Campaign has ended. This book was not selected for publication.
We will let you know if this book becomes available on Amazon. Want to know if this book becomes available on Amazon?
Back to top

First pages

Part One.

This is ritual to us now.

Jessica’s long fingers curl through her thin, lackluster hair, scrutinizing the placid color in the dirty mirror of the girls’ bathroom. The low light hangs heavy on her eyes and pulls deep, purple bags like bruises into focus. She brushes concealer over the lines with her index finger, and her hand stutters and stalls critically over her protruding cheekbones.

She catches my gaze in the reflection. “It’s gross,” she says to me and sinks her grip into the fleshy part of her cheek. “Jesus. Look at that.”

“Look at what?” William asks snidely, turning off the faucet. “You wanna see something actually gross? Look at this.” He slides his t-shirt up and pinches the side of his stomach, pulling at goose bumped skin, and Jessica rolls her eyes.

I keep an eye on the door. If another student walks in, they’d know to keep their mouth shut about William’s presence in the girls’ bathroom. He spends enough time in here to be seen as part of the background, no stranger than the broken door on the third stall or the miles of cursive and block letter graffiti decorating each gray-brick wall. He is best friends with Jessica Parker. He is untouchable. So am I, these days. Not that any faculty member would care about things like that -- that’s who I’m keeping a lookout for.

William shakes his hands through his dark, tousled hair. A few strands stick to his palm after, and he wipes them off on his jeans. “But still,” he says, continuing a conversation I have not been paying attention to. His shirt is lifted to his shoulders, and he takes a deep breath in.

“Shit,” Jessica Parker whistles. She touches the outline of his ribcage with reverence. It is a worshipper’s touch, but it’s not him that she’s worshipping. “ABC is looking good on you.”

He snorts, and the shirt falls back down. “ABC looks good on anyone given enough time. But have you seen my thighs? Talk to me when ABC looks good on them.”

There’s a lapse in the conversation. Jessica and William look at me. It’s my turn to sacrifice and worship our god in the way we know best -- by revealing the extent of Her love to us and our devotion to Her, in any and every public restroom. This is our Church, our Sunday service starts every day at 7:45 am, Stillwater High. Bring your friends.

I could be a preacher with that kind of piety.

“You think that’s bad?” I ask, the words comfortable and familiar. I trace the outer edges of my own thighs. There’s no room for forgiveness here. This is no confessional. “Look at this. I could crush someone.”

Jessica barks out a laugh. Her throat rasps when she speaks. “You haven’t seen mine, though. Disgusting, but I’m holding out hope. Thank God for Rainbow right now.”

“Thank Ana,” William breathes, a prayer to the heavens. Then, with a sarcastic drawl he amends, “It’s a promise from God after all.” He waits for a response, and then sighs at our blank expressions. “You know, to never flood the earth again, blah, blah, blah? Rainbow. Promise. Jesus Christ, you don’t have to look at me like that, I used to be a good boy, went to Bible School and everything. It’s not that deep. The rainbow was a promise from God. Or-- whatever.”

“Still is,” Jessica says, but she is not talking about the same god. She digs her lipstick from her purse and applies the paint in thick, demanding strokes, hiding the cracks that break through her cherry smiles. Her grin is an open wound, a blood red slit in her face. “Though I can’t imagine you were ever a good boy who went to Bible School. I know you too well.”

“I am what you make me,” William says. “And you look downright dangerous.”

“I aim to be,” she replies, winking at the two of us. She shrugs her bag over one shoulder and stands in front of the mirror a moment longer. Sighing, her eyes go soft and sad, dull and weightless. “Fucking shit,” she says, arching her neck to see the tendons shift, her collarbones ghosting behind the collar of her pastel, baby-doll shirt.

“You blow Tyler with that mouth?” William snarks, picking his jacket up from the floor.

Jessica shoots him a nasty, half-teasing look. “No, but I know you do.” She smiles, edges sharp. He only shrugs, unhurt. I will never understand them entirely, how deep their bond goes and why when they seem more intent on destroying each other than loving each other. Tyler is only the latest ammunition for their fights.

“Whatever,” Jessica says. She smoothes the lines of shoulders, the paragon of the cool and collected alpha bitch. She owns this look, relishes in it. “I’m on Red again today. Already had half a cup of strawberries this morning. Yuck.”

“Fast day,” says William dreamily. “I hate it, but it works in the end.” Every word comes out mocking, but I can see the desperation and need for Her in the defeated crease between his eyebrows.

Something akin to jealousy and embarrassment churns in my stomach. That, or hunger. I don’t know the difference anymore. “Eight hundred,” I say. “I know it’s a lot, but--”

“Baby steps, baby,” says Jessica Parker.

I nod, immensely grateful for the weight of her on me, dragging me to her level of being like an anchor on my self-esteem. It does wonders for my legs. God only knows what I’d do without her to lead the way.

William closes his eyes, a painted tilt appearing in his chapped lips and clenched jaw. He laughs quietly. “Stick with us, kid,” he says. “With our help…” He trails off and waves a hand in the air, searching or maybe dismissing the words that are supposed to follow.

“With our help, you’ll be next to nothing in no time,” Jessica says with a haughty raise of her eyebrow. “Just give it a few months, or so.”

“I was going to say you’d be as good as dead soon enough,” William snorts. “But same difference, right? Just give it a few months. Ana save us all.”

It’s the only prayer we know. Like I said, it’s ritual these days.

 

I can’t blame Jessica Parker or William Alter for my introduction to Her. She had been a part of me before I knew She had a name, following me in life like a shadow, never making me happy but at least soothing the intense disgust and self-hate that clings to me like cigarette smoke whenever I tried to run from Her. It was only after I moved to Stillwater High that I learned Her name and how to worship Her like a true believer.

When I met them, I was in the middle of another attempted escape from Her cold, deadly grasp. Jessica Parker was walking in the middle of the hall, the crowds of sweating, acne-ridden teens parting before her like the Red Sea. William walked beside her, their pinkies twisted together as if they were continually promising to keep the world’s most precious secret, forever and ever and ever. And there were, in a way. Swearing in front of everyone to keep the secret of Her.

Jessica saw me from across the hall as I was fumbling with my locker. Her eyes caught mine, dark and hidden, complimented by the cherry, close-mouthed, sardonic curl of her lips. William saw me shortly after she did, glancing over my sweatshirt and jeans and then twitching his fingers at me in a half-aborted wave. I was out of breath under the scrutiny of their gaze, and I couldn't help but want to be them in that moment, feel their power twisting inside me, become them or fuck them or hate them, worm my way inside until their too-thin, stretched skin was mine. I could see it in her eyes, a looming shadow of perfect love and death. Her eyes looked just like mine.

In the time left between one breath and another, I was sprawled on the floor, my books thudding on the tile. My knees cracked, and my face burned as scattered laughter echoed around the hallway. Scrambling to pull my books and paper together, I keep my eyes close to the floor, only daring to look up when two slender legs stop in front of me, two pastel blue heels.

“That’s positively pathetic,” Jessica Parker said.

In that four second window, I knew She followed them too. With things like this, you always know.

 

Of course, I still didn’t know Her. At that point, I didn’t realize She existed outside of an unnamable feeling that ate away at me, late at night, begging me to change. She didn’t control me -- not methodically, at least -- only a presence I couldn’t seem to shake. I didn't know Her Rules or Her control or Her love, Her love, Her love. Better than any rush of drug, more potent than any other addiction. She’s all-consuming, pure desolation and destruction, all revelations and religious bliss. She’s an old testament god that loves you till you’re dead. A slow moving repentance, sans salvation.

I am just another wasted devotee. Born to serve.

I don’t know how it happens, nor is it really that important, but the day I become best friends with Jessica Parker, she ties a beaded, red-threaded bracelet onto my wrist. It’s thin, unobtrusive, and matches the one she and William both wear. We three are bound now in a promise that runs deeper than blood. We are all (un)willing slaves to the same god.

“There,” she says and tightens it enough to bite into the flesh of my wrist. “Best friends forever.”

“Till death do us part. We’re blood brothers,” William grins. He lifts his own bracelet up, and the three of us hold our wrists together in a parody of a complete circle, and for a moment, I can believe we are all just normal teens, friendship bracelets and everything. But these are not friendship bracelets. These are a sign. A red fucking flag to anyone who cares to notice. (No one does.)

“I don’t know where it comes from,” Jessica says, folding her legs underneath her. We’ve taken our lunch break outside, the summer still desperately hanging onto the emerging fall like an ex-lover. The grass itches the skin of my bare arms as I lay back, watching the sky. “Some people on a proana site just decided it could be something we do, so that we know. In case we meet someone else, y’know? A way of saying, ‘Hey, I’m like you!’”

We worshippers will seek companionship in every hell. Everything’s easier when you’re not alone, and Jessica and William know this well. Friends since diapers, they have always had each other.

“That,” she carries on, “and it’ll be a reminder. Every time you start feeling like binging, you see it and remember.”

William holds his arm daintily in the air, observing the bracelet with a blank expression. It slips a few inches down his arm, and I glance away, feeling that guilty, aching jealousy coil in me. I know that at the beginning of the year, it was tight enough on his wrist that in barely budged. He doesn’t seem to remember this though, disdainfully sneering at the circumference of his arm and blood red threads hanging on him, tying him together. He says nothing, but his eyes pull downward and he lets his arm drop again, back to the rest on the indentation of his ribs through his shirt.

We rest in silence in the sunlight, but we’re still cold. The ghost haunting us sends chills through our flesh. It’s Her way of saying hello.

 

The human race is connected by one trait and just that: our overwhelming desire and complete lack of control over our short, miserable lives. Money, religion, families and friends -- these are all the designs of a universe that would prefer you to think and act like one of a million others (just like you). Most people are satisfied with this, either ignorant or apathetic, and they are trained to balk at displays of total self-control. It’s why tattoos are frowned upon, why countercultures exist, and, most importantly (for our purposes, at least), it’s why killing yourself is taboo. Because it’s the one and only way to have the last word about anything at all. It’s the one way to checkmate God himself.

I’m not committing suicide via a gun to the temple or a bottle of sleeping pills or the embrace of a blistering mile of rope, although I’ve often times considered each of these and have deemed then a viable plan B. No, I am not killing myself with any direct action. I have no intention of dealing the final blow. Instead, I will let my body do all the work for me, waste away through an unavoidable path of inaction. The disease She has fostered in my throat and stomach, a cancer that will spread as fast as a whisper and be just as noticed, will have the same result. I will most likely die of cardiac arrest -- sooner, rather than later.

I am a patient holding onto life support. I know what will kill me: another symptom of the decaying dysmorphia and another tell-tale sign of dining hall habits. I know I’m on a time limit.

I just can’t seem to bring myself to care.. I’m not doing this for the end result of killing myself, it’s only a happy, long-term coincidence at the end of the road that I don’t care about. Death is a small price to pay for control, for unnatural beauty. Oh well.

On my napkin, I write in an ink the color of blood untouched by oxygen:

Death is a pre-existing condition for us now. How are supposed to get insurance in this economy?

We are seated in a sparkling red booth that serves to emulate a ‘50s feel in the small but busy diner Tyler has taken us to. It’s supposed to be a double date, but I’m not sure if Tyler is dating Jessica or William, which means I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be dating William or Jessica. It’s a sweet idea, I guess, but my best friends have been frosty all night, and the smell of oil and salt-drenched french fries and juicy, full burgers is starting to make me dizzy.

We three have ordered the same thing: a cup of vegetable soup with a glass of water. We alternate between sips of both -- ice cold water to warm broth (none of the actual vegetables) and back. We are combining two of Her Rules at once: never eat alone and always take sips between bites of food. Or, in this case, between spoonfuls of salty, almost too-filling broth.

Tyler’s ordered a hamburger and fries. Even looking at it sends my throat choking up, my stomach anticipating to reject the 700, 800, two-thousand calorific meal that will not pass my lips. He gulps down handfuls of fries at once, sloshes soda in afterward, and is all-around disgusting to watch. I can’t look away.

William and Tyler are in an animated conversation about a spy-flick that came out last week, and while William keeps hinting that he’d also like to catch a new release with “someone” soon, it’s to no avail. Tyler is oblivious. Jessica’s shoulder brushes against mine as I slide the napkin to her, in an effort to relieve the boredom and thick disappointment filming over her eyes.

She covers her snort with her hand and scribbles a message back in purple ink from the collection of glitter-gel pens she carries with her. It’s a short line of complete desolation, a hidden code wrapped with humor. No one except us (and other devoted worshippers of Her) would know what it means.

Planning to become part of the 20%?

The fatality rate for Her love. We are terminal and counting down.

I write back:

Aren’t you?

And then:

What do you suppose happens to the other 80%? Do they skirt along the edges of death for the rest of their lives or are they living fat and happy? Or maybe they off themselves anyway, later, before She finds them and does it Herself. Maybe they kill themselves because She’s not doing it fast enough. Maybe they’re inpatients. There’s no pill to cure us.

Jessica reads my note and scrunches up her nose. Twisting her mouth to side, she turns her head decidedly away so she doesn’t have to see me staring at her. I’ve hit a nerve. I don’t really care that I’ve upset her in one way or another -- that is the nature of the game. These are the facts we all must face when we worship Her. There is no way out. So, I offer her no apology, only a scornful smile as she steals a few fries from Tyler’s plate and shovels them down.

William raises an eyebrow at her, a sneer already forming on his lips, and her defiance melts away. She makes brief eye contact with me, looking for -- looking for what? Sympathy? Forgiveness? A knowing, concerned look? She finds none. I have perfected the art of being an asshole. They’ve rubbed off on me.

Neither William nor I say anything when she excuses herself to the restroom, purse clutched tightly in hand. Tyler continues eating, unaware of the intricate turmoil we have bred and dismantled in the short span of three french fries and a stupid percentage. I’ve never claimed to be a nice person, but the still sane part of me thinks that I shouldn’t be so flippant about the cheerleader currently vomiting in the bathroom of a dingy, b-rated diner. Over the noise of these guilty, slightly horrified thoughts, William inclines his head toward me in a secret, barely-there nod. Good job, his eyes say to me.

Later, once Tyler drops us off at Jessica’s house, she hugs the two of us, her skin on mine no more than a passing breeze, and then leads to us to her bedroom. Her mom is out, she tells us, but even if she was home, she wouldn’t care. Jess and William have slept more nights in each other’s bed and clothes than in their own. It’s an interesting juxtaposition -- Jessica curled into William’s sheets, Misfits and Black Flag t-shirts hiding the pull of her stuttering rib cage, and William decked out in pastel baby blue and pink, enveloped in her many, many pillows. I crave a relationship as boundless as that. Satan’s symbiotic relationship. Both of them slowly and delightfully killing the other. True love, I guess.

“I don’t plan on being dead,” she says. It’s a non-sequitur to William, but I’m well aware of the context. “That’s not -- it’s not like that. But when I think about the future, ten, twenty years from now, I can’t see it. I don’t know what’s going to happen after I reach my UGW, y’know? Like, yeah, I tell myself, ‘I’ll wear cute clothes, I’ll go here, take pictures’ or whatever, but past that? I can’t visualize it. Is this going to be the rest of my life? I can’t think past the numbers and the food and Her. It’s all I think about!”

She’s gesturing wildly in the air, voice loud and pleading. There’s nothing I can say to calm her, because she’s asking questions I have been wondering for weeks. When I try to think long-term, the thoughts muddle and distort in my head until I’ve only got two solutions: death or a long stay in the hospital. One is worse than the other.

Jessica reaches out, tangling one hand in William’s shirt and entwining the other with my own. Her head tilts, resting on his shoulder, and I can clearly see the wetness in her eyes. Her tone is soft when says, “Part of me is screaming to go eat out the fridge till there’s nothing left. I want it so badly, it hurts. I need, Will-- I need--”

“This is what you need,” William says and hushes her babbling. He looks at me. “Control. Your life is meaningless without it. You are meaningless without it.

“This is what you need. To keep yourself in line or face the consequences. And you know things will only get worse, you’ll only hate yourself more.

“This is what you need. To be worth something in this worthless world. To stand out, to fit in, to be alive when you’re already a ghost. You’re nothing without Her. You’ll always be nothing. So don’t fucking lose it all now.”

Shaking, shaking, shaking. His hands in her hair.

“This is what you need.”

Make something of yourself or fade away. Be something great, a raging inferno, an untamable and beautiful wild, or be dust.

What would Kurt Cobain say?

“This is what you need.”

Someone to beat you black and blue, corroded twilights that pucker into punched out green and yellow. Someone to show you the way, teach you how to be good. Learn what it takes to be thin.

“This is what you need.”

Control. The one thing you can ever truly claim ownership of. Baby girl, what happened to yours? Who are you without it? One of seven billion.

William grins ferally. His teeth shine and everything about him screams lust and power and a reckless hopelessness. “Think about it,” he says. “You might die, but at least you’ll look good in the casket.”

 

Family dinners are everything but -- there’s no real family, no real dinner. Well, not anymore. Once upon a time, we three got along famously, Mom and Dad and me making our way through our merry little life, holding hands and skipping down the lane. (Ha.) As for dinner, I’ve mastered the exclusive art of pretending to eat more than I actually have.

It’s all in Her Rules, printed in bright letters on every proana website and scribbled in Jessica’s glittery ink across pages and pages of notebook paper, torn out and stuffed into pockets, hidden under his pillows, in her pockets and in her lunchbox. So long as you follow the Rules, everything is simple and clean and easy(-ish). She pushed one copy into my hand the day she tied that red bracelet onto my wrist, and I have dutifully memorized them, the good worshipper that I am.

The Rules have ensured that family dinners are now a battleground, but a battleground with routine. Say hello, make your own plate -- small portions, skip out on the fatty stuff (carbs, sweets, etc.) -- take sips between each bite, chew each bite some odd number of times, talk more than you eat, move the food around your plate, never finish it all, make excuses. Ignore the creeping pain in your stomach. Go to sleep.

Easy.

Though it’s hard to talk with them. I don’t appreciate being moved across the state to small town Stillwater, especially given the circumstances behind our sudden departure. Apparently, running away from a scandal doesn’t negate it, as the after-effects of my father’s misadventures have followed us here, evident in my mom’s hoarse voice and my dad’s tired, guilty eyes. And yet, here we are. Pretending like nothing ever happened.

“You’re so quiet,” Mom says between bites of green, microwaved peas. “What’s going on? How’s school going?”

“Fine,” I say.

Dad’s knife grinds against his plate as he cuts through a piece of his porkchop. “See any cute boys?” He asks playfully, flashing a megawatt grin at me and then at Mom. It’s that grin that made her forgive him. I wouldn’t have.

See any cute boys, he asks, as if we’re all just a normal family, teasing each other and giggling over our days, as if he didn’t ruin our old lives and force us to move, as if he didn’t cheat and get caught. Jackass.

“Yeah,” I say. “Tons. Gotta love the sweaty, acne-ridden fascists that are most boys at a small, southern school. I think I have a real romance going on with this one kid, Robert E. Lee? I think is his name.”

Dad frowns, sighing through his nose. What a perfect picture father he is in this moment -- stern and disapproving, his beard cross-faded with white streaks, and his thick framed glasses slipping down the bridge of his nose. And poor perfect Mom, looking so worried and desperate to change the subject in her own chair.

“I know you’re not ecstatic about being here, but give it a chance,” Dad says, stabbing a piece of his porkchop noisily. “Your mother and I pulled a lot of cards to get us a transfer in her company and find a decent place to set up. It hasn’t been easy for me, either, starting in a new station. This is a new start for all of us.”

God, I don’t care.

I push my plate away and stand, most of my food untouched. They don’t notice. “I’m pretty tired,” I say. “I’m going to catch up on some of my English Lit homework then go to bed. Night.”

“Goodnight,” Mom calls. “Love you.”

Is it bad if I feel nothing at all?

 

Tyler has been discarded by the two of them, nothing more than bullet shells and outdated ammunition. There will be no more war fought over his no man’s land. Maybe he got boring or maybe too many of his dates took place in beat-up, dusty diners, but either way he’s done for, thrown away in all his basketball-shorts glory. They dumped him in hallway B on Monday, Jessica delivering the news with a peppy, “We’re breaking up, sorry,” before linking her pinky with William’s and walking away. This was not the least bit surprising, but William’s other pinky finding its way to mine was.

Jess smiled at me when he linked us together -- their secret sharing has expanded by one -- so I suppose she approved. I am not sure if this means I’m being indoctrinated into them further or if I’m the newest shiny thing to claim.

“You can’t have him, you know,” William tells me shortly thereafter. “Tyler, I mean. It just wouldn’t be right, now that you’re a part of us.”

“Oh, shut up.” Jessica rolls her eyes and slaps him lightly on the arm. With a wink, she says, “William here is just a possessive bastard. Don’t let him scare away anyone you might like. But God knows why you would want Tyler of all people.”

“I don’t,” I say.

“Good,” says Jessica. “I’m a little possessive, too.”

At lunch, Jess unpacks a small container of ten blueberries. She eats them slowly (which is, of course, another one of Her Rules) while William looks on with unabashed jealousy. She pretends not to notice his gawking but still preens under the attention. Always the bride, never the bridesmaid.

“Fucking ABC,” he spits. “God! What I wouldn’t give to be done with this already.”

“Are you on another fast day already?” Jessica asks.

“Not technically, but the goal is 200 or less, and I’m saving up for dinner. My dad’s looking at me all shifty these days, saying I’m fucking ungrateful for the food on my plate, blah, blah, blah. I’ll just have a cig after school.”

That shit will kill you.

William snorts. “Everything’s going to kill me. It’s part of the human condition. And you’re not one to talk -- what, with your whole plate of air and everything. You’ve fasted for two days now, and as much as it might seem to work, that’s a sure fire way to end up deader than most.”

I’ll eat when I’m hungry. Tomorrow. What can I say? I’ve become a lethal combination of the both of you.

Jessica looks torn, like she wants to say something, force one of her delicate blueberries past my lips, but she knows as well as we do that she doesn’t have the right to say or do anything -- at the risk of sounding like her mother and a hypocrite. Instead, she takes a deep breath and says, “You should both come over tonight.” She closes the container again, three berries uneaten. “My mom’s out again, and I’ll be lonely, now that Tyler and me are done. I’ll make us all strawberry water.”

“Where’s your mom at?” William asks, cracking his neck as he stretches.

Jessica leers. It’s an expression that was, at one time, born on William’s face but has now migrated to the peaks and valleys of her cheeks and curling lips. She looks beautiful and malicious, almost identical to William when he does the same. “Probably injecting more botox into her nearly perfect face. Or spreading her legs at the motel for money so she can inject more botox into her nearly perfect face.”

William crows, delighted and appalled all at once. “Jessica! You can’t just say stuff like that. I’m sure your mother is getting her nip and tuck in a perfectly respectable manner.”

“Maybe this time it’ll come out really horrible,” she whispers, like a wish over a birthday cake. Blow out the candles and hope for a botched cosmetic surgery to ruin your mother’s day. “Maybe then she’ll stop trying to take me for my own.”

“Your mom wants you to have a face lift?” I ask, horrified. And a little bit jealous. My own parents can’t be bothered about anything that has to do with me, all empty glances over the paper on Sunday and I’ll-be-late notifications to every birthday party.

With a twist to her lips meant to resemble a smile, Jessica shrugs as if it doesn’t keep her up at night. “My mother wants me to do anything to carry on her legacy. Blonde, check. Cheerleader, check. Party girl all the way who may or may not have done heavy drugs, check. She hates that I’m skinnier than her, drives her crazy! So I do just enough to be her living shadow, just enough so that she doesn’t disown me or whatever.”

Everyone wants to live forever, Ms. Parker included.

I sip my water, then ask, “Would she really disown you for not doing what she wants?”

“Maybe not,” Jessica says. “But she’d be a total bitch about it. Better to avoid than incite at this point.” She doesn’t clarify what being a “total bitch” entails, but the way she avoids my gaze and picks at her fingernails convinces me to leave it alone.

We agree to meet at six -- enough time for all of us to make an appearance at the dinner table while not actually eating anything, then leaving the sight of our parents as fast as we had appeared, like we’re practicing for the days when we’re Hollywood royalty. Flash, flash, gone. Quick appearances to let the public know we’re alive before disappearing to do lines of coke and slip in pools of vomit in the bathroom. Dead at twenty-seven.

Everything I do these days is a disappearing act. I’m one big magic trick, watch me vanish before your very eyes.

 

By the time I get to Jessica’s house that night, William is already there, sitting on Ms. Parker’s white, faux-leather couch and holding a plastic bag of ice cubes to his face, where a new bruise is purpling along the edges of his cheekbone. He stares hard and angry at the coffee table, expression schooled into something decidedly blank but underlaid with a fury that causes his hands to shake.

I don’t ask if he’s okay. It’s not my place. But I do sit next to him and wait for Jessica to emerge from the kitchen, juggling three infusion water bottles, each with a single crushed strawberry floating in the water. William shifts to grab a bottle, and as he does, the sharp smell of alcohol stings through the air. His movements are steady, eyes focused and clear. It’s not him who’s been drinking. Jess and I share a pained glance but keep our thoughts to ourselves. William will talk about it if he wants to. (He never does.)

We sit in tense silence for five, ten, fifteen seconds, then--

“We should go to your room,” William says. He drops the bag of ice on the table. “If Tyler were… Fuck! Whatever.” He turns to look at me, a stern, desperate edge of the lines of his face. “You can leave if you want to. But I need this, okay? I need it. You don’t have to be part of it, but I have to.”

I don’t plan on leaving. I’m just hungry enough to do whatever they need, be whoever they need. They are the first people to ever look at me and see me, see something worth investing in, befriending, possessing. They are the first people to ever truly love me. Ana has ensured and insured my codependency.

“Are you sure?” Jessica asks. “You haven’t-- with us. Before. You don’t know what you’re getting into.”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I spend my time torn between studying and drinking obscene amounts of coffee. I attend Hendrix College in Arkansas, collect cacti, and love to watch bad horror movies.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
When I was 13 years old, I became indoctrinated in the dangerous and consuming world of pro-ana. For three years, I struggled between starving myself and gaining weight, and I still struggle with that to this day. This book is drawn upon my experiences in my youth as well as my time in the hospital.
Q. What books have influenced your life the most?
A.
Chuck Palahniuk's "Invisible Monsters," Mark Z. Danielewski's "House of Leaves," and, of course, the Harry Potter series have played some large roles in my life.
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
This particular novel was inspired not only by my personal past with anorexia, but the summer after my senior year of high school. I spent time dissecting myself and my ambitions as I suffered through a hospitalization program for my depression. Jessica, William, and the narrator are what came out.