake. I snuck a glance at him as I went past. He was hard to look at in the best of times—like staring at the sun. I wasn't a poetic person. I didn't think like that, but it was true—so beautiful you'd risk the pain, but not for long. It just hurt too much, especially knowing he was Lisa's . . . had been Lisa's. They'd been close once, like dating-any-day-now close. But she'd pushed him away like she had me.
     I could feel his pain reaching out, a twin to my own, and when he sensed my scrutiny and looked up, his eyes were hollow and haunted like mine. I tried to reassure him with a smile that life would go on, like I'd tried to comfort Ari with the hand squeeze, but I knew I wasn't convincing.
     He rose, as if he might speak to me, but it was more than I could take right then. I made my escape, but I felt him watching me all the way out the door. Outside, I tried to let the sun chase away my shadows, but it had gone behind a cloud, and the world had become a much darker place.

copyright ©2016 Lucienne Diver


Author: Lucienne Diver
Trade Paperback

Retail $14.95US

ISBN 978-1-62268-100-6
ISBN 978-1-62268-101-3 e-book
LCCN 2016956754

buy the book >>>
book details

read an excerpt
cover detail

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