THROUGH THE DARK

I check my phone when I get home: three new text messages. Lindsay, Elody, and Ally have each texted me the exact same thing: Cupid Day <3 U . They were probably together when they sent it. That’s a thing we sometimes do, type up and send the exact same messages at exactly the same time. It’s stupid, but it makes me smile. I don’t reply, though. In the morning I sent Lindsay a text letting her know she should go to school without me, but even though we’re not fighting today, I felt weird tacking our usual “xxo” at the end. Somewhere—in some alternate time or place or life or something—I’m still mad at her and she’s mad at me.

It amazes me how easy it is for things to change, how easy it is to start off down the same road you always take and wind up somewhere new. Just one false step, one pause, one detour, and you end up with new friends or a bad reputation or a boyfriend or a breakup. It’s never occurred to me before; I’ve never been able to see it. And it makes me feel, weirdly, like maybe all of these different possibilities exist at the same time, like each moment we live has a thousand other moments layered underneath it that look different.

Maybe Lindsay and I are best friends and we hate each other, both. Maybe I’m only one math class away from being a slut like Anna Cartullo. Maybe I am like her, deep down. Maybe we all are: just one lunch period away from eating alone in the bathroom. I wonder if it’s ever really possible to know the truth about someone else, or if the best we can do is just stumble into each other, heads down, hoping to avoid collision. I think of Lindsay in the bathroom of Rosalita’s, and wonder how many people are clutching secrets like little fists, like rocks sitting in the pits of their stomachs. All of them, maybe.

The fourth text is from Rob and it just says, R u sick? I delete it and then shut off my phone.

Izzy and I spend the rest of the afternoon watching old DVDs, mostly old Disney and Pixar movies we both love, like The Little Mermaid and Finding Nemo . We make popcorn with extra butter and Tabasco sauce, the way my dad always makes it, and hunker down in the den with all the lights off while the sky outside grows darker and the trees start to whip around in the wind. When my mom comes home we petition her for a Formaggio Friday—we used to go to the same Italian restaurant every Friday night and that’s what we called it, because the restaurant (which had checked red-and-white plastic tablecloths and an accordion player and fake plastic roses on the tables) was so cheesy—and she says she’ll think about it, which means we’re going.

It’s been forever since I’ve been at home on a weekend night, and when my dad comes home and sees Izzy and me piled on the couch, he staggers through the door, clutching at his heart like he’s having a heart attack.

“Is it a hallucination?” he says, setting down his briefcase. “Could it be? Samantha Kingston? Home? On a Friday?”

I roll my eyes. “I don’t know. Did you do a lot of acid in the sixties? Could be a flashback.”

“I was two years old in 1960. I came too late for the party.” He leans down and pecks me on the head. I pull away out of habit. “And I’m not even going to ask how you know about acid flashbacks.”

“What’s an acid flashback?” Izzy crows.

“Nothing,” my dad and I say at the same time, and he smiles at me.

We do end up going to Formaggio’s (official name: Luigi’s Italian Home Kitchen), which actually isn’t Formaggio’s (or Luigi’s) anymore and hasn’t been for years. Five years ago a sushi restaurant moved in and replaced all of the fake art-deco tiles and glass lanterns with sleek metal tables and a long oak bar. It doesn’t matter, though. It will always be Formaggio’s to me.

The restaurant is super crowded, but we get one of the best tables, right next to the big tanks of exotic fish that sit next to the windows. As usual my dad makes a bad joke about how much he loves see -food restaurants, and my mother tells him to stick to architecture and leave comedy to the professionals. At dinner my mom’s extra nice to me because she thinks I’m going through breakup trauma, and Izzy and I order half the menu and wind up full on edamame and shrimp shumai and tempura and seaweed salad before the meal even comes. My dad has two beers and gets tipsy and entertains us with stories about crazy clients, and my mom keeps telling me to order whatever I want, and Izzy puts a napkin over her head and pretends to be a pilgrim tasting California rolls for the first time.

Up until then it’s a good day—one of the best. Close to perfect, really, even though nothing special happened at all. I guess I’ve probably had a lot of days like this, but somehow they’re never the ones you remember. That seems wrong to me now. I think of lying in Ally’s house in the dark and wondering whether I’ve ever had a day worth reliving. It seems to me like living this one again and again wouldn’t be so bad, and I imagine that’s what I’ll do—just go on like this, over and over, until time winds completely down, until the universe stops.

Just before we get our dessert, a big group of freshmen and sophomores I recognize from Jefferson come filing in. A few of them are still wearing JV swim jackets. They must have had a late meet. They seem so young, hair scraped away from their faces, ponytails, no makeup—totally different from the way they look when they show up to our parties, when it looks like they’ve just spent an hour and a half getting freebies at the MAC counter. A couple of them catch me staring and drop their eyes.

“Green tea and red bean ice cream.” The waitress sets down a big bowl and four spoons in front of us. Izzy goes to town on the red bean.

My dad groans and puts a hand on his stomach. “I don’t know how you can still be hungry.”

“Growing girl.” Izzy opens her mouth, showing off the ice cream mushed on her tongue.

“Gross, Izzy.” I pick up my spoon and scoop a little bit from the green-tea side.

“Sykes! Hey! Sykes!”

I whip around at the sound of her name. One of the swim-team girls is half standing out of her chair, waving. I scan the restaurant, looking for Juliet, but there’s only one person at the door. She’s thin and pale and very blond, and she’s standing and shaking her shoulders to get the rain off her jacket. It takes me a second to recognize her, but as she turns a complete circle, looking for her friends, I do: the Cupid from math class—the angel who delivered my roses.

When she sees the rest of her teammates, she raises her hand briefly and gives a quick flutter of her fingers. Then she starts threading her way over to them, and as she moves past our table, I catch a glimpse of her neon-blue-and-orange swim jacket and it’s like the whole room goes still and only those five letters remain, lit up like signs.

SYKES.

Juliet’s little sister.

“Earth to Sammy.” Izzy is poking me with the butt end of her spoon. “Your ice cream’s getting melty.”

“Not hungry anymore.” I put my spoon down and push away from the table.

“Where are you going?” Mom reaches out and puts her hand on my wrist, but I barely feel it.

“Five minutes.” And then I’m walking over to the swim-team table, the whole time staring at the pale girl and her heart-shaped face. I can’t believe I didn’t see the resemblance before. They’ve got the same wide-spaced blue eyes, the same translucent skin and pale lips. Then again, until recently I’ve never really looked at Juliet, even though I must have seen her ten thousand times.

The swim-team girls have gotten their menus, and they’re laughing and swatting each other. I distinctly hear one of them say Rob’s name—probably saying how cute he looks in his lacrosse jersey (I should know; I used to say it all the time). I’ve never cared less about anything. When I’m about four feet away from the table one of them spots me and instantly the whole table goes silent. The girl who was talking about Rob goes the color of the menu she’s holding.

Little Sykes is squeezed in at the very end of the table. I walk directly up to her.

“Hey.” Now that I’m standing here I’m not exactly sure why I came over. The funniest part about it is that I’m the one who’s nervous. “What’s your name?”

“Um…did I do something?” Her voice is actually trembling. The rest of the girls aren’t helping. They’re looking at me like they expect at any second I’m going to lunge forward and swallow her head or something.

“No, no. I just…” I give her a small smile. Now that I see it, the resemblance between her and Juliet unnerves me. “You have an older sister, right?”

Her mouth tightens into a thin line, and her eyes go cloudy, like she’s putting up a wall. I don’t blame her. She probably thinks I’m going to pick on her for having a freak for a big sister. It must happen a lot.

But she tilts up her chin and stares at me straight in the eye. It kind of reminds me of something Izzy would do. Sam’s not going to school, and I’m not going either. “Yeah. Juliet Sykes.” Then she waits patiently, waits for me to start laughing.

Her eyes are so steady I look down. “Yeah. I, um, know Juliet.”

“You do?” She raises her eyebrows.

“Well, kind of.” All the girls are staring at me now. I have a feeling they’re having a hard time keeping their jaws from dropping open. “She’s—she’s kind of my lab partner.”

I figure this is a safe bet. Science is mandatory, and everybody gets assigned lab partners.

Juliet’s sister’s face relaxes a little bit. “Juliet’s really good at bio. I mean, she’s really good at school.” She lets herself smile. “I’m Marian.”

“Hey.” Marian is a good name for her: a pure name, somehow. My palms are sweating. I wipe them on my jeans. “I’m Sam.”

Marian drops her eyes and says shyly, “I know who you are.”

Two arms circle around my waist. Izzy has come up behind me. The point of her chin pokes me in the side.

“Ice cream’s almost gone,” she says. “You sure you don’t want any?”

Marian smiles at Izzy. “What’s your name?”

“Elizabeth,” Izzy says proudly, then sags a little. “But everybody calls me Izzy.”

“When I was little everybody called me Mary.” Marian makes a face. “But now everybody calls me Marian.”

“I don’t mind Izzy that much,” Izzy says, chewing on her lip like she’s just decided it.

Marian looks up at me. “You have a little sister too, huh?”

Suddenly I can’t stand to look at her. I can’t stand to think about what will happen later. I know : the stillness of the house, the gunshot.

And then…what? Will she be the first one down the stairs? Will that final image of her sister be the one that lasts, that wipes out whatever other memories she’s stored up over the years?

I go into a panic, trying to think what kind of memories Izzy has of me—will have of me.

“Come on, Izzy. Let’s let the girls eat.” My voice is trembling, but I don’t think anyone notices. I pat Izzy on the head and she gallops back toward our table.

The girls at the table are getting more confident now. Smiles are sprouting up, and they’re all looking at me in awe, like they can’t believe how nice I’m being, like I’ve given them a present. I hate it. They should hate me. If they knew what kind of person I was, they would hate me, I’m sure of it.

I don’t know why Kent pops into my head right then, but he does. He would hate me too if he knew everything. The realization makes me strangely upset.

“Tell Juliet not to do it,” I blurt out, and then can’t believe I’ve said it.

Marian wrinkles her forehead. “Do what?”

“Science-project thing,” I say quickly, and then add, “she’ll know what I’m talking about.”

“Okay.” Marian’s beaming at me. I start to turn away, but she calls me back. “Sam!”

I turn around, and she claps her hand over her mouth and giggles, like she can’t believe she had the courage to say my name.

“I’ll have to tell her tomorrow,” she says. “Juliet’s going out tonight.” She says it like she’s saying, Juliet’s going to be valedictorian . I can just picture the scene. Mom and dad and sister downstairs, Juliet locked in her bedroom as usual, blasting music, alone. And then—miracle of miracles—she descends, hair swept back, confident, cool, announcing she is headed to a party. They must have been so happy, so proud. Their lonely little girl making good at the end of senior year.

To Kent’s party. To find Lindsay—to find me. To be pushed and tripped and soaked with beer.

The sushi’s not sitting so well with me all of a sudden. If they had any idea…

“I’ll definitely tell her tomorrow, though.” Marian beams at me, a headlight bearing down at me through the dark.

All the way home I’m trying to forget Marian Sykes. When my dad wishes me good night—he’s always ready to pass out after a beer, and tonight he had (gasp!) two—I’m trying to forget Marian Sykes. When Izzy comes in half an hour later, showered and clean-smelling in her ratty Dora pj’s, and plants a sloppy wet kiss on my cheek, I’m trying to forget her; and an hour after that, when my mother stands at my door and says, “I’m proud of you, Sam,” I’m still thinking of her.

My mother goes to bed. Silence fills the house. Somewhere in the deep darkness a clock is ticking, and when I close my eyes I picture Juliet Sykes coming toward me calmly, her shoes tapping against a wood floor, blood flowing from her eyes….

I sit up in bed, heart pounding. Then I get up, find my North Face in the dark.

This morning I swore that there was nothing in the world that could make me go back to Kent’s party, but here I am, tiptoeing down the stairs, edging along in the dark hallways, sneaking my mom’s keys off the shelf in the mudroom. She’s been amazingly human today, but the last thing I need to deal with is some big conversation of the what-makes-me-think-I-can-cut-school-and-then-go-out variety.

I try to tell myself that Juliet Sykes isn’t really my problem, but I keep imagining how horrible it would be if this were her day. If she had to live it over and over again. I think pretty much everybody—even Juliet Sykes—deserves to die on a better day than that.

The hinges on the back and front door squawk so loudly they might as well be alarm clocks (sometimes I think my parents have engineered this deliberately). In the kitchen I carefully spill some olive oil on a paper towel, and I rub this onto the hinges on the back door. Lindsay taught me this trick. She’s always developing new, better ways to sneak out, even though she has no curfew, and it doesn’t matter one way or the other when she leaves and when she comes home. I think she misses that, actually. I think that’s why she’s always meticulous about the details—she likes to pretend that she has to be.

The door with its Italian-seasoned hinges swings open with barely a whisper, and I’m out.

I haven’t really thought through why I’m heading to Kent’s, or what I’m going to do once I’m there, and instead of driving there directly, I find myself turning on random streets and dead-end cul-de-sacs, circling up and down. The houses are mostly set back from the street, and lit windows appear magically in the dark like hanging lanterns. It’s amazing how different everything looks at night—almost unrecognizable, especially in the rain. Houses sit hulking back on their lawns, brooding and alive. It looks so different from the Ridgeview of the day, when everything is clean and polished and trimmed neatly, when everything unfolds in an orderly way, husbands heading to their cars with coffee mugs, wives following soon after, dressed in pilates gear, tiny girls in Baby Gap dresses and car seats and Lexus SUVs and Starbucks cups and normalcy . I wonder which one is the true version.

There are hardly any cars on the road. I keep crawling along at fifteen miles per hour. I’m looking for something, but I don’t know what. I pass Elody’s street and keep going. Each streetlamp casts a neat funnel of light downward, illuminating the inside of the car briefly, before I’m left again in darkness.

My headlights sweep over a crooked green street sign fifty feet ahead: Serenity Place. I suddenly remember sitting in Ally’s kitchen freshman year while her mom chattered on the phone endlessly, pacing back and forth on the deck in bare feet and yoga pants. “She’s getting her daily dose of gossip,” Ally had said, rolling her eyes. “Mindy Sachs is better than Us Weekly .” And Lindsay had put in how ironic it was that Mrs. Sachs lived on Serenity Place—like she doesn’t bring the noise with her —and it was the first time I really understood the meaning of the word ironic.

I yank my wheel at the last second and brake, rolling down Serenity Place. It’s not a long street—there are no more than two dozen houses on it—and like many streets in Ridgeview, ends in a cul-de-sac. My heart leaps when I see a silver Saab parked neatly in one of the driveways. The license plate reads: MOM OF4. That’s Mrs. Sachs’s car. I must be close.

The next house down is number fifty-nine. It is marked with a tin mailbox in the shape of a rooster, which stretches up from a flowerbed that is at this point in the year no more than a long patch of black dirt. SYKES is printed along the rooster’s wing, in letters so small you have to be looking before you can see them.

I can’t really explain it, but I feel like I would have known the house anyway. There’s nothing wrong with it—it’s no different from any other house, not the biggest, not the smallest, decently taken care of, white paint, dark shutters, a single light burning downstairs. But there’s something else, some quality I can’t really identify that makes it look like the house is too big for itself, like something inside is straining to get out, like the whole place is about to bust its seams. It’s a desperate house, somehow.

I turn into the driveway. I have no business being here, I know that, but I can’t help it. It’s like something’s tugging me inside. The rain is coming down hard, and I grab an old sweatshirt from the backseat—Izzy’s, probably—and use it to shield my head as I sprint from the car to the front porch, my breath clouding in front of me. Before I can think too much about what I’m doing, I ring the doorbell.

It takes a long time for someone to answer the door, and I do a little jog, my breath steaming out in front of me, trying to stay warm. Finally there’s a shuffling sound from inside, and then a scraping of hinges. The door swings open, and a woman stands there, blinking at me confusedly: Juliet’s mother. She is wearing a bathrobe, which she holds closed with one hand. She is as thin as Juliet and has the same clear blue eyes and pale skin as both of her daughters. Looking at her, I am reminded of a wisp of smoke curling up into the dark.

“Can I help you?” Her voice is very soft.

I’m kind of thrown. For some reason I expected Marian would be the one to come to the door. “My name is Sam—Samantha Kingston. I’m looking for Juliet.” Because it worked the first time I add, “She’s my lab partner.”

From inside, a man—Juliet’s father, I guess—shouts, “Who is it?” The voice is barking and loud, and so different from Mrs. Sykes’s voice I unconsciously shuffle backward.

Mrs. Sykes jumps a little, and turns her head quickly, inadvertently swinging the door open an extra couple of inches. The hallway behind her is dark. Swampy blue and green shadows dance up one wall, images projected from a television in a room I can’t see. “It’s no one,” she says quickly, her voice directed into the darkness behind her. “It’s for Juliet.”

“Juliet? Someone’s here for Juliet?” He sounds exactly like a dog. Bark, bark, bark, bark. I fight a wild, nervous urge to laugh.

“I’ll take care of it.” Mrs. Sykes turns back to me. Again, the door swings closed with her movement, as though she is leaning on it for support. Her smile doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “Juliet’s not home right now. Is there something I can help you with?”

“I, um, missed school today. We had this big assignment….” I trail off helplessly, starting to regret having come. Despite my North Face, I’m shivering like a maniac. I must look like a maniac too, hopping from foot to foot, holding a sweatshirt over my head for an umbrella.

Mrs. Sykes seems to notice, finally, that I’m standing in the rain. “Why don’t you come in,” she says, and steps backward into the hall. I follow her inside.

An open door to the left leads directly off the hall: that’s where the television is. I can just make out an armchair and the silhouette of someone sitting there, the edge of an enormous jaw touched with blue from the screen. I remember what Lindsay said then, about Juliet’s dad being an alcoholic. I vaguely remember hearing that same rumor, and something else too—that there’d been an accident, something about semi-paralysis or pills or something. I wish I’d paid more attention.

Mrs. Sykes catches me looking and walks quickly over to the door, pulling it shut. It is now so dark I can barely see, and I realize I’m still cold. If the heat is on in the house, I can’t feel it. From the TV room I hear the sounds of a horror-film scream, and the steady syncopated rhythm of machine gun fire.

Now I’m definitely regretting coming. For a second I have this wild fantasy that Juliet comes from a whole family of crazy serial killers, and that at any second Mrs. Sykes is going to go Silence of the Lambs on me. The whole family’s wacked , that’s what Lindsay had said. The darkness is pressing all around me, stifling, and I almost cry out with gratitude when Mrs. Sykes switches on a light and the hall appears lit up and normal, and not full of dead human trophies or something. There’s a dried flower arrangement on a side table decorated with lace, next to a framed family photo. I wish I could look at it more closely.

“Was it important, this assignment?” Mrs. Sykes asks, almost in a whisper. She shoots a nervous glance in the direction of the TV room, and I wonder if she thinks she’s being too loud.

“I just…I kind of promised Juliet I would pick up some stuff for our makeup presentation on Monday.” I try to lower my voice, but she still winces. “I thought Juliet said she would be home tonight.”

“Juliet went out,” she says, and then, as if she’s unused to saying the words and is testing them on her tongue, repeats, “She went out. But maybe she left it for you?”

“I could look for it,” I say. I want to see her room, I realize: that’s why I’m here. I need to see it. “She probably just dumped it on her bed or something.” I try to sound casual, like Juliet and I are on really good terms with each other—like it’s not weird for me to waltz into her house at ten thirty on a Friday night and try to weasel my way into her bedroom.

Mrs. Sykes hesitates. “Maybe I can call her cell phone,” she says, and then adds apologetically, “Juliet hates to have anyone in her room.”

“You don’t have to call her,” I say quickly. Juliet will probably tell her mom to sic the cops on me. “It’s not that important. I’ll pick it up tomorrow.”

“No, no. I’ll call her. It will just take a second.” Juliet’s mom is already disappearing into the kitchen. It’s amazing how quickly and soundlessly she moves, like an animal slipping in and out of the shadows.

I consider jetting out while she’s in the kitchen. I think about going home, crawling into bed, watching old movies on my computer. Maybe I’ll make a pot of coffee and sit up all night long. If I never go to sleep, maybe today will have to turn into tomorrow. I wonder idly how long I can go without sleep before I flip my shit and start running down the street in my underwear, hallucinating purple spiders.

But instead I just stand there, waiting. There’s nothing else to do, so I take a few steps forward and bend down to look at the photograph on the table. For a second I’m confused: it’s a picture of an unfamiliar woman, probably twenty-five or thirty, with her arms wrapped around a good-looking guy in a flannel shirt. The colors are all saturated and Technicolor-bright, and the couple looks perfect, sparkling, all white teeth and dazzling smiles and beautiful brown hair. Then I see the words printed in the lower bottom corner of the picture—ShadowCast Images, Inc.—and realize that this isn’t even a real family photo. It’s one of the generic pictures that gets sold along with the picture frame, a shiny, happy advertisement for all the shiny, happy moments you can capture forever inside the 5″ &#215; 7″ sterling silver frame with butterfly detail . No one has bothered to replace it.

Or maybe the Sykes family doesn’t have too many shiny, happy moments to remember.

I pull away quickly, wishing I hadn’t looked. Even though it’s just a picture of two models, I feel, weirdly, like I’ve seen something way too personal, like I’ve accidentally caught a glimpse of someone’s inner thigh or nose hairs or something.

Mrs. Sykes still isn’t back so I wander out of the hall into the living room on the right. It is mostly dark, and it’s all plaids and lace and dried flowers. It looks as though it hasn’t been redecorated since the fifties.

There’s a single, dull light shining near the window, casting a circular reflection on the black pane of glass, a version of the room appearing in miniature there.

And a face.

A screaming face pressed up against the window.

I let out a squeak of fear before I realize that this, too, is a reflection. There’s a mask mounted on a table just in front of the window, facing outward. I go over to it and lift it carefully from its perch. It’s a woman’s face crafted from newspaper and red stitching, which is crisscrossed over the skin like horrible scars. Words run up the bridge of the nose and across the forehead, certain headlines visible or halfway visible, like BEAUTY REMEDY and TRAGEDY STRIKES, and little scraps of paper are unfurling from various places on her face, like she’s molting. The mouth and the eyes are cut completely away, and when I lift the mask to my face, it fits well. The reflection in the window is awful; I look like something diseased, or a monster from a horror movie. I can’t look away.

“Juliet made that.”

The voice behind me makes me jump. Mrs. Sykes has reappeared and is leaning against the door, frowning at me.

I pop the mask off, return it quickly to its perch. “I’m so sorry. I saw it and…I just wanted to try it on,” I finish lamely.

Mrs. Sykes comes over and rearranges the mask, straightening it, making sure it’s aligned correctly. “When Juliet was younger she was always drawing, always sketching or painting something or sewing her own dresses.” Mrs. Sykes shrugs, flutters a hand. “I don’t think she’s very interested in that stuff now.”

“Did you talk to Juliet?” I ask nervously, waiting for her to kick me out.

Mrs. Sykes blinks at me several times, as though trying to squeeze me into focus. “Juliet…” she repeats, and then shakes her head. “I called her phone a couple of times. She didn’t answer. She doesn’t usually go out on the weekends….” Mrs. Sykes looks at me helplessly.

“I’m sure she’s fine,” I say as cheerfully as I can, feeling like each word is a knife going down into my stomach. “She probably didn’t hear her phone.”

Suddenly the thing I want most of all is to get out of there. I can’t stand to lie to Mrs. Sykes. She looks so sad, standing in her nightgown, ready for bed—as though she’s already asleep, sort of. That’s what the whole house feels like, as though it’s wrapped up in a heavy sleep, the kind that stifles you, won’t let you wake, drags you back into the sheets, drowning, even when you fight it.

I imagine Juliet sneaking up to her room in the dark, and the silence, through the atmosphere of sleep so thick it feels solid, the lullaby of creaking floorboards and quietly hissing radiators, the slow revolutions of people orbiting wordlessly around one another…. And then…

Bang.

Mrs. Sykes walks me back to the front hall. “You can come by tomorrow,” she says. “I’m sure Juliet will have everything ready by then. She’s usually very responsible. A good girl.”

“Sure. Tomorrow.” I don’t even like to say the word, and I wave a quick good-bye before dashing once again through the dark to my car.

It’s even colder than it was earlier. The rain, half ice, pings off the hood of my car as I sit there waiting for the engine to warm up, blowing on my hands and shivering, grateful to be out of there. As soon as I’m out of the house, a weight eases up off my chest, like the atmosphere and pressure inside is different, heavier. My first impression was right: it really is a desperate house. I see Juliet’s mom silhouetted by the window. I wonder if she’s waiting for me to leave or for her daughter to come home.

That’s when I make a decision. I know what I’ll do. I’ll go to Kent’s house and I’ll catch Juliet, and if I have to, I will hit her in the face. I’ll make her see how stupid the whole death idea is. (It’s certainly no picnic for me.) If it comes down to it, I’ll tie her up in the back of my car so she can’t get her hands on the gun.

I realize I’ve never really done something good for someone else, at least not for a while. I volunteer sometimes for Meals on Wheels, but that’s because colleges like that kind of thing; BU especially mentioned charity on the application portion of their website. And obviously I’m nice to my friends, and I give great birthday gifts (I once spent a month and a half collecting cow-shaped saltshakers to give to Ally, because she loves cows and salt). But I don’t usually do good things just for the hell of it. This will be my good thing.

Then I have a glimmer of an idea. I remember when we were studying Dante in English, and Ben Gowan kept asking if the souls in purgatory ever got cast down into hell (Ben Gowan once got suspended for three days for drawing a picture of a bomb blowing up our cafeteria and all of these decapitated heads flying everywhere, so for him the question was normal), and Mrs. Harbor went off on one of her tangents and said that no, that wasn’t possible, but that some modern Christian thinkers believed you could go up from purgatory into heaven once you’d done enough time there. I’ve never really believed in heaven. It always sounded like a crazy idea: everybody happy and reunited, Fred Astaire and Einstein doing a tango on the clouds, that kind of stuff.

But then again, I never really believed I’d have to relive one day forever, either. It’s no crazier than what’s already happened to me. Maybe the whole point is I have to prove that I’m a good person. Maybe I have to prove that I deserve to move on.

Maybe Juliet Sykes is the only thing between me and an eternity of chocolate fountains and perfect love and guys who always call when they say they will and banana sundaes that actually help you burn calories.

Maybe she’s my ticket out.

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