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Authors: Daisy Whitney

When You Were Here

BOOK: When You Were Here
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Table of Contents

Copyright Page

In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher is unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at [email protected]. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

This book is dedicated to my parents,
who have given me so much love.

This story was inspired by the beautiful life
of Sharon Schneider, who showed her family
the world, and how to live.

Chapter One

When someone you love has died, there is a certain grace period during which you can get away with murder. Not literal murder, but pretty much anything else.

So I’m leaving the school parking lot on the second to last day of my senior year, and I’m driving down Montana Avenue, and this red Mazda Miata cuts me off.

I ignore the Miata. But a few blocks later, I turn onto my street and notice a silver Nissan. No one’s in it; the car is just parked on the side of the road, hanging maybe a few inches into my driveway, and I have nothing against this car, or against the car’s owner, but I am tired of everyone being gone, and I am tired of everything that has tired me out for the last five years of my life. Besides, when making decisions, my mom always said:
At the end of my life, when
I’m looking back, will I regret not doing this?
Fine, she was usually talking about traveling to Italy or taking me out of school to surf one afternoon. Still, I’m pretty sure I’m
going to regret hitting this car for no reason, so I bang into it one, two, three, four, five, six times, each hit radiating under my skin, jump-starting me like paddles to shock the system.

It works for a few seconds. I feel a spark inside me, like a match has been lit in a darkened cave. But then it’s snuffed out and I’m back to the way I was before.

I shift into reverse, and my car’s fender makes this annoying scratching sound as it drags against the road. I pull into my driveway, and I get out of my car. I walk around to the front, and the fender is dangling down to the ground, and it looks like the engine might be smoking, but I don’t feel like dealing because dealing requires too much energy, and energy is what I lack. I head inside, toss the keys on the table by the door, and flop down onto the couch.

My dog, Sandy Koufax, joins me, curling up with her head on my knee. As I rub Sandy Koufax’s ears, I wonder briefly if they will send me to anger-management class or something, but there’s no
to send me away. Sure, there’s Kate, my mom’s best friend, but she won’t. The other
s are all gone. My mom died two months ago, my dad was killed in an accident six years ago, and my sister, Laini, is in China trying to rediscover her roots, something I don’t get, but then again I don’t get a lot about my sister because we don’t have a lot in common, least of all genes.
She is adopted from China, and I am
a white boy
, as she likes to say when she deigns to speak to me.

I put my arms behind my head and consider—what else can I get away with? Is there a statute of limitations on how long you can have a free pass after your mom dies? Because smashing that car is the only thing that’s made me
in weeks.

I glance at the empty pizza box on the coffee table and pull it toward me with my foot to see if there might still be a slice in it. I notice Sandy Koufax watching my foot, then the box.

“Sandy Koufax, did you finish the pizza?”

She says nothing. Just tilts her sleek black head to the side.

“Well, can you call and order another one?”

She puts one of her white paws on my chest.

The phone rings. I stretch out my arm over to the coffee table, grab the phone, and answer. Mrs. Callahan from next door wants to know if I am all right.
No, I am not all right
, I want to say.
Have you been to my house? Have you seen how empty it is?

“Yup,” I tell her as I flip through the mail: some notices from UCLA, where I’m going in the fall, a bill from Terra Linda High about the cost of my cap and gown. I have to give the valedictory speech in a few days. I toss that envelope away. It crash-lands on the cool, white tiles on the other side of the coffee table where I can’t see it anymore. Looking at it reminds me of what’s missing from graduation.
Because my graduation was
the one thing
my mom wanted most to see. It was her carrot, the thing she was holding on for.
I will be there, and I will take pictures, and I will be cheering and crying, and it’ll be my last hurrah.

Mrs. Callahan asks more questions about the
, as she calls it. Not once does she say it was my fault. Not once does she ask if I rammed my car into another car.

“Do you need anything?” she asks.

A mom. A dad. Someone. Anyone. Can you arrange for that?

“Nah, I’m good.”

Thirty minutes later Kate comes by. I know it’s her from the repeated banging—her signature lately. Who says the Internet is changing how we communicate? We don’t need the Internet. We have a town crier right here in Santa Monica, and her name is Mrs. Callahan—she must have told Kate.

I open the door for Kate, and she is pissed. I guess my statute of limitations has run out with her.

“I know you hit that car on purpose, Danny,” she says, and her voice is loud. She is supposed to be my surrogate mom now or something. She played that role a few times the last couple years, like when my mom was at one of her treatments. My mom wasn’t down for the count often, though. She was tough; she tried hard to get well. You don’t hang on for five years unless you want to live. She wanted to live so badly, she visited Mexico and Greece and Japan many times, seeking out Western doctors and then Eastern
medicine and then anything to try to live. But she came up two months short of her goal. Sixty lousy days. Kate’s her best friend and has been since they went to college together. Kate also happens to be the mother of the girl I lost my virginity to. The girl who was mine for three perfect months last summer, and who then left my life without a reason, with barely a call.


The most incredible and the most vexing person I know. It is unspoken, but deeply understood, that Kate and I don’t discuss her daughter. If we were to talk about Holland, I’d never be able to talk to Kate about anything else.

I shrug. “So?”

“Why did you hit a car on purpose, Danny?”

Kate is a tiny person. She’s maybe five feet tall, but she’s a pit bull, and the muscles on her arms are sick. She works out every day, which is not unusual in Los Angeles, granted, but it’s where she works out that’s telling. She works out at Animal House, which is this very macho, very old, very broken-down gym without air-conditioning. The clientele is mostly Arnold Wannabes and guys just out of jail.

“I don’t know.” I walk to the sliding-glass door and open it. Kate follows me. Sandy Koufax does too, then noses a Frisbee on the grass. I pick it up. It has teeth marks etched along the surface. It’s purple and says
. A lot of good that did. I throw it far into the yard, around the edge of the pool. Sandy Koufax is like a rocket—she chases it, catches up to it, leaps and grabs.

This dog might be the definition of perfect.

“So you did hit it on purpose?”

on purpose

“With intention,” she says crisply.

“Yes, then. I did.”

“What would your mother think?”

I throw the purple disk to Sandy Koufax again. She executes another excellent catch.

“Hard to say,” I answer. “But let’s be honest. She was never a big car person. She always said walking was healthier, so maybe she’d have been glad.”

Kate narrows her eyes. “Not funny.”

“But true. It is true,” I add, and Kate doesn’t answer because she knows how my mom felt about cars. My mom was one of the few people in LA who walked anywhere. I toss the Frisbee again. Sandy Koufax leaps, easily clearing three feet on the vertical. “Sweet! Did you see that, Kate? That is one fine dog.”

I’ll have to see if UCLA will let me have a dog in my dorm. Maybe I’ll get an
orphan exception

Kate holds out her hands. “What am I supposed to do with you?”

I don’t answer. There is no answer.

“Fine,” Kate says, giving in. Her voice softens. “Just give me the insurance info. Give me the name of the claims adjuster, and I’ll make sure everything is taken care of.”

Kate is kind of like a wizard. Give her a shirt with a grease stain from last year. She’ll get it out. Give her a pair
of broken eyeglasses. She’ll come back with a new pair free of charge because she’ll convince the store it was owed to her. I give her my insurance info, and I know, in a day or two, this will all be taken care of. She’s the fixer, and she likes it like that.

Her jaw is no longer set hard; her eyes are no longer narrowed. I’m in the clear. “Hey, Kate. Can you also call UCLA and see if I can bring a dog with me in the fall? If they allow that?”

“Of course. We’ll get that dog on campus, no problem,” she says, the look in her eyes softening as she reaches up to give me a kiss on the forehead. I let her, then I throw the Frisbee again to Sandy Koufax, and then again, and then one more time, and at some point Kate leaves, she may even hug me, she may even tell me she loves me, she may even say she’s sorry that life sucks, but I’m lost in the throwing.

And then I realize I’ve been out here for hours. Because suddenly Sandy Koufax is exhausted. She jumps in the pool and starts paddling. I look up at the sun. When did it get to be so low in the sky? How did it become six in the evening when it was three just a few minutes ago?

I might as well join my dog, so I walk straight into the pool, cargo shorts, gray T-shirt, flip-flops, and all.

It’s something, at least, the feeling of water sloshing all around me. I dunk my head, sinking under it all, then I come up and tell Sandy Koufax all the things I wish were different right now.

Chapter Two

Jeremy is shooting aliens, Ethan is trying to convince Piper that an earthquake of 9.0 magnitude will hit Los Angeles in the next 365 days, and half the girls volleyball team is schooling half the guys baseball team in pool volleyball. My former teammates are in the deep end on the other side of the net, getting clobbered by the bikini-clad athletes.

I turn up the volume on the sound system because Retractable Eyes is up next on the playlist, and this band is awesome. But before the opening chords sound, I hear the beginning of “Great Balls of Fire.”

On. The. Piano.

I turn to the living room, and the aliens must have extinguished Jeremy because now he’s leaning over the piano and he’s thinking he’s Jerry Lee Lewis.

“Dude, don’t touch that.” I walk over and stand next to the keys.

BOOK: When You Were Here
13.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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