“They wouldn’t mind.”
I knew they wouldn’t. “It doesn’t matter. I should be home tomorrow.”
He shifted in the chair, leaning back. “Cody’s funeral was today. They had it at the big church off of Route 11. You know the one? Where we used to do the whole trick-or-treat thing at,” he explained. “The place was packed. Standing room only. I mean, all the... All the funerals were that way, but you know Cody.” He laughed hoarsely. “He would’ve loved it. You know, all those people.”
Pressing my lips together, I nodded. Cody would’ve... He would’ve been reveling in the attention.
“His parents...” Sebastian trailed off, clearing his throat. “You know his younger brother, right? Toby? He’s what? Twelve? Thirteen? God. He’s a spitting image of Cody. And he was... He was pretty upset. They had to take him out halfway through the service. He’s gonna be...”
Hands clenching, I glanced over at Sebastian. He was staring into the space in front of the bed, his jaw tight and his mouth strained. “He’s going to be what?”
His chest rose with an audible breath. “He’s gonna be okay. Eventually.”
I didn’t reply, even though I wanted to agree. I wanted Toby to be okay, but how could we know if that would happen? He’d lost his older brother. How does one just get over that? How does that pain ever lessen, even over the years? How is the hole in your life, the place another person belonged in, ever filled up again?
How do you move on?
Walking through my bedroom door Monday morning was harder than I could have ever anticipated.
Mom was already inside, fluffing several extra firm pillows she’d bought, building a pillow fort at the head of the bed. Per the doctor’s orders, I was supposed to sleep in a recliner for the first three days, since my breathing hadn’t exactly returned to normal, but since we didn’t have a recliner, the pillow fort would have to do.
I knew she’d been able to use sick time for the days off, but we didn’t have a lot of extra money to be going out and buying pillows. I’d offered to pay for them out of the small fund I had saved up, but Mom had refused. Dr. Arnold said I could return to waitressing once I was cleared by my general doctor, but he’d said volleyball was going to be up in the air for a while, obviously, with the arm injury.
I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to go back to Joanna’s.
I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to go back to volleyball.
I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to go back to anything.
Mom straightened and looked over her shoulder. “You okay?”
I was still standing in the doorway, stuck, as my gaze flickered across the room. Everything was like it was before, except on my desk was a stack of textbooks and binders. Sebastian must’ve brought them over. I’d have the rest of this week to get caught up on what would be two weeks of missed classes.
I also wasn’t sure I had it in me to walk into this bedroom.
My room was still the same, while nothing else was, and it didn’t feel right walking into it when I could still see Megan the last time she was here, sitting cross-legged on my bed, twisting her long blond hair between her hands or tossing a volleyball against the wall as she talked about Phillip. I could go further back in time, seeing her when she was thirteen, going through the stacks of my books, searching through the adult books, looking for the dirtiest scenes to read out loud to Dary, whose face would turn the color of a radish. I could hear Megan and Abbi arguing about which dancer was the best on Dance Moms or whose mother they’d pick to win a street fight. My lips started to turn up at the corners.
I didn’t even get to go to Megan’s funeral.
Closing my eyes, I planted my right hand on the doorjamb as I swayed slightly.
“Yeah,” I bit out, swallowing. “I’m just...”
I didn’t know what I was anymore.
I was at home. I was alive and I was at home.
No one else in that car was.
They all were in the ground.
“You’re probably exhausted. You need to be resting, not standing.” Mom tugged down the comforter on my bed. “Come on. This is where you need to be.”
Mom fussed over me until I got in bed and she had the covers over my legs. Then she fussed some more, bringing up a glass of water and a can of soda, along with a bowl of chips. Only after I was surrounded by everything I could possibly need did she leave the bedroom and return with something else in her hand.
“I didn’t want to bring this into the hospital, especially since you weren’t up to seeing anyone.” She walked over to the bed and held out her hand. “The police brought it by on Wednesday when none of...none of the other families claimed it.”
It was my cell phone.
“I’ve kept it charged for you. I think you’ve got quite a few messages on there.” She glanced down at it. “I have no idea how it stayed in one piece.”
Slowly, I took my phone out of her hand and turned it over, screen up. How had my phone survived that crash? The vehicle had rolled, and I’d...I’d been holding that phone when Cody hit the tree.
I remembered that.
I’d been texting Abbi.
I stared at my phone, barely aware of Mom saying she was going downstairs to make some calls. The phone wasn’t at all damaged. Not a single crack in the screen or anything. How was that possible?
I saw the missed texts, phone calls and social media notifications. There were so many—too many. I bypassed them all and opened up my texts, then scrolled until I saw Abbi’s name. I didn’t read her messages. I zeroed in on the message box, on the half-complete message.
Caught a ride with Megan. Didn’t want to bother
“Oh my God,” I whispered, dropping my phone on the bed like it was a bomb waiting to go off.
My text was still there, waiting to be sent. A thought left unfinished. A message that never made it to the intended. That could’ve been the last thing I ever typed. Probably should’ve been, but a strap only two inches wide had saved my life.
I smoothed my hand over my hair, pushing the strands back from my face. I sat there for several minutes, not moving. I needed to do my breathing treatments soon. The inhaler was on the nightstand. Throwing the covers off my legs, I carefully scooted over the bed. Standing made my ribs feel like someone was taking a vise grip to them, but I ignored the pain as I walked the short distance to my desk and picked up my laptop.
Back on my bed, I cracked open my laptop and went straight to Google to type in the local newspaper’s name. The website popped up and it took no amount of time to find what I was looking for.
Articles on the accident.
The first one, the day after the accident, had a picture of the SUV. I clapped my hand over my mouth as I stared at the image. It had been taken that night. There was a red-and-blue glare to the picture.
How could they be allowed to post a picture like that?
The vehicle had been smashed to the point it was almost unrecognizable. The roof caved in, doors peeled off. Windows broken out. One side looked like it had been peeled open. A yellow tarp covered part of the windshield.
Chris had been sitting up front.
Jerking my hand back from my laptop, I sat there for a second, wondering how I’d even survived the crash. How had a seat belt saved me from that?
Names had not been released when this article was printed. Families had still been waiting for their lives to be shattered. Two patients had been transported by air to INOVA. Alcohol was suspected as a preliminary cause.
Clicking back, I scanned the headlines and stopped on the one that read Four Local Students Die in Alcohol-Related Accident. It was from Tuesday.
I read the article numbly, as if I were reading about strangers instead of my friends. They listed them out by name. Eighteen-year-old Cody Reece. Eighteen-year-old Chris Byrd. Seventeen-year-old Megan Byrd. Eighteen-year-old Phillip Johnson. My name wasn’t listed. I was referred to as a seventeen-year-old minor listed in critical but stable condition.
All except for one had been ejected from the vehicle, and another had been partially ejected. I thought about the tarp over the front passenger side...and I didn’t want to think about it anymore.