My heart beats heavily through the sudden chaos surrounding me. The night thickens, its blackness wrapping around me so tight I can barely breathe. The sirens and the shouting fade away, overpowered by the sound of each exaggerated heartbeat pounding through my head. The flashing lights make my vision blur until all I see is the figure in front of me. My body shivers violently but I’m not cold, only hollow.
Is this what everyone feels like when they’ve killed someone?
Because that’s what I’ve done, isn’t it?
The body lies sprawled across the asphalt in front of me. The full moon lights up her blonde hair, which is fanned across the ground, framing her still face. She could almost look peaceful if it weren’t for the blood dripping out of the corner of her mouth or the unnatural angles in which her legs rest.
I tear my gaze from the body of a girl I barely knew and stare at my shoes. I don’t even like these shoes. I only bought them because the cute girl at the store said they were her favorite style. A drop of deep red blood sinks into the white laces. The blood drips from my nose and down my chin, but for some reason I can’t bring myself to wipe it.
My baby blue truck sits in the grass, the hood smoking as it cradles an old oak tree. I just replaced the headlight last week, now its bulb is exposed and shattered, the plastic covering in broken bits across the road. A police officer steps up to me, blocking my view of the totaled truck. “Stand up, son.”
The strobe of red and blue lights splinters across his face, making my vision blur again. My chest aches, and when I stand, a cold sweat breaks across my forehead. Spruce Road wobbles to my right; the ambulance rising and falling like it’s riding a wave. “Follow my pen with your eyes,” the officer instructs. His voice is rough, his speech impatient.
I try to focus on the tip of the pen, but my eyes droop as the lights spiral around me like someone has pulled up the drain from underneath me. I feel myself sinking with the surroundings. Suddenly I find myself on my knees, the rocky shoulder digging into my skin.
“Get up, kid. Walk toward me heel to toe.” A distant thought prickles the back of my throbbing head. He’s trying to prove something. He thinks I’m drunk.
I force myself to my feet, though my legs shake with the effort. “This isn’t my fault.” My deep voice scratches out as whisper. Why am I so thirsty?
“Walk. Now.” He waves me on with brisk flick of the wrist.
I take a step forward and the usually light impact shakes deeply through my body, making my stomach roil. I’m going to hurl. I lean onto my knees as the grass swirls in and out of the rocks at the side of the road. I pant rapidly but still don’t get enough air.
My gaze flicks to the body again.
This wasn’t how my night was supposed to end. What was she doing here? It would take an absolute idiot to try to walk across Spruce Road so close to the highway off ramp. I had just exited, barely lowering my speed when she came out of nowhere. I see the image of her light hair and tangerine orange shirt suddenly appearing in my headlights. The sharp thud of the impact trickles through my mind and makes me gag.
Another officer stands over the distorted body holding a crumpled piece of notebook paper. “Hey, Rick, you should take a look at this. I found it in her pocket.”
“What is it?”
“Looks like a suicide note.”
See, it wasn’t my fault. I try to speak it but my mouth is too numb to move. I swallow the bile creeping up my throat and stand again. My legs tremble as I fumble toward the body. I need to see her face again, the girl who did this. The selfish girl who threw her life away and rattled mine on her way out.
“Doesn’t matter,” the first officer says. “This kid’s drunker than a sailor.”
“I’m not drunk,” I say, but my voice slurs and my vision fizzles to grey. I take another step toward the girl, but my leg gives out and I fall to my knees. The paramedic standing over the girl squints his eyes as he assesses my state. Vomit finally churns up my throat and sprays out, spattering my hands. Everything around me fades to shades of black, except the dark red blood oozing over my hands.
“He’s not drunk,” the paramedic yells. His footsteps pad across the asphalt as he runs to me. He grips my wrist and yanks my shirt up. “He has internal bleeding. He’s in shock. Bring the gurney!” He presses his fingers against my abdomen and chest. “Were you wearing a seatbelt?”
I don’t remember. A few yards past the road, the now black trees shift back and forth, as if a figure is weaving between them. I try to focus on it but movement explodes around me as I fall to my face. I lie parallel to the girl, sinking into the asphalt with her. Our blood colors Spruce Road, suddenly flowing like a river until I drown in it.
I wake up in a panic, clutching my throat. I twist out of the tangled sheets, which are soaked with sweat, and slide out of the bed onto my hands and knees. My stomach lurches and makes me gag. My knees press into the soft carpet, erasing the sensation of gravel cutting into my skin.
I rub my chest as a dull pain fades away and finally realize I’m in my own room. Morning light slips through my blinds, casting parallel lines of shadow over piles of dirty laundry on the floor and sheets of homework scattered across my desk. I take a shaky breath and pull at the Lakeview High athletic shirt that sticks to my sweaty chest. A knock pounds against my door, rattling the mini basketball hoop hanging against it.
“You’re going to be late for your last practice!” As usual, my mom’s shrill voice makes me cringe.
I pull off my damp shirt and rub my eyes. “What are you talking about? We’re already done.”
“Up! Now, Easton!”
I growl as I pull myself to my feet and stumble to the Jack-and-Jill bathroom that connects my room with my sister’s. Lucy stands in front of her sink, applying more black to her already dark eyes. She just became old enough for makeup, much to our mother’s dismay. She layers it on too thick, which makes our dad grimace, but I remember nearly every girl in my grade going through the same phase a few years ago. She mostly looks like a raccoon now, but she’ll eventually figure that out for herself.
Lucy glances at me through the mirror between strokes of lip-gloss. “Ew, what happened to you?”
I slam the door to the private toilet and shower room and think about the dream. It seemed crazy real. My chest aches dully just thinking about it. And the girl…she goes to my school but I don’t even remember her name. I flush and then wash my hands in my sink next to Lucy. “Wait, why is mom forcing me to get up? Its Saturday.”
Her dark eyes squint as she scans over me. “It’s Friday, you freak.”
I shut off the water and slowly dry my hands on the navy towel. “No, it’s definitely Saturday. She was supposed to let me sleep in after my championship.”
Lucy zips up her still shiny, metallic makeup bag and wipes her hands on her bubblegum pink towel. “Are you being serious right now? What’s your deal?”
My mom appears in the doorway to Lucy’s room, knowing my bedroom door would still be locked. “Easton! Now!” Her voice makes my lips twist. “Lucy, I’ll drive you to school on my way to work since Easton will be practicing.” Her eyes flick to Lucy’s eyeliner and her lips press tightly together, holding back a frown.
Lucy sighs dramatically and throws her makeup bag into the drawer. “Yeah, yeah. You’ve only been telling me every day this week.”
I rub the back of my neck, my thoughts swirling. “I already had my game, Mom. Guess you missed it again.”
She purses her lips and furrows her brows. She skirts past Lucy and holds her palm to my forehead. “Are you feeling alright, honey?”
I swat her hand away. “I’m fine…what’s wrong with you two?”
“How late were you up? Oh never mind just get dressed and go! It’s already 6:05!”
I retreat from the bathroom, more to get away from her concerned stare than to get ready to leave. I flick through the homework assignments littering my desk. I swear I already turned these in, but I guess it’s just like me to get so distracted about the upcoming game that I forget to.
I gather the assignments up and shove them into my backpack. A set of clothes and my new white shoes are already inside my soccer bag, just as they were yesterday morning, freshly folded and ready to change into at school after soccer practice. A vision of blood dripping from my chin and seeping into the white laces slices into my thoughts, making my heart race.
I stare at the perfectly folded clothes. My mom must have washed the clothes after I got home from the after party, trying to atone for missing my game or for the rest of her sins. Now that I think about it, I don’t actually remember ever getting home.
What’s wrong with me? I wasn’t drinking. I wasn’t even tempted. I must have just been so exhausted from the intense game.
I hear my mom going back down stairs and lean against the bathroom doorframe. “Hey, Lu. You can tag along with me and wait in the car if you don’t want to ride with mom.”
Lucy stares into the bathroom mirror, but her eyes are glazed over. She finally pulls herself out of her thoughts and glances at me. “I can tolerate her for ten minutes. Besides, you’re probably high on something right now.”
I shake my head as I zip my duffle bag and pull on my backpack. It doesn’t matter anyway. I’ll go to school, but nobody will be there and I can prove my mom wrong. Maybe she had a little too much wine last night in order to avoid actually talking to my dad. She does that a lot these days. That’s got to be it.
The morning sun has already melted off the thin layer of frost that may have collected overnight. Birds chirp their incessant morning songs from the evergreen trees scattered through the perfectly landscaped yards and the faint twinkling of a dog collar joins them. Drops of dew smear my old blue Chevy; they ripple across the windshield as the engine sputters to life. My neighbor Mr. Weaver, dressed in his usual pressed business suit, waves as he rolls his recycling bin to the curb. I floor it as soon as I turn out of our cul-de-sac, making the Dwight Schrute bobble head gyrate on the dash.
Jayden’s headphones sit on the passenger seat, the deep black muffs standing out sharply against the tan of the scuffed leather seat. I’m sure I already gave those back to him yesterday. Jayden is my best friend, but holy smokes that idiot misplaces everything.
The truck rumbles down the winding neighborhood streets, leaving a faint trail of white exhaust in its wake. I mull over the strange dream as I drive down Walnut Hill. Lakeview High rests in a clearing on top of another larger hill. Evergreen trees smother the rest of the large hill and the smaller hills that surround it. From Lakeview High, you can see in-between the smaller hills all the way down to Silver Lake.
Thick fog still hangs over the school when I soar through the entrance. I expect the parking lot to be mostly empty, but at the back lot near the soccer field, a dozen cars line the curb. I grab my bag and jog around the backside of the bleachers to see my teammates lacing their cleats. Jayden’s mom’s mini van screeches to a halt in the parking lot and I turn in time to see him jumping out the sliding door, backpack hanging on his elbow and shoelaces whipping around his untied cleats. He whizzes past, a chunky granola bar hanging out of his mouth.
I jog after him, but my thoughts are slow to catch up. I bend next to Jayden to put on my shin guards. “Why are we having practice on a Saturday?”
“And after we already won the championship? I thought maybe at most we’d watch the film but—”
“Dude, what are you talking about?” Jayden’s eyebrows shoot up, disappearing into his shaggy hair, and the corners of his lips twitch.
A growl escapes my throat as I yank my socks over my shin guards. “Why is everyone acting so weird?”
“You nervous, man? Because you are trippin’ some serious balls right now.” He smacks my back and takes off with the rest of our teammates to start warm up laps around the field.
“Hustle, Easton!” Coach Cramer yells. He stands in the middle of the field in his usual baggy sweatshirt with his fists stuffed into his Lakeview Soccer sweats. He’s young enough that it’s not unusual he’s not married yet, but old enough to make you wonder if it’ll ever happen for him.
He’s cross in the mornings and a straight up devil by afternoon. He works as a Lakeview PE teacher as well, and most students are terrified of him. I’ve grown used to his grating personality, and he’s the best soccer coach in the state, which doesn’t hurt either.
I wind my way to the front of the pack by the time my other best friend Robbie falls to the back of it. Coach Cramer releases his usual deluge of insults on Robbie to try to get him to pick up the pace, and as usual it only works slightly. Robbie’s soccer skills are naturally above average, but he is also naturally lazy and entitled. If he only worked half as hard as I do he’d probably be better than me.
My stomach twists as we spread across the field to run through some plays. There’s no longer any doubt in my mind that today is Friday. Maybe everything I thought happened yesterday is just more of the crazy dream I had last night. The dead girl seeps into my vision, replacing the blur of the green grass beneath my feet. Why can’t I remember her name?
Jayden’s spicy cologne overpowers the smell of feet rotted into the wooden benches and the years of evaporated sweat lingering in the paint of the locker room walls. Steam billows from the showers as my teammates rinse away the grime of our last practice. I slowly towel off, the sticky feeling of déjà vu weighing on my limbs.
Robbie stands in front of the mirror, his white tee clinging to his average sized biceps as he meticulously parts his hair and combs it over. “Brynn said I’ll get lucky tonight if we win the game,” he says to no one in particular. “So I expect you boys to put in your best effort.”
Jayden pulls his team jacket over his cologne soaked shirt and scoffs. “If that’s your motivation then it’s a good thing you’ll be riding the bench the whole game.”
Robbie combs his hair over one last time then slips on his own Grizzly Soccer jacket. “You’re just jealous because Brynn is freaking hot.”
I shake my head and put my own jacket on, distinctly remembering that I zipped it up to just under the point of this black v-neck yesterday. Or today, in my dream. “Brynn’s got nothing on Kenna,” I say as I flick Robbie’s hair out of place.
Kenna will be throwing our after party, and has a clear and massive crush on me. She is hot, but that’s about all she has going for her. She’s the co-captain of the cheerleading team, but only got that slot based on looks alone. Brynn is the captain because she actually has a bit of rhythm. I pretend that I care about Kenna’s interest, but only because it would be normal if I did. I used to, but a lot can change in a matter of months.
In reality, she annoys the crap out of me. Most of her posse does, maybe because now I know what they’ll grow up to become.
Robbie elbows me as he frantically runs his hand along his disheveled hair. “You know who’s even hotter than Kenna? Lucy. Should I hit that, Easton?”
I glower at Robbie but he only laughs. “Too far, dude, too far,” Jayden says as he throws open the locker room door. “Besides, Lucy’s nuts. Right, East?”
I nod as the warning bell rings. We join the masses of students flooding the halls to get to their first period. Cinnamon wafts from the cafeteria as the lunch ladies whisk the hot breakfast away. They had served french toast sticks in my dream too.
Lucy bumps into me as she weaves past and rolls her heavily lined eyes.
“But, dude,” Robbie mutters. “Seriously though. If she weren’t only a freshman…”
I shove him into the wall, mostly as a joke. “Seriously though. Shut up.”
We pass through the cafeteria and head toward the senior hall. Principal Marks stands on a shiny ladder as he tapes up a giant banner plastered with the words, “Good Luck, Grizzly Soccer!” His sweater vest rides up against his suspenders as he reaches up the wall as high as he can. His arm shakes as he tries to get the banner level.
The green and gold paint splatters the paper exactly how I pictured it before, in the dream. My mouth goes dry. “How much you want to bet he’s going to drop that tape in a second?”
Jayden lets out his boyish giggle that only he could do without getting made fun of. “I’ll play. I only have two bucks though.”
“I’ll bet your Black Ops game that he drops the tape and then falls down.”
“Done, and you’ll give me your—”
Right on cue, the roll of tape slips out of Mr. Marks’ trembling hand. The tape rolls right in front of us and then as he reels from trying to catch it, he loses his balance and stumbles off the ladder rung and falls just a foot right into the three of us. We manage to keep him mostly upright and nudge him onto his faded white tennis shoes.
“Oh good heavens,” he mumbles as he straightens his vest. “Thank you, boys. I knew I should have just waited for my student aide...”
We walk away as quickly as we can, Jayden and Robbie bursting into fits of laughter as soon as we round the corner into the senior locker bay. “How’d you know?” Jayden asks between gasps.
I have a deep, uncomfortable itch somewhere inside my stomach. “Because it happened yesterday,” I mutter through a grimace.
I turn to my locker and start spinning the dial. “Nothing. He’s just a klutz.” The two keep laughing at my side, struggling to open their own lockers. I shove my soccer bag in and try to swallow but my throat is too dry. I look past Robbie’s hair as it bounces with each surge of laughter.
Over another row of lockers I see her.
Her hair is such a light blonde it’s almost white. She huddles together with some shy brunette; I think her name is Shae. Yeah, people called her shy Shae freshmen year. I didn’t. At least I don’t think I did. I circle the row of lockers, my eyes glued to her hair. When I turn into their aisle the dark bags under her eyes strike me first. Her eyes shine with suppressed tears and her lips tremble as she heaves in a steadying breath.
Her tangerine orange shirt strikes me next.
Shae pulls her into a hug and the blonde’s eyes flick to mine. I’m suddenly much closer than I thought, my chest nearly touching Shae’s backpack.
“You alright?” I ask. I tighten my backpack straps to give my hands something to do.
Shae turns slowly, her forehead creased and her eyes squinted. “Mind your own business, prick.”
I take an automatic step back. “Sorry. You just seem…I just wondered if I could help.”
“Just leave her alone.” Shae puts her arm around the blonde and turns her toward the hall of classrooms. “Your idiot friends are waiting.”
“Easton!” Jayden calls as he waves me on like an airplane guide. “Twenty seconds to the bell! We can’t be late for Heeley’s test!”
I run a hand through my thick hair, letting Jayden yank me down the hall. When I dreamed of today and took Mr. Heeley’s test I got a solid 80. Could I really have made up that many questions, especially when I didn’t even understand what they were asking?
We slide into our usual chairs at the back of the room. Mr. Heeley sits at his desk leaning into his computer screen like it’s a stack of bacon cheeseburgers. Shae and the blonde sit in the front corner, whispering about whatever drama is unfolding in their lives.
The bell rings at 7:30 on the dot and Mr. Heeley jumps up and takes his place in front of the whiteboard. “Morning ladies and gents.” His maroon button down hangs un-tucked over his khaki Levis. He’s one of the younger teachers at Lakeview, probably still in his thirties, and single. Every Monday morning he saunters into class with dark eyes, like he spent the weekend partying.
United States Government isn’t exactly the most exhilarating class, but a few girls ogle Heeley with dedication the whole hour, especially Brynn. He has thick scruff across his narrow jaw and a well maintained hairstyle, but underneath it all he seems pretty average to me. He’s probably a six in real adult life, but a nine when it comes to “rate my high school teacher.” He stares at the blonde for a bit too long, probably taking in her red, swollen eyes.
“Maren, you okay?” Maren, that’s right. He at least tried to lower his voice as he asked, but we all hear him clearly anyway.
Maren slides lower into her chair. “Fine. Just ready to get this over with.”
“If you say so.” Heeley turns back to his desk, but his gaze clings to Maren for another long instant. “I hope you all studied your butts off last night because if you checked the syllabus, this test is twenty percent of your grade. You have until 8:15 and then we’ll switch and grade. Sound good?”
The class mumbles their yeses, retrieving pencils or frantically looking over a few final notes. I tap a beat with my pencil on the desk. If I recognize these questions and get a better grade than…my dream, then I’ll really know something freaky is going on with me.
Mr. Heeley places all the tests face down on our desks. “You boys ready for the big game?” he asks as he places the paper on my desk. “Everyone’s excited about it.”
I smooth the already pristine paper. “Yes, sir.”
“You coming, Heel-man?” Jayden asks, his goofy smile spreading to the teacher.
“We’ll see. Alright, begin!”
I cruise through the test. I’ve never answered so easily and so surely on a test before. It should make me feel good, but instead it unsettles me. I finish early and watch Mr. Heeley as I try to rub all the sweat off my hands and onto my jeans. He stares at his computer again, quickly scrolling the mouse, devouring some kind of article. Maybe already researching this weekend’s plans. When time’s up we pass our papers up and Heeley redistributes them for correcting. I don’t even have to wait to get my own back to know I got 100%.
I stare at the back of Maren’s head and her orange shirt. My throat tightens as I picture her splayed across the road. It couldn’t have just been a dream, but then what was it? Am I living this day over? Have I had some kind of premonition? I shake my head and rub my eyes. That’s ridiculous. When I open them again, Maren stands in front of me. I swallow hard.
She drops the graded test to my desk when I can’t force my hands to take it from her. A fat, red “-0” is written in bold at the top. “Nice job,” she says under her breath.
I blink a few times, the orange of her shirt and the imprint of blood dripping from her mouth sucking away my words. “Thanks,” I finally say, but she’s already halfway back to her desk. Shae glares at me from across the room.
“There’s a few minutes left, guys,” Heeley calls from the front of the room. The class instantly quiets. Not every teacher can get such a quick response, but Heeley has earned our respect, maybe from treating us almost as equals. Or maybe just from being so chill all the time. “I want to talk to you guys about something.”
He runs a hand along his scruff and stares at Maren’s open notebook on her desk. It’s not your typical school notebook. The lines are purple instead of the standard light blue. His eyebrows slowly furrow and his shoulders sink just slightly before he scans the classroom. “There’s been a lot of troubling stuff in the news lately. Do any of you know what I’m talking about?”
“My mom said something about that,” Robbie says as he leans back in his chair, making it squeak. “A lot of suicides.”
My eyes dart to Maren. She doodles idly in her purple notebook, making a swirled design in the upper corner.
“That’s right,” Heeley says. “There’s been a huge surge of teen suicide in our area. It’s been a year since Kent Jacobs, from Lakeview, took his life and I just wanted to let you all know that if you ever need to talk to anyone, my door is always open. There are so many more options than giving up. You should all know that.”
He drones on, but I start to tune him out. He had this same conversation in my dream, only I wasn’t paying attention to it at all. I was too distracted thinking about the game tonight. I rub my hands over my eyes again, pressing my eyelids until flashing lights erupt in the blackness underneath them. It propels me into the dream; the flashing police lights flicker through my vision and my stomach churns painfully.
She died. She jumped in front of my car and made me kill her.
The bell rings and rips me from the past, or the future. I don’t know what on this earth it is anymore. I heave my backpack over my shoulder and hand Heeley my test on my way out the door behind most of the class. I’ve only made it a few steps into the hall when I hear him speak. “Maren, I’d like you to stay for a minute. Your mom called the office and had them tell us all your…news.”
There’s a deep itch inside my mind, and no matter how much I try to ignore it, I can’t. It consumes my thoughts. I lean against the wall, pressing into a poster for debate club. Someone, probably Jayden, drew Hitler mustaches over all the faces on it. Shae shuffles out of the classroom and I fall into stride with her. “What’s going on with Maren?”
She glances at me with a cringe. “Why do you care?”
I don’t know if I actually do, or if it’s just the burning curiosity and confusion pushing me. “I’ve just never noticed her looking so upset before.”
“You mean you’ve never noticed her at all. You do realize today is the first time you’ve ever spoken to either of us?”
“Yes I have. I guess…I guess I just never had a reason to talk to you before.”
She stops at her locker and shakes her head as she turns the dial.
I glance over my shoulder, checking for Maren. “So is she okay?”
Shae scoffs and slams the locker. “No. She is far from okay, but it’s not like that’s any of your business.” She sucks in a breath as she tilts her head toward the florescent lights lining the ceiling. “Look. She battled cancer before starting freshmen year. She went into remission, and now she just found out its back. It’s back so bad she doesn’t have much of a chance.”
I purse my lips, letting the information sink into what little I know. “So she’s going to die anyway.”
She shakes her head again, a crease forming between her eyes.
“I mean…is she going to die?”
She licks her lips and adjusts her backpack. “Probably.” She tilts her head back again, her eyes beginning to shine. “And last week she found out her dad was cheating on her mom, so that doesn’t help either.” She glances over my shoulder and scoffs again. “Why am I even talking to you? Just leave her alone. And don’t tell those immature sidekicks of yours either.”
I follow her gaze to Jayden and Robbie, standing at the end of the lockers with their palms turned up in confusion. I turn back to Shae, but she’s already hurrying back down the hall to second period. I lag behind my friends as we head to Spanish class.
My cheeks twitch into a grimace as we strut down the hall. I know the sickening feeling of finding out your parent is a dirty cheater better than anyone, but I don’t let it get me down. I know nothing about fighting for your life though. Is that why Maren did it? Did she jump in front of my car because she didn’t want to go through a battle like that again?
It’s like Mr. Heeley said. There are so many more options than giving up. Maybe somehow I got a glance into her plans because I’m supposed to stop her.
Maybe I’m supposed to change what happens.
“Earth to Easton. What’s up with you today?”
I pull my gaze from across the cafeteria and back to Jayden. He tosses a tot into his mouth then dunks his burger into a puddle of ketchup. I shrug and make a show of unwrapping my own burger, but my eyes flit back to Maren and Shae.
They sit at one of the tiny high tables, really only big enough to hold two lunch trays, and push around their food. I sit with half the soccer team at a low round table. The tables around us are packed with students, everyone trying to be nearer to the commotion we ensue. Brynn sits on Robbie’s lap, her bleached blonde hair swinging as she laughs obnoxiously.
Kenna squeezes in another chair right across the table from me, blocking my view of Maren. She smiles, wrinkling her nose in a way she must think is cute. I turn my body toward Jayden and ask through a bite of burger, “So there really have been a lot of suicides?”
He wipes his sleeve across his mouth. “Yeah, dude. Last weekend a kid from Evergreen electrocuted himself in his own bathtub.”
I grimace and shake me head. “That’s just foul.”
“That’s nothing. The weekend before that, some lady found her daughter swinging from her ceiling fan with all her hair buzzed off. She went to Clayton High I think.”
“They’re always high schoolers? Can kids our age really have it that bad?”
“Yeah mostly teenagers in the last year or so. What I don’t get is why they always seem to do it on the weekend! Can’t you just relax for a couple days and then do it like, on Monday? Sheesh.” He balls up the hamburger wrapper and tosses it toward the trashcan, missing by several feet.
“Air ball!” Robbie yells, making Brynn hunch over in laughter, squishing her cleavage all over the table.
“Real sensitive, Jay,” I mutter. I crumple my own wrapper and sink it into the can. “You were only ever any good at soccer.”
“You want to talk trash? I’ll kill you in a Halo tomorrow. My house, 7 o’clock.”
“Can we come?” Brynn asks, gesturing to Kenna. She’s practically squealing.
Jayden tosses the last tot into his mouth then licks his fingers. “Sorry, toots. Boys only. But we’ll for sure be at your rager tonight, Kenna. I’m sure we’ll have a lot to celebrate!”
“It’s going to be lit,” Kenna says with an openmouthed smile.
Robbie whoops, his rumbling voice practically making the whole cafeteria turn to look. I sink a little deeper into my chair.
All the students surrounding us begin chatting about their own excitement for the state championship tonight. For the first time in about ten years Lakeview is hosting it. I lean in toward Jayden, trying to speak over the garble of echoing voices. “Hey, I have to go ask that quiet girl some math questions. I’ll see you in sixth.” I’m in a higher math than Jayden and Robbie, so they won’t question that. I throw my backpack on and meander through the crowded tables toward Maren.
“Now what do you want?” Shae asks, folding her arms.
“It’s okay,” Maren says, raising her eyebrows at Shae. “He’s just trying to be nice.” She turns to me, her eyes significantly less red than this morning. “Right?”
“Right.” I scratch the back of my neck. I really hate talking to people I don’t know or like, but if I’m meant to change something I have to start somewhere. “Shae may have mentioned what’s happening…and you know, my aunt died from breast cancer so I kind of know…you know what, scratch that.” I shove my hands into my pockets.” I have no idea what you’re going through. But I’d like to help, if I can.” This couldn’t be any more awkward.
Maren’s eyes squint just slightly. “Why?”
“Well, the thought of you…” The image of her still face sinks into my vision again. “The thought of you maybe…dying…without us never getting to know each other just feels wrong.”
Shae scoffs. “Why? Is knowing you such a privilege?”