“Want to cross?” I ask. We both need the distraction. “The bridge. We can cross it.”

She surveys the wooden planks across the metal rails. Huge fat gaps exist between the planks and there’s a narrow strip of metal off to one side of the bridge that’s barely wide enough to balance on. There’s no railing on either side.

Breanna leans over the edge, no doubt making a mental note of the rushing, raging water and mammoth rocks. “Will you go with me?”

I shouldn’t do it. I should tell her we’ve completed our project and we’re done for the day, but instead I offer her my hand again and tempt her to hang with the devil.

She closes the space between us, and the moment she lays her palm in mine, I grasp her hand and lead her onto the bridge.

Breanna chooses the narrow strip of metal and I tempt fate on the aging wooden planks. The wood cracks under my weight and Breanna holds on to me like she could keep me from falling through into the river. “Walk on the metal.”

A sadistic tilt of my lips. “It’s the danger that makes it fun.”

She shakes her head, but I spot a smile. Guess she doesn’t want to admit it’s why she’s on the bridge—why she’s with me. This is the girl who was on the dance floor at Shamrock’s, the girl who cracked the code in English. This is a girl full of life and searching for a challenge.

When we’re halfway across, she hesitates and scans the length of the river. She squints. In the distance beside a canopy of trees is the bridge of Highway 109. I step onto the metal next to her and support my back against the metal girder.

Breanna’s eyes widen, and I see the puzzle pieces fall into place. She’s quick, and while I normally admire how her brain ticks, this time, I wish she would have ignored the clues.

“My mom died in this river,” I say, to answer her silent question. My mouth curves down and the horrible pain from that day covers me like a shroud.


“Why do you come here? Why put yourself through this?”

How many times have I asked myself the same question? I could say I experience a connection to Mom here, but I don’t. I come because... “I need answers.”

“What type of answers?”

“How she died.” My statement hangs and for the millionth time I wonder if it had been calm before Mom reached this area. Were her thoughts peaceful or chaotic? Was there a screeching of tires or did Mom spot the opening off the road as a way to fly into freedom?

“The club told me it was an accident and I said I believed them, but I don’t.” I’ve never told anyone that and I speak slowly, like the words might set me on fire. “Everyone in town says the same damn thing. My mom and dad were fighting. She wasn’t happy. Things were bad.”

Day after day, hour after hour, heartbeat after heartbeat my mind swims with the questions and doubt. She left me. She died. She did it on purpose. I was never enough.

My mind dissolves into chaos and it’s cluttered and I can’t cling to a single thought that doesn’t cause me blinding pain. “Fuck it!”

I stalk away. Off the bridge, onto the grass, and pause by the river. I expect Breanna to walk past, to flee, to leave. It’s what people do. It’s what my mom did. It’s what my father did by sleeping with a harem of women after Mom’s death. He may have been in the same household, but he ran. He just escaped by staying still and damning me to hell.

Her footsteps are light against the metal of the bridge, and when she’s close enough, I say, “I’ll get you home. Give me a second to—”

Air rushes out of my lungs with the unexpected impact and my feet rock. Breanna is tight against me, her arms wrapped around my body. She’s hugging me. Breanna Miller is hugging me. She lays her head against me and her voice vibrates against my chest. “I’m sorry about your mom.”

I can’t remember the last person who hugged me. Not a fast pat hug from the club. A hug that shows affection. Just hugged. I hugged Violet last night, but she didn’t hug me back. Was Olivia the last person who hugged me? My mother? Besides them, most people avoid me, easily leaving two feet between us, and here is this little warrior trudging into battle without armor.

Terrified I’ll break her, I weave my arms around her and hug her back. My eyes shut when she settles further into me. I rest my cheek on her head and simply breathe.

“I’m sorry about your mom,” she repeats. “I’m sorry about what everyone has said about you, and I’m sorry everyone’s words have made it worse.”

Me, too. I inhale her sweet fragrance and enjoy the rare moment of peace. “It’s okay.”

She lifts her head and genuine emotion fills her eyes. “It’s not. None of this is okay. Your mom, the people at school, the people in this town, none of it is okay.”

Breanna swallows and her delicate throat moves. “It’s like this town is diseased. Gossip and rumors and people playing with everyone’s lives. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to drown.”

I run my fingers through her flowing hair, tucking it behind her shoulder. I’m touching her because she’s describing my emotions. Because if I do, then maybe she will no longer feel like she’s drowning, and maybe I’ll continue to stay afloat long enough for a mouthful of air.

“I’ve hated Snowflake for so long,” she says. “But then I met you. And you’re the person this entire town has trashed, a person belonging to the group I’ve been raised to believe is evil, and you’re the only person who is able to make me feel as if every part of me is beautiful.”

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