My mouth opened, but I didn’t have any words, because this shouldn’t be a surprise to me. Even though it felt like my chest had just been stomped on by a combat boot, I was the one who’d pushed Sebastian out and away.
No wonder he’d asked me if I was going. Now he could go with Skylar and not worry about me seeing them, all dressed up and perfect together.
“That’s nice,” I murmured, blinking rapidly.
“Seriously? That’s all you have to say?”
I nodded numbly. “Yeah, I think it’s good for him—for them,” I lied. That was the best I could do right then.
It was all I could do.
“How did it feel going back to work this weekend?” Dr. Perry asked Monday morning, like he did every Monday morning.
It was the last week of October. Homecoming was this weekend. The big game. The big dance. Normally I wouldn’t have started at Joanna’s until middle or late November, but since I wasn’t playing volleyball, I’d decided that at least I could go start making money again.
“It was okay.” My arms were wrapped around my knees. “A little weird, being back. Felicia, one of the other waitresses, had made a cake for me. It was nice.”
“Chocolate cake, I hope,” he said, and smiled when I nodded. Today there was no mug. Only a silver thermos. “Did you do what I asked you to over the weekend?”
Pressing my lips together, I shook my head.
Infinite patience filled his expression. I didn’t understand how he did it. “How have things been with your friends?”
He’d asked the question every Monday, because every Friday one of my “assignments” was to open up to my friends, and every weekend I couldn’t work up the nerve.
I loosened my grip on my knees. “Dary is the same. She just wants everyone to be normal, you know? She just wants us all to be friends. It’s not like she wants to forget about Megan or any of the guys, but I...I don’t think she wants to think about it anymore. So it’s hard to think about dragging it back up.”
“Talking about what you’re dealing with isn’t dragging it up,” he said, and I wasn’t sure I agreed. “And Abbi?”
“She hasn’t said anything about me not being drunk since the first time, but she barely talks to me.” Sadness poured in like a torrential downpour, because I missed Abbi as much as I missed Megan. I couldn’t bring one friend back, and I had no idea how to fix things with the other. “I don’t know if I told you this, but I...I brought up how she came to the party with Chris and had thought he’d already been drinking.” I shifted, uncomfortable. “She said it wasn’t the same because no one died when she was in the car.”
“Well, it’s often hard for people to admit that they, too, have made potentially life-altering choices when they did not receive any consequences for them. It is even more difficult for people to look at themselves and acknowledge that they are not perfect, that at times in their life they have also been that person. That they, too, have made decisions that could’ve ended disastrously.”
Dr. Perry crossed one leg over the other. “Some people are simply lucky. Some are not. But some learn, even when they didn’t suffer. They see situations like yours, and it serves as a painful wake-up call that they could’ve been where you are, which creates a lot of internal conflict. That’s hard to recognize. It’s always easier to point out the flaws in others while ignoring your own.” He lightly drummed the end of his pen on the table. “Then you have those who never learn a lesson in their life, but they will be the first to cast judgment.”
I nibbled on my nail. “But their judgment is on point, though. I could’ve walked away. I could’ve tried to get the keys from Cody. I could’ve gone back to the party and found Keith or Sebastian or—”
“Yes, you could’ve done that. You could’ve not caved to the pressure from your friends and decided that you were not going to ride with him. You might’ve been able to convince Megan to stay behind. You might not have, and that accident still would’ve happened. You may have gotten the keys from him or he may have ignored you and still gotten behind that wheel.” He paused, sighing heavily. “Cody had quite a bit of weight on you. You can’t know you would’ve been able to get those keys, or if he would’ve hung around while you went and found someone else.”
“But I could’ve tried,” I whispered, dropping my feet onto the floor.
“You could have, Lena, but you didn’t. What you did do is ask him if he was okay. You didn’t listen to that little voice inside you that told you differently when he answered, but...” He sighed. “I’m going to be really honest with you right now. Is that okay?”
I wrinkled my nose. “Have you not been honest this whole time?”
A brief grin appeared. “You made some bad choices that night. You fully understand that, and you accept that. You’re not deluding yourself. You haven’t created a revisionist history of events. You could’ve convinced yourself that there was nothing you could’ve done, but you haven’t. You know what happened, and what could’ve happened but didn’t. That’s never going to change. You’re going to have to learn to live with the decisions you’ve made, accept them, learn from them, grow from them and become a better person because of them.”
Scrubbing my hand over my face, I was glad I hadn’t worried myself with mascara this morning, because it would’ve been all over my cheeks by now. “But how do I get to that part where I accept the decision I made? That I become this magically better person? When I stop feeling like the worst human being on the planet?”
“You’re not the worst human being on the planet.”
I shot him a droll look.
He arched a brow as he lifted a hand. “Most big changes happen slowly...and, also, all at once.”
“That makes no sense.”
“One day you will just realize you’ve made it through this part of your life and you’ve accepted what cannot be changed. That is when you’ve moved on. It will feel like it happened suddenly, but in reality, it’s been a work in progress.”
My eyes narrowed. “That’s not exactly helpful.”
Dr. Perry smiled in a way that said one day I wouldn’t hold that same opinion. “A good place to start is opening up with those you care about.”
A burst of panic lit up my stomach.
“You have a choice. Either continue the way you have been with them, always worrying about what they’d do if they found out. We know that’s exhausting, and it’s already hurting your friendships.” He was right. “Or you could open up to them.”
“But what...what if they hate me?” I asked.
“Then they never were truly your friends in the first place,” he replied. “They may be mad, at first, and even disappointed, but when someone is truly a friend—truly cares about another person—they accept them for all their flaws.”
I started nibbling on my finger again. I wasn’t sure what I’d done was something that could be considered just a flaw.
“How are things with you and Sebastian?” he asked.
A heavy sadness hit my veins. I thought about how I saw him with Skylar the other day, the rumor that Dary had heard, and I shook my head, because that wasn’t important. He’d come into Joanna’s for lunch on Saturday, after practice, like he used to do before...before everything. He’d ordered pie and milk, but it wasn’t like it used to be.
“It’s not that great,” I said finally. “I want to tell him, but I think, what if he hates me afterward? I know you say he was never my friend if that happens, but he was. He was my best friend, and what I did...”
Dr. Perry’s steady gaze met mine. “There’s something I want you to understand. You did not kill your friends, Lena. You made a poor decision that night. They made poor decisions that night, too.
“You did not kill them.”
* * *
After classes I closed my locker door and slung my backpack over my shoulder. Dull pain flared down my arm, but I barely winced as I pivoted around and started down the hall. Faces were a blur. They’d been a blur all day as my session with Dr. Perry repeated over and over.