Authors: Danielle Vega
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Copyright Â© 2015 Alloy Entertainment
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
To the real Feelings Are Enough
DEAD PEOPLE DON'T REALLY LOOK LIKE THEY'RE
I'm not an expert. I've only seen the one. She was my roommate at Mountainside Gardens Rehabilitation Center. Rachel, only she pronounced her name
. I used to say it wrong on purpose.
Rachel was a boozehound. I had to dump all my perfume because the nurses said she'd drink it once withdrawal set in. I thought they were full of it, but then Rachel found out this girl down the hall had nail polish remover. She snuck out one night and stole it.
I found her in our bathroom, slumped next to the toilet. Sweat drenched her bleached-blond hair, making it clump around her hollowed-out cheeks and blue-tinted face. Skinny red veins spiderwebbed over the whites of her eyes, and blood and snot dripped from her nose. Dried vomit clung to her chin and her cracked purple lips.
I didn't tell anyone outside of the clinic about Rachel. Not my parents. Not even Shana.
I also didn't tell anyone back home about Moira, who ate her own hair, or Cara, who screamed whenever you touched her, or Tori Anne, who begged for drugs even though all her teeth were rotting out of her skull. You can't tell people stories like that without giving them ideas.
That's really fucked up.
What were you even doing there?
Maybe you're just like them.
â¢Â â¢Â â¢
“End of the ,” I say. “Last house on the left.”
Dad pulls our Subaru around the corner, past a wooden sign that reads
FLYING EAGLE ESTATES
. I press my face against the car window. Identical brick mini mansions spiral off in every direction, all surrounded by lush green grass and towering pine trees. When I was little, I used to think Madison's neighborhood looked like something out of a fairy tale. We'd spend hours darting across the pristine lawns and hiding behind gnarled old oak trees, pretending to be warrior princesses.
“I remember where Madison lives, Casey,” Dad says. “You used to spend every weekend here.”
I twirl the turtle charm on my necklace. I got it because of my last name, Myrtle, and also because I was going to study them back when I was planning on being a marine biologist. But marine biology means college, so who knows anymore. “You excited to see your friends?” Dad asks.
“Sure.” I stretch the word into two syllables. How excited can you be to see “parent-approved” friends? I mean, really? Dad shoots me a look. “I
,” I add, flashing my “normal teenage girl” smile. “Really.”
Dad nods, but he doesn't look convinced. We have the same face: long, straight nose, stubby chin. We even have the same dark eyes and thick brows that tell the world exactly what we're thinking at every moment. Right now, his brows pinch in at the middle, creating tiny worry lines on his forehead.
I flip down the sun visor and scrutinize my reflection. Pale skin, circles under my eyes, and a fresh zit coming in on my forehead. I should have insisted on a post-rehab makeover.
I push my hair back to check out the freshly shaved side of my head. At least that still looks badass. I stole my dad's electric razor a couple of days after getting back and buzzed my brown locks. You can't see it when my hair is down, but Mom freaked anyway. Which was the entire point.
I make a face at my reflection and pinch my pale cheeks. A faint burst of red appears on my skin, then disappears a second later. I sigh and flip the sun visor up.
“Feeling okay?” Dad asks.
Did the thousands of dollars we spent on Mountainside actually fix you?
“I'm good. This is pie.” Pie's my word. Kind of like “it's a piece of cake,” only I used to scarf down these cherryâcream cheese pies my dad made every weekend.
It's also my classic nonanswer, and I feel guilty the second it's out of my mouth. “I feel stronger,” I add.
“Well, I guess I'm glad,” Dad says. I reach for the air conditioner and Dad drops his hand on mine before I can pull it away. He squeezes, his eyes still on the road. I let him leave his hand there for a full three seconds before shrugging it off.
We roll up to a white house with forest-green shutters and a wraparound front porch. Madison leans against one of the columns flanking the front door, her long, tan legs stretched out before her. All my old friends and soccer teammates crowd around her, talking and laughing.
It feels stuffy in the Subaru all of a sudden. I switch the air-conditioning off and roll my window down. Dad cuts the steering wheel to the left, pulling up alongside a row of freshly planted yellow tulips. I squirm, uncomfortably, in my seat.
“Something wrong?” Dad asks.
“No,” I say, too fast. It's a scientific fact that dads don't understand teenage girl politics. Like how your former best friend might invite you to a sleepover just to be nice, and not because she actually wants to spend the night with the school cautionary tale.
I grab my polka-dot Herschel backpack and push the door open. The smell of tulips overwhelms me. It's like the way you imagine flowers smell, not how they
smell. Except these do.
Madison turns at the sound of the car door slamming. I step onto her lawn, and her face lights up.
“Casey!” she squeals. “You came!”
She hands her lemonade glass to the girl standing next to her and races across the sloped lawn toward me. Watching her, I feel a phantom twinge of pain in my knee, the injury that started this all. Madison throws her arms around my shoulders, and suddenly all I can see is tan skin and blond hair. She squeezes too tightly, giving me the feeling this hug is more for the girls on the porch and my dad than it is for me. I rock back on my heels.
,” I groan. She's not much larger than me, but she works out six times a week and never eats junk food. Her body is all muscle.
is a contact sport for Madison.
Dad unrolls the car window. “Madison, it's nice to see you again,” he says. Madison releases me from her strangle-hug. She's already wearing a pair of polka-dot pajama shorts and a loose-fitting T-shirt. He turns back to me and his eyebrows do the furrowing, worry-line thing again. “You have your cell, right? You'll call me if you needÂ .Â .Â .”
“Anything,” I finish for him. “I know. I will.”
Dad stares at me for a beat too long, a nervous smile on his face. I should feel guilty about that smile. But I'm so tired of everyone looking at me like I'm a bomb about to go off.
off. I'm better now.
Dad rolls his window up, waving one last time as he steers the car away from the curb. I wiggle my fingers at his taillights, halfheartedly.
“There's lemonade on the porch,” Madison says, looping her arm around my shoulder. “And hummus and stuff.”
She winds her thick blond braid around her finger. The gold “best friends” bracelet I gave her back in sixth grade dangles from her wrist. Something about it makes me sad. Like the strangle-hug made me sad. She's trying too hard to remind me that we're friends.
“Do you have Funfetti icing?” I ask, looking away from the bracelet. Funfetti was practically a fifth food group our freshman year.
“Ha,” Madison says, and flicks the pendant on her bracelet. “Is it weird being back?”
“No, it's pie.” I smooth my hair over the shaved side of my head. Shana said my old haircut didn't match my personality, but Madison wouldn't understand. She hasn't changed her hair since elementary school. “I'm doing good. Great, actually.” I stop walking and lower my voice so the girls on the porch don't overhear me. “Look, I'm not really a drug addict. My parents overacted. They thought I was, like, shooting heroin into my eyeballs or something.” I laugh, but it's stilted and awkward. Madison stares at me, frowning.
“Anyway,” I continue, clearing my throat. “I just had a bad reaction to my painkillers.” At least, I
I had a bad reaction to my painkillers. The night I went to rehab is a blank spot on my memory. I don't remember anything that happened, but Shana told me I passed out, and she said it could have been the pain meds, which is good enough for me. Apparently it happens all the time.
“I wasn't anything like the girls there,” I finish, thinking of Rachel and Moira and Tori Anne.
Madison wrinkles her nose. She looks skeptical. “Painkillers can be addictive.”
“Hence the rehab,” I say. “And they were prescription, anyway.” My doctor prescribed oxycodone after a girl the size of a Clydesdale slammed into me during a soccer game last year, ruining my knee. “My parents just flipped because I passed out, but my doctor said lots of people have bad reactions. It wasn't a big deal.”
“I don't know. I'm not even eating white flour anymore,” Madison says. “I read this article that says it's basically as addictive as cocaine.”
I tug on my Myrtle necklace. What are you supposed to say to a girl who doesn't eat
? That's not even human.
“Is there rehab for pasta?” I ask. Madison laughs too loudly for my stupid joke and takes the steps to the porch two at a time.
All the girls are already dressed in their pajamas, except for Stacy Donovan, who's wearing Nike athletic shorts and a neon blue sports bra. I'm pretty sure she was born wearing athletic shorts and a sports bra. She smiles at me when I step onto the porch.
“Cute jeans!” she calls.
“Um, thanks,” I say. A pair of tight, dark-wash jeans with a ripped knee hangs low on my hips, accentuating my long legs and thin waist. I spent all afternoon trying on everything in my closet, and I finally landed on my best jeans and a slouchy black T-shirt.
“Do you want to get changed?” Madison asks. I glance down at my backpack. I brought my matching pj's with the giant strawberries on them, like I'm twelve.
“I'm good for now.” I dump my backpack on the ground and take the glass of lemonade Madison offers me.
Kiki Charles waves from the porch swing, where she's sitting with Amanda Rice and a girl from the JV team I don't recognize. I wave back. Kiki and I used to partner up for early morning sprints, and Amanda always offered to paint my nails blue and yellowâthe team colorsâon the bus to away games. But that was all pre-injury, pre-Shana, pre-rehab. I barely saw them after I quit the team last year.
Amanda leans forward, balancing her lemonade glass on her knee. “Please tell me you're taking calc this year,” she says. “Algebra 2 was horrible after you left. Mr. Nelson was up to two puns a day by the end of the year, and I had no one to groan with in the back row.”
“Tragic,” I say, and the corner of my mouth lifts into a smile. Talking about school is the high school girl equivalent of talking about the weather. But it's still better than the alternative.
“You have no idea,” Amanda says. “Did you know he likes angles, but only to a certain
? Ooh, and he kept threatening to kick Kevin Thomas out of class if he had another infraction.” She shoots me a disgusted look over the top of her lemonade glass. “Get it? In
Madison rolls her eyes. “No one has suffered like you've suffered,” she says.
I take a drink of lemonade, grimacing as I swallow. It's sugar-free. “So.” I clear my throat, shrugging the tension from my shoulders. “What else have I missed?”
“Tuesday's now sloppy joe day in the cafeteria,” Madison says with mock enthusiasm. “And Sean Davenport's dating Clare Ryan this week, so that'sÂ .Â .Â . special.”
I frown, trying to picture our high school quarterback with Clare, the drama weirdo who wears a beret to school every day. “What happened to Sarah?”
“Sarah's a born-again Christian now,” Kiki explains, wrinkling her nose. “That's a whole different drama. Oh, and Sam cut his hair. Have you seenâ”
“I'm so behind already,” I say, interrupting her before she can start talking about my ex-boyfriend. Madison slips an arm over my shoulder.
“I went to junior prom with Henry Frank and he spent the
night making out with Lisa Jones in the third-floor stairwell,” she says.
“Asshole.” I tuck my hair behind my ear, flashing her a smile. I know she's trying to steer the conversation away from Sam, and I feel a rush of gratitude. It's almost like old times. Like in fifth grade when this girl in the cafeteria made fun of me for getting ketchup on my white tank top, and Madison retaliated by dumping a carton of chocolate milk over her head.
Then Amanda Rice leans forward, wrinkling her nose. “Did you shave your head?” she asks.
. I push my fingers through my hair and touch the buzzed sides of my head. It feels like peach fuzz. “Not exactly.”
“Did you do it in rehab?” Amanda asks. Madison shoots her a lookâher “we talked about this” look. Which means they must've had an entire conversation about me before I even got here.
I look down at the ice melting in my lemonade glass, trying to ignore the heat climbing up the back of my neck. I imagine Madison telling them not to ask me about rehab. Madison saying they should pretend everything's normal. That we're all still friends.
“It was just a question,” Amanda mutters.
I smooth my hair over my ears. “I didn't do it in rehab.”
“It looks, um, really different,” Madison says in a fake cheery voice. “But whatever, right? It's just hair. It'll grow back.”
“Yeah.” I fumble with Myrtle and look down at my shoes. You should be allowed to scream in public whenever a conversation gets really awkward. And then time could reset itself and you get a do-over.
But I can't scream without everyone thinking I'm a crazy junkie, so I pinch the skin on my palm and stare at the mole in the middle of Amanda's forehead. She's still talking but her voice sounds like static. All I hear is a low buzz as she drones on.